All Saints A: Preaching a Beatitudes Inversion

Matthew 5:1-12 Dear Partner in Preaching, There is a scene in Schindler’s List that came back to me while reading the Beatitudes. Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes, is the commandant of a German death camp. Goeth is, in brief, a violent sociopath, prone to kill the Jewish prisoners at his camp indiscriminately. And he believes that his ability to kill is the very essence of power. Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, is a consummate showman and has somehow worked his way into Amon Goeth’s good graces. One evening, Schindler challenges Goeth’s beliefs about power. The ability to kill isn’t power; the ability to have mercy is...

Pentecost 8 A: Parabolic Promises

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Dear Partner in Preaching, There’s something sneaky about the parables we are reading this week. And I mean that quite literally – in each parable (except perhaps the last), there seems to be some element of surprise or stealth. A quick overview to explain what I mean: While most of us grew up reading the parable of the mustard seed somewhat simplistically – “big things often have small beginnings” – the truth is that mustard was a weed, uncontrollable, invasive, undesirable. So different from our cultural associations, leaven in the biblical world was a sign of impurity, and kneading it into the flour...

Pentecost 8 B: Compassion and Need

Dear Partner in Preaching, I am writing from a family cottage on the shores of Otsego Lake, in Cooperstown, NY, a place my family has come for more than a century. In this setting, and after a night’s sleep to the sound of gently lapping waves and anticipating a day of fun on the water with my kids, I’m inclined to write, as I did three years ago, on the importance of rest, of Sabbath, and of the role of the church to provide and encourage restorative rest. And, indeed, I am most grateful for this time of rest and recreation. Yet – perhaps precisely because I’ve had a few days rest after a pretty intense year – I will instead write...

Pentecost 7 B: A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Dear Partner in Preaching, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Game of Thrones has nothing on the Bible. I’m in the middle of catching up on season five of Game of Thrones, and it occurred to me that while the political intrigue, devious plotting, and unexpected (and sometimes quite expected) backstabbing and reversal of fortunes are what has made this series such a hit, there is all of that and more in Mark’s rather long (at least for his standards) account of the death of John the Baptist. Close reader’s of Mark’s story have noticed several things about this scene over the years that make it stand out: it’s one of the...

Pentecost 3 B: Preach The Truth Slant

Dear Partner in Preaching, What’s the difference between a fable and a parable? I think answering this question is crucial if we are to preach this passage. You see, a fable is primarily didactic, a clever story meant to offer some insight into and instruction about life – think Aesop’s Fables for a moment. A parable, on the other hand, is intended to be disruptive, to interrupt what you thought you knew and not just teach you something but actually to confront you with a surprising and often unwanted truth. Fables are handy when you want to give kids some good advice or teach them some moral or practical lesson. Who doesn’t remember...