Pentecost 20: Image, Likeness, and Identity

Matthew 22:15-22 Genesis 1:26 Dear Partner in Preaching, Allow a suggestion for this week’s preaching: substitute Genesis 1:26 for the first reading, normally from Isaiah (45:1-7) or Exodus (33:12-23). Yes, a single verse. Why? Because I have a feeling it is a verse that might have come to mind to some of those listening to Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees and Herodians. Allow me to explain. We are at the point in Matthew’s story about Jesus where things are getting pretty tense. Earlier in the week, Jesus had entered Jerusalem and been greeted by adoring crowds (Mt. 21:1-11). Riding this wave of popular acclaim, he immediately...

Pentecost 18 A: Words and Deeds

Matthew 21:33-46 Las Vegas. Dear Partner in Preaching, I will confess that I have had a very hard time getting beyond the images and sounds from the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. They have preyed upon my imagination relentlessly, and perhaps they have for you, too…and for many of our people. Violence. More ominously, inexplicable, seemingly random violence. Which is part of what is most frightening. Not only is it becoming clear that there is no easy way to protect vulnerable crowds from gun violence, but also that we can discover no motive, which simultaneously makes this act of horrific violence more random and harder to understand and...

Pentecost 17 A: The Eternal Now

Matthew 21:23-32 Dear Partner in Preaching, Sometimes, when I’m working with a passage, I like to clarify what I know and what I don’t know about what’s going on. I’ll start with those things I/we don’t know, focusing in particular on the parable and treating it as a deepened, if also parabolic (and therefore not transparent), response to the question of authority. Okay, here goes: We don’t know if this behavior was typical of the sons or extraordinary. We don’t know what interaction or conversation the sons may have had with each other (or with their father) after their initial response. We don’t know what may have prevented...

Pentecost 16 A: Choosing Joy

Matthew 20:1-16 Dear Partner in Preaching, One of the “life rules” I’ve adopted as I grow older – and try to live by (always harder!) – is that “no joy comes from comparisons.” Have you ever noticed that? Rather than be content with what you have or who you are or what you’ve accomplished, we so regularly look to those around us to decide whether it is enough based on what others have or are or have accomplished. I suspect this is part of being human – being animated by a deep-seated insecurity that makes it difficult for us to establish some sense of ourselves apart from an external reference. And so we enjoy the car we...

Pentecost 15 A: Forgiveness & Possibility

Matthew 18:21-35 Dear Partner in Preaching, I have come to love this passage. The operative words, however, are “have come,” because I didn’t always. And I the reasons I didn’t always love this passage, but now do, are intimately tied together. My difficulty with the passage has quite simply been that forgiveness can be so exceptionally difficult, and never more so than when it commanded. I don’t mean the occasional moment of warm-hearted forgiveness, overlooking someone’s minor slight when you feel magnanimous; nor do I mean the spontaneous forgiveness you feel when someone is genuinely contrite over some accidental – and...

Pentecost 14 A – Christian Community

Matthew 18:15-20 Dear Partner in Preaching, So what do you think? Rules or relationships? I think this may be the central question to answer in our reading and preaching of this particular passage in Matthew. Is he giving us rules to live by or privileging relationships over, well, just about everything else in our life as Christians. If the former, then you have a rather neat little formula for maintaining a semblance of order in the Christian community. Someone offends you, confront them. If that doesn’t work, try an intervention. If that fails, cut them off and kick them out. If nothing else, it’s at least straight forward, which is...