Advent 2 B: Just the Beginning

Mark 1:1-8 Dear Partner in Preaching, I don’t know about you, but I find myself, during these weeks leading up to Christmas, simultaneously filled by the joy and anticipation of the season and…running pell-mell from one activity to another, barely on top of what’s coming next. This was somewhat true when I was a seminary prof, more true as a sem. president, and is even more the case now that I’m back in a parish. (I trust I’m not alone in this experience and that you probably know just what I mean!) And while it’s easy to forget amid all our various responsibilities, this combination of joyful celebration and slightly frenetic...

Advent 1 B: A Present-Tense Advent

Mark 13:24-37 Dear Partner in Preaching, I sometimes think Norman Rockwell is one of the most dangerous artists of the past century. I know that may initially sound a bit absurd, as Rockwell’s overly cheerful, even sentimental style led many to dismiss him as a serious artist and, indeed, often to refer to him instead as a mere illustrator. Moreover, I say this as one who enjoys Rockwell’s endearing style and portrait of what feels like a bygone era. Yet it is precisely Rockwell’s sentimentality that poses certain hazards, particularly when it is viewed it not as sentimental but as ideal. Think of it this way: how many of us look at...

Christ the King A: Surprised by God…Again!

Matthew 25:31-46 Dear Partner in Preaching, What surprises me about this familiar and daunting passage is, well, the surprise. The surprise of both groups alike. Think about it: “when did we…” and “when didn’t we…” are only a sliver apart. Neither group denies its behavior. One group did indeed feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned and more. But they didn’t think much of it. And the other group did not do these things…and did not think much of it either. So they’re not surprised by the report of their actions. Rather, they are surprised that the Son of Man was present, which I find incredibly...

Pentecost 24 A: What You See Is What You Get

Matthew 25:14-30 Dear Partner in Preaching, What prompts the terror of the third servant? I mean, he’s not just nervous, or even afraid, but rather terrified. And so not only doesn’t he go out and trade to increase the considerable amount with which he has been entrusted – approximately a million dollars – but he doesn’t even put it in the bank for interest (as the property owner observes), but buries it in the ground (lest the banks fail?). What’s curious to me is that I’ve often read this parable without even questioning the servant’s assessment of his boss. When he says, “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where...

Pentecost 23 A – The Waiting

Matthew 25:1-13 Dear Partner in Preaching, The refrain from Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” kept coming to mind while reading the parable of the bridesmaids.[1]  You probably remember the plaintive quality of the so recently deceased Petty’s singing, adding at least a third syllable to “waiting”: “The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, You take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.” In her commentary on Working Preacher, Dr. Susan Hylen offers what I found to be a really helpful insight: the point of the parable is not constant readiness. “Keep awake” does not imply...

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...