Thursday, September 17, 2020

Lectionary 25 A - Matthew 20:1-16

                            

Matthew 20:1-16
The kingdom of heaven is a contradiction of the more common kingdom where fair play is measured by survival of the fittest and the winner is the one who dies with the most toys. The all-day workers sweating in the sun obviously deserve more wages than the slackers who sat around all day. You can bet that the next time the master went looking for workers the marketplace had become a right to wait state and expecting a full day’s pay for the last hour was the new normal. That is why the kingdom of heaven is like something no one ever does. And if we are not outright envious of God’s generosity we are at least stingier than Jesus when it comes to the “kingdom come” where last and first are reversed.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Lectionary 25 A - Jonah 4:1-11

                                              

Jonah 4:1-11  Debate on the Book of Jonah is often focused on the detail of the “whale” and whether someone could be swallowed up and survive. Those who read the story as literal truth do so out of reverence for the scriptures as the source and norm of all doctrine and faith and believe if you doubt the literal truth of one story all the other stories are called into question. Those who read Jonah as a parable or allegory also reverence the scriptures as the source and norm of all faith and doctrine but believe a story does not need to be literally true to be true. The point of this story, which I am quite willing to swallow as literally true, is in chapter four. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would be merciful and forgive the enemies of Israel and that was “very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” (4:1) God provided shade to cool Jonah’s jets but then struck it down to make a point and Jonah sitting in the hot sun and lamenting the burned up bush was “angry enough to die.” (4:9) With or without the big fish story this is the part of the text that is literally true about us, especially when like Jonah we care more about the bush of our own understanding than the “great city” of fellow believers whose fish story may be bigger, or smaller, than ours.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Lectionary 24 A - Matthew 18:21-35

                               

Matthew 18:21-35
It is obvious from Peter’s question that he is looking for a loophole and the offer of seven “get out of jail free” cards appears quite generous, especially if the seven times “sins against me” is for the same offense. Seventy-seven times must have come as quite a shock and the parable that follows does not soften the blow. Forgiving a brother or sister from the heart is not an option and there are no loopholes. I don’t know if a purgatory like punishment is the method of payment for those who have racked up a lifetime of debt by withholding forgiveness. If it is, a good bit of the church is in trouble, but then why not, for the church profits from the business of conditional forgiveness. That, of course, negates the cross of Christ and means payment is still required by adherence to the law, even if it is the law of love. Or in other words, same tune different verse. On the other hand those who count on the cross to forgive them and yet withhold mercy from others live in a prison of their own design from which they can never escape. Truth is if we apply this parable to ourselves we too cannot escape the sentence of torture. None of us are innocent. The reason we don’t forgive is because like the wicked slave we don’t value being forgiven. But if we are finally and fully convicted of our hopeless situation we will stop pleading for more time to make good on promises we cannot keep and stop requiring others to do what we cannot. Or in other (and better) words, “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”  William Shakespeare - The Merchant of Venice

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Lectionary 24 A - Psalm 103:1-13

                                         

Psalm 103:1-13
This is a “bless the Lord, O my soul” psalm for all who are weighed down by the debt of their sin and held captive by the bill come due that cannot be repaid. That is not to say we do not need to hear God’s accusing voice or consider the anger of the Lord. No, our rebellious ways grieve God in the same way that a child’s willful act of disobedience troubles a parent. But God has determined to put aside righteous wrath in favor of mercy and compassion for God’s own sake because God’s soul is blessed when ours are set free. That is not to say we are set free to continue grieving God and add to our deficit.  As the apostle Paul says it is for freedom that we have been set free (Galatians 5:1). The gift of beginning each day with “bless the Lord, O my soul” is to be embraced by the steadfast love that knows no limits remembering anew the benefits that bless us and heal us from the dis-ease of our sin. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Lectionary 24 A - Genesis 50:15-21

                                             

This is the happy ending to a story of sibling rivalry that led to violence and treachery and a father’s broken heart. It is as much our story as it is theirs. Like Jacob favoring Joseph because he grieves the death of Joseph’s mother Rachael, we often do not anticipate the chain of events that follow in the wake of our grief. While Joseph can’t be blamed for being thrown down the well it was his boasting that pushed his brothers over the edge. We often speak in ways unbecoming without considering others. The violence and deceit that broke Jacob’s heart is the tragic consequence of jealously unchecked. This too is our story as from Cain and Abel to the present human beings would seem to be predisposed to violence. But the happy ending is our story as well. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons before he dies and maybe repents of that colored coat and the misery it brought. Joseph, humbled by his journey from favored son to slave to master of Egypt’s grain, surprises his fearful brothers and the family torn apart by deceit is restored in shared tears. It might read like a fairy tale but the truly happy ending to this story flows from a Father’s broken heart over his children’s warring madness, that leads him to take on the form of a servant to suffer the harm of the cross in order to preserve more than just “a numerous people.” It is God’s hope that knowing what we know we would be more inclined to live the end of story than the part that comes more naturally to us.