Being Shrewd Like the World for the Sake of the Gospel

Lectionary 25 (17th Sunday after Pentecost)
Luke 16:1-13
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

This past Wednesday evening Derek Jeter,
    the New York Yankees shortstop who is respected even by fans like me,
        who otherwise harbor an unnatural and irrational dislike for the Yankees,
    stood at home plate in Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, bat in hand,
        waiting for the opposing pitcher to hurl the ball.
The pitch came inside, and Jeter jumped to get out of the way.
But apparently he didn’t get out of the way fast enough.
As the ball bounced gently toward the pitcher’s mound,
    Jeter jumped up and down at home plate,
    grabbing his arm and wincing in pain.
The team trainer came out to inspect his arm,
    and the umpires huddled.
Within a few moments, Jeter was awarded first base,
    the umpires ruling that he was hit by the pitch.
But the only problem is this: he wasn’t actually hit by the pitch.

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Sensitivity and Exaggeration in “Ground Zero Mosque” and Luke 13:10-17

Lectionary 21 (13th Sunday after Pentecost)
Isaiah 58:9b-14; Luke 13:10-17
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

I hate to start off so negative.
But I fear for what some might be saying today about this Gospel text,
    in adult forums and pulpits around this country.
Today’s Gospel reading is a story of Jesus healing a woman in a synagogue on the Sabbath.
    As you just heard, after healing the woman,
    Jesus is confronted by the synagogue leader,
        who protests that Jesus performed a work of healing on the day of rest.
And so, I fear for what will be said today about that synagogue leader,
    that he will unfairly be pilloried as an enemy of Christ,
    a denier of grace more interested in divine law than divine love.
But let’s not walk that plank.

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God with us, in darkness and death

Lectionary 18 (10th Sunday after Pentecost)
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

Let me tell you …. Pastor Scott [the Senior Pastor at my church] sure knows how to pick his Sundays off!
    These readings today … wow.
In our first reading we hear from Ecclesiastes,
    the only time in the church’s three-year calendar of readings
    that we read from this book.
And perhaps this is why –
    the author of Ecclesiastes considers pretty much everything
    to be an absurd, futile vanity, a “chasing after the wind.”
    And in an adjacent verse omitted from today’s reading,
        the writer admits that he “hated life” (vs. 17).
As if to confirm this pessimism, we read in vs. 13 that
    “It is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.”
The Gospel for today is equally pessimistic.
Jesus tells a parable about a rich man whose land produced an abundant crop.
Not sure what to do with all his bounty,
    the man decides to tear down his small barn and build a larger barn,
    so that he can store his crops and ease into retirement,
        a plan not unlike the 401(K) plans many of us hold …
But God calls such a man “a fool.”
Ouch.

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The Kingdom of God is like Two Target Gift Cards

Lectionary 17 (9th Sunday after Pentecost)
Genesis 18:20-32; Luke 11:1-13
Sunday, July 25, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

I was out shopping with my girls the other night. 
They each received for their birthdays a great gift, one they couldn’t quite quantify –
    $50 gift cards to Target from their grandparents.
So I took them to Target, gift cards in hand, and set them loose in the toy section.
Go ahead, girls, pick out what you want. 
And remember, thanks to this special gift,
    you can spend more money, and get more toys,
    than you ever do with Mommy and Daddy.
So they wandered up and down the aisles – looking at the Barbies and the dress up clothes,
    the stuffed animals and the games.
Finally, after about ten minutes of deliberation, they came back to me, each holding one toy.

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The Blessed and Holy Task of Being God’s People (Lectionary 14, Year C)

Lectionary 14 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
July 4th, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

I went back home to Philadelphia last week for five days with my kids.
I went to a baseball game to see my beloved Phillies play – they lost
    and to an amusement park designed for young children in Lancaster County.
I stayed a few days at my brother’s house and a few at my in-laws’ house,
    drove through my old neighborhood,
    and even ate a street vendor cheesesteak on the back lawn of Independence Hall
        while my kids blew bubbles and ran around on ground
        where Founding Fathers surely held conversations
            about tyranny, freedom, and self-determination.
It was a great trip.
But despite reliving some old memories and creating some new ones,
    the trip was also tinged with a bit of sadness.

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Speaking Words of Life to Hatred and Death (Lectionary 10, Year C)

Lectionary 10 (2nd Sunday after Pentecost)
1 Kings 17:17–24, Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17
June 6, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

On Wednesday I came home to a most unsettling flier left in my door –
    an anti-immigrant rant from a group called “White Workers Emergency Action.”
    The flier listed an address, the same address used by a neo-Nazi group
    whose website reveres Adolf Hitler, extols the virtues of the Aryan race,
        and belittles Jews, immigrants, and African-Americans.
I was sick to my stomach, mad as hell, and incredibly saddened.

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We’re just a bunch of phonies trying to throw Jesus off a cliff (Lectionary 4, Year C)

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 4:21-30
January 31, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

One you get a few paragraphs deep into The Catcher in the Rye,
    the classic 1951 novel by J.D. Salinger, who died this past week.
    it becomes painfully clear that there's something wrong with Holden Caulfield.
He's angry, depressed, scattered, desperate … yet, and perhaps not surprisingly,
    he shows glimpses of deep insight, as is often the case with those who are marginalized.
He longs for something real,     something authentic, something worth holding on to …
    but this yearning for authenticity contrasts with the phoniness that surrounds him.
You see, Holden Caulfield looks at the world and at those around him
    with a deep skepticism and cynicism,
    acutely diagnosing the phoniness of the people and places around him.
Though most of us might not share his quirks or crude language,
    and though we may not relate to his deep carelessness,
    there is something about his analysis of the phoniness of the world
    that has struck a chord for generations of Americans.

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