Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Deuteronomy 34:1-12
  • Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
  • Matthew 22:34-46

Sally, Barb and Moses

Sally and Barb died a good death.
It has been a hollowed year since the winter last
that our friends of St. John’s Church passed.
Families were there for one last breath.

These women of faith had the time and the grit
to make their peace with God, settle their affairs,
mend old sorrows, shed wholesome tears,
and accept that certain hopes won’t be met.

It is argued the prophet Moses died
a good death because he was given the time
to pass the torch to Joshua; but when he climbed
to the top of Nebo and saw the promised land

laid out before him and realized he would not
be alive to kiss the soil, Moses wept.
We all have expectations. Why was Moses kept
from this? Did forty years come to naught?

What does it mean to die a good death?
According to legend, Moses was buried by God
and no one knows for sure where he is laid.
God was there for one last breath.

October 25, 2020

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Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Isaiah 45:1-7
  • Psalm 99
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
  • Matthew 22:15-22

When Religious Pluralism Was the Law

Cyrus the Great was not a modest man.
He called himself the king of the world. His quest
for power began in Anshan, and then he marched west
to conquer Persia, Media, Lydia, and Babylon.

The Decree of Cyrus mandated religious pluralism.
Little did Cyrus care that the prophet Isaiah
pronounced him the anointed of God—that is, the Messiah.
He regarded himself the messiah for everyone.

Wouldn’t it be great if our country had a Decree
where every group could practice its own religion
and no one group was favored? Oh, wait. The Constitution
of the United States of America provides this guarantee.

October 18, 2020

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Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Exodus 32:1-14
  • Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
  • Philippians 4:1-9
  • Matthew 22:1-14

The Parable of the Great Banquet

The wedding feast was ready.
Musicians were tuning up.
The table was groaning with food
and wine filled the cups.

The king invited the best
of subjects, but all withdrew.
They turned him down because
they had better things to do.

One was busy with his oxen.
One was peddling his wares.
One was recently married.
They turned to their own affairs.

The king opened his doors
to all, both good and bad,
to the poor, the crippled, the blind,
and the lame—and they were glad!

They were glad to eat and drink.
As persons, they were the least,
but the king was glad his guests
were grateful to join his feast.

Christian, are you prepared
for the king’s banquet fare?
Prepare your heart for God
and open your heart to the poor.

NOTE: These are lyrics for an anthem.

October 11, 2020

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Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
  • Psalm 19
  • Philippians 3:4-14
  • Matthew 21:33-46

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Hear a parable! The Lord created a vineyard.
No other estate in the realm was quite so grand.
He planted a thorny hedge on the outer edge
to keep the thieves and animals from breaking in.
He built the perfect winepress for the grapes.
He raised a tower to house the vineyard tenants.

Before he leased the land, the Lord commanded
that the tenants care for the land and pay their rent.
He then withdrew to live in a distant land.
At harvest time, the Lord dispatched a messenger
to ask the tenants to pay the Lord a share
of the produce. The messenger was beaten and sent away.

The patient Lord sent more messengers,
one after the other, to collect the promised rent.
But the result was always the same—all the messengers
were beaten, stoned, or killed by the wicked tenants.
Finally, the Lord decided to send his son.
The Lord declared, “The tenants will respect my son.”

Instead, the wicked tenants seized the son.
They murdered the son and cast him out of the vineyard.
By this they hoped to gain the son’s inheritance.
The Lord was furious the tenants killed his son.
His patience spent, he vowed to purge the vineyard.
He expelled the tenants and gave the vineyard to others.

It was Jesus himself who said: Hear a parable!
The chief priests and the elders of the people knew
exactly who the wicked tenants were.
They knew the messengers represented the prophets.
They knew what Jesus meant when he quoted the psalm,
the stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone.

October 4, 2020

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Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Exodus 17:1-7
  • Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
  • Philippians 2:1-13
  • Matthew 21:23-32

Jesus Christ is Lord

The oldest creed is a simple creed:
Jesus Christ is Lord. These words can fit
on a bumper sticker. The need

for theological precision marginalizes the spirit.
By laying down doctrinal stumbling stones,
we make it easy to trip.

Jesus Christ is Lord feels right in the bones.
We aren’t concerned about the heretic or the fool
when heart’s love is the rule.

September 27, 2020

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Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Exodus 16:2-15
  • Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
  • Philippians 1:21-30
  • Matthew 20:1-16

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

I was an L.A. kid. My favorite sport
was baseball. The weather was always kind
enough for a game. My friends and I
knew the batting averages and the earned run
averages of the players in the PCL,
and all the major league stats. I followed the Angels.
It was always a treat to go to Wrigley Field
with my dad and watch the Angels play ball.
I never went without some friends from school.

One Saturday, my dad took me and two
of my friends to an Angels game. We sat near
the back of the lower section overlooking
first base. There was a section in front of us
right by the visitors’ dugout completely empty.
These seats were the most expensive in the park,
but today, those ticket holders did not show up.

Wrigley had a custom to let the local kids
into the stands after a couple of innings,
just to fill up the ballpark. It was a neighborly policy
with the surrounding community in south L.A.
and it helped to boost the noise for the home team.

When a boisterous group of black kids commandeered
the seats in the coveted section down below,
a man sitting near us began to grumble
about them in a loud voice. This same man
was telling his companion at the start of the game
how pleased he was with his seats at the ballpark.
He did have great seats, but it made him angry
when poor kids sat closer to the action.

The man complained and muttered racial slurs
for two innings before my father finally
had enough. Dad was sure the commentary
was ruining the experience for me and my friends.
After one racist rant too many, my father turned
to him and said, “Hey, knock it off.
We’re trying to watch the game.” The man was caught
off guard, “Well, it isn’t fair. I paid good money
for these seats, and those kids don’t deserve
the luxury box.” Dad said, “I heard you bragging
about your seats when you came in. You said
they were perfect. What happened? Relax,”
he said gesturing toward the buoyant fans
in the stands, “enjoy the game with the rest of us.”

It worked. We never heard another word.
Later, my dad explained it this way:
“It is a gift just to be there at Wrigley Field
where the sun is shining and the Angels are winning.
Be happy. It doesn’t matter where you sit.”

September 20, 2020

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Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Exodus 14:19-31
  • Psalm 114
  • Romans 14:1-12
  • Matthew 18:21-35

My Moment in Time

Curving through a basalt cut,
the slim-waisted river brings
waters from the Two Oceans Plateau

at Jackson Lake to the faraway waters
out west, all the way to Astoria.
Cache Peak is due south.

Smooth-sanded alluvial fans
are tan with flecks of sagebrush teal.
To the north, the massive Craters of the Moon

lava fields lie between the river
and the distant mountains of central Idaho.
I stand alone in this isolated spot.

Civilization is nowhere in sight.
Little has changed since the Bonneville Flood
scoured the Portneuf River Valley

at the end of the Ice Age or even
when the first people arrived more
than ten thousand years ago.

This moment by the river—my moment
in time—is a one-of-a-kind snapshot
in the millions of years that some version

of the Snake River flowed to the Pacific.
This tiny stretch of river is not
the complete river any more than lives

exists in isolation apart from all the brothers
and sisters of the past, present, and future.
Like the island in the stream parting the waters,

it isn’t you who travels forward.
The small measure of time meant for you
travels toward you and beyond you.

September 13, 2020

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Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Exodus 12:1-14
  • Psalm 149
  • Romans 13:8-14
  • Matthew 18:15-20

On Selfish Prayer

The Germans were fond of the slogan, Gott mit uns.*
They wore these words on belt buckles and helmets
and they hoisted them on a sign in the Great War.
The British responded, We got mittens, too.
Jason and Jamal each prayed to win
the state championship, but for opposite teams.
Jamal’s team won and he was chosen MVP.
After the game he said, I give thanks to God!
When you pray for victory, what answer do you expect?
Prayer is not a zero-sum game.
The scripture says, Again, truly I tell you,
if two of you agree on earth about anything
you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

When two or more pray for a selfish purpose,
it does not matter if the group agrees or not.
Nothing will be done by your Father in heaven
except what God decides is best for you.

*God is with us. 

September 6, 2020

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Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Exodus 3:1-15
  • Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45
  • Romans 12:9-21
  • Matthew 16:21-28

Adversary

Jesus was tempted to power not once but twice—
before his ministry by the arch enemy Satan
and a second time by Simon Peter, his friend.
Both offered similar career advice:

give the people bread and material things
and they will follow you wherever you go;
and put aside your thoughts of the cross and go
along with the religious police to get along.

An Adversary is any force who seeks to deflect
our good intentions away from the way of God.
It is doubly sad that Simon Peter allowed
himself to innocently mimic the force of darkness.

August 30, 2020

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Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Isaiah 51:1-6
  • Psalm 124
  • Romans 12:1-8
  • Matthew 16:13-20

Look Forward by Looking Back

Sarah and Abraham were an odd pair
for nation building. They were old and childless
when the Lord made Abraham a promise:
Look towards heaven and count the stars,

if you are able to count them…
So shall your descendants be.
And so it came to pass that he
fathered a nation in the land of Canaan.

Faith in God was the quarry and rock
from which the nation of Israel came.
When faith fell away, the flame
of national purpose was snuffed out.

The strong grew from few to many;
they left their home to follow the Lord.
In Isaiah’s telling, by failing the Lord,
the people squandered the land of plenty.

Our story begins in Mesopotamia
when Abraham leaves for the promised land.
A renewed spirit reclaims the coastlands
as the nation returns from Babylonia.

Righteousness in the coastlands is coming back.
Look back to Abraham and Sarah’s foretelling
and how they created something from nothing.
Look forward by looking back.

August 23, 2020

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Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Genesis 45:1-15
  • Psalm 133
  • Romans 11:1-2, 29-32
  • Matthew 15:21-28

On Slavery

Joseph, the son of Jacob, was sold
into slavery by his jealous kin
to merchants passing through. Eventually,
he belonged to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.
Summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dream,
Joseph became Egypt’s vizier
when he predicted seven long years
of abundance followed by seven of lean.
He suffered in slavery, thanks to his brothers,
then rose in Egypt to privilege and power;
and yet in Egypt’s darkest hour
he had no problem enslaving others
including his own people, the Israelites,
for the next four hundred years.
During the seven famine years,
he took the people’s money, their livestock,
and even their land in exchange for food.
Joseph “enslaved the Egyptian people
from one end of Egypt to the other.”
All Egyptians were rendered equal.
It was a slave state like no other
as the people forfeited freedom for food.

August 16, 2020

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Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year A Readings:

  • Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
  • Psalm 85:8-13
  • Romans 10:5-15
  • Matthew 14:22-33

Shalom

The Lord restored the trickster Jacob
and the Israelites who bore his name
whenever they fell into trouble and woe
time and time again.

Whenever the people went astray,
wrath begot forgiveness.
How sweet it was to be restored,
receiving loving kindness!

Life is more than staying alive;
the wholeness of life is shalom.
Peace is more than the absence of war;
the presence of God is shalom.

Restore us now to full communion
and save our generation.
Show us now your steadfast love
and grant us your salvation. 

August 9, 2020

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