The gentle (“meek”, part 2)


Matthew 5

File:Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral (Baltimore) - Sermon on the Mount - Stained Glass.jpg

Stained glass window of the Sermon on the Mount. Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation (Baltimore, Maryland). By ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I wrote yesterday of the promise that the humbled shall receive from God’s hand what has been taken from them. I talked about Psalm 37 and the use of the word “meek” to refer to the poor and oppressed. But there is more in this declaration than just the promise of God’s vindication of those whose lands have been stolen. The Greek word does mean gentle. It is used in ancient Greek of mild horses, tamed animals, and gentle souls.

This word translated ‘meek’ shows up two other times in Matthew’s Gospel: in Matthew 11:

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

and in Matthew’s quotation of Zechariah 9:9:

4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

It is hard to separate the two dimensions of meaning: gentleness and poor. Jesus is the master who knows life’s adversities and so his demands upon his servants are gracious. He has been wounded and can treat the wounded with care. He knows our brokenness and receives us kindly. It’s a different Lord than the conquering hero who has never known defeat and rewards only success.

We live in a competitive world. I don’t know if parents let their children play “king-of-the-hill” anymore. Perhaps my mother wouldn’t either if she had known what we were doing on the dirt pile in the construction site behind our street. But the parade of trophies for soccer and dance and band, and the bumper stickers advertising a child’s success, are kind of the same thing. Who’s up? Who’s ahead? Especially now, we seem to live in a culture of self-promotion, tweeting our successes and adventures. We rank football teams and eligible bachelor/bachelorettes and fortune 500 companies and we measure who has the most ‘friends’ or ‘followers’.

Into this world of our constant scramble up the dirt pile, Jesus speaks of a gentleness that doesn’t push others down but lifts them up – a gentleness that forgives seventy-seven times, a meekness willing to serve, a humbleness that bends to wash feet, a love that lays down its life.

Such a gentleness is honored in the sight of God.


The humbled (“meek” part 1)


Matthew 5

File:Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights march on Washington D.C. in 1963.jpg

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Mathew Ahmann, executive director of the National Catholic Conference for Interrracial Justice, at a civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I heard once, when I was in high school, that the word meek was used of a warhorse trained for battle who was not frightened by the chaos and cries of the clash of armies. I haven’t been able to verify such a use of the Greek word, however much it appealed to an adolescent boy in search of a masculine Christianity.

What the word is routinely used for in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament (the sacred scriptures of the first believers) is those who are humbled by oppression and poverty. And the sentiment expressed by Jesus that those who have had their lands stolen from them shall receive them back again is not new to Jesus. Psalm 37 advises the faithful to “trust in the LORD and do good,” “commit [their] way to the LORD,” “refrain from anger and forsake wrath,” for “yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more,” and “the meek shall inherit the land.”

It advises against the angry vindictiveness that leads to a cycle of revenge: “Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him.”

The psalm declares that God will execute justice, that God will defend the poor, that God will cut off the wicked and “the righteous shall inherit the land.” (v.29)

“Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land.” (v. 34)

It sounds like the psalmist is counseling what we would call ‘quietism.” At least for us, in our culture, the word ‘meek’ suggests those who do not fight back against oppression – those who make great doormats.

I didn’t want to hear that as a teen. I still don’t. I wanted to fight injustice. I hated the insensitivity, the self-absorption, the self-righteousness of power. It wasn’t enough for me to hear that God will set things right in the end.

But there are times and places and peoples where those simple words are words of great hope and power: “God will set it right.” “God will set it right.”

Such a promise doesn’t make me weak; it makes me strong. God will make it right. The corruption and abuse of power will not endure. The world does not belong to those with money and great lawyers. The world does not belong to those who control congress and the media. The world does not belong to those with guns. The world does not belong to the hackers and hijackers. The world belongs to God and God will make it right.

The meek, the oppressed, the beat down, the humbled and humiliated will inherit the earth. Not just the family farm. Not just the land of Israel. They are the inheritors of the whole creation, raised from sloth and slime into glorious freedom of the children of God.

The injustice I oppose now will fall. Perhaps not today. Perhaps not tomorrow. But it will fall. The greed I oppose now will fall. The tyranny I oppose now will fall. Violence will not reign. It is not a word about the sweet by and by – it is a word about creation’s destiny. Our destiny is in God. And God has shown himself to be one who set slaves free, who is the avenger of widows and orphans, who commands the sharing of bread and freeing of servants and the protection of the natural world, who returns the humbled to their land.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

A clash of worlds


Matthew 5

File:Angel from Morosov Gospel 15th century.jpg

Angel. Symbol of Matthew the Evangelist, miniature from Morosov-Gospel, early 15th century.

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them

The Gospel of Matthew is brilliantly constructed. Themes we find at the beginning are paralleled by events at the end. All Jerusalem is in turmoil when the magi appear inquiring about a new king, and all Jerusalem is in tumult when the new king finally arrives on a donkey and her colt. The beatitudes spoken as Jesus’ first words in the Sermon on the Mount declaring what is honorable in God’s sight are paralleled by the woes spoken at the end about all that is shameful in God’s sight. With the declaration “you snakes” in 23:33, there are eight makarisms and eight “shame-on-you”s – plus the snake reference mirrors the words of John the Baptist.)

Jesus is the faithful son who goes down to Egypt and returns, who does not break faith when tempted by Satan, who cares for the poor and loves the neighbor, who embodies the just and merciful reign of God, and faithfully proclaims the word of God. In contrast is the city of Jerusalem who “kill[s] the prophets and stone those sent to [them].”

The murder attempted in Matthew 2 will succeed in Matthew 27. The leadership of the nation chooses a murderer over the faithful son. Jesus is what God’s people fail to be.

Against this great backdrop we come back, this Sunday, to the beatitudes. These are not beautiful words of spiritual poetry; they are the overture of a great drama, the clash between the way of God and the way of human empires, the clash between God and the gods of this world. Here Jesus declares what is honorable in the sight of God. And he speaks the promise that these honored of God and spurned by the world will inherit all things.

Caesar claims to be the savior of humankind, but brings death. Jesus is the savior who brings life. The Pax Romana, the imperial peace of Augustus, is a tyranny at the point of a sword; the peace of God is Immanuel, God with us, before whom Magi kneel offering royal treasures.

Choose your lord,” says Matthew. Choose whom you will serve. Choose whom you will follow: the soldiers who fall down like dead men, or the dead man who lives.

And here again we see the rich construction of Matthew’s Gospel: this Jesus, risen, vindicated by God, who was promised in the beginning of the Gospel to be Immanuel, God with us, at the end of the Gospel sends his followers into the world declaring with his final words: “I am with you always to the end of the age.”

“He is not a God of the dead, but of the living.”

Watching for the morning of November 2

Year A

All Saints Sunday


Fra Angelico, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24) Tempera on wood, National Gallery, London

The celebration of All Saints has its roots in a day of remembrance for the martyrs of the Diocletian persecution, too numerous for each death to be honored on its own day. Like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it represents the many ordinary men, women and children whose fidelity to God braved death rather than acclaim Caesar as lord and savior. The destiny of the world is not in this or any human imperium, but the bending of every knee in allegiance to the lamb who was slain and lives, the anointed of God who offered his life for the world. It is not power that rules the world, but love.

From the memory of these martyrs came a day to honor all those heroes of the faith who did not have their own day on the church calendar. In the 8th century the feast was moved to November 1 in the western church, and later the Feast of All Souls was added on November 2nd.

With the Reformation insight that the whole body of Christ are properly called saints – set apart for God’s holy purpose – the feast of All Saints merged with All Souls to became an occasion to remember all the faithful departed.

But we are not remembering the dead – we are remembering those who live in Christ. We are remembering the whole body of Christ from every time and place, on earth and in God’s presence, as we await together that day when the earth is forever freed from tears and all things are made radiant like a bride adorned for her husband.” We await a world reconciled, a world healed, human life made whole – and we choose to kneel before this vision of life rather than the empires of power and greed.

So this Sunday we hear of the song of heaven from Revelation 7. We sing Psalm 34 about “the Lord [who] redeems the life of his servants.” We hear the promise of 1 John that “we are God’s children now” – and though “what we shall be” remains a mystery, we have the promise that we shall be “like him” who was crucified and raised. And finally we hear again the words of the Beatitudes declaring God’s vindication for the poor who grieve over this broken world and hunger for true righteousness. We hear Jesus proclaim that it is these the merciful, the peacemakers, living God’s values in the midst of human empire building, who are honored in God’s sight. To them the earth belongs, and they shall know and delight in the fullness of God’s kingdom.

(Note: The title comes from Luke 20:38)

The Prayer for All Saints Sunday

Eternal God, source and goal of all things,
founding the world in your goodness and renewing it by your Holy Spirit,
creating us in your image, redeeming us in your Son,
and uniting us in one great company from every race and nation,
who sing your praise and bear your word and work to the world,
fill us with that confidant hope, born of the empty tomb,
that frees us to live as your faithful people, now and forever,
through your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord.


The Texts for All Saints Sunday

First Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
– The prophet’s vision turns from the woes of earth (as the seals are opened that draw the earth to that day when the reign of the slain-yet-risen lamb is everywhere acknowledged) to the heavens where he sees the faithful gathered around the throne of God.

Psalmody: Psalm 34:1-10, 22
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A song of praise for God’s deliverance that celebrates God’s care for the poor vulnerable and describes those who are honored in God’s sight.

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” – The author affirms that we belong already to the household of God, inheritors of the age to come, and declares that, though we cannot comprehend the future that awaits us, “we shall be like him” – sharing in the resurrection.

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – The Gospel for All Saints takes us back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and the foundational teaching about those who are honored in God’s sight.

“A new covenant”


Jeremiah 31

Sharing the first ring of the Kransekage, a Danish wedding cake

Sharing the first ring of the Kransekage, a Danish wedding cake

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

It is difficult to communicate how profound a declaration this is. It is the word of a marital partner repeatedly betrayed and, at the end of a brutal divorce, declaring: “We will yet have a happy marriage. There will be a new wedding. The day will surely come when perfect love is written on the heart.”

If it were not the voice of God, we would give the spurned spouse a “Denial is not a river in Egypt” award.

God will start again. A people created by a promise to Abraham, led out of bondage, wondrously delivered into a new land and provided with every blessing, turn instead to the gods of the land, the gods of fertility and prosperity, the gods of the surrounding nations, the values of ancient cultures built on wealth and power,

God let it fall to dust, crushed by yet greater wealth and power. Temple, priesthood, kingship, city, all destroyed.

But God will start again.

It is the pattern found throughout the Biblical narrative from the very beginning: Garden and betrayal. God appeals to Cain, but Cain chooses murder. God gives Adam and Eve to one another in perfect love, and Lamech chooses multiple wives, Sodom chooses rape, the daughters of Lot choose incest. Judah chooses prostitution. Gibeah chooses rape and murder. David murders Uriah and takes his wife. Prostitution, pederasty, adultery, God’s precious, intimate, life-giving gift is sacrificed to the gods of power and pleasure. Self-giving love becomes selfish love.

War, pillaging, slavery, hunger, everywhere God’s gift of a good and bountiful creation is corrupted and abused.

But God will start again. A new heaven and a new earth – not meaning God will discard the old, but God will heal the broken and wounded world until the soiled becomes pure, like a bride adorned. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

God will birth us from above. God will pour out his holy Spirit. God will conform us to the image of Christ. The deserts shall blossom. A holy city.

“I will make a new covenant.” There shall be a new wedding. Our rebellious, defiant hearts shall be made free. We shall learn love and fidelity. The will and purpose of God will be written on our hearts.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come. Come and begin your work now in me.

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Being made free


John 8

File:Jacob Savery the Elder - Garden of Eden - 1601.jpg

Jacob Savery the elder, Garden of Eden, 1601

31“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

It is a tragic conversation. Jesus offers freedom and they take offense: “We…have never been slaves to anyone.” How dare you?! How dare you suggest that we are not free?! How dare you suggest that we are not liberated people, able to chose our own way?! How dare you suggest that we are bound in ignorance, passions and fears?! How dare you suggest that we are captive to our own brokenness?! How dare you suggest that we need some word, some spirit, some vision besides our own?! What do we need from you that we cannot do on our own?! We can make our own choices, chart our own path, seek our own destiny!

The truth is they abide in themselves. Like we all do.

The narrative of Adam and Eve is a rich and subtle text. Created by the breath of God and the soil of the earth, our first parents are given a royal garden to tend. They may feast upon the bounty of that garden. Every fruit of every tree save one is theirs, including the tree of life. But the serpent breaks the spell. With that crafty question “Did God say?” they become the interpreters of God’s word rather than the hearers of it. They now decide what God means instead of living in his word. But some words are not meant to be analyzed. A marriage vow is spoken and received, not evaluated and interpreted. A parent’s love is spoken and inhabited, not studied and debated. What should be a handshake is now an 80 page contract. We do not trust and abide in God’s declaration of love; we parse it.

We imagine we are free, when we are bound within ourselves. We cannot escape our self-consciousness. We cannot let go our self-concern. Only God’s word, God’s speech, God’s declaration of love and grace can free us from ourselves.

Some belief is not belief at all. It is a religiousness that serves the self: inflating my self-image, enhancing my self-righteousness, seeking God’s favor and protection. If Jesus can feed 5,000 from five small bits of bread, I will never be hungry again. Nothing here about feeding the hungry, only feeding myself and my own.

And there is only one remedy for untwisting my soul. Abiding in his word. Dwelling in his promise. Being daily encountered by an incomprehensible self-sacrificing love. Eating the bread that gives eternal life rather than the bread that sustains daily life.

Abiding there will show me the truth of all existence and free me from myself, free me to love God and neighbor, free me to live as heaven’s gardeners in true innocence and faithfulness, in true grace and life.

“A Mighty Fortress”


Psalm 46

Photo credit: dkbonde

The Wartburg.  Photo credit: dkbonde

1God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

This psalm is the source of Luther’s famous hymn: “A Mighty Fortress.” It is profound expression of trust in God in the midst of life’s chaos.

Luther was an outlaw when he wrote the hymn. He had been condemned at the Imperial Diet in Worms in 1521. The imperial edict forbade anyone to provide any food, clothing, protection or assistance to Luther. It required that he be immediately imprisoned or sent in chains to the Emperor and authorized the authorities to confiscate the property of any “sympathizers, supporters, patrons, protectors and followers” of Luther.

Luther had been given free passage to the Diet, so was allowed to leave the city before the edict was published. Once outside the city, he was kidnapped (by friends) and taken into hiding at the Wartburg. There he grew a beard and masqueraded as Junker Jorg. Bored, he sent for his Greek New Testament and translated it into German. When Wittenberg was torn by zealous proponents of a swifter, more radical reform, Luther returned despite the sentence over his head. In a series of sermons he rebuked the reformers for failing to act in love.

Though Luther was out of hiding, the Emperor was not in a position to march on Saxony to enforce the edict – Suleiman the Magnificent was advancing on Vienna; Hapsburg lands were under attack from Charles’ brother Ferdinand; and Turkish pirates threatened the Mediterranean – but the threat remained and Wittenberg did fall to imperial troops in 1547 (though Luther had died the year before).

In the tumult of those years, Luther transformed the psalm into a hymn that expressed the same profound trust in God despite the chaos of the world around him.

We live in a time when fear is a tool of politics and media. The lead-in to the evening news seems always to warn of some imminent threat, from Ebola to terrorism to the hidden dangers of ordinary household products. We see images of floods and fires and civil unrest and it is easy to imagine that the world is devolving into chaos. To suggest that “God is our refuge and strength,” may seem like denial. But neither Luther nor the psalmist is pretending. Luther’s hymn declares, “Though life be wrenched away, he [Satan] cannot win the day. One little word shall fell him.”

The psalm does not promise that nothing bad shall happen to believers. It simply celebrates God’s triumph over all the forces of chaos, whether in nature or in politics. It remembers that whatever may happen, God has spoken. He has passed judgment. He has declared us forgiven. He has opened the grave. And neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“A second is like it”


Matthew 22

File:Hebrew Sefer Torah Scroll side view.JPG

Hebrew Sefer Torah Scroll, photocredit: Bejinhan

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

The text says that they were trying to “test him.” It is not a sincere question. His interrogators already know the answer – or, at least, think they do. Their purpose is to show that Jesus is ignorant of the law and the complex arguments that go into weighing all the different commands and prohibitions God has given in the Torah, the covenant law found in Exodus through Deuteronomy. There is a rule that you must corral your neighbor’s ox or donkey if it wanders off – but there is a rule not to work on Sabbath. What if the animal upon which your neighbor’s life depends wanders off on Sabbath? Which command is more important? The task of ranking the 613 commandments is a complicated one. And which lies at the top? Which is most important of all? This is the question the Pharisees set before Jesus. It is a question designed to disgrace him in the eyes of others, to show his ignorance, to show he is not worthy to be followed.

But Jesus gives a prompt and knowledgeable answer. He cites Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the daily recitation of all faithful: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” And then he adds a second that is ‘like it’ from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

A lot hinges on that phrase ‘like it.’ First of all the sentence begins with the disjunctive conjunction ‘but’ or ‘now’ rather than the normal ‘and’. The word of Jesus sounds much different if he says “but a second is like it.” It suggests that there is some surprise in that added element.

What exactly does Jesus mean that it is ‘like it’? Is loving one’s neighbor ‘like’ loving God? Or is loving one’s neighbor ‘like’ the other in that they are of equal weight, both are the chief command?

Is Jesus giving a conventional answer and then adding a challenge: “But a second is equal to it”?

It is a conflict situation, and I think that requires us to hear this second part of his answer as if Jesus were striking back at his opponents. He has not only shown that he knows the scripture – but he is attacking their central weakness. These are a people he will accuse of tithing their garden herbs in a scrupulous attention to the commandments, while neglecting the weightier matters of justice and mercy.

You cannot separate love from God from love from neighbor. The religious people think they love God faithfully, honoring him in their scrupulous observance of the purity laws and temple rituals, but they ignore the hungry and burdened at their doorstep. They are indifferent to the suffering of those losing their land under the burden of imperial rule. And they haven’t even begun to consider the radical idea that all people are their neighbor, that all people must be regarded with the same concern and attachment as members of a common household or clan.

There is a rebuke in Jesus’ answer, a rebuke we should hear carefully.

Not a tame lion

Watching for the morning of October 26

Year A

Reformation Sunday
The Ninteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 25 / Lectionary 30

File:Cranach Martin Luther.JPG

Portrait of the young Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Reformation Day is October 31st, the eve of All Saints when, in 1517, Martin Luther is supposed to have nailed the 95 theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg. There is some doubt about the historicity of that event – though no doubt about the 95 theses themselves. What seems in legend as a defiant act of protest was in fact something less. The theses, written in Latin and proposing a debate on the sacrament of penance, would have belonged on the doors of the castle church since that was the sanctuary used by the University of Wittenberg and constituted the university bulletin board where such notices were posted – and Latin was the language of scholarly debate. But there is apparently no evidence the debate occurred beyond the uproar that arose from the radical challenge to the marketing of papal indulgences and the daring proclamation (among others) that

  1. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
  2. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.
  3. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
  4. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  5. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.

For a religious system that was constructed around the fear of judgment and hell and a sacramental system to remove the penalties of sin, Luther had brought an axe to the root of the tree. What began as an effort to reform the excesses of the marketing of indulgences became one of those moments when the liberating power of the message of God’s grace escaped our natural human efforts to contain it.

Reformation Day is not a celebration of the Protestant Reformation; it is a humble remembrance of God’s repeated triumphs over every effort to domesticate him. In the wonderful words of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: Aslan is not a tame lion.

Sunday we will read the great and wonderful lessons that are associated with Reformation Day, since few families would come to worship on Halloween. But we will also read the appointed Gospel for the Sunday that falls from October 23 to 29, since everything else we say about the 16th century reformation is meaningless if we do not hear Jesus say that the chief command is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind – and then hear him add that the obscure commandment from Leviticus 19 is equal to it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Prayer for Reformation Sunday

Gracious and eternal God,
who by your Word called all things into being,
and by your Spirit sustains and renews the earth,
send forth your Word and your Spirit upon your church,
that ever renewed they may bear faithful witness to your grace and life.

The Assigned Texts for Reformation Sunday

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
– Though the covenant formed between God and Israel when God’s law was given at Sinai lies broken, God will create a new covenant relationship, where God’s teaching/commands are written on the heart.

Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A hymn proclaiming the power of God to protect and preserve the people and expressing their confident trust in God’s saving work. It provided the inspiration for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” – Paul’s classic expression of his understanding of the function of law and gospel and the idea that we are brought into a right relationship with God (justified) not by the law, but by the free gift of God (by grace) apprehended by our trust in that gift (through faith). This phrase “Justification by grace through faith” becomes a summary statement of the reforming movement.

Gospel: John 8:31-36
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – This promise of freedom in Christ – freedom from authorities or powers that would prevent their living in service of God – is spoken to followers who do not abide in Jesus’ teaching, and his challenge will reveal their true heart.

The assigned Gospel for the Sunday from October 23 to October 29

Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” – The Pharisees bring one final challenge to discredit Jesus by asking him which is the chief commandment taking precedence over all others. Jesus rightly begins with the familiar text to love the LORD, but then adds, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

(The text of the 95 Theses is from Luther’s Works, Vol. 31, Career of the Reformer I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.), Philadelphia: Fortress Press, pp. 25-33.)

Like a bride

Sunday Evening

Sunday was my daughter’s wedding – that’s why there were a few missing reflections on the texts for last week.

The wedding was in the wine country, a “destination wedding”, since no matter where we held it, family and friends would have to fly in from all over the country. But there was something sweet and profound in the blend of accents from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Colorado, New Hampshire, and I’m not sure where else. Isaiah 25 declares that God will prepare a feast for all peoples; a world whose primal unity was broken will be gathered back together for God’s great banquet. In Matthew 14 that feast is anticipated in the feeding of the 5,000. In John 2 that banquet is anticipated in the new wine at Cana. In Revelation 21 that banquet is portrayed as a new Jerusalem, adorned like a bride for her husband.

Every wedding exults in the joy of creation and declares the promise of the banquet to come. In every wedding the bride is beautiful and the groom handsome, every flaw forgotten. In every wedding there is joy and dancing. In every wedding the woes of the world are forgotten for a moment.

It’s not that the woes are not there. An empty chair with daisies stood on the aisle for Megan’s missing sister. This date was the birthday of my missing brother. There are losses and wounds among us all, but they cannot overshadow the joy of the wedding. Hope, joy, the presence of possibility and future, the mystery and delight of two who find in one another a deep and enduring bond and dare to promise it no matter what comes – here joy trumps sorrow, hope trumps despair, life trumps death. There is a reason Jesus uses the wedding feast as a metaphor for God’s reign.

We live as believers – those who know the resurrection and trust the promise that God will fulfill his purpose of bringing life to us and to the world.

So we sing and dance and break the bread of the eternal feast.

(If you would like to read the sermon from the wedding, it is posted at