File:Contando Dinheiro (8228640).jpg

Watching for the Morning of October 11, 2015

Year B

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

The Pharisees’ question to Jesus about divorce turned into an invitation by him to live the kingdom. Now a rich man comes asking how to enter the kingdom, but he turns away, unable to live the life Jesus is bringing.

We know this story as the story of the rich, young ruler, but Mark doesn’t tell us that he is any of these, until it comes out at the end that the man cannot give up his wealth. Every adjective we add to describe this person who comes to Jesus seeking the kingdom of God, every detail with which he is embellished, pushes him further and further into a comfortable distance from ourselves. Bit by bit we define him as someone specific rather than an everyman. He becomes someone else, not me.

But he is me – me with different issues, maybe, but me. What is Jesus asking of us? What is he promising? What do I have to walk away from in order to walk into the realm of the Spirit? My wealth? My anger? My bitterness? My sorrow?

The subject under discussion here is wealth – but much more than wealth. Even as last week’s conversation was about much more than divorce. We are still on the journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus is still headed to the cross and resurrection. He is still talking about what it means to take up the cross, what it means to be citizens of the dawning reign of light and life, what it means to show allegiance to Jesus and Jesus only.

The prophet Amos tills the soil for the seeds Jesus is sowing. He cries out against the economic injustice of his day, the loss of compassion, the abuse of the poor, and declares the coming catastrophe when Assyria will come trample those who trampled the poor:

“You have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.”

The psalmist calls us to be wise, to recognize that

“The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

Pain and struggle and mortality are the heritage of a world turned away from God – but the poet prays for God to soften the burden of life’s sorrows.

What is unspoken in the psalm – but present nonetheless – is the recognition that our brief and fragile life should be spent in “fear” of the eternal God (respect and honor of God’s ways).

As he warns us to show trust and allegiance to God, the author of Hebrews states boldly that the Word of God will reveal the heart of each of us. But he also declares that in Christ we may “approach the throne of grace with boldness.”

In this mix of warning and promise, judgment and grace, there is an abiding promise that God’s reign is dawning. It requires our full allegiance, but it abounds with riches – just not the ones taken from our neighbors.

The Prayer for October 11, 2015

In your kingdom, O God, all find shelter and all are fed.
May your Spirit reign among us
that, abiding in your goodness,
we may live with joyful and generous hearts;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 11, 2015

First Reading: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
“Because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them.” – In the 8th century BCE, during the reign of Jereboam II, the northern kingdom of Israel grew rich but failed to live God’s justice and mercy. As Assyria rises to power, the prophet Amos cries out against the nation’s failure, warning them of the coming catastrophe, and urging them to turn and live.

Psalmody: Psalm 90 (appointed 90:12-17)
“Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”
– The poet meditates on the brevity and sorrows of human life, rooted as they are in humanity’s sinfulness. The poet bids God grant them a proper humility, but also asks God to have mercy and deal with us according to his faithfulness and love.

Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
– God knows and will reveal the heart, but the author also declares that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” and urges his hearers to “approach the throne of grace with boldness.”

Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – A man comes up to Jesus asking how he can inherit the kingdom of God (be among those to enjoy the age to come when God rules over all). But when Jesus summons him to sell his possessions, give to the poor and come, follow Jesus, he turns away. And Jesus comments on how difficult it is for the wealthy to start living the kingdom. Fortunately, “for God all things are possible.”


Photo: By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Contando Dinheiro) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Scandal and praise

Watching for the Morning of September 6, 2015

Year B

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 18 / Lectionary 23

File:Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib - Jesus and the Canaanite Woman - Walters W59243A - Full Page.jpgThey have no right to the gifts of God. They are not deserving. They are not God’s people. And when the woman asks for healing, Jesus speaks what everyone is thinking: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But the woman will not be dissuaded: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

It is so hard for us to understand the grace of God, so difficult to accept the magnitude of God’s mercy. Jesus has come to be the savior of the world – the whole world, not just us and people like us, not just believers, not just Christians, not just the baptized or the born again or the born again and really living it. The world. People in burkas and tattoos and unwashed jeans and unwashed lives. He sends rain on the just and the unjust(righteous and unrighteous). “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’”

And Jesus is touching people, sick people, “unclean” people.

It is a visible illustration of the previous text where Jesus says that what makes a person unclean isn’t anything on the outside, but what comes from within: the way we treat others.

So the disciples might cheer when they hear Jesus speak harshly to the Gentile woman. But they do not understand the character of God – nor the scriptures like Sunday’s psalm that sings of God’s care of the vulnerable and poor, or the prophet who rejoices in God’s deliverance of exiles, or, for that matter, the reading from James that excoriates the Christian community for treating some people (elite members of society, people with money) differently than the peasant poor.

But the woman knows. And the man who can neither speak nor hear but feels Jesus’ hands upon him, he knows. And they join the poet’s song of praise.

And maybe, when we hear about Jesus opening ears, we can feel his hands opening ours.

The Prayer for September 6, 2015

Father of all,
whose ears are open to the cries of every people:
drive out every power of evil,
and open every ear to hear and abide in your Word of life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 6, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 35:3-7a (appointed: 4-7a)
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” – The prophet announces God’s impending deliverance of the nation from their exile in Babylon and their joyful journey home.

Psalmody: Psalm 146
“The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down…The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow.”
– The poet praises the LORD, a God who comes to the aid of those in need.

Second Reading: James 2:1-17
“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”
– The author challenges the community not to show favoritism, warning them that to break any part of the law is to be accountable for all of it.

Gospel: Mark 7:24-37
“A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.” – Following his teaching about what does and doesn’t render a person “unclean”, Jesus travels in foreign territory and heals two who are “unclean”, outside the covenant of Israel: the daughter of a Syrophoenician and a man from the Gentile region of the Decapolis.


Jesus and the Canaanite woman, folio from Walters manuscript W.592  Credit: Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are no pyramids in Judea

File:Sphinx and pyramids of Giza panorama.jpgSaturday

Psalm 123

3Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

If we stop and pay attention to verses like this we will understand something important about Biblical faith and the scripture: it is, for the most part, written by the conquered not the conquerors. It is an exilic faith, a diaspora faith, a faith born out of human suffering rather than success. For all the glories of the kingdom of David, it was not an empire to compare with Egypt or Babylon or Assyria. There are no pyramids in Judea. No magnificent temples on the acropolis. No ancient works of art like those of Persia that ISIS is looting and destroying. What remained of Israel was a book. A book written by those who had seen their nation crushed, their temple destroyed, their king blinded and led away in chains. All the boots of tramping warriors had marched again and again through their land. They had known the contempt of the proud.

The struggle inside Israel and Judah was a struggle for its character. Some aspired to glory. Others aspired to justice and mercy. Kings built altars that matched Assyria. Prophets spoke on behalf of the poor. Moses commanded a Sabbath that they not be a nation of slaveholders and slaves. The wealthy sought to discard such archaic ideas. Moses spoke of shared bread. Isaiah excoriated the lavish feasts of the rich and promised a day when all would gather at God’s abundant banquet.

3Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

Whether the psalm prays for relief from foreign oppressors or their own home grow elite, the truth of the prayer remains. It is the cry of the poor, a cry God hears.


Photo: By kallerna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

“The strong” and “the weak”

Sunday Evening

1 Corinthians 8

File:Korinth - Apollon-Tempel.jpg

Remains of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth

12 When you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

(Psst. It’s not about “members of your family” but brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.)

If it were me, I would add quotes around the word “weak”. It’s not at all clear to me that Paul regards this people as weak; I think he is just taking up the expression that “the strong” are using for their sisters and brothers who are not as progressive and enlightened as they imagine themselves to be. The attitude of “the strong” is typically that the weak should buck up. The “strong” don’t live in fear. The “strong” don’t struggle with doubt. The “strong” are rarely vulnerable. The “strong” have life by the gonads and think everyone else should be more like themselves. They are the “enlightened”, the “wise”, the “knowledgeable”. My bet is that “the strong” in Corinth are the people with power and wealth and “the weak” are those whose lives are circumscribed by the power of others. They are the slaves and servant class who are not used to being able to do whatever the hell they want. They are the people who know that angering your master is dangerous, that life is dangerous. They don’t want to make a misstep in something so important as might offend your God by eating meat that has been offered to other gods in sacrifice. It’s the kind of thing that gets them abused by their masters.

We know there were rich and poor in Corinth. Paul will spend some time upbraiding the congregation that when they hold their agape meals (holy communion), the rich are bringing their own food baskets and feeding themselves without waiting for the working poor to arrive. By the time such brothers and sisters have arrived these privileged are already drunk. “I don’t know what that is,” says Paul, “but it is certainly not the Lord’s supper.”

There is plenty of rhetoric in our country that suggests it’s easy to not be poor.   If they worked harder, studied harder, practiced greater discipline, weren’t bailed out by the government, etc. Those who say such things don’t have a clue about the advantages they possess and the obstacles faced by the rural and urban poor. Of course, it only takes one person who has “made it,” to convince us that everyone can “make it” if they try. It’s not so simple.

Paul certainly has an opinion about eating meat that has been offered to idols. He will get around to the fact that no one should be doing this. But first he has a bigger problem: teaching this community to be mindful of one another, teaching this community that they are members of a common household, teaching this community that they are bound together in Christ, teaching this community to show fidelity and care for one another, teaching this community that to hurt one member of the body is to hurt Christ.

That’s the more important lesson. So that’s where Paul begins. And he will keep coming back to it when he talks about worship, about spiritual gifts, about marriage and sexuality, about the divisions in the congregation – because if we don’t understand what it means to love one another, we won’t really understand what it means that God has loved us.


By Rabe! (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons