The Season after Pentecost: Proper 20, Year A

God’s gracious compassion and generosity

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

Matthew narrates one of Jesus’ controversial parables, in which Jesus says the reign of God is like workers who get paid the same no matter when they start. The parable about the laborers in the vineyard is not a commentary on economic justice, but an illustration of the boundless generosity of God. It challenges our common assumption that God rewards people according to what they have earned or deserve.

Knowing the immense power of a first-century Palestinian landowner, Jesus compares this powerful position to God’s freedom to dispense gifts where God wills. The rewards of discipleship are not earned, but given (19:26). Begrudging God’s generosity is inappropriate. There is enough for all. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 19, Year A

Living in community under God’s dominion over evil and sin.

  • The Collect (BCP 182/233): We ask that God’s Holy Spirit may direct our lives and rule our hearts in all things.
  • Exodus 14:19-31: The Lord saves Israel from the Egyptians as Moses divides the waters and the people cross onto dry land. This creation theme helps interpret Israel’s exodus out of Egypt as God’s defeat of the primal forces of evil and chaos in the world.
  • Psalm 114: A poetic accounting of the Exodus, wilderness, the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land and God’s sanctuary; OR (Canticle) Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21: The Songs of Moses and Miriam
  • Romans 14:1-12: Paul offers instructions about what is required when people from different backgrounds with strongly held opinions try to live together as a community of faith. The Christian community in Rome had significant struggles with diversity. Paul helps us understand that despite different practices in worship and personal piety, we do not judge one another.
  • Matthew 18:21-35: A lesson on human forgiveness, following Peter’s question to Jesus regarding how often he must forgive his brother if his brother continues to wrong him. Jesus shares a story showing that forgiveness has no limits. Human forgiveness should mirror the unlimited mercy of God.

Congregational life must express forgiveness found in today’s text, including the healing divisions within congregations, the community, and the world. The passing of the peace is an acting-out of this forgiveness principle. God’s forgiveness must be passed on to others if it is to be realized in our own lives. “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”  (Matthew 5:23-24) Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 18, Year A

Conflict and Forgiveness

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

Conflict is a part of relationships and life in community. We live in a world of conflict, just as Jesus and his followers did. At the center of any community is the question of who or what binds the community together. Jesus makes it clear that it is he, his presence, his person, his ministry, that is the connective tissue with the community. As Christian disciples, by virtue of our baptism, we have a responsibility to confront the evil that we see in ourselves, in one another, and in our society. And sometimes this causes conflict. The need for safe communities to be open about our disagreements is a core ingredient to a healthy group or congregation. On the other side of confrontation is forgiveness. We should not confront to destroy another person. We should confront to lead a person into a deeper relationship with God and with neighbor. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 17 Year A

The cost of discipleship

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

After Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16), Jesus reveals the ultimate purpose of his ministry. These words prove hard to accept, even for a disciple whom Jesus has called a “rock.”

Both Jesus and Paul present bold, difficult challenges in these readings – some would say, as Peter did, too difficult and unnecessary. Jesus’ directive to deny the self and lose one’s life in order to find it is made specific in Paul’s exhortations about living a Christian life. It is easy to focus on the most radical part of Paul’s teaching – feeding one’s enemies – and then give up in defeat. But in through such actions are the outcome of a life loved according to Romans 12:9-13: loving genuinely, persevering in prayer, serving God. Only by these daily acts of self denial is one strengthened to do the heroic when called upon. And only through daily losing one’s life can one understand and accept the role of suffering in Jesus’ life as Messiah and in our lives as Christians. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 16, Year A

The Foundation of Faith

  • Exodus 1:8-2:10
  • Psalm 124
  • Romans 12:1-8
  • Matthew 16:13-20

It remains a perennial problem. We know we are God’s children through water and the word. We know the gifts of the Spirit are ours through the community. But we remain a divided family, its members too often struggling against one another. We tend to emphasize what keeps us apart rather than what keeps us together – our giftedness in grace through Jesus Christ. Yet there are moments where love is shared, peace is offered, and courage and comfort are brought to those in need.

Jesus declares that the church will be built on the rock of Peter’s bold confession of faith. God’s word of reconciliation and mercy are keys to the church’s mission. Paul urges us to not be conformed to this world, but to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, using our individual gifts to build up the body of Christ. From the table we go forth to offer our spiritual worship through word and deed. Where can we go from here? Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 15, Year A

Faith brings salvation to all

  • Genesis 45:1-5
  • Psalm 133
  • Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
  • Matthew 15 (10-20), 21-28

Midway through this green season of Pentecost, we are reminded about what it means to be church. Today we go deeper, as Jesus points out how little his followers understand what God’s meaning of discipleship is all about. Nothing substantive resides in what “goes into” the mouth; it is what comes out that matters. This is a contested issue among “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” as Jesus calls those to whom he believes he has been sent.

Jesus teaches his disciples that true purity is a matter of the heart rather than outward religious observances. Almost immediately, this teaching is tested when a woman considered to be pagan and unclean (a Gentile) approaches him for help. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 14, Year A

You of little faith

  • Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
  • Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45
  • Romans 10:5015
  • Matthew 14:22-33

“Jesus’ miracle of walking on the sea is not just to ‘show off’ who he is but to come to the aid of his threatened disciples. That is to say, while the story is indeed talking about who Jesus is, it emphasized his function rather than his nature. As Messiah he is the one charged and empowered by God to shepherd and care for Gods people.” Douglas R. A. Hare (Matthew: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Louisville: John Knox, 1993), 169.

Matthew typically shows the disciples as people of “little faith” who fail despite their best intentions. In the reading from Romans, Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” in reference to those who are willing to go where they are sent and proclaim the good news. And today, the disciples do what Jesus tells them – they go “to the other side.” Doing this, they literally land in “rough waters.” Continue reading

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