Monday, September 28, 2020


Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 21:33-46 (NRSV)

This parable may not evoke ideas about the love of God among us.  It feels much more judgmental in nature - God is expecting more of us than we are giving.

It is hard to interpret this parable if you haven't read Isaiah 5:1-7 first.  In this particular passage, Israel is likened to a vineyard.  We see the similarities to the parable of Jesus in that the vineyard is well-tended in both passages.  Both note the presence of a watchtower showing that there is oversight.  In Isaiah, we see disappointment in the fruit of the vine.  Then we have the reveal in verse seven that the vineyard was in fact, the people of Judah and Israel.  God has an expectation of justice and righteousness but has found the opposite.

In the parable that Jesus tells, we see that the tenants aren't passing on any of the profits of the vineyard to the owner.  In fact, the owner's collectors are harassed and even killed.  We see further that even the son of the vineyard is not respected.  We can see that a hard rain is gonna fall to quote Bob Dylan.  

Jesus tells us that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."

This is a parable for every age.  The apostle Paul reminds us that the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  

Love is at the top of the list.  

We should periodically check to see
what kind of fruit we're producing.

If we are not producing love for one another, we will be supplanted by God for those who will.   We have been given an expectation and we must live up to it.  It should reflect the character of the Christian community - even when it's hard.

There have been times in my life when I've failed to match the love of God for others.  I've usually been fairly self-righteous about justifying my lack of love.  At these times, I've made Jesus into my image rather than conforming myself to Christ.  Fortunately, we have repentance available.  A person who is unable to repent is stuck because the self is lifted up as the idol rather than God.

We must begin to reflect the character of the owner of the vineyard.

So we circle back to love.  Maybe this parable has more to do with love than a first glance indicates.  If you join me on Sunday for worship, we'll explore a little further.  With all of the opportunities to engage online, there's no reason not to!

In Christ,



Photo by Jennifer via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 21, 2020


Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 21:23-32 (NRSV)

Today, it seems the height of hubris for a religious leader to question the authority of Jesus.  We sit with the advantage of hindsight and understand who Jesus is and was.  But in that day and age, rabbis didn't just put out a shingle and start teaching others.  Rabbis were first disciples.  They were students under the tutelage of an established teacher.  

You learned how to be a rabbi by observing the habits, scriptural interpretations and emphases that your master followed.  At some point, if you progressed enough, the rabbi would bless you as a student to become a rabbi of your own.

So when the chief priests and elders question Jesus, they are wanting to know, "Who did you study under?"

As we see the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, some scholars think that this represented a disciple/rabbi relationship and that the baptism was John's blessing of Jesus as a rabbi.  They point to the timeline that the public ministry of Jesus begins following his baptism.

So Jesus in turn asks them if they would support John's ministry as authoritative.  Jesus must realize that if they wouldn't support John, they wouldn't support him either.  And so when they refuse to answer, he does as well.

Then Jesus tells them a parable of two sons.  This parable basically warns them of their practice of social standing.  The caste of unclean sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes are moving ahead of them spiritually.  This would have been insulting to any priest or elder who would have placed themselves in God's favor over the likes of these.  

Notice the posture of this omega wolf - lowest
in the hierarchy of the pack.  Humans have their
own pack hierarchies.

For a rabbi such as Jesus, he allows social standing to be overturned.  He was a true egalitarian and the American principles of equality were birthed out of this Christian influence.  To allow someone to repent and lift themselves up to a status equal to yourself is a kindness. It is not easy to do and doesn't come naturally.  

How do we offer this kindness to others in today's society?  Social standing is alive and well in the 21st century.  We still have pecking orders.  How do we allow the kindness of ignoring social strata become a Christian virtue that helps us navigate these chaotic waters?

We'll continue to explore this on Sunday - I hope you'll join us either online or in person!

In Christ,


Photo by The Wasp Factory via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, September 14, 2020


Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 20:1-16 (NRSV)

Gentleness is described by Paul as a Fruit of the Spirit.  It is a valuable trait to have.  Anyone dealing with horses or dogs understands the need for a gentle hand in working with them.  Are people so different?

By contrast, we seem to value aggressiveness in our society over gentleness.  Aggressiveness is what wins the day in sports.  Now that football season has started, we would never want to encourage our team to be too gentle.  In fact, the opposite is true.  If a team is seen as too "soft" the coach may have some work to do in toughening them up.  In the old days, a coach might keep the team from drinking water in practice to help them learn discipline over the needs of the body.  We have since recognized that to condition players in this manner is actually dangerous and not worth dying over.

Still, there are those who may consider this an unfortunate loss.

Aggression can lead to leadership.  Sometimes we follow the person who "takes" the job.  We may admire their tenacity and willingness to put themselves out there.  These people are sometimes seen as "go-getters."  After all, we don't want to follow someone who's not willing to lead!

Dominating another human being sometimes leads to hurt feelings.  I've stepped on people's feelings many times as a leader - most of the time it was unintentional.  I confess that sometimes in the heat of the moment, it wasn't.  

What does a gentle leader look like?

This dog could easily take this
child in a fight.  His assurance
that there is no threat allows him to be gentle.

I think a gentle leader is respectful of the crowd.  A gentle leader isn't swayed by the majority if he or she believes that they are in the right.  A gentle leader has a quiet assurance that we will all move forward together.

The parable in today's reading shows, I believe, gentle leadership by the owner of the vineyard.  He is willing to risk his reputation among those whom he hired to make sure everyone has enough.  These late arrivals had mouths at home to feed just like everyone else.  The owner is willing to take a stand but he does so without disrespecting those complaining.  

Gentleness is probably needed at home more than usual because we are kind of stuck with one another right now.  There is less getting out and so we are getting to know each other better.  Unfortunately, sometimes our worst traits emerge when we are stressed.  If you have teenagers, they are still jockeying for position and maybe more so as the isolation time stretches on.  Are you allowing them to grow into maturity or freezing them in time while all this is going on?

How do we speak to one another?  Is it respectful?

Would you categorize it as gentle?

To be gentle is not to be weak.  It is acting with an assurance that you can handle yourself.  There is no need to be aggressive because there is most likely not a threat in real life situations.  As we stay connected with God, we recognize that gentleness is a by-product of that connection.  Maybe that's all the reason we need to re-assess its value.

In Christ,


Photo by Josh Ward via  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020


Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A 

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)

How quick are we to forgive today?  I think when we have stress in our lives (such is the norm today), then we may be more likely to take a slight from someone than to imagine they are on our side or at least give them the benefit of the doubt.

We may be more likely to build a case against a person than to imagine all of the things we hold in common.  When we start to make the list of the things we like about this person, it is harder to hold that grudge!  It is much more satisfying in the short-term to list their short-comings.  But this is not the Christian example that we have in today's lectionary scripture.

Peter thinks he's going the extra mile by asking Jesus if we should forgive seven times.  He's beginning to get it.  He thinks this will earn him a "Well, done, Peter!  You got this straight from God."

But Jesus surprises him by declaring he's off by a magnitude of at least ten!

It may be that Jesus is giving us a reversal of Lamech's vengeance from Genesis 4:23-24:  
Lamech said to his wives:  
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
    you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for striking me.
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
    truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

Between Jesus and Lamech, which one do we find ourselves following more often?  We name ourselves Christian rather than Lamechian so how do develop this generosity of spirit that we see on display in Matthew's reading?   

This may be a popular justification
but it doesn't help us follow Jesus.

If we are more likely to show generosity when we are in connection with God (as a Fruit of the Holy Spirit), does this mean that when we are working against someone that we are disconnected with God?

I find that if I am outside of the Holy Spirit - or at least not paying attention to it - I am more likely to be a follower of Lamech.  I want to lean into my wrath (and dole it out) rather than to find understanding and common ground.  When we follow the way of vengeance, we begin to draw our circle smaller and smaller - excluding this person and that person.  Pretty soon it is just you and me and I'm not so sure about you!  

This Sunday, we'll be continuing to explore the Fruit of the Spirit as seen through the lens of this particular scripture.  If you find yourself plagued by a lack of generosity of spirit lately, you are not alone.  But as we join together in worship, we may just re-discover it.  That's my prayer for us this week!  I hope to see you in person or online!

In Christ,


Photo by brett jordan via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.