Narrative Lectionary Reading: Matthew 14:13-33 (Feeding of the 5,000/Jesus walks on water)
It’s a strange day in our Narrative Lectionary journey to have two texts instead of one, for that is what we have: the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on the water. Because there are two, let’s run—not stroll—to the story.
In the first story we have the memorable and four-times-told tale of Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry men (which of course might mean 20,000 people when we count women and children, too). But just prior to that scene, we read, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” What is “this”? It appears to be something upsetting, to cause Jesus to go off by himself like he does. As we read backwards, we figure it out: Jesus has just learned of the death of John the Baptist. Continue reading →
If you’ve spent much time watching programs on PBS over the years, you may well be acquainted with Hyacinth Bucket, who always answers her phone, “The BouQUET residence!” and corrects anyone who says otherwise, including her husband, Mr. Bucket. Her show is Keeping Up Appearances, and its comedy comes at the expense of Hyacinth, a woman who is altogether obsessed with, as the title suggests, keeping up appearances. Her own upbringing—in school we called it her “social location”—is a source of constant irritation for her. Her family is somewhat poor and not, at least in Hyacinth’s eyes, very respectable. Her father has a certain degree of dementia and often is found wandering or flirting or doing ungentlemanly things. Her sister Rose dresses in a less-than-ladylike fashion and has a tendency to lust after the local pastor; she’s very much like Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls, but without class. Hyacinth’s other sister Daisy is pretty humble, a simple woman who spends much of the day laying about with her husband Onslow, a man well-practiced in the art of belching and going out in public in his undershirt. Pretty much each episode deals with Hyacinth desperately trying to mitigate the embarrassment inflicted upon her by her family, who regularly roll their eyes at Hyacinth whenever she puts on airs and gets flustered at their pedestrian lives. Continue reading →
Written at the top of the bulletin today is a line from Hamlet of which I am quite fond: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Apart from being poetic, I think it’s a good piece of advice about not taking ourselves or our traditions too seriously. It reminds us that there is always in the universe something greater than we are, whether we call that God or something else.
Though not always to the same degree, there’s a certain type of song, as I think of it, that wears down my patience until I have to turn it off: songs with extremely repetitive melodies. I’m not talking about the kind of music we regularly use in worship, like our Prayer of Preparation or the interlude we often use during the community prayers. No, I’m talking about things like Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Pink Cadillac” or the song, “With Arms Wide Open” by the band Creed. Listening to these songs is, for me, like listening to nails on a chalkboard because they both sport only three or four notes. I mean, there are eight notes in an octave, not counting the five flats/sharps, and even that doesn’t actually describe the full range of notes that the human voice can produce within an octave. But these two songs don’t bother with all that variety. They just go on…and on…and on…on the same three notes, over and over. In that much, they are what we sometimes call a “broken record”, or something that just repeats over and over. Continue reading →
Narrative Lectionary Reading: Esther 4:1-7 (full text below the sermon)
“12 Then the king’s secretaries were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king’s satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language; it was written in the name of [the king] and sealed with the king’s ring. 13 Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 14 A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation, calling on all the peoples to be ready for that day. 15 The couriers went quickly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.”
This is the immediately preceding passage that gives context to today’s reading from the book of Esther. Haman, a high official of the king, was offended when Mordecai, a Jew, did not show him deference. We must understand that Haman thought he was entitled to a show of respect from Mordecai, for he believed that Mordecai was his inferior—perhaps he believed that everyone was beneath him, save for the Emperor himself. From this unwarranted indignation, though, Haman launched an attack against not just Mordecai, but ALL Jews. He ordered war. He ordered a genocide. Continue reading →
How do we hold on to our faith in a world filled with injustice? That’s the implicit question asked by the prophet Habakkuk, a prophet entirely willing to argue with God who is exceedingly angry that God has not yet cleaned up the world—and worse, that injustice keeps happening even as God is working toward justice. Habakkuk isn’t entirely certain that he has room in his faith for a God like that. Do we? Continue reading →
The waning days of Judah were tempestuous. Political instability was the rule of the day due to a succession of kings of wildly varying temperaments. The death of good King Hezekiah resulted in the ascension and fifty-five-year reign of his son, Manasseh, remembered in 2 Kings as one who “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, following the abominable practices of the nations that the LORD drove out.” He was condemned for all manner of evil doings, particularly for erecting altars to other gods in the Temple, and for a host of other sins. The reign of his son, Amon, was no better, and he was assassinated by his own servants after only two years. Happily, Amon was succeeded by Josiah, his eight-year old son who, upon becoming an adult, proved to be made in the mold of Hezekiah. Continue reading →
The early 20th century philosopher George Santayana is known best for this memorable quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There are many variations on this wisdom, including “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” something which is inarguably true. World history is so littered with examples of this that I don’t even need to name any—though I will anyway: after losing in the American war for independence, Great Britain tried again in 1812. After defeating Germany in World War I, the allied nations should have known better than to impose massive and debilitating reparations on the losing nation—and so they got to do it all again in World War II. Even now, it seems that we may be failing to heed the lessons of the past, as the United States and Russia once again rattle their sabers menacingly toward each other. Continue reading →
“What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” By these memorable words we remember the prophet Micah and the book that bears his name. The words are moving, painful, and hopeful all at once. They are regularly chosen by young people as Confirmation verses. Ministries are built around them. They’re proclaimed by social activists. Even politicians, from time to time, use these words to frame their approach to public life. But these words don’t exist in isolation. They’re part of a seven-chapter book that ebbs toward condemnation and flows toward grace, a prophetic message that warns of God’s anger, even as it speaks pastorally about God’s forgiveness. And while these words aren’t technically part of a narrative—a story that we can tell—they are grounded in a story. Continue reading →
There are two miracles that take place in today’s Scripture lesson, and the first is the most obvious: the miraculous healing of Naaman, the commander of the entire army of Aram, one of Israel’s enemies. He’s favored by his king, and oddly enough, also by God, presumably because God is mad at Israel again for falling away. Yet, Naaman has one big issue: a nasty skin condition—perhaps leprosy, but since leprosy is a catch-all for a whole host of ailments in the Hebrew Bible, we don’t know really what it is, other than it’s something that would make people go, “Ew.” Continue reading →