Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (August 17, 2014)

Following the Story:
Last week:  Ruth 2 - Ruth meets Boaz, a wealthy farmer and relative.  Naomi and Ruth come up with a plan to ensure their well-being.
This week:  Ruth 3 - Ruth and Naomi put in a plan in motion that will ensure their security.
Next week:  Ruth 4 - Ruth marries Boaz, and Naomi once again finds joy.


Two weeks ago I offered three perspectives on the value of the book of Ruth.  One was that it spoke of abundance and scarcity.  Another was that it tells the story of an ancestor of David.  The third one is that it is a great story that is one of the only Bible books that focuses on a woman—and more than that, it’s driven by not just one, but two female main characters, Ruth and Naomi.  The significance of this last bit cannot be overstated, because the Bible is, fundamentally, an “androcentric” work, meaning that it focuses primarily on men.  Of this there can be no doubt.

Continue reading

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (August 10, 2014)

Following the Story:
Last week:  Ruth 1 - Naomi and her daughters-in-law are left destitute by the death of their husbands.  Ruth resolves to stay with Naomi, and the two return to Bethlehem from the land of Moab.
This week:  Ruth 2 - Ruth meets Boaz, a wealthy farmer and relative.  Naomi and Ruth come up with a plan to ensure their well-being.
Next week:  Ruth 3 - Ruth attracts the notice of Boaz, who resolves to marry her in accordance with religious law and custom.


There’s a fine line between “coincidence” and “Providence”.  Coincidence is when something happens to you unexpectedly conveniently, like hitting nothing but green lights on a drive through town, or the mailman showing up just as you walk out to check the mail, or the store having an endcap sale for exactly the item you needed but had no idea where to find.  Providence, on the other hand, is coincidence colored by the conviction that God has instigated it.  The fine line comes in discerning when an event is one, and not the other.

Continue reading

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (August 3, 2014)

Following the Story
This week:  Ruth 1 (Naomi and her daughters-in-law are left destitute by the death of their husbands.  Ruth resolves to stay with Naomi, and the two return to Bethlehem from the land of Moab.)
Next week:  Ruth 2 (Ruth meets Boaz, a wealthy farmer and relative.  Naomi and Ruth come up with a plan to ensure their well-being.) Continue reading

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (July 27, 2014)

Scripture:  Genesis 29:15-28

Back in May, I disappeared for a week from the office so that I could attend a preaching conference in Minneapolis.  The event was stuffed with preaching “rock stars” the UCC’s own Walter Brueggemann, but few of the speakers stuck as deeply in my memory as Craig Barnes, the current president of Princeton Theological Seminary, who preached on the Leah and Rachel text in Genesis.  Barnes reminded us of what we all know:  Jacob wanted Rachel, but he got Leah.  That pattern persisted for his whole life, extending even to his favoritism for the two children Rachel birthed, Joseph and Benjamin.  Barnes then suggested that we all have Leahs and Rachels in our lives.  Our Rachels are the things we desire; the things we want; the things we think we really need if we are to achieve happiness.  Conversely, our Leahs are what we end up with—the things we accept only grudgingly, if at all, that we wear around our necks like millstones.  Continue reading

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (July 6, 2014)

Scriptures:  Psalm 145:8-14; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Even as the last week saw the annual remembrance of our country’s birth, it also saw a flurry of activity surrounding what it means to be a person of faith in America.  In an interview that most interpret as preparatory for another run at the White House, Secretary Hillary Clinton was asked in an interview to identify her favorite book.  Her response was, “the Bible.”  In a much more widely covered story, the so-called “Christian” craft chain, Hobby Lobby (along with a less well-known company) won its case in front of the Supreme Court in which it asked for an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide full insurance coverage for contraception.  The basis for their lawsuit was that four of 20 FDA-approved forms of contraception conflict with their religious convictions, because they think those four forms don’t prevent conception, but rather cause abortion.

I’m not inclined to get into the merits of the Hobby Lobby case, nor am I inclined to engage in debating whether Hillary was simply offering a calculated political answer.  I am interested, however, in how these two events begin to illustrate our nation’s increasingly uneasy relationship with religion—particularly Christianity, since no one really talks about anything BUT Christianity (that’s another sermon entirely). Continue reading

Second Sunday after Pentecost (June 22, 2014)

Scriptures:  Matthew 10:24-39; Genesis 4:1-12

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that since December 14, 2012, Jeremiah 31:15 has seen its use in worship increase more than anything else in the Bible.  It reads, “Thus says the LORD: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”  The increased use of this passage comes because the Sandy Hook massacre happened on that date, and ever since, it seems we haven’t really stopped weeping.  Continue reading

First Sunday after Pentecost (June 15, 2014)

Scripture:  Psalm 8:1-9

I’ve been told that the Nebraska Sandhills are a favorite spot of stargazers across the nation because there, at night, you can see more stars, and those stars more brightly, than you can almost anywhere else in the United States.  I’ve had that experience, although it was during a camel trek in the Negev Desert in Israel, so I know what people mean.  When you’re in an arid place like that, it’s almost as if the number of stars in the sky doubles, or triples, or grows by an even larger factor.  Stars you never imagined existing suddenly spring into view.  The colors of stars are more vivid, the constellations are easier to trace, and the starlight is so bright it can make you squint if you close your eyes for a bit first.  The sight of all those stars also fills you with an almost overwhelming sense of your own insignificance in the grand expanse of the cosmos—but this isn’t a bad thing. Continue reading

Pentecost Sunday (June 8, 2014)

Scriptures:  1 Corinthians 123b-13; Acts 2:1-21 (also 1 Corinthians 13)

In the well-known and beloved 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul expounds upon the nature of love in a way that has come to be associated with weddings.  You all know the refrain:  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” and so on.  It’s a nice sentiment, and decent advice about love for any couple entering into wedded bliss.  The only problem is, I bet we mostly remember the “love is” part, and pay less attention to the way the passage opens:  “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”  This section, if properly understood, helps readers understand what Paul is getting at, and it’s about more than just what love is and is not. Continue reading

Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 25, 2014; Memorial Day Weekend)

On this day St. Luke’s accepted and re-dedicated the gift of 212 used New Century Hymnals from other churches.  This meditation offers an introduction to that resource.  –PC

Every hymnal is a theological claim that says something about the beliefs of the committee that crafts it.  If by intention, it also says something about the beliefs of the denomination that ordered it.  If by association, it may say something about the beliefs of churches within that denomination.  However, we are the United Church of Christ, so the very best we can say is that a denominational hymnal says something about SOME churches in the UCC, but not all.  Continue reading

Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 18, 2014 – Rogation Sunday @ St. Luke’s)

Scripture:  1 Corinthians 3:5-9; Matthew 13:18-23

Parables are funny things—not funny “ha ha”, but funny weird, because parables are definitely weird.  They involve symbolism, exaggeration, and misdirection, all to tease our brains into thinking.  Further complicating matters is that sometimes we think about them too hard when we ought to be receiving them in a very straightforward way, while at other times we take them as straightforward when, perhaps, we should be thinking symbolically. Continue reading