A Questioning Authority

October 1, 2017

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC
Proper 21, Year A
Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

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Today’s gospel reading begins with Jesus in the temple. The chief priests and the elders came to him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Before we dive into that riveting question, let’s step back a minute.

Last we saw Jesus, he was on the road to Jerusalem, using parables to teach about the kingdom of heaven. Yet here we are today, with Jesus in Jerusalem teaching in the temple. Our lectionary has jumped over an important piece of the story. And it skipped a couple of our favorite scenes. We missed the Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem – disciples untying the donkey, the crowd waving branches and crying Hosannas as Jesus rides in. And then, even better, overturning the tables in the temple market. Jesus gets mad – we love that part!

Then it goes on to say, “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.” (Mt 21:14). And he begins teaching and the people are crying out, in the temple, “Hosanna to the son of David.”

The chief priests and scribes – those who are the ones in authority in the temple – see all this and wonder what the heck is going on. They’re angry and ask Jesus what he has to say for himself. And Jesus responds by quoting words of the prophets of old. “My house should be called a house of prayer” and “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself.” And, as if that settles it, we’re told “He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.” Read the rest of this entry »

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC
Proper 19, Year A
Exodus 14:19-31; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

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As promised last week, this week’s gospel presents a lesson about forgiveness. Just a quick reminder: By the time Matthew’s gospel was written, the temple had been destroyed and the Hebrew people, as well as early Christians, had been driven out of Jerusalem. So Matthew’s gospel is intended to help this early Christian community stay faithful to God and to one another in an unfamiliar land.

In the preceding chapters, Jesus’ teachings have moved the bar on what it is to be faithful. In his estimation, the ten commandments didn’t go far enough. It’s not only those who murder that are liable to judgement, but those who are angry with others.  Not just those who commit adultery, but those who look with lust at another person. Jesus-followers were expected to not just love their neighbors, but to love their enemies, and to turn the other cheek.

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Bearing Fruit

July 23, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Proper 11 Year A 

Genesis 28:10-19a; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

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Gospel Text: 

Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Mt 13:24-30, 36-43)

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Proper 9 Year A
Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

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A couple of months ago I preached a sermon about the importance of not avoiding things that are complex just because they are complex. Jesus certainly didn’t avoid difficult topics or situations – he faced them head-on.

In Matthew’s gospel we see many occasions of Jesus challenging the scribes and Pharisees. He points out that although they followed the letter of the Hebrew law, they were missing the underlying intention of the law. Love of God and love of one’s neighbor were the most important things. Jesus demonstrated that love by healing the blind man, even though it was done on the Sabbath. By doing this, he was showing that it’s more important to have compassion than to follow the rigid rules of the religious tradition.

There are lots of examples of Jesus confronting things that would have been more easily avoided. And today I’m faced with a similar dilemma. Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus – on that I’d fall well-short – yet, his is the example we’re called to emulate as his followers.

Now, when I preached that sermon in May, I should’ve guessed it wouldn’t be long before I was faced with a lectionary text that would make me literally practice what I preached! Today I’ve found that in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Read the rest of this entry »

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