Sunday, August 31, 2014
Last week we heard a foundational text from Matthew 16, one of those that every Christian should know. Peter has his greatest moment in the Gospels: his confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Christ praises this faith and exclaims, “blessed are you, Simon, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father!” And he names him Peter, the Rock, entrusts him with the keys of the kingdom, and promises that the Church built on this Rock will never fail.
This week we’re simply continuing the same passage, and it’s important to know that context. Because in the next breath after his great triumph, Peter hears his Lord say this to him: “Get behind me, Satan; you are thinking not as God does but as men do.” How did Peter earn this startling rebuke?
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. That’s how I’d sum up the first reading, which begins with somebody called Shebna losing his job. “I dismiss you from your office; I remove you from your post,” says the Lord. I wonder if Shebna may be the only person to be personally fired by God. At least it came from the top. God is replacing him with someone called Eliakim. “I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, none shall close, should he close, none shall open.” Sounds good, but the very next verse after our reading stopped prophesies that Eliakim will also end badly. Promising start, bad end. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
But the early Church Fathers recognized in these words a foreshadowing of an authority that would be good and true, never abused, always faithful: the authority of Jesus.
Before I was accepted into the seminary, I underwent some pretty intense psychological probing. Most of the report was pretty dull and obvious, but I remember it said I had a bit of a “problem with authority.” I thought, “who doesn’t?”
Sunday, August 17, 2014
I had a teacher in seminary once who lamented with disgust that he’d never once in all his life heard a sermon about racism. Well, I don’t think I have either. But you know, I’ve never heard a sermon against murder either. Some things you sort of take for granted, I guess. I’d feel condescending and insulting if I stood here explaining to all of you people that racism is bad.
But if we get behind racism a little bit, I think we’ll find that the basic problem with it, the bigger picture of which racism is a part, is something every one of us deals with. And it’s something that all three of our readings tackle directly: the question of who’s in and who’s out. Who counts. Who’s one of ‘us.’
Sunday, August 3, 2014
You learn pretty early on that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When something claims to be free, look for the catch, and chances are you’ll find it. You probably get as much mail as I do claiming that there’s some great deal inside, completely free, just waiting to be accepted. Putting that on an envelope is the best way to ensure I won’t even open it. Straight to the trash!
It’s not that it never happens, but it’s rare enough that we become suspicious. A few weeks ago on a Friday night I was in St. Louis for a wedding and had four absolutely primo tickets to the Muny. Really great seats. My friends and I couldn’t use them so we went way to the back of the free section, found a party of four, asked if they’d be interested in sitting way up there, and handed them over. I’m not sure they even said “thanks.” If they did, it was mumbled and got lost in the very confused and even suspicious look they were giving us. I walked happy, knowing they’d get the picture eventually.