The Foundation of Law: A Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

There was a law at our house when I was a child.  Gifts were to be acknowledged with thank you notes.  The only exception was if you were there to say “thank you” in person, and even that concession was given reluctantly.  I always had a particular dislike for this rule, and sad to say in retrospect, I’m not sure I did a very good job passing it on to my children. 

Writing thank you notes is no fun.  It is a chore, plain and simple.  The only way to make it bearable at all in my experience is to write a “form” letter and just copy it over and over inserting a description of the gift in the appropriate place.  Sure, it sounds insincere, and it is, but it complied with the law.  You’ve got to be careful about this strategy, though, just in case the givers, often related, compare notes. 

A Fairly Simple Lesson in Compassion: A Reflection for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

This week’s readings are rich in material worthy of reflection.  Here’s the part that strikes me:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, . . . [who] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. (Phil. 2:1-5, 6a)

It seems to me we in the United States have badly lost sight of this vision, if indeed we ever had it, of what it is to lead, to serve one another.  It is not a solely American failure.  It is just basically human failure.  The antidote is also just basically human.  It is compassion. 

The Greatest Grace of All: A Reflection for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The lectionary provides alternative Old Testament readings each week.  This week’s have a similar theme—God’s generosity.

The first option (Isa. 16:2-15) is the story of the Israelites complaining against Moses and Aaron for the hard circumstances they are facing in the wilderness.  “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  (v. 3)  God’s response is to shower the people with generosity, although not necessarily joyously.  Instead, God’s generosity will be a test.  How will the people respond to what God has done?

Not in This Life: A Reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sometimes St. Paul strikes me as someone who does not have much experience in life.  Maybe it’s that he was never married.

This week’s reading from the Letter to the Romans is a case-in-point.  In it, Paul writes, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”  I have yet to experience, to say nothing of have, love that does no wrong.  I don’t expect to.  At least not in this lifetime.

The Way of the Cross: A Reflection on Human Love, Marriage, and the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

You would think I had learned my lesson about preaching on marriage.  I once gave what I was sure was a home run sermon on that subject.  I don’t remember it exactly, but I’m pretty sure it had to do with commitment and love in a Christian sense being, at least in part, an act of will (ask my wife!).  It got fairly good reviews that Sunday, but I wasn’t expecting what one particular parishioner took me to say the next.  The next Sunday, as I was greeting the people leaving after the service, a woman from the congregation came up to me and said, “Father, I’ve been thinking all week about what you said in your sermon, and I’ve decided to divorce my husband.”

A Reflection on a Confusing Week and the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: The Banality of Love

It has been a confusing week, and as a result, this week’s reflection on life comes later than I would have liked.  I trust you will understand.

I have found myself going back in my mind, as I often do in such circumstances, to a place and time when things made more sense to me.  It is a place where I learned about the world around me, a place I always knew I belonged, and a place, most importantly, where I came to know what it meant to be loved unconditionally.  That place is my grandparents’ home in Fayetteville, Georgia.  It is somewhere I learned to stand in the place that gives me my perspective on the world.  

Reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: The Real Miracle of Feeding the Multitude

The disciples faced a major problem one evening after Jesus had been teaching all day (Mt. 14:13-21).  A large crowd had gathered, something considerably over five thousand people (five thousand, according to Matthew, “besides women and children”).  The crowd would need something to eat, so the disciples suggested sending them away while they still had time to go into the nearby villages to buy food. 

You know the story.  Jesus instructed the disciples to feed the crowd, but the disciples protested that they did not have enough to go around, only five loaves and two fish.  Jesus told the disciples to give him what they had (all of it, by the way).  After the loaves and fish were blessed by Jesus, they were distributed to the crowd.  Twelve baskets of leftovers were taken up at the end of it all.

Reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Forever and ever. Amen.

I’m in the South for the summer, the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina where the breezes are cool and temperature moderate.  The mountains are exempt from the heat and humidity of the rest of the South, but not from country music.          

I heard an old favorite of the country music canon this afternoon, George Strait’s “A Father’s Love.”  The story is of a father telling his son how fathers love their children—“Daddy’s don’t just love their children every now and then.  It’s a love without end.  Amen.”  It is not at all unlike, though folksier than, St. Paul’s words to the church in Rome:  

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Rom. 8:38-39)

Reflection for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: What Goes Up Must Come Down

One of the first songs I remember learning as a child was “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.”  I only remember the first verse from memory

We are climbing Jacob's ladder,
We are climbing Jacob's ladder,
We are climbing Jacob's ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

Since the Bible story (Gen. 28:10-19) is one of the reading for this week, I refreshed my recollection as to the others.

Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: The Parable of Success and Failure

If Matthew is remembering the Parable of the Sower and its explanation (Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23) correctly, it would stand out among the parables of Jesus for being an allegory rather than something more like a riddle, something that obscures meaning rather than makes the hearer think for himself or herself so as to engage with what Jesus was saying.  If Matthew is remembering the parable correctly, it would be, in my opinion, among the least interesting of things Jesus ever had to say.  It makes me wonder if there might not be more to it than is recorded on the page.