Embrace Your Inner Matthew

Matthew 21:23-32

Guess what?  It’s only 182 days until…?  Can you guess? Easter, of course! Most people count the days till Christmas, but as a church professional Holy Week is the big deal, so I am counting the days to Easter.

I am thinking about Holy Week because our Gospel lessons for the remainder of the church year come chronologically from Holy Week, Jesus’ last week of life. Today’s conflict between the chief priests and elders of the temple follows on the heels of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansing the temple—stories we usually hear about in Holy Week.

They were pivotal events: Jesus was proclaimed Messiah by the common people, the one anointed by God to lead Jews to a glorious future like King David had. Jesus then went to the seat of religious power, the temple itself, threw out the money changers, and instead set Read more…

Scandalous Generosity

Matthew 20:1-16              

When in my early days of ministry, a young mother came to speak with me about having her three-year-old son baptized. Her name was Julia. As is my practice, I asked Julia why she wanted her son baptized. Julia told me she had not grown up in the church and wasn’t baptized, that she always felt she had missed out. Her friends who went to church seemed to possess a foundation she wished for. But that summer something happened that compelled Julia to do something about it.

Julia had been inside the house moving the laundry while her 12-year-old daughter and her son Ray were outside playing. Suddenly, Julia had the overwhelming sense that something was wrong. She ran outside to find Ray on the ground, turning blue. Her daughter was bending over Ray, calling his name. “Call 911!”  Julia Read more…

God Intended It for Good

Genesis 50

I have a confession to make: I have always been a little skeptical when people talk about the Bible and “family values.” From my read of scripture, family life in the Bible was pretty far from Leave It to Beaver families with father and mother and 2.3 happy children. Jealousy between brothers Cain and Abel that ended in murder; Abraham’s wives Sarah and Hagar, competing for the honor of bearing his son; Jacob cheating his brother Esau out of his inheritance, and leaving Esau in a violent rage—just to name a few of the stories! Extended and blended, admirable and conniving, it’s hardly the idealized model that “family values” seems to refer to. It’s more like the families we know and live in, in all their love and messiness.

The story of Joseph and his brothers which brings the book Read more…

Jesus, Conflict, & Choirs

Matthew 18

A new family joined the church. The music director was excited, because the husband was a great tenor—and the choir needed tenors. But there was one problem—turns out one of the basses had worked with the new tenor in a job in years past and there was some bad blood. So the new guy wouldn’t join the choir.

You’d think that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen in the church. We are Christians, and you would think that the people Jesus gave his life for would be the happiest, most forgiving people in the world. The church is a faith community, and so you would think that people would be accepted as they are, that no one would be lonely, and that people would live in harmony. But sometimes that’s not the way it is.

That’s because the church is not a club where you choose your members. The church is for all comers, it welcomes all people— Read more…

Jesus in the Driver’s Seat

Matthew 16:21-28

Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Great book, right? Kids love it because they know what it’s like to want to be in the driver’s seat, and they know what it’s like to be told NO. Turning the tables and saying NO to the pigeon is pretty fun.

But let’s face it: we adults love it for the same reason. We all want to be in the driver’s seat, right? We want to be in charge of our lives. The thing we hate most is to have someone else tell us what to do. It’s disempowering. Makes you feel like a child.

That’s what was going on with the disciples in our Gospel story today. Jesus had just revealed to them that he was the Messiah, and now Jesus goes on to tell the disciples what that means.

Now, you can imagine they must have been expecting something Read more…

Color Outside the Lines

Romans 12:1-8

When I was in kindergarten one day, I had a bright idea. We were coloring in apples, four to a sheet. We were going to cut them out and mount them on a paper tree on the wall. So I thought to myself, why fuss with coloring inside the lines? I can do this a lot faster if I just color the whole paper red. The other kids at my table saw what I was doing, thought it was a good idea, and did it, too.

But then Mrs. H, the teacher, came over and looked at my paper. She did not see an ingenious solution to a problem; she saw a mess. “Take that to the trash can, and start again!” she said. “And this time, stay inside the lines!”

Stay inside the lines. It is a message we have all received at one time or another. Follow the Read more…

Get Out of the Boat

Matthew 14:25-33     

I once went for a whale watch on the Pacific Ocean. It was In Monterey, CA, and though the word “pacific” means calm, the ocean wasn’t. It didn’t look bad from the shore, and we read that the waves were five to eight feet. Didn’t seem like a big deal. But as soon as the boat got beyond the harbor, we were riding the waves. It felt like we were on a roller coaster—up one side of the wave, down the other. And the waves kept coming. Pretty soon my son and I were at the back of boat, emptying our stomachs into the sea, while my daughter clung to my husband for dear life. My husband, who has recurring nightmares about huge waves, gripped the side of the boat in abject fear.

Ever since then, it’s been easy for me to identify with the Read more…

The Miracle of Enough

Matthew 14:13-21

One day in mid-March 2020, my husband came home with a 50-pound bag of oats. Connecticut was about to go into lockdown, and even though grocery stores were going to stay open it wasn’t exactly clear what the supply chain was going to look like. My husband figured, “at least we can eat oatmeal.”

Most people have similar stories of pandemic purchases. Was yours reams of toilet paper?  50 pounds of flour for sour dough baking? A case of canned goods? Perhaps it was hoarding, but we were just trying to be prepared to provide for our families in a situation beyond our control.

The crowds on hillside could not provide for themselves in our Gospel lesson today. Perhaps Read more…

Hidden in the Weeds

Matthew 13:24-43  

What is your favorite tool for getting rid of weeds? Trowel, hoe, weedwhacker, Round Up? Anybody just leave the weeds? 

Well, that’s what the owner did in the parable in the Gospel lesson today. He planted good seed, but an enemy came and sowed all kinds of weeds. When the slaves asked if he wanted them to tear out the weeds, he said No. You might tear out the wheat along with the weeds. Better wait for harvest, and the reapers can separate the two. Maximize your crop. 

…except that weeds compete for soil, sun, and water. Crops can get overcome with weeds. I once had a trumpet vine from the neighbors which threatened to crowd out the raspberries that I had planted earlier that Read more…

Cast the Seed

Matthew 11

I am an amateur and slightly lazy gardener—I love perennials because they are low-care, and I love to see what vegetables I can grow in my less-than-perfect beds. The results generally are pretty modest, but given my effort, I am satisfied.

But the year my husband built me raised beds for vegetables was different. We filled it with a yard each of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. The first season was awesome—not only did the vegetables grow great in all that compost, but there were no weeds. I was so surprised! But I guess I shouldn’t have been, because most weeds come from seeds in the soil or from weeds moving in from an Read more…