Today we’re in the spirit of Halloween as we meet a remarkable cast of characters found in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel 28:3-25. In the ghoulish theme of the season, we are taking a field trip along with ancient King Saul and a couple of his assistants. We’re off to see an unusual lady—unnamed—who has some fantastic powers. Okay, so this isn’t just some ordinary consultation that King Saul sought. The lady we’ll meet is politely referred to as a medium, otherwise known as a diviner or witch. Yikes! Hold on to your seats and don’t dim the lights during this bone chillingRead More →

Today’s lectionary from Matthew 22:15-22 addresses one of the greatest traps ever attempted for snaring Jesus. The lesson covers what people owe heaven and earth, with Jesus making a critical distinction between earthly taxes & government versus peoples’ obligation to serve God. So, who are the bad guys in today’s tale? They are the usual suspects, the Pharisees who were Jesus’ main critics. Yet there’s also some less mentioned villains, the Herodians, who were an elitist group supporting King Herod, the non-Jewish leader of Israel (duly approved by the occupying Romans). This dastardly duo of Herodian and Pharisaic conspirators unfolded their plot by first tryingRead More →

Jesus’ parable from Matthew 22:1-14 illustrates how people of faith should be prepared to accept God’s invitation with unstoppable dedication. Jesus’ metaphor of a king sending slaves to invite people to a wedding banquet is code for God’s historic connection to the Jews, and the celebration for the king’s son is a reference to Jesus’ status as God’s son. The wedding invitation has been made first to the Jews, God’s originally chosen people, but the parable suggests that they have rejected God. Over the centuries, many Christian writers and commentators have accusingly pointed to the ways in which Jews have been persecuted, as if theirRead More →

Today’s lectionary excerpt from Philippians 3:4b-14 focuses on Paul, who shares autobiographical highlights. Paul was taught as a rigorous, conservative Jew. He had it all: education, ethnic pride, great deeds, and an admirable personal morality. As for a wife, we don’t know why he didn’t mention that major aspect of his life. It would be highly unlikely that a person with his background would be single. Yet, nowhere can it be confirmed if or when Paul was married. We know that Paul didn’t think highly women, a sad fact revealed when he taught that women should have their heads covered and silent during worship (1Read More →

Today’s message from Matthew 21:23-32 examines an encounter between Jesus and religious bureaucrats. The critics asked where Jesus obtained his authority. Jesus responded by posing a counter- question, inquiring about the authority of John the Baptist. It’s funny, that responding to a question with a question is often frowned upon. We’re often taught not to do this because questioning a questioner can be impudent and impolite. However, certain situations such as with a hostile audience often require calculated violation of rhetorical norms. What Jesus asked his critics raised the controversial issue of John’s baptism, where it came from (heaven or earth). Both Jesus and theRead More →

Today’s message from Matthew 20: 1-16 showcases a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Although Jesus was a Jew, his movement differed significantly from what we think we know about first-century Judaism. In any case, it seems that Jesus (and others) had a hard time trying to reform ancient Judaism. So complete was the reform effort that a new religion emerged instead: Christianity. Jesus’ parable in Matthew introduces a strange character, a manager with some odd behaviors. The manager in Jesus’ story hires workers, some early in the day and others later. He then makes a separate contract with each group of workers. The controversyRead More →

Today’s lectionary selection from Matthew 18:21-35 has people forgiving—or not—the financial sins of others. Enter the case of an anonymous slave, let’s call him “Ralph,” who petitioned his master for forgiveness and who subsequently was forgiven. Ralph was then asked to forgive the debt of another slave like himself. Ralph refused to forgive the debt of the other slave and, when the master found out about it, Ralph was thrown into prison, constituting the spiritual equivalent of going to hell. Ouch! A lesson here is that if we want forgiveness then we had better offer forgiveness to others. Is forgiveness as straight-forward as it firstRead More →

This morning’s lectionary message comes from Romans 13:8-14, where we’ll begin by quoting Paul: “[F]or the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8b). Paul emphasizes the preeminence of love, which is a wonderful quality to highlight. We know that there is nothing greater than love, and that all the Old Testament Law is fulfilled when people love one another. Love is also one way to describe God’s very essence, which is at core spirit. People who want to know who and what God is must embrace love. Both Jesus and Paul reiterated how when people love one another they are also lovingRead More →

The first part of today’s message (Romans 12:9-21) reveals that the earliest Christians couldn’t always get along. It is strangely comforting to know that even Jesus’ ancient followers struggled with the same interpersonal issues that cause trouble today. I don’t want to dwell on negativity, but the early church was as divided and nasty as anything we’ve seen since. Any purported golden age of Christianity is only a cruel myth. Then as now, people act badly and it remains a monumental challenge to live Christian principles. Now get ready to be positively energized. Paul’s enthusiasm leaps up from the page with rapid-fire advice. There’s soRead More →

Today’s message will focus on Paul’s discussion about sacrifices and transformation (Romans 12:1-8). Paul begins by describing people of faith as living sacrifices. This idea implies that Christians are offerings to God. Unlike butchered sacrificial animals, we are not to be literally slaughtered (thank goodness!). Paul emphasizes our holy status, like the way an animal might be specially prepared for God. Paul claims that seeing ourselves as living sacrifices contributes to “spiritual worship,” which seems to involve a great attitude of piety (Romans 12:1). Paul’s use of the term sacrifices is understandable given that he lived and wrote to a world where both Jews andRead More →