The Old Testament reading is from Jonah, my favorite prophet.
I like Jonah because he is so human.
I can really identify with him.
Most of us have heard about Jonah and the Whale, or Jonah and the Great Fish.
But this part of the story doesn't get told very often.

The background to this morning's reading is that Jonah arrives in Nineveh and spends four days prophesying about their sin. And the city - including its king - repent.

Interestingly, the ruins of Nineveh are in modern-day Iraq, right across the river from Mosul, which is under control of the Islamic State in the Levant. Imagine going there now to tell them to repent.

Jonah ran away - not because he was afraid -
but because he wanted the Ninevites to get what they deserved.
They had done some awful things, and he wanted them to suffer for it.
Sure enough, after he prophesies to Nineveh, the people repent.
And God forgives them.
And Jonah is so upset about their not being punished that he wants to die.

Jonah isn't focused on his relationship with God;
he's focused on God's relationship with Nineveh.
Jonah has judged Nineveh himself, and found it deserving punishment.
He disagrees with God's judgment of Nineveh.
In fact, Jonah is judging God.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about some workers
who agreed to a certain amount of money for the day's labor.
Other workers came later in the day and worked fewer hours,
but got the same pay.
That doesn't sound fair to our ears, does it?
And it didn't sound fair to the workers.
They think these other workers got more than they deserved.

But those who worked a full day for a fair full day's wages
did not have their pay reduced. It was still a fair day's wages.
These workers are instead concerned about what others have done to earn their pay.

These workers have stepped out of their relationship with the landowner
and have concerned themselves with the relationship
between the landowner and the other workers.
They disagree with the landowner, and are judging him.

When someone receives the same money, food, or other reward that we do, we expect them to put in at least as much time and effort as we do.

We don't want them to get more than they deserve.

When someone harms us, we often want revenge. We want the other person to hurt the way we hurt. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.

They get what they deserve.

And even if we're going to bring forgiveness into the picture,
there are some things that just seem unforgivable.

We often think of justice as an economic issue - a math problem:

In fact, we often see a balance - "the Scales of Justice" - as a symbol of fairness.
It's the way we hope our courts will work.
It's the way we want our judges and juries to decide what's right.

That may be okay for government - for civil justice.

But sometimes we want our God to reflect our idea of fairness.

And when we see God forgiving those we think are unforgivable,
it's easy for us to feel those scales are tilted
in someone else's favor.

Or maybe someone new to the faith -
or new to our church -
gets as much of a say in how the church moves forward
as others who have been in the church for many years.
It doesn't seem fair, to have worked so hard for so long,
Only to have some newcomer step in.

But what would it look like for God to use our sense of justice -
that everyone gets what they deserve?

What would it look like if we were punished
according to everything we had done wrong?
What if we had an unforgiving God who made us suffer
for every unfair, unjust, harmful, or cruel thing we had done in our lives?
What if our God had no mercy?

That's the God Jonah wants - but only for the Ninevites, not for himself.

And what would it look like if we had to earn forgiveness?
How many years would we have to work?
We can't earn a gift.
We can't earn grace.

Fortunately, we have a God who doesn't pay us back in kind for our sins.
We have a God who doesn't require that we work off our debt.
Instead, we have a God who wants us to be transformed:
to become new creatures who, having received grace,
are ready to pour it out to others.

Unfortunately, we're still human.

We still get that feeling that other people are undeserving.

We still tend to judge others.

Sometimes we even judge God.

We forget how blessed we are and start measuring ourselves against others.

The good news is that the grace of God even covers our ungracefulness.

We can try again.

So for this week, I want to leave you with this challenge:

Notice those times when you're concerned about
someone getting a better deal than you are.
Notice those times when you think someone needs to suffer for what they did.

In those times, refocus on your relationship with God,
and not on what good fortune others may have.

Over at RevGalBlogPals, janintx challenges us to "share with us something that you like that seemed surprisingly "new" to you sometime in the near past. It could even be a RE-discovery."

Here are my five:

  1. I'm a fan of the late George Harrison, and today, in looking at a video someone posted for "International Talk Like a Pirate Day," I found snips from a television show where George wants to be a pirate. I had never seen this before, but it's completely in line with his whimsical nature:

  2. A few friends suggested what turned out to be a wonderful book about the writing of a new Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal: Lamb.

  3. I didn't see the film "The Princess Bride" in the theater (from what I gather, not many did), but they're showing it on the big screen near where I live. So I get a chance to see it as if it were "new."

  4. My Windows 8 tablet has one micro USB connection that doubles as its power/charging plug. This means I have a choice of connecting it to a USB drive or device and running it on battery, or charging it and forgoing the USB functionality.

    Until I found a Y-cable that lets me use it as both:

    Y cable

  5. There's a cool old-timey drive-in in my town called Ace Drive-In. Car hops, root beer in frosty glasses, the whole thing.

As Below, So Above (Sermon)

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Preached at Bethany United Church of Christ, Chicago IL


This is Rally Sunday. It's the last day with Elizabeth St. Leger. It's also the month when your long-time pastor will be retiring.

So there's a lot of change going on.

It's reasonable to think that there will be some tension or disagreement in the coming months. Change is difficult. And the readings today deal with the tension that can arise in communities like this, especially during periods of change.

I think they say it pretty well.

And I'm not going to talk about it this morning.

Let us go to God in prayer.

May the words that I speak
And the ways they are received by each of our hearts and minds
Help us to continue to grow into the people
And the church
That you have dreamed us to be.

Preached August 24, 2014 at St. Michaels UCC West Chicago IL

Year A, eleventh Sunday after Pentecost


More than a decade ago, I was in a park for a festival. Some people from a church were handing out quizzes on the Bible as a means of outreach. I remember one question in particular:

What one person in the Bible never dies?

I'll come back to this.

Jesus Gets It Wrong? (Sermon)

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Preached August 17, 2014 at St. Michaels UCC West Chicago IL

Year A, tenth Sunday after Pentecost



Surely Jesus knows this passage from Isaiah. In Luke we read that as a child he debated the teachers of the law at the temple, and in Mark it says that he read from a later portion of Isaiah.

And Jesus has just been proclaiming that what comes out of one's mouth is what defiles a person.

And now Jesus reacts to a person in need:

  • first by ignoring her

  • next by rejecting her

  • finally by insulting and degrading her

Do we have the right Jesus here?

This week, the Revised Common Lectionary - used by many churches to determine the readings for Sunday - calls for the Gospel reading to be the fifteenth chapter
of the Gospel according to Matthew, verses 21 through 28.

Some churches will also be reading the optional verses 10 through 20, but I will not be referencing them here.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting,
"Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."

But he did not answer her at all.

And his disciples came and urged him, saying,
"Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."

He answered,
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

But she came and knelt before him, saying,
"Lord, help me."

He answered,
"It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

She said,
"Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

Then Jesus answered her,
"Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

And her daughter was healed instantly.

I'm not an internet preacher.
While I do post some of the sermons I have preached in churches, I don't usually post youtube videos of sermons created specifically for the World Wide Web. But I think this is an important topic, so this is a first for me: a sermon from my heart to the web-at-large.

Image via Memecenter - click for site

There's an idea out there that if your pastor's family looks like this:

family FcM.png

your church will attract more families. In this case, we'll assume your ideal pastor is a man with a wife and one or more young children.

RGBP: What's in a Name?

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For today's Friday Five at RevGalBlogPals, 3dogmom asks "What's in a name?"

Here are my answers to her five questions:

On being right

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I'm pretty concerned about theological discourse. In churches, and online, I see a lot of emphasis on orthodoxy, or correct teaching.

When we argue about theological points, we too often argue about who is right:
  • What's the right way to be baptized, and at what age?
  • What really happens during communion?
  • What is the nature of the trinity?
But these doctrinal questions lead to disagreement and, often, division. What we need are ideas that are transformational, and arguing over who is right is rarely transformational.

On social media, I polled my friends who are spiritual but not religious.

Now this is not a scientific poll, and the sample size is small. So I'm not going to draw any national conclusions.

But this is what I got back within MINUTES of asking the question: