Welcome Text Week Readers

I am honored to have earned a spot on the regular roster of The Text This Week resources.  If you’ve landed here from there, thank you for clicking over.  My goal is to blog Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so if you’re here early in the week, check back.  Be sure to comment if you have thoughts, and sign up for email updates.

–The Rev. Steve Pankey

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Inwardly Digest

Life is a lot more hectic these days.  I feel like my schedule is not my own.  I try to plan for the unexpected, but it always lives up to its name.  It was about a year ago that I began the process of transitioning from being the First Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s in Foley to the 25th Rector of Christ Church, Bowling Green.  During that period of saying good-bye, pondering hello, and experiencing more change than I can recall in my life, people offered me a lot of advice.  Much of what they told me was wise.  Some of what I heard was ominous.  The most frightening thing someone told me in those two months was “good luck keeping up your blogging schedule.”

A year later, I am keenly aware that I have not kept up this blog with the rigor I once had, though I am proud of what I have accomplished this year.  Rather than four days a week, I’m probably averaging three.  It is a 25% reduction, which I lament, but it is better than a 50% or 100% drop.  Still, while some of you have noticed the infrequency, and especially the occasional week of silence, I assure you, no one feels my change in writing more than me.  For nearly 15 years now, I’ve been writing a blog about the Bible.  More than any other spiritual discipline, I have kept up the practice of reading and journaling the Scriptures.  Each year, on the week of Proper 28, I am reminded of the gift blogging has given me when we pray this collect.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This blog is, for me, an opportunity to inwardly digest the Scriptures.

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Each day, I take time to read the lessons appointed for Sunday.  As a word jumps out at me, I pay attention to or mark it.  I take that word to BibleWorks or Studylight.org or to one of my commentaries and try to learn more about it.  Finally, I turn my attention to how I might take what I’ve learned and inwardly digest it so that I can explain that understanding to someone else.  Honestly, I would write this blog if nobody else read it.  Though, if I’m honest, I do check my stats daily.  But it is in the action of taking what I’ve learned and turning it into words on a screen that I really begin to deepen my understanding of what God is saying through the Scriptures.

Blogging may not be for you.  Perhaps you don’t think people need to hear your thoughts on the Bible, or aren’t so conceited as to think you have some insight to offer.  Journaling privately might be your way into the Scriptures, but then again, maybe that isn’t for you either.  No matter how you do it, I hope this week, as you pray the Collect for Proper 28, you might take some time to consider how you will live it out by hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the holy word of God.

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth – Oh My!

I would guess that the average Episcopalian is cool with the Parable of the Talents all the way up to the final verse.  Sure, there are some who will embrace the imagery of the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, just as there are some Socialist Episcopalians who will balk at the whole premise of this parable, but, by and large, most of us feel like we can understand what Jesus is up to until we hear those words of judgment.  It is there that we get fidgety.

Now, I’m not so sure we feel uncomfortable about the imagery that Jesus uses because we are afraid that we’ll end up there.  I think it is probably more likely that our discomfort comes when we think of those whom we think might find themselves there someday, and we instantly become uncomfortable.  Episcopalians tend to be pretty willing to let the whole hell thing go.  But I’m not so sure that’s helpful.

Let’s be clear, this particular set of images for what eternal damnation might look like are nearly exclusive to Matthew.  The phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” appears seven times in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.  Six of those occurrences are in Matthew.  We are clearly getting some of Matthew’s theology thrown in here, but that doesn’t mean we should throw the whole image away.  Instead, I think it is helpful to spend some time pondering what this image is intended to convey.  Three times it is combined with the outer darkness.  Twice it is used in conjunction with the furnace of fire.  The other use speaks of where the hypocrites are.  The image is meant to convey a place of isolation, like the Jewish concept of Gehenna or the burning place, where those who were judged to be worthless, wicked, and lazy will end up in the final judgment.

This is not what Dante created for us in his Inferno, but it is still very much a place in which no one would like to end up, and that is exactly why we need to talk about it.  Not to scare anyone into belief, but to be honest about the fact that our decisions have ramifications.  Until we are willing to talk honestly about sin and about how the broken relationships that sin creates have long-lasting, even eternal, impact, we are failing to help our people understand the fullness of the grace of God.  Rather, the image that many of our people have been given is that their faith doesn’t really matter, how they live their live is without impact, and that hell is only a place “they” use to force conversion.

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Another chance to bring up our poorly worded value statement. Huzzah!

Without judgment, there is no true grace.  While we need not be known as a church of judgment, we should be clear that all of humanity stands under the judgment of God and that, at least for us, the path to restored relationship is through live-changing faith in Jesus Christ, and this Sunday offers the preacher a chance to name that reality with hope, with grace, with good theology, and, we hope, with tact.

Maybe it is about money

Life in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast was fairly bare bones.  I don’t say this as a negative thing, but just stating the reality of the situation.  When the Dioceses of Alabama and Florida carved out the CGC in the late 1970s, they were very careful not to give away too much of their extra oil, to borrow an image from last week’s Gospel lesson.  Alabama kept Montgomery and all of its endowed funds.  Florida kept Tallahassee and all of its endowed funds.  Life in the CGC was pretty much lived congregational pledge payment to congregational pledge payment.  The same was true in Foley, a congregation barely 100 years old, built in a community that for the better part of 75 of those years was mostly small and agricultural.  In that context, the parable of the talents that we will hear on Sunday doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of money.  If you don’t have silver talents to invest, you have to hear this story another way.

Over the past decade, I have read this story to be about other types of talents, be they art, numbers, music, wood-working, electrical, computer, or the rare-as-a-unicorn ability to work with middle school youth.  I stand by this reading valid.  I follow Paul’s teaching that we are each called to invest our gifts and talents for the building up of the Church, and to squander those gifts by hiding them in a hole, is to succumb to the sin of laziness.  Where I have been wrong in the past, however, is in suggesting that this parable might only be about these talents.

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Maybe it because the Finance Ministry Team will be ironing out the 2018 budget this afternoon, and I’ve been knee deep in endowment fund reports for the first time in my ministry, but now that I’m serving a congregation with some named funds that exists in a Diocese with the same, I’m beginning to realize that the parable of the talents might also actually be about the money entrusted to our care. and how we make wise investments of it for the up building of the Kingdom of God.  Just as we are called to be wise stewards of Creation, so too are we to make smart choices when it comes to the hard earned money that others leave, either through gift or bequest, to the Church for its long-term sustainability.  Part of those smart choices are ensuring the money is placed in sound investments with good long-term strategy.  The other part is making us of that income.  Nobody gives money to the Church so it can sit in a bank account and make interest for ever.  People give money to the Church for mission, for ministry, and for the in-breaking of the Kingdom.  As much as I don’t really like this parable being about real money, and as much as I know that it is not only about real money, I can no longer deny that yes, perhaps Jesus did have actual money in mind as he told his disciples this parable.

You think you know a guy

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Last week’s parable about the 10 bridesmaids had lots of people becoming members of the Jesus Seminar ready to cast a pocket full of black beads that Jesus didn’t actually say these things.  It is really hard to believe that Jesus would a) lift up the selfishness of the wise bridesmaids, b) call anyone foolish, c) declare that even his close followers who maybe didn’t quite get it would find themselves outside of his grace, and d) compare all of this to the kingdom of heaven.  We think we know Jesus and how the grace of God works, and because this story doesn’t compute, we want to throw it away as an editorial decision on the part of Matthew or some later redactor.

As I began to read the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, I began to wonder if Jesus knew that this would be the reaction to his eschatological teachings, and so he told this parable to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that what we think we know about Jesus isn’t all there is to know.  The third slave, you know, the one who dug a hole and buried his single talent because he was afraid of a master who “was a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed,” thought he knew his master, but as with everyone whom we meet, there is always more to learn.

Remember that these parables are all coming late on Tuesday in Holy Week.  It is not unreasonable to think that the Disciples are absolutely clueless as to what Thursday evening through Sunday will bring.  They can sense things getting tense between Jesus and the religious authorities, but they’ve experienced that before.  Whole crowds have had stones in hand, and yet Jesus walked away, unscathed.  They think they know how this will end.  They think they know what the Messiah will do.  They think they know Jesus, but there is still much to learn.

One of the harder lessons they will learn will come when, like in the parable, Jesus departs from them.  How will they respond?  Will they be about the work he had given them authority to do?  Will they continue to expand his ministry?  Or, will they live in fear, unable to do anything but bury the ministry to which they were called?  After his resurrection and ascension, the same questions will arise as they stand, slack-jawed, staring into heaven.  Will they use the gifts they’ve been given to spread the Good News, or will they return, in fear, to the lives they once knew?

We think we know Jesus.  We think we know what he is about.  We think, but there are always surprises.

Be Ready – a sermon

The audio of today’s sermon did not get recorded, however, you can still read today’s sermon.


I want to begin this morning by taking a moment to brag on your deputation to Diocesan Convention.  The folks from Christ Church were among the most diligent in the whole diocese.  If it was on the schedule, they were there.  They put up with a Rector who had never been through a Convention in Kentucky before and so didn’t have special plans for cocktails or a fancy dinner in the hoity toity Crescent Hill neighborhood.  They were thoughtful, discussed things well among themselves, and are engaged in the work of the Diocese.  You should be proud of Deacon Kellie, Sharon Valk, Billy Adams, Belinda Palmer, Jan Funk, and Hamp Moore.  You can even be proud of our Parish Administrator, Heath Harper, who used his continuing education time to attend the Convention.  Your Rector, on the other hand, well, I really was on my best behavior, except I do have the unfortunate tendency to get hangry.  For those who maybe don’t know what hangry means, it is a combination of hungry and angry, and is what happens when a lack of food makes you grumpy.  I am most prone to becoming hangry when I make bad choices, like I did yesterday morning.

After a rough night’s sleep, breakfast felt like it came very early.  Even so, I made good decisions.  I ate a bagel, some fruit, and had a decent cup of coffee.  Noonday Prayers and the lunch break, though close to five hours away, seemed easily doable.  As a group, we attended the hearing on the budget, which ended 20 minutes early, thanks be to God, and we prepared for the morning business session.  As everyone got ready, two different groups of people came by each table and dropped off candy.  Yesterday, the tempter looked like the Rector of Grace Church, Paducah and a nice woman in a red apron with handfuls of Fun Size candies and Hershey Miniatures.  It didn’t take long before I unwrapped my first Krackle bar.  Having grown up 40 minutes from Hershey, Pennsylvania, those miniatures are a real weakness for me.  Naturally, I quickly opened another.  Later, I ate a Milky Way and a two-pack of Starbursts: pink and orange.  Boy were they good.  As the morning wore on, however, the sugar rush that followed those several small pieces of candy wore off, and by the time 11:30 came around, I was crashing back to earth and in desperate need of some lunch.

The poor soul who unwittingly, and thankfully, unknowingly caught the full brunt of my hanger was the good man who re-presented the budget to us for adoption.  He was doing a decent job, taking the 40 minute presentation he had given at 8am and turning it into a 20 minute rehearsal of the 2018 budget, but because I had heard it all before and, more so, because of the negative effects of a sugar crash, I spent most of those twenty-one minutes vacillating between checking my watch and rolling my eyes.  As he finished, at 12:01, I calculated that with 99 deputies in attendance, we had spent close to 35 man-hours listening to a report we were all supposed to have heard three hours earlier.  “How long, O Lord, how long!?!  How long must I wait for lunch?”

Yesterday, I was a foolish bridesmaid.  I had failed to prepare for what I should have known to be inevitable.  Diocesan Conventions always run behind.  There are always redundant reports.  There are never not silly questions.  But I had no extra oil for my lamp, and so, in that moment, I found myself outside of the joy of the bridegroom, looking for a way in.  Like the foolish bridesmaids, I was frustrated, more by my own lack of preparation than by the inevitableness of the situation.

This parable that Jesus tells is a glimpse into the end of time.  He tells it, not just randomly, but after some prompting from his disciples.  It is late in the day on Tuesday in what we call Holy Week.  Jesus has spent the day arguing with the Temple leadership.  They’ve questioned his authority and sought to catch him in verbal traps.  Jesus, for his part, has not backed down. He’s told parables about their destruction. He has called them hypocrites, and wept over what Jerusalem has become.  It has been a really long, really tense day when Jesus and his disciples finally leave the Temple to return to Bethany.  Hoping for some innocuous conversation to pass the time, a few of them begin to discuss architecture.  They note how majestic the Temple is, and Jesus, still on edge tells them that soon “not one stone will be left upon another.”  Matthew indicates that the rest of the trip was silent.  Safely back on the Mount of Olives, the disciples mustered up enough courage to engage Jesus again, this time asking him to expand on the warning of destruction.

“When will this be?  What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”  What follows is two chapters of Jesus teaching about the coming apocalypse.  False prophets, persecutions, and the desolating sacrilege will precede the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory, but, Jesus warns them, “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt 24.36).  Yet even as no one knows when it will happen, Jesus is clear in his warning, “be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Mt 24.44).  It is in response to that warning that Jesus tells this parable as part of a series of parables about what it looks like to be ready.

This parable is unique to Matthew’s Gospel, which was written for a unique community, fifty or sixty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The first generation of disciples were almost all dead, and this raised some real questions in the Church.  As we heard in the lesson from First Thessalonians, written thirty years before Matthew’s Gospel, there was already some long-standing concern about why Jesus had not yet returned.  The common expectation among the first Christians was that Jesus would be coming back tomorrow, if not sooner.  They had kept vigilant, but after twenty years of waiting, they were nervous they had somehow missed out.  Thirty more years later, you can imagine that Matthew’s community was beginning to think that maybe Jesus would never come back.  Knowing Jesus, however, they should have expected this.  The delay of the bridegroom was inevitable.

Jesus was always making his disciples wait.  As they traveled, he would constantly stop to talk with some beggar on the side of the road.  When he would heal someone, the whole nearby village might show up looking for help.  When Jesus saw an opportunity to stop and teach about the kingdom of God, he would do it.  Given their experience, the Disciples had every reason to expect that Jesus’ return would be delayed.  Matthew’s community, having heard the stories over and over again, should have had every reason to believe that Jesus wouldn’t be coming back tomorrow.  And yet, like I was yesterday, they got anxious.  Waiting is hard.  Sisters and brothers in Jesus were dying.  They didn’t know what to do with that.  Two thousand years later, he has still not returned.  I’m not sure we know what to do with that.

As much as parables often have deep meanings woven within the details, I think the lesson we learn from this parable is quite simple.  Be ready.  The bridegroom has been and will be delayed, but the work of the Kingdom will go on.  We had better be prepared to wait for as long as it takes.  Friends will die in the Lord.  People will be hard to deal with.  Conventions will test your patience.  Life will happen.  In the meantime, we must be sure to pack some extra oil: spending extra time in prayer, being immersed in the Scriptures each day, and engaging in work of loving service.  Don’t make the mistake I made yesterday morning.  Don’t fill up on empty calories that will quickly flame out and leave you hangry, but rather, be about the Gospel work of filling your lives with good lamp oil, for the Son of Man is coming, but at an unexpected hour.  Amen.

A Modern Day Parable

“It takes a village to raise a child.”  I doubt then First Lady, Hillary Clinton, was the first person to coin this phrase as the title of her 1996 book on the status of children in America, but she certainly has brought it into our common vernacular.  Things like this don’t just happen, even if put forward by famous people.  Instead, they have to make some sense.  Anyone who has raised a child knows that you can’t do it in isolation.  It requires the support of educators, doctors, neighbors, family, friends, and hopefully a community of faith, do do the hard work of raising a child.  Of course, as with many idiomatic phrases, this one has grown beyond its original context.

It takes a village is a reality for many of life’s challenges.  It takes a village to run a church.  It takes a village to operate a successful school system.  On a smaller scale, yesterday, I was reminded that it takes a village to write a sermon.  Whether it is my go-to preaching resources from WorkingPreacher.org, SAMUEL Sermon Seeds, Dear Partner in Preaching, or any number of the other great resources at TextWeek.com, without input from outside sources, my village of mentors, my preaching would be much less fruitful.  The same is true for you, Dear Reader.

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Yesterday, I admitted that the struggle was real as I prepared for Sunday’s sermon on the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids.  My usual village was letting me down; contradicting each other at every turn.  “It is a metaphor for the delayed eschaton.”  “Some think it is only a metaphor, but is a much larger allegory.”  “Foolish readers would see this through the lens of allegory.”  AHHHHHHH!  So I turned to you, and asked for your insights.  Several of you responding, for which I am exceedingly grateful.  It really does take a village.

What I learned in yesterday’s real life parable is that while I can’t rewrite Jesus’ parable, I can certainly name that it is not the fullness of what God has in mind for his kingdom.  The village of people of who read this blog had oil to share, and they did.  They didn’t hoard it for themselves, hoping to preach a better sermon than me, but they invited me to share in their insights, and to experience their joy.  That is, I think, what God actually has in mind for us.  It isn’t that we should keep the oil of our salvation to ourselves, but that we should freely share it, confident that in the Kingdom of God, there is more than enough to go around.

In our parable for Sunday, there are 10 bridesmaids.  Five of them are foolish.  Five of them are wise.  None of them are able to fully grasp the abundant grace that God is offering in the Kingdom Jesus came to announce.  If I were into allegories, I might think that the five foolish bridesmaids were the Pharisees and the five wise ones were the Disciples, and I would be quick to note that throughout the Gospels, all of them fail to fully grasp what Jesus is trying to do in his ministry.

Thanks for being a part of a real life parable this week, Dear Reader.  Thanks for letting me be a part of your village, and thank you for being a part of mine.

A real head-scratcher

I am usually a big fan of the parables.  I enjoy them like I enjoy a good riddle.  It takes thought, prayer, consideration, and not a little bit of time to look at a parable from its many different angles.  Whether you choose to use the metaphor of a multi-side diamond or a narrative time bomb, parables offer a lot of chew on and enjoy.  However, the reality of liking something in theory doesn’t always mean you’ll like everything about it.  I really loved the television show Scrubs, but in order to do so, I have to pretend that season nine didn’t happen.  This is how that show ended. Period. Full stop.

I’m feeling kind of Scrubs Season 9 about the eschatological kingdom parable we will hear this week.  It is the first of three apocalyptic parables we will hear from Matthew’s Gospel as we wrap up the long season after Pentecost, and it is the one I am most comfortable doing without.  The more I read it, the less it makes sense.  The more I read about it, the less it appeals to me.  The more I consider its ramifications, the less I want to allow it to actually be Jesus’ words about the Kingdom he came to inaugurate.  Like his admonition to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” this parable doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of what Jesus spends his time teaching and living.

Take, for example, the distinction between the wise and the foolish bridesmaids.  Thanks to several of the commentaries available at TextWeek.com (many of which actively contradict each other), I’ve come to notice that there is very little that actually distinguishes these two groups from one another.  Both groups took lamps filled with oil, both waited for the bridegroom, both eventually fell asleep when the groom tarried for an unimaginably long time.  What makes the wise bridesmaids wise is that they chose to bring extra oil on the off chance that the groom was delayed much longer than one would reasonably expect.  Are we really supposed to learn something from this?  Is the Kingdom of Heaven really about being prepared for every possible eventuality?  Even Jesus seems to contradict himself in summarizing the parable with “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  Is this about oil or about staying awake?

Consider also the behavior of the wise bridesmaids.  When, at midnight, the bridegroom finally arrives, and the foolish ask the wise for some extra oil, the wise get stingy.  Rather than showing the abundant generosity of God’s grace, like in the parable of the Prodigal Son, these women subscribe to a theology of scarcity, and refuse to share with their friends.  Instead, the wise send the foolish off into the dark of night to try to buy oil from the 1st century Palestine equivalent of Meijer.  In the moment of decision, these women become like the punchline of a Seinfeld joke.  They can’t even spare a square.

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There is, I’m certain, something to be mined from this odd parable, and I promise, dear reader, that I’ll keep digging.  In the meantime, if you have some wisdom to spare, please don’t hesitate to comment.  I’ll happily give you credit in my sermon come Sunday.