“What are you doing on June 13, 2015?”: A Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30

The following is a draft of this Sunday’s sermon at Zion “Goshert’s” United Church of Christ, Lebanon, PA.  What I like about what I am working through in this sermon is that I am giving props to the traditional reading of this parable (the parable of the slaves’ talents) while at the same time turning the traditional reading inside-out.  Or at least this is what I was attempting to do, without declaring the mainstream interpretation to be completely wrong or dangerous.  I’d love to know what you think.  The preaching text is Matt. 25:14-30, which is the Gospel lectionary reading for November 13; this Sunday we welcome a new member into the church, as well.

This story is one of the familiar parables of Jesus, though it isn’t one of the most famous of Jesus’ teaching.  A slave owner gives one slave five talents; to another slave, two talents; and to a third slave, one talent, when he is about to go on a long journey.  After some time the slave owner returns, and the slave to whom five talents was given somehow had ten total talents, and the one to whom two was given somehow now had four, and the slave owner says that these slaves are trustworthy and that he trusts them to put them in charge of things.  But the slave to which was given one buried the money and kept it safe, and only had one to show to the master, and the master curses the slave for not making more money with the one talent.  The master uses harsh words, that what talents he has saved for his master shall be taken and given to the more industrious servants, and the lazy slave will be thrown into the darkness, “where there will be gnashing of teeth.”  This is what the Kingdom of God is like.

This parable is so deeply entrenched in our culture that the word “talent,” as in “talent show,” America’s Got Talent, or saying that someone is “talented” comes from the way in which Jesus speaks of “talents” in this parable.  Continue reading ““What are you doing on June 13, 2015?”: A Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30″

Thoughts on the Parable of Leaven

Here is some theological exegesis I am thinking through, resulting from a subconscious insight. Lately I have been reading some books concerning the Jewish roots of Christianity, and other material on the role of (biblical) Israel in Christian theology, and these ideas have been pervading my thoughts, directing what I look for in how I see things: reading theology, writing, and—apparently—other subconscious activities, such as watching my wife bake zucchini bread. I was watching her, and as yeast got mentioned in our conversation, it dawned upon me: the parable of the leaven in the synoptic Gospels has something to say about Israel within it.

Another parable he spoke to them: ‘the kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until it was all leavened.’ (Matt. 13:33) Continue reading “Thoughts on the Parable of Leaven”

The challenges of teaching Genesis

This term, I started off my course (Humanities 3: Philosophy and Theology) with the entirety of the book of Genesis. While it seems like an obvious choice in so many respects, it’s also an odd fit. First, there are many ways in which it only really makes sense if you already know at least the vague outlines of Exodus and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the Torah — but that’s the kind of common cultural knowledge that I have found (much to my surprise and disappointment) I can never presuppose, even in the kind of well-read student that Shimer attracts.

Without knowing about the rest of the Torah, Genesis seems weirdly incomplete and perhaps even misleading. Continue reading “The challenges of teaching Genesis”

Like the “seed” of a mustard “tree”: a question

While rehearsing my sermon early Sunday morning–titled “Five Cent Coupon,” on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52–I started to go back to the scripture and re-think some of my research on the subject of the parable of the mustard seed.  The NRSV translation of the key part of the lection is this:

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

I really struggled with writing the sermon this week, perhaps because last week’s sermon (“You Put Your Weeds In There”) was on the parable of the seeds and weeds, where the weeds are burned.  But this week is a celebration of the weed, specifically the mustard weed.

A key issue here is that mustard doesn’t grow into grow into trees, it’s a weed.  So in this parabolic fantasy realm, what does it mean beyond its obvious statement about proliferation? Continue reading “Like the “seed” of a mustard “tree”: a question”


When teaching at Kalamazoo College, I sometimes had to fight an uphill battle with secular liberal students who basically took fundamentalists at their word that they were following the Bible “literally” and who felt that such “literalism” was somehow the most authentic form of religion.

Throughout my time there, I would emphasize the fact that a literal reading of the whole of Scripture that sticks to the “plain sense” and comes out with a single meaning is impossible. First, there are clear surface-level contradictions, and as soon as you start coming up with ways to explain that away, you’re not being literal anymore. Similarly with the strategy of prioritizing certain books or passages over others (the “canon within the canon” approach) — while such an approach is basically unavoidable, it is also not “literal” because the Bible doesn’t come with its own meta-text telling you which parts to emphasize.

Some students were probably convinced, but I think it’s a weak argument because it concedes the terms of debate to the fundamentalists. Continue reading “Literally”

The Deuteronomistic View of History (Part 1)

[Note: I just finished my PhD coursework three weeks ago, and after a very rigorous semester in which my blogging sank to an all-time low I am trying to get back into it. One of my problems is that any topic I have decent knowledge of and is interesting enough that others would care to read about, I save for seminar and conference papers, and attempts at publishing—though I rarely get around to polishing papers enough to send off to journals. So, in an attempt to write more I will be doing a series or two in the area of biblical studies (with a lens for theological interpretation and theology), which is not my “area.” I also hope to do some amateur posts on philosopher’s like Henri Bergson, whom I have been reading lately—again, something interesting to me, but slightly out of my “specialization” (though that may be changing…). I also have to say that the prolific and quality writing of my friends on AUFS as of late, as well as all of the good discussions going on these days on blogs has not exactly motivated me to publish my own posts!]

In 1943 German scholar Martin Noth published a seminal thesis in biblical studies: the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings originally constituted a single work, edited by a single redactor, and have a unified style, content, and vocabulary. The theology of Deuteronomy (themes of one God [Deut. 4:35], one people [Deut 7:1-11], and one centralized location for worship [Deut 12:1-13]) colors the interpretation of Israel’s history from the Exodus until the exile into Babylon.[1] Continue reading “The Deuteronomistic View of History (Part 1)”

A church I’d like to attend

In Feminist Theory and Christian Theology, Serene Jones talks about her church’s free-form Christmas pageant, where all the members of the church play out the roles pretty much improvisationally. One year, there was a seven-year-old girl playing Herod. When the pastor was about to close, she interrupted and said she had something to say: “I am King Herod, and I have been watching you. I am going to kill all your babies. I hate you.”