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"Gratitude"

Christ the King/ Reign of Christ – November 24, 2019

Listen to the Podcast.

Jeremiah 23:1-6 – Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord… The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Luke 1:68-79 – The Song of Zechariah: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.
OR
Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, we will not fear.

Colossians 1:11-20 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He is the head of the body, the church. In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43 – The Crucifixion. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

 

 

Christ the King/Reign of Christ

The texts for Christ the King change in each of the three years of the Revised Common Lectionary:

Year A Year B Year C
Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24 2 Samuel 23:1-7 Jeremiah 23:1-6
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 100 Ps. 132:1-12, (13-18) Luke 1:68-79
Psalm 95:1-7a Psalm 93 Psalm 46
Ephesians 1:15-23 Revelation 1:4b-8 Colossians 1:11-20
Matthew 25:31-46 John 18:33-37 Luke 23:33-43

 

Christ the King is the last holy Sunday in the Western liturgical calendar. It is the newest of Christian festivals. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, to counter the rise of secularism and the rise of secular dictatorships in Europe. Pius hoped:

  1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom and immunity from the state 
  2. That leaders and nations would give respect to Christ
  3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast

 

 

Thanksgiving 

Some find this festival difficult. What is the alternative to secularism? Theocracy? Does not our concept of freedom of religion necessitate a secular state? Not an irreligious state, but one that allows for pluralism? Yes Christ is Lord, King if you will, but not in an earthly sense. “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Additionally, some find an apocalyptic focus unhelpful, when we are about to have the early Advent apocalyptic texts which focus on the second coming of Christ. My home congregation glossed over this “new” festival of the church year and used the Sunday to celebrate Thanksgiving, which, while not a religious festival, certainly gives time for a sacred theme of gratitude for all God’s gifts. The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving. The German mystic Meister Eckhart once famously said, “If the only prayer you ever prayed was ‘Thank you,’ it would be enough.”

If you want to go with a theme of gratitude, thanksgiving, or generosity, here are some thoughts:

 

If, however, you are sticking to the RCL texts, read on…

 

 

Luke

This is not just the last Sunday of the church year; it is also the last Sunday we will spend in the Lukan lectionary this year. As we read this last text from Luke chapter 21, and prepare to embark on a journey through Matthew’s Gospel beginning next week, I find myself profoundly grateful for Luke’s gospel.

Luke lifts up the universality of Jesus’ message to a greater extent than the other three canonical gospels. Jesus’ teaching that we are to love God with all our heart soul mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, was of itself nothing new. What was new was Jesus’ wider interpretation of the word “neighbor.” It was commonly understood that your neighbor was your fellow countryman. A Moabite or an Ammonite was not strictly understood as neighbor. Pagans were not neighbors. Samaritans were not neighbors. The neighbor laws had to do with how you treated your fellow countrymen and women. You do not charge interest to your brother/sister Israelite, but charging interest to Egyptians? That is perfectly appropriate. 

The debt of love you owed to your neighbors, was owed to your fellow Israelites, and so the lawyer’s question to Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?” is a fair question, and quite to the point. Luke is the only gospel in which Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with the story of the Good Samaritan. After the story, Jesus responds with a question of his own. “Now, you tell me who is neighbor: Who do you think was neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” Jesus reframes our understanding of neighbor from that of race and religion, to basic human compassion and decency. Even a stranger can be the neighbor. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus moves from a nationalistic obligation to ones fellow citizens, to a universal obligation to all humanity.         

It seems this concept is losing traction in American Christianity. Now more than ever, Luke’s proclamation of Jesus needs to be heard. 

I will miss Luke. Without Luke we would not know the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, or Zaccheus, the height-challenged tax collector of Jericho, whose life was changed spiritually and economically through an encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. 

 

 

Golgatha

Skull in rock at Golgotha

On this last Sunday of the church year, the lectionary takes us to the place called the Skull, (Κρανίον) possibly named for all the skulls that littered the site from thousands of previous crucifixions. (We don’t know where the place of the skull actually was. Some claim it was named because of this peculiar rock formation, but it was likely in a more open and public place.) I recently learned that many people were killed before they were crucified. While crucifixion was a form of torture, it’s primary purpose was deterrence. The many crosses outside cities along frequently traversed roadways sent a warning: This is what happens to all who defy their Roman masters. 

It doesn’t take much to imagine how humiliating and dehumanizing crucifixion was. To be publicly stripped of your clothes, mocked, then beaten senseless was to be completely dominated by laughing, well fed, well-dressed, well-paid soldiers. For them, this is just another day on the job. You are nothing. You will now be taken to the place of execution. You know this is what is happening, but there is nothing you can do about it. They will crucify you on a cross, making you carry that cross to the place where they will end your life. Once at the place of the skull, the soldiers may execute you in any number of ways, or crucify you alive. Apparently this is what they did to Jesus, along with two others. 

Matthew and Mark call them thieves/bandits (lestai). Luke calls them criminals (kakourgoi), literally, bad-doers. Lestai were bandits who robbed Romans and the wealthy Israelites who had caved in to Roman rule, profiting from it. Lestai is the word Luke uses for the “robbers” who beat the man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho in the story of the Good Samaritan. These were not run-of-the-mill bandits. These were organized criminals that were trying to destabilize the collusion between the Roman occupation and the Jewish aristocracy. Their crime was more than theft. It was defiance of the Pax Romana, and therefore sedition. 

Jesus’ crime was most likely also sedition. After all, he had heralded the destruction of the Temple, and the destruction of Jerusalem. He had announced the coming of a new kingdom and taught his disciples to pray for it to come. He had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem with shouts of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” He had caused a riot in the Temple during Passover, chasing out the moneychangers with a whip. He was called the Christ, which means “anointed.” Only kings get anointed. He must think he is a King. Treason. His crime is nailed above his head on the cross: “King of the Jews.”

One of the lestai/kakourgoi said, “Hey you, Messiah, Christ, Anointed One, yeah you, would-be king: so if you’re all they say you are, then save yourself. And us too!” The other criminal said something different:, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus extended salvation freely to an unworthy thief, evil-doer, who had not even repented. This is a stunning act of grace.

And just like that we learn that while the reign of God may be breaking into our world, it encompasses more than this world. The line between heaven and earth is blurred. There is more to life than meets the eye. This kingdom, this reign that Jesus preached, where even strangers are our neighbors, where we turn the other cheek, where we share the shirt off our back, where we love our enemies, is a universal kingdom. For now we see only in a mirror dimly. The kingdom is eternal. Now is only a small portion of eternity. Trusting in the reign of God, of Christ, is to be in the moment, but also to see beyond this moment. It is to say at the same time, “The kingdom of God is among you,” (Luke 17:21) and “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

 

Pentecost 18C, Proper 23C, Lectionary 28C – October 13, 2019

Listen to the podcast.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 Thus says the Lord to the exiles in Babylon: Build houses; plant gardens; take wives; have children. But seek the welfare of the city to which I have sent you.
OR
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c – Namaan, a Syrian, goes to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy.

Psalm 66:1-12 – Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth, for he has tested us, refined us like silver.
OR
Psalm 111 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

2 Timothy 2:8-15 – I endure everything for the elect, that they may attain salvation. If we have died with him, we will also live with him. Do your best to show yourself an approved worker.

Luke 17:11-19 – Healing of the ten lepers.

 

October is Clergy Appreciation Month

 

 

 

Luke 17: Gratitude

We all know the story of the Ten Lepers, but most of your people probably won’t. For most of my 31 years of ordained ministry this text was appointed for Thanksgiving, so many of us old preachers tackled it annually between football games. 

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

This story is a parallel of the healing; of Namaan the Syrian in 2 Kings 5 (one of our choices for the first reading of the day). Luke references Namaan’s healing in Luke 4:27. Jesus has already encountered a leper in Luke 5.

 Jesus is in some unnamed village between Samaria and Galilee, on his journey to Jerusalem, headed for we-all-know-what. Ten lepers come up to Jesus, asking for mercy. With an ostracizing disease they cannot participate in the religious, social or financial life of the community. Leprosy could be any number of diseases. An unknown spot on the arm could be diagnosed as leprosy by a priest. If so, certain rituals were performed. The leper would often be asked to leave the community until things cleared up. One could only return if the priest had declared the disease healed, and the person clean. This put tremendous power in the hands of the priests. 

Leprosy, in its many manifestations, is described in painstaking detail in the 59 verses of Leviticus 13. I won’t copy it all here. 

Houses could have leprosy too. Leviticus 14:34-47 says, 

When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, 35 the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “There seems to me to be some sort of disease in my house.“36 The priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, or all that is in the house will become unclean; and afterward the priest shall go in to inspect the house. 37 He shall examine the disease; if the disease is in the walls of the house with greenish or reddish spots, and if it appears to be deeper than the surface, 38 the priest shall go outside to the door of the house and shut up the house seven days. 39 The priest shall come again on the seventh day and make an inspection; if the disease has spread in the walls of the house, 40 the priest shall command that the stones in which the disease appears be taken out and thrown into an unclean place outside the city. 41 He shall have the inside of the house scraped thoroughly, and the plaster that is scraped off shall be dumped in an unclean place outside the city. 42 They shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and take other plaster and plaster the house. 

43 If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, 44 the priest shall go and make inspection; if the disease has spread in the house, it is a spreading leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. 45 He shall have the house torn down, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and taken outside the city to an unclean place. 46 All who enter the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening; 47 and all who sleep in the house shall wash their clothes; and all who eat in the house shall wash their clothes. 

Think black mold. These laws were designed for the safety of the whole community. They were like our health codes, mold abatement and so on. 

One can only imagine the struggle of being ostracized from the community. How does one work? Who helps you in your infirmity? How much would you miss your family? Does your family bring food to you? How far away are you from the comforts of home? For how long?

Jesus commands the ten lepers to go see the priests, even though they have not yet been healed. They must act on faith, going to the priests even though they have not seen even the first signs of healing. 

As they are on the way they are healed. Jesus asked them to visit the priests, but not for healing. A priest would have to give them a clean bill of health, before they could return home to mainstream society. Being sick, or more accurately here, unclean, inferred divine disfavor. If you had leprosy, God was clearly punishing you for some hidden sin. Healing was then a sign of forgiveness. It provided an opportunity to be restored to community. 

Once the ten realize they have been healed, they continue on their way. Where? Home presumably, understandably. One of them, however, returns to Jesus and begins praising God with a great voice (phoneis megaleis/φωνης μεγάλης: Megaphone!) I love the image of praising God with a megaphone. 

Falling at Jesus’ feet he says the two important words we are taught as children: “Thank you,” (Euchariston/εὐχαριστων). Giving thanks is a eucharistic event. Taking the eucharist is an act of Thanksgiving. Sin is the heart incurvatus en se as Luther said, turned in upon itself. Giving thanks is a sign that the heart is no longer turned inward, but now turned outward in joy and thanksgiving for God, life, love, Christ, the other. Ten were healed physically. One leper found more than physical healing. 

Jesus is not soft here. He lays it out in three rhetorical questions: “Were not ten cleansed? So, where are the other nine? Is no one going to praise God but this foreigner? Okay, son, move along. Your faith has made you well.” Namaan was also a “foreigner.”

 

Thoughts: 

  1. Jesus isn’t happy with a 10% return. In his parable of the sower and the seed, he seems to expect at least 25% of the seeds to fall on good soil and bear fruit. Only one out of ten lepers returning to praise God and give thanks catches Jesus’ attention.
  2. There is a running critique of Israel’s lack of faith in Luke. Foreigners consistently have more faith than Israelites. At times this even seems to surprise Jesus. The “foreigner” comment seems like a slam at first, but Jesus is pointing out for those around,  as he did in the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), that sometimes those of other cultures and religious traditions show more faith, compassion and hospitality than those we consider orthodox. Jesus, perhaps ironically, points out that this person is not one of the orthodox, righteous insiders. To wit: “Oh look, a heathen gives praise to God! Hmm. Where are the faithful?” Once again a scandalous Samaritan is made a hero in Luke. This must have irked some folks.
  3. “Your faith has made you well,” is actually “Your faith has saved you.” Sodzo is the verb (ἡ πίστις σουσέσωκένσε). Luke uses salvation language again. Salvation, not as life after death – pie in the sky when you die – but salvation in it’s fullness: one made whole, right with God, body and soul. Paul would say “justified.” Jesus is saying,”Your faith has made you right with God.” Here is justification by grace through faith, even in Luke with his rich/poor flip-flop theology of the afterlife.
  4. One cannot miss Jesus’ constant attention to those on the margins of society. Those who are ostracized and left behind. This is the ministry to which Jesus calls the church. 

 

One can see why this used to be a Thanksgiving Day text. Gratitude is a sign of salvation here. 

The leper’s salvation is revealed by his turning to praise God and give thanks. Meister Eckhardt’s words (my second favorite German heretic) have stuck with me all these years: “If the only prayer you ever prayed was ‘Thank you,’ it would be enough.” Having a heart of gratitude, a heart that explodes in praise of God, these are signs of salvation. Luke’s Jesus will use similar words with Zaccheus two chapters later after Zach gives half his stuff away: “Today salvation has come to this household.” 

Today. Gratitude, generosity and joy are signs that salvation is here. Now.

 

Pentecost 15, Proper 20, Lectionary 25 – September 22, 2019

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
OR
Amos 8:4-7 – Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat…”

Psalm 79:1-9 – The nations have laid ruin to Jerusalem and given our bodies to the birds. How long, O Lord, will you kindle your anger against us?
OR
Psalm 113 – Praise the name of the Lord, from the rising of the sun to its setting. He raises the poor from the dust and the needy from the ashes. 

1 Timothy 2:1-7 – I wish everyone to raise up their hands without anger or argument. Pray for government leaders. For this is the will of God who wishes everyone to be saved.

Luke 16:1-13 – Parable of the Shrewd Manager. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Interpretation: Use your filthy, stinkin’ money to do some good in this life, so that in the next the poor will vouch for you.

September 23, 2005 is the anniversary of Hurricane Rita.

 

 

Preach at the Beach

 

Anna Carter Florence will be with us for our annual preaching retreat, coming up October 17. Feel free to drive in and out and make it a one-day event (8:30-4, $45). Or stay at Zion Retreat Center overnight Wednesday and/or Thursday ($45/night).

Register Here

 

 

 

Jeremiah and Amos: A Concern for the Poor

 

Jeremiah mentions the poor three times in chapter 18. Amos offers an even more stern warning for those of us who are rich. Here is 8:4-7 in its entirety: 

4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

5 saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.


We have here a critique of those who take advantage of the poor. Think of outrageously obscene interest rates. Amos speaks of shady business practices, like rigging the scales so the wheat looks heavier than it is, therefore costing more. And using wheat mixed with the dust of the threshing floor. Cheating those who are desperately poor. Can there be anything more despicable? 

A few verses later, Amos announces some of the consequences (verse 10):

I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.

Wow, baldness on every head. Isn’t that a bit harsh?

This is a continuation of some of Amos’ earlier warnings, like this from chapter 6 (verses 1, 4-7):

Alas all who are at ease in Zion… 

4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;

5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;

6 who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

7 Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Can we proclaim the gospel without proclaiming the law? Does this stern warning not need to be heard? 

 

 

 

Luke 16: Wealth and Discipleship

The Bible reminds us that we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. There are no hearses towing U-Hauls. The love of money is the root of all evil. So, just to be safe, be rich in good works, generosity, and sharing.

Just a reminder, we are in the midst of a series of stewardship texts:

This week we begin four weeks of parables from the Gospel of Luke, most of which are incredible stewardship texts. Faith and finances: 

September 15, 2019 – 1 Timothy 1:12-17 – Parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin
September 22 2019 – 1 Timothy 2:1-7 – Parable of the Shrewd Manager
September 29, 2019 – 1 Timothy 6:6-19 – Parable of Rich Man and Lazarus
October 6, 2019 – 2 Timothy 1:1-14 – Parable of the Mustard Seed (undeserving slaves)


I love this week’s peculiar gospel story, which only appears in Luke’s gospel. Jesus tells a fable that praises a scoundrel. We are told to make friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth (ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ). This is a curious passage, one that is certain to leave listeners scratching their heads a little bit.

Let it bother them for a while. 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth] so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

This parable is perplexing on several counts. Jesus praises a dishonest steward. He tells his followers to use dirty money to make friends in this life, so that in the next, they might return the favor. It’s edgy. This is, in part, some of its power. Don’t explain it away. “Hey everyone, Jesus said we should make friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth! Take that and chew on it a little bit.”

 

This is the zinger: 

make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,
so that when it is gone,
they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

A little digging and it gets clearer. Use your filthy money, your dishonest wealth, to make friends with the poor, so that when you kick the bucket, and the tables are turned in the eschaton, the poor might just welcome you into eternity. One gets the impression that Jesus believes the poor are in charge of the hereafter, and that no one gets to heaven without a letter of recommendation from the poor. As the world’s wealthy, in a capitalistic society, we squirm when Jesus tells us that our eternal destination may be affected by our use of wealth, and our relationship with the poor in this life.

Then, in verse 11 he says, “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, why on earth would God trust you with true riches?” Apparently, your money does not constitute “true riches.” If not, then what are true riches? You might get your people thinking about that. 

“You cannot serve both God and wealth.” So choose whom you shall serve…

Squirm away. Next week it gets worse. Much worse.

In next week’s gospel (also peculiar to Luke), a rich man, with purple garb and linen paraments, lives much like the ones mentioned in Amos. Meanwhile Lazarus is poor, starving to death and diseased. He is dressed in sores, which the dogs lick. Nice. Jesus has a gift for vivid imagery. (If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out…) Lazarus longs to eat the rich man’s scraps. I’m mindful here of all the food we scrape into the garbage in American society. Both the rich man and Lazarus die. Lazarus is carried into Abraham’s bosom. The unnamed rich person goes to Hades.

As I said, it gets worse. But one week at a time. Let’s take this story bit by bit. It seems to me this is the kind of story that begs a line-for-line exposition. It’s simply too fun to pass up. 

 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 

The word for manager here is οἰκονόμον, “oikonomon.” This is the word from which we get our word “economy.” “Oikos” is the word for house. “Nomos” means law. The “oikonomia” is the law of the house. Oikonomos gets translated steward/stewardship, manager, treasurer, administrator, or sometimes superintendent. The “oikonomos” was the city treasurer. In this case it refers to the manager of a wealthy owner’s estate. Mikeal Parsons, (“Luke” in the Paieia series) suggests it would have been understood that this was a domestic slave. Perhaps an accountant. The rich man’s accountant has been either wasting funds from the estate or embezzling. Read “mismanagement” at the best, employee theft, misappropriation of funds, or embezzlement at the worst. 

So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

The proverbial cat is out of the bag. Someone has blown the whistle. “You cannot be my manager any longer,” is basically this: “You’re fired.” Hand me the books and collect your things. “Bad steward.” In the story of the Prodigal Son (which immediately precedes this in Luke 15), the bad son is forgiven by the father, for no apparent reason other than the love of the Father. What, the hearers must be wondering, will happen to the bad steward?

Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 

Drawing on Aesop: Falsely Accused Trickster, Parsons points out the narrative never concludes whether the manager is actually guilty or not. This could be a familiar narrative of the falsely accused slave. History is replete with such fables and actual occurrences. One need only consider the number of black men lynched for allegedly molesting or disrespecting white women during the lynching era. Slaves and servants are vulnerable to such accusations. 

Guilty or not, what is the slave to do now? “I’ve lost my job.” Two options: dig or beg. Manual labor or abject poverty. With weak back and strong pride, the shrewd manager decides neither are good choices, and starts to hatch a plan. Jesus, the master storyteller, has them on the edge of their seats. What will the steward do? How will he survive?

I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 

It’s a clever ploy. This is why some companies make you collect your things immediately and have security usher you out the door. Once you know you’re done, you have nothing to lose. Anything is possible. 

The manager does some major favors for his master’s debtors, at the master’s expense. As if a fire sale, the accountant cuts the debtors’ debts drastically, some by 50%. He isn’t fired yet. Once fired, hopefully one of those clients will be grateful, and he’ll be offered a job. Once again, the steward/accountant/manager does more of what he what he may have already been doing: cooking the books, to his advantage. 

The listeners know what’s coming next: the master’s rage.

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 

But wait! Not angry? Here is the surprise in Jesus’ story. Instead of flying into a rage at this impertinent employee, the master laughs a hearty guffaw. “Well played, steward. Well played.” The master is shrewd as the manager is shrewd. The master is impressed. Worldly business owners and worldly business managers are a heck of a lot smarter than the children of light, Jesus points out. Pay attention. 

Parsons points out:

…the manager’s action effectively puts the master into a corner: the relieved debtors will be so full of gratitude and praise for the master for his unexpected generosity that either the master has to risk great bitterness by disowning the steward’s action, or he is forced, whatever he really feels privately, to praise the steward for his action… In this sense, the story is again part of the larger stock of slave-as-trickster stories… (Parsons, Luke, loc. 6118)

Then the punch line:

So I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 

Is Jesus telling people to be dishonest in their business practices? Of course not, Augustine attests. Anyone listening to the story is smiling and laughing at Jesus’ humor. And if we tell the story in the sermon with just the right approach, the congregation will laugh too. 

We are all prodigal children and dishonest managers. There is no question that we ourselves fall short of God’s righteousness. But here in this story, there is hope for the unrighteous. If you cannot be perfect, then at least be generous. Your money is tainted, yes, but use it for good. You may be rich by the world’s standards, yes, so take what you have been given and show great generosity to the poor, then when you get to heaven, to that great flip-flop where the first are last and the last are first, and you are the homeless one, maybe one of the poor to whom you were generous will take you in. You never know. 

Preparation for the next life includes careful stewardship of resources in this life.

 

It’s a great story. Squirm away, but it’s a great story. 

Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

Life on earth is a trial run, Jesus seems to be saying. If you are faithful with petty earthly wealth, God might entrust to you the riches of the kingdom. Jesus is not so hyper-spiritual that he doesn’t see the value in being faithful with our assets. He understands our relationship to mammon is a reflection of our relationship with God. If money is your god, it will lead to a different set of priorities than if God is your God. 

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

And there it is. Choose which master you wish to serve. There is, for Jesus, a clear relationship between how people handle earthly and spiritual things.

What’s the good news here? Jeffrey (“Luke“) suggests an answer. In this flip-flop universe that Jesus proposes, what are we who are rich to do? Make no mistake, we are the rich. We are the upper 5% in the world. If you have fresh drinking water, a roof over your head, an automobile, at least one meal today, you are doing well by global standards. If it’s true what Jesus says, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, then what hope is there for us? 

The story of Zaccheus in Luke 19 offers a suggestion. Jesus enters Jericho and goes right over to the wealthiest guy in town, who has by his own admission (19:8) gotten his money by cheating others. In the end Zaccheus gives half of his dishonest wealth to the poor and repays those he has cheated times four. This is not law. This is above and beyond what the law requires. This is gospel. Then Jesus says something astonishing, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Generosity is not in itself salvation, but it is a sign that salvation has taken hold, and ones heart is right with God. Generosity is a fruit of salvation. 

 

The good news is, God has a heart for scoundrels. 

The good news is God saves the rich, too.

And there are clear signs when this happens. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pentecost 21B – October 14, 2018 (Proper 23B, Ordinary 28B)

Job 23:1-9, 16-17Job’s lament: If only I could vanish in darkness and thick darkness would cover my face.
OR

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord will be with you, as you have said he is.


Psalm 22:1-15
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
OR

Psalm 90:12-17 So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)


Hebrews 4:12-16 
– The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. All are naked and laid bare before him.


Mark 10:17-31
– Rich young ruler. Eye of the needle. For God all things are possible. First last. Last first.

Jerusalem Conference, Thursday, October 11.

Before I jump in I want to make a plug for the Jerusalem Conference being held on Thursday, October 11, 2018 at the University of Houston. Christians pray for the peace of Jerusalem. This conference will explore pathways to peace. Speakers include Jim Wallis, Mitri Raheb and others. Please make time for this. The cost is only $30.

 

Preach at the Beach, Tuesday, October 23

Also, David Lose is speaking at Preach at the Beach on Tuesday, October 23, 2018, at Zion Retreat Center on Galveston Island. Come for the day, or stay the night. $45.

 

October and November in the Revised Common Lectionary

In October and November the three-year Revised Common Lectionary lays out about like this.

  • October 7, 2018 we have this text on divorce.
  • October 14, 2018 we have the Rich Young Ruler.
  • October 21, 2018 the disciples ask to sit at Jesus right and left in the kingdom, spurring Jesus to teach about servant leadership. All these texts in October are from Mark 10.
  • October 28, 2018 in the Lutheran Church, we have Reformation Sunday the last Sunday in October.

 

  • November 4, 2018, the first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday.
  • November 11, 2018 we have the widow’s coins from Mark 12, another thoughtful stewardship text.
  • November 18, 2018 we have Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” from Mark 13. See these large stones in the temple? Not one stone will be left upon another.
  • November 25, 2018 is Christ the King Sunday. The text comes from John 18. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “I have come to testify to the truth.” Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

Sundays in October and November people are tax planning and thinking about their giving for the coming year. Congregations are the same. This is, in part, because it is budget time, but there is more to it than just that. The end of the year is the harvest. The crops are gathered in and sold, literally and figuratively. Those in retail receive the vast majority of their income during the holiday season, a kind of harvest, the last three months of the year. Bonuses come in for folks in some professions, and it is a time when financial gifts are made. The Bible is rife with images of the harvest. It is a time of reckoning, a time to take stock of things. The end of the year is also a great time to plan for the coming year. It is a time to think about what we are going to spend, what we are going to save and what we are going to give. Where have we been? Where are we going?

The lectionary does not disappoint on this matter. This week we have the story of the Rich Young Ruler. Here is Mark 10:17-31 in its entirety:

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The rich, young ruler asks the good teacher how to inherit eternal life. After scolding the rich young ruler for calling him “good” (for only God alone is good), Jesus says, “You know the commandments,” and then starts listing off some of the Ten Commandments. The ruler believes he has kept the whole law, but he wants to be perfect, complete, so he presses Jesus. Jesus tells him he lacks one thing. He lovingly tells him to go sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus. The rich young ruler then goes away shocked, and grieving.

It strikes me that Jesus does not run after him and chase him down. He doesn’t say, “OK then, not everything, but maybe 75%. No? 50%? 20%?”

Instead, he tells his disciples that it is very hard for people with wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It is the disciples now who are shocked, or perplexed. Jesus presses on, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are “greatly astounded.”

Tell the story. It speaks for itself. Don’t explain it away or rob it of its tension. Take your time, so that the congregation can imagine themselves in the disciples’ place, for they too will be scratching their heads at this. We are the wealthy. Most in our congregations have never gone a day without food.

The perplexed, astounded disciples then voice our own question upon hearing this from Jesus: “Good heavens! If that camel statement is true, then who can be saved?” Jesus replies, in essence, “No one. It’s impossible, but for God, all things are possible.”  There are both law and gospel in this story. Keep the commandments. Practice radical generosity. Give your life away for the sake of the world and the gospel. That’s the law. Then there is a recognition that it’s probably unattainable, like the camel and the needle. Impossible, but not for God. We will need divine intervention.

There is no getting around it. Jesus is all about giving. If the church is always talking about money, well so is Jesus. If people complain that the church is always asking for money, perhaps it is because we all too often talk about giving to budgets and buildings, rather than a broader appeal for a life of generous living. The fact remains, Jesus talks about giving and generosity more than just about anything else. We need to talk to people about opening their hearts to God and neighbor.

Gander

I love to tell this story. It embodies so much of what we are about: generosity, hospitality and more. 17 years ago, a group of people illustrated this heart-opening generosity in a way that caught my attention. This is a true story. The details vary from source to source, but this experience changed lives. Don’t read the story. Tell it.

17 years ago last month, Delta Flight 15 was over the North Atlantic, en route from London’s Gatwick Airport to Cincinnati, Ohio, when flight attendant Joyce Hanson was ordered to the cockpit immediately, where the stern-faced captain handed her a message from Atlanta that simply said, “All airways over the Continental U.S. are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”

The nearest airport turned out to be in a town called Gander, on the island of Newfoundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a detour to Gander was approved immediately. They simply told the passengers they were having instrument troubles. When they landed 40 minutes later, there were already 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world, and 60 more were on the way. The captain made an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have.” He explained that there was terrorist activity. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts.

At 6 p.m. on September 11, Gander airport told them that they would be allowed to deplane at 11:00 the next morning.

About 10:30 on the morning of September 12th, a convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane, the stairway was hooked up, and the passengers were taken to the terminal for “processing” through Immigration and Customs. They then had to register with the Red Cross.

The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. The Red Cross ended up processing around 8,000 passengers. Passengers from various flights were taken to hotels, churches, schools and private homes, where they finally watched the news and learned what was going on. At such a deeply troubling time in U.S. history, the “Plane People” as they came to be known were utterly overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people of Gander and outlying communities. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, for two days they did nothing but enjoy the company of strangers. It was a unique bubble in time.

Steve Kirby of Delta Flight 37 stayed in the small town of Gambo. The two small stores there simply opened their doors all night long and told the community to “take whatever you need.” He said, “Every meal was a feast. I gained 28 pounds.” For two days they lived in the new community – a community of kindness, hospitality, generosity, sharing.

218 passengers from Delta Flight 15 ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers from Gander. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were lodged in private homes. Nurses and doctors were on duty. Phone calls and emails to the U.S. and Europe were available for everyone, once a day.

Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see local forests. Local bakeries offered fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and church members and brought to schools and churches. Every need was met. In later news interviews, tears would stream down their faces as passengers would pour out these stories.

Pat Bernard says that she slept in a padded pew at St. George Anglican Church. When the Plane People were finally about to leave, the church had a big good-bye service for them, tons of food, church bells ringing, people hugging.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or… what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… Consider the lilies of the field… they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…

Gander

Two days later the passengers were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single one missing or late. When the passengers from Delta Flight 15 were all on board, one of the business class passengers, a Dr. Robert Ferguson got on the PA and reminded everyone of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte to help them go to college. He requested donations of any amount from the other travelers. When the paper with donations got back with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14,500. The doctor got on the PA again and promised to match the donations.

The first recipients of the Flight 15 Scholarship fund were the members of the 2002 graduating class at Lewisporte Collegiate.

choir

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we catch a glimpse of real hospitality, divine generosity, it changes us forever. We cannot help but give back. True gratitude expresses itself in sacrificial giving. Jesus gives himself 100% to God, even to giving his life on the cross. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we recall the lavish, prodigal generosity of God, we remember Jesus’ giving of his own life, his death and resurrection, we eat and drink to this utterly new community in Christ, we catch a glimpse of the lavish grace of God, and what it means for our lives. I challenge you to be that new community, out of the grace that God has lavished upon you in Jesus Christ. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger.

What grace and unearned hospitality have you received? What’s your response of lavish generosity, for all that you have received?

By the way, the Lewisport Area Flight 15 Scholarship Fund, administered by the Columbus Foundation at 1234 East Broad Street, Columbus Ohio, is administered by Shirley Brooks-Jones, a retired administrative assistant from Ohio State University. She was on that flight. The fund started with $14,500. Today it is worth over $1.5 million.

Generosity is a sign of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. It is a sign that our hearts have been touched by God.

Never neglect to offer hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

– Hebrews 13

Meditación: Una Consciencia Nueva de La Creación de Dios / Meditation: A New Consciousness of God’s Creation

Este es uno de varios sermones escritos en inglés y español por pastores de la Iglesia Luterana de Perú y el Sínodo de la Costa del Golfo Texas-Louisiana, ELCA, para el domingo (3 de junio de 2018) antes del Día del Medio Ambiente (5 de junio de 2018) . El sermón aparece en español primero, luego en inglés, a continuación.

This is one of several sermons being written in English and Spanish by pastors in the Lutheran Church of Peru and the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA, for the Sunday (June 3, 2018) before Environment Day (June 5, 2018). The sermon appears in Spanish first, then in English, below.

Meditación: Una Consciencia Nueva de La Creación de Dios
Día Ambiental, Junio 2018
Rev. Dr. Uta Ihrke-Buchroth
Iglesia Luterana Emanuél, Lima (Collique) Peru

Español viene…

Meditation: A New Consciousness of God’s Creation
Environment Day, June 2018
Rev. Dr. Uta Ihrke-Buchroth
Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Lima (Collique) Peru

Exodus 20,13 / 1. Thessalonians 5,17

I: Exodus 20,13

The decalogue, the 10 commandments as christians say or Mitzwot as it is called in the Tanach, are understood as key rules for theological ethics in Judaism and Christianity. Especially the prohibitive “You shall not kill!” the 5th commandment according to Catholics and Lutherans and the 6th commandment to other churches and Jews is a well known and challenging text considering the occasion of the day of environment.

Within the concerns for environment the topic of global warming has become one major problem for our planet, because it is destabilizing the ecosystem earth. Consequences are the increasing whether extremes. Last year in March, Peru suffered from the floods through the El Niño phenomenon, which destroyed homes and also took away lives. Just months later our sisters and brothers in Texas were affected severely.

Environmental issues signal that beyond the differences of life reality in the two countries and churches we are all sitting in the same boat, which is our mother earth. It makes us feel part of one unity. If one part is suffering all parts are suffering with it. Therefore the 5th of June presents an opportunity for us as Christians, sisters and brothers in different contexts to look at environmental issues through the perspective of our religion and scripture. God’s creation as a whole and its suffering is an ethical duty for us as believers, because God has no other hands than ours. We are called to involve as protagonists in favor of life according to our basic ethical rules.

So lets take a deeper look into scripture. “You shall not kill!” A short prohibitive, as exegetes call it. The root retzach/razach is used to describe destructive action of different kinds .”לֹא ִת ְרצָח“

In the New Testament, especially in the context of the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 5,18 Jesus affirms the Torah as a whole and makes the commandments even more rigorous and can clearly be understood as an affirmation of non-violence. In a more motivating way we could say, you don ́t need to kill because God’s love has saved you through Christ. You are liberated and your liberty can liberate others to feel alive.

The missing object-suffix in לֹא ִת ְרצָח has concerned me since my first semester of theology. Luther interprets it simply with “your fellow” and most scholars point out the significance of the commandment within human relations, however there is no object in Hebrew that explains whom is supposed not to be killed.

Considering ethics in an initial and terminal state of human life, the commandment of life tends to be diluted increasingly. Peruvian law is still clear about it and last weekend about 800.000 people participated in the March for Life through the streets of Lima organized by the Cardinal to maintain the law that protects unborn human life under all circumstances.

But how about other species? The 5th of june is an occasion to reflect on how we relate to God’s creation as a whole in order to make effort for life, for all living creatures on Gods beautiful planet. The day of environment invites us to rethink how our lifestyle our daily action can form a statement for life and for happiness of Gods creation as a whole, to maintain and reestablish our ecosystem as beautiful and functional as God has created it.

I am very happy that our little Lutheran minority in Peru has made effort for life and peaceful living, as emphasized in different public ecumenical conferences held by the church, because it is such an important testimony as christians for sustainability.

The work of Albert Schweitzer: Reverence of life, and his famous statement: “I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live”, can inspire us towards a new attitude of compassion and love for all of Gods children.

Of course there are different ways we could approach making change in our own lives, because that is the field where we can change something as individuals. And Environment Day might encourage us to ask whether there exists a necessity to kill other creatures for our nutrition for instance. Scientifically and thanks to the testimonies of a growing number of people, it has been proven that in our context it is not necessary to consume meat, especially considering the cruel mass production of livestock and milliards of animals being slaughtered yearly.

Besides carbon dioxide, methane is affecting our climate severely. One molecule of methane is similar to the pollution caused by 40 molecules of CO2 and is emitted by agriculture, mainly by beef production.

At the present date intensive livestock farming occupies about 70% of world’s area of arable land. Potentially this territory could be used for a high quality plant-based nutrition that would stop hunger for humans all over the world, saving resources. Particularly in Latin American soya fields for fodder (90% genetically manipulated highly pesticide-burdened) are occupying high amounts of former territory of the Amazon rain forest, which is the green lung for earth, storage of CO2 and has a lot of interaction with our climate.

So there are many reasons to rethink our consumer behavior. I don ́t need to point out that especially mammals as organisms function very similarly to the human body, and that they have a nervous system that perceives feelings of fear and threat similarly to humans. You might oppose, saying that in Gen 9, 2-3 God literally allows eating meat. But it was under special contextual circumstances after a natural disaster. But Jesus ate fish and lamb (Luke 24,42-43; Luke 22,8-15), gave fish to others (Matt.14, 17-21) and declared all food as pure including animals (Acts 10,10-15; Mark 7,19).

Our lutheran theology encourages us towards an interpretation that considers the context of time and space in which a biblical narrative speaks. A contextual theology has to point out, that neither Jesus nor the Israelites in antiquity experienced a context of industrialization and exploitation of creation. In ancient times there was no overfishing, no intensive lifestock or factory farming, etc.

In the report of creation Genesis 1,28 the priestly source states that humanity shall rule over the earth and all living creatures. Now, the verb “rule” in Hebrew implies responsibility and respect, not exploitation. Nevertheless ecotheology to a certain extent holds the pericope responsible for todays ecocrisis, because it gave humans authority over God’s creation.

Considering the actual circumstances of our ecosystem, as Christians we can admit that we have sinned, because our consciousness of being simul iustus et pecator, as Luther says, always holy and sinning in God’s perspective, liberates us. Our salvation does not depend on our action, but our action can become good, creating justice in unconditional love and care for other human and not human beings, because we are liberated to act.

If we think about how our own life can be a testimony of God’s love for her creation, we need to have compassion with ourselves acknowledging that changing habits especially if they have been taught to us since our early childhood is not easy and will not happen rapidly but step by step. We need to feel gratitude for every little step forward, for instance by reducing animal-based food and enjoy more fruits visualizing that we want to reduce suffering of God’s creation.

II: 1. Thessalonians 5,17

Paul tells the Greek congregation to pray without ceasing, just as Jesus does in Luke 18,1 and many other pericopes in the Second Testament. But what does that mean? Surely he does not refer to a non-stop talking prayer, but rather to the attitude of meditation, where we seek God’s presence and a higher state of consciousness that is difficult to reach in our daily lives filled with stress and preoccupation.

If our mind is preoccupied for instance, a presence in meditation will gain the transition into a prayer and gratitude in order to keep inner peace. Living in Gods presence we do not fear. (Phil 4,6; Col 4,2). In other words, praying should be like breathing, naturally without thinking of it. Since atmospherical pressure provokes breathing, it is actually more difficult to hold or pause our breath than to inhale and exhale. As believers we are practically existing within the atmosphere of the Divine.

Paul declares that we should constantly breathe Gods presence and truth in order to function completely as followers of Christ, feeling alive and not hold our spiritual breath assuming that it is sufficient to get back to it once in a while.

Instead of an outspoken prayer, what Paul refers to is the attitude of listening or meditating, feeling God’s presence and counting on it all the time and let it permeate our thoughts, words and actions.

Now, combining the two texts it becomes obvious that a closeness to the Divine in constant meditation is the force within us to let change happen, for instance if we think of our nutrition, which of course is one life dimension among others. Feel welcome to think of the many ways in our lives where we can do better. Meditation, constant prayer can change the chip in our head, because everything starts with a new perspective new ways of looking at things and circumstances.

Preaching ethics, (which I do only occasionally, but the day of environment is a great occasion to do so), one needs to give personal testimony. So let me tell you how meditation made me able to change the chip in my head and realize that I was called to a different nutrition than my parents have taught me. I started living vegan during my full-time studies of theology, for ethical reasons, but when I met my gourmet-cooking husband, I could not resist his magical dishes (among other things).

Work-life routine with all it ́s appointments and projects that occupy ones mind neither helped to a deeper spirituality. So I managed to lead a “normal” life, free of feelings of guilt or compassion for God’s creatures, I abandoned the kitchen completely for years, because seeing or preparing raw meat or fish made me sick to the stomach.

It was not until last year’s Lent, that I felt the deep need of spending time in a monastery. For a mother with two toddlers that ́s not actually a realistic desire, so I just prayed about it and tried to find out why God put this wish into my heart. I found out that I was missing silence (which in Lima is very hard to get), I was missing a deeper mindfulness as I had as a student spending hours in meditation and walks through the forest. I found out that my life consisted in functioning and restlessness. So the wish of the “monastery” simply represented the necessity of mindfulness and inner peace. In Lent I went back to Yoga school and meditation, that I have come to know during pregnancy and it helped me in difficult situations. So I started power Yoga developing deep breathing techniques, which I haven’t known before. It just felt awesome and brought back a state of mindfulness and sensibility that I was missing so much. The sensibility gained through a deeper spirituality also lead to a new longing for plant-based nutrition and changed the chip inside my head without forcing it. Meditating the לֹא ִת ְרצָח– commandment encouraged me to develop a new sense of compassion.

Beyond all obvious scientifically-based reasons, it was the force of spirituality that changed the chip in my head. In a spiritually conscious state, we become who we really are, it brings us back to our origin and life-source, which is God. I learned to love the kitchen again, without the feeling of guilt or disgust. I enjoy preparing food for my kids with happiness and deep gratitude, because Peru is a wonderful and very blessed place to be for a plant-based nutrition because of its abundant variety of fruits and vegetable due to its different climatic zones. Its a joy rather than diet and avocados have become our daily bread.

Albert Schweitzer says: “By having a reverence for life we enter into a spiritual world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep and alive.”

If we want to change the world as believers, there is a significance of spending time for daily meditation. God talks to us when we are in a state of mind that is listening in silence. Its not coincidence that meditation has literally a lot to do with conscious respiration. When Paul states that our life should be a prayer he refers to the meditative state of mind that brings us closer to God and enables us to feel compassion.

But of course my nutrition-example is only one possibility and it can be practiced little by little in an explorative way. You could try out a detox day, or detox-week and see how it feels to you. You might not imagine how strength-full you wake up in the morning. Every little step is important. The decision to grab an apple for snack is a reason to be thankful. We need to be compassionate also with ourselves.

There are so many life dimensions where one could rethink behavior in order to make the world a little bit better and give a credible testimony as Christians.

Another example would be using the bike instead of the car. Every time that I get back to Germany I am just astonished showering with potable water. That is an incredible blessing and not imaginable in Peru. Every showering becomes a prayer and thankfully reduces shower time to save water, because of the consciousness of being in the midst of potable water that most of my sisters and brothers in this world need so urgently.

In my congregation at the outskirts of Lima we focus on being a healing community and we donate fresh fruits to everyone who visits considering their needs and living condition in poverty, teaching them a plant based nutrition as a healthy low cost alternative and combine it with curses of meditation. The testimonies of our sisters about how their life has changed are incredible.

Living the salvation and liberation through Christ creates an attitude of looking towards the possible little things and steps just next and near to us.

The attitude of Jesus always was looking to what is possible, reachable in a situation where others were anxious and affirming that it is impossible to do good. He was not murmuring about what is missing and instead gained feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves in John 6,1-15. Jesus teaches us to realize our potential and not lament about what is missing.

To gain the attitude of Christ and to follow him, we need a daily and consistent praxis pietatis in meditation. Spirituality can change the chip in our heads, because its our unconscious lifestyles that causes suffering to God’s creation. Consequently it is meditation that changes the world. Our lives should be a prayer, because only a meditating mind can make efforts for non-violence. Peace in this world and in our families can only be gained through inner peace, peace in our minds.

לֹא ִת ְרצָח The Sanskrit term Ahimsa, often used by Mahatma Gandhi, is a synonym of our meaning

Environment Day invites us to think about how we are called to protect God’s creation in the life dimensions we can think of, and to feel gratitude for every little step forward, trusting that change comes naturally by itself, having compassion with ourselves.

Changing the world through faith is just about little steps that a more conscious living in the presence of the creator enables us to do. Through listening to God, the Holy Spirit can and will work in our different life dimensions. The gift of seeing miracle, and appreciating everything that God puts into our life has a lot to do with our own eyes. Being liberated through faith, we are enabled to visualize all the blessing that makes us able to act and feeling gratitude for every little step.

Jesus fed the 5000 people with his positive attitude. His gratitude was the light he send out. With his actions and words he enlightened all the people around him and nurtured them spiritually and physically.

May our spiritual practice lead to a new consciousness of God’s creation and may our faith make us powerful to go little steps together as sisters and brothers in Christ, in Texas, in Peru and wherever we are on this one and only planet earth as sisters and brothers. May God’s presence sharpen our eyes and ears to fulfill our task as caretakers of God’s creation with compassion and love in our hearts. Amen

October 8, 2017 is Pentecost 18A, Proper 22A – Fruit (The Wicked Tenants)

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 – The Ten Commandments
OR
Isaiah 5:1-7 – My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

Psalm 19 – The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul… Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
OR
Psalm 80:7-15 – Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.

Philippians 3:4b-14 – Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

Matthew 21:33-46 – The parable of the Wicked Tenants

Prayer of the Day
Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Jesus says, I chose you and appointed you
to go and bear fruit | that will last. Alleluia. (John 15:16)

RCL gospel texts overview

  • September 10: Matthew 18:15-20 – Conflict
  • September 17: Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgiveness (The Unforgiving Slave)
  • September 24: Matthew 20:1-16 – Grace (Vineyard Laborers)
  • October 1: Matthew 21:23-32 – Humility (Two Sons)
  • October 8: Matthew 21:33-46 – Fruit (Wicked Tenants)
  • October 15: Matthew 22:1-14 – Expectation (Wedding Banquet)
  • October 22: Matthew 22:15-22 – Taxes (Render unto Caesar)
  • October 29: Reformation – John 8:31-36 (The truth will set you free.)

day laborers

Fruits of the Kingdom

This week we hear another parable.

This is the third and final vineyard parable from this series in Matthew. The first was the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, then the Parable of the Two Sons (in the vineyard) last week. This week we have the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

Here’s the text:

“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.

But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. 

A word about allegory. Augustine, and Luther after him, interpreted the Bible allegorically, especially the Hebrew Scriptures.

Augustine did not find Exodus 23:18, (“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,”) edifying, so, he interpreted it allegorically, and Christologically: “Christ should not himself perish in the slaughter of the innocents.”

Now this may seem a stretch (and it is), but this was the pattern: rereading the Hebrew Scriptures in light of the church’s faith in God’s revelation of Jesus as the messiah. This would not withstand the scrutiny of modern historical-critical exegesis, but understand this: Paul does the same thing with Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, law and gospel.

Luther, as a Late Medieval Augustinian theologian, understood the Bible had more than one level of meaning. There were many, but four were standard. This is called the quadriga:

  1. Literal – the first meaning, the plain sense of the text
  2. Allegorical – how the text speaks to faith in Christ
  3. Tropological – the moral meaning, how we are to act
  4. Anagogical – the spiritual meaning that points to eternal significance

Following Augustine, Luther interpreted the Old Testament Christologically, as can be seen in his commentary on the Psalms. It must be noted that this is not unique. It is typical of biblical hermeneutics of the era.

Forgive my excursus, but it seems clear that Matthew wants his readers to understand this story allegorically, and most likely Jesus did too.

Jesus speaks in riddles, parables, allegory, metaphor, simile and other figures of speech. At one point the disciples get so frustrated, they ask him to please speak “plainly.” Allegory is a common tool for mystics.

Even the characters in the text know this parable is an allegory. We see this in verse 45: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.” The Pharisees recognize that. This isn’t about some imaginary wicked tenants. It’s about them.

Even without Matthew explicitly telling us, if we follow his practice of using Scripture to interpret Scripture, we are led to the inevitable conclusion that Jesus is telling a story about one thing, while clearly meaning another. The tenants are the chief priests and the Pharisees.

Following this through, God is the landowner who sent the slaves/prophets, who were beaten, stoned, and killed. The killing and stoning of the prophets is made clear again in Matthew 23:25, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning all those sent to you…” This is a running theme in Matthew (and Isaiah).

God sends the prophets to the people to call them to bear fruits of repentance – justice and mercy, the weightier matters of the law – but gets only violence. Over and over. This is the story of the world. God calls us to love. God calls us to create a society where people are fed. Instead there is violence. Jesus saw it in his day. There was the violence of the Roman Empire (torture and death by crucifixion, massacres, and so on) and violence by those who wanted to overthrow the Roman Empire (terrorists like the Sicarii and the Zealots).

Matthew’s Jesus is recalling Isaiah 5:1-7, our first reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. This text highlights the people’s ingratitude and lack of fruitfulness, as well as Yahweh’s troubled relationship with Israel (David Garland, Reading Matthew: a Literary and Theological Commentary, p. 221).

According to Emerson Powery,

Culturally, the leasing of land to tenant farmers was a common experience in the first century. Landowners could expect tenants to turn over (a portion of) the crop (cf. 21:34). Those who failed to meet the landowner’s standards would be removed from the land and landowning elite could usually pay others to remove them forcefully if necessary.

Do we have the courage to prophetically denounce the same pattern in our society? Consider the amount of money we spend on “defense” compared to the amount we spend feeding a hungry world.

Finally the landowner sends his own son. They seize him, throw him out of the vineyard, and kill him. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who the son is (although we have plenty of them in Houston to ask, if necessary). Jesus’ crucifixion is the logical outcome of a society bent on violence. Jesus is an archetype for the suffering of this world, the falsely accused, the powerless, the victims of violence and hatred.

This is true of all who follow in his footsteps. How many gentle peacemakers have met a violent death? If you criticize or try to reform a system that is causing suffering, those benefiting from that system will be furious. You have threatened their sweet deal. As in this parable, the tenants will rise up and eliminate that threat.

I love how Jesus ends his Parables with questions that force the listener to painfully acknowledge the point. “Who do you think was the neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” “The Samaritan, I suppose.” And in this text: “What do you think the landowner will do about it?” The high priests have to grapple with the answer. This is a parable of judgment. “He will put those wretches to death,” – and here the chief priests and Pharisees start to squirm a bit – “and lease the vineyard to someone else, someone who will bear fruit.” “They condemn themselves with their own mouths.” (Garland) This is a tough text for those who believe in judgment “lite.”

As usual, Jesus punctuates his point: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” This is almost as bad as last week’s punch in the gut: “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Jesus does not mince words. He is clearly critical of the corrupt, arrogant religious establishment that is not bearing fruit, and he is on the side of those who have been ostracized by the self-righteous.

What is the fruit of the kingdom? Read on in Matthew: Feeding the hungry, providing water for those who need it, welcoming strangers, visiting the sick and imprisoned. Or read back in Matthew to the things Jesus refers to as “the weightier matters of the law,” the Micah 6:8 stuff: justice, compassion, humility. These are fruits of the kingdom Jesus finds wanting in the scribes and Pharisees.

One can imagine the workers in the vineyard to be the chief priests and Pharisees, or perhaps they are us. What does this story mean for us today? Stories are meant to have living implications for those who hear them. How do you hear this?

I am mindful of people like Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez, who spoke out against corruption and violence in El Salvador. For this he was imprisoned and beaten. People like Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero (who, by the way, confirmed Bp. Gomez), who spoke up for justice, and was executed by the death squads (wicked tenants)? Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if only you knew the ways of peace.

Are you speaking out against injustice? There is plenty to go around. Are you speaking up for the voiceless and powerless? If not, why not? Are you bearing witness against the violence both of the state and of those who wish to overthrow the state? Have you been thrown in prison for your prophetic voice? If not, why is that? Have you been willing to risk mild criticism on behalf of the poor, the widow, the orphan or the stranger?

This Jesus who is the cornerstone, is also a stumbling block for some.

Okay, an edgy text. So what’s the good news here? This is a parable of judgment. Sounds like bad news to me. We never take a text, however, outside of the greater context of the entire narrative of Matthew in which it resides. The good news is the vineyard owner cares. The vineyard owner is going to do something that involves his son and a releasing of the vineyard.

The good news is that God is calling all people to be part of the work in the vineyard, no matter what hour it is. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. The good news is that God will bring about the kingdom, in time. It will be built upon a cornerstone that the builders rejected. That which appeared to have no value, is inherently of ultimate value.

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