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"Gratitude"

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.

Gander on 9/11

Looking for a ray of light in the midst of tragedy? Watch the helpers.


Many years ago, on 9/11, a group of people illustrated heart-opening generosity in a way that caught my attention. t’s a true story; you can look it up. The details vary from source to source, but this is an experience that changed lives.

On September 11, 2001 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. The stern-faced captain handed her a message from Atlanta that simply said, “All airways over the Continental US are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”

Norman Mineta, then U.S. transportation secretary, recalled:

“After I closed U.S. airspace, I realized that we’ve got these planes coming in from Europe and Asia and I then called David [Collenette, Canadian Transport Minister] and I said ‘Hey David, we need your help,'” Mineta said, asking Collenete if Canada could take the incoming planes.

“He put me on hold and within a minute or so he said, ‘We’ll take them all,'” Mineta told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. 200 flights were diverted to Canada.

The nearest airport for Delta 15 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. The crew 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 18 more 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 7,000-8,000 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 American history, the “plane people” as they came to be known were 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.
Steve Kirby of Delta Flight 37 said that in the small town of Gambo, outside of Gander, where they stayed, the two small stores simply opened their doors all night long and told the community to “take what 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 US and Europe were available for every one 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. Later, in news interviews, tears would stream down their faces as passengers told these stories.

17 dogs and cats from the flights were also housed. Two great apes were cared for.

Pat Bernard says that she slept in a padded pew at St. George Anglican Church. When they left, 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…

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 to us 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.
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.
By the way, the 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. As of 2017, the fund has grown to over $2 million.

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


 

August 6, 2017 is Pentecost 9A

Genesis 32:22-31 – Jacob wrestles with God/the angel
OR
Isaiah 55:1-5
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (16) – The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Romans 9:1-5 – They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Matthew 14:13-21 – Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Prayer of the Day
Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, and you cover creation with abundance. Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, and with this food fill all the starving world; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. One does not live by | bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the | mouth of God. Alleluia. (Matt. 4:4)

Before I begin, I want to offer a word of thanks to Andrea Martinez on our staff, and John Turnquist, who read and proof these posts each week. Andrea also edits and posts the weekly podcast. Thanks also to Don Carlson who researched these posts.

Genesis 32 – Jacob wrestles with the angel

Two weeks ago, July 23, 2017, we had Jacob’s ladder, his dream of being in liminal space, in reality, fleeing to the border for his life, and in his dream, being in the space between heaven and earth. In that dream he received grace, the patriarchal promise of progeny, in spite of his many deceptions and betrayals.

This week’s story is four chapters and twenty years later (Gen. 31:41). You know the background story: Jacob married the two sisters, Leah, the elder daughter of Laban, with the tender eyes, and Rachel, the younger, who is pleasing to the eyes. He worked seven years for Rachel, but Laban switched out Rachel for Leah on the wedding day, tricking Jacob. Served him right. So then he worked another seven years for Rachel, who he “loved more.”

Leah gave birth to Simeon, Reuben, Levi, and Judah. Rachel was having trouble getting pregnant, and getting desperate, so she gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Leah got jealous, so she gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob. Zilpah gave birth to Gad and Asher. Then Leah gave birth to Issachar, Zebulun and Dinah. (For a midrash on Dinah’s rape, read “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant). Finally, Rachel gave birth to Joseph and died giving birth to Benjamin.

So, now Jacob has two wives, two concubines, and at least fourteen children. This is why I always chuckle when I hear the phrase, “We believe in biblical marriage.”

Jacob is doing well. His flocks are increasing. He is, however, having trouble with his father-in-law Laban and Laban’s sons. His flocks have done better than theirs, so they are jealous. The tension builds. His life is in danger, so God tells Jacob to return to his homeland.

Afraid of what Laban would say, Jacob sneaks out with his wives, concubines, kids, and all the cattle, which he considers his (but which Laban considers his). Three days later, Laban discovers they are gone and furiously sets out in hot pursuit. Ten days later, Laban catches up. It is only a dream from God that prevents Laban from killing Jacob, who always seems to be in hot water with someone. Laban is angry, at the loss of his daughters, grandchildren and flock, but strikes an agreement. Once again Jacob erects a standing stone, and they part company.

Whew.

Safe finally? Except this: a scout tells him his betrayed brother Esau is approaching with 400 men. Uh oh. Jacob divides the entourage into camps. This gives him a 50/50 chance of surviving. Always the trickster. Then he sends gifts to Esau. A peace offering? 200 female goats, 20 male, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 40 cows, 20 female donkeys, 10 male donkeys, 10 bulls, 30 female camels, and so on. This is the point that our reading begins.

In the night, Jacob packs up and sends ahead his wives, slaves, and children. Esau wouldn’t kill them would he? Jacob himself stays on the far side of the river to see what will happen, ever the coward. I also love the phrase “Heroes of the Bible” – not so much. These are stories of deeply flawed people in highly dysfunctional families, whom God uses for God’s purposes anyway. This should give us all hope.

In the middle of the night, Jacob tossing and turning, has a dream – a bad dream. He wrestles with a man, and when it was over, although he prevails, he is left with a broken hip. Did Jacob wrestle with an angel or with God? Hosea 12:4 seems to indicate both.

In the dream, Jacob asked for a blessing – classic Jacob. Give me something. The man asked Jacob’s name, and renamed him Israel (which means “who prevails with God”). Jacob believed he wrestled with God. “Certainly I have seen God face-to-face and prevailed.” Jacob sought to make himself a hero.

This is where our story ends, but it’s good to know the rest. Esau approached with over 400 men. Jacob limping, put the slaves and their children out front, then Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and her children. Priorities, right?

When finally arrived, Jacob went out front to face the music. He bowed his head to the ground seven times. Esau ran to him, embraced him, and kissed him.

This story is grace upon grace upon grace. All of Jacob’s life is grace, inspire of himself.

Some have called this a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ. That may be a bit much.

Homiletical possibilities abound. Every interesting person I have known has wrestled with God. Speak of your own wrestling with God. Help people know that their wrestling with God isn’t unfaithfulness, but rather a normal experience, one that even Jesus had. “Let this cup pass from me.” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…”

In this story, God appears as a dark, disguised threat, not as a protector. Sometimes our experiences of the divine are like that. You will wrestle with God, but it’s an uphill battle. You never come out the same. Just ask Jonah. Jacob’s dreams and experiences of God come when he is exposed and vulnerable. How about you? Fears, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion, and relentless pain. Ever been there? Jacob is forced to confront his fears, weakness, sins, failings, and ruthlessness. Luther calls this tentatio in Latin, anfechtung in German. In a theology of the cross, this is the path to God. There is no revelation without agitation. There is no art without struggle, without confronting our brokenness, our restlessness, our pain, and our weakness. Think about Paul’s thorn in the flesh.

When have you wrestled with God. Why? When have you experienced the dark night of the soul? What tends to keep you up at night? When have you experienced undeserved grace and blessing? You will receive blessings, in your divine encounters, but you may come away with a limp.

Isaiah 55

If you choose to preach the Feeding of the 5,000, Isaiah 55 may be the better choice for the first reading.

Isaiah 55 is the last chapter in Deutero-Isaiah. Proto-Isaiah, chapters 1-39, being pre-exilic; Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40-55, exilic; and Trito-Isaiah, chapters 56-66, post exilic.

The most profound and troubling words come in the second verse of the pericope, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”  Walter Brueggemann’s article, “Counterscript,” speaks to these words in 19 theses.  Three of the more pointedly germane theses talk about a common script that empire’s hold, especially today:

  1. The dominant script of both selves and communities in our society, for both liberals and conservatives, is the script of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life.

* I use the term therapeutic to refer to the assumption that there is a product or a treatment or a process to counteract every ache and pain and discomfort and trouble, so that life may be lived without inconvenience.

* I use the term technological, following Jacques Ellul, to refer to the assumption that everything can be fixed and made right through human ingenuity; there is no issue so complex or so remote that it cannot he solved.

* I say consumerist, because we live in a culture that believes that the whole world and all its resources are available to us without regard to the neighbor, that assumes more is better and that “if you want it, you need it.” Thus there is now an advertisement that says: “It is not something you don’t need; it is just that you haven’t thought of it.” The militarism that pervades our society exists to protect and maintain the system and to deliver and guarantee all that is needed for therapeutic technological consumerism. This militarism occupies much of the church, much of the national budget and much of the research program of universities. 

It is difficult to imagine life in our society outside the reach of this script; it is everywhere reiterated and legitimated. 

  1. This script — enacted through advertising, propaganda and ideology, especially in the several liturgies of television — promises to make us safe and happy.Therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism pervades our public life and promises us security and immunity from every threat. And if we shall be safe, then we shall be happy, for who could watch the ads for cars and beers and deodorants and give thought to such matters as the trade deficit or homelessness or the residue of anger and insanity left by the war or by destruction of the environment? This script, with its illusion of safety and happiness, invites life in a bubble that is absent of critical reflection. 

 

  1. That script has failed.I know this is not the conclusion that all would draw. It is, however, a lesson that is learned by the nations over and over again. It is clear to all but the right-wing radio talk people and the sponsoring neoconservatives that the reach of the American military in global ambition has served only to destabilize and to produce new and deep threats to our society. The charade of a national security state has left us completely vulnerable to the whim of the very enemies that our security posture has itself evoked. A by-product of such attempts at security, moreover, has served in astonishing ways to evoke acrimony in the body politic that makes our democratic decision-making processes nearly unworkable[Article written in 2005; increasingly true today!] 

We are not safe, and we are not happy. The script is guaranteed to produce new depths of insecurity and new waves of unhappiness. And in response to new depths of insecurity and new waves of unhappiness, a greater resolve arises to close the deal according to the script, which produces ever new waves and new depths.

One of the best songs based on this text (IMHO) is John Foley’s “Come to the Water” – original arrangement and contemporary arrangementDownload the sheet music and MP3 arrangement samples.

Romans 9

Daniel Kirk points out that these first five verses of Romans 9 are an introduction to Paul’s argument in chapters 9-11. If salvation is now open to Gentiles, where does that leave the Jews? Kirk also points ok that this passage is quite self-referential. In the English translation, Paul uses “I” or “my” over a dozen times; this is personal for Paul.

In chapters 1-8, Paul wrestled rhetorically with the unity shared by Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews), a unity they shared in and through Christ. In chapters 9-11, Paul now addresses the unity shared by Jews and Christians (Chapters 12-16 will concern the unity of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians).

Paul makes it clear that the covenants and promises are in tact:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

One should read through chapters 9-11 in one fell swoop to get a sense of what Paul is after rhetorically. 11:25ff is one of the high points,

So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’
‘And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.’

In other words, don’t think that you are wise enough to determine who ought be “in” and who ought be “out.” God is in the business of inclusion, not exclusion, centripetal force, not centrifugal. Do you think that is “just” or “unjust”?

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him,
to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.  

Once again, a song by John Foley, Who Has Known, would be a great contemplative piece during communion – words and sheet music.

Matthew 14: A Tale of Two Banquets

The Feeding of the Five Thousand is an important text. It is one of the few stories that appears in all four gospels. The feeding in Matthew must be understood in light of the death of John the Baptist at Herod’s wedding banquet. Matthew is contrasting Herod’s banquet with Jesus’ banquet. Matthew retains the juxtaposition of Herod’s banquet and Jesus’ banquet in Mark, from which he gets the story.

This Herod is not Herod the Great from the infancy narrative, who, as we know, died, making possible the Holy Family’s return from Egypt. This is Herod’s son, less powerful as indicated by the fact that he is simply identified as Herod the Tetrarch. Herod the Great’s kingdom has been split into four territories. Nevertheless, Hauerwas (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew) points out that this Herod seems to be also skilled in the politics of death.

These are two very different meal stories, as Barbara Lundblad and Gordon Lathrop (The Four Gospels on Sunday) have both so articulately pointed out.

Herod’s banquet is in a lavish place, while Jesus’ banquet is in a deserted place. In Herod’s place, there is plenty, excess even. It is a place of power. Call it a power lunch. There is plenty for a few, while the masses starve. Women are brought in to perform and pleasure the powerful men. A powerless prisoner is executed for entertainment. Herod seems reluctant to execute John, but he has promised the party; he would give Herodias what she wants. In order to maintain power, the powerful must maintain the myth of power. The leftovers are not twelve baskets of bread, but death and decay: John’s head delivered on plate, like a pig, like the final course. Important officials are invited. Herod’s wife is there, the one he stole from his brother, an act of power which John the Baptist denounced.

Lundblad asks,

Is it possible to maintain an empire and feed people who are hungry? The leftovers of empire have almost always been destruction and death–even in the name of peace and security. There is always enough money for weapons, but never enough to feed those who are hungry. Into such a world, Jesus comes with an alternative vision.

We who live in the world’s most powerful empire must ask this question. When do the bloody sacrifices of being an empire compromise our ability to serve the world, to be a blessing?

In contrast to Herod’s banquet, Jesus’ feast is in a deserted place – a place to which he took his disciples for rest, but the crowds followed. It is not in a lavish place, like Herod’s banquet. Those invited to Jesus’ feast are not the few, the rich and powerful, they are the poor, the lame, and the blind, as in Isaiah’s prophecies. This is consistent with Jesus’ preaching (Luke 14:13).

Herod takes a lot, leaves behind only death. Herod consumes. Jesus multiplies. Jesus takes a little and makes a lot of it. He spreads things out so that everyone has enough.

The feeding is an apt parable for a hungry world. “That’s communism!” someone said to me once. “No, it’s enough-ism.” It’s not about everyone getting exactly the same. That might not be fair. It’s about making sure everyone has enough; that’s all. This is not so radical a concept. People aspire to more than just “enough.” But clearly, there are many in our world who do not have enough. Half the world lives on $2/day; one quarter live on $1/day. The thing that drives me nuts is that we have the wealth and now the technology to feed everyone. We seem to lack the will. This is my sin too. Me having more is more important than everyone having enough. I reaffirm this self-centered reality with nearly every nonessential purchase.

“You give them something to eat,” is Jesus’ strong call, right up there with, “When I was hungry you gave me food,” and “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.”

Lundblad echoes the prophetic voice:

Jesus knows we are perplexed, but my excuses are no better than those of the disciples! Jesus knew long ago what economists and hunger activists tell us now: we have everything we need to end world hunger. It would take $13 billion a year. That’s not even 3% of our defense budget.

Don Carlson suggests an article by Walter Brueggemann, “Myth of Scarcity,” as a helpful read prior to preaching. Brueggemann refers to Mark’s account, but it works for Matthew’s as well.

The feeding of the multitudes, recorded in Mark’s Gospel, is an example of the new world coming into being through God. When the disciples, charged with feeding the hungry crowd, found a child with five loaves and two fishes, Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread. These are the four decisive verbs of our sacramental existence. Jesus conducted a Eucharist, a gratitude. He demonstrated that the world is filled with abundance and freighted with generosity. If bread is broken and shared, there is enough for all. Jesus is engaged in the sacramental, subversive reordering of public reality.

The profane is the opposite of the sacramental. “Profane” means flat, empty, one-dimensional, exhausted. The market ideology wants us to believe that the world is profane – life consists of buying, selling, weighing, measuring, trading, and then finally sinking down into death and nothingness. But Jesus presents an entirely different kind of economy, one infused with the mystery of abundance and a cruciform kind of generosity.

Five thousand are fed and 12 baskets of food are left over – one for every tribe of Israel. Jesus transforms the economy by blessing it and breaking it beyond self-interest. From broken Friday bread comes Sunday abundance. In this and in the following account of a miraculous feeding, people do not grasp, hoard, resent, or act selfishly; they watch as the juices of heaven multiply the bread of earth. Jesus reaffirms Genesis 1.

The feeding of the 5000 – or some version of a feeding miracle, 5000 or 4000 – shows up six times in the gospels. John Dominic Crossan points out that loaves and fish are an allusion to Sepphoris and Tiberias in Galilee. Sepphoris, a very Romanized city, was the center for grain, the breadbasket of Galilee. Tiberias, built in honor of Tiberius Caesar, was a very Romanized city that was the center of the fishing trade. Both were built to feed and sustain the empire.

[Herod] Antipas had multiplied the loaves in the valleys around Sepphoris, and he now intended to multiply the fishes in the waters around Tiberias, for the kingdom of Rome. But a magnificently parabolic counterstory tells us how Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes, for the kingdom of God (Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, p. 126).

As we have had parable about the kingdom of heaven for the past few weeks, this story then is also about the kingdom of heaven vis-à-vis the kingdom of Caesar. Where is nourishment to be found? Where is abundance to be found? To go back to Isaiah, where and what are the things that truly satisfy?

A final Brueggemann article, “Enough is Enough,” elaborates on a theology of scarcity versus a theology of abundance, starting with Genesis. How can you make these very different ways of thinking and being in the world come alive for your people, for their own sake and for the sake of the world?

November 6, 2016: Financial Giving/Generosity

If you are looking for a post on All Saints Sunday:

Committed to Christ Series

We are in week five of a six-week series called Committed to Christ. We are reviewing, as we try to do each Fall, the basics of the Christian faith. This week’s topic is what Bob Crossman calls Financial Giving. I would prefer to call it generosity.

My weekly blog posts for these six weeks are going to focus on six aspects of discipleship:

  1. Prayer
  2. Bible Reading
  3. Worship
  4. Witness
  5. Financial Giving
  6. Service

The goals of this series are:

  • To engage the entire congregation in praying and growing together in faith
  • To develop small groups that grow faith and bond the congregation together in strong
  • friendships
  • To welcome newcomers and close the back door of the church
  • To grow faith and generosity

The key components of the series are:

  • Daily devotions
  • Weekly home groups
  • Sunday worship

In many of our congregations, the first Sunday in November is All Saints Sunday. Some will choose to observe All Saints and pick up financial giving/generosity the following week.

If you are looking for a post on All Saints, click one of the three links above.

Financial Giving/Generosity

Genesis 28:18-22 – Jacob’s tithe

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 – God loves a cheerful giver.

Luke 19:1-10 – Zaccheus

Is there anything so central to Christianity as giving? Jesus spoke more about giving more than just about any other topic in the Bible. In addition to this, he warned about materialism as a threat to our spirituality. Just think of all the Bible stories about giving.

  • Give and it shall be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, overflowing.
  • Zaccheus
  • The Parable of the Talents
  • The Parable of the Rich Fool
  • The Widow’s Penny

The Bible talks a lot about money, and people are all struggling with money. It’s already on their minds when they walk through the door. Most of us are working to live within our means, and those who are independently wealthy are spending their time managing their money and tending to their assets. People want to talk about this stuff, but it’s taboo in our society. The church is a place we can talk about use of wealth, faithful management of wealth, and people will be very interested in hearing about it if they sense we really care about the big picture, and not just how much will come to the church. The minute you bring the church budget into the sermon, you will indicate that you’re more concerned about your budget than their lives. And most of them are struggling mightily.

Consider this information:

  1. 76% of U.S. Americans live paycheck to paycheck (2013, CNN Money article)
  2. 819,240 bankruptcy filings in 2015. (This is good news actually, as it is down 10% from 2014 according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. But personal bankruptcy filings are up this year. Total bankruptcies are expected to reach 1.1M this year according to NBC News).
  3. 75% report being depressed after a bankruptcy (Gallop). Now there’s a real shocker. Most struggle to recover from the emotional toll of bankruptcy according to a 2013 S. News and World Report.
  4. In 1929 only 2% of homes had a mortgage. Today most homes have a mortgage (71%). 14 million people are under water, that is, they owe more than their house is worth, according to The New York Times.
  5. The typical household has $90,000 to $132,000 of debt. Statistics vary. Fox Business says $90,000. Nerd Wallet says $132,158, $15,675 in credit card debt.
  6. retirement1/3 Americans have saved nothing for retirement. 56% have saved less than $10,000 according to TIME Magazine, reporting a GoBankingRates report conducted with three Google Consumer Surveys.
  7. Personal savings rate today is 5.4%, up slightly, but down from 13% in the early 70s (Huffington Post).
  8. Personal finance is the number one personal stress factor in the workplace, and the number one thing divorcing couples say they argue about (USA Today).

This is the financial landscape in which people live and give. How do we invite people to lives of generosity when they are in debt up to their eyeballs? Two things that won’t work, at least in the long term:

  1. Ignoring the reality of the situation will not work. It is unrealistic. If we really want to help people discover the true joy of generosity, we will need to help them with the realities of their situation. Classes on budgeting and workshops on debt reduction will help people out of the hole. I’ve seen people get out of debt because of classes they took at church, and they were deeply grateful. When you help someone out of hole, they tend to respond with gratitude. “Whoever is forgiven much, loves much,” as Jesus said.
  1. Second, an appeal to guilt or the law of tithing might work for the moment, but guilt erodes trust, and it fades with time. This is not to say that we shouldn’t speak of the tithe. We should, through the lens of grace. But, if we hit people over the head with the “should” stick, they may respond at first, out of fear, but in the long term more damage is done, resentment will set in, and you might introduce a spirit of self-righteousness. We are people of grace. We know that the law is a curse that cannot bring us to a right relationship with God. We believe that the gospel is more likely to bring us closer to the heart of God than the law anyway.

What if we invite people into a different way of relating to money? We live under the impression more is better. Most people think they would be happy if they just had 10% more. Part of the preacher’s job is to unveil the futility of this. How much is enough? Just a little bit more. And yet, people seem to spend 102% of their income no matter how much they make. If your income rises significantly, you’ll just get a better car, a bigger house, and find ways to spend it and more.

This is not to celebrate poverty. Jesus doesn’t exalt poverty. He teaches his disciples to fight it, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and so on. They say money can’t buy happiness, but if you’re living in destitute poverty, it actually can. But once you have the necessities of life, food, shelter and health care, statistics show that there is no correlation between wealth and happiness. People making $150,000 a year are no happier than people making $70,000 a year.

So, where is true joy found? I would suggest to you that giving people are happier people. Generosity gives people joy. If you want to find joy, if you want to encounter the divine, practice generosity and see what happens.

Giving opens up something within us. Think of a time that you gave generously and selflessly to someone or some cause. How did you feel?

We practice generosity because we follow Jesus who taught giving, and who practiced it, by giving everything, even his life on the cross. He taught the way of generosity, as seen in the story of Zaccheus.

Jesus walks into Jericho and sees something curious: a man in a tree. Zaccheus has been collecting taxes for an occupying army. By making his personal fortune off the stifling taxes of others, and thereby supporting the pagan overlords, he is not a popular guy. The religious elite would have considered him a sinner because of what he was doing.

Tax collectors had the strength of the army behind them. They made a bid to the authorities for how many taxes they could collect and send to Rome. Then they charged over and above to make their own income. Zaccheus probably had the nicest house in Jericho. The system was rife with corruption. Zaccheus even admits that he had been cheating people (Luke 19:8).

Entering Jericho, Jesus goes right over to Zaccheus and invites himself over for dinner, and, if I’m reading this fairly, to stay. Jesus goes over to the richest guy in town, with the biggest house, a sinner who has been bilking people, collecting taxes for an occupying army, and he cozies up to him. Imagine the scandal. With all his concern for the poor, Luke’s Jesus has no problem talking to rich folks.

We don’t know the content of the conversation. Luke doesn’t tell us. Perhaps he doesn’t know. But this we do know. Zaccheus agrees to give away half of his possessions to the poor, and he agrees to pay back all that he has defrauded 400%. Perhaps Jesus simply asked him. We know Jesus was not afraid to ask rich people to give away their stuff. Consider Luke 18:18-25

A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it 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.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

If this makes you cringe a bit, well then, good. I’m sure that’s what the story was intended to do for Theophilus, Luke’s wealthy patron (Luke 1:1), and the rest of his audience. Even the people in the story seem to understand the problem. If we must give it all up and if it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom, then who can be saved? Who stands a chance? Jesus responds in a way that seems to indicate: “No one. It’s impossible really. But for God, all things are possible.” Once again, Jesus drives us to grace by raising the law.

And then later, in Luke 18:33:

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Luke’s Jesus is nothing if not consistent. I have no trouble seeing Jesus ask Zaccheus for the same things. Those who love much, give much. This seems to be the point that Jesus makes with Simon the Pharisee after the woman with the alabaster jar anoints his feet. Luke 7:44-47:

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Jesus’ approach is not the water of the law: a tithe, 10%. Jesus approach is the wine of the gospel: generosity, joy, the 50% to the poor, 400% to the cheated of Zaccheus, and 100% of the poor widow. All of this is greater than the law. This is not a tithe; this is so much more. It grows, perhaps, from being welcomed and accepted by Jesus. It comes from the grace he has experienced, not judgment. This is the generosity in the gospel of grace.

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