Finding the Lessons

The latest blog post will be the bible study for the next week. Scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday. The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date. Enjoy.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Proper 25A/Ordinary 30A/Pentecost +20 October 26, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"It leaves each generation with a new challenge: how do we speak about God in Christ in a way that communicates the essence of the good news to people in our culture?"
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 19, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

“Being a Christan is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Drive from our hearts the idols this world worships, money, and power, privilege and prestige, that we may be free to serve you alone, and, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, may make your Son's new commandment of love the law that governs every aspect of our lives. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 22:34-46

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

I have decided that the world would truly be better off if people (including myself) would follow this very basic rule - this summary of the law given in this passage.

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we are to follow Jesus and what it is that we are supposed to be doing. Truth is it is not that difficult.

We are to: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In Paul's letter to the Galatians he claims that the summary of the law is from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord." This passage is the most often used passage in the Gospel of Matthew and here in Jesus' teachings we see it once again reflecting what was an essential ingredient in Jesus' own teaching and in the teaching of the early church. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 247ff) This statement fulfills the moral commands of the whole of the Decalogue from the rabbinic perspective and so we see that Jesus continues this teaching yet with a few changes.

Just as Jesus broadens the family of Abraham with a Gospel mission to all people; so too does he broaden the burden of the Decalogue's teaching beyond the neighbor who is family to include all people. His command is one that is universal. The Christian in fulfilling all righteousness (as did Jesus) must love all people and work for their well being. This is the very core of what it means to be a Christian - to love others and work for their well being. The mission of the Gospel is a message for all people and our love for neighbor is to be an action to all people. Just as Jesus came into the world so we are sent with all power and authority to love all of his who are in the world.

The other piece of Jesus' teaching which is important is his understanding that the measure of our love for others is a measure revealed of our love towards God. In other words, so connected is God to all the people of his creation, that one cannot measure your love of God without the measurement of your love for all people.

To love God with all that we are and all that we have is ultimately incarnated in our love for ourselves and the people in our lives and whom we meet.

So why is it that the reality is that we can all name people, indeed we can convict ourselves (I can convict myself) for a lack of love of God based upon my lack of love for my self and my neighbor. The reason is quite simple and that is that we just flat out don't love God and we don't love our neighbor more than we love our self. The age old truth about human anthropology is this - we just are bound and determined to create the world in our own image, run things for our own self-service, and insure that we are cared for first and last over and above the needs of everyone else. Sure on my best days I can do okay on this love others bit. We should cut our selves some slack...I mean we do a lot of good work as a community and I know a lot of saints of God who do amazing service in the name of God. That is true. But mostly we serve ourselves. It is true. And, we should own it.

Our world and our church runs on the notion that we can create laws and ordinances, canons and policies, that will guide the human being into right action.

We believe in our own needs so much that we universalize them pretending they are God's desires for us and God's desires for our neighbors.

What is the solution, like the pietist I say measure in the privacy of your own heart your life and actions and words (including emails) towards others. Set a rule of life which offers opportunity to reflect on how you are doing. Get into an accountability group of some kind and see a spiritual director or seek the guidance of clergy. Your rule should also include confession. Take stock and confess honestly how you have fallen short. Only by doing this will you have the ability to reflect on opportunities to more carefully live into the virtue of Jesus' directions. Only then will you rest upon the Grace of God and Jesus Christ for the strength to try again. Go to church and place yourself in the presence of the God you love and see there in the community others struggling to love themselves, love others, and love God. Join in a bible study and discern you ministry and what God would have you do.

Most of all act. Do outreach. Serve the poor. Help your neighbor. Look for opportunities to do something good for someone every day and don't tell anyone about it. That is one of the best take aways from my years in Alanon. Do something good, help someone, and don't brag about it. Begin to see that your life is better when it is focused on others and helping others with their needs.

Allison and Davies write this about this passage, "Jesus' words fulfil the law and the prophets; religious duties are to be performed not for human approval but grow out of the intimate relationship wit the heavenly Father, out of love for and devoted service to him; and the neighbour is to be loved and treated as one loves and treats oneself." (247)

When I die I would hope the simple life of having loved my neighbor will be a measure adequate for my fellows to say I was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ; and for my God to see that I have worshiped him in all faithfulness.

Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"As Christians, we are all community builders, not just the pastor, or the choir leader, or the theology student. Paul calls each one of us to interact with one another in our present Christian community with bold speech, personal integrity, and soul-sharing."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Richard Ascough, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.


"...we each need to be faithful stewards, loving mothers, and concerned and involved fathers."
A Compelling Example for Ministry, from An Exegetical and Devotional Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, by J. Hampton Keathley III at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

Paul is having a tough go of it in both his planting of churches in Philippi and in Thessalonica.  At every turn there is a stumbling block.  Yet his work and the work of the communities is fruitful and growing.  

He now encourages is growing community at Thssalonica and reminds them that the fruit that is being born from their efforts is fruit that arises because God is at work in their midst. It is God who is approving of their preaching the gospel and authorizing their mission.  It is not about popularity but about God's intentions coming into reality.
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.3For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.
It is not a crafty message or tricks that draw people into this fledgling community but God and God's spirit. It is not about people feeling good about themselves or flattery that draws them in but the message of God's love and grace.

Paul then has that beautiful passage about being an emissaries of Christ.  That they are gentle and kind to those seeking God and a greater knowledge of him.  Their generosity and their own imitation of Christ is what is having an impact on the broader community. Sure, there are still people who proclaim them crazy and a charlatan. Paul and the community though are simply being faithful to the Gospel they received.
But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
Paul reveals in this passage that he truly loves them and cares for them.  A friend of mine once told me that when looking at a congregation and considering your life and ministry in their midst you have to ask yourself do you, can you, love them. I think there is something important in that idea - something quite pauline.  What would our churches be like if we loved the people within as well as the people without.  

I learned a long time ago that it is much more important to tell people you love them than it is to hear that you are loved.  It is an amazing thing and I have tried to look at those given into my care and to love them. To be gentle. Sometimes I have failed miserably! Oh my and what a mess.  But in those instances where I have loved far more greater things have happened.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Proper 24A/Ordinary 29A/Pentecost +19 October 19, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"It is God who claims us, who made us in his own image. We do not belong to anything or to anyone else."
Commentary, Matthew 22:15-22, Clayton Schmidt, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"How can a Jew be faithful and observant and also stay alive under Roman rule? Yikes. But it is precisely this position of being caught in a bind of irreconcilable, conflicting obligations and duties that make real life so interesting. The desire to make the tension go away, to solve it, is the enemy of true faithfulness. "
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 22:15-22, David Ewart, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Let those who exercise authority over others defer always to the primacy of conscience; and help us to use rightly the freedom you have given us, that we may fulfill Jesus' teaching, by rendering to others what is rightfully theirs but rendering to God alone the deepest loyalty of our hearts. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As we have noted we are in the midst of a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.
The passage for this week is the passage on giving to God what is God's.  The leaders in the story are trying to get Jesus to make a seditious statement, a revolutionary statement so they can accuse him and dismantle his ministry.

This is a masterful moment of play and humor. It is masterful moment of debate in which Jesus is seen outclassing his verbal opponents.  The reality is that all things are God's. So Caesar can think that coin is his and we should indeed give it to him. But the message is clear all things are Gods.

This is not an argument for a division about church and state. Surely, Christians over the years have understood that they have a virtuous citizen role to play in the world of government and politics.  But this text is far from being a text that offers a view on the nature of our current debate between religion and the public square.

In this passage Jesus is clear: all things are God's.  Even in the subtext as we see the plotting and the future revelation that Jesus is surely to die for his teaching and for his eating with undesirables (as taught in the previous weeks text and lived out by Jesus) we are sure that God will prevail. Even the person hood of Jesus is God's own possession.  The workings of the state may indeed crucify and torture but the kingdom will belong to God and to his son Jesus.

So this Sunday, situated in the midst of the fall, is located right in the middle of many a stewardship campaign.  And, I think the message Jesus offers his detractors and the people around him is just as applicable today.

Every week we proclaim through the Nicene Creed a particular kind of God. We proclaim and give voice to a God whom we have faith in is the very one who has created all things and for whom all things were made.  The whole of creation was ordered and breathed into that it might reflect the glory of God.  Our Gospel today reminds us that in fact all things are God's.

This flies into the face of our modern conception of stewardship.  We teach and we preach that God gave us all things and so we are to give back to God.  That is not the same thing though.  When we teach that we change the meaning of the whole text and the whole of scripture.

The reality is that all things are created by God and all things are God's.  So the question isn't what am I supposed to do with my 5% or how do I get to my tithe goal.

The chief stewardship question I would challenge you to ask the members of your congregation is this: If all things are God's how does God want me to use everything?

That is a radical notion.  Yet it fits with the understanding of creation. It fits with the understanding of Christian stewardship in the New Testament. It is very uncomfortable and it is so culturally foreign to Americans that most people will not preach it and when it is preached most people won't be able to hear it.

If all things are God's how does God want me to use everything?

You see when we get this confused and we then adapt the stewardship notion (the idea that all things are God's and we are God's stewards) then what we get is the idea that the owner has actually given over the property to the steward. That really the steward is the owner.  When the steward becomes the owner then there is a new owner, and that owner is not God.

It is a very subtle concept. Perhaps it is so subtle that our authorities challenging Jesus don't even get his joke.  You see we can pretend all we want. Yet as we are reminded on ash Wednesday and at every funeral: dust we are dust we shall return.  Yep. All things are God's, they are God's now, and they will be God's when we are finished using them.

The very heart of stewardship is understanding that all that we have and all that we are is God's and purposed for God's use. The only stewardship question is how does God want me to use all this stuff!

There is another more sinister stumbling block in this text and that is the one that is sneakily portrayed by the emperor's image.  You see we, not wholly unlike the emperor, believe most days we deserve what we have. We deserve what we have, in fact we deserve more than what we have. Remember the one with the most toys wins.  That's right.  The reality is that most of us Americans are still firmly rooted in the false notion that if we work hard God will bless us, if we believe right God will bless us, if we do the right things God will bless us.  Therefore, all the stuff we have is because God blessed us.  No matter how you look at it the second most human way of life (behind it is all mine) is the notion that the more I have the better I am.

In varying degrees all humans are hoarders.

We believe if we can have it, possess it, keep it, hide it, collect it, then we are good, safe, whole, and holy.

I love the wake up call that Charles Lane gives in his book Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving stewardship ministry in your congregation.  He writes:
Our American culture has trumpeted the "self-made man at least since the time of Horatio Alger. The rags to riches story of a person who has pulled himself or herself up by the bootstraps and made something out of nothing has a long-standing place in our nation's mythology. We tend to take a very individualistic view of "success," ignoring the multitude of complicated factors that have caused one person to achieve wealth and power, while others have not.  ...Countless forces over which we have no control have helped make us what we are. The brains and the hard work for which we want to take credit for are God's, and God entrusts them to us.
What we have should not focus our attention on how kingly, wealthy, or blessed we are, it should make us ponder and think about how God would have me help others with what I have been given.  How do I as a steward of God's stuff understand and enact the kingdom of God?

We are not unlike the Roman legions occupying the holy land who produced that coin Jesus held many years ago.  We occupy our fortresses and we think only of the small offerings we should make to the Lord our God who has created all things, gives them life, and by his hand has brought them into being.

We are invited into a sacred relationship with the gardener, with the vineyard owner, with the one who is God above all Gods, Lord of Lords, and King of Kings.  And we are given the privilege of serving as stewards for all things come from thee O'Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.  All things are God's and we have the honor as stewards to ask how God wishes us to use all things.

Only when we begin here by opening our eyes to our faithful claim of a creator God and our role as stewards may we begin the journey of discernment about how to use God's stuff.

Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10


"It can be tempting, when we receive the 'word', to think that we have received a special revelation, understood only by God and ourselves, and we allow this to become a justification for all we do and think. But the Holy Spirit moves in others as well as ourselves."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The content of the Gospel is grounded in faith and action?faith insofar as one must accept the message of the return of Jesus, and action insofar as one must turn away from the practices of idolatry. The presentation of the Gospel is found in words and action."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Richard Ascough, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.


This week we shift to the first letter of Paul to the community in Thessalonica.  Typical of most letters we have an introduction which was routine at the time of Paul's writing. It is possible this intro was done by a scribe in preparation for the rest of the text; this would be true for the ending of the letter as well.  This is in part why so much of the Pauline texts begin and end in a similar manner.

After the greeting Paul tells them that despite all the adversity they have faced they have continued in faith.  They have undertaken a labor of love and a work of faith.  They are responding to God and God's love for them and have endured their sufferings.  
6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
They have done all this not because of their faith but the faith of Christ that is in them. They have been chosen by God.  Yes they are faithful but Paul is clear it is God working his purposes out in them. In this combined way (God's faithfulness and their own) they are successfully imitating Christ for the community around them to see.  

The families connected together in this gathering (which is really the meaning of the word church here) are known as people who worshiped the Roman gods.  They probably had altars and idols in their homes.  Yet they have come to know that Christ was resurrected and is a living God - he is not dead or a useless idol.  Moreover, it is this living God who will save them regardless of what their end may be.  Their witness is spreading from Thessalonica across the region and it is having a great affect.
in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,
What kind of witness are we making to the world around us? How are we letting God's faithfulness be revealed in our actions and in our daily lives? What false Gods do we continue to manifest in our lives and what altars do we have set up in our homes?  Paul challenges us today to figure out how we are living like Silvanus and this gathering of faithful people or how we are not. I don't think this is a moment for shame but rather an honest question about asking: do we really believe the altars and statues we are erecting in our lives are going to save us?  And, are our actions in the world revealing the kind of God we believe in?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Proper 23A/Ordinary 28A/Pentecost +18 October 12, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I am drawn to understand this double parable through the lens of James 2, and the tension between his affirmation that one's faith can be seen in one's "works" (by which he means deeds, especially deeds of justice and compassion), and Paul's more famous affirmation (in Galatians and Romans) that our standing before God depends only on our acceptance of God's grace."
Commentary, Matthew 22:1-14, Sharon H. Ringe, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


"The challenge of the story lies both in the warning about refusals and in the richness of the image of salvation as a feast...Beyond the strategy to save the party at the story level is the much richer notion of God's generosity, not as an afterthought, but as God's enthusiastic being and delight in all people and pain at their refusal to share the life freely offered."


Prayer


Open our community to all who seek you, and adorn it with the rich diversity which is your Spirit's special gift. Let our assembly on each Lord's Day bear witness as a living sign to the banquet of eternal life where all will be welcome. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 22:1-14

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

So the reality is that this parable continues themes from the preceding lessons in the Matthean text.  One of those themes is greatly defined by Jesus' own mission in contrast to the authorities of his own day; and the contrast between the growing Matthean community and the religious authorities some sixty+ or so years after Jesus' resurrection.  We can do a great deal of harm if we are not again careful with how we set up this parable.  The danger for the preacher is that the divisions of the past can easily slip into hatred for others today. I would think that no good preacher wishes to (intentionally or unintentionally) create hatred for any ethnic or other religious group. Moreover, when we focus on this one aspect of the text we completely miss what the text is saying to us today.

The second them is the one that I think has the most traction from our pulpits today in our particular context.  We are a church that is in the midst of a great and diverse global society. We are a church that sits ethnically divided and does not typically represent the community around us.  It is easy to see this when we graph out the ethnic diversity of our church or the age diversity of the church.  For instance:

From the Episcopal Church FACT pdf you find this information from 2010:
Participants and Members

The median Episcopal congregation had 160 active members in 2009, down from 182 in 2003.The median Episcopal congregation had 160 active members in 2009, down from 182 in 2003.

The membership of the median Episcopal congregation was 60% female.The membership of the median Episcopal congregation was 60% female.
The majority of Episcopalians are white/European American (86.7%). The second largest racial/ethnic population is African American or Black (6.4%), followed by Latinos (3.5%).The majority of Episcopalians are white/European American (86.7%). The second largest racial/ethnic population is African American or
Black (6.4%), followed by Latinos (3.5%).

In 94% of Episcopal congregations one racial/ethnic group predominates. 86.2% of Episcopal congregations are mostly white, 5.6% are multi-racial, and 4.9% are predominantly Black.In 94% of Episcopal congregations one racial/ethnic group predominates. 86.2% of Episcopal congregations are mostly white, 5.6% are multi-racial, and 4.9% are predominantly Black.

Regarding age the FACT pdf has these statistics:

The large majority (69%) of Episcopal congregations report that more than half of their members are age 50+.

Age Structure of the USA and TEC: 2010

Episcopalians tend to be older than the general population. Overall, 30% of Episcopal members are age 65+, as compared to only 13% of the U.S. population.

The Episcopal Church has proportionately fewer children, youth and young adults.
Episcopalians tend to be older than the general population. Overall, 30% of Episcopal members are age 65+, as compared to only 13% of the U.S. population.

The Episcopal Church has proportionately fewer children, youth and young adults.

Episcopal parishes and missions with greater proportions of older members (age 65+) tend to be smaller in average attendance and are more often found in rural and small town settings.Episcopal parishes and missions with greater proportions of older members (age 65+) tend to be smaller in average attendance and are more often found in rural and small town settings.
You can download this information (pdf file) and other interesting facts about our church at this website
I bring this all up because the second theme of the text is that the kingdom of God is passing from one generation to another. The kingdom of God was once something that meant belonging to a particular group but now through the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, God's fuller plan of inviting the whole world into fellowship and kinship is underway.

The parable tells us first and foremost that the kingdom of God is the (will be in the end) a fulfillment of a universal mission.

The cautions of the text are well put by the scholars Allison and Davies who write in there third volume on Matthew:
The evangelist was all too aware that criticism of others as ell as the doctrine of election are both fraught with moral peril; for the former tends to nourish complacency -- censure of our enemies always makes us feel better about ourselves -- while the latter can beget feelings of superiority...the two things can foster illusions...Thus it is that Christian readers of 22:1-14, who necessarily identify with those at the king's banquet, cannot read the text and feel self-satisfaction over the wrath that overtakes others. They must, as the homilies on this text throughout the centuries prove, instead ask whether they are like the man improperly clothed, whether they are among 'the many' despite profession to be among 'the few.'  God's judgement comes upon all, including those within the ecclesia.  The author of 1 Peter well understood this when he wrote that judgement begins with the household of God. (p 208)
In this light and in light of the particular reflection of the kingdom of God we offer as a church we might readdress the parable and ask ourselves the following questions.  Are we going out on behalf of our householder? Are we going out and inviting all to come to the banquet feast?  Are we accepting the invitation to sit at the table and to invite others? Are we willing to invite and/or to sit at the table with both the good, the bad, and the ugly?  Are we really interested in sitting in a filled banquet hall?  Are we prepared for the feast?  The question is not so much are you wearing the right clothes but are you  ready to invite, connect, and welcome the people God intends to gather around for the wedding feast?

This Sunday many a sermon will focus on the violence of this parable. Some will focus on the "us and them" reading. Some will speak out only to make the insider feel better.  The truth teller will challenge their community gathered to go out into the streets and gather in God's people, the sacred people of God, created by God, a diversity of ethnicities and beliefs. Yes the preacher this week who speaks the truth will be the preacher who challenges our church to a missionary imperative of sharing the Gospel.

No, we do not intend to preach a Gospel that does violence to others but a Gospel of love which binds us together in the harmony of God's community. We shall invite with our actions of care and hospitality. We shall gather God's people in through actions which incarnate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I do believe in judgement; it happens every day. But I will tell you that I wish to be judged on the love and the kindness I show to my fellow man. I wish to be judged on the Gospel of love which invites all into God's heavenly embrace. I wish to sit at the table with the good and the bad, the old and the young, people of every color and people of every language.  After all...aren't those always the very best dinner parties?

Some Thoughts on Philippians 4:1-13


"Paul's concern is unity in the church, which can only arise once we recognize our redemption as coworkers for the Lord, giving us a spirit of gentleness, and thereby turning our sight from earthly matters that lead to petty squabbles, derision, and anxiety. Only then can we experience the peace that transcends all understanding."
Commentary, Philippians 4:4-7, Jacob Myers, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"But Paul sees a different reality alongside the violence and duplicity of Rome. The small and struggling Christian congregation in the Roman colony of Philippi is itself a kind of 'colony,' a separate polis with a more powerful Lord who alone has defeated death."
Commentary, Philippians 4:1-9, Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


Paul takes a bit of time with the Philippians to warn them of the trouble with appetites that will derail their pilgrimage with Christ.  So he comes now back to the intention of these last verses which is to draw the letter to a close. BUT he just can't bring himself to do it. So again he brings up a concern.

There are two individuals in the community Euodia and Syntyche and they don't agree about their understanding of a life lived following Christ. Sound familiar?!?  Moreover, their dispute is causing division in the community. REALLY! I hope you are reading my sarcasm here...  People are not agreeing with one another and then causing a division.  We don't know which one is the loyal or faithful person but we do know that Paul believes this is problematic for the mission.  Division is problematic and reconciliation is essential.

So Paul closes the letter reminding them of the need for gentleness and kindness, thanksgiving and peace.  God will be faithful in helping them through their divisions and trials. God will come soon. (Paul still believes at the time of this writing that God's second coming is approaching quickly.)  He blesses them and challenges them to be faithful.

This is apostolic leadership. The apostle rises above the division. In an non anxious way he points out with clarity that mission is the most important thing. He reminds them of their personal and individual journey with Christ and how this is important. Then he points out who it is that is causing problems and calls them to be unified. He challenges them to be reconciled one to another so that the mission may be undertaken with faithfulness.  And the apostle raises before the community their call to unity and mission over and above those who are divided. 

No matter what the division is, for too long we as leaders have been on the ground mucking it up instead of being the apostolic leaders we are intended to be.  I'd love to see a unified and prophetic voice rise up from leadership across every church and every denomination with a vision for evangelism and the cause of Christ - over and above the shouting, raising fists, and prophecy bent on dividing the people of God. Now that would be  reformation worth listening for!


Monday, September 29, 2014

Proper 22A/Ordinary 27A/Pentecost +17 October 5, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Martin Luther once said that sometimes you have to squeeze a biblical passage until it leaks the gospel. This is one of those weeks, I think, when with equal measures of patience and faithful pressure we can give witness to the God made most clear to us in Jesus."
"Crazy Love (a.k.a. Preaching Matthew against Matthew)," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

"This parable does not use the story to set forth the surprising nature and qualities of God's reign, as do so many others in the Gospels. Its focus is rather on the futility of debates about, and maintenance programs for, the institutions of this age."
Commentary, Matthew 21:33-46, Sharon H. Ringe, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Cultivate your church, we pray, enriching it always with new shoots, so that, grafted onto Christ, the true Vine, the community of your people may bear fruit in abundance and produce a rich harvest for eternal life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 21:33-46

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

I cannot read the passage appointed for this Sunday without thinking of the vineyard in Isaiah (5:1-7). I can imagine that it might have been the same for those with whom Matthew's community is in conflict.

The Parable is pretty clear. It is harvest time. The landowner sends slaves who beat and mistreated the messenger. He then sends his son who is killed. The tenants hope to inherit the land and the harvest for themselves.

We are mindful as our Eucharistic prayer reminds us that the prophets have come over and over to gather God's people, to show us the way. And God eventually sends his son. "How long," Jesus says,"have I wanted to gather you under my wing like a hen gathers her own young."

We know this passage is part of the building tensions between the Jesus movement and the Pharisee movement in the post temple era. In the Gospel story we see this tension echoes the tension between Jesus and the authorities. The passage also offers a theology for why the Jesu movement breaks away from it's Abrahamic parent.

I think the passage challenges the modern church in several ways. The first is to recognize that the missionary message of Matthew tells us that Jesus as risen Lord continues an eternal return to save the world through the proclamation and actions of his followers.

I think the second way we are challenged is that we typically put ourselves in the place of Jesus and the prophets. I think that we would be radically challenged to think about our mission if we were to recognize that more often than not when we are at our worst we are the tenants! When we try to invent the church in our own image we truly close the doors to Jesus and the prophets we also close the doors to mission.

So when we read this might we be challenged to sees mission which embraces the prophets and the son who offer us a role in the harvest of God.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 3:4-14


"Without throwing away his own religion Paul, nevertheless, throws away a theology which had made him important and given him great status. In its place he embraces Christ and Christ's way."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 16, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The season of Lent, with its inexorable movement towards the cross, offers us an opportunity to reflect on our journey through life, from the cradle to grave."
Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14 (Lent 5C), Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

We continue reading from Paul's letter to the Philippians.  He is concerned that there are those within the community at Philippi who want to make the gentile Christians adhere to the Jewish law. So, Paul warns them and cautions them. He tells them that the law and the law of circumcision in particular is not what God requires of them. Rather, Paul offers a vision of a spiritual life where the heart is changed and transformed, circumcised, and marked as God's own.  Paul is clear - we do not have to mark our flesh to know that we are God's.

We then get a rare glimpse into Paul's own spiritual pilgrimage.  He talks about his early life as a good and faithful Jew.  He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin and everyone knows this is a special tribe within the family of tribes. So it is that Paul kept the law, including circumcision and many other requirements.  To be a Benjaminite was and is to be set aside as one of God's favorites and it requires a holy and attentive life lived under the Jewish law.  He calls himself a Pharisee - a sect within Judaism that kept the law strictly and was an inner reform movement of great power at the time of Jesus. They were especially strict around the laws of cleanliness and those that had to do with common meals.  Paul tells them that he was a good Jew. He is honest though and tells them that he was a persecutor of those involved in the competing Jewish reform movement of followers of Jesus. Paul was zealous and believed this Jesus movement must be wiped out. Then we know that there was an experience.

Paul talks very little himself about his experience. Yet here in Philippians he offers some reflection. He writes that Christ helped him to understand that his way, the way of the Jewish law and the religious leaders of his day, was not the best way to known God.  Paul tells the Philippians that to get caught up in the midst of the law actually makes it more difficult to see how much God loves us. The law, Paul invites his readers to understand, hides the fact that God gives us grace freely.  Paul tells them that once he had a glimpse of this powerful God of love he cast aside the law in order to see more clearly and to gain all that God in Christ Jesus offers.

Paul tells them he wants to know Christ who is alive and resurrected and even now pouring out his spirit upon his people.  Paul seeks oneness with God.  He wishes to share Christ's sufferings and to participate in the cross in order that he may truly die to the old way and be reborn as a new being - one eternally united with God.  This is something Paul has a spiritual hunger for and desires completely.  Paul believes his life's journey from this point forward will be a continuing discovery of the meaning of Christ's resurrection and that as he progresses he will be remade. Paul says God has chosen him - made me his own - this is a very personal revelation and a very personal God. The God Paul is describing has a very different and real quality separate from the qualities of God Paul had known when he was under the law.

We then get the wonderful image of the race and the runner.  Paul in his journey from Benjaminite to faithful God fearer and Jesus follower hopes that his life long pilgrimage will bring him to the foot of God's throne in order to receive the laurel, the wreath, the mantel and prize of the heavenly kingdom. May he so run the race that he shall be rewarded with unity which God desires to give and Paul hopes to receive.

This is a truly exquisite part of the scriptures. It is insight into the personal spiritual life of Paul. It is one of the few truly reflective pieces of scripture which gives us a vision of the early pilgrim life of a follower of Jesus.  I think what strikes me most is that it resonates with my story, it resonates with the story of so many people who seek God - a living God.  I hope as a preacher you will seek to tell the pilgrim story, your story, Paul's story, and invite others to reflect upon their own journey with the living God.  Tell of how everything else you put your trust in obscures and hides the living God. Invite them to imagine the longing and yearning for that living God and highlight within their own journeys God's reaching out and invitation to receive the laurel at the end of a race well run to the very end and to the very foot of the throne of Grace.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Proper 21A/Ordinary 26A/Pentecost +16 September 28, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"It is odd that we still find so many people inside the church who have a greater problem moving with compassion for change in society than many outside the church. They seem bent on protecting God."
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 15, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"I'm wondering if it is God who comes and does things that threaten and shatter our understandings of God; and that it is the demonic who wants us to maintain the status quo about God -- which will normally be too narrow an understanding of the God whose ways are far beyond our own."
Exegetical Notes by Brian P. Stoffregen at CrossMarks.

"Voltaire quipped that we ought to judge a person by his questions rather than his answers."
Commentary, Matthew 21:23-32, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Let your Spirit make our hearts docile to the challenge of your word, and let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus: may we walk the path of obedience and sacrifice, finding in the self-emptying love of the cross, the way to exaltation and glory at your side. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 21:23-32

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This Sunday we have the parable of the two sons. The first son is the one who "I will not go," but later changes his mind and goes. The second son is the one who says he will go but does not go. This is followed by the polemical question to the authorities: which one of the two does the will of the father? They of course say that the first son, in the end, does the will of the father. For the reader, or especially the one who heard this in Matthew's community, there is an aha moment in which we see clearly that the authorities are agreeing in behavior that is not like their own.

As we reflect on the passage it is helpful to remember that after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem there were really two strands of competing Judaism left. As one scholar pointed out the Pharisees really are the ancestors of our modern day friends; while the Jesus movement would be the second great Jewish strand that has woven its way through history. From an early time Christians understood this passage as a defining one about who that Christian movement was and is. As the ancient bishop and teacher Chrysostom wrote: the Christian is the one represented by the son who at any hour turns and chooses to do the will of the father; to go out into the vineyard and work. The Christian is the son who is the missionary.

But I think there is a deeper message that Jesus is offering. While Chrysostom is right on the one hand, and certainly the history of the Matthean community and the history of Christianity bears out at the very least this determined differentiation...there is more. We must stand back. We must now knowing the context step back and allow the Gospel text to speak into our context.

The very powerful message is the Gospel message (one that is perhaps more disturbing and challenging than the contextual one). This Gospel message offers the news that it is never to late to follow Jesus and become a missionary worker in the vineyard. God will embrace the son who turns and chooses in the end, no matter what they have been doing, to become a member of the community. Do we not rejoice of the finding of the one over the salvation of the many. It isn't an either or, but a both and vision of the kingdom.

Yes, there are people in our community who sin knowingly. We are human. We know we promise that we will strive for kingdom behavior and we know we will fail. After all our baptismal covenant says that "when" we sin we will return. Christians know we are not perfect. But we as Christians also rejoice when the sons and daughters of God who have led life without, who have led life saying "no" turn and join the other workers in the field. We the church exist for those who do not yet belong. We exist so that the vineyard is there ready for the latecomer and for the newcomer.

As Mrs. Augusta Irving, the elementary school teacher who struck the fear of God into me most days, used to say, "Andy, better late than never." Yes indeed, Mrs. Irving...you have spoken the Gospel..."Better late than never."

Some Thoughts on Philippians 2:1-13


"Like Timothy and like Paul's audience, leaders and members of our own congregations are called to imitate Jesus by refusing to insist on their own prerogatives or status, whatever they may be, and serving others in humility."
Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Shively, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"What's in a name? From a biblical perspective -- everything!"
Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

Paul in this passage uses a first century Christian hymn (possibly even one they would have known) to urge the members of the community at Philippi to have the same mind as Christ. That means that they are to seek to not insist on their own way or their own rights (determined by their social status) but they are to become lower than their stations. Like God in Christ Jesus they are to seek to become power-less and to serve.

Paul invites them to not be better than the other - this is not after all a quality that Christ illustrated.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is serving that one is great. It is in taking the lower seat that you shall be known. It is in washing feet and loving each other regardless of station. It is feeding the poor who have no right to be fed and healing the sick who have not fulfilled the law. It is in eating with those who are not worthy to be eaten with. It is in loving those whom you would not dare to love.  These are the qualities by which you will be known as a follower of Jesus.

This is the work of Christ that they are to continue in the world.  

People will talk about a lot of reasons why our church is failing.  They will ponder the reasons why we are shrinking in numbers.  I think in the end it is because we don't do these things very well.  

We do not have the same mind as Christ Jesus and are unwilling to become low. We actually regard equality with God as something to be exploited and lorded over those to whom we do not believe deserve such equality.  We are unwilling to empty ourselves. We will not serve God or his mission over our own needs and desires.  We are quick to take the highest seat. We are not eager to wash each other's feet - especially not the feet of the poor. We are unwilling to hold back or deny ourselves. We will not sit with those unlike us.  We will not dine with those we don't agree with. We will not be seen with those who are not like us. We are wholly unwilling to do the hard and difficult work of following Jesus as Jesus has invited us to follow.

Perhaps this is why Paul has us squarely figured out.  The truth is like the Philippians what is so bad about our church. It is a comfortable place, for comfortable people, comfortable in our going out and our coming in.  Yet Paul may have us figured out...comfortable is not a whole lot like the ministry and character of God in Christ Jesus.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Proper 20A/Ordinary 25A/Pentecost +15 September 21, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"The scandal of this parable is that we are all equal recipients of God's gifts. The scandal of our faith is that we are often covetous and jealous when God's gifts of forgiveness and life are given to other in equal measure."
Commentary, Matthew 20:1-16, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"In the end, it’s not about unfair payments. At the parable’s conclusion, the full-day workers don’t moan that they have been cheated. They complain instead to the landowner, You have made them [the one-hour workers] equal to us."
ON Scripture, Matthew L. Skinner. Commentary and association with current news events, links and videos.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Open our hearts to the wisdom of your Son, that, without concern for the cost of discipleship or the reward of our labors, we may grasp how incomparable the honor of working in your vineyard from morning until night. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 20:1-16

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage naturally offers some important wisdom for life in community that is mission oriented; or strives to be mission oriented.
1. One shall not presume and boast about the judgement and one's election among the first. In other words sitting in that pew for twenty years doesn't make it yours.
2. It reminds us the last shall be first, and the first last (illustrating 19:16ff).  Or, one might think twice before complaining that the priest is spending too much time with new members.
3. We must realize that the newcomers are equally welcome to voice their opinions.
I don't think we can fully separate the text from the notion that the gentile mission was affecting the inherited faith of the church.  The people that Jesus reached out to during his ministry and the people the apostles reached out to were very different from the people who had long awaited the Messiah.

This Sunday there will be a lot of different sermons on this text.  And, I believe that it is safe to say most will be focused on the established church's need to make room.

As insiders we naturally want to interpret the message to the other insiders.

I want to offer that the real grace of the passage is that it isn't meant to be (in my opinion) a polemical argument against those already at work in the field. It is quite the contrary.

Jesus' message is one of grace to those who come late.

Jesus is talking not to the establishment but the newcomers.

We would do well to remember this when preaching.

Truth is most people feel like they are the latecomers, they are not good enough, they have done something so wrong that even though they dared walk in the church on this particular day it won't do any good because they are doomed.

Most people don't feel they are good enough to receive the grace of God and that is precisely the message of the cross. No one can do anything to win it!  We have all come late!

We are truly challenged by this somewhat Matthean Paulinism.  "As Isaac the Syrian provocatively put it, 'How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? (Asc. hom. 51)'"  As insiders we just can't shake our desire to truly be about works. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, vol 3, 77)

Allison and Davies write: "Hence the less deserving may receive as much as the more deserving.  Like the Spirit, the divine grace blows where it wills.  That destroys all human reckoning and therefore all Christian presumption....hope should never become self-satisfaction. (Ibid)

I agree with my fellow semi-pelagians we cannot completely lift this out of context for Matthew has plenty to say about how Christians behave in the vineyard.  But I wold remind us all that is in response to the grace of God; it is not in order to receive the grace of God.

BUT it is clear that there is tremendous good news this week in the Gospel: Nobody ever comes late! We are all just arriving right on time.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 1:20-30


This is one of the most positive letters that Paul writes. He is in prison and encouraging the Philippians to read and know about the mission of the Gospel.  He tells them of how he has spread the Gospel to his captors and they are sharing in the Good News.  

He appears worried about his potential death and knows that Christ has not yet returned, and he will not be likely to see him. He understands that the mission of Christ must go on and that the spreading of the faith is essential - even without him.  We can almost feel his emotions as he ponders his fate. He is hopeful for both his life with Christ after death and the life of the faithful after his leaving.

God has really done a number on Paul, he understands his whole life and the very meaning of creation now through the lens of a living Christ.  He believes that while he is one with Christ in this world in the next that unity will be solidified.  For his life he has understood that he was to be a laborer in the vineyard. Even though he was not one of the original followers he has understood his work no less essential and his preaching of Christ as the fullness of his call.

He is hopeful that he will be with the Christians for a while longer so that he may continue the progress of the kingdom in which he has a share.  Regardless of whether he is with them or not he holds them up to a high practice of living a life of Christ. He tells them to live in community and to reflect to one another and the world the servant-hood of Christ. they are to be strong in their faith. They are to be bound together and not divided.  They are to work together and be of one mind in their faith.  

These are difficult times but he encourages them to be united in their cause.  Speaking from prison where he himself is jailed because of his faith he tells them not to be discouraged by those who will challenge them.  They should be strong in their faith and be sure of their own inheritance of the kingdom of God. Like Paul and like Christ though they may suffer they are suffering in community with others. It is a much greater thing to persevere and to be supportive on one another with the assurances that come from God and God's love for them.  

If they will labor on like Paul still others will come to know Christ through their witness.

What strikes me in particular is how at every turn Paul is attempting to make a witness of Christ's love, of Christ's forgiveness, of Christ's relationship with those who may cause suffering and persecution. He himself is undaunted in trying to tell the story of Good News to his captors and in turn helps them receive Christ. To those in Philippi he encourages them to make a witness to those who harass them.  This behavior is the opposite of how we deal with those who are against us today.  

If someone is against us we wail back, we seek their demise, we seek to win by power and control. We do not become week or as a servant so that they may hear and be converted.  We do the opposite of what Paul intends in making a witness. It reminds me that there is a great deal of courage needed when we seek to be like Christ and become lower than  we believe we should be in order to serve the very people who may in the end be our undoing. That is quite a very different model of Christianity that the one we typically model in our contemporary society. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Proper 19A/Ordinary 24A/Pentecost +14 September 14, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Forgiveness in the Gospel of Matthew is not only relational it is reciprocal and reliant."Commentary, Matthew 18:21-35, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The reduction of the gospel to forgiveness of sins misses the point of the gospel which is about making people whole."
First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 13, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Create in us a new heart, formed int he image of your Son, a heart strong enough to bear every wound and gentle enough to forgive each offense, that the world may see how your people love one another, and remember how much you love all that you have made. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 18:21-35

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

William Loader writes:
The amount owed is huge, larger than the estimates of the value of whole economies. Try doing the arithmetic. A talent is around 6000 denarii; a denarius is a day's living wage. It is an absurd figure, so unreal, as to distract the hearer from the literal meaning to the point being made behind the story. God's forgiveness is also massive. 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors' is the literal translation of the standard Lord's Prayer as found in Matthew 6:12. Releasing debt was a common image for forgiveness. The rogue in Luke 16:1-7 who went out and forgave his master's debtors may be Jesus' parody on himself: he declared God's generosity and was declared a rogue servant who acted without recognised authority. The saying in 18:21-22 is also making its point by exaggeration: 77 times!

There are really three ideas that strike me about this passage.  The first is this notion that the forgiveness of God is abundant.  I am mindful that the custom of this time was to collect or sell the person into slavery and that we cannot miss the notion that God's abundant grace instead of slavery is one profound message of this parable.

The second idea that comes to me is the reality that we cannot read this passage without also thinking of the passage from Genesis where Lamech wants revenge seventy times seven.(Genesis 4)  In this passage we see the violence that has corrupted the ancient Hebrew family prior to the great flood. We are told that Lamech boasts that he has slain a young man for a seemingly minor offense.  He reminds his wives that the the Lord had pronounced that anyone slaying Cain in vengeance for his killing of Abel would be punished sevenfold. Lamech thinks that if anyone should try to slay him in vengeance there will be a 77 fold revenge. We are not told that this proposed revenge is of the Lord, so we must assume that it would be at the hands of Lamech's sons or family, or clan, or tribe. So it would appear that we have here an example of what so often is the case in tribal or clan warfare, the supposedly "injured" party wants revenge many many times over.

This is a powerfully true story and we can all think of times in our lives when we have taken offense or been angered into wanting such action on our behalf.  It speaks to our most basic instinct as creatures. And, I believe it is why Jesus' own statements about forgiving others are so powerful.  We can certainly spend time talking about the Grace of God and how we are exonerated from our own sins and slavery to them.  Yet, the more difficult part of the passage is the most obvious.  We are to act with others as God has acted with us. We are to be as magnanimous a forgiving agent as Jesus Christ was upon his cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."

This is the third idea that strikes me and brings me up quite short. As one reads this chapter what becomes clear is that Jesus in Matthew's Gospel seems rather unconcerned with the individuals who transgress and more focused upon the person trying to live in the way of Jesus. Be humble Jesus tells us.  Do not despise others.  Do not allow anyone to be lost or to stumble.  Seek after the one who walks away.  If another person sins against you go and be reconciled with them.  You go and find them.  Take others and find them.  Go out and find them.  Be careful what slavery you cast on others as it will bind you.  Recieve the forgiveness of debt and likewise forgive others.

Allison and Davies write in their Matthean work (vol II, 804):

...Jesus demands forgiveness without measure. The motivation for such unbounded generosity is imitation of the Father in heaven.  As he has forgiven undeserving Christans, so must they likewise forgive others, "Freely you have received, freely give."  The appropriate attitude towards a wayward brother is like that of a shepherd seeking a stray sheep.  The shepherd does not want to punish the stray but bring it back to the fold. 

You and I are to be like the shepherd in the parable, like our Lord Jesus, we are to seek out those who offend, sin, or hurt us. We are to be as forgiving and as loving as our Lord is.

This is a very difficult lesson.  In churches over the last decade something like 70% have dealt with conflict. Much of that conflict has caused people to leave and much of that conflict has sought to excommunicate the "other."  As a church we have not modeled with one another what Christ modeled for us; nor what we pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us."  We have modeled and as a family of God shown the world that we do not live by the code we claim.  We have not forgiven as freely as we have received. We have not reconciled as willingly as we have been reconciled. We have not gone after our brother and sisters who have left with the same determination as a shepherd who has left his 99.

What must we do?  What must the church do?

We must do as Isaiah dreams in chapter two:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

It seems that the real issue is that we as humans want to be the judge, we want to do the arbitrating, and we want to wield the sword of sentencing one another to the outer darkness.

I think it is so difficult because forgiveness requires the embracing of the other who is most repugnant to you.  The fact is that regardless of whether you study mediation or you study the 12 steps or you study psychology or the bible what you find is that healing means most often coming to terms with the fact that the one you resent actually mirrors your own most despised part.  In other words you must forgive yourself and be reconciled with the parts of one's own self that are most grotesque to you in order to make space to forgive the other.

I pray that as a church we might actually do this work.  I would love to see a day when we as a church put down our swords, all of the various kinds, and we turned once again to the work of ploughing and pruning the missionary field.  This will take a great and conscious and prayerful effort on our part to turn to brothers and sisters who in the heat of argument have wounded us to the heart, and truly forgive in order to move forward into the mission field together.



"Paul provides three reasons for the advice to bear with those who think and act differently from oneself on matters of belief and practice."
Commentary, Romans 14:1-12, Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"This section of Romans makes it clear that divisions in the church go back to the earliest churches."
Commentary, Romans 14:1-12, Mark Reasoner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"Paul's flexibility is rooted in his vision of Christ."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 13, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

I am in need of this passage today. I was just on the Facebook and reading as conservative Christians harp on how unChristian the liberal Christians are and then reading the post below it on from a liberal Christian harping on how unChristian the conservative Christians are...  We spend a lot of time on this pointing fingers back and forth and arguing over our little piece of Christian pie.  We have all got it figured out and intend to tell the others how they don't.  In my opinion this is poor modeling for Christian community and takes our mind off the more difficult work of being missionaries of God's love in the world.

I am grateful to get to Paul's lesson in Romans. It reminds me that we are not the first church to have problems or people intent on tearing each other down.  It reminds me that people in Church have been arguing with one another since the two disciples argued over who would sit next to Jesus.  

Here is what Paul has to say about conflicts.  

Those who are weak in faith will make their habit the focus on things that are not about God's mission of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The weak in faith will focus their attention on others and place themselves in the judgement seat of God. They will be about the work of minutia and non essentials. Those who are strong in their faith will be focused upon God's purposes.

He writes:
2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
He then basically says...so what business is it of yours?

Chris Haslaam reminds me of this particular bit of wisdom which comes in the form of context which is known to Paul's readers:
In Roman society, it was considered ill-mannered to “pass judgement” (v. 4) on the conduct of another master’s servant; he was answerable to his “own lord” or master. Similarly, each Christian is answerable to “the Lord” and should not be criticized.
What is important is that you are responsible to your own convictions and answerable for the living and the dying that is your work. You are not to judge others, to judge their conduct, or how they worship.  You will be accountable to God. They will be accountable to God.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Moreover, we should not do anything that might harm another person's faith.  Paul writes that we are to focus on the best things and "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding”

All followers of God in Christ Jesus are to live in a manner consistent with one's conscience in order to be in relationship with God.  Your faith is yours alone and not dependent upon any body elses.  It is the person who is weak in faith that believes that how another lives or moves or has their being affects them.  One is never made righteous by being better than someone else or demeaning another human being.  That was the point of Jesus confrontation with the religious leaders of the day.

Our mission initiatives would be stronger and see great results if we all started judging less and started welcoming the other more.