Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Proper 28A/Ordinary 33A/Pentecost +24 November 19, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"The parable of the talents is among the most abused texts in the New Testament."

Commentary, Matthew 25:14-30, Carla Works, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Into the hands of each of us, O God, you have entrusted all the blessings of nature and grace.  Give us the will and wisdom to multiply the gifts your providence has bestowed, and make us industrious and vigilant as we await your Son's return, so that we may rejoice to hear him call us "good and faithful servants" and be blest to enter into the joy of your kingdom.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:14-30

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We are so fixated on money that we are always sure there is about to be a global financial crisis from which we cannot recover. In this anxious time comes Matthew and Jesus with a parable about who God is and the value of investing.

A master goes away, leaves funds to be managed, and returns to find one steward has not been a steward at all but has buried the masters treasure.  The scene is ugly but the message is clear: risking for the kingdom of God and being prepared for the masters return is a task to be embarked upon at this very moment.

In this passage Jesus is teaching about the end times. Are we waiting for the Kingdom of God? If so when is it coming.  Jesus' intent appears to be to say the Kingdom of God is now.  Yes there will come  a time of judgement but now is the our of work.

The goal is to be clear that those who follow Jesus are to see life as the place in which they are to be tillers in the garden, soil tenders for God, and harvesters.  Those who recognize their value in God and choose the Way of Jesus are choosing to work now and not to wait.

According to scholars Allison and Davies there could be many reasons for the importance of the story for Matthew's community. Perhaps because rabbis at the time taught people to insure confession just before their death, or maybe it is important because there is some waning enthusiasm in the community as years pass between Jesus' ascension and his return.  We do not know.

If we take this whole section of teaching between 24:36 and 25:30 there is a stark contrast that emerges between the work of every day life and the end time.  We have people feasting, and marrying, we have people working and serving.  It is contrasted with images of fire and earthquakes, famine and disaster. (Allison & Davies, Matthew, 412)

N. T. Wright (author and theologian) in his innaugural address recently at St. Mary's College wrote this:

It was, as Acts 17 (already quoted) indicates, the royal announcement, right under Caesar’s nose, that there was ‘another king, namely Jesus’. And Paul believed that this royal announcement, like that of Caesar, was not a take-it-or-leave-it affair. It was a powerful summons through which the living God worked by his Spirit in hearts and minds, to transform human character and motivation, producing the tell-tale signs of faith, hope and love which Paul regarded as the biblically prophesied marks of God’s true people.[1]
N. T. Wright's lecture has been sticking with me recently and as I think of it and in connection with the every day life Jesus speaks about in this section I am struck by the importance to Paul, to the early Gospel writers, to the first followers of Jesus, indeed to Jesus himself this notion that our work as creatures of God and followers of Jesus is to be about our master's work; and to do so with a sense of urgency.

When we fear the end and are paralyzed into inaction or conversely when we place the end so far in front of us we need not pay attention to it, we are likely to be burying the possibility of living now in the reign of God - the Kingdom of God.

When however we choose God as our master, and Jesus as our Lord, we bring accountability close at hand and in so doing may in fact be encouraged to risk for the sake of the Gospel.  If we over turn the cry at the pretorium "We have no King but Caesar" and claim instead that Jesus is the ruler of our lives we may indeed begin to (through the power of the Holy Spirit) live out our life in faith, hope, and love.

What greater investment can there be?  What better time to invest than now?

Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11



"These days the idols have major corporate sponsorship and represent powerful vested interests, but from much of Christianity there is little about which they need to be warned. Paul believes Christians should not be so drowsy and drunk, but be asserting the radical new way of faith and love and hope. His world needed it and so does ours."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 23, William Loader, Murdoch University

"Paul's letter to the Thessalonians suggests that as much as faith, love, and hope are observable characteristics of a Christian community, so is encouragement."

Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

Again we return to a conversation with Paul about the end time and when we might expect the coming of the Lord.  Paul is clear - we do not know when.  We might remember Matthew's teaching that we won't know when it will happen. We do not know when the thief will come, when the householder returns, or upon the hour of the bridegroom's arrival.  Paul then says that if we are working our God's purposes in our life and trying to live a goodly and Godly life we will not be surprised but we will always be ready. We may not know but when we are living as followers of God in Christ Jesus then we are always ready for the master's return.

Why is that? Because we know that we are saved by God and not by our own attempts at trying to work the kingdom of God into some kind of economic relationship that always benefits us. No, failure, sin, and brownness are always and everywhere overcome by the grace of God. 

But living a willful and intentionally sinful life isn't good for me - so I respond to God's grace by trying to do my best. Paul encourages me to do my best. Be attentive he says, rest in God, don't get drunk, live a sober and loving life. Have hope he says. And, encourage one another and build each other up - because when we do that we build up the kingdom of God.

How often do we get encouragement mixed up with "helpful criticism" which is never really helpful. There is a significant difference between encouraging us to be the people that God intends and discouraging one another with criticism and being in one another's business. These are two significantly different things. 

We are encouraged by Paul - live hopefully, live lovingly, live faithfully, and live soberly. This should and must be our message to our neighbors too. So we might offer to them: Have hope for God is a forgiving, loving and graceful God who wants to be in relationship with you. You can do nothing to separate you from God. In response to this grace live a life of thanksgiving which is a life of hope, love, and faith. Let us do that together. That is a Gospel worth extending into the world around us.


Some Thoughts on Judges 4:1-7

"One of the slogans floating about our churches these days is 'God's work, our hands.' These stories remind us that those hands carrying out the work of a mighty and merciful God are women's hands, too." Commentary, Judges 4:1-7, James Limburg, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The gospel lesson for today is the parable of the talents, in Matthew, where Jesus warns against burying a gift that God has given. Deborah is an example of someone who seems to put her gifts to work in surprising, creative, and inspiring ways." Commentary, Judges 4:1-7, Sara Koenig, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

Deborah clearly speaks for God, as is indicated by the direct quote in verses 6-7. She is one of the seven great female prophets of Israel, and one of the great 23 women of Israel. Her words on living a life worthy of the blessed community of shalom would influence Torah scholars even to this day. She is seen as a model of faithfulness and part of her influence is upon her call to worship regularly. (Tamar Kadari at https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/deborah-2-midrash-and-aggadah) Like other great prophets before her (including Moses) one midrashic tradition (probably written by men!) says she was guilty of the sin of pride and her gifts were removed from her. (Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [ed. Eisenstein], 474).

Deborah was a gift to Israel who God had not saved but allowed them into the hands of Sisera because of their worship of idols. The story is also entwined with the story of Ruth and the famine. (See Jud. 4:3; The Tanhuma [ed. Buber], Behar 7; and Ruth Rbbah 1:1; from Kadari article sited above.)

The Jewish tradition is that Deborah sat under a Palm tree and taught the Torah. She is responsible for uniting Israel in faith and turning them from idols through her teaching. (see Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, Chap. 10, 50; Kadari.)

Our passage reveals the story in pretty blunt terms unlike the poetry of chapter 5. Note that the working of God comes through Deborah, Barak, and Jael. It takes a group to deliver God’s people out of their trial.

What stands out is how Deborah, the main character, puts her gifts to work. Sara Koenig writes, “Deborah is the only female judge, and she is also a prophet. She hears and speaks for God…Deborah is an example of someone who seems to put her gifts to work in surprising, creative, and inspiring ways.”(from Preaching This Week, see above link)

Deborah as a woman stands out as part of the community of leadership. She shares in an equal way as men in her time. With others she gives shape to life with God. She is a guardian of Israel’s highest values and offers them over and against corrupt living oriented around idols.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of this type of leadership writes:
“The essential lesson of the Torah is that leadership can never be confined to one class or role. It must always be distributed and divided. In ancient Israel, kings dealt with power, priests with holiness, and prophets with the integrity and faithfulness of society as a whole. In Judaism, leadership is less a function than a field of tensions between different roles, each with its own perspective and voice…Leadership in Judaism is counterpoint, a musical form defined as ‘the technique of combining two or more melodic lines in such a way that they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality.’ It is this internal complexity that gives Jewish leadership its vigour, saving it from entropy, the loss of energy over time.”
The Song of Deborah is one of ten songs: the song of Israel in Egypt, the Song at the Sea, the song at the well, the song of Moses, the song of Joshua, the Song of Deborah, the Song of David, the Song of Solomon, the song of Jehoshaphat, and a new song for the future (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Masekhta de-Shirah, Beshalah 1. This list varies in different sources; see J. L. Kugel, “Is There But One Song,” Biblica 63 [1982], 329–350).

I will leave you with Frederick Buechner’s take, which I find a bit cheeky. It is worth a read thou and reminds of both the power of Deborah’s witness and the reality that God calls real people…

"It is a wonderful song, full of blood and thunder with a lot of hair-raisingly bitter jibes at the end of it about how Sisera's old mother sits waiting at the window for her son to come home, not knowing that Jael has already made mincemeat of him. Deborah composed it, but she got Barak to sing it with her. Barak looked like Moshe Dayan, and it must have been quite a duet. The song brushes by Barak's role rather hastily, but it describes Jael's in lavish detail and must have gotten her all the glory a girl could possibly want. Yahweh himself gets a plug at the end"So perish all thine enemies, O Lord!" (Judges 5:31)but by and large the real hero of Deborah's song is herself. 
Everything was going to pot, the lyrics say, "until you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel" (5:7), and you can't help feeling that Deborah's basic message was that Mother was the one who really saved the day. And of course, with Yahweh's help, she was.
It's hard not to bridle a little at the idea of her standing under the palm tree belting out her own praises like that, but after all, she had a country to run and a war to fight, and she knew that without good press she was licked from the start. Besides maybe the more self-congratulatory parts of her song were the ones that she assigned to Barak. (Frederick Buechner, originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2016/11/6/deborah?rq=deborah)

[1] The Right Reverend Professor N. T. Wright ‘Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity’ St Mary’s College October 26 2011.


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