Finding the Lessons

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

You will want to 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.

You also can simply search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous posts.

Enjoy.

Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Advent 1B November 30, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent is certainly not anticipated and most likely not welcome."

Commentary, Mark 13:24-37, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"So remember how you answered that question about what you would do if the world were to end tomorrow? Well, guess what? You don't need to wait. You can do those things now!"

"If the World Were to End," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

Through all generations, O God, your faithfulness endures, and your fidelity to the covenant can never fail. Since you are the potter and we are the work of your hands, remember us and strengthen us to the end by your grace; that with a love beyond reproach, we may faithfully keep watch for the glorious coming of our Redeemer, and be found blameless on the day of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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


Some Thoughts on Mark 13:24-37

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


The lesson for this Sunday describes the coming of the Son of Man. In Mark's Gospel this is a prophetic vision of the apocalyptic judgement. It is a passage filled with first century understandings about the end time and it places Mark firmly in the tradition of apocalyptic writers.

I remember teaching my first adult forum class at my field work site. The class was on the Nicene Creed. When we got to the part about judgement I was asked by a leader in the congregation if I believed that Christ was going to come back and judge the world. It was a question that caught me off guard as I had never really thought of it in that pronounced a fashion. Did I believe this to be true? Will our Lord, Jesus Christ, come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will his kingdom have no end.?

The man's point was that he didn't believe it and he didn't think most people believed it. There it was in the middle of my Sunday morning class - a non-believer, confronting all of us in the room with the very words we say every Sunday but don't think about and he was certain we didn't believe.

Let me tell you first that I have hope. My normal human mind begins to dance this way and that and I think honestly that first (if I am honest) I don't want a judgement. Second, if I am wrong, then I want for the judgement to have already occurred and having been found guilty have now had the price of my guilt paid for by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Thirdly, just for safety, I want to believe that Jesus' Christ's mission is already complete. (For the theologians among the crowd we do well to remember the Brunner and Barth debate on this issue as a perfect example of the divide and impasse of the varying views on this topic.) Yes, that is what I hope, that is what my human mind wants to believe. That is indeed what my heart longs for: Jesus to be ultimately and perfectly victorious and to save the whole world.

And, having said that I want to believe in the great capacity of goodness in all human beings to live in that grace and give freely of themselves for the work of the kingdom of God and of his righteousness.

Having said all of that, some interesting things begin to happen in terms of our lives with God and our lives with one another.

Over the years as I have reflected about his passage and others like it. I think something interesting seems to slip away as we deal with it - or don't as the case may be. Sure we all want this great salvation to be true. And, being the humans that we are, we then let ourselves off the hook. Yep! That's right. What happens is that we let ourselves off the hook because the mission is successful, there is no urgency to act, and after all what does it really matter?

In Mark's Gospel, and in point of fact, in all of the Gospels - it matters. It matters a whole lot. Over time the emerging church of the first century had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus did not return as quickly as they thought - but they believed that evangelism, virtuous citizenship, mission, and service to others was essential. We can even see the change in Paul's own letters preserved in our New Testament. Paul wrestled with the time it was taking for the second coming. Even still, Paul inspired and encouraged people because it mattered how people treated one another and what they did or did not do. Even the Gospels written in the later part of the first and early part of the second centuries have a different tone regarding the urgency - but Matthew's Gospel which is focused on this emerging church of the centuries offers a vision of a community that is waiting but where it matters.

Over the years there have been blossoming apocalyptic movements. Some have even birthed churches. Still others have ended in disaster. Probably all of them have created a general public sense that thinking apocalyptically is silly at its most innocent and dangerous if taken to its natural conclusion.

Dismissal seems to let us off the hook somehow.
Over the years I have come to understand that I think it really does matter to God how we live our life on this earth. I think it really does matter how we treat one another. I do think that to the God we believe in it matters how the poor are cared for and it matters how we take care of the earth we have some measure of control over. I think it matters to God. Moreover, based upon our current global societal troubles (the economic turbulence of recent years, the great divide between the rich and the poor, the lack of good education, the comoditization of a person's health leaving millions without care, and the destruction of the housing market where in others make money off of what is one of the most important human needs - shelter) we should all be concerned.

Regardless of if you or I will live out our whole lives and pass into the arms of Abraham (God willing) before the end time, or we together only have a few moments left on this earth, we are measured by how we treat and take care of others. This is and continues to be one of the central themes of scripture.

Those who go without have an urgent need today and our actions matter to them as well.

In the immortal words of Bishop John Hines (IV Texas, and TEC Presiding Bishop) "the Kingdom of Heaven is for all people." Some of those people are still waiting for the Good News and transformed lives and God is waiting for us to do something about it.

In this season of Advent, I hope you won't excuse Jesus' message in Mark's Gospel. I hope you won't pretend like it doesn't matter or that it isn't urgent. I hope you won't dismiss the judgement. Rather, I hope you will challenge your people to think about: well how is their report card with God going? If God came back today what would he say to them? You might invite them to think about the Advent Conspiracy and how we might change how we do things in our lives, beginning with today and this season.

I hope you will challenge them to see if they have lost a sense of urgent work on the part of God in Christ Jesus and his Gospel. I hope you will inspire them to see that God is hoping in us and that we are being judged by our actions. And, by the way the people of this world are also judging us by our actions.

I can say today, "I believe." I have come to believe the words I speak and I pray: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom have no end. Let me work to the end of days on behalf of God and on behalf of his kingdom and his special friends the poor and those in need. Let me hope eternally for grace enough for me a sinner of his flock. And, finally let my work in word and action see no rest; after all, who knows when the master of the house will return?

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 1:1-9

"It is perhaps not surprising that Paul, as he addresses the church in Corinth, speaks of the gift given, God's grace shared, as "speech and knowledge of every kind" and wealth (i.e., being enriched in Christ Jesus)."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Private faith of a personal future is more comforting and marketable, but has little to do with the hope Jesus came to bring and doesn't really spell good news for the poor except in another life."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 2,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.



In this passage we have a typical Greek greeting and form for a letter. Paul emphasizes his call to ministry and his apostleship and addresses the letter to the community at Corinth. 

He reminds them that they are to be at work in the world, as saints, on behalf of Jesus Christ. He also reminds them that they are unified beyond Corinth with other followers of Christ Jesus. 

He blesses them with grace and peace. And he gives thanks for their ministry on God's behalf. He reminds them, finally, that God has given them the gifts needed for this ministry. They are lacking in nothing spiritually to undertake the work of God in Corinth and within their community. 

So what is this all for? Certainly we know that Paul is writing because their is conflict. Here though is something more than just a letter about bringing peace out of division. Paul tells them that they have these gifts and that the purpose of the gifts is this "fellowship of his Son." Fellowship here could also mean companionship of Christ according to scholar Joseph Fitzmayer (First Corinthians, Anchor Yale Bible, 2008, 134). Paul is referring to the community quality of unity around the Lord's table - koinonia. (Ibid) Paul is in some way reminding them that they are, the people of Corinth, united by Christ for the purpose of salvation and the kingdom. (Ibid) 

Fitzmayer points out this is particularly Pauline - the idea that Christ is the unifying agent and Christianity is the living companionship with Christ. It is also, as we will see as we read his letter, a companionship of peace and unity at the table to be brought about by his followers one to another. 

In other words, those who follow Jesus are to be united. This is a very real icon of their unity in Christ. If they are not one in companionship with one another - then this reveals that they are not one in Christ. For Paul, our inability to be together, work collaboratively, work peacefully, and be united is not a revelation about us but a revelation about our individual dependence upon the koinonia created by Jesus Christ on his cross. 

I would go a step forward to say that the way we frame the relationship between God and the world attempts to sever the unity of this koinonia - meaning:

  • that companionship and fellowship with God yes 
  • companionship and fellowship with one another maybe if you agree with me 
  • and companionship and fellowship with the world - no
We so separate the world so that we are not accountable to these values and way of being. We separate our own life within Christian community so as not to be accountable with the companionship and fellowship of Christ. This particular predicament would have been completely foreign to Paul and his theology.

Paul sees the world as one cosmos - united by God as creator and Christ as the bringer of salvation and reconciliation of the world with God. So there is no disunity - but only unity. God is unified with his creatures and his creation. The whole world is re-united - united - with God. We are to be a goodly and Godly community. Paul imagines a seamless unity between God and the individual, the individual follower of Christ and the other followers of Christ, and the followers of Christ and the people of the world - our neighbors. So it is that we offer a witness of a church community unified by God's reconciling love and at work in the world building a unified peaceable kingdom for all people. 

As William Loader reminds us - 
"Even 1:8 which focuses on the day of the Lord most likely contains some hint of another problem to be faced: some Corinthians were denying a future resurrection. Their understanding of the future was so much bound up with the notions of eternal souls, it seems, that they saw no need for anything beyond the salvation of individual souls. Who needs embodiedness? Who needs a community? Who needs a day of the Lord, which would establish a kingdom of justice and peace? Isn't it enough to know that my soul will go to heaven? Here in 1:8 and in 1:9 Paul celebrates the future with Christ and the future in community (koinonia).
Some Corinthians had difficulties with such images of the future and any literal interpretation is likely to meet similar hesitations today, not without ground, but Paul's logic is driven by an understanding that salvation has to mean something bigger than the individual. Many Christians still have difficulty making it to this level of understanding. It opens up too many questions about the social and political implications of the gospel. Private faith of a personal future is more comforting and marketable, but has little to do with the hope Jesus came to bring and doesn't really spell good news for the poor except in another life."

God's companionship, fellowship, and koinonia is about a unity of purpose and calling where all our gifts, given by God, are put use in transforming the world and lives of those around us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christ the King/Reign of Christ A November 23, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"In church on Sunday, or at the cricket, we will be a motley bunch. There’ll be folk like my grandma
who always worried, a little bit, that grandpa might not make it into heaven. And some of us will worry that perhaps we will not be among the sheep."


"Love Changes Everything," Andrew Prior, First Impressions, 2011.


So, like Paul and Dylan, my leaning these days is to refrain from reading violent kings or masters in parables as referring to God. My bias is to associate the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven with that which is rejected, persecuted, killed, banished, tortured ... as Jesus was.

Exegeting Matthew 25, Brian D. McLaren.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
How wonderful a king, Lord God, you have given us in Jesus your Son: neither a monarch throned in splendor nor a warrior bent on revenge, but a shepherd who seeks and rescues the flock, bringing them back, binding them up, strengthening them and feeding them with justice.  Prepare us for the day of Christ's coming glory by shaping our lives according to his teaching that what we have done for the least of his brothers and sister we have done for him, the Christ who was, who is, and who is to come, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:31-46

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday of the Christian Year; it is the Sunday before Advent 1.  We have been reading from Matthew's Gospel and we are about to segue into Mark's for the second of our three year reading cycle called the Lectionary.

So in this last passage for the year we have an image of Christ as King, at the end time we have a great judgement going on and a division of the sheep and the goats. I love the quote above because of the incredible anxiety and weird things this passage does to us as Christians.

Andrew Prior is right.  There will be a great number of people in Church this Sunday discomforted by this passage.  And the few that are comfortable probably shouldn't be.  Let's be honest: we do worry about getting into heaven and it is typically such a disquieting notion that we don't pay any attention to it at all and so dismiss all accountability for our actions. Or we lord this over others. We say things like we must save all those goats. Or, we should do mission and just let God do the sorting out.  We worry about parents and family members and ourselves. we have lists of things we have done that are bad and really bad. All in all I think we read this passage and we miss the whole point.

Do I think there is going to be a judgement? Yes, I say so every week in the creed and I believe it. I sure hope the meager life of service and a full measure of God's grace and love will help me make the cut.  But that is not what this text is really saying to me and to us as a church. At least I don't think it is. I don't think God wants us to worry about that stuff; the end times and what will happen when we die. We all die and it will eventually happen and we hope that when it happens we may pass from life to everlasting life. That is our hope and upon such hope to I have faith.

But I think the purpose of the passages which urge vigilance and seek to encourage action on our part have three basic points to offer us as Christians trying to live a Christian life, as Episcopalians trying to live out that particularly difficult baptismal covenant that we are continuously promising to keep.

First, I think the intention of Jesus' ministry has been to tell people that God does love them and God cares for them. God cares so much that he wants to gather them in and that God wants for us to be one unified family.  I think as part of that message Jesus also conveys in his teaching the reality that God cares what we do and how we treat one another.

In a society where most people believe in God, believe God is distant (except when they need something), and believes God wants them to be a good person and be happy this is a very difficult passage to read. It says quite the opposite in point of fact. The passage says that God is near, God cares, God hopes we will live a life completely oriented on God and not our happiness, and that God wishes us to act and make the world sustainable for all people.

The second, point that I think this passage is clear about is that God wants us to act now and not wait.  This is a Gospel shift from the inherited Jewish tradition that understood it was good to confess on your death bed assuring your amendment of life.  Rather the Gospel of Jesus seeks amendment of life - this reorientation to God and action on God's behalf daily.  The sense of urgency, the idea the kingdom is now, it isn't just coming, but that we have an opportunity to live in the reign of God today is an ancient Gospel truth.

The last thing point of this passage is that God wishes for us to understand that one of the primary ways we amend life is by serving others who have no value to society but who have value to God.  The poor, the hungry, the naked, and those in prison are of such value to God that in our passage today they are the incarnational (little I) presence of Jesus in the world.

If we are serious about placing God in Jesus Christ at the center or our lives, upon the throne of our hearts, we cannot separate this trifold reality of his reign from our spiritual pilgrimage on this earth.  The king of our spiritual life cares how his subjects treat one another.  The king expects actions to be taken on his behalf now and in this world; the kingdom is not about what happens to us when we die.  And, the king himself is incarnationally present in pauper's robes, with a hungry outstretched hand,  and with legs shackled.

We live out our life towards our passing and towards the final judgment by making God first, and making neighbor second.


This notion is not simply a discipleship rule but it is the rule that Jesus lives out in his own life. Remembering the model for Christian fellowship, mission, and discipleship in Matthew's Gospel is a reflection of Jesus own life we cannot help but hear the last words of this Sunday's Gospel as fulfillment of Jesus' own princely rule lived out in this world. He will love God whom he calls Father to the very end, he will love us (event forgiving us from the cross) and he will love us as neighbors and friends.  In the end Jesus himself comes to us and gives us his very self, sacrificially, for his fellow men; though we be bound by the shackles of sin, have the outstretched hand for grace, and a heart clothed in the robes of earthly pretenders to the throne. Goats we are, in Jesus sheep we become.

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:11-23


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"What meaning is communicated by the language of prayer not otherwise made available?"

Commentary, Ephesians 1:15-23 (Christ the King A), Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"...what happened with Christ was the beginning of something which reaches out and encompasses others and brings together into a network of people who share the same source of energy."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Christ the King, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Paul offers in this passage a vision of a Godly community that is unified by God in Jesus Christ and unified beyond the worldly religious divisions of his day. Christianity was to become a new thing as it embraced both the Gentile and Jewish traditions. 

He holds up as an example of this work the mission of the Church at Ephesus. In correspondence that we do not see we can imagine that they have shared the success in bringing together many around a unifying faith linked by fraternal love.

In this mission work, in this unified relational community, God is doing something. God is revealing ultimately God's love for all people. God is, through their interactions, moving and making known his true purposes. They will continue to grow in hope and in spiritual depth as they grow together in community beyond their differences. What is happening is that God's love for all humanity is being born out of their common life together. They are becoming more and more aware of the reality that God is creator of all and maker of all.

As they come into this new community, as they struggle and make their way together, they indeed experience and may see and speak to the reality that God is making all things new. The reconciling work of God is in their midst and is in fact bringing not only differing groups together but is bringing them together as a sign of the bringing together of all creation into God.

Often times I think that we settle for simple reconciliation which is life lived in the protection of like minded clusters. This is not Paul's experience of God or God's work in the world. It is not the experience of the Ephesians. It is in fact the very nature of God to reconcile to himself that which is utterly different. So too we find our mission and ministry to be reconciled across our differences as a very real incarnation of God's reconciling act.




Monday, November 10, 2014

Proper 28A/Ordinary 33A/Pentecost +23 November 16, 2014

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?



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

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.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

November 9, 2014: Proper 27 Ordinary 22 Pentecost +22

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Our discomfort with the parable of the virgins likely arises from self-awareness. Most of us know ourselves as wise in some contexts and foolish in others."

Commentary, Matthew 25:1-13, Greg Carey, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.
    "...focus on the core issue of waiting and admit, quite frankly, that the kind of waiting Matthew is encouraging through this parable is hard. Waiting for something way over due, waiting for something you're not sure will even come, waiting that involves active preparation when you're not even sure what you should be preparing for. That kind of waiting is challenging."

    "Hope and Help for Foolish Bridesmaids," David Lose, ...in the meantime, 2014.


      General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

      Prayer

      Lord, give me grace to take my task from you seriously. Let me prepare so that when the crisis comes, the oil will be there on the day of reckoning. In Jesus I pray. Amen.

      by Stephen M. Crotts


      Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:1-13

      Jesus is teaching in parables about the Kingdom of God. We have just heard about a householder who leaves and the servant is blessed who lives a good, ethical life while left in charge. Jesus is telling his followers that they are to live a good life and a life worthy of the Gospel. They will be blessed upon the master's return. This was an important teaching within the Matthean community because they were trying to understand how they were different from their religious neighbors, and they wanted to understand how they could please God.  The image of the followers of God living a good life as opposed to a wayward life brings differentiation to the community struggling for identity in the first century.

      Carrying on this discussion we enter our passage. It is important to note that the Gospel tells us we do not know when the householder will return. Jesus again offers a parable, an allegory, which tells the Matthean community who they are, whose they are, and what business they are to be about in the mean time.

      In today's passage the master is delayed. Everyone is ready, but some are unprepared. Some have not brought enough provisions to make the long journey into the night. They don't have enough oil. Others do not share. The point seems to be that each is responsible for their own and not for the others. The follower of God is to be concerned with what is expected of us alone and not the other. I am to be prepared - I am not responsible for your preparedness.  I am to live a life which is goodly and seeks holiness. The message in this parable is clear. You need to be ready. You need to work on you and you need to make sure that you can make it through the darkness because when the bridegroom comes the door will be shut.

      Our work is to be prepared and we are to stay awake. We are to be ready for the bridegroom, responsible for ourselves, and watching so that the door does not shut without us.

      My first response is: YIKES! John Stott, the great Anglican theologian wrote, “We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.” So let us wade into this disturbing parable and reflect a bit.

      I am thinking that there are several important images and thoughts bumping around in my mind after working on this. The first is that we are responsible for us. I am responsible for making sure I am living the life that I believe God has called me to lead. I am not responsible for others - that is their work. That is a good boundary to have. Sometimes I think I get caught in trying to police other people's lives because that is easier than policing my own.

      The second thought is that the master is late! The bridegroom is late. I was thinking that from an evangelism stand point we are the body of Christ, we are the bridegroom let loose in the world. We are late. There are people out in the world who are doing well and they have plenty of oil. There are others who are running low. They are both waiting for the bridegroom. They are waiting and expectant. They are waiting on us to bring good news. They are hoping that the door will be open to them. And, I am wondering shall we wait to go, as Christ's body in the world, as the bridegroom? Shall we wait and let their oil run out and the door be shut. Let us not hesitate to bring them good news.

      I understand that the Matthean community was trying to define itself over and against other religious movements. I get the reality of what it means to not worry about others and not be responsible for them. This edge makes this a very difficult parable. It grates against me. I get that we don't need to be in other people's business. This is a good teaching. However, I would like to think that the Christian community today might offer a bit of oil to our neighbors who are running low. We might offer a bit of encouragement to those who are losing hope. I would like to think that the Christian community today would make sure the door is left open as long as possible - even to the last minute.

      But here is the real twist. What if as (many scholars are now offering) the kingdom of heaven is not about the master or the ones with the oil. What if the parable is about those left out in the cold. What if it is about the reality that many other religions and many other traditions will want to offer the vision of the angry punishing God who is for the wealthy and the prepared. What if instead we saw that God's kingdom is actually made up of the people on the outside of the door? I hope that if we are the bridegroom we might hasten to our friends who wait for Good News.

      Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


      Our passage from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians is not unlike the invitation to live a Godly and goodly life as Matthew's Gospel.  The faithful are intended to live a life with God in the future.

      Paul then is confronted with the question: what about those who have died and we see no longer but were faithful and unfortunate enough to have died before Jesus came into the world? Paul says, "Look, don't worry. Don't believe what some say which is that when you die there is nothingness. That is not the way it is."  Paul says that we have a hope. We believe in Jesus who has conquered death and because of this conquering God is able to draw all of those who have already died into his company. The faithful today and the faithful who have died will all find their home in God.

      We might get caught at the end of the passage with Paul's understanding of the world and heaven. But this is a needless concern. What Paul is saying, I believe, is that God will come and connect all things and all worlds. The world of the living and the world of the dead, the world of heaven and the world of earth are all worlds that are connected by the creator of all things. We are connected to God and God to those who have died in a never ending relationship. We believe in God who is love and who brings us all together.

      Amy Peeler, New Testament prof at Wheaton wrote: "Here, at least, Paul does not get into a discussion of what happens to those who are not believers. That is because -- and this is the second assurance -- Paul is writing this in order to encourage his readers. “Therefore, encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18).” Anyone who uses the discussion of the “rapture” to scare people into faith applies eschatology in a way that Paul (and John!) does not. Jesus’ return should be a thing to anticipate and celebrate, not fear if you happen to return home one day and find no one there."

      The Gospel and this lesson from Paul can both spiral into sadness and hopelessness. They both can be used to convict others that behavior is linked to getting into heaven. I believe Paul is clear it is the creator God who connects all things, it is Jesus who does the saving work for all, and it is grace that in the end pours out from the cross and redeems the world reconciling us to God. Our response says Paul is that we are live a hope filled life which reflects our thanksgiving for what God has brought about. So, live with hope and not with fear for yourself. Live with hope and not fear for your neighbors. Live with hope and not fear for those beloved ones of yours who have already died and even now rest with God.