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, 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.



      Monday, October 27, 2014

      All Saints A November 1


      Most Churches will Move ALL Saints Observance to Sunday


      Quotes That Make Me Think for All Saints

      "What would it mean if we honored those whom God honors? What would happen if we stopped playing all of our culture's games for status and power and privilege? What would it cost us if we lived more deeply into justice, and mercy, and humility?"

      Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Epiphany 4, 2005. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.


      Jesus saved for last the ones who side with heaven even when any fool can see it's the losing side and all you get for your pains is pain. Looking into the faces of his listeners, he speaks to them directly for the first time. "Blessed are you," he says.

      You can see them looking back at him. They're not what you'd call a high-class crowd—peasants and fisherfolk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn't look as if there's a hero among them. They have their jaws set. Their brows are furrowed with concentration.

      "Beatitudes," Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words.


      General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

      Prayer

      Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

      Great is the multitude, God of all holiness, countless the throng you have assembled from the rich diversity of all earth's children.  With your church in glory, your church in this generation lifts up our hands in prayer, our hearts in thanksgiving and praise.  Pattern our lives on the blessedness Jesus taught, and gather us with all the saints into your kigndom's harvest, that we may stand with them and, clothed in glory, join our voices to their hymn of thanksgiving and praise.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and riegns 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

      Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

      Resources for Sunday's Gospel

      This week most congregations will be celebrating All Saint's Day.  Yet, as we we do so we attempt to weave a major Feast of the Church into the Scripture from Matthew.

      I want to step back and take a look at Matthew first; then see how we might allow the scripture to speak to our Feast.

      As we look at Jesus’ ministry, it is important to see that there is a framework at work in Matthew.
      In the first chapters of the Gospel of Matthew we see that the individuals who come in contact with Jesus do not have to do anything, Jesus is not teaching about discipleship, he is not charging them to reform the religion of the time -- he is simply giving of himself.

      Jesus is intentionally offering himself to those around him. The people in the first chapters of Matthew and in the Sermon on the Mount receive Jesus; this is the primary interaction taking place between those following and the Messiah himself.

      Jesus is giving of himself to others.

      The Sermon On the Mount begins in Chapter 4.25 and the introduction runs through 5.1. We are given the scenery, which is the mountain beyond the Jordan (previous verse). This continues to develop an Exodus typology which is the foundation of Matthew’s interpretive themes in these early chapters. It follows clearly when one thinks of the passages leading up to this moment: the flight from Egypt, baptism and now the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew’s Gospel the first five chapters parallel the Exodus story. So, Jesus now arrives at the mountain where the law was given.

      The structure of the following verses are beautiful and I offer them here so you can see how they play themselves out in a literary fashion (5.3-5.10).
      5.3 Inclusive Voice: Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

      5.10 Inclusive Voice: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven

      5.4 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be comforted

      5.9 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be called sons of God

      5.5 Future Active Voice with Object: They shall inherit the earth

      5.8 Future Middle Voice with Object: They shall see God

      5.6 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be satisfied

      5.7 Divine Passive Voice: They shall have mercy
      Matthew uses these formulas and structures throughout the Gospel.
      Scholars tell us that the classical Greek translation illustrates the pains that Matthew took as he rewrote Luke’s and Q’s Beatitudes to create the parallels we see. Matthew also writes so carefully that when he is finished, there are exactly 36 words in each section of the Beatitudes (5.3-5.6 and 5.7-510). This combined with the parallels highlight the two sections that must have been meaningful to the church at Antioch (comprised of those who have fled persecution).
      5.3ff describes the persecuted state of the followers of Jesus

      5.7ff describes the ethical qualities of the followers of Jesus that will lead to persecution

      This view is taken from the work of Allison and Davies in their hallmark text on Matthew's Gospel, volume 1.

      It is easy to see here in the Beatitudes offered by Jesus that these words are blessings, not requirements. The teachings therefore are words of grace.

      In the initial teachings of Jesus’ ministry, healing comes before imperative statements, here Jesus preaches that grace comes before requirements and commandments. This is a perennial Christian teaching: one must receive first before service.

      The difficulties required of followers of Jesus presuppose God’s mercy and prior saving activity.

      The Beatitudes are clear that the kingdom of God brings comfort, a permanent inheritance, true satisfaction and mercy, a vision of God and divine son-ship. This may be Matthew’s most important foundation stone within the salvation story. We are given, through grace, our freedom to follow.

      We are like the Israelites and sons and daughters of Abraham, delivered so we may follow and work on behalf of God.

      The Beatitudes also are prophetic as in the passage from Isaiah 61.1. Jesus is clearly the anointed one. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah, bringing Good News to those in need. Furthermore, the words of Jesus are the result of the prophecy and so they set him apart from all other teachers.

      The beatitudes then are also words which not only promise Grace to the follower, they fulfill the prophetic words of the old message from Isaiah: Jesus was meek (11.29; 21.5), Jesus mourned (26.36-46), Jesus was righteous and fulfilled all righteousness (3.15; 27.4, 19), Jesus showed mercy (9.27; 15.22; 17.15; 20.30-1), Jesus was persecuted and reproached (26-7). The beatitudes are illustrated and brought to life in Jesus’ ministry, they are signs that he stands in a long line of prophets offering comfort to God’s people, and he is also clearly the suffering servant who epitomizes the beatitudes themselves. Origen wrote that Jesus is offering this grace he fulfills and embodies his own words and thereby becomes the model to be imitated.

      The Beatitudes are words of proclamation. Are we in a place where we can articulate Jesus’ story and life as a fulfillment of God’s promises to his people? God's promise to me personally?

      The Beatitudes are words of mercy. Are we in a place where we can hear Jesus’ words for us? Have we allowed ourselves to be saved before we begin to work on Jesus’ behalf?

      The Beatitudes are words of care for the poor. Are we in a place where we can hear Jesus’ special concern for those who are oppressed in the system of life? Are we ready to follow him into the world to deliver his people imitating the work of Moses and Jesus?

      As we reflect then on the Feast of All Saints it is more clear how this passage might speak to the church. We understand the saints of the past (holy and common) and the saints of today, along with the saints of tomorrow to be those who in their lives offer us a vision of this grace, mercy, and vision for God's special friends - the poor.  Who are the ones we look up to from the past?  Who are the one's in our life today?

      Can we see the potential of saints yet unknown to us already out int he world working and serving? Can we be open to the next saint who is yet to cross our path and offer us a vision of the kingdom of God?

      Excerpt from Holy Women Holy Men

      In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.

      Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day—as a sort of extension of All Saints—on which the Church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church. It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends.

      Though the observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with Masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.  (page 664)


      "It may be significant that this text is full of indicative verbs, not imperative."
      Commentary, 1 John 3:1-7, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

      "The church's integrity wells up from, and is channeled by, God's calling (3:1b; 3:3). To be a saint is to live in the same love by which God has loved us (3:16-18; 4:7-12)."
      Commentary, 1 John 3:1-3 (All Saints A), C. Clifton Black, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

      "We get Christian hope confused when we think that our hope is based on now nice we are, or how well we behave, or on some hidden piece of us called 'the soul' that will survive through death and destruction."
      Commentary, 1 John 3:1-7, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

      In this letter from the Johannine community we understand that they take seriously their familial ties with God. they are the followers of God and are to be called the "children of God”. God loves them and Christ as Savior of the world has unleashed that love and it now claims them. They are God's children.  

      New Testament scholar David Bartlet writes:
      ...John's Gospel points to a future hope. Sometimes that is a kind of individual future hope: "In my Father's house are many dwelling places... I will come and take you to myself" (John 14:2-3). At other times, there seems to be hope more like what we find in 1 Thessalonians, i.e., hope for a general resurrection at the end of time. "Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).

      The author reminds the readers that Jesus was not listened to in his own lifetime and so it is unlikely that his children will be listed to... nevertheless, they are his children now and in the future. There is an understanding that what they experience now is only in part what they will experience once they are unified with God in his kingdom.  They do not know what that will be like but as his children they have a sure and certain hope.

      So, the author tells the reader, live a virtuous life.  Live an ethical life.  Be like God - good and pure.  Now what is important here is that we are not simply talking about a set of words that we interpret through our own lens. We must, we must, understand that for John and his readers in the community to be good and pure is to be like God who loves.  We are to love. Love love love love - Christians this is your call...as the old song goes.  I like how Loader (one of my faves) says it:
      It is not about how many morality boxes we can tick to qualify ourselves as righteous or as a child of God. It is about whether love flows. Here, too, it is not about how many acts of love we summon up our energies to perform - ticking the goodness boxes, but how much we open ourselves to receive the love which God gives, which in turn flows through us to others. Love gives birth to love. Later the writer will speak of our loving because we were first of all loved by God (4:19). The author might say today: no amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for anything if it is not connected to a real change that is relational. It may be cosmetic goodness and religion, but without that love it is nothing much. Paul made much the same point in 1 Corinthians 13.
      We are saints and children of God because God makes us so...we are loved. We are the be-loved of God.  And our response to this be-lovedness is to in turn love others.  This is the chief if not the primary work.  How we doing with that I wonder? I wonder how God thinks we are doing with that?

      I think rather than pointing a finger at our people and telling them to love more. Giving them new boxes to check and new tasks to fulfill...perhaps we might simply begin by loving them and by telling them that they are loved. Tell them you love them. Tell them they are loved. By all means, please, tell them God loves them. 



      Proper 26A/Ordinary 31A/Pentecost +21 November 2, 2014

      Quotes That Make Me Think


      "To what extent their positions were shaped by the social and economic status of their members, and to what extent those positions stem from particular readings of Torah, we can never know for certain. Suffice it to say that we heirs of Matthew's community soon adopted the culturally more comfortable view that this text is opposing."

      Commentary, Matthew 23:1-12, Sharon H. Ringe, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

      "The bottom line for Paul, as for Jesus, is that none of us should be treated a certain way in Christian community because of blood ties. ALL of our relationships are defined first, last, and always by our relationship as children of one God."

      Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 26. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

      General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

      Prayer
      Reveal to us the beauty of your image in each of our brothers and sisters, so that, respecting every person as our equal in your sight, we may show not only in words but in deeds that we are disciples of one Master, Jesus Christ, your Son. 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 23:1-12

      Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

      Resources for Sunday's Gospel

      We continue our "dialogue" with the religious authorities of Jesus' day in this passage.  I pause here again to warn the preacher to be careful to remember our Abrahamic family and our healthy relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Words can easily be used to create a division between us and can even more easily lead to continued hatred.  Furthermore, historically we need to recognize that while Jesus is speaking to these groups; these groups really are the leaders and religious authorities of Matthew's time - some 40 years later.  

      Leaning into the text we tease out Jesus' important teaching.  Honoring the role of the religious teacher he tells the people to clearly hear the words and teachings about God.  One can imagine these teaching are about the importance of life lived in God and how the body itself, animated by the soul, is for encountering God as is all of domestic life.  Teachings that would have been normative in the tradition of the day.  That being said though Jesus then offers a very clear distinction between listening and acting.  

      A rule for Christian community is being laid out before us; so don't get hung up on the foil of leadership being used.  The message is clearly for us.  The message is for those who hear Jesus' teaching. The message is for those who wish to follow Jesus and live in a community of disciples. 

      Disciples of Jesus are to listen and follow the Gospel imperatives.  We are not to be a people who are more interested in getting others to follow while we remain hypocrites of our own teaching.  You can spend a lot of time getting it right and telling others how to get it right - and still miss the piece that is of the utmost importance to God - love. It is this very real piece that seems to me to be essential to Matthew as it is certainly repeated in different ways throughout the Gospel.  Transformation begins with the individual in relationship to God in Christ and it is the transformed life lived (not hypocritically avoided) that is the most powerful witness to the Gospel -the Good News of Jesus.
      4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
      We cannot read this passage without understanding that we are to be transformed by our relationship with God. Our bodily, physical, spiritual, soulful encounter with God. That we are to have as intimate a relationship with God as Jesus did; who called him Father.  That we are to have only one teacher and that is the Messiah - Jesus Christ. And, we are to act out his teaching. We are in the words of C.S. Lewis to become little Christ's in the world - so intimately tied are we to the Godhead. Our wills and our lives are to be shaped and informed by our relationship with God in Christ.

      In Lauren F. Winner's book Mudhouse Sabbath she talks about the ancient sabbath rule that a blind man is not to light a candle on the sabbath.  One wonders, she muses, why a blind man would need to light a candle.  She then goes on to relate a story about a rabbi who walking down the street in the evening comes upon a blind man making his way with a torch through the night. He stops and asks him why he is doing this (with the assumption perhaps we all make which is he needs no light).  The blind man says, it is so that others will see me.

      It is funny how what you are reading engages a conversation in your heart and mind with the scripture for the week. As I read that I thought of this Sunday's passage and the reality that the light of Christ so burns inside of us that when we are attentive to our own transformation; when we polish the lens of our own spiritually disciplined life the light of God shines more brightly about us.  

      Chris Webb of Renovare reminded us recently at clergy conference that outreach and service always flows out of our relationship with God and it's health and vitality.  So too does Jesus caution. It will not be the phylacteries and fringes we wear, it will not be where we sit, or our titles of ministry that will reveal the Son of Man to the world. Rather it will be our deep relationship to him which in turn creates in us a servants heart enacting Christ's work in the world around us.

      What a brightly burning torch would burn should our episcopal church family take up the challenge for renewed relationship with Jesus.  

      Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 2:9-20


      Paul continues from where he left off in our last reading last week. He is defending his manner of planting the church and he is telling those who read the letter that they must work as hard as he did.  They must give equal time to the work that they do to make a living and the work they do in proclaiming the Gospel.  Like Paul, he urges them to spend time tent making and then time on the proclamation of the Good News.

      He encourages them to walk in the ways of Christ. To be nourished and to nourish others.

      Then he reminds them that it was not hard work that saw the seeds of the Christian community grow it was the Spirit.  Paul says to them do not think that by shear hard work and labor you will bring in the kingdom and grow your community. Instead known and remember that it is the good news rooted in you from God and he authority God places in you that is even now doing the work.

      I am struck at how often we think and feel like we are the ones doing the work. Don't get me wrong I work hard. You work hard.  What I am saying though is that when we work as hard as we do it can easily begin to feel as though we are the ones doing all the work, we are the ones who deserve the credit, we are the ones who need to be recognized. I think this short passage reminds us that there is more here than our efforts alone. God is working his purposes out in us and in others. There is in fact a whole lot going on that is God's work and God's spirit.

      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?