Holy God, as we prepare to present to you our offering and gifts, we can’t help but think of all we have held back. When Jesus told the Pharisees to render to the Emperor what was due the Emperor, and to God what was due God, we know he was speaking to us. We know we have been much more ready to give what is due to the powers of this world, and far more tight-fisted with what is due God: justice, mercy, compassion, and trust. All that we are is due our God, and we offer that now with gratitude for all we have received from your goodness, and with trust in your faithfulness. We pray in the name of Christ our Savior. Amen. (Matthew 22:15-22)
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The tenants were put in charge. They failed their duties. The owner will eliminate them.
The chief priests and Pharisees, hearing this condemnation of those in charge, knew that Jesus was talking about them.
What do we Christians know when we hear this parable? What do we think when we reflect on our own stewardship of the gifts that God has entrusted to our care?
Lectio Divina: Matthew 21:42
Monday, September 29, 2008
Isaiah is trying to get them to think about how much sense the landowner's reaction makes. "Apply this parable to your own lives. God gave you this land and cared for your needs. God expected great things from you. God expected to you to yield justice and righteousness. That's not what you did."
Lectio Divina: Isaiah 5:1-2
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Generations of Hope is a nonprofit adoption agency that has designed a community to resemble a nurturing small town, complete with surrogate grandparents. Created out of a shuttered Air Force base, Generations of Hope seeks to rescue children from foster care and place them with adoptive parents who have moved here. About 30 children currently live with parents in 10 homes. The community is also home to 42 older people who have subsidized rent.
Read more about this amazing experiment in the New York Times, September 16, 2008: For Distant Generations in Illinois, Unrelated but Oh So Close
Paul is not preaching any prosperity gospel. Quite the contrary. He himself had given up privileges due him and had accepted a life of threat and pain and imprisonment.
"Don't be ruled by ambition. Look to the interests of each other."
Paul hadn't done it alone, nor is he expecting the Philippians to "God is at work within you. God will give you the ability both to want to do what is right and also to do it."
(With help from Neil Elliott, Liberating Paul)
any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit,
any compassion and sympathy,
make my joy complete:
be of the same mind,
having the same love,
being in full accord
and of one mind.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
In the September/October 2008 issue of Alive Now, Andrea Woods writes about Mr. Pritchett. Although he doesn't have much education himself, he is one of the best teachers the young folks have. What he says: "I don't care where you go to church on Sunday morning or how you sing your songs. What I care about is what you do with Sunday when Monday rolls around."
They heard him say this, and they saw him live it. He fixed broken windows. He drove sick people to the doctor. When they were unable to take care of something in their daily lives, he would step in to help. He remained even-tempered. He was able to listen to other people's troubles. The Monday man at work was exactly the same as the Sunday man at worship.
Being a Christian inside the church during the worship service is one thing. Being a Christian in the world during the week confirms that thing.
Another thing this parable is about: Who can get into heaven
Jesus attacked the religious leaders by telling them that the tax collectors and prostitutes were going to get into the kingdom of God ahead of them because they believed. It's not just that the leaders are dependent on the good will of Rome, so are the tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus says "ahead of you" not "instead of you." (thanks to Allen & Williamson, Preaching the Gospel for this phrase).
Friday, September 26, 2008
Put yourself into the position of those chief priests and elders. You have an important role in the religious life of your people. You work in the temple, the most important and most visible site of that religion, the place where the people can gain access to God and to God's forgiveness. But, you owe your job security to the secular authority. The Romans are in charge of their empire and you live in a small and weak part of it. To maintain your own security, you have to appease the ones in charge.
Here's what they did way back then. They confronted this problem head on. They asked him to provide his credentials. In response, he turned the tables on them. Because they were insecure, they waffled.
Think about the answer underlying the answer Jesus gave them when they questioned the source of his authority. What is his authority? Who gave him this authority? Do you live as if you agree with what you believe?
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Jeremiah is writing to exiles who understand their present distress is because of the unfaithfulness of their ancestors. Ezekiel is demanding that they focus on their own acts. "You can't use the sins of the past to justify your own sinning."
"Get yourself a new heart." The Lord is going to give them this heart, but they have some responsibility as well. Positive action on their part is required. The Lord is turning to these sinners; the sinners need to turn to the Lord.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
William Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Volume Two, sums it up in this way: "It is then easy for people to ricochet from irresponsibility when they are doing all right to despair when calamity falls on them."
You can probably come up with some contemporary illustrations of this habit of ours.
Ezekiel tells them that the Lord God is canceling out this warning that they have been using as an excuse. "Don't blame your parents for their sins. Stop your own sinning."
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Before, Moses could not believe God. God told him, "Take that staff you're holding in your hand and throw it on the ground." Moses did, and the staff became a snake. "Now pick up that snake," God told him. Moses obeyed, and the snake once again was a staff. "Hold on to that staff," God said, "you're going to need it again" (Exodus 4:1-17).
Moses and the people he is leading will continue to fluctuate between belief and unbelief, between gratitude and despair. And so do we.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Well, they're thirsty, and they aren't relying on the past. "What have you done for us lately, Moses? We were better off before you interfered."
Freedom doesn't mean that everything every minute is going to go our way. Being grateful for something that happened before doesn't inoculate us against fear.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Paul reminds them that God can work through them to accomplish God's intentions. "Any sacrifice I make for you is worth it," Paul says. "I rejoice over you, and you must rejoice with me."
Saturday, September 20, 2008
This is not the only praise psalm, but it is the only one that is designated as such. According to Alter, the set title for the Book of Psalms is Tehilim, the plural form of the word we translate as "praise." They gave this book that name, although the largest number of psalms are lamentations. Of course, almost all the lamentations (88 is an exception) contain elements of praise.
Alter points out that Psalm 145 is the first of the six-psalm series that ends the book. These six are all praise psalms.
Notice how this psalm begins with individual praise, "I will extol you....". But, this praise is not between just God and me: "One generation shall laud your work to another." Further, this praise is not just once in a while: "Every day I will bless you."
Friday, September 19, 2008
Pro Immigration Amnesty
Against Amnesty for Illegal Aliens
Thursday, September 18, 2008
He preached to them. They listened. They believed. They repented. God decided not to destroy them.
Jonah's response was shocked anger. "I knew this would happen. This is the way you have always been. You talk about sin and punishment, but what you do is forgive. Why did I have to go to all this trouble, this trip, this preaching? I give up."
He sat down under a bush, waiting to see what God really was going to do.
We can find ourselves in this story. We can see times that we have been Nineveh. Times that we can say we didn't know better and times when someone had instructed us forcefully enough that we lost the defense of ignorance. Times when we did repent for our past doings.
We can see times that we have been Jonah. God wanted us to do something, and we really didn't want to bother. Times when we have done what we thought God wanted and then we weren't satisfied with the results.
How hard is it for us to accept that someone else's sins can be forgiven?
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Put yourself in the place of the latecomers. When have you gotten more than you had earned? What was your reaction? Why was Jesus silent on their reaction?
Put yourself in the place of the landowner. How should you pay your workers? Who has worked for you? Did you always reward them according to what they deserved to get? Have you ever been generous beyond what equity would call for? If so, were you confronted with more unhappy or more happy recipients?
In our time, we still have to figure out how to deal with laborers who have arrived later. Here's one way that we are trying, Group Helps Those in Raid
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
How does God send help to people in need? In Exodus, the food came down from the sky. Sometimes, God sends it through the hands of other humans. Sometimes, we are slow to help. See http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gDm7lRAjdXWzCH-GDsdZvbReCqCAD93452R05
Monday, September 15, 2008
What is the usual human response? How different have we human beings become over the millenia? Often, even when we can remember our deliverance, we still complain.
What is the usual divine response? When we cry out in despair, what does God do? What can we expect if we cry out in disgust with our situation?
God talks to Moses. Moses talks to Aaron. Moses and Aaron talk to the people. Moses tells Aaron to talk to them. Aaron does. Then, as Aaron is speaking, the Lord appears to the people. Or, was the Lord there all along, and the people finally woke up to the presence?
Sunday, September 14, 2008
"Some of you are strong enough in your faith that the rules the others hold to seem petty to you." Once Paul had criticized Peter for siding with those who insisted on following rules. Now, Paul seems to be siding with them himself.
"If you love them, treat their needs seriously. After all, we are in this together. After all, we owe our allegiance to God."
(I've been reading Garry Wills' What Paul Meant.)
Saturday, September 13, 2008
A problem I have with this teaching is that Paul characterizes the strict as weak. Do I agree with that?
In any case, I welcome his additional comment, "Don't pass judgment; that's God's job."
Friday, September 12, 2008
Joseph's brothers had so resented him when, as a youth, he had lorded it over them that they had, after considering murdering him, instead, sold him into slavery. Later, he was able actually to lord it over them. He had risen to a high position in Egypt and had used it to bring his whole family there where they could escape the famine back home.
Now, their father is dead, and the brothers fear that Joseph will finally exact revenge on them. He doesn't. "God intended this for good," he says to them.
Joseph chooses not to do revenge. God gets to handle the revenge.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The film also explores the role forgiveness holds in various faiths traditions. It provides an honest look at the intensity of anger and grief that human nature is heir to. We see in the film that there are transgressions people find themselves unwilling or unable to forgive. Through character-driven stories the film shows the role forgiveness can play in alleviating anger and grief and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that come with it.
This includes feature stories on the Amish, the 9/11 tragedy and peace-building in Northern Ireland, along with interviews with renowned Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, best-selling authors Thomas Moore and Marianne Williamson and others.
And take a quiz to see how forgiving you are.
(Thanks to the heads-up from Alive Now, September/October 2008 that alerted me to this website.)
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
But, what happens when that sheep is back in the fold and you would really rather have him leave. Last week's gospel lesson outlined a procedure for helping the church member change behavior. "If he won't change," Jesus said, "Treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector."
[Look back at Matthew 9:9-10 and 14:21-15.]
Now Peter asks, "How many times do we have to go through this procedure before we can give up on somebody?" Jesus' response is a number too big to keep track of.
Don't read this message as a word to those who are being abused that they need to stay in relationship with someone who will continue to harm them.
Don't read these words of Jesus as saying that sin does not matter. This message is to Peter. If the church is going to make it, then church members have to work together.
On a tangent: Am I right to read a requirement for repentance to precede Peter's forgiveness? After all, in the parable, the debtor begs the king for forgiveness.
In Today's Hotline:
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Moses stretches out his hand again, and the sea returns to its normal depth. Pharaoh's entire army is destroyed.
When the Israelites saw that they themselves were alive and safe and that the Egyptians were dead, they feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and the Lord's servant Moses.
The notes in the New Interpreters Bible point out that there's a play on words in verse 31. The Hebrew word that we translate as "see" (ra'ah) sounds like the word for "fear" (yare').
As we read ahead in the story of the trek through the wilderness, we'll hear how when they saw something else--like their thirst or hunger--they would lose their trust in Moses and in the Lord's protection, and they will complain. If seeing is believing, what happens when we see something else?
Monday, September 8, 2008
They know which way to go because God sends a pillar of cloud to lead them. the Lord shields them by sending the pillar behind them to block them from the pursuing army. When they get to the sea, Moses stretches out his hand, and a strong wind divides the water so they can walk across on dry land.
The people cannot see the Lord, but they can see the pillar of cloud. They can see Moses. They can see the water dividing.
William Goldingay asks: Why does the Lord use Moses, a human leader, to bring them out of Egypt? God could have done it alone but chose to use Moses. Why does God continue to use humans to accomplish significant goals? Using human beings to accomplish divine purposes introduces complication and vulnerability.
Goldingay also points out that Moses' story reminds us that leadership is not fun. People complain, question, express resentment, lose their belief that things can get better.
(Old Testament Theology, Volume One, Israel's Gospel, 425-430)
Sunday, September 7, 2008
God of Abraham and Sarah,
grandfather and grandmother in the faith
God of all generations:
We thank you today for those who are grandparents/elders.
We especially thank you for those who are grandparents to us —
those who are grandparents by blood relationships, and
those unrelated but older than we
who generously share
their love and wisdom,
their time and traditions
so that we have roots, stories, and hope.
We bless you for the gift of grandparents,
and we ask your blessing on them,
that their days may be filled
with delight in their grandchildren.
May their giving and grace toward younger generations
bring fulfillment to them
and may they be a blessing
to all they love and call grandchildren,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The prayers are copyright © 2003, 2006 The General Board of Discipleship.
Any local congregation or church agency may reprint the prayers for a one-time worship or educational use as long as the following notice is printed with themWebsites may not reproduce the prayers, but may link to them.
Copyright © 2003, 2006. The General Board of Discipleship. Reprinted with permission.
"The way to fulfill the law, the way to live the way God intends for us to live," Paul says, "is to love."
Then, like Moses in Leviticus, he returns to a list of forbidden activities: drunkenness, debauchery, quarreling, and jealousy.
Moses was speaking to people in the wilderness on their way to the land that had been promised them. Their lives had been ruled by Pharaoh. They now have a new law. They know should recognize that the Lord is their master. Paul is speaking to people living under the reign of Caesar. It's time for them to recognize who really is in charge.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Bad things to happen to good people. But, let us remember that sometimes, bad things happen to good people who did bad things. And, let us remember, that if we are going to remain bound together in order to serve God more effectively, then we have to be responsible to one another.
God sent Ezekiel as a sentinel to warn people of danger. God sends each of us to speak--and to listen.
Look back in earlier chapters of Ezekiel to see the kinds of sins he was talking about. For example, "You wore expensive clothes and ate expensive meals but did not aid the poor and needed," (16:1-49). What is lawful and right, according to Ezekiel, includes caring for the poor and hungry (18:5-13).
Friday, September 5, 2008
Here's the first and last stanza:
It's the willingness to sing
that surprises me:
out of tune,
we drag the organist along
and sing, knowing we can't,
and our quite ordinary voices
carry us over.
Now we are changed,
making a noise
greater than ourselves,
to be worthy of the lesson:
all duly noted,
(Excerpted from Cries of the Spirit, Beacon Press, ed. by Marilyn Sewell
Thursday, September 4, 2008
In these days there are great needs in the world. Thank you for being a community of prayer, love and mission.
The Mississippi Annual Conference has been in covenant relationship with the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe. We have been significant partners with Africa University. Many of us have experienced first-hand the joys and the great sorrows of the people of Zimbabwe.
This message is a call to prayer and generosity. As you are led by the Holy Spirit, you will be a blessing in this difficult time in Zimbabwe.
Hope Morgan Ward
Persons wishing to make individual online contributions to Africa University should go to theAfrica University Development Office
Web site. The office is located in Nashville, TN. The telephone number is (615) 340-7348.
Ezekiel is called by God to speak to Jerusalem as it faced its fall to Babylon, to speak to a people who had lived in a kingdom in a land promised to them by God, and who had lost it.
How are any of us, living at any point in history, supposed to learn survival lessons? Ezekiel reminds us that God uses prophets, sentinels, to warn us of dangers. Jesus, in Matthew's gospel, is echoing this requirement, "You who are in the church owe it to each other to give warnings as well as encouragements."
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Here's the hard part. Start by going directly to the offender. Don't go around telling everybody else how much you are hurt. First, tell the one who hurt you.
Then, if that doesn't work, and only if that doesn't work, share your concerns with a couple of other church members. If that doesn't work, and only if that doesn't work, then you may tell others in the church about the problem.
If the offender won't listen to the whole church, then treat that person like a Gentile and a tax collector.
Notice the irony in this last instruction by remembering how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Not just one meal but a perpetual ordinance. Perpetual--this isn't something that happened once way back then to a bunch of other people--this continues to affect us right now. Ordinance--do it.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Yet, the Lord says to Moses, "This is the beginning. This is the first month of a new year." Then, the Lord gives what seems to me to be a surprising instruction, "Have a feast. Have a big feast. And put on your traveling clothes."
We may be living in the midst of trouble, of sadness, of disappointment. We may feel stuck in a situation that is painful and seems impossible to escape. We may wonder if God has forgotten us.
What is the purpose of the feast? Is it to help them forget how bad things are? I don't think so.
Can we learn anything from this passage to help us face our troubled times? Can we hold onto hope through difficult times?