Monday, October 31, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, we will be celebrating All Saints' Day.  The texts that we will consider are Psalm 34:1-10, 22 and I John 3:1-3.

I John 3:1-3 says, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is that when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves just as he is pure."

What a joyous message of hope this is.  We are children of God.  That is who we are now! We look to what we once were, knowing we are no longer the same. We look to what we may become, knowing that there are even better things ahead because of Christ's work of redemption on our behalf. Glory be to God!

Reflecting on this Scripture, consider the following:
  1. As children of God, what do we know that the world does not know?
  2. What does it mean to be a child of God?
  3. What privileges come with this claim?
  4. What responsibilities come with this claim?
An All Saints' Day Celebration provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our own lives. It's a good time to consider in what areas God may be working on us now, to purify us as Christ himself is pure.  It's also a time to remember all those blessed people whom God has placed in our lives over the years, and to give thanks. 

In light of "those who have gone before" consider this poem written by Rowena Edlin-White.

The Passing of the Foremothers
All my dear old friends,
The Grandmas of the church,
Limp gamely home.
We waved off Marjorie
On Easter Sunday,
Her coffin underneath
The banner HE IS RISEN.
And so is she.
And Sylvia, Gladys
And the rest,
Foremothers of the faith
Who wiped my nose
When first I came to Jesus;
Steely haired and golden-hearted
Women twice my age,
Yet sisters, pushing forward
Fearlessly to meet their God
Seen dimly through the dust
At the end of a long road.

Dear children of God, dear saints of God, I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday.  May the Lord bless your week!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary texts for Sunday, October 30, 2011 include Matthew 23:1-12 and portions of Psalm 107. In order to get a fuller understanding of the Psalm text, please take time to read it in its entirety.

During our worship this Sunday, we will have a Service of Healing and Wholeness. Increasingly, services of this type are being offered in Presbyterian Congregations. In a powerful way, they seem to bridge a gap that too often exists between what we do in worship and our yearning for healing and wholeness in our day-to-day lives. As Christians, we believe that shalom (healing, wholeness, and peace) is God's intention for us in the world.

God's ways of healing and providing for God's beloved children are laid out clearly in Psalm 107. From the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, God's redemption is writ large. In this liturgy of thanksgiving, four different dangers or distresses are described.  Whether in the desert wasteland, the darkness of prison, in self-induced affliction, or at the depths of the sea, God's steadfast love endures.  What a wonderful message of hope the psalmist provides.

However, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus paints a different picture, a picture of darkness and hopelessness. But make no mistake, the hopelessness is not caused by God. The hopelessness is created by none other than the scribes and the Pharisees who teach what they do not practice. Their own agendas and a desire for praise and honor have become their guiding light. And though they hold the keys of Light in their hand, it is not light that results. It is darkness. Moreover, if we include verse 13 in our reading, we find that these religious leaders have exalted themselves at the expense of God's message of love for all of humanity, and in so doing, they have locked people out of the kingdom of heaven.

Consider the following:
  1. Why do the scribes and Pharisees behave like hypocrites? Why do they not practice what they teach? 
  2. Could fear be a factor? Could they be afraid their own inadequacies might be discovered?
  3. Complete the following: I don't practice what I teach when I ____________.
  4. On a sheet of paper, draw three circles that interconnect. In each circle, put one of the following headings: Who I Am at Home, Who I Am at Church, Who I am at Work (you might substitute another heading here, like "school," for example). Then in each circle, honestly describe yourself.
  5. From this exercise, what did you learn about yourself as a person of faith?
  6. In what ways might you change in order to live your life as God's humble servant in all things?

Healing and wholeness!  We yearn for God's love to be woven throughout our being. We yearn to be God's faithful children in all that we say and do. This is our fervent hope. Still, too often we live as if healing and wholeness are not possible. We live as if the intertwining "circles" of our lives cannot be united and we have no chance of being whole.

During our time together this Sunday, an opportunity will be provided to pray for ourselves and others, to reflect on the components of healing and wholeness, to be anointed with oil, and to experience God's steadfast love which endures forever.

As you journey toward Sunday, consider the following prayer written by Richard Foster:
Lord Jesus Christ, when I read the gospel stories I am touched by your healing power. You healed sick bodies to be sure, but you did so much more. You healed the spirit, and the deep, inner mind. Most of all I am touched by your actions of acceptance that spoke healing into those who lived on the margins of life, shoved aside by the strong and powerful. Speak your healing into me, Lord, body and mind and soul. Most of all, heal my sense of worthlessness. My head tells me that I am of infinite value to you but my heart cannot believe it. Heal my heart, Jesus, heal my heart. Amen.

May the Lord bless you and the people you love this week. I look forward to seeing you in worship.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary texts for Sunday, October 23 include Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and Matthew 22:34-46.

The passage from Deuteronomy is the setting of Moses' death and burial. What an interesting man Moses was...from the beginning when, as a baby, he floated in a the basket down the river, to being called by God from out of burning bush, to going up against Pharaoh repeatedly, to leading the people across the Red Sea on dry land, to leading the people through the wilderness for 40 years...  Yes, by any standards, Moses was an extraordinary man; an extraordinary prophet.  But before we begin to feel small and  insignificant, let's stop and remember that Moses was great, but it was not because of anything he did on his own.  Moses was great because God worked through him. It was God who made Moses what he was. 

Deuteronomy 34:10 says, "Never since has there risen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." Since we know that "no one can see the face of God and live," the meaning of this verse is not to be taken literally. Instead, the implication is that Moses had as full a knowledge of God as was possible. No doubt, God and Moses had a special relationship. One interesting story that demonstrates this is found in Numbers 12.  It's a short chapter and if you take time to read it you will find that Moses' brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, became jealous of their brother. And when they spoke against Moses, God showed up in a powerful way.

Regarding the life and death of Moses, consider the following:
  1. What did the LORD show Moses up on the mountain?
  2. Where did Moses die?
  3. Why do you think Moses' burial site was not revealed?
  4. What was his physical condition when he died?
  5. Overall, what stands out for you in the character of Moses?
In many ways the life of Jesus hearkens back to the days of Moses. Jesus speaks with authority as a prophet. Jesus does many signs and wonders, which would have reminded the people of the plagues brought against the Egyptians because Pharaoh would not let God's people go. Jesus feeds the 5000, which must have reminded the people of the manna raining down from the heavens. And while Moses brought The Ten Commandments to the people as a gift from God, Jesus was able to reframe the commandments into two essential laws by which to live. Yet, in every way, "Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself (Hebrews 3:3, NRSV).

In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus interprets the Law as hinging on two central commands: "You shall 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." In Jesus' interpretation, we hear echoes of Micah 6:8, "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

Jesus does not come to the earth as a man only to speak words of wisdom such as "Love God and love your neighbor." Jesus embodies this way of life. In everything Jesus says and everything Jesus does, he provides an example for us as we walk this old earth in human form. Day in and day out, Jesus had a way of keeping "the main thing the main thing." O, that we might do the same.

After reading the passage from Matthew, consider the following:
  1. What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul and mind?
  2. Can we possibly do this without God's help?
  3. Jesus is God incarnate. In what way does that effect your faith?
  4. Of course, the heart is the organ beating in our chest and keeping us alive, but in this text, what is a likely meaning of "the heart"?
  5. How does Jesus model loving our neighbor?
  6. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. The implication is that we do love ourselves. In what ways to you take care of your body, soul and mind?
These have been just a few of my thoughts on the journey toward Sunday. As always, I look forward to seeing you in worship.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary readings for this week include Exodus 33:12-23 and Matthew 22:15-22. (Another text for the week is I Thess.1:1-10, which will be used for those following the “Feasting on the Word” Sunday school curriculum.)

We have been traveling through the wilderness with Moses, who has been called to lead God’s people from captivity into freedom. Along the way, there have been many desert moments—with the people of Israel continuing to try the patience of both Moses and Yahweh.  Along the way, Moses has proven himself to be a man eager to seek God’s favor, come what may.

In this week’s reading, Moses intercedes for the people, willing to continue to lead them ONLY if God’s presence continues with them as well. Then Moses makes a seemingly outlandish request: “Show me your glory, I pray.” Moses bravely asks God for the impossible.  Why? 

I hope you will take time to read this beautiful and touching Scripture passage from Exodus. Read it slowly, carefully, and, perhaps, more than once. Then consider the following:
  1. What do you find striking about this text?
  2. Imagine you are Moses and you have been in close contact with God for some time. Why might you want to see God’s glory?
  3. What do you think Moses is really yearning to see? Can you relate to Moses’ desire? If so, how?
  4. How does God respond?
  5. What does God’s response tell you about God’s character?

The reading from Matthew places us near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus cleansed the Temple (much to the dismay of the religious authorities) and he responded to the religious leaders with 3 parables to help them get a different perspective on the things of God. In essence, for too long the religious elite had used their authority for their own desires, rather than for the desires of God. It’s time for God’s kingdom to break in through God’s Son. It’s a new day and now the poor, the outcast, and the sinner have gained a welcome seat at the Table of Grace.

Not surprisingly, things are heating up—so much so that the Pharisees join up with the Herodians to trap Jesus. Although we don’t know a lot about the Herodians, one thing is certain: Because the Herodians are likely supporters of Herod Antipas, this union is caused by one thing and one thing alone—a common desire to stop Jesus in his tracks.

Read the text carefully and then consider the following:
  1. How do Jesus’ enemies act toward him at first?
  2. In verse 18, what does Jesus call them because he knows their hearts?
  3. What question do they pose?
  4. The Pharisees taught that possessing anything with a graven image was idolatrous. Yet, when asked to provide a coin on which an image was clearly evident, one was immediately provided, there in the temple, no less. How is this significant?
These have been just a few thoughts from your pastor on the journey toward Sunday. I look forward to seeing you in worship.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary readings for this week include Exodus 32:1-14 and Matthew 22:1-14. While both texts introduce us to a party that is going on, they are very different parties.

In Exodus Moses is on a business trip to Mt. Sinai. On the mount, God provides instructions of how to set up a dwelling place (tabernacle) for God and how to establish the priesthood. From the people’s perspective, hanging out at the bottom of the mountain, Moses has been gone far too long. As a result, they approach Aaron with a request: “Come, make gods for us…as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And what does Aaron do? He complies with their wishes.

How could such a thing happen?  How could the people of Israel respond to God’s abundant care by turning their backs on all that is holy?  It is a good question, but it is not for the people of Israel alone. It is a question for us as well, for aren’t we all guilty of rejecting the goodness of God at some time, in some way?

It is rejection of God that brings us to our New Testament reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  The religious leaders have rejected the authority of Jesus. As a result, Jesus offers three parables—the last of which we consider this week.  In this one Jesus paints a picture of the kingdom of God.  Although many guests have been invited, they discard their invitations without so much as the courtesy of an RSVP. Their actions portray a total lack of respect for the king who wishes to honor his son.

The parable indicates that, ultimately, even the most unlikely of guests will receive an invitation to the Table of Grace; yet who will respond? Who will put on the new wedding garment—the garment of Christ Jesus? 

“Putting on Christ” is a picture of discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer may provide us more insight from his work, The Cost of Discipleship::

The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, if we only look to Him and follow Him, step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at Him who goes before, we are already straying from the path. For He is Himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and He alone, is our journey’s end. When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the strait gate of the cross, and on to eternal life, and the very narrowness of the road will increase our certainty.

On the journey toward Sunday, consider the following:
1.      In what way are the two Scripture passages related?
2.      In the parable, who calls or invites?
3.      What does this say about God’s grace?
4.      Why is the guest who is improperly dressed thrown out of the banquet?
5.      What does it mean to be called / chosen?

May the Lord bless your week. I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday.