Friday, September 30, 2011

You Talkin' to Me? The RCL Reading for October 2, 2011; Matthew 21:33-46:



van Gogh
  
"Here's another story. Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits.

"The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. 'Surely,' he thought, 'they will respect my son.'

"But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. 'This is the heir! Let's kill him and have it all for ourselves.' They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him.

"Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?"

"He'll kill them—a rotten bunch, and good riddance," they answered. "Then he'll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it's time."

Jesus said, "Right—and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles: 

     'The stone the masons threw out is now the cornerstone.
     This is God's work; we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!'

"This is the way it is with you. God's kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed."

When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God.

(The Message)

Meditation:
·        Can you find an environmental message in this parable?
·        Like the hearers of this parable and like David listening to Nathan, are we outraged by the injustice of others while blind to it in ourselves?
·        What kind of "profit" is expected of my congregation?
·        Do offerings, bequests, etc go to the church or to God?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Religious Smugness - The RCL Reading for October 2, 2011; Philippians 3:4b-14:


If there is anyone on God's little green earth that has a right to be smug, its me!

I was sacramentally marked when I joined my community as one of the chosen. I'm a member of a special congregation; a faithful follower in a long line of faithful followers; one who devoutly followed the literal Word. No one was more zealous than me in pointing out the sins of others. Yet whatever comfort I gained from my self-righteousness was null and void in Christ!

Compared to knowing Jesus, my previous life was a total loss. For him I've lost my old life and all its things, power and self-focus. It was all just trash to be taken out to the curb! Whatever I am is a reflection of Jesus - I'm not made righteous from inside by blindly following the Bible, but I am found to be righteous from above by following God through following Jesus.

I want to KNOW Christ. I want to experience the power of his resurrection with him. I want to suffer like him and be willingly sacrificed like him. I pray that he will in turn experience my resurrection with me.

Don't get me wrong - I don't claim to know for a fact that I am saved. But I faithfully live by grace as I continue on toward my eventual perfection, because of what I do know for a fact - Jesus Christ the Son of God has made me his!

My sweet friends, I've not done anything hard or special for it to be so. I only do this one small thing each day: I forget the sins of the past; embrace what lies ahead; and press ever onward to answer his call.

Your bro;

Paul

Monday, September 26, 2011

Freedom Through Surrender? The RCL Readings for October 2, 2011; Psalm 19 and Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20:


The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
 The skies display his craftsmanship.
 Day after day they continue to speak;
      night after night they make him known.
 They speak without a sound or word;
      their voice is never heard.
 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
      and their words to all the world.

 God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
 It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
 It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
 The sun rises at one end of the heavens

      and follows its course to the other end.
 Nothing can hide from its heat.

 The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
      reviving the soul.
 The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
      making wise the simple.
 The commandments of the Lord are right,
      bringing joy to the heart.
 The commands of the Lord are clear,
      giving insight for living.
 Reverence for the Lord is pure,
      lasting forever.
 The laws of the Lord are true;

      each one is fair.
 They are more desirable than gold,
      even the finest gold.
 They are sweeter than honey,
      even honey dripping from the comb.
 They are a warning to your servant,
      a great reward for those who obey them.

 How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
 Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
 Keep your servant from deliberate sins!
 Don’t let them control me.
 Then I will be free of guilt
      and innocent of great sin.

 May the words of my mouth
      and the meditation of my heart
      be pleasing to you,
      O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.


(Psalm 19; New Living Translation)


 Then He spoke:


"I AM your Lord, who brought you out of your captivity - you will have no other gods. You shall not worship anything that is not Me, nor will you abuse My name for your own use. Keep the Sabbath as a holy day dedicated solely to Me; put aside your labors of the week before. Do not take what is Mine.

"Do not take your parents' respect and honor. Do not unjustly take a life. Do not take someone else's spouse. Do not take someone's dignity from them by lying about them. Do not mentally take anything from anyone.

 "Do not take what is not yours!"

The people served as witness, and observed the thunder and lightning - they heard the trumpet's call and saw His mountain shrouded in smoke. They were afraid and held back from the Lord's glory. They begged Moses to intervene for them so they would not have to listen to the Lord directly.

Then Moses spoke:

"Do not be afraid. Our Lord has come only to test our faith and trust, and to show us who's Lord. If you truly comprehend this, then you'll no longer sin."

Friday, September 23, 2011

By What Right? The RCL Reading for September 25, 2011; Matthew 21:23-32:


He Qi

When Jesus entered the church, the Pastor and the Trustees confronted him: "By what right do you try to come in to our church and preach? Which of us told you that you could do this?"

Christ calmly replied: "First, I'll ask you a question. If you can be straight with me, I'll tell you the source of my authority. Did the baptisms that John did come from above, or from man?"

They were afraid to answer. The congregation had loved old John; if they said he wasn't baptizing them in God's name the church could lose people and their money. On the other hand, if they said John baptized as a prophet of God, Jesus would then ask them why they didn't believe what John had said about him! "We don't know," was the best they could do.

"Then I won't answer you either."

But Jesus continued teaching them: "Think about this then. A father had two sons. He said to the eldest, 'Put down that video game, go outside and get your chores done!' The boy said 'No way!', but changed his mind later and did his work. Meanwhile, the father went to his other boy: 'Turn off the TV and go outside and mow the yard.' 'Sure, sure... in a moment,' mumbled the distracted boy, but he kept watching the football game. Which of these kids did what his father wanted?"

OK, this was an easy one - they were all over this one: "The first one!"

"Then hear me good - the truth is that crooks and the whores will be in God's Kingdom well ahead of you yes-men! The prophets came to the religious leaders who said "yeah yeah' and did zip, but the scum of the earth changed their minds, believed and followed. And even after you saw the Spirit in them, you closed your minds and dreamed your country-club dreams."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Forget Yourself! The RCL Reading for September 25, 2011:

Ford Madox Brown

If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care - then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death - and the worst kind of death at that - a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth - even those long ago dead and buried - will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

(Philippians 2:1-13; The Message)

Meditation:
  • How do I put myself or my church ahead of others?
  • How do I help others get ahead?
  • As a Christian, do I expect special privileges?
  • What does it mean that all created beings will worship together?
  • How does this affect how I look at other beings?
  • Does my energy and the energy of my spiritual community reflect God's energy?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dying of Perceived Thirst - The RCL Reading for September 25; Exodus 17:1-7:




From out of the heart of the Desert of the Moon, all the tribes of the Hebrews trekked  from station to station in the wilderness following God. Having left the desert behind, they were frustrated to find no water at the so-called Station of Support. The people confronted their leader: "You got us into this mess Moses, give us water!"

Moses spoke to the people: "Why are you taking it out on me? Why do you challenge the Lord your God?"

Israel was delirious of thirst, and complained even louder: "Why did you bring us all the way out into this God-forsaken emptiness just to kill us, our children and the livestock we depend on?"

Moses wondered inside how they could feel lost and forsaken when all they had to do was look up to see the ever-present towering Angel of the Lord? Why were they so worried about livestock when God was providing them all the quail and manna they could eat? Why were they always revising their dark years of slavery as "golden glory- days"? Moses cried out to his friend in frustration: "Lord! What am I to do with these schmucks? If we don't do something soon, I'm afraid they're going to stone me!"  

God said: "It will be all right Moshe. Lead the people further to the next station. Take some of the elders up front with you. Take the staff that we struck the Nile with. Go. I'll be standing there before you like I always have. Go to the big rock at the base of the Mount of Glowing Heat. Strike the rock, and I will cleft it like I did the sea. From the rock will gush fresh cold living water. Our people's need will then quenched, and they will be refreshed. Do it where all can see us."

As he watched the laughing children splash in the stream of water issuing from God's mountain, he decided to name the place the Station of Testing and Quarreling. Listening to the entwined gurgle of water and giggles, it was easy to believe in Emanuel.

Friday, September 16, 2011

But, That's Not FAIR! - The RCL Reading for September 18, 2011; :



Marion Post Wolcott
"God's kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. "Later, about nine o'clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.

"He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o'clock. At five o'clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, 'Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?'

"They said, 'Because no one hired us.'

"He told them to go to work in his vineyard.

"When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.'

"Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.'

"He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?'

"Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first."





(The Message)

Meditation:
  • This is sooooo against our every fiber! We want to scream that this is wrong, wrong, wrong. Matthew expected us to identify with the latecomers and resonate with the promise of grace - when in time did we start envisioning ourselves as the early-birds?
  • How does this compare with the parable of the Rascal and the Self-Righteous Sons?
  • When do we think pay-day is?
  • Why do we spend so much time worrying like dogs about how much food is in the other dog's bowl that we can't enjoy our own food?
  • How else do we try to re-define God's nature?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Want To Die, But That Would Be Selfish - The RCL Reading for September 18, 2011; Philippians 1:21-30:


 
 
As a Christian, I know that death leads to a better life. But, if I stay alive, I know that there is plenty of fruitful labor that I can be doing. I am hard-pressed to decide. My desire is to be with Jesus in heaven, but I know it is important to you that I stay here with you. Since I know this to be true, then I also know that I will remain alive and take joy watching your progress as you grow in faith.
 
Just make sure that you live your life worthy of Christ's sacrifice for you. Even if I can't visit you, I will hear about you! I will know if you are standing firm, joined in one Spirit, striving together shoulder-to-shoulder to live out the gospel. Don't let the world intimidate you. The glow from your love and the peace in your salvation reveals the shallowness of their lives and they resent the revelation. This is God's prevenient grace working on them through you. You have been graced with the blessing of not only of believing in Christ, but in living a perfected Christ-like life as well. You have seen my struggles and triumphs, and know that I witness truly.
 
(Taken from Philippians 1:21-30)
 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Longing for the Golden Age - The RCL Reading for the Week; Exodus 16:2-15; and Numbers 11:31-33:



The entire congregation complained about the direction their pastor and lay leader were "taking" them: "If only we had died in the 50s or 60s when we had plenty of members and offerings, and when we sang the songs of our parents!"

Then the Lord said to the pastor: "I'm going to rain abundance down upon your church. This will test them to see if they follow Me or money."

The next day, the pastor and the leader spoke to the church council: "We have just learned that a rich member who passed away left us $1,000,000 in their will. God heard our whining and has provided." That Sunday, the pastor shared the news of the windfall with the congregation. As they left church later, they saw the Glory of the Lord in a cloud leading them out into the neighborhood.

Over time, a faction wanted to save the money and to earn interest to become a rainbow for a rainy day, while others wanted to spend it. They came to resent the money given to them because of the division it had brought to them, and they were tired of the constant squabbling over it. They complained to the pastor and the leader that there was not enough money to do everything.

Hearing the whine of His people, God continued the test: a second large bequest came their way - there was enough money for each faction to use to fulfill their mission as they saw it. The congregation joyfully took the money and saved it and decorated with it and treasured it. It was proof of how much God loved them!

The anger of the Lord was kindled into a hot flame and the church died out.

Friday, September 9, 2011

7X11=10,000? - The Reading for September 11, 2011:



So Pete came up to him one day after church: "Pastor, if another member of the church ticks me off, how many times should I forgive them for it? Surely not as many as seven times right?"

The Pastor knew who Pete was feuding with, but instead of telling him to grow up already, he said: "No. Seven times is not nearly enough. Seventy-seven times would be better. There was a mortgage company going through its files to start foreclosure procedures on long outstanding debts. With her family facing eviction, the woman sat before the large expensive mahogany desk: 'My husband lost his job and its been rough lately. Please be patient with us, I promise that once our son's cancer treatments are over we'll pay you the $10,000 we owe.' The banker took pity on the family, and authorized the bank to forgive the debt! On her way out, she bumped into an old friend who owed her $100: 'Give me the money you owe me!' Her friend begged for her patience - he'd pay her back next week. But she didn't  wait, and got on her cell phone to call a collection agency to harass him. When some of the tellers saw this happen, they went to the banker and told him about it. He had the guard at the door stop her, and brought her back to his office: 'I forgave you your great debt because you pleaded for mercy, but you couldn't show any mercy to someone for their minor debt?' So the bank threw the woman and her family out of their house."

"So our heavenly Father will also do to you if you do not forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart."
(Retelling of Matthew 18:21-35)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Don't Be Such a Jerk! - The RCL reading for September 11, 2011:


Here is part of a letter that has been circulating around the home-churches here in Rome. A lot of us fled here to get away from jackals like Paul, so when we first heard that he had converted and that he was planning on coming here, we were quite concerned. And when word got around that he sent us a pastoral letter... well, suffice it to say that the house was full today!
  
"Be welcoming to those whose faith is weak, but not just so that you can lord it over them or brow-beat them with your theology. Here's an example: Some of us believe that it doesn't matter what we eat, while others are vegan - those who eat meat shouldn't make fun of the vegans, and the vegans shouldn't be all holier-than-thou. God has already welcomed us all into one family - so act like it!

Who are servants like us to be judging the service of someone else's servants? It is before our Master that they (and we) either stand or fall. Trust me, they will stand! That is the way the Master wants it.

Here's another good example of silliness: Some of us say that some days are more special than other day, while others of us say that all days should be special. For those of us who observe the Sabbath or special holy days, we need to do it to honor God - not because it is expected or a duty or fun. If we feast on these days, we do it to honor God and give thanks - not to get all fat and comfortable. If some of us  instead fast, we do so to honor God and give thanks - not to get all fat-headed and selfishly uncomfortable.

None of us live for ourselves, and or die for ourselves. Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord's. Didn't Christ both live and die for us?

Why do we keep judging our sisters and brothers? Why do we feel superior to them? Don't we all stand naked before the Seat of Judgment?

Isn't it written: 'As I AM, every knee shall bow to Me and every tongue shall praise Me'? So why then do we always feel and act so 'special' when we know that each of us shall account someday to God?"

(Retelling of  Romans 14:1-12)

Monday, September 5, 2011

God's Active Abidance; The RCL Readings for 9/11:





 When the Israelites escaped from Egypt -
      when the family of Jacob left that foreign land -
 the land of Judah became God’s sanctuary,
      and Israel became his kingdom.
 The Red Sea saw them coming and hurried out of their way!
      The water of the Jordan River turned away.
 The mountains skipped like rams,
      the hills like lambs!
 What’s wrong, Red Sea, that made you hurry out of their way?
      What happened, Jordan River, that you turned away?
 Why, mountains, did you skip like rams?
      Why, hills, like lambs?
 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
      at the presence of the God of Jacob.
 He turned the rock into a pool of water;
      yes, a spring of water flowed from solid rock
.

(Psalm 114; NLT)

 

The whirlwind we called the "Angel of God" (which was leading our march as we tried to get our families and flocks away from our Egyptian pursuers to safety) suddenly dropped back and fell in behind us. We knew something bad was coming. The desert storm stood there unmoving between us and the might of Egypt in its ire, delaying them. Lighting danced through the cloud all night, and neither side moved.

We were hard-pressed, with our backs up against the sea. It seemed like the dawn could only bring our destruction. Moses slowly stepped into the waves, and lifted one handed. There was a hush of anticipation as we watched. A powerful gale from the east rushed in, and God turned the sea into an escape route through a canyon of standing water! The tribes quickly stepped into the breach.

Our pursuers must have been whipped into a frenzy of rage, for they followed us into the impossible chasm; all of Pharaoh's cavalry and his vaunted chariot mounted archers. But when the sun rose, they saw where they were - the waves hanging perched over their heads and a cyclone barring the route! The horses and their masters panicked. The army suddenly knew that they were not fighting slaves but the God of the Hebrews. They tried to flee, but the Lord ensnared them in the mud.

God spoke to his friend Moses: "Raise your hand again. Close up the rift upon the Egyptian army. Close it upon their fearsome chariots. Close it upon them." So Moses did. Not even the swiftest horse could escape as God closed the gap like two giant hands clapping. Yet the sea still stood where the people trudged on toward freedom. When they reached the shore, they looked back and saw all the bodies of their former masters floating on the calm and placid sea. All of them saw how God intervened and saved them that day - it would shape them throughout time. They believed in God and his servant Moses - for the time-being...

Joy and awe surged through Moses. He was too emotional to speak without stuttering so he broke out into song! All the people joined in, and sung the story of what they had just seen. By singing it, they came to understand it a little. Moses and Aaron's prophetic sister Miriam grabbed a tambourine and danced along with the music. Then she too sang of God's glory.

(Retelling of Exodus 14:19 - 15:21)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Family Feud - The Reading for 9/4/2011; Matthew 18:15-20:


The Church is a family, and no one can push your buttons or mess with your mind better than family! Jesus offers us these words in Matthew:
If someone else in the church hurts you, go talk to them privately. Chances are, they didn't realize what they did was harmful. By approaching the situation gently and not calling them out in public, you may very well have helped save their soul!
If that doesn't work, sit down with them again, but this time bring in a couple of calm-headed and respected people to keep things from getting out of hand and to serve as witnesses.
If that still doesn't work, take the problem to the rest of the church for help.
If they won't listen to even the church, there is nothing more that can be done for them here on earth. Even though they are no longer part of the family, continue to love and pray for them. Someday, they may come back and ask your forgiveness.
Be careful with your words and heart - take your damnations and blessings seriously; they can become self-fulfilling prophesies for the recipient. They can lead to despair or hope. You can impact eternal destinies!
If even just two of you can come together, agree on something, and ask God for it, it will be done. Wherever two or three come together in My name, you will find Me there with you.