Matthew 25: 14-30 Preparing for Worship November 19, 2017

14 Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.  15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.  Then he went on his journey.  16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.  17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more.  18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master’, he said, you entrusted me with five talents.  See, I have gained five more.’

21 ”His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with the two talents also came, ‘Master,’ you said,’ you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 Then the man who had received the one talent came, ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.  See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!  So, you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents.  29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

 

Very often this parable is used during stewardship time and although this parable is about money it is truly more about obeying God and doing what He calls us to do.  We are called to use our abilities to bring glory to His name and to invest our time and talents (not only of the financial type) in serving God as these people will be rewarded.  It challenges us to use what God has given us to bring glory to his name.

This parable depicts how the disciples are to demonstrate their faithfulness as they anticipate the return of the Lord.  Simply put God rewards faithfulness.  Those who are faithful to God will be rewarded for this faithfulness, whereas those who are not faithful cannot expect to be treated the same.  What does faithfulness look like in a time of waiting? In Matthew’s Gospel faithfulness is demonstrating the ministry of Jesus. Jesus has announced the arrival of God’s kingdom by feeding the hungry, curing the sick, blessing the meek, and serving the least.  How are you being faithful?

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Psalm 76 Preparing for Worship November 19, 2017

 

1 In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel.  2 His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.           3 There he broke the flashing arrows, the shields and the swords, the weapons of war.  4 You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game.  5 Valiant men lie plundered, they sleep their last sleep; not one of the warriors can lift his hands.  6 At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both horse and chariot lie still.  7 You alone are to be feared.  Who can stand before you when you are angry?  8 From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet —  9 When you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land.  10 Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.  11 Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them; let all the neighboring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared.  12 He breaks the spirit of rulers; he is feared by the kings of the earth.

 

Psalm 76 is part of book III for the books of Psalm.  This psalm praises God for he is holy, and his perfect holiness deserves our worship and reverence.  How do we worship God?  How do we show our reverence to him?

It praises God for his awesome power calling God to punish evildoers. This psalm reminds us that God is to be feared when we have angered him.   Are we afraid of God?  Should we be afraid of God?  Very often in today’s world we want to think of God only as the one who takes care of us and we forget or choose not to remember that our sinful ways angers God.  I believe part of the reason we feel this way is self-preservation and making ourselves feel better.  We also only understand anger in a human sense and not in a Godly sense.  When we think of someone being anger we do not think of God’s agape love for us.

The latter part of the Psalm speaks of making commitments to God and being sure to carry them out.  When was the last time you made a promise to God?  Do you fulfill that promise or did you decide that God would forgive you for not fulfilling your promise to him?

Judges 4: 1-7 Preparing for Worship November 19, 2017

After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. 2So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor.  The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim.  3 Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly appressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.

4 Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.  5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor.  I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

 

The book of Judges is a fast-paced book with many exciting stories about kings, and rulers, judges, and warriors.  Judges portrays a major transition of the rulers/judges of Israel.  Our reading today shares the transition from Ehud to Jabin on to Deborah as a ruler of Israel.  Repeatedly we see the nation of Israel sinning against God and God allowing suffering to come upon the land and the people.  But as we know sin always has its consequences.  We are reminded in this passage that our sins harm us, others, and mostly importantly God.  When we sin, we are saying to God that we really think we are smarter than him, more powerful than him.  When we sin, we disregard God’s authority over us.  In this passage God has finally had enough of Israel’s sinning and finally the people cry to him for mercy; they ask him for help.

Why do we push and push God (& others) so hard until something reaches a breaking point?  Why do we keep doing what we know is wrong and expect a different answer?  When will we stop and think about how our sin affects God?  When will we stop and remember that he loves us more than anything we can comprehend?  When will we learn to simply follow Jesus?

1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 Preparing for Worship November 19, 2017

1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day.  We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.  6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us to that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

 

Paul is writing to the churches in Thessalonica.  The churches in Thessalonica were still new churches at the time the letters were written.  The Christians of the Thessalonian church was also still young Christians.  As we still hear today there was a misconception about the second coming of Christ thinking that it was going to occur immediately.  Paul warns us that the Lord will return unexpectedly and suddenly; there will be no warning – we should always be ready to welcome Him.

What would you do differently if you knew when Christ would come again?  Would you behave any differently?  Would you treat people any differently?  We need to be sure that look for the direction and instructions from Christ on how we should behave, and how we should treat others; and do so now!

We also need to remember that we have work to do here.  We must continue to keep an eye on doing God’s work until our death and until we see the unmistakable return of our Savior.  As Christians, we will know when we receive our final salvation from Him.

Paul instructs us to encourage one another, build each other up.   How do we build each other up?  How do we encourage our fellow Christians?  To see specific examples of how we can “encourage others” continue to read in 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-23.

Blessing to you my friend.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 – Preparing for Oct. 29, 2017

You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children[a] among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

There is much to be said for the way that Paul is laying out the groundwork of where the source of his authority comes from.  Certainly, a foundation in God was at the root of all of the work that was done there.  Paul also reminds the church that they did not use trickery or other devices (like some of the sham teachers of the day did) to relay the gospel to the Thessalonians.  While foundational empowerment and pedagogy are important, I keep asking the text what the connection to the greatest commandment is.

I believe there may be some insight in verses 7 and 8.  As countless theologians have recognized previously, moving with a gentleness as children among the Thessalonians stands in contrast to the ways of other teachers.  They didn’t force their ways upon others, but instead, in a relational way – a familial way, they shared the gospel of Christ.  The reasoning for this is the most important part for me.  The metaphor of a nursing mother is intense.  Nurses of the day were already seen by many as having great gifts of compassion.  When the nurse is a mother herself and nursing her own young, the image is intensified suggests many commentators.  Whether you want to debate that or not, the analogy that Paul is making here is that he operated with the same love and compassion that a nursing mother handles her children with.  “Because we loved you so much…,” Paul says that they shared not only the gospel, but also the entirety of their lives.  There is a fullness to the way that Paul is describing loving others here that is not to be overlooked.  There is an intimacy here that should not be ignored.

When I think about the ways that humans (all of us) sometimes love others, it seems to me that we could all use the reminder of the depth, intimacy and compassion that Paul modeled as he loved those in Thessalonica.

What are your thoughts?  Do we as human beings love fully the way that Paul describes?  Do we look upon those in our community and in our pews with the same compassion that a nursing mother looks at her young?  If we did, would it change the way we engage others?  Don’t forget to comment below!

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 – Preparing for Oct. 29, 2017

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

It is always interesting to me when the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary leave out what I believe to be significant chunks of text.  This Psalm is attributed as a prayer of Moses and is the opening piece of Book IV of the Psalter.  It is a beautiful prayer.  It begins with recognizing the power and majesty of God, moves through a miniature lament in the verses that the Revised Common Lectionary chose to exclude, and ends with an invitation for God to once again be fully present with us and to lead us as God sees fit.

Theologians have viewed this Psalm as a communal lament…taking us back to the time of Moses when there was no temple or land…that stands in contrast to the ending of Book III of the psalter where the rejection, by God, of the covenant with David.  Remembering our lesson from yesterday, how Moses was tied to Israel and a time and place in history, this opening poetry helps change the tone of the end of Book III as the poem moves from despair to hope.  It is as if it is saying to it’s predecessor, “don’t worry if Jerusalem is destroyed.  The way to move from despair to hope is through prayer…just like Moses did using these words.”  With the redirection that this Psalm offers immediately on the heels of Psalm 89, it could be a simple reminder that our God reigns and that we are still able to be related to God, even without land, a Temple, or monarchy.

We all face a variety of challenges on any given day.  Some days those challenges may be more difficult than others.  Sometimes, those challenges may seem insurmountable.  It is times such as these, that we can be drawn back to the memory of Moses and the mighty works that God did through him.  It is during these times that we can turn back to this prayer as a reminder to ourselves that God still reigns.

As we prepare to come face to face with the greatest commandment again, I wonder why this text?  Perhaps it should also be a reminder that we will never be able to live into the loving others part until we can love ourselves the way that God loves us.  And if that holds even a modicum of truth, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves as Moses did for himself and his community, how long oh Lord?  Perhaps we need to let go a little more and allow God to more fully reign in our lives so that we are able to more fully love others as God reigns in us and through us.  Just a thought.  Tell us what you’re thinking in the comments below.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 – Preparing for Oct. 29, 2017

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him[a] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit[b] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

This text serves as a final tribute to Moses, but also as the final chapter to the Pentateuch.  There is no doubt that a careful reading of these first 5 books of the Bible will show that there is a supreme importance placed upon the emphasis of righteousness and justice over all other principalities.  This is significant in that all of the work that Moses accomplished was focused on these two keys and was only able to be completed by the presence and power of God in and through Moses.  Perhaps that is why – despite times of taking on the actions of priest, king, and military commander – Moses is best described as a prophet.  As we experience Moses’ death in this text, we are also experiencing the tie between the person of Moses, Israel and a past history that from this point in the text onward through history will never be able to be separated.

As we are looking at the greatest commandment this coming week, the verse in this text that stands out to me is the part of verse 10 where the author says that, “the Lord knew Moses face to face.”  From the burning bush, to the presence of the Lord in the cloud and pillar of fire, to the encounter on Mt. Sinai, there are obvious examples of the depth of spiritual intimacy that existed between Moses and God.  That causes me to ponder the questions:  How is my intimacy with God and what impact does that connectedness (or lack there of) have on my ability to love myself and others the way that we are called to?

You’re invited to ponder this same question and please feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments section below.

Preparation for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:13-20

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

I tend to go back and forth on the question of which Gospel is my favorite.  Most times I find myself vacillating between Matthew and Luke.  Luke’s Gospel account is a well-researched and meticulous story of Jesus’s life that shows that Christ has a clear preference for and a special eye towards the outcasts of society: the poor, the sick, the foreigner, the woman.  But Matthew, sometimes called the “Teaching Gospel,” is structured differently, placing stories in certain ways in order to prove a point.  Matthew also has these wonderful moments where it seems as though Jesus is reaching out from centuries ago to directly address the Gospel’s audience in whatever historical and social context they find themselves.  It does so with these “you” statements, directed in the narrative at the disciples, but which can have direct import on the lives of those hearing or reading the Gospel today.

A few weeks back, I wrote about one of these instances: Jesus feeding the 5000 and telling his disciples, when confronted with the problem of what do to with thousands of hungry people, that “You feed them.”  In today’s reading we have another “you” statement that we must find ourselves answering: “Who do you say I am?”

Clearly, in the context of the story, Jesus is asking his apostles who they believe him to be.  What expectations are they placing on him?  How do they see him?  Do they really understand who it is they’ve been following all this time?  But I feel like this question applies to us today just as much as it did to Peter and the other gathered disciples.  If we are supposed to be living out our calling to be witnesses to Christ in the world today, what picture of Jesus are we putting out there?  Who are we saying that Jesus is?  Do our actions paint the picture of a petty, vengeful God who hates the people that we hate, who holds all the same grudges we do and who cannot be bothered to be loving and generous to those people?

Or are we projecting an image of a God who is love, who practices unconditional grace and boundless generosity, who forgives people’s faults and who desires true community between human and divine?

Who do you say I am?

Preparation for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 12:1-8

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

One of the big events in my life that I’ve been working towards over the past year has been an impending (though by the time this posts, it will have already occurred) meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry.  The purpose of this meeting will be to decide if I get to move on to the next phase in the process to become a fully ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church.  In preparation for this meeting, I’ve been answering several questions, many of which are about the gifts and graces that I possess for ministry.  This is not something I’m comfortable with talking about.  It feels strange, uncomfortable, braggadocious  to talk about which abilities I posses that make me fit for ministry.  At least it did.  Until I looked back at this passage.

The word used here for gifts is the Greek χαρισματα (charismata), the word that we get “charismatic” from.  The implication that goes along with this word is that the gift that is given is not merited or earned by the recipient.  It is a true gift, given without qualifications.  When viewed in this way, it helps to remind me that not only do we all have different gifts to fulfill different goals, we are given these gifts, not because of something that we’ve done, but because of something that we are expected to do.  We are all call to be ministers in some way, whether it’s through ordination, through teaching a Bible study, through giving generously of our time and our money, through encouraging the people around us.  None of this is done to build us up or to make us feel more important.  This is done to build everybody up, to allow all of creation to grow closer to God.

For lots of us, this can be a struggle to undertake.  That’s the real problem with living sacrifices: they tend to get off of the altar.  But I hope that you’ll find the joy and the peace that can come from submitting to God’s plan, to using the gifts that have been given to you, and to truly all whom you meet as people in need of God’s grace.

Preparation for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 124

If the Lord had not been on our side—
    let Israel say—
if the Lord had not been on our side
    when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive
    when their anger flared against us;
the flood would have engulfed us,
    the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters
    would have swept us away.

Praise be to the Lord,
    who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
    and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of trouble or hardships in our lives, we have this tendency to wonder, “Where is God?”  We look around, desperate for help and we seem to be lost and abandoned, no God and no help anywhere in sight.  It’s a feeling we can all relate to.  Even Jesus himself, when hanging on the cross, cried out to the God who had seemingly abandoned and forsaken him.

The people of Israel could certainly understand that sentiment.  After years of slavery in Egypt, they’d escaped the Pharaoh only to find themselves wandering through the desert.  They eventually made their way to the promised land only to find it filled with enemies as big as giants.  They secured their homeland only to be repeatedly attacked by other countries and their armies.  And yet, looking back on all of these various hardships and trials, David reminds his people that in those desperate times, when so many of them were crying out for God, they were not alone.  If God were not with them, they would have been destroyed long ago, their story wiped from history.

We too will face trials and hardships in this life.  But we should do so with the understanding that God is by our side, even if we are not aware of it at the time.  There’s a band that I love called mewithoutYou and one of their lyrics reminds me of this idea.  “Blind as I’d become, I used to wonder where You are.  These days, I can’t find where You’re not.”  As we suffer through the difficult times in this life, I pray that we would all be granted sight, finding it impossible to see a place where God is not.