Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, October 30, 2011

God's word

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
9You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. 11As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

13We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

 Matthew 23:1-12
1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.


My grandmother got me a Bible when I was 12. She says I told her I was going to read the wholething. Then I read two or three verses and said that was enough for the night. She said, in her lovely southern accent, “Sam, it’s going to take an awful long time to read the Bible like that.”

I don’t remember exactly when or how it happened, but soon I fell in love with the Bible. I read it on my own, which made me more interested in the sermons I heard on Sundays. I was captivated by the world of the Bible, so different than the world we live in today but still connected. I loved the stories of Moses, Israel, and King David.

More than anything I was captivated by the story of Jesus. His teaching was so powerful. He had a way of cutting through all the subtle deception and political posturing of the religious leaders. His words hit me and stuck. His life also inspired me. His love for us and his courage blew me away as did the courage and conviction of the early church.

In seventh grade I went to Catholic school and I found out that I was truly a protestant, or as my English teacher would say a protest-ant. As we studied the teachings of the Catholic church, much of it made perfect sense to me since the Christian faith is one faith no matter what church you go to.

But other things didn’t make sense to me at all. I distinctly remember learning some teaching that didn’t make sense to me and didn’t fit what I understood about scripture. I asked the teacher: “Where does that come from in the Bible?” The teacher didn’t have a good answer.

Part of my opposition was run of the mill teenage defiance; I was a pretty smart-allecky kid, after all. But part of my resistance was my reformation heritage coming through. I’ve come to value that heritage more and more. We celebrate the reformation today not to disrespect our Catholic brothers and sisters, but to stir up the spirit of the reformers in our church and in our lives.

Whenever we take scripture seriously, reformation naturally follows. That’s because scripture is God’s word, and God’s word is powerful to challenge, encourage, empower and change us. God has blessed the church with a huge variety of interpretation. Some Christians read the Bible literally; others with a more critical view. We can be faithful either way.

Monday, October 24, 2011

ungrateful guests, 10.9.11

Matthew 22:1-14
1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’

5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Before we dig into today’s parable, would someone remind us of the parable we talked about last week?

We talked last week about how the Bible pictures the church as the bride of Jesus, so it fits that the wedding of the king’s son would be a good image for the coming of God’s Kingdom.

This parable follows last week’s parables that show Israel’s leaders rejecting God’s calling. Here, instead of abusing the landlord’s servants who came to collect rent, the invited guests reject, beat and kill the servants who come to tell them that the wedding feast is ready.

We recognize why the tenants might act how they do. Greed makes sense as a motivation and we can see how the story fits together, even though we share the landlord’s anger when his servants suffer injustice. The “bad guys” in today’s parable don’t make sense to me. Their violence towards the king’s servants doesn’t get them anything. It seems impulsive, almost sadistic. They not only don’t care about being invited to the wedding feast; they seem to have something against the king who invited them and go out of their way to reject his message.

Like last week’s parable Jesus tells this parable because of the situation around him. Let’s start with the easy part: who is the king in the story? Right, God is the king and we’re talking about God’s kingdom as a wedding feast. Who are the guests who were invited but refuse to come?

Why do you think they refuse?

Who are the people the servants finally gather into the feast?

How do you imagine they feel about being there? What would it be like to be invited into God’s wedding feast?

The amazing thing about our faith is that every day we are invited into God’s kingdom, God’s feast. Whenever we read scripture or come to the communion table or spend time with God in prayer we hear that invitation again.

We’ve been invited to the feast not because of anything we’ve done right or wrong; remember, the servants bring good and bad people in off the streets. We are all invited to the feast of God’s kingdom and because we hear that invitation and enjoy the banquet we also become servants and invite others to the feast as well. That’s an amazing opportunity, a grace-filled invitation.

teach us to number, 10.23.11

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 1Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar. 4The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 9Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses. 10Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. Psalm 90 (NIV) 1 A prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 3 You turn people back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, you mortals." 4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death— they are like the new grass of the morning: 6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. 7 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. 9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. 10 Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. 11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. 12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 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 of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. Matthew 22:34-46 34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39and a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. -------------------------------------------- “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?” It’s a good question for the Pharisees then and for us today. Of all the commandments, all the reminders, all the guidance God gives for our life, which is the most important? People have asked that questions in lots of different ways. For the Pharisees, who saw faithfulness to God largely in terms of following the commandments carefully this makes sense. Ethical Philosophers ask roughly the same question in other words: “How does one live well? What is the good life about?” Other philosophers might ask the question another way: “What is the meaning of life? Why are we here?” It’s a question that naturally sits deep in our souls. We have a sense that there is a point to this journey called life and we long to know what it is. Jesus’ answer echoes in our soul as well, partly because of its simplicity and partly because we know it is true. Love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourself. It’s simple and it makes sense. Simple doesn’t mean easy though. Maybe the clearest way we know these are commandments is that we know we don’t live up to them all the way. Love God with all your heart and soul and mind. Boy, that’s a big one. Still, it helps that God wants us to use every part of our being to love. In other words, we’re not supposed to shut our brains off when we turn our heart to God. That love is practical and embodied too; we’re not just brains focused on God, but people who find our emotional and spiritual center in God. The trouble with Jesus’ answer is that it’s easy to fret about whether we love God enough or not. It’s easy to worry about whether our emotional connection with God measures up. I’d offer two approaches to that issue. On the one hand love doesn’t grow from worry; love grows from being loved and knowing it. That’s one way reading scripture nurtures our faith. When we spend time with the Bible we read again and again how much God cares for us. We hear stories of God’s calling and concern; we hear songs of praise and stories of relationship. Whenever the other stories leave me wanting more I think about Jesus. In particular I think about the garden and I think about the cross. Jesus worried about himself; he was afraid of facing the pain of betrayal. He didn’t want to be arrested or beaten or hung on a cross. He prayed to God hoping there might be another way, but knowing in his heart that there probably wasn’t. The path he had chosen, the path of being with the outcast and lost, of healing no matter what and choosing relationship over rules led unavoidably to the cross. Jesus knew where his path was leading. He told his disciples several times during their journey to Jerusalem that he was going to his death. He could have turned back, but he didn’t. Jesus loved us too much to shy away from the cross. When I think about Jesus, Son of God and God in flesh choosing day after day to keep walking towards the cross I know Jesus loves me. I know God loves us. I know it not just with my mind, but deep down in my heart and soul, and my heart fills up with love in return. I want to follow God, not because I’m worried about judgment or hell or wrath, but because I remember what God has done for me. Loving our neighbor doesn’t always have the same reciprocity. Sometimes our neighbor doesn’t love us; sometimes our neighbor doesn’t care about us at all. It doesn’t really matter; our calling is clear. When we have a choice between two actions, we are called to choose the more loving one. When we have to choose between caring about someone else or ignoring them, we choose engagement. When we see a coworker hurting we comfort them, regardless of whether we get along otherwise or not. When we see someone hungry, we feed them, like we’re doing at Cameron this afternoon. Love is the chief commandment and guide for our life, but sometimes we need more specific guidance. For that we have the rest of the commandments as well as the history of the church. Notice Jesus doesn’t say loving God and our neighbor replaces the other commandments. He says instead that those are the first two commandments and from them everything else hangs. The commandments give detail and shape to how we put our love into action. Some of those commandments change and others stay the same. We don’t need to avoid reaping the edges of our fields as Exodus commands; for one thing most of us don’t have fields. But that commandment is about providing for the poor, which is part of loving our neighbor and is very much still a requirement for membership in the church of Christ. At its core and in its details, living well is about loving God and loving our neighbor. Our readings also reflect on the limits of our life. Moses was an incredible follower of God and a dedicated leader of Israel. Following God, he led the people out of slavery and through the desert to safety and new life on the other side. Despite all his efforts, God doesn’t allow Moses to go into the land to which he led Israel. It seems harsh, and in some ways it is, but it is also the way life often is. Many of the important things we work on in our lives won’t be finished before we die. Like Moses we will have to trust that others will continue the work after we’re gone. We can work for justice, but we probably won’t live to see equality and fairness prevail completely. We strive to make the educational system work for all our kids, but the undertaking is so great that the struggle will go on beyond our lifetimes. Human life is temporary and fragile: like Moses says in our responsive Psalm, we are like new grass that springs up in the morning and withers by the end of the day. The fact that life is temporary and that many of our projects will not be finished in our lifetime doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take on challenges. The time God gives us on the earth is precious so we need to find the right balance between work and rest, between commitment and letting go and between good stewardship and generosity. Moses prays that God would teach us to number our days so we can acquire wise hearts. That means we have to realize our mortality to value our time properly. The sooner we realize that our time may be short, the better use we will make of the time we have. At the same time we don’t want to let our mortality worry us so that we cling to our days with white knuckles. We’re also called to make time to enjoy the journey and those on the journey with us. That’s part of why God commands us to remember the Sabbath by stepping away from our work. We want to number our days, but not obsess over their limitations. The work we leave unfinished when we take our last breath is holy and, while we won’t see it finished, someone else may pick up where we have left off. I’d like for you to gather in pairs and share with your partner something important to you that you worry about not completing. Now share what your next step might be to release your worry to God, to trust God to take care of your goal when you have to let it go. Then your partner will pray for you to trust God and give up your anxiety while staying committed to your calling. Then switch. The key is to trust that God is in charge. Our attitude should be one of calm urgency. Urgent because our time is short and the needs around us are great, but calm because we are not alone in our efforts. The stewardship pledges we dedicate today are a good symbol of our calling. Our time and our money are limited and the need is great. We commit part of what we earn, and part of who we are to the work of the church. Much of that work will not be finished in our lifetime: people will still be hungry, the building may still need work, some people will still not know Jesus. But others will pick up where we leave off. So we number our days and our dollars, we commit our treasure and our labor to the Lord, and we let our calling to love God and our neighbor shape the time we have on this earth, knowing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Caring for God's vineyard, 10.2.11

Philippians 3:4b-14
4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

 Matthew 21:33-46
33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.

37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

            Ok, so let’s start with this story Jesus tells. What’s the problem in the story?

How does the owner of the vineyard try to resolve it? What might some other options have been for the owner?

What’s the outcome?

Now, Jesus doesn’t just tell this story at random. Matthew tells us that the chief priests and scribes figured out that Jesus told the parable about them. Let’s think that through.

If the parable is about the religious leaders, who are they in the parable?

What does the vineyard stand for?

Who is the landowner?

What does it mean that the religious leaders refused to give the vineyard’s produce to God? What would that produce be? What are they doing instead of giving it to God?

What servants does God send to convince the religious leaders to share their bounty?

How do the leaders treat those messengers?

Why do the leaders kill the son? What are they trying to accomplish? How do you think that’s going to work for them?

What might it mean in this context for God to give the vineyard to others?

This gives us one great image of the church. In fact, several great biblical images for Israel work really well for the church. It’s important for us to remember that we in the church join God’s story; we don’t replace Israel. God and Israel have an ongoing story that is in conversation with our story. The stories are related, but not identical: we can’t live Israel’s story and neither can they live ours.

So the vineyard is one great image of the church from the Bible. What would stewardship look like in that image?

There are many images of the church in scripture and others we can come up with on our own. Each image focuses on some aspects of the church and may leave out others. Even though we all might have images that speak to us more than others, it’s important to know that no one image tells the whole story, so we can learn from each other.

Institutional religion?

Matthew 21:23-32
23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

Philippians 2:1-13
1If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6   who, though he was in the form of God,
          did not regard equality with God
          as something to be exploited,
7   but emptied himself,
          taking the form of a slave,
          being born in human likeness.
     And being found in human form,
8        he humbled himself
          and became obedient to the point of death —
          even death on a cross.
9   Therefore God also highly exalted him
          and gave him the name
          that is above every name,
10  so that at the name of Jesus
          every knee should bend,
          in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11  and every tongue should confess
          that Jesus Christ is Lord,
          to the glory of God the Father.
12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
One of the things we notice when we read the Bible is that there are different voices in it that often tell the story a little differently. We see this especially in the Gospels: there are four Gospels and each writer has a distinct style and writes with different audiences and issues in mind. The big picture is the same because they are all telling the story about Jesus, but they sometimes tell that story very differently.

Sometimes we feel threatened that the differences in the stories weaken the overall story. We want to know what really happened or try to fit the pieces from each Gospel into an overall history.

It’s more fun and productive to read each story on its own and get to know the different personalities of the Gospels. John is the most different from the others with a beginning at the moment of creation and a mystical writing style. Luke has a special eye for the outsider including women, gentiles and the poor. Mark is the shortest account, crisp and to the point with a keen sense of conflict between Jesus and the leaders right from the beginning.

Matthew is longer with more focus on Jesus’ teaching and on building a church. He seems less concerned with the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, which is a major theme for Mark and John throughout the Gospel.

In Matthew Jesus spends most of his ministry away from Jerusalem. When he teaches and heals he encounters religious leaders, who Matthew calls Pharisees and “teachers of the law,” occasionally accompanied by Sadducees. These leaders and Jesus argue and sometimes the Pharisees ask Jesus questions “to test him,” but the conflict isn’t the main focus and we don’t hear anything from Matthew about the leaders plotting to kill Jesus.

Along the road, Jesus predicts his death three times before he reaches Jerusalem. In those predictions he says the people who will kill him are the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem, so we know that Jesus expects deadly conflict with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Once Jesus gets to Jerusalem he encounters those leaders. We don’t hear much about Pharisees anymore; instead Jesus argues with the chief priests and elders and the conflict between them becomes more important and more dangerous.

That doesn’t mean the religious leaders have already made up their mind when Jesus arrives; it just means Jesus knows where the story is going. Knowing that, Jesus goes into the city quite aggressively. His entrance into the city on Palm Sunday is a royal procession where he pretty explicitly claims to be the Messiah. Then he goes right to the temple and starts turning over tables before leaving the city to spend the night in Bethany.

The next day Jesus goes back to the temple to teach. That’s when the chief priests and elders start asking him questions. They ask what gives him the right to turn things upside down in their place of worship.