March 31, 2015
33 Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ … 35 Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples. …40b he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour … 51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. … 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.
Peter tries hard to be the friend of all friends to Jesus, but he fails miserably. He falls asleep when Jesus is in great pain and distress. Most people apply the sword event to Peter, as the one who cut off the ear of the enemy. And then, he denies he even knows Jesus, not once, not twice but three times. This is not how you treat a friend and Peter knows it but not until the end. It is really hard to do the right thing every time, right? We all do it. Good intentions, fail! Good intentions, fail! Repeat.
God help us, not only to be loving, serving and giving to our friends but also help us to be loving and forgiving to others who might let us down. Help us to forgive ourselves when we realize we have lived below our intentions. Amen!
Matthew 26:1-16 Children can follow along in Shine On page 264.
Today, a slightly different look at a fairly familiar passage. It has at least two parts, one in which Jesus has expensive perfume poured on him, and another in which Judas is paid for finding a moment to betray Jesus. We often focus on one or the other, but to read them together shows how much money guides our actions. For the woman, spending an expensive bottle of perfume on Jesus is not wasteful. But for many it is seen as unnecessary, and even foolish and irresponsible. For Judas, it was prudent to make money and gain favor by turning Jesus over in a quiet way to the authorities.
This all reminds me how much money is involved in some of our biggest moments in life. Do we know when to "waste" money on that which is precious to us? Do we know when to sacrifice financial gain for the well-being of others? These are two hard things to do intentionally and against the favor and opinion of others. Money matters, and the matter of money play big roles in our lives. May they not hinder our identity, but rather emphasize that which is most precious and meaningful and truest in our lives.
Matthew 25:31-46 Children can follow along in Shine On page 258 and Spark 318.
45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
There is something beautiful and simple about this passage as a whole. Take care of the forgotten, the weak, the poor, the left out, and you take care of Christ... and you "take care" of God. You take care of God's desires. You satisfy God.
What trips us up with this passage is the "eternal" word. We do not know what to do with the last part when, prior to these two verses, when the king denounces those on his left side that ignored those in need. Is God really sending them into eternal punishment?
Again, I think we miss point a bit. For me, this passage is Jesus' way of showing that life will only come when we take care of everyone, and "punishment" will continue when we leave some people out. Society aches in loud ways when we do not take care of everyone. I think of schools where children go hungry and homeless. Do we not as a society take on the punishment of food insecurity, legal fees, prison costs, relationship tragedies, etc. when we do not take care of these families? When we do not offer everyone a living wage and real opportunities to work for a real wage. Real opportunities to rest and reflect and relax (while knowing that you make enough to live on). This is my own political bias, and I fully acknowledge it. But maybe in your own life you have a way of reaching those who are simply hungry and homeless. Regardless of our political views, we have a clear calling - work towards eternal life. It's a bit less of a judgment by Jesus in my understanding, and much more of a simple understanding of what the future is "already bringing."
If we take care of each other, then life will continue, and hopefully eternally. If we don't take care of each other, then punishment, in all it's forms, will continue for decades.
God be with you, and everyone, today!
First of all - slaves. Slaves were everywhere in Jesus' day and become set characters in this minatory tale. Second - urgency. Are we going to spend our lives eventually getting around to living our lives? When, if not now, will we invest for God's good Spirit?
The Parable of the Talents ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Once again we have a story that seems to presage Jesus' lament: "How I longed to teach you the ways of peace, but you would not have it. The story may have particular force for people who are presumably people of faith but who fail to invest, fail to get into the agenda of the City of God. The anger and harsh language are not the take home here. They are artifacts of the story, as is the presence of slaves. What matters is that we opt in wholeheartedly. What matters is that we do not stay passive in the face of our fears. And we never have to do what is not given for us to do. What we need to do is whatever we can do. And that will be enough. That will be good.
Matthew 25:1-13 Children can follow along in Spark on page 314.
This is the story of 10 bridesmaids who wait for a groom. When he becomes delayed the 5 that brought extra oil for their lamps are prepared. The other 5 run out of oil and have to go get more. During that time they miss the groom and their chance to be part of the wedding feast.
To be honest, this is not one of the parables I turn to often. When I read the whole story it seems mean not to let people in when the groom was the one who was late in the first place. It basically messes with my idea of fairness and grace. However, I can easily compare it to the spiritual practice of preparation. Probably a reason I have been drawn to ministry and to church leadership is because of the value I experience in building relationships. Life has many unexpected tragedies and dramatic situations, including death, sickness, violence, failure, and hate. Are we prepared for these situations?
On the one hand I'm not sure if we can ever truly be prepared for all of life. In fact, I would say that we simply cannot. Part of living is experiencing a new day each and every day. Even days that are similar are still somehow different in some way. Tragedy, is something that drastically changes our daily living. Are we ready?
The hope I have experienced in church communities, is the resource of living life with others. Some people primarily think of church as reaching out to those not yet in the church. Some people primarily think of church as a place to learn correct beliefs about the world. While both of those are true, I think another reason is to prepare for the unknown. To build a life with people who will walk with you during times of stress and tragedy and sadness. I often wonder if we have the time to invest in our relationships. We can busy ourselves so much that we become similar to the five bridesmaids who miss the bride. They have just enough to get by in "regular" circumstances, but not enough to encounter the unexpected in life.
May we invest enough in our relationships so that we are prepared when the unexpected happens. May the kingdom of God flourish with those who prepare together. Peace,
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They 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. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Have you ever wondered if there were any scribes or Pharisees in the crowd that day? Jesus is certainly not mincing words when he is calling them out as unfit leaders in their communities.
One of the main characteristics that millennials are looking for in leaders is authenticity. Is the teacher, parent, boss, or pastor real and genuine? Are we living the way we are talking? If we say we care about the environment, what are we doing to help make a difference? It does not take long to identify a fake. What can you do to live your most authentic self today as a Jesus follower?
Matthew 22:15-22 Children can follow along in Spark 306
Verse 21 "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's. Give to God what is God's."
This is one passage that seems simple enough. There is no disagreement about what is deeper. Ultimately we know that God is a deeper value than following Caesar. But this is hard to live out. In this passage the Jewish leaders and elite probably want to follow someone who will free them from the Roman leaders and elite. However, Jesus will not take this task on. Everyone, including Jesus, knows that taking on the Romans is a near fatal task. It's quite hard to live under an empire of the wealthy and militarily mighty. Mennonites and Anabaptists have struggled with this for literally centuries. The post-Babylon Jews have struggled with this for over 2,000, and are now in the ironic situation of perpetuating what they were running from as they seek to control the Palestinians. But Jesus does not offer any easy answer. He simply offers another question.
I often wonder if he answer changed anyone's life. Did anyone suddenly start doing something different with their money? I really don't know. But I do hope that it reminded people to keep pondering the role of God in their life. As a religious leader myself, I often wonder of how to answer people's use of their time. I regularly receive emails of people offering reasons why they cannot participate in various events (and there are many activities with church people that I decline participation in as well). Maybe my response should simply acknowledge the tension in our lives. When we consider how we spend our time (similarly to our finances), "Give to work/school/sports/family what is theirs. And Give to God what is God's." What does it mean to wrestle with the gods in our lives today? We make gods out of many things. We have many substitutions for Caesar's role in our life today. I pray that we simply remember God is everywhere, in everything, and at the core of everything.
Give to God what is God's :-).
Matthew 22:1-14 Children can follow along in Spark page 304 (and another passage about the kingdom of heaven in Shine On page 254).
7 The 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.
This is a tough passage for me to read. I simply do not want to picture the kingdom/nation of heaven (and God and Jesus) as a king willing to kill. But I also realize that is not the message. If this was the message, then it supports killing those who have killed. It would be a passage to support one's military killing so-called terrorists and other soldiers who are not part of our kingdom of God. But again, this is not the message of this passage. Instead, this is about the strength of God's "nation." It is about condemning those who refuse to take part. Just like a wedding feast, which should be a splendid time, if you do not have the time for God's ways, then you are condemning yourself.
I realize how little time we have for God in this day and age of being busy, distracted, tired and stressed. If you are poorer, then you likely spend much energy trying to simply make financial ends meet for housing, food and healthcare. If you are more affluent, then you likely spend much energy deciding between all the options in your life, and taking advantage of all the opportunities in your life. I realize daily in my own life how intentional Crystal and I must be in our lives to focus on our relationship, on our spirituality, and community in our life. We do not always get the depth we would prefer or think we need. Some things feel out of our control, yet we also realize that many things are in our control if we're willing to go against the opinion of our friends, family and neighbors. It doesn't mean that we will go against them, but we have to at least be willing.
For me, this passage is a reminder to be intentional about my time. I do not want to miss the beauty in the tasks and relationships and rest and experiences that are deeper than my love of work, netflix, consuming and scheduling. These are not necessarily bad things, but do I do them with God's ways at the center, or do I do them in a way that forgets my core identity and God's core invitation? Do they lead me towards community, simplicity, peace and service? Or do they lead me against and away from community, simplicity, peace and service?
Here is another parable from the time that Jesus was in open conflict with the religious leaders of his day. And they had a lot of power! Sometimes the gospel (good news) of love requires immense risk and struggle in the midst of opposition.
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. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42 Jesus 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’? 43 Therefore 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. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
The anger and frustration of the situation is clear in Jesus' story. The stone was rejected! When the gospel of love effectively challenges current arrangements, people become angry, even violent. This is the great deepening of Jesus' story and of true hearts and prophets of all ages. Soon comes the cross. There is no path around it. Only through it. And then resurrection.
Matthew 21:23-32 Children can follow along in Spark page 460.
Verse 25 "Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
This is actually a great question from Jesus to continue today. The baptism we do today (of the church), is it from heaven or from human origin? Is it an experience that started with humans and continued in various forms for thousands of years? Or is it an experience that started from heaven - which we'd assume comes from the Spirit of God? This question can be transferred to a host of other questions. Did the idea of building churches come from God or from human origin? Did the use of cars come from God or from human beings? Did the idea of non-heterosexual families come from God or from human origins? What about non-LGBTQ families - from God or from human origins? Capitalism? Currency? Etc. The question of origins and authority is rarely singular. As Anabaptists, we believe in community and in voices as opposed to one voice ruling the rest.
When I read this story I am challenged to think back to one of my favorite stories - the origin of the name Israel, in which Jacob is wrestling with God in the book of Genesis. Instead of thinking that God always has the answer, this is a clear example and metaphor that we have the answers too. We are not trying to reclaim a previous era, but we are all trying to live our best self, our saved self, today! We are not trying to hear what God said centuries (or even decades ago), but are wrestling with God NOW. For God is not light years away, but with us - right now! We are not ancient Greeks telling stories of God up on a mountain, but we are Christians who believe in the God of Jesus, a God who never leaves us. This God is so relational that the answer is not - from God or from human origins, but always both.
For many people, this is hard to grapple with. We want a God far away (or non-existent), or we want a God we can control. But what about this believing in a God with us (Immanuel), and that our authority comes through the process of wrestling with God and man (Israel). Prevailing in this life is not about surviving beyond others, but about living with others. Finding authority is not about choosing the correct origin, but about the process of discernment. It's usually not a nice or pretty process. Jacob was injured for life from his wrestling. Yet, he gained a blessing from an angel of God. In this passage, the priests and elders are troubled by Jesus when Jesus doesn't seek their authority. They are not sure how to live outside their institutional role. Hopefully Jesus' answer didn't bind them as much as free them to see the truth. They had been ignoring the needs and health and well-being of the masses. John had been reaching the masses. Could they find and articulate a theology and life that reached the masses? Did they have authority in themselves and within their roles to reach the masses? Could they strengthen the relationship of God with humanity?
It's a hard challenge for all of us. Can we live a life like John and Jesus, that makes people question their belief in God and authority?
Events & Evites:
Tory - Pastor of Children and Youth Faith Formation.