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.
March 17, 2015
12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
Oh wow, is Jesus losing it here? He is feeling quite protective in this story. The temple had a specific purpose. It was a place for worship including prayers and rituals. It was not intended to be the downtown market. This is one of the few texts where Jesus is outright angry. Does his anger match the assumption that he was mad about using the temple as a market, or is there more going on here?
Could it be that Jesus was angry about the entire system of animal sacrifices? To eliminate animal sacrifices would be turning the whole temple system upside down. Sound familiar? Jesus’ life and teaching show us again and again, that it’s not so much what we do, but what is our attitude our intention? What is on the inside comes out. Are we paying attention to our spiritual lives or are we more concerned about getting ahead like the money changers who worked in the temple?
Here's Jesus, more or less, I think, that we must be attentive, listen, not be totally distracted, or we will miss whatever new thing the Spirit is doing in our lives and communities.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to 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. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Jesus has a movement model. He is looking for a new human process, dynamic, people-on-the-move on earth. This is not a matter merely of individual hearts. It is a matter of individual hearts creating a new "city" on earth. So this means there will be resistance. So be well planted. This means we could miss it altogether. So make sure you're "fertile ground." Attend to it. Pay attention! In a wealthy society with so many choices, entertainments, options, we may get distracted (not that pain and suffering is also not distracting in a different way). And finally, if we are well rooted, the yield, the result, the synergy is amazing. Now we're looking at multipliers of joy and love. So sweet.
44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In this text the “Kingdom of Heaven” refers to our value system and the choices we make. What is important to us? What would be so important that we would be willing to sell everything or sacrifice everything to go after “it?” For many going to college is a no-brainer. For others who were not encouraged to attend college and then decide to go later in life, it can be a huge sacrifice. It can involve leaving a paying job to not working and most likely incurring debt. We all have a God given drive within us and when that spark is ignited it can feel like nothing can stop us until we have achieved the goal or bought the field.
Often our choices are not clear cut nor nicely labeled so that we can make the best choice. We carry tension as we try to discern the best path. Sometimes the choice is between what is in my personal best interest and the environment or society as a whole. For example, do I choose a socially responsible investment with a potential lower return or military arms productions with a likely greater return on investment? The more we learn about God’s contrary, upside down, nonsensical ways of being in the world through our lenses of community, peace, simplicity and service, we will find ourselves doing things that may not make sense to others. We need to listen to the spirit of God for wisdom and discernment as choices are put before us regularly.
Matthew 8:5-13 Children can follow along in Spark 290.
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to himand saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
The military man's servant lies sick at home. He seeks out Jesus, who has been doing works for power. The officer believes Jesus can cure the servant with nothing more than a word. For the officer, Jesus has complete authority.
What is this authority? It is the ineffable, the "x-factor", that "thing itself" that the centurion knows is true about Jesus - here is a rabbi and teacher whose ways are not bound up with the limits of the usual way of thinking. Here is one is following the inner and outer courage to live and act wholeheartedly in the world, so that all he does lands well, is strong, and true. The centurion sees that when Jesus even so much as says a word, it's from the heart and it goes to the heart of the matter, whatever that is. Then his servant is healed.
Today's reading: Matthew 7:24-28
Children can follow along in Shine On page 202 and Spark page 282.
This is a short passage that I grew up singing in church about a wise man that built his house upon a rock, and a foolish man that build his house upon the sand. It's a very concrete image for our children, and yet explains the value of Jesus to adults quite well. I know of people who have anchored their life in faith and a faith community, realizing that life is best when it's shared. So much of the gospel of Jesus is about a shared life - economics, status, power, love, work, food, talents - everything is to be shared. More so, when you do share you realize that the best security in life is investing in the people around you. Family is one version, but so is your neighborhood and faith community. When tragedy strikes, you never have to go through it alone. When it's time to celebrate, you always have someone to celebrate with.
When we invest our time and life in faith communities, the foundation of our life is strong. If you do not invest in the relationships and people near you, the foundation of your life is vulnerable to the whims of life's storms. Let us follow this Jesus together, and build our life's together so that we can weather life's storms a bit more intact.
Matthew 6:1-18, Children can follow along in Shine on 198 and Spark 278.
‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
What's wanted is authenticity. Someone who will be good in private, not just when others are watching. Someone who will pray wholeheartedly "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
And there is the matter of using the powerful religious impulse to manipulate others in order to maintain privilege. To "look dismal" - open and honest religion will include all tears and laughter, but not the dismal face of one seeking attention through fake spiritual seriousness. Leave all that behind and just be who you are. Do not attempt to give what you only pretend to have. Give just what you have. It will be enough. It will be more than enough. Genuine authenticity is always amazing; always wonderful; always enough.
Matthew 5:21-37 Children can follow along in Spark page 272.
This section of the sermon on the mount is a list of "You have heard it said _____, but I say to you ____." Jesus is making it clear that the standards of Jewish (religious) law are simply not enough. He teaches about murder, marriage and swearing (an oath). Instead of keeping the old standards, Jesus digs a bit deeper to their root causes. Murder is obviously unacceptable, but what about all the disagreements that lead up to a murder? Divorce is not desired, but what about the changes in desire that lead to divorce? Swearing oaths is supposed to solidify our word, but why not simply be honest, trustworthy and reliable all the time with or words and promises? This reminds me of the law today in our lives.
Immigration standards are one thing, but what about loving everyone, no matter what? You have heard it said that you should be a good citizen, but I say that the only citizenship that matters is being a citizen of God's kingdom/nation. So treat everyone as a citizen of God's land.
Taxes and financial law matter, but what about making sure everyone has enough? You have heard it said that you should make as much money as you can legally, but I say to make sure everyone has enough to live by.
The examples could keep on going. What in your life have you made a higher standard that represents your core values? It is an ancient Christian and Anabaptist spiritual practice to make Jesus our standard and God our judge and love our deepest value. May love guide you more than the law. May compassion guide you more than the constitution. May Christ mediate your community, and not the courts.
Matthew 5:13-20 (Children can follow along in Shine On 260 and Spark 268):
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
This passage is one of the iconic readings for Anabaptists who often talk today about creating "contrast communities", gatherings of people whose lives truly seem different, communities that have an "x" factor in the presence of which people may say "There is something strangely wonderful here." Or even to live out what Tertullian said people would exclaim about early Christian community: "See how they love each other." That is salt. That is light. That is the fulfillment of any law.
Matthew 5:1-12 Children can follow along is Shine One page 164 and Spark 264.
"Blessed are the..."
Known as the Beatitutudes, this passage starts the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It is the simplest, straight forward reminder that the blessed are not the rich, powerful, happy, popular, healthy, full, satisfied, violent or selfish. The blessed are those often criticized and looked down upon by society. The blessed are those seeking after God. The blessed are those dealing with the tragedies in life of death, hunger, violence and judgement.
For Anabaptists, the sermon on the mount and the Beatitudes have been a source of persecution. Since the beginning of the Anabaptist movement and stream of Christianity, most have insisted that God and Jesus intend for us to live and embody the Beatitudes. They are realistic, life-giving, and simply a better version of the 10 Commandments from Moses in the Old Testament. Many other Christian groups have disagreed and looked upon Anabaptists with disapproval. We'll continue the Sermon on the Mount for a few more days this week. Is it still our primary vision of God's nation/kingdom/ways? Is Jesus' teaching still the center of our faith and life?
Events & Evites:
Tory - Pastor of Children and Youth Faith Formation.