God With Us

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

Joseph has a dilemma. His fiancé is pregnant, and they have not yet been physically intimate. In that society men held all the power. All Joseph would have to do is make this information public and Mary would be totally humiliated and perhaps killed. But Joseph is a kind man, a gentle man, and despite everything, he has compassion for Mary. One of the huge themes of the Gospel of Matthew is that of righteousness. Joseph, by deciding to deal with things quietly does the righteous thing. This action makes it possible for him to hear God’s word about this baby.

And yet, the whole story would have come to a screeching halt if Joseph hadn’t listened to his dream. This detail of the story worries me a bit. I do not remember my dreams. I’ve tried. I’ve kept my journal next to my bed and tried to write them down, but I just never have a clear picture of what I’ve been dreaming. If God is trying to reach me through my dreams, I’m in trouble.

Several times in the course of Jesus’ young life dreams are going to save his life. Here Joseph is convinced to take Mary as his wife. Later they will pack up and leave Bethlehem because of a dream. Later they will return and settle in Nazareth. All because of dreams.

Today’s passage marks the start of the narrative of the birth of Jesus. Before this we’ve had a list of the predecessors of Jesus. It’s an interesting list. There is a prostitute in there, and a woman whose husband was murdered by the father of the baby. It follows the people of God into the promised land and out again into exile. The people of God are still in exile at this point. They are living under the boot of the Roman government and they are waiting for deliverance.

And it does come. In the least likely way one can imagine–through the birth of a baby. Born to a young, unwed, poor woman. God shows up, but not in the way anyone is expecting. God shows up when Joseph decides to be a decent human being. God shows up in Joseph’s dream, and in his obedience to the commands he was received. God shows up in Mary’s obedience and faith in God. Joseph must still be shaking his head, wondering what in the world God is up to. He did not see it coming, but now it is on the way. Perhaps for God to be present we must first be faithful in the little things of our lives. Maybe God’s not going to show up in the grand gesture, or the flashy show of might and power. One person decides to be decent to another–despite how they assume they have been wronged. And God shows up. Quietly, unexpectedly and without any real fanfare.

Quotes for the Week

Dreams digest the meals that are our days.                                               Astrid Alauda, Dyspeptic Enlightenment

Pay attention to your dreams – God’s angels often speak directly to our hearts when we are asleep.   Angels’ Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman

All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams.       Elias Canetti

Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.                Marsha Norman

”Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”        Virginia Woolf

”I slept and dreamt that life was Joy.I woke and saw that life was Service.I acted, and behold, Service was Joy.”         Rabindranath Tagore

”The other night I dreamt I went to the gates of heaven. And St. Peter said ‘Go back to earth. There are no slums up here.”       Mother Teresa

“I dreamed I was buying new shoes last night,” said Ron. “What d’ya think that’s gonna mean?”
“Probably that you’re going to be eaten by a giant marshmallow or something,” said Harry.”        J.K. Rowling

Lesson: Matthew 1:18-25 (The Message)

The Birth of Jesus

18-19 The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

20-23 While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

24-25 Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

Questions for the Week

Do you remember your dreams? What is one that sticks in your mind?

Is there a small, decent thing you sense God might be calling you to do?

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Devotional for December 14, 2014 – Light to the Nations   

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                   The prophet Isaiah speaks to us today out of the depths of destruction and exile. Louis Stulman and Hyun Chul Paul Kim describe prophetic literature as “meaning-making literature for communities under siege.”  In this mid part of the book of Isaiah, the prophet certainly has a big job of creating meaning and hope out of cities that have been under siege, families that have been separated and people displaced in a foreign land.

In this portion of the book, the prophet chooses to bring up imagery to help us navigate through times of chaos.  Isaiah is constantly helping us to see what is ahead in positive terms instead of just giving up.  This is where we first encounter the image of the suffering servant of God.  This perfect new leader that we are waiting for is strong but not in the ways that we might hope for.  When we encounter the mis use of power, most people would immediately turn towards exuding power back.  In this case, the power comes out of a vulnerability that creates out of nothing.

This servant will be a “bruised reed” and a “dimly burning wick” instead of a brute force or a killing machine.  The one to represent God will not create vengeance but will create justice. This will create a different kind of power.  It will not scream or shout like the powers that have come through before. This power will be different and will lift up the broken.  This is not a call to move inward to protect one another but to exude light from our brokenness.   By becoming a light to the nations out of our darkness, we are called to be a stronger people because we are outward focused.

For this season, all of these pieces become significant as we wait for a new servant to appear and transform the world.  Isaiah speaks as much to us today.  There are such spots of darkness in the world that it is sometimes extremely hard to see and not want to move inward to protect our own.  When life beats down on us, we will not be extinguished although we may be a bruised reed or a dimly burning wick.  Life may almost blow us out but we cannot be blown out with God and community surrounding us.  Through our heartache and our vulnerability comes great power that gives light.  Light fights off darkness.  And when light joins with other light, it becomes stronger instead of extinguishing.  We must be vulnerable in our waiting this season. The prophet has declared that the world will change and we must step into waiting for it.

Quotes of the week                                                                                                                        “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ― Leonard Cohen

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”  ― Brené Brown

“We are at our most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful.”  ― Eric Micha’el Leventhal

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” ― Anne Lamott

“When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy. ” ― Dave Barry

Isaiah 42:1-9 (NRSV)                                                                                                                                       Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                      

Where do you see hope in the midst of destruction in today’s world?

Where are you vulnerable?  How does that vulnerability transform you?

What kind of leader are you waiting for?

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Such a Time as This

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

Let’s spend a minute to establish the setting of this reading. The people of Israel are in exile. They were taken away from their homeland by the Babylonians. Now the Syrians have taken over the Babylonian empire. We are roughly 500 years before the birth of Jesus. Some of the Jews have gone back home, but only a few.   The rest live as powerless aliens in the midst of all-powerful empire. They have been in exile for a while now. They are getting use to it; they are acclimating to the culture around them.

Two key characters are presented in today’s reading. Mordecai is a faithful follower of God’s ways. He has not been taken in by the culture around him. A law has been passed stating that all are to bow down and worship the statue of the king when they hear the trumpet blast. Mordecai refuses to do so (even when threatened with death.) The second character is, perhaps, the least likely hero of the Bible (right after Mary, the mother of Jesus). She is a minority in the country, she is a part of a strange cult, she is an orphan, we assume she is poor. She only has one thing going for her. She is beautiful!   She is a relative of Mordecai and he has taken her in as his own child and raised her. She comes to prominence in the Persian Empire by winning a beauty contest!

Ultimately the story of Esther is one of identity. Who is she? Or, more importantly, who does she think she is? Does she think of herself as just a pretty face? It becomes clear in the reading that she does not think of herself as wielding any power. That’s a bit strange considering that she is a queen. At the very least we would think that she has the opportunity to speak with the king about matters of state. But she does not. In fact she puts herself in danger by even coming into the king’s presence without being summonsed. But who is she? Is she still an orphan without family? Is she simply one of the king’s wives? Is she Mordecai’s adopted daughter? Is she a woman of faith, a Jew? Is she a person of Israel living in exile, or is she now a Persian and settled in this new land?

She has been called by Mordecai to speak to the king. She is hesitant. She is being called to do something that makes her very uncomfortable, something she is not good at, that she does not do naturally. If she does not act, Mordecai tells her, she will be found out, and her true identity as a Jew will be made known. Can we relate to her story in any way? I can think of one. I feel we need to speak up for the environment and take action on global warming. I’m distressed that our President and other leaders are unwilling to do anything about it. How do I speak the truth to power about this issue?

Does the answer lie with Esther? Her response to Mordecai is interesting. She wants her faith community to support her. She is going to fast and pray, and she wants to make sure that others are doing the same. There is power in knowing that other faithful people are supporting us and helping us. Not to ruin the rest of the story, but she goes on to prepare a great feast for the King and for the evil Haman. It is through hospitality that she is able to change the king’s mind and save the people.

The Jewish festival at which Esther’s story is remembered is Purim. It is a celebration where the people are called to let go and have fun. There is a special cookie, which is baked just for this day. I’ve attended a Purim celebration and it’s a little like Halloween. People dress up, they cross dress. It is filled with Holy hilarity.

That’s in stark contrast to our current season of Advent.   We are in the midst of the darkest part of the year. We are waiting for our savior to come, to bring light and overcome darkness. We are also called to consider the ways in which Jesus might be born into us. How might we become bearers of the good news for all people?   How might we be called to save God’s people on earth? It takes a community of friends to help us figure that out. All we know is that God will not choose the strong and mighty to do it. And according to today’s story we all may have a lot more power than we realize.

Quotes for the Week

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”      William Faulkner

“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”  Mahatma Gandhi

“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”                  Barbara De Angelis

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”    J.K. Rowling

“Tell me I’m clever, Tell me I’m kind, Tell me I’m talented, Tell me I’m cute, Tell me I’m sensitive, Graceful and wise, Tell me I’m perfect—but tell me the truth.”                                                        Shel Silverstien

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.”                                               George Carlin

Lesson Esther 4:1-17 (NRSV)

 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate,and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.

Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” 12 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.

14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai,16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Questions for the Week

What is one truth about yourself that you would most like to ignore?

What power do you have in this world?

What is something you are passionate about changing in this world?

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Devotional for November 30, 2014 – Faith as a Way of Life

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                                                     For the next four weeks we will be turning back to our Narrative Lectionary track for Advent.  This week begins our four week Advent season.  During this season we will be looking at what it means to be, “on the way.”  This season will take us through a journey towards the birth of Christ.  Our way will be full of questions, finding our path, and discerning what it means to be people of God. We will be called into action and challenged about what our way should be.  What does it mean to be on the way for you this season?

Our season begins with an unusual start in the prophet Habbakuk.  Habbakuk is not the feel good prophet that we might think should kick off Advent.  Habbakuk gives us a way of life that is a foundational piece to what it means to be a Christian disciple who is waiting for God to show up. This prophet is speaking from a particularly traumatic time in Israel’s history. The Assyrian army has been destroying cities one after another. Not long after, the Babylonians will attack Jerusalem three times. And in 587 BCE, the temple will be destroyed.  This prophet is sitting in the midst of destruction and hurt.

When we meet the prophet, Habbakuk is looking around, surveying the violence and cries out to God. He is overwhelmed by injustice, violence, oppression and evil deeds.  The prophet asks why. Why must there be this violence in the world? Why does God allow it? I can relate to this cry.  I seem to find myself asking these questions more and more.  I look around and wonder why there must be such violence in the world.  Why is there injustice, oppression, slavery, gun violence, and conquering?

After the prophet cries out, he waits.  Habbakuk, in chapter two, is standing on a watch tower and waiting for God to answer.  When God finally appears and answers, it is not the answer we thought we had been waiting for.  The vision is to be clear. So clear that if you are running by, you can still see it.  The answer is to….wait.  Wait for God to do what God will do.  Evil will not win but we are to wait and live a life full of faith.  It won’t be easy. It never has been.  We can’t just put faith on, we have to live it.  We live it by waiting.  We live it by continuing to trust in God and how God will do God’s work.  Advent is a season of waiting for just such a transformation.  Advent calls us to discern which way we will choose.  Habbakuk reminds us to, as a foundational piece of our belief, wait in faith.  Choose faith as this way of life.  This will begin our journey together.                                                                                                                                                    

Quotes of the week

“Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark. If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be… a prudent insurance policy.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” -Carl Sandburg

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” -Og Mandino
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” -Buddha

“Go where your best prayers take you.” ― Frederick Buechner

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:2-4, 3:17-19 (Message)                                                                                             The problem as God gave Habakkuk to see it:                                                                                         God, how long do I have to cry out for help
before you listen?
How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!”
before you come to the rescue?
Why do you force me to look at evil,
stare trouble in the face day after day?
Anarchy and violence break out,
quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces.
Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung
and stand justice on its head.

And then God answered: “Write this.
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.
This vision-message is a witness
pointing to what’s coming.
It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait!
And it doesn’t lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
It’s on its way. It will come right on time.

 “Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—
full of himself but soul-empty.
But the person in right standing before God
through loyal and steady believing
is fully alive, really alive.

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
I feel like I’m king of the mountain!

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                     

How will you wait this season?

What are you waiting for?

What has challenged your faith in God?  How is faith part of your way of life?

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We Are Wealthy!

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

Jesus manages to “stagger” his disciples in today’s lesson. They are shocked by the idea that rich people may have a problem getting into God’s kingdom. Nothing in their theology up to this point would have led them to think this. From their reaction to what Jesus says, perhaps we can deduce a bit of their assumptions? Here’s a try:

  • If you follow God and God’s law, God will bless you and you will thrive.
  • At least a part of that thriving is to be blessed with riches.
  • Of all the people on earth, the rich must be the most blessed by God.

There are many modern-day, Christian theologians who teach just this. Other Christians may be shocked to learn that Jesus does not teach this. According to Jesus we have to let it all go. And we will. Some saints are able to give everything away and follow Jesus. Some, like myself for example, are trying to simplify and give away more, but all of us will at some point, give away everything. “There are no U-Haul’s behind hearses!”

There are also many theologians who quote Jesus’ answer to one person, but don’t pay much attention to this one. Sure, to one, Jesus said, “You must be born again.” But, to another, he said “sell your possessions and give it all to the poor.” You just don’t hear this very often from TV Evangelists!

But to me the point is that I can’t do it by myself. As a rich, upper-middle-class member of the richest country on the planet, I don’t have a chance. I’m never going to “give” my way into the kingdom of God, and maybe that’s not the point. Christ has done all things for me. Jesus has expressed great love for me and I know I am a child of God because of his teachings. I know I’m going to heaven and don’t have to worry (though sometimes I do, because worrying is one of my primary gifts!) So, the point is, how do I respond to all that God has done for me.

Jesus actually seems to like this young person—like their spunk and initiative. This young man wants to be perfect! So, Jesus tells him he must do the very thing he is not able to do, and invites him into relationship: “come and follow me.” There is no way for us to be perfect (sorry about that you Methodists out there!) But we can trust, we can enter into a relationship with Jesus. We can let go and let God do it.

Quotes for the Week

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.”     Buddha

“Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Andrew Carnegie

 Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.                                                                Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.           Dialogue from Fiddler on the Roof

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” – Woody Allen

“Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money.” – Jackie Mason

“I hog the covers, and my second toe is longer than my big one. My hair has its own zip code…You don’t love someone because they’re perfect…You love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.”              Jodi Picoult

Lesson: Matthew 19:16-26 (The Message)

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.”

18-19 The man asked, “What in particular?”

Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”

20 The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?”

21 “If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”

22 That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.

23-24 As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”

25 The disciples were staggered. “Then who has any chance at all?”

26 Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”

Questions for the Week

What is your relationship to money? Is it healthy?

What is your relationship with Jesus? Is it healthy?

What is your biggest imperfection?

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Devotional for November 16, 2014 – “X” Marks the Spot                               

 Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                         This week we continue on with the list of parables in Matthew. Last week we talked about how the kingdom of God spreads throughout like mustard seed and leaven.  This week the parables take us into the value of the kingdom here on earth.  This line of parables is fascinating because they highlight things that tug at us without even really knowing why.  These stories tend to get under our skin and stick like a really good story does.  I don’t know about you but I kept reading and rereading to try to figure out the connections to each other and to my life.

The Gospel of Matthew is a master at the parable piece.  Parables allow us to experience something rather than just hear it straightforward. We will really get to delve into more of Matthew’s parables during Lent.  They work on us sideways until it finally nags at us and won’t let us go.  Parables transform when we identify what is strange about them.  When we identify what is strange about the parable, it becomes a window into the kingdom of God.

The strange element of the first parable, the parable of the treasure, is the behavior of the seeker.  Why would someone give up everything to have access to a treasure that they couldn’t really have by the laws of the day? It would have been extremely hard for the seeker to buy the land where the treasure has been hidden. Why would you sell all to possess this one area of land? This is the same as with the parable of the pearl.  If you sell everything to own that one pearl, you will have nothing left except for the pearl.  This pearl is valuable but doesn’t give you food, shelter, and other amenities.  But then, once you have the most valuable pearl, what else would you need?  This makes me rethink all of what I think is valuable.  God’s kingdom is a search and then an extremely valuable treasure or item. The kingdom holds the most value and gives abundant joy.  The kingdom is an extravagant response to the search of the treasure.

God’s kingdom is something so valuable that when we prioritize it, we don’t need much of anything else.  Value is placed on priority and stewardship of what we have.  Notice that the one who finds the treasure, is a steward of stuff rather than accumulation on top of the treasure. Each steward values what is most important and sells off the rest. The merchant who finds the perfect pearl doesn’t just acquire the pearl but sells all other possessions. There is nothing to acquire or consume.

We are constant searchers for what is of value and we are given great treasure.  We are called to be stewards of what we have and to prioritize what is valuable.  When we find the valuable new treasures, we will rejoice in where we find God.  This series of parables makes me think about what would be so valuable that I would give up everything else to be around the valuable thing.  During our stewardship campaign, I am doubly reflective on what I value and I how I am a steward on this earth.  What will I do with my gifts?  What will I do with what has been found? What will I continue to seek?  How will I prioritize my values?  And when I find the kingdom of God, what will I do with that treasure?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Quotes of the week

“There is all the difference in the world between treasure and money.” ― Roderick Townley

“There is no greater treasure in this world than somebody who loves you as you are.” ― Eric Micha’el Leventhal

“Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing.” ― Barbara Kingsolver

One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.” – Simone de Beauvoir

“The locked door in my house is just a diversion. The real valuable items are out in the open, where they are hidden from the unimaginative.” ― Jarod KintzA Zebra is the Piano of the Animal Kingdom

 Matthew 13: 44-52 (NRSV)

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.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                      

What do you value?

What do you dedicate your life to?  Where is God in that dedication?

What is your greatest treasure?

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Those Pesky Weeds!

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

I love this reading. I love the parables of Jesus, and trying to figure out what they mean for us today. I’m greatly helped in that task by Robert Farrar Capon’s book, The Parables of the Kingdom. Let’s start with the weeds. First of all, Capon would remind us that the Kingdom is the very seed that is sown. And as we know from reading scripture, that seed is good. It doesn’t have to grow to be the kingdom, it doesn’t have to produce fruit, it is, of itself the actual kingdom of God. But there is a problem. Weeds. We know all about weeds in Western Oregon! And, the farmers and gardeners among us might wonder just what kind of a grower Jesus might have been. “Let the weeds grow?” Not removing weeds in a timely fashion is a guarantee of many, many more weeds.

But let that go for a minute. What are we to do with evil? How are we to respond? Leave it be. Capon points out that the same word used for letting the weeds go is the same as our word forgive. What are we to do with evil? Let it go (song cue) and forgive it. Looked at in another way, each of us is the field of the kingdom, and God has planted beautiful seeds in each of us . . . and unfortunately there are a few weeds as well. In every single one of us, Mother Theresa included.

And here’s another funny thing about these parables. Might the next story of the mustard seed be an example of a weed that is sown? According to Pastor Courtney the answer is yes. Mustard seeds are insidious. Municipalities in the Middle East will not allow it to be grown in many places. If Jesus appeared in McMinnville this week, he might start this story: “The kingdom of God is like a blackberry seed.” Now you get the picture? The kingdom is impossible to stop, it will find a way, it is everywhere. I once heard that every Himalayan Blackberry in this country came from one seed that got away from Luther Burbank. Now there’s a picture of God’s presence and persistence!

But the best of all of these stories, the perfect picture of God’s presence is the bread baker. I don’t say that simply because I like to make bread. But there is so much to like. First of all, God is pictured as an old woman. And this is not a petite, homemaker fashioning a loaf or two. No, this is a baker! And she is creating around 120 pounds of bread dough. This is a big creation we’re talking about here.

And it doesn’t take much yeast to get it going. And, the yeast has to be present from the very start of anything that might become bread. I don’t know if you’ve ever made bread and forgot to add the yeast. Don’t try it. The yeast has to be added with the water if this thing is going to work. God’s spirit is at work in this world, bubbling up to the surface and trying to lighten things up a bit. And our own doubts and messed up lives may even help the process. Let me quote Capon:                                                    . . .by the imagery of bread making, they may even help the kingdom. Unless the dough is kneaded thoroughly—unless it resists and fights the baker enough to develop gluten and form effective barriers to the yeast’s working—then the gasses produced by the yeast will not be entrapped in cells that can lighten the lump into a loaf. Maybe even our foot-dragging and our backsliding—maybe even the gummy, intractable mass of our sins—is all in a day’s leavening to the Word who is the Yeast who lightens our lumpishness.                                       Parables of the Kingdom, p 122

Quotes for the Week

[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”    M.F.K. Fisher

“Vengeance is having a videotape planted in your soul that cannot be turned off. It plays the painful scene over and over again inside your mind . . . And each time it plays you feel the clap of pain again . . . forgiving turns off the videotape of pained memory. Forgiving sets you free.”   Lewis B. Smedes

“Crabgrass can grow on bowling balls in airless rooms, and there is no known way to kill it that does not involve nuclear weapons.” Dave Barry

“When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.”   Author Unknown

Lesson: Matthew 13:24-34 (NRSV)

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing.

Questions for the Week

What is one weed in your life that you’d just love to yank out?

How do you respond to evil in the world?

Where are you struggling with faith and belief right now?

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