Devotional for March 29, 2015 – Palm Sunday  

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor                                                                                     

Bible Background

How did we get to Palm Sunday already? Many times in the church, we celebrate when Jesus enters into Jerusalem by waving our palms and singing joyous songs. For some of us, we will jump from Palm Sunday to Easter without even realizing what is in between.  Up until this point we have been investigating Jesus’ sneaky stories. What do they mean for us while we are on this journey out in the wilderness of Lent?  Jesus has sneakily gained access to our brains through story. He has actively worked on us throughout.

But here, Jesus is not being sneaky.  This Sunday kicks off a week of the most blatant death and resurrection and the most blatant commentary on the empire as well as death with new life.  Jesus does not slink into Jerusalem for this week, Jesus employs spectacle fully to enter into the city triumphantly.  This is not the nice waving of palms that we might imagine. This is a full blown protest against the empire of the day. It is fulfillment of prophecy. It is tactful and yet demonstrative. It is full of vocal protest and deliberate action. Jesus no longer is sneakily moving about. Jesus is making a bold statement about the kingdom of God. It is breaking through and it is now. We do a disservice to Palm Sunday by not lifting our voices against injustice.  We miss the point by not proclaiming a new kingdom of God.  We miss the point if we aren’t shocked by this drama laid out before us.

What makes it a good protest? First of all, Jesus chooses the time when the most people are in one spot at one time. In order to be heard, you have to be seen by the people who need to see.  Jesus enters the gates at Passover. This is the time when everyone is gathered as they head to the temple to celebrate.  Next Jesus uses common language that people tap into.  When Jesus rides into town on a donkey (Matthew says he rides in on a donkey and a colt to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy) everyone is immediately clued in on two things. One, he is riding in as the prophets have described and two, by riding in like a king but also like a servant, people know how to act. They cry out for salvation and praise.

Timing is everything.  Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan believe that at the same time Jesus was riding in at one point in town, Pilate is riding in at another gate.  Jesus immediately juxtaposes power for the people who need to hear God’s kingdom come the most. After he rides into town, Matthew says he follows up with another spectacle, the cleansing of the temple.  It is not by accident that one will follow the other. Finally, Jesus has follow through and a push for more action.  Jesus knows that this will not go over well with the power of the day and yet the timing is right, the crowd is right, and God is speaking. By going directly to the temple, people follow him and take action from there. The motion is set and Jesus is ready for follow up and follow through. Ultimately, these theatrics will bring him to court and he will be tried and put to death.  A good protest always allows a venue for good to win in the end.  Life will triumph over death. God will speak through Jesus and the protest.  There will be new life and the marginalized will speak out and be heard.  Power will shift and the world will change.

Quotes of 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

“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  ― Buckminster Fuller

Peaceful, lawful protest – if it is effective – is innately disruptive of ‘business as usual.’ That is why it is effective.” – Naomi Wolf
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.” ― Malcolm X

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” ― Desmond Tutu

Matthew 21:1-17 (NRSV) When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

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. 13 He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

Questions for the Week

What makes a spectacle and protest powerful?

What character would you have been on that day?  Where does your perspective come from?

How do you prepare for Holy Week?  

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Jesus in Sneaky Disguise

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

Theme Background

OK, this is maybe not the best lesson to read for Lauri (our Community Compassion Director) right now. It is actually the lesson that I want to bring to our faithful “Christian” County Commissioners as a devotional. Jesus couldn’t be much clearer on this. “The poor” according to Mother Theresa, “Are Jesus in his most cleaver disguise.” On a more personal level, this is THE story of Jesus that gives me nightmares.

I can picture the scene. Jesus is going through the nations of the earth at the last judgment. We’re brought up alphabetically, so we are near the end. We approach with eager anticipation. Here we are the wonderful nation of good Christian people! And the hammer comes down. “I gave you so much, blessed you so richly, and you let people sleep on sidewalks? What his wrong with you people?” In my nightmare, guess which shoot we go down, us goats?

But that probably won’t happen. Why? Because everyone is surprised. (Of course, now that I think it won’t it just might . . . ) The sheep who’ve been caring for Jesus all along are surprised, the goats who have been systematically ignoring him are surprised. God seems to love surprises. And guilt is not really that effective of a motivational tool anyway. So, what do we do? And I believe we need to start doing something.

Lauri? Maybe we could all take turns sleeping in one of the tents out back just to see what it’s like? A few hours in a cold tent might cause us to rearrange our priorities a bit. There is no meal offered on Thursday nights, maybe we are called to take up the slack? Or, maybe that is not the direction this story is leading us.

THE very next story in the Gospel is Jesus being anointed with a very expensive perfume. He responds to the disciples grousing by saying they will have the poor with them forever (that does not seem very encouraging). Then he’s off to the last supper, the garden and the rest of Holy Week. This is the final story he tells his disciples in Matthew’s gospel.

It is our challenge during the season of Lent to reflect on the life and death of Jesus. The hopeful result of that reflection is an outlook that is more like that of Jesus. As a Lutheran, I do not believe that I can change very much by setting my mind to it. I really need the Holy Spirit to help and guide me in all that I do. What is needed, I think, is to let go. Let go of all we think is so central, so important, and allow God to move in our lives. That movement will draw us closer to those who are poor, hungry, cold and in prison. But you don’t need to go looking for them, they’re living on our back parking lot, and we know them by name. Maybe we can start by listening to a story or two and see where that leads us.

Quotes for the Week

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”       Stephen Colbert

“I’m touched by the idea that when we do things that are useful and helpful—collecting these shards of spirituality—that we may be helping to bring about a healing”            Leonard Nimoy aka “Live long and prosper” Spock

“Here are the values that I stand for: honest, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.”       Ellen DeGeneres

“The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into”                       Shane Clairborne

Lesson: Matthew 25:31-46 (The Message)

31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

Questions for the Week

Does this parable of Jesus get under your skin? Why, or why not?

Where have you seen Jesus lately (in the context of this parable)?

What is one, small step you might take in light of this story?

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Devotional for March 15, 2015 –   Sneaky Stories:  The kingdom of heaven will be like this….

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor                                               Bible Background

This week we are again handed a difficult parable. This particular parable is complicated because of a couple of reasons. First of all, the set up is one that we don’t really relate to.  There was a custom in the ancient world of bridesmaids (sometimes translated as virgins) to wait for the groom to usher him into the wedding.  This already seems antiquated.  Secondly, Matthew is writing to a community who was promised that Jesus would return within their lifetime.  Paul had already written that Jesus was supposed to come when he was writing, about thirty years before Matthew.  Matthew’s community is anxious with their waiting for Jesus’ return. They were convinced that this would happen, now.  We have a hard time relating to this anxiety because we are not waiting as anxiously 2000 years later.  We have realized that perhaps it looks differently. Thirdly, this parable seems a little unfair to be honest. All of the bridesmaids had oil, all were waiting, all fell asleep.  They were pretty prepared, all of them. Some anticipated a longer wait.  Even if it is not unfair, I am pretty sure I can relate to those bridesmaids sometimes.  Perhaps that third point, has to do with my uneasiness….

So what do we do with this parable?

First of all, we can admit that this is a bit odd.  It is just a bit archaic.  We have the luxury of looking at the entire context and appreciating that Matthew comes from a context.  We have talked quite a bit about that context through the lenses of parables.  We are not alone in struggling from parable to parable.

Next, we can look at the core issues of preparation and waiting. What is clear is that there is waiting to be done and some are more prepared than others.   Jesus tells us that perhaps we should err more on the side of over preparing than under in our waiting or else we might miss the party. This kind of waiting that appears through Matthew is really really hard. This kind of waiting is waiting for something over due, waiting for something you start to think won’t even come, and waiting with active preparation. The hard part is the in between, isn’t it?  When the phone call won’t come? Or waiting for pain to end? Or the test results? Or the word from your first choice of job?  Waiting is really really hard. Jesus totally gets it because this story takes place in the in between.  Matthew gets it because his community is waiting like this.

Let’s admit then that this is hard to sustain.  The preparation to be ready for Jesus to appear is hard because we find it hard to believe. But if we don’t prepare like Jesus is coming, we will miss the opportunity of celebrating with Jesus when justice does appear or community does usher in the kingdom.  This kind of waiting is hard because we grow weary. In those moments we are the foolish bridesmaid, our oil has run out. When that happens, let’s make church the place that we can help refill the oil so that we might wait together longer.  We can sit with each other as we wait and pick up the prep that needs to happen that others can’t fully do.  The wise bridesmaids wouldn’t share their oil because they would have also missed out.  What if the church took up sharing the oil instead?

Quotes of the week

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” ― Abraham Lincoln

“He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.” ― Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.” ― Oprah Winfrey

The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”-  Emily Dickinson

“Procrastinate now, don’t put it off.” ― Ellen DeGeneres

Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV) “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.  But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’  And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’  But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”

Questions for the Week

How would your life change if you expected Jesus to show up anytime?

How do you prepare for spiritual experiences?

Would you have shared your oil?

What would be the modern day equivalent of this story?                                                                                                                                                                      

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Devotional for March 8, 2015 –   Sneaky Stories: The kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet…

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor                                                                                    

Bible Background

The parable for this Sunday is absurd.  It is full of conflict, absurd war and conflict, and an even more absurd outcome.  I read and reread this parable. I thought about tossing it out.  I wanted to throw it out.  I read commentary after commentary and everyone started to say some of the same things.  When we have parables like this one, we have to observe the absurdity, really look at context, and then accept that sometimes the bible hands us the unpleasant as well as the pleasant.  There is some pleasant words here but what do we do with the other?  This Sunday we really have to wrestle with a passage that doesn’t fit what we generally preach God to be.  This will give us a good chance to debate and ponder and not just brush over those parts that make us uneasy but also not use them destructively.

First of all, the absurdity.  A king is throwing a wedding banquet for his son. Fair enough.  Kings threw great parties and who would turn a party down?  In those days, invitations would go out by messengers.  No evites or facebook events here.  So the messengers set out.  First bit of absurdity? No one wants to come to the party.  In fact, they blow it off.  Next outrageous move? Some of the invitees are soooo bored with it that they actually kill the messengers? THEN the king gets upset so he burns down the city. WHAT?  In the midst of burning ruin, he sends out invites to anyone else.  Y’all come.  Anyone is now invited to this grand banquet. They come in full force and fill the hall.  The king thinks that now he can really have this party after such unpleasantness until someone is wearing the wrong robe.  Can you blame him? His city was just burned to the ground! But it doesn’t seem to matter…the king throws him out! That’s it! You refuse to join in? You get the boot!

Ok…now that we have been reeling from the absurd. Let’s look at context. Matthew is sitting right in the midst of unpleasant. The Roman empire has taken over and has literally been burning the city.  Matthew’s community is also feuding with other Jewish communities. (Note: This is not a Christian/Jewish conflict.  This is a Jewish/Jewish feud about how to integrate Jesus stuff. Let’s not use this against our Jewish brothers and sisters).  Matthew’s community is desperately trying to make sense of the killing, burning, and feuding around them. This is the only gospel that outlines such violence in this parable.  Matthew is sitting in violence and therefore, his parable is violent. It speaks to that community. We can’t really make sense of it.  It is violent. It is part of the gospel.  Now what?

Scholars agree that perhaps the nugget to take out of all of this is the invitation to all people anyway.  Even in the midst of violence and exclusion, the king turns around and invite allll people.  He kicks out the guest that won’t participate in the party.  Many scholars agree that wedding robes were given to guests upon entry into the banquet. And yet this guest refuses to participate. He still wants to sit outside of the group. If you don’t participate with what is offered, you aren’t chosen anymore. I still have trouble with this.  This parable still sits uneasily with me.  It is part of our history. What do we do with it?

 

Quotes of the week

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”  ― Dorothy Thompson

“When religious people take the stance that they don’t owe anyone that is hurting closure or answers then God is not winning. Conflict continues because of lack of communication, fear and indifference.” ― Shannon L. Alder

“The world had been divided into two parts that sought to annihilate each other because they both desired the same thing, namely the liberation of the oppressed, the elimination of violence, and the establishment of permanent peace.” ― Hermann Hesse

“The ‘peace’ the gospel brings is never the absence of conflict, but an ineffable divine reassurance within the heart of conflict; a peace that surpasses understanding.” ― Walter Wink

 

Matthew 22:1-14 (Message) 1-4 Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s kingdom,” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come! He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’

5-7 “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.

8-10 “Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.

11-14 “When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’ That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”                                                                 Questions for the Week                                                                                                               What do we do with parts of the Bible that don’t fit our image of God and God’s kingdom? Can we relate this to modern day situations?                                                                                     Does this give us any glimpse into conflict and community?

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Devotional for March 1, 2015 –   Sneaky Stories: The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner….        

 Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor                                                                                     

Bible Background

The parable that we are looking at today from Jesus makes me squirm. I have never really cared for this parable.  This could be for a number of reasons. First of all, I am a first child who has always believed that her baby brother got it much easier than I did.  In my recollection, he was totally babied and handed everything. I still grumble when I think of what I think my parents have handed him over the years while I was never given such leeway or as much generosity in my humble opinion.  Secondly, I value the fact that I work hard.  I have always been someone who values getting to work early and staying late and getting things done off of the checklist.  I have many times caught myself grumbling about those I think don’t work as much as I do.  Shouldn’t I get the better compliments if I work harder?  Lastly, I am a big advocate for economic justice. I believe that people should be paid and paid fairly for the work that they put in.  I stand behind worker justice movements and join in the occasional boycott when economic justice is not happening. I believe in the collective voice making things right.

And this parable stands in the way of all of that.

This is not a parable about fairness.  God fully believe in economic justice but this is not a parable about economic justice.  This is not a parable fully about our whining or our justifications or even our labor practices.  This is not a parable to shame us about our feelings towards others (although we will notice that our neighbors deserve our respect as well).

This is a parable to remind us that God is turning the world upside down. God’s kingdom is what is best for all people. The emphasis of the parable is actually centered around the generosity of the vineyard owner who pays all of his laborers what they need to provide for their families, no matter how many hours they worked. They all receive a day’s wages.

This is a parable about the kingdom of God. It turns out that God really isn’t fair when it comes to generosity and abundance. God does not play by our rules or our whining. God does not give us what we deserve (Thank God!). Instead, God gives us an abundance of love, grace and mercy. Each of the laborers woke up with out a job that morning. Each one of them was dependent on the vineyard owner that day.  Each one of them was given what they needed to succeed. We all start as human in very real ways. We roll out of bed, dependent on God’s abundance and grace. Turns out that God’s economy is not just about fairness, it goes way beyond that in order to create the kingdom of God here on earth and we all benefit from that generosity.

 

Quotes of the week

“You make all kinds of mistakes, but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.” ― Winston S. Churchill

“Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect. ” ― Fred Rogers

“Rest in the knowledge that God is both abundantly gracious and ridiculously generous.”
― Jared BrockA Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life

 

“The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.” ― Dorothy Day

 

“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.”
“I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”  ― Bill WattersonThe Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury

 

Matthew 20:1-16 (NRSV) For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.  When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.  And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’  When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’  When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.  Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                      

What do you think about this parable?  What does it reveal about you?

Have you been in a situation where you didn’t things where handled with fairness? What did you do?

If you were to write this parable for modern times what would the scenario be?

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Devotional for February 22, 2015 –   Sneaky Stories: The kingdom of God is like a King….   

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor                                                                                     

Bible Background  This week begins our first full week of the season of Lent. During the season of Lent we will be looking at the parables of Jesus through the lens of the Gospel of Matthew. We are calling our series, “Sneaky Stories.” Each week we will be looking at the stories that Jesus tells us to get in under our skin. Parables allow us to see every day scenarios in a different light. They are amazing in that they open up to us in different ways every time we hear or read them. These are stories meant to be heard and meant for us to place ourselves within them. Often the stories don’t have the answer we thought might be.  They are left to us to fill in the blanks. Some of them have answers at the end that lead us to other conclusions. They seem into our brains so that we think about them over and over again. They are so familiar at times that when they pop up in our brains again, we see something different. Parables are also prime for oral traditions. Many of us could recite them in our sleep which makes them such a wonderful tool.

Today’s parable is to illustrate Jesus’ point about forgiveness. Jesus uses the device of the parable and storytelling to reiterate a point that the disciples just aren’t getting. Jesus starts off by giving us a process of how to deal with conflict and forgiveness.  The most important piece?  The most biblical piece?  We must have the conversation with one another. If that doesn’t work, bring in other ears.  If that still doesn’t work, our community becomes key.

Peter doesn’t get it. But how many times do we have to do this? Jesus comes up with new math. The numbers before us to answer Peter are too many to even count.  They are beyond what we might imagine.  Forgiveness is not quantifiable. It would be ridiculous to even try.  This is about changing a way of life, much like the season gives us time to transform.

What? Ok, here is a story.  Here is a story using characters from who we might see in the everyday context. For Jesus this is a king and a servant.  The numbers are hard to imagine. The Message version uses a context that we can relate to a little more. Thousands of dollars are looked over and yet the servant doesn’t learn from this example.  The servant does not forgive other debtors. The process is not followed for the servant and the end is not good.  We must forgive for if we don’t, our heart grows in resentment. Without forgiveness, we are not whole.  Without forgiveness, the relationship is broken between neighbor and God.  Forgiveness is a different way of life.  It is worth much more than the thousands of dollars forgiven.

What a perfect way to begin a season where we look towards reconciliation. Lent is about repenting of those places where we have broken away.  Lent is about returning to wholeness only available to us if we forgive (which is not to be confused with ignoring wrong, or excusing the pain or unjust, or tolerating abuse).  But when we face our brother and sister, we also face our own brokenness and sin.  We realize that we rely on God’s grace during this time.  Lent is about identifying those places that we ask God to help us to forgive as we face them head on.

 

Quotes of the week

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ―Martin Luther King Jr.

“Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.” ― Barbara Kingsolver

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”― Mark Twain

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.” ― Anne Lamott

 

Matthew 18:15-35 (Message) “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.

“Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”

 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                      

Where is it hardest for you to forgive? What is your process?

In the parable there is a king and a servant. This is hard for us to connect with unless we think in terms of authority and the employee. Who would this be in your modern day parable?

How does forgiveness play into our Lenten journey?

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Devotional for February 15, 2015 –   RE:Purposing: Shiny Jesus         

 Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor                                                                                    

Bible Background                                                                                                                                        This Sunday is typically what we call, “Transfiguration” Sunday.  The scripture that we will be reading takes us to a scene where Jesus transfigures/transforms right before the eyes of a couple of the disciples. He shines from every pore and heroes of the biblical past show up.  They affirm the call of Jesus. This scene encourages yet again that Jesus is of God. This is also the place where Jesus tells us what is to become of him.   I once heard a sermon where the preacher referred to Jesus in this scene as “glow in the dark Jesus.”  The more I look at this scene though the more I see Jesus shine.  This is a pinnacle moment for Jesus ministry.  He shines so brightly that the disciples fear and we have to shield our eyes. Not only does he physically shine but Jesus is really getting into his prime teaching moments. He is shining as he speaks, divinely and in pure human form.  One is more blatant than the other but both areas of shininess are important to recognize and remember. By Jesus bringing us back down the mountain and living into his ministry, he allows us to shine as well, a sign of a great leader.

But like the disciples, we tend to want to stay where things are clear. We want to rush over the part just before the mountain when Jesus explains that we must make space to see others. We must self sacrifice in order to follow.  We must lose self in order to gain self. What does that mean anyway?  We want to stay on the mountain in brilliance, don’t we? We want to build around the shiny.  It seems clearer there. There are more signs to where we need to be.  We forget that the shine has to be taken back down to everyone.  Jesus calls us back down. Jesus takes us in a reverse direction to where we need to lead. Jesus insists on remembering the rest of it all, the suffering down below. We can’t hide on the mountain. We can’t forget about the relationships and people in the valley.

It is not that Jesus’ glory and glow is less below but it is much harder to perceive. It is harder for us to see clearly and be excited about the message because the shine is within a cross and within human connections. This is where the shininess shines even brighter.  It will shine through the love God has for us.  It comes back to the call from before the shine, the call to taking up the cause. It will be through following Jesus that we are called to love like we have never loved before. The shininess allows us to see that it does come from God and we are called to give off glow below. Jesus shows his brilliance in his leadership by bringing us up to see and then back down below to do what he called us to do.  We are to love with self giving love modeled to us by the greatest example, Shiny Jesus.  

Quotes of the week

“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”                   ― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”  ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” ― Woodrow Wilson

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
― Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom

 

“Sometimes you want to have a very productive Saturday to feel that you are in control of your life, which of course you are not.” ― Tina FeyBossypants

 

Matthew 16:24– 17:8 (Message) Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

“Don’t be in such a hurry to go into business for yourself. Before you know it the Son of Man will arrive with all the splendor of his Father, accompanied by an army of angels. You’ll get everything you have coming to you, a personal gift. This isn’t pie in the sky by and by. Some of you standing here are going to see it take place, see the Son of Man in kingdom glory.”

17 Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.

Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?” While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”

When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                      

What would it look like to self sacrifice for following Jesus?                                                                                                                    How would you react to the mountaintop experience? Would you want to stay?                                              What does it look like to let Jesus lead?

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