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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February 8th 2015   Theme – Restored in Christ  

Written by Pastor Mark Bringman

Matthew 14:13 – 36                NRSV

13 Now when Jesus heard [that John was executed], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

34 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, 36and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Commentary

Hunger is something that most of us have experienced as the barest pangs.  As a society where 69.0% of all adults are overweight (and I fall in that category) and 35.1% are obese, many of us cannot remember a time when we were in want for food.  But there are over 800 million hungry people in the world today, who must go to bed with their stomach hungry and over 20,000 people who daily perish from preventable hunger related causes.

Hunger is a problem.  It was a problem two thousand years ago and it is a problem now.  It is a problem that has improved in the last fifty years, as improvements to agriculture and technology have actually meant that the rate of hunger has decreased since that time.  Indeed, there are less hungry people now than there were twenty years ago.  But there is more to be done.

But it is still a major issue in the world today.  Want of food to fill the stomach, of a safe place to lay one’s head at night lead to unrest and discontent.  If any of us have had a time when emptiness gnawed within us, then we might connect with some of the 5,000 (or 15,000) that we hear of in the gospels today.

In Jesus time, people lived much more hand to mouth than is typical in 21st century America.  This means that the crowds that were following Jesus in the lesson today were willing to give up food for the opportunity to see him heal, hear him teach and preach.  The opportunity for healing, the desire to be near him was more important that satisfying critical everyday needs.

When Jesus sees the crowds following him, his reaction is compassion.  He doesn’t lecture them, or speak to them about blessed are those who hunger or thirst for righteousness, he first feeds them.  The one who shows his power over the elements, who speaks and changes the weather, makes their first concern giving people what they need for the day.  And his last concern in this section is healing the sick.

From this section of Matthew, Jesus reveals to us signs of God’s kingdom: a place where all are fed, where all are cared for, where communities are well and whole.  The daily bread that we speak of in the Lord’s prayer are all of the requirements we have for life – our daily needs.  The call of the church, to feed the hungry, care for the sick and to reach out to those who have difficulty caring for themselves is a call that we have from our Lord and Savior.  Our communion meal is a preview of the great heavenly feast that has no end, where all eat together with Jesus, with all those who go before and follow after.

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only one of Jesus’ miracles to show up in all four gospels.  Indeed in Matthew and Mark Jesus feeds 4,000 in addition.  Jesus was and is engaged with taking care of people’s physical needs.  We cannot preach the gospel until we have satisfied the needs and desires of those who are in hunger and want.  Jesus came to proclaim the restoration of God’s will upon the sinfulness and brokenness of creation.

Quotes on Blessing

“A hungry man can’t see right or wrong. He just sees food.”

- Pearl S. Buck

“When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political, or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”

- Desmond Tutu

“Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

- Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for the minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr., American Civil Rights Leader

“For now I ask no more

Than the justice of eating.”

- Pablo Neruda, Chilean Poet, Noble Prize Winner

“If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.”

- Buzz Aldrin, Astronaut

“Hunger is not a problem. It is an obscenity. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

- Anne Frank, Holocaust Victim 

Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.”

- Saint Augustine

 

Questions for the week

  • The crowds were willing to forgo food to be near Jesus. What are you willing to or have given up for Jesus?
  • The stilling the storm is perhaps Jesus most remarkable miracle, reflecting that Jesus is divine and has control over nature and the creation. What is a part of the creation that astounds you?
  • How can you help provide for the daily needs of others?
  • What parts of the Bible feed you most? What elements of Christian faith and life feed you most?  What feeds you most in worship?
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Devotional for February 1, 2015 –   RE:Purposing: The Lord’s Prayer 

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background     

When looking at our scripture in narrative form, I find that I see things that I haven’t really seen before. For example, this Sunday we are looking at a chunk of verses that are usually broken up differently.  In our scripture this week, we see the Lord’s prayer, followed by instructions on fasting and finally instructions about keeping our stuff and not letting it consume us.  At first these three sections seem distant from one another and like different lessons. As we zoom out and take some perspective, in the context in which they are taught, we might realize that they all have to do with embodying what it means to be disciples.

The Lord’s prayer begins this trend by Jesus teaching his disciples a prayer that is all about what it means to be here on earth.  God as flesh means that God comes out of the heavens and becomes embodied in what we do. This would have been contrast to other religions of the day. God is not above us but with us.  God is not what happens after us but right now.  The Lord’s prayer is brilliant in turning the focus from later on to what is happening here and now and what is happening in us.  Prayer becomes something tangible rather than something abstract.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. God is acting now. The kingdom isn’t something far off. The kingdom is what we are creating and building with God’s help right now. Our prayer becomes action.  Sometimes when we pray we might forget that God is acting now and that prayer is action.

Give us this day our daily bread.  Give us our basic needs.  Give us food that we may nourish our bodies.  Allow us to be in those bodies.  This is not something about our beings outside of our self it is about our flesh.  Sometimes when we pray we separate the flesh from the spirit.  Jesus reminds us that they are joined, not separate.

Forgive us that we might forgive. Again, we are acting now in our prayer.  We are praying for the kingdom to continue to build and it can only be done in relationship with our neighbors.  This is tangible and now.

With this perspective, it seems right that Jesus would talk about other matters of what it means to be here and now.  Jesus would then address how we worship with our bodies by fasting and how we would treat stuff here on earth.  Prayer is the basis to know how to relate to each other, our stuff, and ourselves. In fact, some might argue that this prayer in the gospel of Matthew is the building point for the entire story. This prayer sets the stage for how Jesus will interact with others, how we are to interact with Jesus, and how God might interact with us.  In addition, the Lord’s prayer gives us permission to ask for what we need and to call for God to bring justice, to make things right.  In this prayer, we are still requesting God’s presence for our basic needs and the here and now.  As someone who has prayed this prayer every week since being very young, I forget just how powerful this basic prayer is and yet I can still find comfort, new lenses, and something to pray out of it. Let us look at it with new eyes and new purpose.

Quotes of the week

 “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” ― Søren Kierkegaard 

“Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible.” ― Teresa of Ávila

 

“If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.”  ― Philip Yancey

“We should seek not so much to pray but to become prayer.” ― Francis of Assisi

Or you might shout at the top of your lungs or whisper into your sleeve, “I hate you, God.” That is a prayer too, because it is real, it is truth, and maybe it is the first sincere thought you’ve had in months.”  ― Anne LamottHelp Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.” ― Anne LamottPlan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

 

Matthew 6:7-21 (NRSV)  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.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                      

How does Jesus’ prayer for us challenge you?

Which part of this scripture resonates with you the most? Why?

How do you embody relationship with God?

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Theme – Jesus Came For Losers

Written by Pastor Mark Bringman

Matthew 5:1 – 20                    NRSV

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.-

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 ‘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.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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.

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For 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. 19Therefore, 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. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Commentary

In the previous passage of Matthew, Jesus has been everywhere – he has resisted the temptation of the powers of sin, death and darkness last week when he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  In between that and this he has called the disciples with the promise that they will be fishers of people and he healed the sick.

He has done – he has resisted the powers of this world (embodied in the Adversary), has built a movement by calling regular, every day people to follow him and he has shown God’s desire for the creation by healing.  Wholeness is his plan.

Up until now Jesus has talked by doing.  Francis of Assissi said “Preach the gospel at all times – use words when necessary.”  Jesus hasn’t used words up until this point because the pictures that he has been painting – of healing, of calling to those that the rest of the world ignores and showering them with the love of God are so powerful.

But it is time to talk.  And in continuance with the Jewish roots of Matthew he does so by ascending up a mountain (places in the Bible associated with God such as Sinai, Jacob’s ladder or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and by seating himself – assuming the role of a Jewish sage.  This is the ancient equivalent of approaching a blackboard or lectern (or a power point screen if we want to get a bit more modern).

Jesus does this to begin to teach about who God is and what his desire for creation is.  Sometimes actions can be misconstrued, so he begins to preach the gospel in words.

He starts by saying that people are blessed.  But the things that he chooses are not the ways that the world typically looks at blessing.  Indeed many of his blessings: to mourn, to be meek, to be reviled, to be persecuted, would not be looked on by the world as something to be blessed by, to be looked forward to.  For some of them we have a sense of divine turnaround – that the tables will be flipped. The mourners will be joy filled. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom.  The downtrodden, the ignored, the oppressed, the people that are ignored are going to finally have a moment in the sun.

Many of the others listed are not exemplified as great traits, such as the merciful – we usually don’t pay as much attention to the merciful as those who act forcefully and assertively.  The Peacemakers are often not lauded in history – the most famous presidents, kings and athletes we tend to highlight are those that have been great warriors, rather than those who were great peacemakers and uniters.

But Jesus wants to emphasize that the ways of the world, the ways that he denied when faced by Satan, the ways that desire lead to, are not the ways that we are blessed.  Instead of a me first attitude, these blessings (or beatitudes – from the Latin word meaning blessing) emphasize relationship.  Being merciful only makes sense when there is someone to show mercy upon.  Being a peacemaker only works if there are conflicts to bring peace to.  Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is a blessing if that hunger and thirst is being done for others – otherwise it is self righteousness and that has never been a blessing.

The gospel reminds us, time and again that when we draw borders, when we try to create a line saying who is in or out, that wherever we draw that line, we find Jesus standing on the other side.  The Pharisees tried to divide the world into the holy and the mundane, to define what was of God’s (and therefore righteous) and what was not.  In so doing, they ended up falling into the temptation that lies in wait for all of us – to decide who we think is in or out, who we think is pure in heart, or merciful, or holy.

Jesus, through his healing and calling, through his teaching reminds us that the righteousness of God does not look for the rich or the beautiful or the powerful or those that come from a good family.  Instead Jesus came for the poor in spirit, for those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for those who are sad, for the lonely.  Jesus came for losers.  He came for those struggling with addiction, for those who don’t know how to make ends meet, for those who are sad, for those who don’t have a meal on the table or a place to lay their head, for all who are struggling (in fact everyone): “Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost” (1st Timothy 1:15).  God’s turn around hinges around the Son of Man, who comes to save all creation, to share God’s blessing.

Quotes on Blessing

“Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful.” Prince

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” Camille Pissarro

“Until we meet again, may God bless you as he has blessed me.” Elvis Presley

“The heavenly blessing is to be delivered from the law, sin and death; to be justified and quickened to life: to have peace with God; to have a faithful heart, a joyful conscience, a spiritual consolation; to have the knowledge of Jesus Christ, to have the gift of prophecy, and the revelation of the Scriptures; to have the gift of the Holy Ghost, and to rejoice in God.”

Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians

 

Questions for the week

  • Read through the blessings section again – what is one blessing that stirs with you right now, what blessing touches your heart more and why?
  • What does poor in spirit mean to you?
  • Who would you say are blessed today – what is a group that Jesus would say is especially blessed?
  • Think of the people who have been important in your life. What quality or qualities of blessing did they exhibit?
  • What is a blessing that you are in need more of?

Note on the title.  Jesus came for losers comes from Mark Allen Powell’s “Loving Jesus”.  He recounts seeing “Jesus came for losers” on a t shirt.  It’s a great book and a great read.

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