Paul’s Travelogue

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

Theme Background

If it were not for the book of Acts, there would be no reason for the New Testament Bible Atlas in the back of your Study Bible. The book of Acts is a sort of Travelogue, and the Rick Steves host for this travel adventure is the Apostle Paul.

Think of some of your travel adventures. You make plans, perhaps you contact a person you want to visit, you consult a map, you check on transportation, save up some money (or get a new credit card) and then you pack up and head for your destination. I’ve always been kind of blown away at the lack of preparations for Paul’s journeys. Some prophets and teachers in the Church in Antioch prepare for Paul and Barnabas’ journey by praying and fasting. Those are not typically on my list of preparations before I head out on a trip. The word from God leads them to set apart Paul and Barnabas, so the leaders lay hands on them. According to the commentary on Working Preacher, this is our human way of participating in the movement of the Holy Spirit. We lay hands of blessing on people as they begin their work.

Today’s story is very unique among Paul’s travails. Usually he heads off to the synagogue and preaches there until the leaders are ready to tar and feather him and throw him in jail. Here he starts off with a healing instead. (Maybe he should have tried this a bit more often!) The local people can’t believe their eyes. They think Paul and Barnabas are gods come down to earth. There is a sort of slapstick quality to this part of the reading. Paul can’t understand what they are saying, he an Barnabas a being swept away in a parade to a place where the people are preparing a parade and sacrifice to honor them as a gods.

Paul is able to stop them just in time. He has to think on his feet. He calls the people to worship the living God who made heaven and earth and to leave these silly gods in the dust. A major theme of the book of Acts is that of witness. It picks up from the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Luke. Here Paul does a new thing. Nature, it turns out, has been witnessing to the goodness of God all along. God has been feeding them and caring for them.

Paul might have been thinking of Psalm 104 (one of my favorites.)

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
     and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.

This witness is all around us, and yet it is easy to miss. Even with this great speech Paul is barely able to keep the crowd from offering sacrifices to him as a god. I guess the other lesson from this text, is that there is a God, who made heaven and earth, and Paul is not it.

Quotes for the Week

“There’s beauty everywhere. There are amazing things happening everywhere, you just have to be able to open your eyes and witness it. Some days, that’s harder than others.” Sarah McLachlan

“Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.” Pope Francis

“The whole point of the kingdom of God is Jesus has come to bear witness to the true truth, which is nonviolent. When God wants to take charge of the world, he doesn’t send in tanks. He sends in the poor and the meek.”   N. T. Wright

Life isn’t something you possess. It’s something you take part in, and you witness.”   Louis C. K.

Lesson Acts 13:1-3 & 14:8-18 (NRSV)

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth.He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed,10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14 When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17 yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

Questions for the Week

What is one of the best travel experiences you have had? What made it so memorable?

Where do you see God active and working in the world?

In what way have you been sent by God to be a witness?

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Devotional for April 19, 2015 –   Peter’s Vision      

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor                                              Bible Background

When I first looked over this Sunday’s scripture lesson, I was a little put out that the vegetarian got the Sunday that includes a blanket full of meat.  This scripture also is often called, “Cornelius’ conversion.”  As United Methodist and ELCA, we are pretty horrible about talking about converting others to what we believe.  Meat and conversion. What is a preacher to do with that?

Upon further reflection and study, I came to realize that this isn’t actually about striving to convert Cornelius.  At the end of the day, the person who is actually transformed is Peter and the community becomes stronger and more transformed as well. Cornelius doesn’t have to find God because God is already present.  I also have come to realize that the vision Peter has is not just about hunger or even eating what he isn’t supposed to.  This scripture has many ways to say the same thing; God does not favor one type of person. God does not have boundaries on love and community.  Relationship matters over law that separates people.  I can preach that because I fully believe that.  God is bigger than our divisions.

The book of Acts is an extenuation of the book of Luke.  In Acts, the author leads us through the story of the early church.  From the very beginning we are set up to see that the holy spirit is moving in ways we can’t explain and God’s kingdom is expanding.  Over and over again, we are told that this is a movement beyond just Jewish people. The Gentiles are welcome as well.  We enter today’s story by meeting Cornelius.  He is outside of the Jewish realm and yet he already knows about God. He is a faithful man who is not afraid to cross boundaries. When God tells him that Peter is going to visit, he is open and willing. Peter is not even supposed to be in Cornelius’ house but it will be.

In the meantime, Peter is having a weird vision that expands past what he believes is law and true.  The vision tells him to eat forbidden things. God is laying the groundwork for a powerful interaction between these two leaders.  Timing is everything and even when Peter doesn’t quite get it, we, as the audience, should get it.  God is opening the doors for different communities to connect in order to form a stronger and more bonded community grounded in relationship and faithfulness. Meat doesn’t matter. The law that keeps us apart has to be revised. God will do what we think is impossible.

Traditionally, we say that Cornelius was converted but in reading this again and reading Peter’s last comments, I would argue that Peter is converted to include more into the kingdom. The church is only enriched by breaking down boundaries when we are working toward s the same goal.  If I have learned anything in working in churches the past nine years, it is that we are much better in cooperation and faithfulness to mission together rather than building up our boundaries because of what has been in law.  We are better together and with.  We are better when we listen to where God is moving.

Quotes of the week

“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.”  ― Ani DiFranco

“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation. ― Wendell BerryThe Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

 “A Christian community should do as Jesus did: propose and not impose. Its attraction must lie in the radiance cast by the love of brothers.” ― Jean VanierCommunity And Growth

 “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” ― Bell Hooks

“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”  ― Dave Barry

Acts 10:1-17, 34-35 (NRSV)  In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him,and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Questions for the Week

Have you ever had visions? What did they signify?

Where is God calling us to cross boundaries for the sake of community and inclusion?

How do we discern what God is calling the church to do?

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The Great Commission

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

Theme Background

This Sunday we have the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel. The faithful women have gone and shared the Good News and the disciples have listened to them (this is a true Easter miracle!) Now they have gathered at the mountain where Jesus said he would meet them. Now Jesus gives them the great commission . . . “Go into all the world, teaching and baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This is the great missionary text. Get out there and share the Good News.

I’m not sure what to do with this text. Looking for quotes for this week I ran across hundreds that said preaching the Gospel to those who already know it is wrong. Get out into the world. Courtney is taking this piece of advice literally this week. She will be talking to people about God’s love on the sunny beaches of Cuba! (We will pray for her doing this difficult task . . . )

This story begins in sadness. “Meanwhile the eleven Disciples were on the road.” There are only eleven of them now. One of the very people Jesus selected to be his followers abandoned, rejected and betrayed him. It won’t be any different for the rest of his followers. There is difficulty along the way, and we will meet it.

Then, they see Jesus, and they worship. But they are also holding back a bit, not sure about risking everything. We must admit this is also where we are on the journey. Excited to worship Jesus, but holding back a bit. It happened to the Disciples right in front of Jesus, it might happen to us as well.

But Jesus doesn’t give their doubts any heed. He gives them all (timid and bold alike) their marching orders: Go, train, instruct, baptize. These are difficult tasks. To tell everyone we meet about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is daunting, and would be impossible if it were not for the promise that follows. “And I will be with you day after day . . . “ What if we turn this around and look at it from the other direction. We are not going out to meet others and tell them about Jesus, but going out to, well, meet Jesus himself?

When I hear this message I jump right to the missionaries in far off countries who risk life and limb to spread the Gospel. But that misses the point. African churches are now preparing to send their Christian missionaries here! In the news recently it was announced that Oregon was the most un-churched state in the union. The mission field is here, in our back yard, in our families and among our friends. And it is up to us to speak. Ack!!!!!! No, hold on, it’s up to us to: “Train them in the way.” I like that. It’s up to us to help them on their path to God. God is already present with them and leading them, we just have to be of some assistance.

Jesus lays out a mission statement for the disciples this week. In our church’s mission statement we emphasize that we feel it is important to listen. Religious people haven’t been doing that so well lately. If we do listen to those people around us we might discover shocking things. They too, are Jesus, come to meet us on the way! They are all precious children of God, created in the image of God and deserving respect. That respect begins with actually listening to what they have to say, not by arrogantly assuming we have the right way to lead them, but to assume they have a word from God for us, and to love and appreciate them. Go and tell all people the Good News, and if you absolutely have to, use words.

 

Quotes for the Week

“Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.”                  Richard Bach

It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor.” Martin Luther

Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us daily.        Sally Koch

“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”    Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Awakening and owning the dreams that God has placed in our hearts isn’t about getting stuff or attaining something. It’s about embracing who we are and who he has created us to be. Christ is our dream come true, and the one true love of our life. But we can’t love him with our whole hearts when our hearts are asleep. To love Jesus means to risk coming awake, to risk wanting and desiring.”  Stasi Eldredge

Lesson Matthew 28:16-20 (The Message)

16-17 Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.

18-20 Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Questions for the Week

How are you doing as a disciple of Jesus?

What is your personal mission statement? Does in include your faith? Why, or why not?

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The Birth of Women Evangelists

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

Theme Background

“The Lord Is Risen!” “He is risen indeed!” What could be easier than preaching on Easter? It is such a joyful day of celebration, of family gatherings, egg hunts, beautiful dresses and handsome suits. But it’s not so easy for preachers. Mostly it is difficult to find a new angle, to approach the resurrection with new eyes and get new insights from this remarkable, life-changing event.

The devotional written on the Working Preacher website is so helpful. (I would recommend that you go and read it:

https://www.workingpreacher.org/?lect_date=04/05/2015&lectionary=nl

Holly Hearon points out some aspects of the Matthew resurrection account I have never even thought about before. These women (women at the tomb are the universal detail of every account), come empty handed. They are not there to burry Jesus, they simply come to “see”. They are not surprised by the resurrection; they seem to have been living in joyful anticipation of it. Matthew admits, here towards the very end of his Gospel, that it is these very women who have been supporting Jesus’ ministry all along. They have been “diakonei”. You might recognize the root of that Greek word. The angels do it for Jesus after his wilderness testing. Peter’s mother does it for Jesus and the disciples after she is healed of her illness. The disciples are never accused of it, but have benefited from it all along.

They come to the tomb to see. The word for see can also mean to understand, to gain understanding. They have been quietly in the background working to support this movement and this itinerant rabbi and his crew. They kept their distance, but were eyewitnesses to the crucifixion, and now they alone have shown up at the tomb to experience the promises that Jesus made before his death. You remember these promises, don’t you? That the son of man will be lifted up and killed and on the third day rise. The women had actually been listening; the men apparently had no clue. They are not to be found on this auspicious day. We can only guess that they are hiding.

Now there is a great twist in the story. These meek, faithful women come to the tomb and experience an earthquake and a powerful light. They STAND in anticipation of what will come next. These are strong women! Earthquakes are scary events (and hard to stand through). They stand. Jesus is announced as being alive. The strong, macho guards are reduced to fainting spells and appear as though they are dead. Now the women are given the task of evangelism. “Go and tell his disciples, (ironically, go and tell his evangelists!) the Good News. That is the very definition of an evangelist, one who brings the Good News. I’d never noticed this detail before. This is the birth of women as carriers of the Good News of the Gospel. The fact that it took mainline Christian denominations one thousand, nine hundred and sixty some years to reach the same conclusion is beside the point. Here are faithful women, exactly where Jesus told his disciples to be. They are then given the important task of proclaiming the good news of the resurrection. They are the first to ever do so.

Apparently the Christian Church has never been able to survive without faithful women. It was true of the church at its very inception, and it is true today.

Quotes for the Week

“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”    N.T. Wright

If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then-for me, anyway- a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new ones aren’t yet operational. There’s been a death of sorts, but without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.”    Mary Karr

“Faithfulness to the past can be a kind of death above ground. Writing of the past is a resurrection; the past then lives in your words and you are free.” Jessamyn West

“…left to ourselves we lapse into a kind of collusion with entropy, acquiescing in the general belief that things may be getting worse but that there’s nothing much we can do about them. And we are wrong. Our task in the present…is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.”    N.T. Wright

“The symbolic language of the crucifixion is the death of the old paradigm; resurrection is a leap into a whole new way of thinking.” Depak Chopra

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.   Martin Luther

Lesson: Matthew 28:1-10 (NRSV)

The Resurrection of Jesus

28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Questions for the Week

Where do you experience resurrection in this life?

Have you experienced new life when you felt all hope was lost?

 

 

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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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