Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Thoughts for our Thanksgiving Eve Service (November 22)

This week will bring two posts on this blog as we add our annual Thanksgiving Eve service to our regular schedule.  Today's post will focus on this Thanksgiving Eve service; a later post will focus on the readings for Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year.

For Thanksgiving Eve, we gather to, well, give thanks to the Lord for all that the Lord has done for us.  Which, come to think of it, is no different from what we do in any other worship service.  But, before we gather for our holiday meals, we stop to give thanks and worship the Lord.  Here are the readings for Wednesday night as well as my first thoughts (in italics) on these readings.

Deuteronomy 8:7 - 18

7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
  11Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses is proclaiming to the people of Israel that the Lord is leading them to a land of abundance.  The Promised Land is a place where they will have more food, fresh water, and resources than they will ever need.  Moses encourages them to remember what the Lord has done for them, that the Lord is the ultimate source of this abundance.  Sometimes, when we worry about scarcity, we need to be reminded that most of the world considers us rich beyond measure.  This puts our concerns about “enough” into perspective.

There is a concern about prosperity gospel here.  This passage, specifically the statement that “it is the Lord who gives you the power to get wealth,” is used to justify that brand of theology.  How do we walk the line between a theology of abundance and a theology of prosperity?

Psalm 65

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed,
 2 O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.
 3 When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.
 4 Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.
 5 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
 6 By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.
 7 You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.
 8 Those who live at earth's farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
 9 You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.
 10 You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.
 11 You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
 12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,
 13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Psalm 65 includes many praises of the Lord for what he has done to provide a land of abundance for the Lord’s people.  Many aspects of creation are recognized as the work of the Lord’s hands.

2 Corinthians 9:6 - 15

6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written, 
 “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
  his righteousness endures forever.”
10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

2 Corinthians 9 is essentially a proclamation of the theology behind receiving an offering in worship: “…for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.”  (9:12)  Our offering is a financial expression of thanksgiving to God for all that God has done, is doing, and will do.

Luke 17:11 - 19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Hmm.  In most cases, Samaritans and Galileans would never speak to each other.  But here, in this leper colony, Samaritans and Galileans live together.  Why?  Because their leprosy isolates them from both Samaria and Galilee, and they must live on the border, the empty ground between the two territories.  Their common affliction brought them together.  Their common appeal was granted by Jesus.  Only one Samaritan returned to give thanks, and we are to follow his example, but there is something to the existence of this colony also.  It feels significant, though I cannot fully state why yet.

Any ideas on what this means?  Or do you have comments/questions regarding one of the other readings?  I invite you to leave a note in the comments below and tell me what you notice and what you wonder about after reading these passages.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, November 19, 2017

After stepping outside the Revised Common Lectionary for the congregation's WELCA Thankoffering service, we are back in the lectionary readings for this next-to-last Sunday of the liturgical year.  This week, we wrap up our semi-read-through of 1 Thessalonians and we continue a string a parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 24 - 25.

Because the congregation has a Thanksgiving Eve service on Wednesday, November 22nd, we will not try to shoehorn a theme of giving thanks within these passages.  The passages faor this Sunday are not open to such a theme, and we will have another opportunity to discuss giving thanks to the Lord for all that the Lord has done for us.

If you have any questions about these readings or my ideas (in italics) about these readings, or you have an insight into the readings that you would like to share, I invite you to put them in a comment below, and I will respond as soon as I can.

Zephaniah 1:7, 12 - 18

7Be silent before the Lord God!
  For the day of the Lord is at hand;
 the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
  he has consecrated his guests.

12At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
  and I will punish the people
 who rest complacently on their dregs,
  those who say in their hearts,
 “The Lord will not do good,
  nor will he do harm.”
13Their wealth shall be plundered,
  and their houses laid waste.
 Though they build houses,
  they shall not inhabit them;
 though they plant vineyards,
  they shall not drink wine from them.

14The great day of the Lord is near,
  near and hastening fast;
 the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
  the warrior cries aloud there.
15That day will be a day of wrath,
  a day of distress and anguish,
 a day of ruin and devastation,
  a day of darkness and gloom,
 a day of clouds and thick darkness,
  16a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
 against the fortified cities
  and against the lofty battlements.

17I will bring such distress upon people
  that they shall walk like the blind;
  because they have sinned against the Lord,
 their blood shall be poured out like dust,
  and their flesh like dung.
18Neither their silver nor their gold
  will be able to save them
  on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
 in the fire of his passion
  the whole earth shall be consumed;
 for a full, a terrible end
  he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

Apparently, those who “rest on their dregs” are sitting around and drinking wine; the “dregs” are the sediment particles found in unfiltered wine.  Zephaniah seems to be prophesying against those who would sit back, relax, and party under the assumption that the Lord will not intervene within the world.  All the world will be burned by “the fire of his passion,” but the people of the Lord will have a different experience when the Lord’s justice reigns.  The Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests; while this was written well before the time of Jesus’ human life, it’s difficult to read this and NOT think of Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice through which the Lord conquers the world.  Who are the guests, and how are they consecrated?  Reading this today, we can see the baptized as the ones who have been consecrated (i.e. set apart, made holy) so that they may participate in the sacrificial worship and feast.

Psalm 90:1 - 12

<A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.> Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
 2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
 3 You turn us back to dust, and say, "Turn back, you mortals."
 4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
 5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;
 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
 7 For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
 9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.
 10 The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
 11 Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

 12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

The note at the beginning of Psalm 90 claims Moses as the author of the psalm.  How does this connection change the way we read the psalm?  Do we read this as a psalm from before, during, or after the escape from Egypt?

1 Thessalonians 5:1 - 11

1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5 has another point where someone believes they can rest and take a break (“there is peace and security,” 5:3).  But this peace and security is an illusion.  The day of the Lord may arrive suddenly, like the labor pains of birth, and the unprepared will experience the day as hardship.  For those who are prepared, who are the children of God (of light, of the day), the day of the Lord will be a day of rejoicing as the dead (most of the references to those who “sleep” are actually references to those who have died in the past) rise from the grave and both the living and the dead enter the Lord’s kingdom.

Matthew 25:14 - 30

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

Several people are unsure of what to do with this Matthew 25 passage.  They find it hard to see the Lord as the master who punishes the slave; one has even argued for seeing Jesus as the third slave who tries to overturn the unjust economic system of the day.  But this seems to be looking at, a head slave either faithfully carrying out his work in the master’s absence or acting as the passage in isolation and overthinking the issue.  As we approach this passage, the previous passages have included references to staying awake to prevent a thief from entering the house though the master will never return, and a group of bridesmaids who may or may not have enough oil to wait for the delayed groom to arrive at the banquet.  Obviously, there is a theme of preparation and faithfully carrying out one’s call/vocation in the world.  The first two slaves carried out their task faithfully.  The third slave, afraid of failing, did not attempt the task.  Is failing to try better or worse than trying and failing?  Is that even the right question?

Overall, the passages suggest that this is not the time to stop.  The Lord’s work is not complete.  We can rest as we need to rest, but we rest for the purposes of self-care and rejuvenation before taking up the call/vocation once again.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

First Thoughts on the (Non-Lectionary) Readings for Sunday, November 12

We have a new wrinkle in my sermon prep this week!  The congregation's women's organization is having its annual "Thankoffering" service this Sunday.  If you are unfamiliar with the practice of Thankoffering, this paragraph from the Women of the ELCA Thankoffering 2017 resource gives some of the background and tradition of this practice:

"As we make our Thankofferings today, we share in a tradition that goes back to the 1800s or even earlier. Then, when it seemed that there was not enough money to carry out the work of the church, the women would take action. Gathering in groups called “cent” or “mite” societies, each woman would set aside offerings at home throughout the year, in thanksgiving for blessings received. And on occasion, the women would come together as we do today, joining their offerings together to support ministry of many kinds.  When Women of the ELCA was formed 30 years ago, we committed to continue this tradition of giving in gratitude for blessings. Each year, in thousands of congregations, Thankofferings are given to support the life-changing ministries of Women of the ELCA. Together, we do more than we could ever do apart."

This Sunday, the congregation's women's organization will participate in this tradition by giving their Thankoffering for the year and helping to lead the worship service.

This event brings its own set of Bible readings for worship instead of relying on the readings offered by the Revised Common Lectionary.  As I read these, I am looking for ties to the Thankoffering as well as development of the themes of water and baptism.

Exodus 17:1 - 7
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?"
 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"
 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."
 5 The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.
 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

In Exodus 17, the people of Israel are not far removed from their slavery.  They are extending their escape from Egypt and find a place to camp, but the place does not have water for the people to drink.  The people complain to Moses, flatly declaring that slavery in Egypt was better than this place with no water.  Moses turns to the Lord for help, and the Lord directs Moses to lead some of the elders of Israel to a certain rock and strike it with his staff as the elders watch.  Moses does so, and water pours out from the rock.  The Lord is able to provide water from a source that, by all appearance, could never provide water for the people.  How might the Lord provide for us, even when it seems like all of our resources are gone?

Psalm 104:1, 10 - 15
Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills,
 11 giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst.
 12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches.
 13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
 14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth,
 15 and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart. (Psa 104:10-15 NRS)

Psalm 104 is a grand proclamation of all that the Lord has done by creating all things and all creatures.  We cut the psalm down to focus on the scenes of water within the psalm.

Titus 3:4 - 7
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3 is a very Lutheran passage.  The Lord acted to save us not because we earned it but from the Lord’s own love and mercy.  Through the waters of baptism and the Holy Spirit, the Lord makes us children and heirs.

John 4:5 - 26
 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."
 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)
 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
 10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
 11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?
 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"
 13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
 15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."
 16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back."
 17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband';
 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"
 19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."
 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.
 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
 25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."
 26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

John 4 is the famous Samaritan Woman at the Well story.  How does this fit with the Thankoffering service?  I believe that verses 13 and 14 make the direct connection; the people who come to this well draw water to drink, but that water is only a temporary help.  Soon the people will be hungry again.  But those who draw from the baptismal water in Christ will receive the water of eternal life; such water does not stop giving us life.  While the obvious understanding is eternal life, we can also point to the various resources through which the Lord sustains our lives.  Is Jesus “greater than (our) ancestor Jacob?”  The story says, yes, Jesus is great than our ancestor Jacob.  Jacob dug a well, providing us access to water.  Jesus died for us on a cross and rose to new life, providing us with the potential to spend the next age in grace and love.