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.

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