Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for the 2018 WELCA Thankoffering Service (November 18, 2018)

Every year, Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (also known as Women of the ELCA or WELCA) organizes a "Thankoffering" service.  The service comes from a 19th Century practice of women collecting pennies and other coins throughout the year and bringing these coins to the Church as an offering.  Through these penny collections, women raised the money to build new church buildings, send missionaries around the world, and fund many other ministries of local congregations and national church bodies.  Today, these "Thankofferings" are a major funding source for the national ministries of the Women of the ELCA.  You can learn more about the history behind the Thankoffering Service here.

In a service designed around a special offering, you might expect a strong focus on stewardship and generosity.  In the suggested readings, however, there is a strong focus on the image of water.  In many cases, we are talking about literal water; in other cases, water serves as the symbol of Baptism.  From there, we can make the claim that our freedom from sin and death, which is given to us in Baptism, frees us to be generous with our time and our resources.

As always, the readings for this Sunday are below.  My comments are the readings are in italics.  My comments are meant to be the starting point of discussions and not the ending point of discussions.  If you have an insight to share, a dispute with something I've said, a question to raise regarding one of the readings, or any other response to what is shared here, I invite you to post it in the comments below so that we can continue the conversation.

Exodus 17:1 - 7

 1 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?"

- The whole point of this story is that the Lord will provide, even when it seems impossible.  Finding a source of water large enough for the Israelites within a random rock/cliff/boulder in the wilderness?  Impossible!  Until it happens.

- “Rock” does not tell us much about where Moses found the Lord’s source of water.  The alternate translations of “cliff” and “boulder” tell us more and are a better description of a location that can hold large amounts of water.

Psalm 104:1, 5 - 15

 1 Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty.
 5 You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.
 6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
 7 At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
 8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.
 9 You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.
 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.

- This is a long psalm.  Here, we focus on the portions discussing water and how the Lord has created, controlled, and used water for the sake of Creation.  We hear echos of the Creation story and the Flood.  We also see that water has a central role in Creation, for all of life depends on water.

1 Corinthians 12:12 - 31

 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
 15 If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
 16 And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?
 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;
 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,
 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.
 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.
 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

- 1 Corinthians 12 does not reference a body of water, but Paul bases his entire argument on the fact that we are all baptized into one body.  The waters of baptism and the Holy Spirit mean that every person and every community has a role to play/serve within the Church.

- We often read 1 Corinthians 12 and apply it to individuals.  Does our understanding of the passage change if we apply it to congregations and communities?  Does our understanding of the passage change if we claim that every congregation has a role to play within the Church and that we cannot cut our congregation off from the Church without causing the Church and our congregation to suffer?

- The Thankoffering can be wrapped into this passage.  Though we wonder if our small gift means anything, the national WELCA organization thrives off of the many small gifts coming together to fund various ministries.

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."

- We again wrestle with the question of where water will come from.  Can Jesus draw water from this well when he has no bucket?  Impossible!  But in this case, Jesus is talking in symbolic terms, not literal terms.

- The living water of baptism will be the source of living water/eternal life within us.

- Our gifts can also be the spring of water that sustains others.

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