Author: Dennis

If Necessary: Easter 5 (Narrative Lectionary)

If Necessary: Easter 5 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

May 19, 2019

Read Romans 1:1-17 (CEB)

Reflection

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“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

 

For many modern Christians, evangelism is something that strikes fear in their hearts.   No one wants to be pushy or mean to people. No one wants to have a faith forced upon them. That’s why this above quote attributed to St. Francis is so popular. It’s kind of an escape clause to get out of preaching the gospel.

But, the fact is as Christians we can’t escape evangelism.  Christ calls us to go and make disciples. The book of Acts shows the disciples and Paul going throughout the known world to share the gospel or good news of Jesus.

Today, we read the first few verses of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  This is a church that Paul had not visited yet, even though he wanted to. Paul would end up visiting Rome, but just not under his own will.  He came to Rome as a prisoner to stand trial and some think Rome is where Paul was executed.

In the opening verses of Romans 1, Paul greets the Romans by saying that he is a servant or slave of Jesus Christ “called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news.”  The word apostle comes from a Greek word which means “one who is sent.” Paul was called to be sent out into the known world to preach God’s good news. To be sent, you have to be called and Paul also acknowledges that.  Paul is saying that God has called him and sent him to tell the Good News to others. Being called is not limited to pastors.  Even those sitting the pews are called to be God’s sent people. You are called to be apostles, to be set apart for God’s good news just like I am.

Then we go to verses 16 and 17 where we read that Paul isn’t ashamed of the gospel.  Those are strong words for us modern Christians because we tend to be very ashamed of the gospel.  Maybe we’ve had bad experiences in church, or maybe we don’t want to look like weirdos. Whatever it is, we don’t want to upset our family and friends. Some of what we see as evangelism seems more interested in “making the sale” than it is about sharing the good news of Jesus with those around us.

But Paul isn’t interested in making the sale.  No, Paul’s sharing of the gospel, the sharing of Jesus is because his faith is deeply embedded in his life.  Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, not ashamed of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that he has to tell others, not in a way that is pushy, but in way that he talks about how God has worked in his own life.

The quote used at the beginning of the lesson is attributed to St. Francis, but it is not really something he said. This quote really was said by Francis:

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

Paul lives the gospel so that it is obvious in his life and they are not just mere words. Yes, we talk about our faith, but we also live by our faith.

We know that Jesus has saved us, saved all of creation.  We know that Jesus makes a difference in our lives. It is something that we should talk about, just not like we need to sell a car today to make your commission.

A number of years ago my mother took a flight from Michigan to Minnesota.  She was seated next to a woman who it turns out was Jehovah’s Witness.  My mother was dreading an hour and a half flight with someone pushing her faith on my Mom.  

Instead, the two had a conversation.  Both were able to share their faith, but not in a kind of used car salesman way.  Instead, they shared what mattered to them and it was an honest conversation about faith and life.  My Mom told me she had a good talk with this woman; it was the sharing of lives, not trying to guilt or force someone to believe a certain way.

This what it means to be sent out, to be called by God to share the good news.  It is when we share God in our daily lives when we are not willing to keep quiet, but we aren’t willing to disrespect our family and friends and thereby ruin our witness. 

 

Questions

What comes to mind when you think about evangelism?

Knowing that the word apostle means sent, what does it mean to be an apostle in this day and age?

Have you ever had a discussion with a friend, relative or even stranger about faith? What was that like?

 

Notes:

 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

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Every Kind of People: Easter 4 (Narrative Lectionary)

Every Kind of People: Easter 4 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

May 12, 2019

Read Acts 13:1-3 and 14:8-18 (CEB)

Reflection

faces-2679755_1920It takes every kinda people
To make what life’s about, yeah
Every kinda people
To make the world go ’round*

 

 

Benny is someone you just can’t forget.

Benny is a man in his mid-60s who is developmentally disabled and a part of the congregation in Minneapolis where I once served.  Every Sunday, someone from the church would pick him up at his apartment and bring him to church.  He seems to always have a smile on his face.

But Benny can be a handful.  For one, he doesn’t really have an inside voice.  This means when he talks, everyone hears.  Which meant you might not want to share your deep dark secrets with him.  Speaking loudly in the hallway before worship service is one thing.  But you see, Benny also talks like this in worship.  Every so often as the worship service would progress, one of the pastors would say something and Ernie would respond in his loud voice.  When this would happen, we would simply and calmly answer his question and continue with the service.  

Sometimes sitting next to Benny was Norman, a man in his 50s.  Norman is schizophrenic and it always seemed that he was just on the edge of sanity.  It was not unusual during the time for prayer that he would ask for prayers because he was hearing the voices again.

After a while, we learned something about Norman; he was a budding artist.  He drew these futuristic drawings in black and white and also in color. They were jaw-droppingly beautiful.

What is wonderful to see is that both Benny and Norman are considered full participants in the community.  While I was a pastor at this congregation, no one ever complained about Benny or Norman’s antics at time.  People learned to roll with the punches with these two.  I was thankful to have been a part of a church that welcomed folks like Benny and Norman and were not embarrassed by them.

The text brings up several points to consider:

First, the church at Antioch is diverse. Acts 13:1-3 is just three verses and it lists some of the leadership of the church in the city of Antioch. At first glance, it just seems like a lot of names, mostly of people we don’t really know.  There’s Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul also known as Paul. What’s interesting is that all of these people have a different background.  We have Lucius of Cyrene, who is probably a non-practicing Jew since there was no temple in town. Then we have Simeon who is also called Niger, possibly a North African. Then there was Manaen. He had some kind of connect to Herod Antipas the current vassal king of Israel and the killer of John the Baptist.  And let’s not forget Paul. He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen a deacon who worked to feed the widows and orphan. If you want to talk about a diverse congregation, this was it.  What does it mean that this church is diverse and what does it say about our modern churches? Are we open to all people, even those like Benny and Norman?

Second, this is a local congregation.  This is not the “headquarters” in Jerusalem. Peter and the other disciples are not here.  This a local congregation far away from the center wanting to do mission.  What message is here for the local congregations of the 21st century?

Third, the congregation sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As the congregation was doing mission, they wanted to seek what God wanted them to do and the Holy Spirit answered! What would happen if in our own churches if we listened to what the Spirit is saying?

Fourth, the calling of Paul and Barnabas shows that the call to ministry is not just for pastors. The church has made a big mistake in making it seem like vocation or call, is only for those interested in ordained ministry.  But Paul and Barnabas were just members of the congregation and they were chosen by the Holy Spirit. In countless churches in every setting, the Holy Spirit is calling people to ministry.  Are we listening to the Spirit and encouraging those called to ministry?

In Acts 14:8-18, Paul and Barnabas are in the city of Lystra.  They meet a man who can’t walk.  Paul can tell this man has the faith to be healed and does just that.  When the crowds see that the man who couldn’t walk now walking, they decide that Paul and Barnabas must be gods.  Since they were speaking in a local tongue and not in Greek, Paul couldn’t immediately understand what they were saying. 

Why did the crowd think Paul and Barnabas were gods?  And why were they considered Zeus and Hermes? There is a folktale about Zeus and Hermes visiting a town in the area. No one in the town recognized them and they weren’t treated with hospitality.  Because of this, the gods destroyed the town.  Having heard such stories, the townsfolk didn’t want to make the same mistake when they heard of the miraculous news.

While Paul is the major character in Acts, here he is playing second fiddle to Barnabas who was considered the chief God, Zeus.  Why wasn’t Paul considered Zeus?  Hermes was considered a messenger of the Gods and messengers tended to speak more than the gods. 

But the important note in this text is that the crippled man already had faith that God would heal him.  How?  How did he know that the God of Israel would save him?  What Paul, the early church and the modern church learn is that sometimes mission isn’t about bringing God someplace, but going to where God is already at work.  Paul could heal the man not because he had great power, but because the man believed that this God could work a miracle.  As the modern church, we need to learn that mission is as much seeing where God is at work than it is going where there is need.

The church is made up of “Every kind of people.”  The people who made up the church in Antioch were people from various parts of society.  The church is made up of people like Benny and Norman.  Paul and Barnabas went to foreign places preaching the gospel to every kind of culture. Are we making sure that our churches are places where “every kind of people” are in mission together?

 

Questions

Who are the Bennys and Normans in your church? How are they treated?

How does your church do local mission?

Have you ever felt called by God to something that was not ordained ministry?

Read Matthew 10:40-42. How do Jesus’ words relate to today’s text?

 

Notes:

“Every Kind of People.” Sung by Robert Palmer, written by Andy Fraser. © Universal Music Publishing Group, 1978.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

Acts of the Spirit: Easter 3 (Narrative Lectionary)

Acts of the Spirit: Easter 3 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

May 5, 2019

Reflection

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Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

What is the Spirit up to?

If the above sentence made you scratch your head, you aren’t alone. Among mainline Protestant Christians, there is a lot of questions about the Holy Spirit. We might understand God and Jesus, but the Spirit?  We just don’t get it and if we are aware of Pentecostals, it might just freak us out.

But the book of Acts is really about the work of the Spirit.  Yes, it is about the beginnings of the church, but you would not have the church if it wasn’t because of the third person in the Trinity.  In Acts 8, we see Phillip moved and guided by the Spirit to witness to the Ethiopian eunuch. In today’s text, we see the Spirit moving in two people; Cornelius and Peter.

Cornelius is a Roman and a God-fearer.  He is generous towards the Jews and prays to God.  He is visited by an angel that tells him that God has heard his prayers and that he is to send for Peter.  Cornelius obeys and has some men make the journey to where Peter is.

At the same time, Peter is up on the roof of a home and has a vision.  He sees a sheet full of unclean animals and was told to kill and eat.  Peter was an observant Jew and knew that he couldn’t eat the animals.  The voice tells Peter what was God made clean is not unclean.  God had transformed animals that he couldn’t eat into animals he could eat.

Peter hears that he is being called by Cornelius’ men and goes with them to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and those gathered in his home. Peter ends by professing that God shows no partiality.

God in the Spirit was at work in Peter and in Cornelius.  Throughout the book of Acts, the Spirit sends people hither and yon to preach the Gospel.  The good news goes from Jerusalem to the far-flung places in the Roman Empire and that happened all because of the Spirit.

As many churches struggle to figure out their future in a changing environment, it is always important to figure out what and where the Spirit is at work.  Too often, congregations think it’s all on them to be a witness in our communities.  But notice that the Spirit was already at work in Cornelius when Peter is asked to go visit him. Phillip was told by the Spirit to visit the eunuch. As congregations, we need to discern where the Spirit is moving and then follow.  It’s not about having a great worship service, but it is about the willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit.  But be warned, when Peter says God shows no partiality, we should prepare ourselves to be led to places we never expected to go, to meet people we never expected to meet.

 

What is the Spirit up to in your church? In your community?  In your world?

Questions

What did it mean that God didn’t make anything that is unclean?  What have you thought was unclean?

Who was converted in this story?  Peter? Cornelius? Or both?

How would you describe the Holy Spirit?

Read the story of Phillip and the Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.  How is this story similar to Peter and Cornelius? How is it different?

What does it mean to see what the Spirit is up to? How is that lived out in your life? In your church?

 

Notes:

 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

Some Doubted: Easter 2 (Narrative Lectionary)

Some Doubted: Easter 2 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

April 28, 2019

Read Matthew 28:16-20 (CEB)

Reflection

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Image by photosforyou from Pixabay 

Note: My apologies for not writing a reflection the past few weeks.  The day after I wrote the previous reflection for Lent 4, I became very ill. It turned out I had a mild case of pneumonia. (I say mild, because I had another case of pneumonia that placed me in the hospital for two weeks when I was in my 20s.) I took some time off, partially because I was ill and also to make sure I was getting the rest I needed.  I’m still recuperating, but I’m better than I was.  

“When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.”  There is a lot in this sentence.  Why did some of the disciples doubt? What were they doubting?  The text never tells us. It could be that some of the disciples were still wondering if this really was Jesus.  After such an amazing few days, seeing their friend tortured and killed, it was too much for some to think this really was Jesus.

And yet, the text says “they worshipped him.”  Everyone worshipped and some doubted.

Can faith and doubt exist at the same time?

When I was a kid, I remember having questions about God and heaven. Did all of this exist? What if it didn’t?  Where is heaven? Why can’t I see God? Truth be told, I still have those questions at times.  I believe, but I also doubt.

So there are some among the disciples that are wondering if what they are seeing is real.  But as we read on where Jesus gives the charge of the disciple to go among the Gentiles, he doesn’t say, ‘Only those who have never doubted.'” Jesus calls all of the disciples, doubters included.  We are all called to teach the faith to people, to form Christian communities, to form people to become Christ-followers and to baptize people in the name of the Trinity,  even when we aren’t so sure.

The church I pastor is a small congregation that seeks to be more connected to the wider community and to be a public witness in the world.  But we really want to see more people become members of our church. People come to visit and don’t come back.  As a pastor, I start to doubt myself and wonder if I don’t believe enough.  But in reality it doesn’t matter if we have faith the size of Mac Truck or the size of a mustard seed, God is with us as we try to be the church in this suburb of the Twin Cities.

As humans we doubt.  At the end of the day, it is not doubt that matters to God, or that we have a perfect understanding of the resurrection or the Trinity.  What matters is faith, to place our trust in God, in the Risen Christ, in the Trinity even when none of it makes sense.  We trust in sharing our faith, we trust when we teach the faith, we trust when we are baptized and when we baptize.

What makes this passage so amazing is that all of the disciples worshipped, all of them placed their trust in Jesus and at the same time, some of them doubted as well.  And yet, they all are commissioned to go into the world.

Christ calls you and Christ calls me.  Even if we don’t understand, even if we doubt. Thanks be to God.

 

Notes:

 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

There’s Always Next Year: Lent 4 (Narrative Lectionary)

There’s Always Next Year: Lent 4 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

March 31, 2019

Read Matthew 25:1-13 (CEB)

Reflection

coors-field-4045017_1280My partner in crime at the blog, Bob Cornwall has a blog post from 2014 where he reflects on this very text.  In it, he talks about the Chicago Cubs and how most Cubs fans always say at the end of the season, “there’s always next year.”  For well over century, the Cub fans believed that someday and someday soon, the Cubs would make it back to the World Series and win, which they last did in 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt was President. They had not even been to the World Series since 1945. Bob said in his commentary, “After all, most Cub fans have never seen a World Series played at Wrigley Field.  Perhaps they never will.”

Oh, ye of little faith. 

What Bob didn’t know writing in 2014 is that two years later, the Cubs would do the impossible: winning the World Series in 7 games.  What fans had been waiting for finally happened, but as Bob’s post shows, we didn’t know when.

Think about it this: there were generations of people who never saw the Cubs win the world series.  You have to believe that each person until their dying day believed that the next year would be the year for the Cubs. “There’s always next year.”

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is one of those stories that leaves both scared and mad.  Jesus is in the middle of telling several tales about the coming judgment when God returns. Next week we will hear about the Sheep and the Goats, but this week we hear the story of ten virgins. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven (which usually means God) is like ten virgins waiting at a wedding, waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. When he arrived at the house, the bridesmaids would greet him and escort the gentleman to the house of the bride where there would be feasting. We hear this story about the ten virgins and learn that five brought extra oil for their lamps and five didn’t do that.  Why didn’t the wise virgins share their oil with the foolish ones?  Why did the groom not welcome let the foolish virgins in after they purchased extra oil?

The temptation here is to get lost in the weeds and make this a story about the selfish virgins that didn’t share.  But that’s not the point of the parable.  The point of the parable is readiness, a kind of alert waiting for something, even when we don’t know when it will happen.

I remember as a kid that we had to go through fire drills.  The thing is, you never knew when the drill would take place. It could happen when we are studying math or taking a quiz.  Whenever it happened, we had to stop what we were doing and quietly leave the room and head out of the building.

But in the meantime, you had to learn arithmetic.  You need to read Shakespeare.  You have to do all the things you had to do at school.

As Christians, we await when Christ returns. We believe as the Apostles Creed says that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Until that day comes, we wait and you know what it means to wait? It means to live our lives.  It means we gather with other Christ followers at church and where we take part in the Lord’s Supper.  It means caring for the least of these around us.  We wait, by living, aware that God is present and that God will return.

It took a long time for the Cubs to win a world series.  But people just kept going to ballgames at Wrigley Field telling themselves at the end of every season, “there’s always next year.” Hopefully, the Cubs will win before 2124, but even if that is the case, there will be people waiting until next year. May it be with us as followers of Jesus.  We live and we wait, because who knows what will happen “next year.”

 

Notes:

 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

Dressed for the Occasion: Lent 3 (Narrative Lectionary)

Dressed for the Occasion: Lent 3 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

March 24, 2019

Read Matthew 22:1-14 (CEB)

Reflection

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Photo by Ibrahim Asad from Pexels

In 1978 when I was around 8 years old, I participated in my first wedding.  Well, it wasn’t a real wedding, it was a Tom Thumb wedding. If you are familiar with the practice this is a play wedding where are the participants, the pastor, the bride, the groom, the best man, the bridesmaid, everyone is a child.  I was part of the groom’s party and I remember having to dress in a tux. I remember having to go to a tuxedo rental place to find a tux that would fit me.

The day came for the wedding.  We had the event and then got in cars and drove around the neighborhood in our pretend procession for our pretend wedding.

What I remember from that occasion was that all of the kids were dressed to the nines.  Of course, we had to be, it was a wedding. Well, that and our parents kind of made us dress up for the event.

It’s funny that even though we had to have the proper attire for the event, adults don’t always dress up for the occasion.  I know that we are a more casual culture these days, but I think at times we’ve gone overboard.  I’m always looking at how people dress when they go to weddings and there is always someone that looks like they literally came off the street.  I’ll be honest, I’m not always a fan of dressing to the nines, but I know there are certain events, weddings, and funerals, where it just makes sense to dress up- not to look good, but to show that this event means something, that it isn’t every day.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is one that is confusing and disturbing.  It’s disturbing that people didn’t want to go to a wedding and they didn’t want to do it so badly that they were willing to kill for it, which is what the king did when some servants were killed by ungrateful subjects.

The king then asks his servants to go and find people on the streets and invite them to the banquet.  This should be where the parable ends, with the king or God inviting the poor to take part in the banquet. Kind of a nice picture isn’t it?

But the tale doesn’t end there. There is still part two.

The banquet is taking place, people are enjoying themselves and the king then notices there is one person that is not wearing wedding clothes.  The king asks, “Friend, where are your wedding clothes?”  The man is speechless. The king angrily demands his servants cast the man out of the banquet and into the darkness.

It’s that odd act of casting out the man who didn’t wear wedding clothes.  It seems mean.

But let’s look at this from another viewpoint. It’s important to remember that this is talking about the end of the time. Salvation is offered to all. Some hear and accept and others don’t.  Some see their salvation and live in wonder. But others take their salvation for granted. Living in wonder and thankfulness is like wearing your fancy duds.  If you take it for granted, it’s like wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Not wearing the clothes of grace is not accepted at the banquet.  It was an offense, so the man was cast out. One note, nothing says the man wasn’t allowed back in if he got the proper clothes.

There is such a thing as cheap grace which means understanding you are forgiven, but not really making any changes in your life because of what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

I can imagine 8-year-old me was happy to get out of that tux at the Tom Thumb wedding.  I was eight years old after all. But I never did forget to make sure I dressed for the occasion.  And may we not forget that as well.

This is an excerpt from a Bible Study from the Chronicles of God series. You can learn more by going to the Chronicles of God website.

Notes:

 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

Transmogrify!: Transfiguration

Transmogrify!: Transfiguration

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

March 3, 2019

Reflection

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The late German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is rumored to have said that when Jesus calls us to follow him, bids us to come and die.  To be a disciple is to be a person that makes decisions that cause people to die.  It is about denying ourselves, living just for us and being willing to take up our crosses. Most of the time the dying or the cross is figurative; sometimes it is literal.  Indeed, Bonhoeffer stood against Hitler and Fascism.  Because he stood up to evil, he was imprisoned and later executed- all in the name of Christ.

Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and countless others are Christians who felt called to follow Jesus, even when the road was uncomfortable, even when it meant their lives.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean we are all going to die.  But being a disciple does change us, or at least it should.  Like Jesus on the mountain, we are going to be changed.  It means that daily we will deny ourselves and take up the crosses in our lives. The reason we go to church is to gather as a community of disciples, to be reminded who we are and whose we are.  Peter is like most of us, we want to follow Jesus, but we don’t want to change-we want to stay on the mountain.

But to be a Christ follower means being changed.  

 Based on the events that took place in Selma, Alabama in February and March of 1965, the 2015 movie Selma is not just a story about civil rights, it is an example of discipleship.  The base of operations for the protest was an African Methodist Episcopal congregation.  A white Unitarian minister, James Reeb, came down to participate in the protests. He was beaten by white supremacists and later died from his injuries.  Then there is Amelia Boyton Robinson.  She was a civil rights activist who died in 2015 at the age of 103. . She was involved in the protests especially during “Bloody Sunday” a day when the police beat the protestors who were crossing the bridge. She was among those injured.  She believed in nonviolent protests and the call to love the enemy.  She even went to the funeral of the sheriff in Selma, the one who led the charge against the protestors.  That’s discipleship: to follow Jesus even to the point of loving someone who really hurt you.

This is an excerpt from a Bible Study from the Chronicles of God series. You can learn more by going to the Chronicles of God website.

Notes:

 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

Loaves Abound!: Epiphany 6

Loaves Abound!: Epiphany 6

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

February 24, 2019

Reflection

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A modern interpretation of the feeding of the 5000 as a parable about sharing.  That take says that when Jesus uses the bread and fish that the disciples found, others who had brought food, felt safe to bring their it out and share it with others.  The reasons behind seeing this story as one about sharing is that it doesn’t put it all in God’s hands.  We are also called to feed the poor among us. An example of this comes from Episcopal author Barbara Brown Taylor who explains that she has a problem with miracles:

“Miracles,” she writes, “ let us off the hook. They appeal to the part of us that is all too happy to let God feed the crowd, save the world, do it all. But in this story,” she writes, “God tells us, out of God’s own deep pain and sadness for the world, ‘Stop waiting for food to fall from the sky and share what you have. Stop waiting for a miracle and participate in one instead.” 1

On the other hand, theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that we have lost the language to explain miracles.  He writes:

“Those of us who dwell in the time called modernity do not easily recognize miracles because we have lost any sense of the miracle of life. Wendell Berry suggests that we cannot recognize the miracle of life because we use the wrong language to speak of the world and its creatures. We use the analytic language that gives power to experts and fails to designate what is being described. As a result, the world has been reclassified from creature to machine, making us strangers to our own lives.” 2

Which one makes sense?  The focus on sharing seems plausible and reasonable.  But looking at Barbara Brown Taylor’s quote, it seems to tell us that God doesn’t intervene into our lives, but tells us to figure it out ourselves. When God does seem to get involved, it seems like it focuses on morals than it is focused on God. A pastor responds that for him the greater miracle was Jesus getting people to share than it is having Jesus feeding 5000 with the loaves and fish.  The pastor’s belief is that the point of this story is for us to learn to share, to be moral people. Jesus does want the disciples to feed the crowd, but he has to show them how that happens.

If you see this story alone then, you could see this as a moral tale, but this story is linked to how God feeds the Israelites as they traveled in the desert. The people had to rely on God to feed them daily.  It also looks towards the church where bread and wine remind us of Christ’s work on the cross.

Some have a hard time coming to terms with Jesus performing a miracle.  The sharing story just makes more sense than taking a little food and feeding it to 5000 people.  At the end of the day, how we look at the story depends on who is the focus of the story, the disciples or us or God? The answer will lead us down one path or another.

Notes:

  1. http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/2014/080314.html
  2.  Hauerwas, S. (2006). Matthew (p. 140). Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

That’s the Way of the World: Epiphany 5

That’s the Way of the World: Epiphany 5

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

February 17, 2019

Read Matthew 13:24-43 (CEB)

Reflection

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Over the last decade, I’ve planted a garden in front of my house.  Every year I am amazed to see the coneflowers and daylily bloom so brightly to provide a sense of color to the front lawn.  But among the flowers, there are always weeds.

The weeds can make it hard for the flowers I’ve planted to truly bloom. I don’t want my flowers to get choked off by the weeds.  So, I try to pull them up by the roots in a vain hope that the weeds will no longer threaten my flowers.  Every so often, I want to use some kind of weed killer like Roundup to get rid of the weeds.  But then I wonder, in trying to kill the weeds, would I also kill the flowers? 

In the parable of the wheat and tares, the servants are not wrong in wanting to get rid of the weeds. They were worried that the weeds could end up choking the wheat. That’s what things like weeds or invasive species do: they end up wiping out the native crop.  Throughout the Great Lakes Region, there is a fear that the Asian Carp, an invasive species will get into the Great Lakes, throwing the aquatic life of the Lakes into havoc. The Great Lake States are deciding what to do as the pesky fish makes its way closer and closer to the Great Lakes.  The carp, like weeds, can be devastating.

The way of the world is to fight back against the evil we see in our world.  The way of the world is to fight the weeds using whatever is possible. The goal is to rip out the weeds, spray as much weed killer as possible. Stop the carp.  But God seems to want to keep the weeds until the proper time comes. That seems rather counter to how we want God to act. But the ways of God seem to want to keep the weeds of the world in the gardens and fields until the harvest.  While the ways of the world want to punish and destroy, God seems to want to do something different at least until the harvest.

The Kingdom of God is not like any other kingdom in our world.  We are left more often than not, scratching our heads. God intends to keep the weeds of the world for now. While the weeds can be people who are threatening, the weeds can also be that which is in our own hearts.  Martin Luther has said we are saint and sinner at the same time. We are also wheat and weed. God is rushing to judgment, but God is patient giving all of us time to repent and change.  Even at the time of harvest when the fires come they are not fires meant to destroy.  God is graceful and uses the fires to burn off that which is not pure, until we become the people God wants us to be. God seems to want the fire to purify, to burn away the weed that is found in all of our lives, so that we maybe be finally free from the powers of sin.

This spring I will be planting more flowers and I will be weeding.  But I am glad that God has given grace to me, wheat and weed, and I await the day when the fires of wholeness will come.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

More Than Words: Epiphany 4

More Than Words: Epiphany 4

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

February 3, 2019

Reflection

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Would you like to close us with prayer?

Whenever a pastor utters those words to a crowd of people in a church meeting or a Sunday School, it is followed by total silence.  People start having a strange fascination with looking at their feet.  Many people don’t like to pray because they fear they don’t have the right words to say.  It doesn’t matter if they come from churches where there are written prayers or those where pastors pray extemporaneously; the average person hates to pray.

People feel that they need to have the right words to talk to God, it’s God after all.  I tend to think this is part of the reason Jesus talks about prayer in Matthew 6.  Maybe in Jesus’ day like in our day, people were afraid to pray.  “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites,” Jesus said. “They love to pray to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them.”  He knew that the religious leaders of his day were ones that loved to stand out in public and give incredibly flowery prayers, that was probably quite intimidating to others.

Prayer can be used by people like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day along with the Gentiles in order to show off or even doing this in order to get God’s attention.  Through all of this passage, Jesus tells the people that faith is not about us.  When people make a big noise praying or giving alms, they make the faith about themselves and not about God.  Jesus is calling people to see that the faith is about a relationship.  That leads to Jesus teaching people how to pray.  He previews the prayer by saying prayer is not as much about getting God to hear you. Jesus even says God knows what you need.  Instead, it is about establishing a relationship with God and with others.

If you step back for a moment, the prayer found in Matthew 6:10-13 is explained in the surrounding verses of 16-20.  Forgiving with abandon, not making a big deal of fasting and not to put faith in things show that faith and action are linked.  If one prays flowery prayers, but then goes and treat their sister or brother like crap, as Jesus says earlier in chapter 6, they have received their reward.

So, to those that are studying their shoes when someone asks you to pray, remember that this is not about saying the right words or saying flowery words that impress people.  Instead, it is about a continuing relationship with God and with others around us.  God doesn’t need our fine words, but hearts attuned to God and neighbor.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.