Category: associate pastor

Come Sunday: The Ant and the Grasshopper-Remixed (August 4, 2013)

Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost (Year C)

August 4, 2013

Luke 12:13-21

Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’

20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?

-Luke 12:18-20 (The Message)

the-ant-and-the-grasshopper-an-interactive-children-s-book-by-tabtale-screenshot-4When I was a kid, I loved the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper.  The Ant was the serious type and worked hard to prepare for the coming winter.  The Grasshopper was more of the free spirit who didn’t worry much about anything, especially the future.

The story ends with winter arriving and the Ant all cozy in his modest two bedroom apartment.  Meanwhile the Grasshopper is shivering in the biting winds, hungry and wondering what will happen to him.

I wanted to be that Ant.  I wanted to prepare for the winter and I even remember telling my mother one morning as I was getting ready for school that we needed to prepare for the oncoming Michigan winter, just like the Ant.

In today’s passage, we see Jesus telling a story of his own.  In this one the rich farmer ends up with a big harvest.  He ends up building large barns to store his harvest and he then decides to kick back, relax and enjoy life, a little like that Ant in that children’s fable.

Except this time, God comes in and tells the farmer that he will die this evening and all of big earnings will be of no use to him.

In this tale, the Ant doesn’t fare so well.

What was wrong with the farmer?  In one case, nothing.  He had a big harvest on his hands.  He had worked hard for this and wanted to enjoy it.  It’s hard to see this guy as greedy; I mean he is just enjoying the fruit of his labor.

Maybe that’s why this story is so upsetting- because the farmer’s greed doesn’t look like greed.  Most of us in his place would probably do the same thing and in fact, we do that all the time.  We buy things telling ourselves that we need them and it doesn’t really look like we are being greedy-we’re just enjoying life.

Was the farmer greedy because he didn’t share what he had with others?  The harvest ends up in the barns.  What would have happened had he shared the harvest with others?  What if we saw the bounty not as an occasion to pat ourselves on the back, but to be generous to others?

Jesus tells the story of the greedy farmer as the Message calls it, in response to a man who wants his bother to share their inheritance.  Theologian Russell Rathburn notes that the man is probably the younger brother who in that time and place was entitled to a smaller share than his older brother.  The younger brother wasn’t happy with what he had, he wanted more than his fair share. So Jesus then tells what has to be the first stewardship sermon.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to place everything at God’s feet and that includes our finances.  We are called to be wise stewards.  We are called to be generous with what we have.  And we aren’t called to build bigger houses…I mean barns to store our stuff…or harvest.

In one version of the Ant and Grasshopper tale, the Grasshopper is left to freeze in the cold.  Another version has the Ant taking the Grasshopper in and feeding his fellow insect.  I’m going to guess that the first version is the “correct” version of the tale.  But I kind of want to believe that the second version still has some validity, for the only reason to show that the wise Ant was not only supposed to be prudent, but also compassionate and generous.

Thanks the kind of Ant I want to be.

Go and be church.

More Resources

Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

David Lose: What Money Can’t Buy

Carol Howard Merritt: Greed and Responsibility

Rick Morley: To Covet or Not

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Come Sunday: Jesus Walks (June 30, 2013)

Sixth Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

June 30, 2013

 

Luke 9:51-62

 

 

 

 

57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Luke 9:57-58 (The Message)

 


I’ve always had issues with this passage, for the simple reason that it didn’t make sense.  Why was Jesus telling that one guy who wanted to follow him that he wouldn’t have a place to stay?  Why was he so unconcerned about the man that had to bury his father?  Why was Jesus, as  Lutheran pastor Russell Rathburn notes, such a jerk?

The translation found in the Message bible helps clear things up.  Jesus was trying to get people to understand their priorities in life.    To the man that said he would follow Jesus wherever he went, Jesus warns him that he might lead the man to some places that were not comfortable.  To the man that needed to bury his father, Jesus says he must choose life over death.  To the one that wants to say goodbye to his friends and family, says that one that looks back isn’t fit for God’s kingdom.

The temptation in modern American society is to make our faith one of many priorities.  We want our faith to be predictable if we want faith at all.  We want a faith where we are in charge.

But here’s the thing: if we are following Jesus, we aren’t in charge.  We are following Jesus, and that might take us to some strange places, places we would never dream of going.  And maybe that’s why this passage bothers me; it lays bare my desire to be in control, to choose my faith.

In 2011 UCC Minister Lillian Daniel caused a bit of  stir when she wrote an article for the Huffington Post called  “Spiritual But Not Religious?  Please Stop Boring Me.”  The essay skewers those who tend to see themselves as “spiritual” but don’t feel they need to be connected to a church, let alone committed to anything or anyone. She has critcized what she believes to be a made up faith that is more in line with American consumerism than it is with the Church.  In a longer version of the essay that appeared in the Christian Century, she says the following:

“…in the church we are stuck with one another, therefore we don’t get the space to come up with our own God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In the church, humanity is way too close at hand to look good. It’s as close as the guy singing out of tune next to you in your pew, as close as the woman who doesn’t have access to a shower and didn’t bathe before worship, as close as the baby screaming and as close as the mother who doesn’t seem to realize that the baby is driving everyone crazy. It’s as close as that same mother who crawled out an inch from her postpartum depression to get herself to church today and wonders if there is a place for her there. It’s as close as the woman sitting next to her, who grieves that she will never give birth to a child and eyes that baby with envy. It’s as close as the preacher who didn’t prepare enough and as close as the listener who is so thirsty for a word that she leans forward for absolutely anything.

It’s as close as that teenager who walked to church alone, seeking something more than gratitude, and finds a complicated worship service in which everyone seems to know when to stand and when to sing except for him—but even so, he gets caught up in the beauty of something bigger than his own invention.

Suddenly it hits that teenager: I don’t need to invent God, because God has already invented me. I don’t need to make all this up for myself. There’s a community of folks who over thousands of years have followed a man who was not lucky—who was, in the scheme of things, decidedly unlucky. But he was willing to die alongside other unlucky ones, and he was raised from the dead to show there is much more to life than you could possibly come up with.”

 

Jesus Walks.  Jesus walks to places we would never consider and that can make us quite uncomfortable.  That will make us quite uncomfortable.  Jesus had a hard road to walk, but in the end it was so worth it.  Our walks with Jesus and encountering the lost and lonely will also make a difference in that we will all see God in places we never would have expected.

Jesus Walks. Will you follow?

 

Go and be church.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Janet Hunt: No Turning Back

Rick Morley: Facepalm

Ann Howard: Home Free

Ragan Sutterfield: Stay Close



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: Easy Silence (June 23, 2013)

Fifth Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

June 23, 2013

1 Kings 19:1-15

 

 

 

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.

1 Kings 19:11-12 (Common English Bible)

 


He was only 21.  He laid in the hospital bed in silence.  I would come by every so often to see how he was doing.  The result was a lot of time in silence.  You could tell he was angry.  You could tell he was depressed.  At 21 he had his life ahead of him.  But then an ATV accident leaves him without a leg.

Depression comes in many ways.  Sometimes, it arrives in an angry silence.  Sometimes the anger is rather loud.  Sometimes it comes in the form of despair.  For the prophet Elijah, it came with despair.  He felt he did all the right things.  But now he was on the run from Queen Jezebel, who has made Elijah a marked man.  I’d be depressed too if a homocidal regent is after your head.

Depression can be a time when you feel alone.  Elijah was feeling very alone.  Jezebel had killed most of the prophets of the Lord and Elijah had to leave everything behind.  You can feel that God is not simply silent, but just isn’t around.  God has left the building.

And yet, this passage reminds us that God was with Elijah.  Angels offer the prophet of the Lord food to keep up his strength.  Finally, God comes to Elijah, not in the busy sounds of the everyday, but in silence.

All of us will face those times when it seems like the bottom has fallen out.  We stumble through our days and just want to give up.  But God is present, maybe not in the way we expect, but God is there.

In 2006, the country group the Dixie Chicks released an album that included a song called “Easy Silence.”  The song was written by  the Dixie Chicks with Dan Wilson, the former lead singer of the group Semisonic.  In the song, the singer talks about how the easy silence of his companion is a balm in the frenetic pace of the world:

When the calls and conversations
Accidents and accusations
Messages and misperceptions
Paralyze my mind

Busses, cars, and airplanes leaving
Burning fumes of gasoline
And everyone is running
And I come to find a refuge in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
In the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay

Life will knock us around.  Elijah’s story reminds us that God will come to us in those hard times in ways we don’t expect.  In. the. still. silence.

Go and be church.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Roger Nam: Commentary

Nanette Sawyer: Elijah, Murderer

Todd Weir: Angel’s Bread



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: Testify! (June 9, 2013)

Third Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

June 9, 2013

Luke 7:11-17

 

 

16 Awestruck, everyone praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding region.

Luke 7:16-17 (Common English Bible)

 


If you’re like me, you’ve been to a few funerals over your years.  There really isn’t anything surprising about funerals.  You expect to have a service where a pastor preaches, maybe some will do a eulogy talking about this person’s life and so on.  After the service we might then go to cemetery to commit the body.  Again, this is all the we expect.  We expect to be sad.  We expect to cry.  We know what to expect.

No one expects a body to come back to life.

And yet, that’s what happens in today’s text.  Jesus enters the town of Nain and he sees a funeral procession taking place.  It’s the funeral of a young man and Jesus can see the man’s mother.  In those days, women had to rely on a husband or some man to support them.  We don’t hear about a husband, so we can assume this woman had no husband.  This meant her son had to take care of his Mom.  But now he was dead.  This woman was now alone with no one to support her.

You can imagine Jesus locks eyes with this woman.  He had compassion towards her and ends up bringing the young man back to life.

What I find interesting is not simply that Jesus brought this man back from the dead.  What is fascinating is how the crowd of  guests react.  First it’s with a bit of fear (which makes sense.  Ever seen a zombie movie?  I’d be scared too.), but then it becomes excitement and praise.  “God has come to help his people!” they say.  Luke notes that the word of the miracle spread the region.  The people of Nain spread the story of God doing a mighty work for God’s people.

So, how would we react? What would happen if we were sitting in a church somewhere with the casket up in the front of the sanctuary.  What if a young guy in his thirties comes up, opens the casket and raises the person back to life?  What would we do?

How do we respond when we see God acting in the world.  Do we shrug or is it possible that we don’t even bother to see God acting in the world?  Have we become blind to God and therefore not excited to tell others of the good news of Jesus?

Back in 2011, Methodist pastor Chad Holtz caused a stir when he wrote on his Facebook page that he no longer believed in hell.  Long story short, he got fired from his job.  A few months later, Holtz wrote in his blog that he was heading for treatment for sex addiction.  Last year, he surfaced again after months of blog silence.  His first post back showed a man who had “found religion” as they say:

I wasn’t feeling that the night of July 7, 2011, when my wife told me we were finished for good after discovering evidence of yet another adulterous affair.  A 20 year addiction to pornography, chat rooms and illicit phone calls led finally to this.  Amy, a shell of the woman I married 8 years before had had enough.   A month later I received divorce papers and a month after that I was sitting in divorce court, contemplating ending it all.

My addiction and adultery all took place while serving as a pastor and going through seminary.  I knew a lot about God but did not know God.  I had no fear of God, denying that such a loving God could ever send a soul to hell.  But if there was ever a person to whom our Lord would say, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” it was most surely I.

I arrived at Pure Life Ministries on Nov. 3, 2011 for no other reason than wanting to escape my misery.  Any place had to be better than the roach motel that had become my home for months.  I told my friend who dropped me off that my highest hope for my stay here was that I would come away with at least 7 months sobriety under my belt – more than I had ever had in my adult life.  Of course, “sobriety” at that time was a very low bar: no pornoagraphy or affairs.  The idea that I could be free from lustful thoughts, fantasies or self-gratification not only seemed impossible but hilarious…

One of several breakthroughs for me happened in late December when we were challenged to take seriously Charles Finney’s “Breaking Up the Fallow Ground” reading.   I pressed in, and spent all of Wednesday writing out the many ways I have neglected God and sinned against He and others.  I found myself prostrate, here in the chapel, crying out to God, undone by my own wickedness.  I saw the cross for the first time as it truly is and wondered why on earth God would do that for such a wretch like me.  I saw the price that Jesus paid not just for the world, but for Chad Holtz.  And it cut me to the core.

As I repented I cried out to God for my wife, Amy.  Her despair over our marriage and the 8 years of hurt I put her through left her clinically depressed, filled with anxiety and faithless.  Watching her husband preach from the pulpit each week while being the only one who really knew me made her sick, and she told me one day that if God existed at all He never would have let her marry a monster like me.  I pleaded with God to take from her all her pain and depression and unbelief and to cast it onto me.  I deserve it all! I cried.  Lord, if you do nothing else for me in this life let me bear her suffering!  And in that moment Jesus whispered to me, “I already bore it.”  

Jesus has done far more abundantly than I could think or imagine in this place.  He saved me.  I know today that I am free, redeemed, delivered, unchained.  I know what it means to live at the cross and to walk in daily repentance.  I know what it is to fear God and the joy of holiness.  By God’s grace, what I thought 7 months ago was impossible and hilarious is now my testimony.  The chains that bound me for decades are gone.  The blood of Jesus has washed me clean!   Hallelujah!

In my evangelical and black church upbringing this is what they would call a testimony.  A testimony is nothing more than telling what we have seen God do in our lives, what we have seen God do in the lives of others.

The people of Nain saw something wonderful that day.  They saw a man who was dead, deader than dead, come back to life.  They saw this as God working in the world, and they would not, could not, keep quiet.  They had to tell people.

Chad’s new found faith and sobriety is not because of will power.  Chad can tell it was because of what God had done in his life through Jesus.

What about us?  Are our eyes open to God?  Are we wanting to tell others of the mighty works God has done?  Does our faith matter?  Does it make a difference?

God has come to help his people.  Do we believe that?

Go and be church.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Frederick Buechner: You Do Not Need to Understand Healing to be Healed

Rick Morley: No Formulas

Lisa Scholl: How to Heal Like Jesus



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: With A Little Help From My Friends (June 2, 2013)

Second Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

June 2, 2013

Luke 7:1-10

 

 

6 Jesus went with them. He had almost reached the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, “ Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8 I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it. ”

Luke 7:1-10 (Common English Bible)

 


This story is fascinating for a lot of reasons.  First, the centurion is a Roman solider, the very face of the occupying force that is oppressing Israel. Second, this same soldier is on friendly terms with the Jewish community, even building a synogogue for the residents.

But there’s something else that’s interesting.  We never “see” the centurion.  He never leaves his house to meet Jesus face to face.  We really don’t know why.  He does mention that he doesn’t feel worthy, so maybe he was aware of his position and felt unworthy to meet Jesus.  Maybe he wanted to attend to his sick servant and didn’t want to leave him for a moment.  Whatever the reason, Jesus and the soldier never meet.  Instead, the centurion sends emissaries to meet with Jesus.  The first group comes out and describes the situation, while the second group make a plea based on nothing but faith in Jesus.

Jesus was amazed by the centurion’s faith.  “ I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this,” he tells the crowd following him.  But what’s even more amazing is the role the centurions Jewish friends play.  It had to be odd for a Roman solider, who was not usually considered favorably by the local population to have relationships with the people he was supposed to oppress. His friends go to Jesus not once, but twice to plead to heel his servant.

Faith matters, but faith is not something that’s a solitary exercise.  Faith at its best is communal, it lives when strangers become friends and carry each other when times get rough.

A few years ago, pastor Lillian Daniel made waves with an eye-opening essay called “Spiritual But Not Religious?  Please Stop Boring Me.”  Daniel thinks the latest interest in being spiritual but not religious is the latest iteration of American individualism, a faith that basically doesn’t need anybody else except me, myself and I.  Daniel sees the church as a place that is countercultural to the prevailing individualism:

In church, we hear scriptures like the one in which Jesus says to ordinary, fallible Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” In other words, you people are stuck with each other.

Now there is much in the church I do not want to be stuck with, including Qur’an-burning, pistol-packing pastors. It’s no wonder that many good people are like the pop singer Prince: they want to be a person formerly known as a Christian.

The church has done some embarrassing things in its day, and I do not want to be associated with a lot of it—particularly when I have been personally involved in it.

But—here’s a news flash—human beings do a lot of embarrassing, inhumane, cruel and ignorant things, and I don’t want to be associated with them either. And here we come to the crux of the problem that the spiritual-but-not-religious people have with church. If we could just kick out all the human beings, we might be able to meet their high standards. If we could just kick out all the sinners, we might have a shot at following Jesus. If we could just get rid of the Republicans, the Democrats could bring about the second coming and NPR would never need to run another pledge drive. Or if we could just expel all the Democrats, the fiscally responsible will turn water into wine, and the church would never need another pledge drive.

But in the church we are stuck with one another, therefore we don’t get the space to come up with our own God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In the church, humanity is way too close at hand to look good. It’s as close as the guy singing out of tune next to you in your pew, as close as the woman who doesn’t have access to a shower and didn’t bathe before worship, as close as the baby screaming and as close as the mother who doesn’t seem to realize that the baby is driving everyone crazy. It’s as close as that same mother who crawled out an inch from her postpartum depression to get herself to church today and wonders if there is a place for her there. It’s as close as the woman sitting next to her, who grieves that she will never give birth to a child and eyes that baby with envy. It’s as close as the preacher who didn’t prepare enough and as close as the listener who is so thirsty for a word that she leans forward for absolutely anything.

The reason the servant is healed isn’t just because of the centurion’s faith, even though that is important.  Healing came because his friends carried the message to Jesus, who in turn healed the servant.

This faith that we encounter is one where we come together and worship and learn to bear each others burdens.  We pray for each other.  We care for each other.  We do this because we have faith in God and can see in each other how God is working in and through us to bring healing to the whole world.

Daniel is right that churches are far from perfect.  But it is in these countless faith communities where we pray for each other and work together to bring healing for a friend and for all of creation.

Go and be church.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Jeannine K. Brown: Commentary of Luke 7:1-10

David Lose: Unexpected Faith

Lauren Winner: The Centurion’s Friends



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Yeah, Not So Much. (December 16, 2012)

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!  Yeah, Not So Much.”

Third Sunday of Advent, Year C

December 16, 2012

Luke 3:7-18

 

 

 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”

Luke 3:7-9 (Common English Bible)

 


We’ve all done it.  A some point or another during this time of the year, we start singing carols, Christmas Carols to be exact.  With snow on the ground it makes one ready to sing those old familiar hymns of the season that give us good memories.

But there’s just one problem: it’s not Christmas yet.

It’s not even the Christmas Season which happens between December 25 and January 6 (Epiphany).  Wanna know why we sing a song called “The Twelve Days of Christmas?”  Because Christmas is in fact a twelve-day celebration between Christmas Day and Epiphany.  But our wider culture tends to see the Christmas season in secular or economic terms: the Christmas season begins the Friday after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas Day.  We have our Christmas parties during this time of year and we take part in secret Santa contests.  It’s supposed to be a happy and joyous time of the year or as that annoying song goes, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

And then we have John the Baptist come and spoil everything.

He comes around calling people snakes and urging them to get right before God.  He must have put the fear of….well, God in the crowd because they ask John what they should do to set things aright.

I’ve always thought John’s tirade to be a bit mean, but these days I can at least understand what he was getting at and it reminds me what Advent is all about.

Advent.  That’s the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas where we await the coming of Jesus.  It’s a time of waiting and expectation.  But even as we wait for Christ’s arrival we are called to take a good look at our lives.  We are called to look at how we treat each other and how we are or are not treating our sisters and brothers with justice and mercy.  It’s not fun taking a look at what’s going on inside of us.  It’s so much easier to just sing a Christmas carol and kind of rush Christmas and all.

But if Advent is about anything, it’s about hope.  We can look into our lives and see where we have fallen short, but we can give thanks that hope is on the way in the form of a little baby.

One of my favorite hymns of this time of year just happens to be an Advent carol.  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” speaks of the longing for deliverance from oppresors both within and without.  It provides the answer to the question the crowds ask John, “What can we do?”

And here’s the answer:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

And so we wait. And we repent. And we wait some more for the salvation for the healing of all of God’s creation.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Kate Munnick: Practical Theology and Subversive Advent

David Lose: A Promise We’re all Invited To

Jerry Goebel: One Who Is Mightier Than I



Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: Lectionary Reflections (October 28, 2012)

“Happily Ever After?”

Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

October 28, 2012

Job 42:1-17

 

Then the Lord blessed Job’s latter days more than his former ones. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters.

-Job 42:12-13


Under a Cajun moon I lay me open
There is a spirit here that won’t be broken
Some words are sad to sing
Some leave me tongue-tied
(But the hardest thing to tell you )
But the hardest words I know
Are I love you goodbye
I love you goodbye



-Thomas Dolby, “I Love You Goodbye,” 1992

I can still remember it like it was yesterday; presiding at a funeral of a man just a year younger than me who committed suicide.  His grieving partner was devastated as was the young man’s parents who lost their only child.

I’ve read this ending of the book of Job before and never really thought much about it.  God restores Job with cattle and sheep and even more children.  A happy ending to a man that had to deal with so much pain.

But there are those that are troubled by this ending.  Does this mean that if we suffer, we are going to get all that we lost restored? And the fact is, more often than not, people don’t get what Job got from God.  They don’t get more kids after one is lost to gun violence.  The woman who is abused sexually doesn’t get to erase those painful memories.

But while Job did get children and livestock, I have to think there was some sense of grief as well for what was lost.  Job might have celebrated having children again, but there had to be pain in his heart for the ones he lost.

Job is a happy ending in the same way that we celebrate the Ressurection.  Jesus was able to defeat death, but he was different, not simply restored.

Job’s ending is a reminder of God’s presence in our lives.  The ending isn’t a guide to life, as it is a reminder of God’s love for us even when we don’t have a happy ending.

Sometimes life is simply about saying goodbye, about letting go, about loss.  Sometimes there is no nice ending to wrap up the story.  Sometimes the story ends horribly.

But good times or bad, God is there, present.  That’s probably not the ending we all want, but on this side of heaven it is enough.

More Resources

 Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say on Job 42:

Presbyterian pastor Carol Howard Merritt wonders if this passage and others in the Bible only work for those who are privileged in society and not those on the margins.

Episcopal Priest Rick Morley sees a hidden Easter message of hope in the last chapter of Job.

Finally, via Tony Jones comes a woman who wonders why she believes God is good despite all of the tragedies and heartaches this world offers.

Photo: Dürer, Albrecht, 1471-1528. Job on the dunghill, and his wife pours water on his sores, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46323

 
Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Come Sunday: Lectionary Reflections (October 21, 2012)

“There’s a Wildness In God’s Mercy”

Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

October 21, 2012

Job 38:1-7 and 34-41

 

 

Who is this darkening counsel with words lacking knowledge?
Prepare yourself like a man; I will interrogate you, and you will respond to me.
Job 38:2-3

Job is in many ways one of the most accessible books in the Bible. By accessible I mean that its something that we understand because we’ve all been there. Job is a good and faithful man with riches and many children. In an instant all of his wealth and his children are taken away from him. He is left with questions and not a small bit of anger with God.

Theologian Kathryn Schifferdecker notes that Job and his friends believed in a common view of suffering: if you’re good, then God will bless you. If something bad happens to you, then it’s because you did something wrong. When all of this happens, Job feels cheated. He has lived a righteous life, so none of this should be happening to him. His friends are of little help, accusing him of doing something wrong and telling him to repent of his sin.

Job isn’t really that different from us. Shcifferdecker notes that Job and other thought the world revolved around them. The world was an orderly place where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. But the God comes to job in a whirlwind and sets Job right. Living the Midwest as I do, I can imagine God coming in a menacing tornado. God responds to Job not with answers, but with questions. God shows a created order that is rather wild, just like God. And humans are not at the center of anything. After a while Job gets it- things are not so ordered and sometimes bad things happen to good people.

If there is a takeaway from all this is that the world is not logical. Things happen that just doesn’t make sense. We don’t understand when a young woman dies in a traffic accident with a drunk driver. We don’t understand the cancer diagnosis. We don’t understand why we are laid off from a job. We don’t understand when someone is raped. But in the midst of all this chaos, God stands with us. God took Job on, but he never left Job.

When I was training to become a pastor, I had to take a term of Clinic Pastoral Education. I spent time at a nursing home in Minneapolis. I remember seeing a young man who lost his leg in an ATV accident. You could see the anger on his face. I spent time sitting with him and saying a little. I always came away somewhat helpless. I still feel that feeling when I do pastoral care.

But maybe being present is enough. Maybe it matters that God stands with us during the hard times, even when and especially when, we wonder, why?

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders

Come Sunday: Lectionary Reflections (April 1, 2012)

“Save Me, Save Me, Save Me”
Palm Sunday
Mark 11:1-11
April 1, 2012

 

 

 It was about 15 years ago, that I came down with the flu.  I had moved to Minneapolis a few months earlier and was trying to make a new start.  I was 27 and still not sure about what I wanted to do.  (Not that anyone who 27 knows what they want to do in life.  At 42, I don’t know if I know any better now than I did back then, but that’s another story.)

 

Anyway, I came down with the flu.  I was sick for a few days, but like most people, I got better from my little illness.  I went back to work and things looked like they were getting back to normal.

 

Except they didn’t.

 

I got sick again, and this time things were worse than before.  What had started as the normal flu, became pneumonia.  I don’t think I’ve ever been that sick before.  I remember my parents calling me to see how I was.  Mom asked me if she and dad should make the 12 hour journey from Michigan to see me.  At first I said no.  I mean, I was a grown man and could take care of myself.

 

But I couldn’t.

 

About 12 hours later, I had gotten worse.  The medicine I was given at emergency wasn’t working.  I dialed the phone and called Mom late at night.  All I had to say was to come and within hours, they were on their way to take care of their son, who couldn’t take care of himself.

 

As I read the gospel text for Palm Sunday, I am fixated on one word, the word “hosanna.”  We only hear this word one time during the year, Palm Sunday.  It’s the word we hear the crowd as Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem.  We can imagine little kids marching up and down the isles of a sanctuary shouting Hosanna over and over again.  I used to think this was just a word of praise and in some ways, it is.  But I did some checking and found out that the word means in Greek “save or pray.”  So, the word the people were shouting was not as much shouts of joy as much as it was a distress call.

 

I wonder about the people shouting those words.  They were looking for help from God.  The Jews were living under the rather cruel boot of Rome and wanted freedom.  So here comes this guy on a pretty humble animal (a donkey) and the people shout for help.  But the help that arrives is not that appealing.  I mean, it looked rather silly to see this grown man on a short animal that is used more for hauling things than it was for carrying people.

 

Help was on way, but not in the form they expected.

 

Palm Sunday is normally seen as the last gasp of happy times before Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  But maybe it’s not such a high point as it is reminding us that we are all looking for salvation and wholeness.  Maybe it’s about hitting bottom, as those in recovery say.  Maybe we realize that we can’t do it on our own and look for someone to come and save us- even if it is a fool on a donkey.

 

Hosanna, Hosanna. Save me, save me.  Truer words never spoken.

 

 

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders

Come Sunday: Lectionary Reflections (March 25, 2012)

“Being Human”

Fifth Sunday of Lent
Psalm 51
March 25, 2012

 

 

One of my favorite television shows is the science fiction/horror series “Being Human.” The series is based on a British TV show of the same name and features a vampire, werewolf and a ghost living together in an apartment in Boston. The whole premise of the show sounds like the start of a joke and at times, there is a lot of humor as the three try to live life as humans even though they are no longer human. But the main thrust of the show is how hard it is for them to be normal. Time and time again, they get thrown into situations where they are confronted with what they have become and how hard it is to live life as it was before they left the human race. This little campy television show tells a story of the supernatural, but at its core the message is very human: we are not always who we seem to be or even who we want to be. Sooner or later, we will face the reality of how far we have fallen and how hard it is to get back up.

 

Cast of "Being Human"

Psalm 51 is the passage we hear every Ash Wednesday. If there ever was a downer passage, this it is. “Have mercy on me, God,according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!” writes the psalmist. This is a guy who realizes that he’s been caught. He’s not offering a simple or formal apology, he’s being incredibly honest. He messed up. He got himself into a mess that he can’t get himself out of. He asks God for help because only God can get this writer out of the pickle that he constructed.

 

Our culture doesn’t really like to talk about sin. I’m not talking about sin in the I-ate-too-much-chocolate kind of way. I’m talking about how we are able to get ourselves into messes even when we don’t mean to. We want to think that we can solve any problem that comes our way and if we can’t, well, then weren’t smart enough. But the psalmist knew better. All of the pretense had gone away and the writer is left with the fact that no matter what, she will make mistakes that will hurt others and hurt God. She realize that it is only God that can make her clean and can right the relationship which has been broken.

 

As we journey towards the cross, we are reminded that salvation comes only not through us trying to make things right, though we will try. Salvation comes in the one that washes us daily, that makes us able to praise God with a right and renewed spirit. It is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we can become healed and human.

 

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders