Category: christian formation

Preparing for Sunday: May 1, 2022

Preparing for Sunday: May 1, 2022

Third Sunday of Easter

Preparing for Sunday is a weekly time to prepare for Sunday worship. Based on the Revised Common Lectionary, Preparing for Sunday is a time to step away from the busyness of the world and reflect on what God is saying to us.

This week’s text is from Acts 9:1-20.

Do you have questions or answers to the questions? Leave them in the comments.






Here are some questions to think about the text:

  1. Was Saul’s experience one of conversion or a call to ministry?
  2. Why do you think the other people with Saul never heard the voice Saul heard?
  3. Ananias had his concerns about healing Saul. Was Ananias right to ask these questions to God?
  4. In his discussion with Ananias God calls Saul an instrument to the Gentiles. God was using Saul to bring the good news to Gentiles.  What does it mean to be an instrument of God?
  5. Does it matter that Ananias said he was sent to heal Saul? How is this an example of discipleship?
  6. What does it mean after his healing that Saul went to proclaim in the synagogue?

 

What are your answers? What are your questions? Feel free to share them by responding to this post in the comments section or sending an email to info@fccsaintpaul.org.

Preparing for Sunday: March 27, 2022

Preparing for Sunday: March 27, 2022

Preparing for Sunday is a weekly time to prepare for Sunday worship. Based on the Revised Common Lectionary, Preparing for Sunday is a time to step away from the busyness of the world and reflect on what God is saying to us.

This week’s text is from Luke 15:1-3 and 11-32.

Do you have questions or answers to the questions? Leave them in the comments.






Here are some questions to think about the text:

1. Of the three characters in this story, which one do you identify with more, the younger son, the older son or the father?

2. Who is the “prodigal” in this story; the younger son or the father?

3. Are grace and forgiveness fair? Why or why not?

4. Was the older son mad at his brother or his father?

5. Did the father extend grace to both sons? If so, in what ways did he show that grace?

6. Has there been a time when you were forgiven for something? How did that feel?

What are your answers? What are your questions? Feel free to share them by responding to this post in the comments section or sending an email to info@fccsaintpaul.org.

Preparing for Sunday: March 6, 2022

Preparing for Sunday: March 6, 2022

Preparing for Sunday is a resource for clergy and the laity to get ready for the upcoming Sunday using a text from the Revised Common Lectionary. This week’s text is from Luke 4:1-13.

Do you have questions or answers to the questions? Leave them in the comments.






Here are some questions to think about the text:

  1. The temptation of Jesus is found in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11 and Mark 1:12-13). Read the other versions. What is similar in all three stories? What’s different?
  2. The passage tells us that it is the Spirit that leads Jesus into the desert. Theologian Justo Gonzalez says that “Even while the devil is tempting Jesus, it is God who is ultimately in control, and it is God who not only allows but causes Jesus to be tempted.” Do you agree that God is allowing Jesus to be tempted? Why or why not?
  3. What is the significance of Jesus being tempted? Does that make him any less the Son of God?
  4. Theologian Fred Craddock says that good can be found within temptation. He says the devil doesn’t say, “Do you wish to be as the devil?” but, “Do you wish to be as God?”  Do you agree or not?  How do you see temptation?
  5. Think of a time when you were tempted? How was it similar to Jesus in the desert? How was it different?  How did it change your faith? 

What are your answers? What are your questions? Feel free to share them by responding to this post in the comments section or sending an email to info@fccsaintpaul.org.

Preparing for Sunday: February 27, 2022

Preparing for Sunday: February 27, 2022

Preparing for Sunday is a resource for clergy and the laity to get ready for the upcoming Sunday using a text from the Revised Common Lectionary. This week’s text is from Luke 9:28-36.

Do you have questions or answers to the questions? Leave them in the comments.






Here are some questions to think about the text:

  1. After reading the passage for this week, read the following: Luke 9:23-27. In what ways do these two passages connect?
  2. Read Exodus 24:12-18. How are these two stories similar? How are they different? How do they ultimately connect?
  3. Jesus talks to Moses and Elijah about what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem. The word used to describe his death is the world “exodus.”  This is the same word that describes the Israelites leaving Egypt.  How is Jesus’ upcoming death like the Jews fleeing the Pharaoh?
  4. Luke is the only gospel that connects the story to prayer. Why is that important?
  5. What was the reason behind Peter’s talk about building three monuments for the occasion?
  6. What is the significance of the voice?

What are your answers? What are your questions? Feel free to share them by responding to this post in the comments section or sending an email to info@fccsaintpaul.org.

Preparing for Sunday: February 20, 2022

Preparing for Sunday: February 20, 2022

Preparing for Sunday is a resource for clergy and the laity to get ready for the upcoming Sunday using a text from the Revised Common Lectionary. This week’s text is from Luke 6:27-38.

Do you have questions or answers to the questions? Leave them in the comments.

Here are some questions to think about the text:
1.  Is love just a feeling, or is it also action? 
2. In verse 31 Jesus says the following: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  This is commonly known as the Golden Rule.  What do you think this means to you? 
3.  Who is an enemy as found in verse 29?  What does it mean to love an enemy? How did Christ love his enemies? Is it possible for us to love our enemies?
4.  What does it mean to show mercy to people?  Can you think of a time mercy was shown to you?
5.  What does loving our enemies or giving with no expectations have to do with God’s generosity? 

What are your answers? What are your questions? Feel free to share them by responding to this post in the comments section or sending an email to info@fccsaintpaul.org.

Preparing for Sunday: February 13, 2022

Preparing for Sunday is a resource for clergy and the laity to get ready for the upcoming Sunday using a text from the Revised Common Lectionary. This week’s text is from Luke 6:17-26.

Do you have questions or answers to the questions? Leave them in the comments.

Jesus Doesn’t Play Favorites – Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 15B (James 2:1-17)

Diego Rivera Mural, Detroit Institute of Art

James 2:1-17 New Revised Standard Version

                2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

                        8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

                        14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

*********

                If we’re honest, we all play favorites. There are some people we really don’t enjoy being around and others we really want to be with. I remember when church growth theory was all the rage, with its message of homogeneity. In other words, churches grow when we target specific groups of people because “birds of a feather flock together.” There is truth to this observation. But, apparently, that’s not the way it works with Jesus, who does play favorites. Though, he does seem to prefer bringing Peter, James, and John with him when he goes off by himself. At least that’s what I’ve noticed when reading the Gospels. Nevertheless, according to James, Jesus doesn’t want us to show favoritism.

                Here in James 2, Jesus begins with a word about favoritism and then our reading ends with a word about faith being dead if it’s not accompanied by works. Once again, we see why Luther preferred Paul to James. Paul indeed focuses on grace and faith rather than works, but I’m not sure Paul would disagree with what James writes in this letter. After all, Paul takes the Corinthians to task for their classist behavior.  But, we’re not focused here on Paul. Instead, we need to listen to what James has to say about wealth, partiality, murder and adultery, and more (the lectionary creators put verses 11-13, where we read the word about murder and adultery, in parentheses. So if you don’t like those verses you can skip over them). Behavior, in James’ estimation, is the best expression of one’s faith in Jesus.

                At first sight, this is a word about egalitarianism that targets the wealthy, whom James warns the church against favoring over the poor. However, James not only warns against favoring the wealthy, who could be benefactors to the life of the church (what church wouldn’t like to have a few wealthy donors to endow the budget), but he also speaks of God’s decision to favor the poor. Much like the Magnificat, in which God brings down the rich and powerful and lifts up the poor and lowly (Lk. 1:46-55), James affirms God’s “preferential option for the poor.” What James does here in chapter 2 is contrast the way the rich and poor are often treated by society (including the church). It is to their shame as the church if they welcome with open arms the person with gold rings and fine clothes and then ignore the one who is poor and wearing dirty clothes.  The persons James has in mind here are probably field hands and other workers who come to church after work, tired, hungry, and yes dirty. Whether slave or free, they likely weren’t paid well. Thus, they make up the working poor who are taken advantage of by the wealthy whom the church leaders may have wanted to honor by letting them take the seat of honor, while the poor are pushed to the side where they must either stand or sit on the floor. So, by showing partiality and making distinctions in this way, they become judges with evil thoughts. What should a preacher do with a passage like this? [A note here, in 2021 (when this reflection first appears), the text is due to be read on Labor Day, making this an interesting conversation for that day.] 

                One takeaway is that James provides the foundation for claiming God’s “preferential option for the poor.” In making his point here concerning the poor, James reflects the message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus declares: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:3). God takes the side of the underdog, the one who is marginalized. The wealthy, well, they know how to take care of themselves. As for the poor, they are oppressed by the rich. In fact, James suggests that readers of this letter  are themselves the subject of abuse on the part of the rich who drag them into court. So, in honoring the rich and powerful who oppress they give honor to those who blaspheme the God who welcomes the poor. Thus, maybe Jesus does play favorites!

                James brings the Law into the conversation, and that is the Royal Law, that one should love one’s neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18). If you show partiality—toward the rich—then you transgress that law. This is on the same level as adultery and murder. So, the passage concludes with a reminder that faith without works is dead. It does nothing to say to a brother or sister who is naked and lacks daily food to “go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill.”  Such faith is dead. It has no value. As Robert Wall points out, for James “the mere profession of orthodox faith does not save anyone if it is not demonstrated by works of mercy” [Connections,  p. 292]. Those who wish the preacher would stick to the “Gospel” and not engage in politics, probably won’t appreciate this word from James. Nevertheless, what sounds a lot like what some call the “Social Gospel,” if we take James seriously should we not say that this is the Gospel? That is, unless the Gospel is simply a matter of getting to heaven when we die, then surely the Gospel has something to say about how we live together in this world, in the here and now. That includes recognizing that Jesus doesn’t play favorites, except in lifting up those who are poor and marginalized, while bringing down those who are high and mighty!

Come Sunday: “Part-Time Lover” (September 8, 2013)

Sixteenth Sunday of Pentecost (Year C)

September 8, 2013

Luke 14:25-33

One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

Luke 14:25-27 (The Message)

part_time_helpOn September 8, 2002, I was ordained a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  As I reflect on eleven years in ministry, I’ve noticed something: every ministerial position I’ve had has been part-time.  I spent the last five years as part-time Associate Pastor in Minneapolis, and this Sunday I begin as the Supply Pastor of a church northeast of St. Paul.

I actutally like working part-time.  In most cases, the churches couldn’t fund a full time position, which is was okay by me.  I was still able to do ministry, though it was far more limited than what could be done as a full-time pastor.

When you’re a part-time clergyperson, especially if you have another job, you have to learn how to manage your time.  Since we only have 24 hours in the day, I have to decide what is most important to get done.  Somehow, I’ve managed to pull it off.  That said, being part-time with another job means that you aren’t always focused.  You have to deal with two things vying for attention which can weaken your committment to both.

In the gospel lesson for today, we see Jesus telling the crowds that to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus, they need to “hate” their families and even their own lives.  That’s a harsh statement to hear.  How many of us want to tell off our relatives?  We don’t like this passage (well, at least I don’t like it) because it’s so black and white.  There’s no room for a part-time lover; you’re either all in or you’re not.

I wonder though if we are looking at the text wrong.  What if Jesus isn’t calling us to hate our mothers and fathers and siblings, but is calling us to place everything, including our families under the lordship of Jesus.  What if Jesus is saying that to be a follower means that every aspect of our lives is given over to God?

The late Dallas Willard wrote about this passage.  He thought this was less about some kind of drugery, where we have to give up things we love and instead “count the cost” in a spirit of joy:

So this counting of the cost is not a moaning and groaning session. “Oh how terrible it is that I have to value all of my ‘wonderful’ things (which are probably making life miserable and hopeless anyway) less than I do living in the kingdom! How terrible that I must be prepared actually to surrender them should that be called for!” The counting of the cost is to bring us to the point of clarity and decisiveness. It is to help us to see. Counting the cost is precisely what the persons with the pearl and the hidden treasure did. Out of it came their decisiveness and joy. It is decisiveness and joy that are the outcomes of the counting.

What this passage in Luke is about is clarity. It is not about misery or about some incredibly dreadful price that one must pay to be Jesus’ apprentice. There is no such thing as a dreadful price for the “pearl” in question. Suffering for him is actually something we rejoice to be counted worthy of (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29). The point is simply that unless we clearly see the superiority of what we receive as his students over every other thing that might be valued, we cannot succeed in our discipleship to him. We will not be able to do the things required to learn his lessons and move ever deeper into a life that is his kingdom.

Of course, if we are holding on to our dear lives, we won’t want to give anything out of joy.  But what if we loosen our grip and start to see how God works in every nook and cranny of our lives.  Not just when it comes to religious matters, but in our work, our play and our relationships.  As Willard notes, this passage is really about clarity.  It’s that experience of dizzyness we get when we wear a new pair of glasses.  Everything looks the same, but everything is different now.

Jesus does want it all.  But I don’t think this is about some kind lenten abstinence writ large.  No, it’s more like having second sight and seeing things in a different way.  It’s learning how even the most mundane aspects of life are given over to God.

None of this is to say that there aren’t times when we do have to make a clean break.  But more often than not, it’s understanding that this is God’s world and we are God’s servants, ready to see what God would have us to in God’s world.

Jesus isn’t looking for a part-time Christian, but full-time disciples.

And the benefits aren’t that bad.

 

Go and be church.

Come Sunday: The Church on the Edge of Forever (August 18, 2013)

Thirteen Sunday of Pentecost (Year C)

August 18, 2013

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

city on the edge of foreverOne of the best episodes of the TV series “Star Trek” is one called “The City On the Edge of Forever.”  Dr. McCoy gets an accidental overdose of drug that makes him mad.  He beams down to a planet with Kirk and Spock right behind him.  They arrive on the planet and stand in front of what seems like the largest TV I’ve ever seen.  McCoy, still in his drugged state, leaps into what is called the Guardian of Forever.  The minute he goes in, the landing party loses contact with the Enterprise.  We find out that McCoy has somehow changed history, causing the Enterprise to not exist.  Spock and Kirk enter the portal and find themselves in Depression-era America.  The two meet a young woman who works at a soup kitchen.  She is a peace activist that was supposed to die in a car accident.  However, McCoy saves her from getting hit by a car.  His one action caused a series of other actions that lead to the timeline radically changing.  Edith is able to lead a nationwide peace movement that keeps the United States out of World War II.  This allowed Nazi Germany to develop the atomic bomb and win the war.  To make a long story short, Kirk stops McCoy from saving Edith from the oncoming car.  Edith dies and the timeline is restored, but at a terrible cost.

In last week’s blog post, I talked about how faith is about doing something for God without knowing how the story ends.  This week’s passage in Hebrews has me thinking about how our actions have implications far beyond our own time.  The passage talks about how so many folks acted on faith and didn’t face happy endings.  They were faced with a choice and in faith decided to follow one road.  Because Abraham believed, a nation was born.  Because the Israelite believed, they could cross the Red Sea on dry land.  Choices were made that shaped our future.

What comes to mind for this coming Sunday is about how so many churches and religious agencies are facing tight budgets.  Many churches struggle to make ends meet.  Others end up closing.  It’s easy to look at our sanctuaries, which were once empty and are now barely occupied and wonder if God can work with our faith community.

The answer is yes.  The writer of Hebrews talks about a number of unnamed people who also heard the call of God and chose to step out in faith.  But as they say, there is always a downside:

I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

39-40 Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
Hebrews 11:32-40 (The Message)

The night before his assasination, Martin Luther King gave his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech.  It’s an eerie forshadowing of what he was going to face hours later, but it also sums up what it means to have faith in God and our part in ushering in God’s kingdom.We all have a part to play, but we won’t always get to see the end of the story.  Here’s what he says towards the end of that speech:

And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? … Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

King saw that he was part of something bigger than himself.  He knew that he was doing God’s work and he had the eyes of faith to see what the completed work would look like.

As followers of Jesus, we need to remind ourselves that our actions matter.  We might not see the ending, but we can know that we part of the great cloud of witnesses that will have an effect on people generations from now.

Go and be church.

I preached a sermon in 2010 based on the Hebrews text.  You can read it here.

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