Category: narrative lectionary

Forget Me Not: Christ the King (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

November 24, 2019

Read: 2 Kings 22:1-10, [14-20]; 23:1-3

Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

Reflection

There is an episode of the Original Series of Star Trek where Kirk and Spock beam down to a planet and in the midst of a war. They end up in a village of people who call themselves Comms who imprisions them. They are in jail with a person from another tribe called Yangs. Kirk and the Yang leader escape to the Yang villiage. It’s during a ceremony where the Yangs recite something that seemed very familiar, that Kirk and the others notice what looks like an American flag. They all surmise that this planet had something akin to a cold war between “Yankees” and “Communists.” But this war grew hot as the nations used biogical warfare. Later on, one of the Yangs starts reading from a scroll and again, the words were familiar. Kirk undstands that this was the preable to the US Constitution. He chides the group for not understanding the meaning of the document. The Yangs had fought for so long that they had forgotten the meaning of the constitution, which Kirk reminds them is not just for the Yangs, but for the Comms as well.

Every culture is formed by stories. But stories can get lost and forgotten. Or the meaning is lost to the story and it becomes interpreted in ways that the document was not intended.

Reading today’s text can be a challenge. It’s very dense and filled with words that were hard to read. But after a while, the clouds will scatter and the message becomes clear.

Josiah was now the king of Judah. It is a vassal state of Assyria. There are people at work repairing the temple when the workers find a document. It is the law that was given to the people as the journyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. They had fallen so far, that the law had been be forgotten and lost.

Josiah hears the prophecy and he rips his clothes in sadness. He sent his court priest to go to the prophet and ask what God wants. The priest does go to the prophetess Huldah who confirms that yes, the kingdom of Judah will suffer a dark fate for falling away from God. But because Josiah expressed repentance, Josiah will not see that fate.

Now, if I heard all of this I might be happy that I won’t have to face the coming judgment. But Josiah does something different. Instead, he launches a reform campaign. We don’t read more than the first few verses of chapter 23, but in verse 25 we learn the details of his reform:

The king now commanded the people, “Celebrate the Passover to God, your God, exactly as directed in this Book of the Covenant.”

22-23 This commanded Passover had not been celebrated since the days that the judges judged Israel—none of the kings of Israel and Judah had celebrated it. But in the eighteenth year of the rule of King Josiah this very Passover was celebrated to God in Jerusalem.

24 Josiah scrubbed the place clean and trashed spirit-mediums, sorcerers, domestic gods, and carved figures—all the vast accumulation of foul and obscene relics and images on display everywhere you looked in Judah and Jerusalem. Josiah did this in obedience to the words of God’s Revelation written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in The Temple of God.

25 There was no king to compare with Josiah—neither before nor after—a king who turned in total and repentant obedience to God, heart and mind and strength, following the instructions revealed to and written by Moses. The world would never again see a king like Josiah.

2 Kings 23:21-25 (The Message)

The companion text for this week is from Luke 24, where the risen Jesus meets with two disciples who don’t recognize him. What both texts highlight is how we can blind ourselves to God. The people of Israel forgot God’s law and the two disciples could not see Jesus walking with them.

It can be so easy- the cares of this world make us blind to God speaking in front of us.

A pastor friend liked to say to the congregation he preached at where they saw God this week. I think that question is important, because it forces us to remember that God is present in the world and in our lives, even when we forget Jesus.

Josiah could have just been happy to know that he wouldn’t see the coming judgement. But he wanted everyone to remember, to remember what God had done in the lives of the people of Judah.

Where have you seen God this week? What stories do you think have been forgotten?

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

Rick’s Roll: Pentecost 22 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

November 10, 2019

Read: Hosea 11:1-9 and Mark 10:13014

Reflection

First off, sorry for not writing these past few weeks. Being the bivocational pastor makes for a busy life, but I will try to be more regular in my reflections.

This Sunday’s text has me thinking about prophets, God’s love and Rick Astley.

Who can forget the British singer who bursted on the the pop music scene in 1987 with the song “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It was smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic and the video has become a popular internet meme.

But that song also reminds me of how God expresses God’s love for the people of Israel who have failed him time and time again. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?” says a pained God. God is angry at how Israel has decided to not trust in God, but to seek alliances with other nations to protect themselves from Assyria. They don’t realize that this will be a fatal mistake. Assyria will invade and cause the Northern Kingdom to cease to exist. The population, the 10 tribes of the North, will become lost to history.

When I’ve looked at this text before, I usually focus on how God is responding. But I’m seeing the Hosea from a different viewpoint; that of Hosea himself.

Throughout the book of Hosea the prophet is led by God to do some odd things that are to symbolize the fraught relationship between God and Israel. Early on, he marries Gomer a prostitute. I won’t go into detail about this, but the marital and parental images are suppose to show the love of God and the faithlessness of the people.

But how did Hosea feel about all of this? We can gather that Hosea, a prophet, had a heart for God and was willing to allow God to work through him. That meant saying and doing somethings that might have seen weird to the people around him.

As we look at our own lives and the life of the church, do we think about what it means if we are Hosea in our modern context? What if we are called to tell the people how they have fallen away from God, but also share God’s great and never-ending love?

Churches in the United States are dealing with a changing culture. In the 1950s and 60s, people were nominally Christian and church was the center of cultural life in America. But we are not the church going nation we used to be. That has left us disestablished from culture. As we see our pews become empty and our budget shrinks, we are wondering how to live. More liberal Christians think it is about social justice and they are busy dealing with various political issues and going to this or that protest. More conservative Christians think it is about moral living and that people must stop living loose and become holy for God. Neither of these are bad choices, but they miss something: God’s anguished love for us all.

What is the church being called to do in this day and time? Hosea echoes Rick Astley by telling the people that God will not give them up, never let them down, never tell lies or desert them. God will never make them cry won’t say goodbye, you get the idea.

In a society that is so fragmented, isolated and angry, can we be a Hosea to the people? Do we feel, do we know that God loves us passionately like a parent loves their wayward child?

That is the mission of the church in these times. We are called in words and deeds to tell of God’s anger and love for us.

Hosea was faithful to God and was able to convey God’s feeling to the people. We are called today to be faithful to God, and share the good news outside of our walls.

Are we ready to be God’s Hosea?

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

I Wanna Be In Control: Pentecost 16 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

September 8, 2019

Read: Exodus 1:8-14 [15–2:10]; 3:1-15

Reflection

It’s impossible to read this week’s text and not think about what is happening right now in the United States. The tale of a Pharaoh “who didn’t know Joseph” that fears the descendants of Jacob reminds us of a US President that fears a modern immigrant community, treating them rather harshly.

But, let’s slow down first. If you rush talk about a current crisis through this text, you might forget this actual story. Of course, we should do as the theologian Karl Barth tells us, to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. In order to do that, we need to focus on the Scripture at hand first.

So, just what is going on here? There are a few things to focus on.

First, it’s important to know that the Pharoah didn’t know Joseph. Joseph was one of the sons of Jacob who was initially sold into slavery in Egypt and rose to become the Prime Minister of the kingdom. The rest of his family came as guests of the Pharaoh and lived as resident aliens for years and years.

Why didn’t Pharaoh know this history? Surely someone was keeping track of the royal history. For whatever reason, the king is ignorant of the facts. Instead he views the Israelites with fear. He fears that if Egypt goes to war, the nation will have traitors in their midst. He views them not just with simple suspicion, but out and out xenophobia. He has a plan to try to draw down their numbers. Pharaoh makes the Israelites slaves in the hopes that this will kill off a few, but this doesn’t happen. Then he asks the midwives to kill the male children. But two midwives, Shiprah and Puah are God-fearing women who refuse. They lie to the Pharoah that the Israelite women are so strong, they give birth before they arrive.

When that second idea fails, the Pharoah orders that all first born babies were thrown into the Nile to drown. One woman decides to send her son in a basket down the river. None other than the Pharaoh’s daughter sees, the child and claims the baby called Moses as her own. The Pharaoh is thwarted again, this time by his own flesh and blood.

We then skip to a grown up Moses, raising sheep far away from Egypt. He’s been on the run after killing an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew. He is contacted by God and chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and back to the promised land. But Moses doesn’t immediately say yes. He wants to know God’s name but God never gives him the answer he wanted. Moses goes to free God’s people never getting God to reveal God’s name.

Pharaoh and Moses both want to control a situation. Pharaoh is scared of the Israelites, so much so that he sees them as potential traitors. Moses is called to speak for his people in front of Pharaoh, but he wants to know who is this God that is sending him. In Pharoah’s case each time he tried to get rid of the Israelites, he is thwarted. What’s interesting is that in two occasions he is thwarted by women. The text is never clear that Shiprah and Puah are themselves Hebrews. For all we know, they could be Egyptians. What we do know is that they feared God and chose to disobey Pharaoh’s demands. The baby Moses is sent down the Nile and is picked up by the daughter of the Pharaoh. She and Moses’ mother are able to sabotage Pharaoh’s efforts.

Pharaoh and to a lesser extent, Moses want to be in control. But they are unable to get the control they want. The Pharaoh is the leader of a great nation and felt he could do anything he desired. When he didn’t know Joseph, it could also mean he didn’t know God. Because if he had known God, he would know of how Joseph’s God saved the nation so long ago. But he didn’t and thought Egypt was mighty and what God would stop him.

These early chapters of Exodus remind us that God is the one in control in the world even when it might not look like that is possible. May we have the faith of Shiprah and Puah and not the arrogance of the Pharaoh.

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

We Are Not Our Own: Pentecost 13 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

September 8, 2019

Read Genesis 2:4b-25 (CEB)

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Reflection

Happy New Year everyone!  This Sunday we start a new year in the Narrative Lectionary.  The gospel focus is on the book of Mark, but we will get to that later in the year.  Right now, we start at the beginning- the very beginning.

This week’s text begins with the second creation story.  Yes, I said second creation story.  Genesis 1 has the first story which is probably the most well-known.  Genesis 2 is a shorter story.  Genesis 1 is going step by step, telling us what God did on what day and it ends with God taking a rest.  Genesis two rushes past the rest of creation and focuses almost exclusively on humans.

This should give you a clue as to what this passage is will focus on, or should I say who this passage will focus on.  Verse 8 tells us that God created man from the earth.  The Hebrew word for humanity is adam.  Adam is related to another Hebrew word, adamah which means “dust of the ground.”  This story tells us that humans are related to the living environment, that we are in relationship with the rest of creation.

There is also a relationship established between God and adam.  In fact, the adam is given a vocation in naming the animals.  But God didn’t think it right that the adam is the only one of his kind.  This is where God causes Adam to go into a sleep, takes a rib and forms a companion, a woman.  When Adam says that Eve is bone of my bone, he is saying that woman and man are related to one another.  There is no hierarchy, but there is relating.

The first phrase of the New Creed of the United Church of Canada says “We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.”  We aren’t alone which can mean that life isn’t all about us.  We live in a world where we are called to be in community to each other.  God created a world that was designed for relationship, for mutuality.  The danger of our time, actually of any time, is that we are the center of everything. The second creation story reminds us that God world is about relationship, about caring for each other.

The hymn “We Are Not Our Own” by Brian Wren tells us that the world doesn’t revolve around ourselves.

We are not our own. Earth forms us,
human leaves on nature’s growing vine,
fruit of many generations,
seeds of life divine.

The last hymn tells that because we are in relation with God and God’s creation, we are called to welcoming to those who cross our path:

Let us be a house of welcome,
living stone upholding living stone,
gladly showing all our neighbors
we are not our own!

We aren’t our own. We are from adamah.  We belong to God.  Let’s act like it.

Words Copyright © 1989 by Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL (www.hopepublishing.com) for the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; and Stainer & Bell Limited, London, England, (www.stainer.co.uk) for all other territories.

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

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.

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

aisle-beach-celebration-169198
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.