Category: narrative lectionary

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.

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

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

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

March 31, 2019

Read Matthew 25:1-13 (CEB)

Reflection

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

Oh, ye of little faith. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes:

 

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

Dressed for the Occasion: Lent 3 (Narrative Lectionary)

Dressed for the Occasion: Lent 3 (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

March 24, 2019

Read Matthew 22:1-14 (CEB)

Reflection

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Photo by Ibrahim Asad from Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

 

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

Transmogrify!: Transfiguration

Transmogrify!: Transfiguration

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

March 3, 2019

Reflection

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

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

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

But to be a Christ follower means being changed.  

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

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

Notes:

 

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

Loaves Abound!: Epiphany 6

Loaves Abound!: Epiphany 6

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

February 24, 2019

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

That’s the Way of the World: Epiphany 5

That’s the Way of the World: Epiphany 5

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

February 17, 2019

Read Matthew 13:24-43 (CEB)

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than Words: Epiphany 4

More Than Words: Epiphany 4

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

February 3, 2019

Reflection

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Would you like to close us with prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Multiverse of Grace: Epiphany 3

The Multiverse of Grace: Epiphany 3

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

January 27, 2019

Read Matthew 5:1-20 (CEB)

Reflection

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I’ve always been a big fan of the multiverse, that trope in science fiction where we discover that there is not just one reality, but multiple realities.  You might be a mild-mannered librarian in one universe and a wild and crazy musician in another.  The best example of this is in the Original Series of Star Trek in the episode “Mirror, Mirror.” Captian Kirk, Scotty, Dr. McCoy and Uhura find themselves in an ultimate universe where the benevolent Federation is replaced with the Terran Empire.  The Enterprise in this universe is filled with the same people, but they are all brutal and sadistic.  Mr. Spock now sports a goatee (which I guess is the true sign of evil). The most recent example is the movie “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” where we learn there are several versions of Spiderman in different universes.

Alternate universes, mirror universes, the multiverse tell us something about life; there is more than one way of looking at things.  What we see isn’t always the last word.

One of the things that are always off-putting to me is when I hear fellow Christians talk in what I call “Jesus talk.” They talk in a certain way that is trying to show that are holy people following Jesus.  I’m not bothered about people talking openly about faith, but I am bothered because the language presents an image of someone that is perfect, someone that is better than anyone else.  I may be totally wrong in this feeling, but there is always a sense that “Jesus Talk” folk are always putting on a mask that hides who they are, and never reveals who they really are.

In Matthew 5:1-20, we are introduced to the Sermon on the Mount. The beginning verses are the Beatitudes or Blessings.  In some ways, the Beatitudes paint another universe, a universe where we aren’t successful, happy people, but rather people who are not perfect. When Jesus talks about those who are not happy or those who are hopeless, Jesus tells us that God’s Kingdom is one for people who are messed up at times.  Jesus paints a world where the down and out, the losers, the imperfect are blessed by God. The last verse of today’s passage is the one the struck me today: Jesus tells the disciples that if their righteousness is not greater than that of the Pharisees, they won’t see the Kingdom of Heaven or God.  The Pharisees and scribes were the types that loved to put on a show to tell everyone around them how holy they were.  They were the original virtue signallers.

In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus calls out the Pharisees and scribes for their shoddy righteousness. He points out that their faith is all for show; and hide their true nature:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Jesus shows a different reality for people; one where we don’t have to pretend to be holy, but to know God accepts us in our lowly state and it is from there that we can change to be the kind of people God wants us to be.

Growing up in the African American church, I heard all the adults in the church being called “Brother so-and-so” and “Sister so-and-so.”  As a kid, I was confused. Why were they called brother and sister when they weren’t?  It wasn’t until college that I understood.  It was not until maybe 50 years ago, that African American adults were no longer called “boy” or by a woman’s first name.  As Rev. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, these names were used to make sure African Americans knew their status in society.  The Black church was one of the few places in the world where they were given names of status, of personhood. The Black church created another universe where they were not second-class citizens but viewed as worthy in the eyes of God.

People live in a universe where they are told they need to be successful or right-thinking or show off all the right virtuous signals. May God give us all eyes to see and ears to hear the alternate universe of the Kingdom of God where we are loved no matter what.

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

Into Temptation: Epiphany 2

Into Temptation: Epiphany 2

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

January 20, 2019

Read Matthew 4:1-17 (CEB)

Reflection

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In the 1980 movie Superman II, Superman disguised as Clark Kent, finally reveals to his colleague Lois Lane his love for her and when he does that, he also reveals that he is Superman.  They go to the Fortress of Solitude where Superman exposes himself to red kryptonite which took away his powers and made him mortal.

At the same time, three Kryptonians led by General Zod break out of the Phantom Zone prison and come to wreak havoc on the earth. When Zod is able to take control of the United States and threatens the world, the President cries out for Superman.  Clark is watching on TV and he knows that Superman can’t respond because of his choice.

The temptation of Jesus is interesting because it shows Jesus facing something we face all of the time: temptation.  For Jesus to be the Savior, to save us from damnation, he had to be able to face all that we face.  The temptation of Jesus shows two things: first, that the devil wants to separate God from the created order and two, that Jesus was in solidarity with us.  He was not some superhero that comes out of time and history to save humanity, but is with us, even in our temptations.

But the message here today is not how we can resist temptation in three easy steps.  The message is not that all you have to do is just say some Bible passages and the devil will flee.  The message here is that following Christ means entering into a life of the cross, a life where you will face challenges to leave a hard life behind and trade it for peace and security.

Jesus’ temptation is a repeat of the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis. In that story, the devil comes in the form of a snake using God’s words to get Eve to eat from the tree (though the first clue should be don’t ever trust talking animals). “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” says the devil. He is able to sow some words of doubt and twist God’s words in order to get Eve to pick the apple from the tree. Jesus’ temptation shows Jesus is in solidarity with all of humanity. God understands what we go through.

The craftiness of Satan is that he is able to take scripture out of context and use it for his own purposes. The devil loves to proof-text.

The temptation of Jesus shows how human Jesus was and it also tells us where Jesus is headed: the cross.

The ministry of Jesus was shaped by the cross.  The instrument of death was the shape of his work on earth.  It was a life living for others, a life of sacrifice, a life of challenges. What the devil wanted to do is to have Jesus give in to the creature comforts of life to trade the life of the cross for a place of easy and secure.

The work of the church is to live a life of the cross.  This is summed up in a passage from Acts that talks about life in the early church.  This is what Acts 2:42-47 says:

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

Some people have thought that this passage is somehow justifying socialism or support for government programs.  That is not what this passage is about.  It is about life in the early church and gives an example of the cross-shaped life we are to live within our church: a life where we care for each other: to the point that we share our possessions with each other, especially those in need.  Yes, we should do that outside the walls of this church, but it starts in how we treat those in our midst.

The church has and will always be tempted by the devil.  Some say that Emperor Constantine becoming a Christian and elevating Christianity to the state religion of the Roman Empire is the church falling for the devil’s final temptation. We are to say no to the devil’s wiles, but we say “no” knowing that God through Jesus was tempted too. God understands and God is with us as we also live a cross-shaped life where temptations are real.

This time of Epiphany is one where we look for the revelation of Christ in the world.  We see Christ when we see cross-shaped living in the lives of Christ followers.  That doesn’t mean we are all going to end up being crucified, but it does mean that we live a life that is not bound up in self, but in living for others to the point that if it is called for we will put our own lives on the line.  

We all want to escape the parts of life that are uncomfortable.  But God calls us to a sacrificial life, one that starts with the local faith community and branches out into the wider world.

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.

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

Goin’ Old School: Baptism of Jesus

Goin’ Old School: Baptism of Jesus

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

January 13, 2019

Reflection

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Today’s passage reminds us that baptism isn’t all sweetness and light.  God wants people to live changed lives and when John baptizes these people, they are saying they will live a changed life. Baptism is a wonderful experience, but it’s also asking God to come into our lives and God wants it all.

John talks about the coming of Jesus as the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  That’s important to remember because too often, people see John as an old fashioned prophet who instilled fear while Jesus was all about love.  Nope.  Look at Matthew chapter 23 sometime.  Jesus calls the religious leaders…a brood of vipers. 

Matthew 4:17 has Jesus beginning his ministry by saying “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Common English Bible) Matthew 11:21 issues woes for the towns that refused to repent:

How terrible it will be for you, Chorazin! How terrible it will be for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have changed their hearts and lives and put on funeral clothes and ashes a long time ago.

-Common English Bible

So Jesus and John were not saying different things, they were preaching the same message; asking people to change their lives.

Our baptism is a reminder that we are loved by God and there is nothing we can do about that. In gratitude, we go from these walls to serve others: our neighbors and strangers in need.

It was Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Disciples of Christ, summed up what baptism is. He said, “baptism is sort of an embodiment of the gospel and solemn expression of it all in a single act. In baptism, we are passive in everything but giving our consent. We are buried and raised by another. Hence, in no view of baptism can it be called a good work.”

Many traditions including Lutherans, Catholic and Anglican have Easter Vigil. People gather on the Saturday before Easter and hear the salvation story from the Creation to Jesus’ resurrection. At some point during the service, the pastor takes a tree branch and puts in the baptismal font. He or she then will throw the water into the congregation, telling them: “remember your baptism and be thankful.”

Now, it’s a little hard for the traditions to remember their baptisms since they practice infant baptism, but that’s not what the pastor means. What it means is to remember that it was at these waters that a person became part of God’s family and that God loves cares.  Remember that baptism and repentance means your world has changed.

Peter Morgan, the past head of the Disciples Historical society said this about baptism: “We rose from the water to manifest the presence of Christ. We are the laos, the people of God born from the water of baptism into a sacramental ministry, manifesting the presence of Christ.”

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.

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