Category: narrative lectionary

The Beautiful Ones and the Rainbow Children: Sixth Sunday of Easter(Narrative Lectionary)

The Beautiful Ones and the Rainbow Children: Sixth Sunday of Easter(Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

May 17, 2020

Read: I Corinthians 13:1-13

 

Reflection

 

You will usually hear 1 Corinthians 13 read at weddings.  While it is a nice passage to read to the wedding couple, the apostle Paul meant for a wider audience that relates more to our political and cultural climate today than to the nuptials of two people.

To understand 1 Corinthians 13, you have to look at chapter 12.  In chapter 12, Paul likens the church to the Body of Christ. Before we go to Paul’s understanding of the church as the body of Christ, a little more background.

The Corinthians were using their gifts as a status symbol.  Some gifts were deemed more important than others.  Paul tells the Corinthians that while people have different gifts, they all come from the same God for the common good.

This is where Paul starts to talk about a body and how different parts all work together with a common purpose.  Listen to what Paul says starting with verse 12:

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. 14 Certainly, the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body?17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

-1 Corinthians 12: 12-21

Paul closes chapter 12 with verse 31 where he tells the Corinthians that there is a better way.  Chapter 12 has Paul saying that the Corinthians should not compare gifts with each other.  In chapter 13, he shows what we are to be doing as the body of Christ.

While 1 Corinthians 13 is used in the pacific scene of a wedding, Paul was writing it to a fractious church that needed to understand what grounds the church what holds it together.

As mentioned before, Corinth is a diverse church.  While we celebrate diversity today, we need to be reminded that diversity can also be a challenge.  The church was filled with Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, slave and free.  All of this caused division and weakened the church. But while diversity could cause problems, Paul was adamant in keeping Corinth diverse.  He believed this is what God wanted for this church even if it is difficult. Paul’s letter was a rallying cry: to not segregate, to love each other in spite of differences.

But again, this wasn’t the type of love displayed at a wedding ceremony. This was something that was far more challenging. As theologian Shivley Smith notes:  “The love Paul is talking about here is not passive and fluffy. This kind of love is an up at dawn, feet on the ground, tools in hand, working kind of love. It builds communities. It nurtures positive social interactions, and not just social networks (which many of us have come to prefer). “

Paul is noting that loving others, even in the confines of a church is challenging.  Love governs how to we talk to each other, how we break bread together, how we fellowship with each other.   Love in chapter 13 is a verb, it is active and it isn’t easy. For Paul, the measure of a faith community is not what it does, but it is about knowing each other face to face in the way that God knows us.

Paul talking about love is not an ode to a community that has accomplished love, but to one that is far away realizing it.  Which is why this can seem like an odd choice for a wedding ceremony. 

Unless…one look at it not from the day of the wedding, but months and years later, when the allure has worn off and there is a disagreement over money or some other issue.  If married couples and pastors looked at this not as celebrating the love present, but dealing with the relationship down the road when it will inevitably encounter challenges, then this passage can fit better in weddings.

Theologian Karoline Lewis wrote of a recent trip to the Middle East and how it can be hard to love the other:

“A couple of evenings ago on our trip, we had a presentation by the Parent’s Circle, a grassroots organization for Palestinians and Israelis who have lost loved ones due to the conflict. The representatives who spoke to us were two fathers, a Palestinian and an Israeli, who had both lost daughters because of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. We had a very honest discussion about the conflict and about life before and after the Separation Wall… They each went through their own moments of wondering how life could possibly carry on given the death of their children due to such senseless, mindless fighting. They could have chosen revenge to ease their pain but instead realized that the only way forward was to talk to each other.

In each other, they found the way to carry on because, in their words, “our blood is the same color, our tears are just as bitter.” They found a way to carry on that chose peace instead of revenge, conversation instead of fear, life instead of death because “it is not our destiny to kill each other in this Holy Land.” At stake for both fathers was peace. Simple as that. This is the gospel. This is love.”

In chapter 12, Paul was chastising the church for focusing on themselves.  Chapter 13 is a vision for the church, a place where people love each other, not focusing on their needs, but on the needs of others.

 

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

People of the Cross: Fifth Sunday of Easter(Narrative Lectionary)

People of the Cross: Fifth Sunday of Easter(Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

May 10, 2020

Read: Acts 18:1-4 and I Corinthians 1:10-18

 

Reflection

 

It was about 25 years ago, that I attended a large Baptist church in Washington, DC.   The church was an odd mix, or at least it would be odd today.  Evangelicals and liberals were somehow able to worship together, alongside a healthy dose of members from Latin America and Asia.

The church decided at some point to hire a pastor to join the good-sized multi-pastor staff.  The person chosen was a woman with great pastoral care skills.  At the time, there was a bit of controversy because she was pro-gay and some of the evangelicals in the church weren’t crazy about that.

I was at a meeting where a member of the congregation stood up.  She was one of the evangelical members of the congregation and she had what could be considered a “traditional” understanding on homosexuality, but she spoke in favor of calling the pastor.  You see, the pastor had been involved with the congregation for a few years and the two had gotten to know each other.  “We don’t agree,” I recall this woman saying when talking about the issue they didn’t see eye-to-eye on.  But this woman was a good friend and she saw her as the right person for the job.

What’s so interesting about this story is that I don’t think it could happen today.  Churches like the one in DC really don’t exist anymore.  Evangelicals and liberals have sorted themselves into different churches and don’t really know each other.  Which only makes it easier to highlight differences and demonize each other.

Paul faces a nascent church in Corinth that was split into various factions, with each one trying to undermine the other.  Paul tells them that they are to be united, to not have any divisions.  This didn’t mean that they didn’t disagree, but it was a problem when it began the threaten the health and mission of the church.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are a people of the cross, of a Jesus who lived and died for all, not just for a certain faction.

In the end,  it has to be about being the church- the Body of Christ. In my Disciples tradition, we place a lot of emphasis on the Table. It’s at the Lord’s Table that everyone is welcome and everyone is equal. Distinctions end when we come to God’s table. I tend to believe God isn’t asking for party affiliation when we come to have communion.

My Lutheran friends remind me that the Cross is also a great leveler. We are all sinners, all of us. We are all in need of grace and love. We are all damned by the cross, but it is also in the cross that we are saved and made whole.

So when we read or watch the latest “outrage” on Fox or MSNBC and you are ready to hit the “send” button and share your two cents on how bad the other party is, I want you to stop and think for a moment: how is this building up Christ’s body? How is it showing that we Christians are different? Do we really need to dress up our partisan leanings in God talk to make it look pretty? Can we find a way to remember the Table and Cross as much as we hold fast to Donkeys and Elephants?

Addendum: In 2014, blogger Scott Alexander wrote a post that became viral called, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup.”  In it, Alexander writes about how political liberals relate to conservatives. Check it out and think about how it relates to the church.

 

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

In the Name: Third Sunday of Easter(Narrative Lectionary)

In the Name: Third Sunday of Easter(Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

April 26, 2020

Read: Acts 3:1-10

 

Reflection

 

The healing of the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate is about a healing on the surface.  I remember learning a little song about this passage in the Christian school I went to back in 5th grade.  “He went walking and leaping and praising God, walking and leaping and praising God, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazaeth, rise up and walk.”

The first verse states that they were heading to the temple to pray.  The early members of the church were faithful Jews and didn’t see themselves as establishing a religion separate from Jerusalem. The prayer at the “ninth hour of the day” or 3:00PM was the second daily prayer of the day.

Location matters in this story.  When the beggar asks for money, he is sitting outside the gate.  He sought charity from the worshipping community, but otherwise was not part of the worshipping community. The disciples were able to enter into the community, but not this man.

When this man is healed, what is the first thing he does? He gets up, starts walking and leaping, and then enters the temple praising God.  He was on the outside and now was able to come inside.

What is the important aspect of this story?  On one level, this about a man who was not allowed in the temple and now is brought in and welcomed.  That does matter, but there is something more important.  In verse six, we see Peter looking straight at this man and tell him that he doesn’t have any money to give the man.  But Peter then tells him that in the name of Jesus rise up and walk.  

What is so important about Peter doing this in Jesus’ name?  Why does that matter?

Peter is honest with the man when he says he has no money.  Peter can’t give this man what he thought he wanted. Instead, Peter gives something more: the name of Jesus.  William Willimon notes that in Luke (part 1 of Luke-Acts) the name of Jesus is tied with healing and Peter picks up on that, using the name and power of Jesus to heal this man.

It seems like this passage is saying that there are things more important and more powerful than money.  

I’m thinking about this as I look at my small congregation and at times I wonder, what can this congregation do?  

The answer is that it can do much…in Jesus’ name.  As Christians, we believe in the power of God. We believe in the name of Jesus which can bring healing and we believe that in the name of Jesus, we can be agents of healing in the world.

When I taught this passage a few years ago, I talked about how the lame man who couldn’t enter the temple was brought in tells us we are called to heal the outsiders like refugees and bring them inside.  I still think that is important and matters.  However, we welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, all in Jesus’ name.  In the power of Jesus’ name we can do things beyond what the bank statement says or how many people in the pews.  Just as Jesus did miracles in God’s power, we as the church are called to be in the world in the power of Christ.  It’s easy at times to get involved in the work of justice and not really do the work in Jesus’ name.  We will talk about Jesus, but we aren’t really doing it in the name and power of Jesus.  

As Christians, we rely on God.  As we face the outsiders of our day, we realize that we can be agents of healing…in the power of Jesus’ name.  Because that power will change the world.

 

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

In the Meantime: Second Sunday of Easter(Narrative Lectionary)

In the Meantime: Second Sunday of Easter(Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

April 19, 2020

Read: Acts 1:1-11

 

Reflection

 

When I was about seven or eight I would start to think about the year 2000 and what life would be like then.  I remember figuring out how old I and my parents would be when we entered the 21st century. I was going to be 30 years old.  Looking from the late 1970s and early 80s, that seemed so long away. I couldn’t imagine being an adult, especially an adult of such an age.

Of course, I am speaking to you on the other side of the year 2000, twenty years from the year 2000 to be exact.  Thirty doesn’t seem so old when you’re 50. But that doesn’t mean I’m not wondering about the future.  When I opened up my IRA account, I picked one of the date-specific accounts. I picked the 2034 fund which is the year I turn 65.  That seems a long way off, but we’ve played this game before.

As a child looking at the future, the year 2000 felt like an eternity.  While I was waiting for eternity, I lived my life. I went to high school in 1983. In 1987, I graduated. I went to college and then moved to Washington, DC  in 1992 for a few years. I moved to Minnesota in 1996 and started seminary in 1997. I went on my first trip to Europe in 1998 and then China in 1999.  Before I knew it, I was there, the year 2000 was a reality. While I was waiting for this big date to happen, I still had things to do; to go to school or to work; to meet new friends and loves, to move to new places, to travel around the world.  I didn’t just sit there waiting for this magical date, life had to happen.

In the first chapter of Acts we see Jesus giving a final talk to his disciples.  He had risen from the dead and now he was ready to ascend into heaven. He tells his friends to stay in Jerusalem and wait for God.  

When Jesus is done talking, one of them asks if he will restore the kingdom of Israel.  This text makes the disciples look like fools, at least at first glance. Here Jesus was talking about big things, and they are concerned about getting rid of the Romans.  

What was Jesus telling them to wait for? What was going to happen?    Jesus wasn’t telling them to wait for revolution, for the Romans to be sent packing.  No, they were to wait for something much bigger.  They were to wait for something that would spread beyond Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. But what was it?  

But before they could ask for clarification, Jesus is taken up and out of their sight.  It’s then when two young men tells them to stop looking up. Jesus will return, but you have work to do. You will wait, but things have to be done.

We learn that the disciples went back to town and devoted themselves to prayer.  They didn’t just mope in their rented room, but began to prepare for what God had in store for them next even though they didn’t know what that next big thing was.  In Acts 2 we see the Holy Spirit entering the Upper Room and changing the disciples forever.  But in the meantime they did things like prayer and choosing a replacement for Judas. They lived their lives being faithful to their friend Jesus.

God is calling us, like the disciples to wait for his return.  But that doesn’t mean that we drop everything and do nothing, or do the wrong things.  Jesus told his disciples that there was still work for them to do after he left.

The disciples were to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the known world.  And on Pentecost, this became true. They were pushed to witness to Jesus in cities and towns far beyond Israel.  They invited everyone to meet Jesus, even long after he ascended into heaven. Christ would return, but in the meantime they had work to do. They had to be a witness to Jesus, telling them about what he was like and the difference he made in their lives.  

 

Jesus is still calling us to this.  We wait for Christ’s return. We have no idea when that will happen, but we wait for it.  But in the meantime, we have work to do. We have people to feed. We have people to help get clean water. We have people to tell about the good news that is Jesus.  

We wait. We wait for wholeness, we wait for healing.  We wait for God’s return. But while we wait, let us take in the view, let us see what Christ sees. But in the meantime, we have a job to do, a life to live.  Let’s get to it. 

 

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

Keeping Up Appearances: Third Sunday After Epiphany(Narrative Lectionary)

Keeping Up Appearances: Third Sunday After Epiphany(Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

February 2, 2020

Read: Mark 5:21-43

 

Reflection

 

I recently read a news item about a small congregation and how the pastor was able to connect the church to the wider community bringing in more people to the congregation.

I really hate those stories.

It’s not that I want these churches to fail. I am glad to see how declining churches can be rejuvenated.  But serving a small church for the last few years, I’m jealous. We have done what we can to connect to the wider community and we aren’t getting an influx of visitors.

We never hear it much, but I think there are a lot of pastors that feel like a failure.  Many of us try to do what we can to put our congregation on a new footing. We plan events for the community where only a few people show up, or maybe no one shows up at all.

We don’t hear much because most pastors aren’t willing to share their shortcomings.  They want to appear like they are in charge.

So many of us try to keep up appearances.  I am remembered of the British television show of the same name where the lead character tries to show herself and her family as better than what they really are.  

But the text today in Mark has a number of people that can’t keep up appearances.  They can’t pretend things are fine.  They can’t put up a fake smile in hopes that they can fake it until they make it.  The woman dealing with gynecological problems can’t hide her illness. It’s probably very visible and very embarrassing.  She is considered unclean, which must have felt shameful to her.  The woman didn’t even want to face Jesus, she had faith that if she just touched his clothing then maybe something would happen.  She touches Jesus’ clothing and she knew at that moment that she is healed.  Jesus marvels at her faith in spite of all the circumstances.

Jarius was a high religious official.  Most of the religious leaders viewed Jesus with disdain, but Jarius falls at the feet of Jesus begging that his daughter be healed.  We don’t know what Jarius thought about Jesus beforehand, but we know now that Jesus was his last chance. He threw all decorum to the side and cast his hope on Jesus.

Sometimes we want to appear that we have it all together.  Most times though, we don’t have things all together.  More often than not, we are barely holding things up.  But we don’t want to show this to others, mostly because we feel failures and want to keep that part of ourselves hidden.  But Jesus has a way of having us rip off our false faces to reveal ourselves. When the mask slips and crashes to the ground, Jesus is there waiting to heal us, waiting to forgive us. We don’t have to pretend everything is okay.

At the beginning of Mark, Jesus tells religious leaders that the healthy don’t need a doctor, it is the sick.  Jesus tells us to stop keeping up appearances and let Jesus come and heal us.

 

 

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

All Is Forgiven: Baptism of our Lord (Narrative Lectionary)

All Is Forgiven: Baptism of our Lord (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

January 12, 2020

Read: Mark 2:1-22

 

Reflection

I’ve been preparing for the sermon for this coming Sunday and I’ve been reading and thinking about the text: Mark 2:1-22. The very first story is the story of the four men who went up to the roof and lowered their friend down to where Jesus was healing. Everyone always focuses on the extreme faith and love on the part of those four friends. What makes no sense, is when Jesus sees the man being lowered and not immediately make this man walk. I mean it was as plain as the nose on one’s faith. Why did Jesus feel the need to say this man’s sins are forgiven?

Maybe it was because the man himself wondered if his predicament was because of the result of sin. Does it mean that he sinned and became a paralytic as a result? Probably not. But think about this man’s situation for a moment. We don’t know if this has been his condition since birth or it happened later, but you can wonder why you are in this predicament. In John 9, Jesus meets a blind man and his disciples wonder if he sinned or did the man’s parents sin to make this man blind. Jesus says neither. But when you are in this condition, you might be more aware of your sin than other times in one’s life.

What matters is that Jesus saw this man, saw the awesome faith of his friends and told the man what he needed to hear: that he was forgiven, that the burden that he carried was no longer his.

There are lots of people in our midst who are weighed down with guilt, sin, and sadness. The question for us today is not that we can forgive their sins, but can we bring them to Jesus in the same way that this man’s friend did? They were willing to help their friend even if it meant tearing up a roof to get their friend to be healed by Jesus.

As Christians, we are called to share the love of God with our friends and neighbors. A friend recently said that in many cases, the people that we meet are longing for forgiveness. Bring them to Jesus can help them realize a sense of grace in a world that is graceless.

Now, that might sound odd to some because especially in mainline Protestantism, there has been a move away from forgiveness towards justice. There is a need to focus on justice issues, but there is also a spiritual side of life where people just want to feel a sense of grace, to know they are forgiven. Sometimes that is even more important to people than physical healing.

So as we prepare for Sunday and we meet our friends, know they are carrying burdens. How can we bring them to have an encounter with Christ? How can they experience forgiveness from Jesus?

Sometimes forgiveness feels more important than healing.

 

 

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

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)

astronomy-dark-design-924824
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.