Category: narrative lectionary

A Night to Remember: Eighthteenth Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

A Night to Remember: Eighthteenth Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

October 4, 2020

Read: Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8

Reflection

As the book of Exodus starts, we find things are not so good for the descendants of Joseph and his brothers. The book opens us by telling us that a new pharaoh rules the land and he “did not know Joseph.” Between the time of Joseph and the current period, the Hebrews grew in size from a handful of people to a vast group within Egypt. The new Pharaoh did not have the same generous attitude as the first Pharaoh. He feared the Hebrews because of their large numbers. In order to keep the Hebrews from being a threat due to their vast numbers, he set them to work doing hard labor on his building projects. A people who were once guests were now slaves.

Enter Moses. He was saved from a terror campaign initiated by the Pharaoh which killed every Hebrew male child. Ironically, Moses grows up in the Pharaoh’s household taken care of by Pharaoh’s daughter. God calls Moses to lead his people out of Egypt.

Pharaoh refuses to let the people leave and it become a match between Pharaoh and God. A series of plagues strike the Egyptians until after a final plague kills all the firstborn Egyptians, Pharaoh lets the Hebrews go. But then Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he sends the army after the Hebrews.

This is where the story beings for us. 1

A Dinner to Remember

Chapter 12 begins with instructions.  God is telling the people of Israel to eat on the run because God was going to force Pharaoh’s hand.  As Pharaoh sought to destroy the Israelites by killing the young boys, a spirit would come for the firstborn of Egypt.  The people of Israel were to put the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their homes so that the spirit would “pass over” their house.

The preparation of the meal was incredibly specific.  They eat bitter herbs as a reminder of their suffering. They use flatbread or bread without yeast because they had to eat in a hurry.  The lamb was not to be eat raw or boiled.  Why did it matter if the meat was boiled?  Because the waters of Egypt were the places where the Hebrew male infants were drowned at the Pharaoh’s command.  The water brought death and this lamb could not come in contact with a reminder of the evil inflicted upon them.

But God also told the people that this night was a new beginning. God wanted the people to remember this time and share it to future generations. In fact, it was reordering time.  This day would be considered the first day of a new calendar.  What God was doing was in a way a new creation.  History would start at this moment.  We all have moments that are defining moments in our lives: births, weddings, deaths, but we usually don’t throw away our calendar and start anew.  But what God was doing was so important, so life-altering that it had to be remembered in a different way.

The placing of the blood of the lamb on the doorpost is a reminder to Christians of the death of Christ.  The blood allowed the angel of death to pass over and spare the first born Hebrews.  Christ’s blood in a way also protects us from sin and death.

Passover is an important holiday for Jews as they remember when God brought them out of Egypt and slavery.  Christians have a similar meal where we remember when Christ died in our stead to liberate us.  The Lord’s Supper or Communion it should be noted was first practiced by Jesus during Passover. 

The call to remember is a way of taking a past action and making it part of our present.  For Jews, Passover is taking what happened long ago and making it a part of their present.  Jews don’t say “We remember this night how God led those people long ago out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.”  Instead they say to each other, “We remember this night how God led us out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.”  Past and present are joined together.

In Passover, Christians can see a  parallel to the death of Christ on the cross.  Passover is a reminder of the salvation of the Hebrews. But that salvation came at a cost.  So it is with our salvation.  We are free in Christ, but only because of the death of Jesus.

This post was originally a Story of God Bible Study for October 2, 2016.





 

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

Sibling Rivalry: Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

Sibling Rivalry: Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

September 27, 2020

Read: Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34; 50:15- 21

Reflection

Beginning with chapter 37 until the end of the book of Genesis, the story focuses mainly on one person, Joseph.  The great-grandson of Abraham, you might have heard the story of Joseph as a kid, and over the last few years, you might have even seen a production of the Broadway play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Our story opens with Jacob and his sons.  Joseph is one of the “babies” of the family and tends to chores close to home instead of shepherding the flock with his older brothers.

Now, it’s quite common for a child to ask their parents if they love them or their sister/brother more.  The parent will say that they love each child equally.  You won’t find that story in today’s text.  Jacob played favorites with his children, and Joseph was his number one son.  Because he was the number one son, he got a special garment- a “long robe with sleeves,” the Bible says. It was a very fancy coat, one that set someone apart from manual labor.  In popular culture, the coat is described as one of  “many colors.”  In reality, some translations note the coat was an ornamental coat and others talk about a multi-colored coat.  Either way, it was a really nice coat that signified Joseph was special- which is something that really bothered his brothers. The text never said if Joseph knew that he was the favorite, but one could guess that he did and made sure his brothers did too. None of this endeared Joseph to his brothers.  They couldn’t stand him.  Now in most families, it quite normal to have some sibling rivalries.  But as we saw with Cain and Abel, when brother feud in the Bible, it can sometimes get a little out of hand.

We learn that Joseph has a special talent: deciphering dreams.  His parlor trick will come in handy later in our story, but right now all it does is annoy his brothers as we see in this snippet: 5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed.7There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’ 8His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.Genesis 37:5-8 (NRSV)

For his brothers, this was the last straw.  It was time to do something.  It was time to get Joseph out of the way.  Permanently.

Joseph’s brothers were looking forward to getting rid (ie: kill) of this dreamer who was an annoying pest.  His brothers were ready to kill him, but Ruben stopped his brothers from committing fratricide.  Instead, Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt, and Jacob is told that his precious son, his favorite son,  is dead. Between chapters 37 and 50, we follow Joseph’s journey into Egypt.  He gets to work in the house of a government official, and later falsely accused of raping the official’s wife, who wanted to sleep with him. Joseph winds up in prison, but it released when people learn he can interpret dreams.  He is called by the Pharoah to interpret his dream and he is able to discern a famine is coming and the nation must prepare.  Egypt is saved from a devastating famine and in turn, helps other nations that are affected by a drought.  Joseph is made what would basically be the Prime Minister of the nation. Joseph’s brothers return to the scene again as they travel to Egypt to get food during the famine.  In the end, Joseph is reunited with his brothers and his father. His family is welcome to come and live with Joseph in Egypt.

Genesis 50 opens up with Jacob dying. But Joseph’s brothers were afraid of him and for good reason. Now that Jacob is dead, will Joseph make life hard for them?  They come to Joseph and tell him that before Jacob died he told them that Joseph must forgive his brothers.  His brothers really hadn’t changed- they were motivated by self-interest.  Jacob never said this.  Instead of asking for forgiveness for how they treated Joseph, they instead invoke their dead father telling Joseph that he had to forgive his brothers because it was what dear old dad wanted.

In spite of their lying, Joseph forgives his brothers responding that God was able to use an evil experience and make it into something good. There is an important lesson to be learned here about suffering and the work of God.Joseph could see how God was working within his suffering and so he could see that something good came of the years of captivity and estrangement. However, it is bad taste for someone other than the sufferer to impose a meaning on them. What we see in chapter 50 is how God’s will works even in the midst of evil.

It was wrong for the brothers to seek to kill Joseph and then decide to see him into slavery.But God used this situation to help save the Egyptians from famine.We can’t and shouldn’t say that such evils are God’s will, we can see how God’s justice can work through human sin, just as it did later on in Scripture in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.





 

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

Maybe Baby: Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

Maybe Baby: Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

September 20, 2020

Read: Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

 

Reflection

In the fall of 2001, I was a chaplain at a nursing home in Minneapolis.  I made rounds, visiting people and I stopped  by a room where a number of people were gathered.  On the bed, was man who seemed asleep.  His wife explained he had a brain tumor.  From what I knew it didn’t look good; he didn’t have long in this world.  But the wife told me with hope that he would get better.  They were hoping he would be able to go a facility to rehabilitate. She wanted me to lead a prayer.  I was nervous, because I didn’t want to pray a prayer that would give them false hope.  I didn’t think that God was going to magically heal this man’s tumor.  And in some way I was right, a little later I heard that the man was going to hospice.

Was I right to believe that it was foolish to believe this man would be healed?  Should I have told the family that God would heal this man?

In our passage, Abraham welcomes three guests.  It was common in desert cultures to offer strangers hospitality.  Since there were no McDonalds in the desert; it made sense that people would offer travelers something to eat and drink.  Abraham welcomed these guests and went above and beyond in hospitality.  He asked Sarah to make bread with the finest flour.  He told a servant to kill a calf and then offered a refreshing drink.  We learn one of the visitors is the Lord himself.  As they ate their food, God tells Abraham that in the space of a year, he and Sarah would have a child.

Now a few things here:  Abraham was almost 100 and Sarah was 90.  God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation when he was 75.  So, the couple had been told for several decades that Abraham would be the father of a great nation.  Sarah was already way, way past her childbearing years so there seemed to be no possible way that Sarah was going to have a baby.

Sarah was eavesdropping nearby and when she heard all of this, she let out a laugh.  She laughed because she had heard for decades that she would have a child and nothing ever changed.  She was already barren when Abraham first told her of what God told him.  She knew it wasn’t going to happen. She even suggested that Abraham get with her servant Hagar to have a child.  Ishmael was the result of this pairing, but even Sarah wasn’t pleased with that solution. Sarah had received heartache on heartache.  She was old, Ishmael wasn’t working out.  She knew how life worked and she and Abraham had come to accept they would never be parents. Her laugh was a laugh of anger, frustration and hurt. I’m going to have a child?  Now? At my age? Not bloody likely.

Sarah heard for years something would happen and it never did.  She was used to things being what they were and couldn’t believe that things would be different.

If we were in Sarah’s place, would we laugh?  I think if it was me, I probably would.  I would like to believe that I would believe that God could do anything, but like Sarah, I know too much.  I know that people with brain tumors seldom recover.  I know that some couples face miscarriages. I know people die from cancer.  I know that evil exists and that the impossible is just that; impossible. 

Theologian David Watson notes that mainline Protestant theologians in the 20th and early 21st centuries have grappled with the problem of evil.  The horrors of two major global wars and the Holocaust have made us think that divine action is not possible.  

Watson continues saying that the result is that because liberal theologians had this view, it trickled down to the churches.  We had whole communities of faith that no longer believed that God would show up.  Watson puts it plainly:

“For many mainline Protestants, God has essentially become a construct. God gives weight to our ethical claims, credence to our feelings about social justice. God is not, however, an agent who can directly and radically change the course of events in our lives.”

None of this means we should not take evil seriously.  But we shouldn’t let that limit God.  Instead in the midst of this world where there is heartache, we still hope and pray that God will do the impossible in our impossible world.

God answers Sarah’s doubt.  “Is anything to difficult for the Lord?”  Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that this is really a question God is expecting Sarah (and Abraham) to answer.  The story ends with us never knowing what Sarah said in response other than that she didn’t laugh.  I’m guessing she didn’t immediately believe.  God was really asking; do you believe in me or not?  Do you trust me or not? 

In chapter 21, we see a different kind of laughter.  As God said, Abraham and Sarah did have a baby and named him Isaac which meant laughter.  God had the last laugh.  “God has given me laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me,”  Sarah says with a heart full of joy.  Indeed, how could they not?  This was so fanciful and unbelievable that you had to laugh.  You had to laugh for joy.

Faith in God means believing in the impossible.  It doesn’t mean taking leave of our sense and to start jumping off buildings thinking God will save us.  We believe in the impossible, not the ridiculous.  But we have to believe that our God is real, and powerful and can make a difference in our lives and in our world.  There will still be evil in the world.  There will be heartache.  But because we believe God will do the impossible, we end up having something that in and of itself seems weird: joy.  We begin to see God in the hidden corners of our lives, places where we thought God could never be present.

 

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 Beginning: Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

In the Beginning: Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (Narrative Lectionary)

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

September 13, 2020

Read: Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

Reflection

If you grew up hearing Bible stories, you know the first words in the book of Genesis.  Those words, “In the beginning” is the start of the Creation Story. We might think we know the story inside and out. But did you know there are two creation stories with two distinct emphases?

Think of it this way: Genesis 1 is like a big blockbuster motion picture. Do you remember the opening of Star Wars with the orchestra and that scrolling text? That is what Genesis 1 can feel like.  Genesis 2 tells the story again, but this time it is more intimate, more focused. If Genesis 1 is the big summer movie, then Genesis 2 is like a documentary focusing on the most minute of aspects.  Genesis 1 shows God’s power through the creation of the world. Genesis 2 shows God being more in relationship with creation, especially one particular part of creation: humans. Today we learn about the start of a sometimes beautiful friendship with humanity.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann notes that the creation stories reflect stories about how the world began that were found in Egypt and Mesopotamia (where modern-day Iraq is located). Bureggeman notes that the texts were probably written in the Sixth Century B.C.E. and to the people of Israel. At the time of writing, the Israelites were not in a good shape. Foreign invaders called the Babylonians came and conquered the people. Many were taken away from their homeland and forced to live in Babylon (again, located in what is today Iraq). If you were a Jew who had been taken away from their homeland and were told that your people are weak and even your God is weak, how would you feel? Pretty rotten. The Babylonians were acting like any invader would and trying to tell their new conquest that mighty Babylon was in charge. They told their newest conquests that their god was dead. The God of Israel was dead. Long live the Babylonian gods.

It was in this context that these texts were written. The goal of the text wasn’t scientific, but spiritual. The text reminded the people of Israel that the God they worshipped created the world and was the Lord of all life- even Lord over the mighty Babylonians. The creation stories were a message of hope to the Israelites. Even though it looked like God had abandoned them, the God who created the mountains and the seas, was in control. In God we Trust, indeed.

In Genesis 2:5-7, God creates the form of a human. It is when God breathes into the human that the being has life. The Bible talks a lot about breathing. God breathes into Adam and springs to life. In John 20:22, Jesus breathes on his disciples and says “receive the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 2 on Pentecost, the wind that comes can also be described as a breath. Breathing is important for our physical life, what does it mean for our spiritual life?

Adam is busy naming the animals, but God notices something. “It’s not good that man should be alone,” God says. God knows Adam needs a helper or companion. It is important to note that the first thing that was not good was not the Tree of Knowledge or even eating of the tree; it was the fact that man was alone. God creates this new being called woman for companionship, reminding us we are not made to be alone but created for each other. Just as humans enter into a covenant with God, humans enter into covenants with each other.

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 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.