Category: Transfiguration Sunday

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.

Reflecting God’s Glory — Lectionary Reflection for Transfiguration Sunday (Exodus 34)

Exodus 34:29-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
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                It is Transfiguration Sunday, which is a day that calls us to reflect on Jesus’ ascent to the top of the mountain, taking with him Peter, James, and John. When the group arrives on the mountain top, Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah, whom many assume represent the Law and the Prophets. As the conversation continues, Jesus begins to glow, the divine radiance shining forth. As they watch this scene unfold, Jesus’ companions are overwhelmed by what they see. You might say that they are in awe of what they see. Not knowing what else to do, they ask Jesus for permission to erect tents for the three figures. As they ask this question, Moses and Elijah disappear from the scene, leaving Jesus alone with his disciples. At that moment a voice from the heavens rings out declaring, much like at his baptism: ““This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Lk. 9:28-36).
                The first reading from the Scriptures takes us to Exodus 34. Here again we go to the mountain top, and when we do, we see another divine encounter. In this scene Moses has gone up to the top of Mount Sinai to speak with YHWH. This is the second time he has done this. When we pick up the story, Moses is descending the mountain, carrying with him the two tablets that define the covenant God desires to make with Israel.  This is the second set of tablets, since Moses broke the first set after discovering that Aaron and the people had created a golden calf while he was on the mountain speaking with God (Ex. 32). This is the second opportunity for Israel to make covenant with YHWH, which occurs after Moses intercedes with God (Ex. 33:12-23). Once again Moses spends forty days and forty nights on the mountain, neither eating nor drinking. Communion with God, apparently, was sufficient (Ex.34:27-28). Having been on the mountain for forty days and nights, it’s time for Moses to return to where Israel camped out in Sinai.
When he arrives with the tablets in hand, his face shone with the glory of God, only he did not know this. That is, until he realized that Aaron and Israel were afraid to approach him because his face shone so brightly. In time he was able to convince them to come and hear his words, words given to him by God on the mountain. When he was finished, he put a veil over his face, until his next visit with YHWH. The fact that his face reflected the glory of God’s presence was a sign to the people that God was with them, and that God was guiding them through the auspices of Moses. The moment of transfiguration described in the Gospels, is an unveiling of God’s presence in the person of Jesus. The three disciples were drawn into the divine presence and saw how Jesus radiated with that presence. As for Moses, he reflected the divine presence by his countenance. It was a bit off-putting to the people, who didn’t know what to make of it. Thus, because the radiance of his face was so great, he covered his face with a veil, so as not to overwhelm his fellow Israelites.
The reading from the epistle, which comes from 2 Corinthians, has a bit of a different take on the situation. Paul saw the veil as a means by which Moses hid the fact that the glow was fading with time. He saw this as symbolic of the inability of Israel to discern the identity of Jesus as its Messiah. Only in Christ, Paul believes, is the veil set aside so we can see the glory of God present in Jesus so that we might be transformed (2 Cor. 3:12-18). Paul and Luke have this Mosaic encounter in mind. We have to be careful here not to read this story in a supersessionist mode, so that this becomes a word about God’s rejection of Israel. Instead, may we read this as an invitation to perceive the glory of God present in Jesus, a glory that Moses encountered as well. He experienced that transformation that Paul spoke of, but as a human being, he like us, must continually return to God’s presence lest the glory that is God fade. It’s not a one-time occurrence. For Luke, the presence is found within Jesus, and it is revealed through a momentary unveiling. For us, like Moses, we must continually return to God’s presence so we might increase in our reflecting of God’s glory. As Paul reminds us, we may have veils over our faces, which not only hide the fact that the glory of our encounters with God are fading, but these veils may prevent us from seeing what is true and what is right. So, maybe what was designed to protect is now a hindrance.
                How should we read and respond to this story? In both the Exodus encounter with the Divine and the transfiguration of Jesus, we learn something about the central figure. Moses had been dealing with a rather recalcitrant community, that questioned his authority. Having this sign of his encounter with God reflected in his face reinforced his claim to leadership in the community. As for Jesus, the unveiling, together with the heavenly voice, confirmed in the three disciples that Jesus was one to be listened to, even if they didn’t share the news broadly. But there is also a sense here of wonder or awe at being in the presence of God, even if you must hide in the cleft of the rock (Ex 33:17-23).
                There are many times and places where we can gain a sense of God’s presence. Being in nature can create within us a sense of wonder or awe, and if we’re attentive we will recognize in nature a reflection of God’s creative presence. Although our experiences of worship don’t always create within us a sense of awe at the presence of God, there are times when such occurs. We might even glow with the love and glory of God reflecting off our faces, while we sing something like “Shine Jesus Shine.”

Picture Attribution: St. Vitale – Moses Receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=32149 [retrieved February 25, 2019]. Original source: Images donated by Patout Burns, Vanderbilt University.