Tag: Lent

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.

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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.

Freedom amid Divine Expectations – Reflection for Lent 3B

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Exodus 20:1-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

20 Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

*****

We serve a covenant-making God. In the reading from Exodus 20, we encounter the third covenant-making event in this our Lenten journey. In the reading from Genesis 9 for the for the First Sunday of Lent, we read of God’s covenant promise to Noah. Never again, will God cleanse the earth with water. In the reading for the Second Sunday of Lent from Genesis 17, we hear again God’s covenant promise to Abraham and Sarah. They’re promised a multitude of descendants, who will inhabit the Land as part of an everlasting covenant. Now, we come to the third covenant, the one God makes Israel through the mediation of Moses. God has called Moses up to the mountain top so Moses might receive a set of covenant stipulations that will define relationship between Israel and its God.

We call the covenant stipulations revealed to Moses in Sinai the Ten Commandments. They are, we’re told, inscribed by God on stone tablets (Exodus 31:18-19). It should be noted that when Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets laying out the covenant and discovered that the people were dancing around the golden calf, he threw them on the ground, breaking them (Exod. 32:19). Now, God did provide a second copy, so the people would have guidelines. With this second set, God renewed the covenant in preparation from the move from Sinai into the Promised Land (Exod. 34).

These stipulations that were intended to mark God’s covenant with Israel, have entered the public domain. We treat them today as if they were a legal code for American cultural life. Attempts have been made to put them in schools and court houses. In other words, we have secularized them, forgetting that they define a relationship with God. To forget their origin and turn them into rules diminishes their power to engender true freedom as a gift of God.

It is easy to miss, but these ten words begin with God’s declaration: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” This is an important word, because it defines God and God’s relationship with God’s people. In Jewish tradition, this is the first command. The second command prohibits worship of other gods and of making images of those gods. Thus, the opening statement is not a self-introduction. It is a command or word from God. Regarding this self-revelation of God’s identity, Rabbi Barry Schwartz writes: “

Note that while God could have been introduced as the creator of the world, God is instead presented as liberator of the people. The Torah is surely reminding us that the demanding and commanding God is first and foremost the liberating God. Concurrently, the text is also teaching us that there cannot be revelation without liberation. [Barry Schwartz, Path of the Prophets, ( Jewish Publication Society, 2017), p. 33].

What might appear to be rules and regulations are the foundations of freedom. True freedom comes from being in relationship with the one God, of whom no image can be created, a God who invites us to rest from one’s labors. While Sabbath laws often became burdensome, consider their origins. A people was enslaved. They had no rest from their labors, but now, they were free, and so Sabbath rest was theirs as a gift of God. Where once they had been in servitude to Pharaoh (who considered himself a god), now they are servants of Yahweh, and in this service, they find freedom.

We tend to equate freedom with an absence of rules, but to live in relationship with the covenant-making God, who is also the liberating God, is to recognize that true freedom is not anarchy. Again, I turn to Rabbi Barry Schwartz, who writes that “freedom is not simply the opportunity to act with impunity—it requires responsibility. The Exodus, after all, is not an end in and of itself. The Exodus culminates in Sinai—liberation is capped by Revelation. The mission is predicated on a covenant, and covenant implies obligation.” In this view, “responsible freedom leads to blessing” [Schwartz, Path of the Prophets, p. 36]. If we look back from this covenant to the one God initiated with Abraham and Sarah, it’s purpose is one of blessing. That promise of blessing continues through this covenant relationship.

While it may be true that these Commands form a basis for Western legal traditions, and that these words hold value for human life, it is important that we first see them in the context of God’s covenant purposes. These are, after all, not just any laws, these are a gift of God.

The commands provide a foundation for the relationships within the community for relationships with God and with neighbor. The first Table speaks specifically to one’s relationship with God. That is, love God with your entire being (Deut. 6:4-5). So, don’t worship other gods, don’t create images, don’t take oaths, and observe sacred time (Sabbath). When it comes to the second command, to love one’s neighbor, the remaining statements come into view (Lev.  19:18). Words that address such basic principles of life as not killing and stealing, seem uncontroversial, though we can obfuscate on the meaning of such words. But what about bearing false witness and coveting. How often do we break these two commands, which can often lead to breaking the others? In many ways the final command about coveting stands at the foundation of the entire law concerning one’s neighbor. Stealing, lying, killing, they all start with coveting.

When we speak of the two commands to love God and neighbor, we speak of a calling more fully delineated in the Ten Words, and further delineated in the 613 Mitzvot that make up the Law. If we fulfill the two, we fulfill the 613. Thus, Jesus affirms and fulfills these covenant stipulations, in calling for his followers to love God and love neighbor (Matt. 22:34-35).

We hear these words anew in the context of our Lenten journey find true freedom in service to God. Since this is a season of contemplation and reflection, may the Ten Teachings, as laid out in Exodus 17, help us discern our place in God’s covenant people. As we use these words to look at our lives and how we are living them, if there are some areas needing adjustment, may we take the opportunity to do just that. As we take time to repent, we get back in the groove, for it is followed by words of assurance of forgiveness.

Dr. Robert Cornwall, Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church of Troy, MI and author of several books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017) and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015).