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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Lectionary Reading

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 • Amos 6:1a, 4-7 and Psalm 146 • 1 Timothy 6:6-19 • Luke 16:19-31

Backstory

Luke 16:1-13
This parable told by Jesus is often erroneously titled ‘The Dishonest Manager’. The setting would have been the same life situation that the listeners lived in. A life environment where someone was at the top of the income and lifestyle ladder. This person(s) would have been the landowner, employer, and controller of most of the community. The folks at the bottom of the ladder would have lived, and worked, under the thumb of this rich landowner as tenant farmers expected to pay a portion of their earnings to the landowner. These farmers would need to grow high cash crops instead of produce that could feed and sustain them and their families. It was a constant struggle to survive. Inserted into this system was the middle man, the manager, who was expected to collect these payments from the farmers while taking extra for himself. This was a system that, in concept, worked well for all of society. Conceptually, those at the top, the rich and powerful, would allow the money to dribble down to the middle and eventually to the bottom. The problem with any economic or political system is that it is always at the mercy of those with the most power. If the top is selfish and unethical, then survival dictates that those in the middle and bottom become self-centered as well. As Jesus tells this parable he is calling on the listeners to look at what is of true value rather than wealth – what their lives are centered on. As you read this passage remember that it comes after the parable of the prodigal son and before the story of the poor man named Lazarus.

Amos 8:4-7
The prophet Amos began his ministry shortly before the prophet Isaiah began calling the people to return to God. Amos was from the Southern Kingdom (Judah), but his message was primarily directed to those in the Northern Kingdom (Israel). Amos message was so strong and offensive to those who listened that not long after arriving in the north he was forced to return to his southern home. Amos then confronted the selfish practices of the rich and their unethical treatment of the poor in writing. It is apparent throughout this short book that Amos was very focused on social justice as well as the equality of all men.

Psalm 113:1-8
Our responsive reading for this Sunday comes from Psalm 113, the first of six Psalm passages sung in conjunction with the traditional Passover observances. Psalm 113 and 114 are usually sung at the beginning of Passover as a reminder of the works and faithfulness of God. In Psalm 113 we also see God’s notice of, and concern for, the poor and needy.

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backstory headingFor Sunday, September 15, 2019

 

Lectionary Readings

Numbers 21:4-9  • Exodus 32:7-14  •  Psalm 51:1-10; 78:34-38  •  Jeremiah 4:4-9 

I Timothy 1:12-17  •  John 3:13-17  •  Luke 15:1-10 (C)

Backstory

A People, A Prophet, and God

Exodus 32:7-14 – After the people had experienced God’s act of freeing them from slavery in Egypt, parting the sea, constantly providing, naming them his ‘treasured possession’ and instructing them to be ‘a priestly kingdom and holy nation’, and, after he gave the commandments which began with ‘You shall have no other gods before me’, the people turned from God to other gods.  While Moses was on the mountain speaking with God, the people became impatient waiting for Moses and built an idol like they had in slavery. A heated debate between Moses and God, in response to the actions of the people, ensues.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Once again we see these same people failing to remember God.  This account takes place after the people have proven they did not trust God enough to enter the Promised Land and are now wandering in the desert until the next generation is grown.  Much like most of us, this group of humans are frequently unpleasant to be around – the become dissatisfied with Moses’ leadership and God’s provisions.  They complain about Moses and God.

Hopelessness with Hope

Jeremiah 4:11-28 – We have been looking at the persistent refusal of the people (centuries after entry into the Promised Land) to turn back to God.  Through the warnings of the prophet of Isaiah, and then Jeremiah, the people have refused to see and hear what God is communicating through these prophets.  Instead, they have continued a false Godless religion while progressively turning to the untruths of the politicians, religious leaders, and false prophets who who say things much more pleasant to hear.  Now, the time for cautions and warnings has come to an end.  It is the end of opportunities, and God is not changing his mind, however, his proclamation of doom comes also with a promised hope.

And then there is Joy

Luke 15:1-10 – Jesus is surrounded by religious leaders who are complaining and grumbling about the company that Jesus keeps.  They cannot grasp the fact that he is hanging around with ‘undesirables’.  Jesus responds to their negativity by pointing them to the Joy of God which he desires for us to have in our lives.

Joy Revealed

Psalm 51:1-10 – Our responsive reading this Sunday focuses on the personal experience of Joy that takes place in our own life when we turn back to God. In this Psalm, written by David, we see his recognition of his sin and need for reconciliation with God. It is an experience of repentance, joy, and hope.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Lectionary Readings:

Jeremiah 18:1-11 • Psalm1 and 139:1-18 • Deuteronomy 30:15-20 • Philemon 1:1-21 • Luke 14:25-33

Backstory

Jeremiah 18:1-11

Jeremiah had grown up being fully aware of the ominous nature of the future of the nation and people to which he belonged.  He had surely heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, and probably continually heard the words of others about Isaiah, to know that Judah and Jerusalem were in great peril.  He was keenly aware of the fact that no one was really listening to, or taking heed of the message from, Isaiah. This accounts for his resistance to accepting God’s call to be a prophet – a call to continue proclaiming Isaiah’s message and warning.  While God used Isaiah to open the eyes of the people to the fact that they had turned away from God and the coming tragic results, Jeremiah’s given message was even more severe and threatening. This is the reason the people not only failed to listen to Jeremiah but also why they became increasingly hostile and aggressive towards him and his message.  In today’s passage we continue to see the urgency of God’s call through Jeremiah for the people to change before it is too late.

Philemon 1:1-21

The letter from Paul to Philemon, his friend who was a part of the church at Colossae, was written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome.  While the letter is written to Philemon detailing Paul’s encouragement for him to do the right thing in regard to an escaped slave, it is equally, a message about the life altering transformation that is possible in a life given to God.  The slave, a man named Onesimus, had escaped from Philemon and ended up in Rome where he met up with the apostle Paul.  During his time with Paul his life was unalterably changed by the truth of Jesus Christ.  While the subtle message of the wrongs of slavery are seen in Paul’s letter, the message of a life eternally changed is obvious and undeniable.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

This Sunday’s responsive reading brings us back to the lesson learned by Jeremiah, and many called, when he told God he was too immature and incapable to accept God’s calling on his life.  God had called him to a task that Jeremiah thought impossible. God knew Jeremiah and was fully assured he could follow and accomplish the call.  The same message is given to us every time God sets a call in front of us.

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backstory headingSunday, September 1, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Jeremiah 2:4-13 • Psalm 81:1-16 and 112 • Proverbs 25:6-7 • Hebrews 13:1-16 • Luke 14:1-14 

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Psalm 112 describes the life of the righteous. We learn that the righteous person’s happiness comes from fearing God and delighting in the commands of God rather than from self-fulfillment, success, and power. The righteous are known for distributing freely from the wealth God has given them. Because God is in control the righteous need not fear anything such as scarcity, evil tidings, or their foes. Security and delight come from matching their lives to God’s expectations rather than being molded into the world’s shape of success.

Luke 14:1, 7-14 Jesus does not conform to the world’s ideal of guests or hosts! He attends a dinner party one Sabbath day where he takes the opportunity to teach more about the Kingdom and its priorities. Jesus points out that the guests need to let others be honored by giving up the chance to take the best seats. Jesus then tells the host that it is inhospitable to only invite those who can repay him in some way. It is more important in God’s eyes to invite the forgotten, the lost, the hurting into our community where they can receive fellowship, food, and comfort. Whether you are a guest or a host, the breaking of bread and drinking of wine is too sacred to be polluted with greed or self-service of any kind. The goal of gathering together should be to further the goals of the Kingdom and not to elevate ourselves.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 The book of Hebrews takes a turn in this chapter from its beautiful sermon into more of a letter with instructions in godly living. It opens with a gentle reminder that our community is one bound by mutual love – not to keep people out. Mutual love brings us together and opens our hearts to invite others in. We are given the assurance that in doing so we may in fact be entertaining angels! Verse 3 exhorts us to remember those in prison. This is to be more than a simple thought it would have been extremely dangerous. Mutual love means we are to expose ourselves to be present with those suffering in every way offering encouragement and relief. Verses 5 and 6 warn us against misplaced trust. Quoting from Deuteronomy 31:6 and Psalm 118:6, the author reminds us that when our faith is in God, we have all the resources we need. Mutual love is risky, exposing us to strangers, to possible persecution, or scarcity – but our trust is in God who brings contentment, assurance, God’s constant presence and an abundance of all we need.

(written by Kristin McAtee, Sunday, September 1 guest speaker)

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Jeremiah 1:4-10  •  Psalm 71:1-6, 103:1-8  •  Isaiah 58:9b-14  •  Hebrews 12:18-29  •  Luke 13:10-17

Backstory for Sunday Passages

An Everything You Got Moment (Psalm 103:1-8)

Psalm 103 is an expression of praise for God’s love that has been showered on the psalmist and the nation of Israel.  It is a call to praise.  In our responsive reading this morning, from the first eight verses of Psalm 103, we see the phrase ‘Bless the Lord, O my Soul.”  The word Soul is a reference to everything that we are and have, the phrase is akin to the greatest commandment which says to Love the Lord you God with everything you are and everything you have (heart, soul, and mind).  The word Bless is a metaphor for falling down prostrate before God (kneel), it is an act of submission – giving to God all that you are and have.  This Psalm is an ‘everything you got’ realization and recognition of God – his mercies and love.

A Not Me Moment (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

Jeremiah is often called the reluctant prophet in that he was very hesitant in accepting God’s call to be a prophet.  Today’s passage takes place when Jeremiah is a young man, around 20 years old.  It was in this exchange between God and Jeremiah in which we see God informing Jeremiah that he is to be the mouthpiece of God.  This was the beginning of a forty year career in which Jeremiah was not permitted to marry. This was also the start to a life of presenting truth to a people who, sometimes violently, did not want to hear truth.  As Jeremiah heard God’s plan for him he was quick to argue his own immaturity and inability.  God told Jeremiah, however, that he knew him and that he was the right person for the job.

A Someone Sees Me Moment (Luke 13:10-17)

Jesus was teaching in the Synagogue on the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was the day of the week set aside for rest.  It was a day to focus on the fact that God had given all that was needed, therefore, it was a time to remember and recognize God.  Over the centuries, since the law of the Sabbath was given, the leaders had made many rules to assure that no one took part in anything too physically asserting or activities – busyness that would limit God’s people from remembering him and his provision.  In the midst of all these Sabbath rules, Mercy laws had also been given permitting individuals to act, ‘work’, in situations that required works/acts of mercy.  So, on this particular Sabbath day, when Jesus noticed a woman who had been, up to this point, unnoticed, he acted in a merciful way. Oddly, even with these ‘mercy’ exceptions, the religious official became indignant that Jesus had ‘worked’ on the Sabbath when he could have, instead, done so on any of the other six days of the week.

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Lectionary Passages for week of August 12  – 18, 2019

Isaiah 5:1-7   •   Psalm 80:1-19 & 82   •   Jeremiah 23:23-29   •   Hebrews 11:29-12:2   •   Luke 12:49-56

Backstory for worship passages for Sunday, August 18, 2019

Two Prophets (Isaiah 5:1-7 and Jeremiah 23:23-29)

Isaiah compared the leaders, and people, of Judah and Jerusalem to the leaders of Sodom and Gomorrah – they had turned from God. They pretended a ‘holiness facade’ with their religious practices and rituals, along with ‘holy sounding’ deceptive religious talk, in an attempt to cover up their rebellion against God.  Isaiah prophesied about two centuries before the conquer of the Judah.  The unpleasant message of Isaiah was to call the people out of their faith numbness and wickedness – to return to God.  In this Sunday’s passage, Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, shares a ‘love note’ to the people. It is an honest and brutal message in which he reminds the people of all that God has lovingly given to them. It is a blunt note to inform them that God has set them up for success yet they have turned their backs on his gifts placing themselves at risk.

While most of Isaiah’s message was to call the people back to God, the majority of Jeremiah’s message, a century later, was to prepare the people for God’s coming correction.  Jeremiah’s negative sounding confrontational words became increasingly repugnant to the leaders and people. He was hated – they did not want to hear his message.  They began accepting the words coming from the false prophets.  These individuals would say what the leaders and people wanted to hear.  Words of prosperity and riches, words of affirmation and approval. Words of false and deceptive hope.  While God was calling out these false prophets, he was also confronting the people who were eager and quick to accept these pleasant lies.

The Savior (Luke 12:49-46)

The words of Jesus, in Sunday’s passage, are surprisingly blunt and fierce.  Most would describe his words (and also the words of Jeremiah and Isaiah) as apoplectic – indignant, fierce, and full of rage.  Desperate words because Jesus is acting as a passionate father desiring that his children see the truth sooner rather than later.  The cross and end of the physical life of Jesus was fast approaching and he was fully aware of the time crunch; he was preparing the followers for life after the ascension.   Like the words of the prophets, Jesus words, come from a place of love and hope for his followers.

A Reminder of Faith (Hebrews 11:29-12:2)

In our responsive reading this Sunday we are reminded of the faith of our ancestors. The variety of individuals who held on to their faith even when they did not see any hope or rescue.  These faithful individuals stand as a testimony of God’s faithfulness; they serve as witness for us to God’s love and mercy.

Cornelius the Bat

corneliusOne evening, when our kids were younger, we went on an early evening family walk along our favorite path.  The path travels across a tree-lined bridge, through a historic neighborhood where the WPA stamps are still visible on the worn sidewalks, and, finally, to the University campus where wide sidewalks make for unlimited running and horseplay. The only problem with this path are the Oklahoma mosquitos and the occasional bats flying overhead.

While the mosquitos are a constant, the bats are actually a rarity.  Nevertheless, their infrequent appearances do seem to be a bigger bother than the hordes of blood-sucking mosquitos.  I think the reason we have such a disdain for the bats is that they are an unknown. They are the creepy, gross, and unclean.

Every time we went on a walk, any sign of the creepy, gross, and unclean bats would be met with moans of discontent and disapproval.  Regardless of the possibility they were addressing the mosquito issue, we still looked at them with disgust and were fully aware that the bats were out to get us and everything that we held holy.

On this particular walk, on this beautiful spring night, our greatest dread became a reality. Waiting for us as, we approached the bridge under the umbrella of leaf filled tree limbs, was a bat laying in the middle of the path. As we charted a path around the creepy, gross and unclean bat our overly compassionate kids became concerned.  They were soon bending over the bat and even kneeling at a safe distance to determine why this bat was not creeping us out from above.  As they determined the bat was a wounded baby, they insisted we move him off the trail.  We carefully, and respectfully, moved the bat and continued our walk.

Little did Andrea and I know that Pandora’s box had been opened.  The bat was no longer a creepy, gross and unclean creature bent on annihilating our very existence.  The label ‘creepy, gross and unclean’ had been replace with ‘baby’, ’cute’ and ‘in need of our humanity’ labels.

As we continued with our walk and enjoyed the beauty of trees, history, and horseplay little was mentioned about the bat.  We expressed our hated of the mosquitoes but the bat seemed to have been forgotten.

As we approached the bridge on our return home, our youngest, Isaiah, began to run ahead announcing that he was going to go check on Cornelius.  Andrea and I looked at each other wondering who he was talking about. As we called out the question, he yelled back that he had named the baby bat “Cornelius”. I had actually preached on Cornelius that morning and was elated that somebody had heard something that I said.  I had not, however, consider the possibility that a challenge of my dearly held labels would be the takeaway from my own child.

But, labels were being challenged. A feared bat was now a hurting baby with a name. There was no way the bat was going to be put back into the category of creepy, gross, and unclean.  The creepiest, and grossest, and most unclean thing on our favorite walk could no longer be labeled with the easiest and most negative identifier in our arsenal. 

Even though the bat has since disappeared, we continue to remember Cornelius.  We don’t remember him as a frightening and creepy bat, but instead, a hurting part of creation. It was the moment our labels were challenged.  Instead of a label, as it usually happens, a child gave him a name.  No longer ‘Gross, Creepy, and Unclean’, now he was ‘Cornelius’. 

cornelius name tagThis year, as I arrived, once again, at the Cornelius passage, I couldn’t help but remember Cornelius the bat.  It has led me to rethink the true lesson and application of the story of the apostle Peter.  The Father sent a message to Peter which had to be repeated three times before he grasped the meaning. A revelation explaining that there are no creepy, gross, or unclean beings created by God; a message that taught Peter to put away labels. The story details Peter learning something about a man whom he had considered outside of the love of God; a man who was surely gross, creepy, and unclean. Peter soon learned that this man had a name – Cornelius. Putting aside his deeply engrained tendency of sticking labels on people, Peter sat down instead, and shared space with this individual who was no longer creepy, gross, and unclean.  Cornelius now had a name, instead of a label – Peter now had a new friend along with a much richer, and more honest, understanding of God and God’s grace.