Tag: Bible

Looking Lectionary: Proper 27A/Ordinary 32A/Pentecost +23

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A look at the narrative lectionary reading from a prophetic perspective.


Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ Matthew 25:9 NIV

“There may not be enough.” We usually read this parable as an indictment of the unprepared virgins. They had more than enough time; they knew the Bridegroom was on his way; and as they hurried off to buy more oil, we see a lack of resources wasn’t to blame for their situation, merely unpreparedness. But Jesus loved telling stories inside of stories, and I think we find a deeper, more complex message here than “just” “you know the day and the hour”. This parable isn’t just about the five unprepared maidens, but about the five “prepared” ones too.

In the months leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, I was “friended” to a popular prophetic account on Facebook. I’d say that 95% of the people on that page were pro-Trump, and one of the reasons they gave was that Trump would be God’s “trumpet” – that he’d herald the beginning of the end, bring on the glory of the Lord and the final judgment. Quite a few of these people seemed to understand that Trump would be a terrible president, but – to their way of thinking – that would only hark on the end of the world all the more quickly.

I’ve never understood this obsession Christians have with the end times. Some people are literally excited that Jesus is coming to judge and cast all unbelievers into fiery damnation. This has got to be the epitome of insider mentality. I mean, whose fault is it that so many people are unsaved? We love to lay all the blame at the door of unbelievers. “We brought enough oil,” we say. But would we still be so excited about the day and the hour if we admitted our culpability in the decline of the Christian religion? If we faced the fact that people leaving the faith or not wanting to join in the first place isn’t God’s fault, or their fault, but ours?

We’re such schmucks, Christians. You just have to cast an eye over the news to see the often viral evidence of our failings, not just as Christians, but as human beings. In the parable of the ten virgins, can we really say that the five “prepared” maidens acted in a Christ-like way? If our salvation is secured (and it is, when we believe); if we are new creations in Christ (which we are, whether it feels like it or not); if we are living in a state of grace, mercy and love (check, check and check) just what are we so afraid of losing if others, lost as we ourselves once were (and often still are) get to experience the saving grace that we do? Why so afraid, Christians?

I do believe that the day and hour will come. I don’t look forward to it, because – graced as I am – I know I’m guilty of others’ loss. But maybe if I’m more willing to share my most undeserved “oil” with others (by giving them the benefit of grace, for instance), on some day, at some moment, someone will share their undeserved “oil” with me in turn, and we can go into the Feast together.

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Sabbath 15/10/2017

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Listen: Old Church Choir – Zach Williams (Youtube lyric video)

Pray: Psalm 106:1-5

1 Praise the Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
or fully declare his praise?
3 Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.
4 Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
5 that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.

Listen: Praise the Lord – The City Harmonic (Youtube lyric video)

First reading: Philippians 4:1-9

4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Second reading: Matthew 22:1-14

1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Listen: Glorious Engagement – CRC Music (Youtube lyric video)

Pray:

Dearest Lord,

We are grateful to come before you on this spring day to meet with You. We set this time aside to bring glory to You, to remember Your transcendent presence in our day-to-day lives, and to refresh our souls for the week to come.

None of us come to You with clean slates, Lord, but to be known by You is to be loved by You, healed by You, forgiven by You and cleansed by You. Thank You for the grace of Your mercy and lovingkindness. Thank You for the immense privilege of serving You.

Help us this week to rely on Your grace in everything we do and say, and to extend it to others as freely as You extend it to us. Help this Sabbath to awaken us anew to the presence, power and guidance of Your Holy Spirit alive within us. Speak to us, Lord: we are listening.

In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

Listen: Rescuer (Good News) – The Rend Collective (Youtube lyric video)

Looking Lectionary: Proper 24A/Ordinary 29A/Pentecost +20

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A weekly look at the narrative lectionary reading from a prophetic perspective.

Reading: Matthew 22:15-22

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (v21)

The tax the text refers to was one levied on non-Roman subjects. It was basically an “oppression tax”, and one that most Jews (and certainly many of Jesus’ followers) were staunchly against. It was certainly an issue the Pharisees and the Herodians were divided on. The Pharisees were nationalists, if you’ll bear with that word: they believed in throwing off the Roman yoke and living by (their interpretation of) God’s law. The Herodians were aligned with the Jewish rulers, who in turn were aligned with the Roman oppressors. The Pharisees and the Herodians were natural enemies, and came together only to try and quell Jesus, a man who threatened both their ideologies, by trying to trick him into isolating his base of support – the oppressed peasantry.

I think it’s interesting that Jesus asked them to hand him a coin before he gave them his answer. He asked specifically for “the coin used for paying the tax”: a denarius that bore Caesar’s image and a legend hailing him as the son of God. That Jesus asked them for a coin is significant for three reasons:

  1. Jesus owed Caesar exactly squat. Everything belongs to God, and in separating “worldly stuff” from “God stuff” Jesus was drawing attention to this foolish notion we have that anything exists outside of God. He is the creator of the world.
  2. His actions highlight the fact that few people had money to spare for this tax, and that both the Pharisees and the Herodians were corrupt and complicit with Roman oppression in their own ways. They exploited the peasantry.
  3. Finally, Jesus knew his sacrifice on the cross would pay the ultimate price. Caesar’s money was, therefore, useless in comparison.

A common interpretation is that Jesus was placating his followers to the rule of law. I don’t believe that’s the case here. I think Jesus was zeroing in our our tendency to pander to broken systems of power when we benefit from them. The Pharisees, for example, while extremely pious, used religion to bolster their positions of power so they could continue to benefit from the vast, poor-as-dirt peasant class. Jesus was making an incisive statement about pooh-poohing to materialism and injustice and power over and above God’s mandate to serve him, and in service to him loving our neighbours and doing right by them.

The question to ask ourselves is simply this: to whom or to what are we paying dues? What is the “tax” levied on us to keep ourselves in positions of privilege? To what are we indebted – maleness, whiteness, heteronormativity? Money, privilege, position?

In the sense that he’s paid our dues, our “oppression tax” for sin, we owe Jesus nothing. He levies no tax against us, though he has the most reason to do so. But the fallen world wants wants wants, needs needs needs. It’s how it sustains itself and its unjust principles. In contrast, Jesus gives gives gives. It’s how he’s hoping to change the fallen world and to resurrect it. But we can’t pull the fallen world out of the grave if we refuse to bury it in there in the first place! That is our task.

Finding God in the book of Ruth (spoiler alert: it isn’t Boaz)

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For the past few weeks, our small group have been doing a Bible study on the book of Ruth. The gist of the entire study revolves around Boaz as Naomi and Ruth’s “guardian-redeemer” (NIV). As their guardian-redeemer, Boaz was expected to look after his clan members Naomi and Ruth and to “redeem” them from their situation if in a position to do so. This principle is used to illustrate Jesus Christ’s role as our guardian-redeemer, and it’s not hard to see why the authors of the study would make this point. It’s at least partly true.

But Boaz as Jesus? This niggled me. Boaz is hardly the stuff of heroes. For most of his story arc, he’s a passive character. He only reacts to Ruth (and by extension, Naomi’s) actions. We read that the whole of Bethlehem was abuzz with Naomi’s return (I suppose her family leaving for Moab a decade before would’ve been something of a scandal), yet it’s only after Ruth starts gleaning in his fields – mostly by accident, or Providence, as we’re led to believe – that he takes an interest in her and Naomi’s welfare. And it’s only after Ruth, again taking the initiative (and at great personal risk to herself I might add), sleeps with him that he convenes the elders, and essentially tricks Naomi and Ruth’s other guardian-redeemer into releasing his interest in their land and family to himself. Boaz is no Prince Charming.

To me, Boaz’s inaction precludes him from being the “Christ-like” character in this story. Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and ascension were all marked by Godly initiative. He came to earth to do the will of the Father – yet, as an equal and full partner in the Godhead, the decision to ultimately sacrifice his life for the sins of the world rested solely with him, and he decided that undeserving and unclean as we are, we were worth it. He did so with the full knowledge that some would choose to reject or abuse this sacrifice. He harboured no concern for himself, only for those who he came to redeem. This is in total contrast to Boaz, who hedged his bets at every turn.

In fact, if there’s a Christ-like character in the book of Ruth, it’s Ruth herself. Again and again, we see Ruth sacrificing herself for people. Rather than stay in Moab, Ruth’s devotion to the God of Israel and her concern for her destitute mother-in-law compelled her to go with Naomi to Bethlehem, where she became a foreigner in a foreign land. She risked her safety when she went to glean in the fields outside of the city, and her honour when she put her faith in Boaz and that he would eventually do the right thing.

In Ruth’s largely selfless actions we get an interesting and telling glimpse into the heart of Jesus. We see his concern for the “outsiders”, for the grieving and the destitute, for those betrayed by a broken society. We see him taking the initiative to save people again and again, at great cost to himself, with no thought of himself. We see what spurned (and spurns) him on to do these things: devotion to the Father, love for the broken, and faith that humanity can be redeemed.

If Boaz is representative of anyone, he surely represents us. Gifted with grace in abundance, we nevertheless continue to hedge our bets, tending to err on the side of caution when it comes to God’s love and the practical consequences of his love for the world and the way we live our lives. We try to keep him at a distance, afraid that he’ll want too much from us. We ignore his pursuit of us because there’s at least a part of us that doesn’t want to be found.

Yet on the threshing floors of our lives, Jesus finds us, and in giving of his love – his passionate love for us, though we tend to shy away from thinking of it those terms – we are redeemed, again and again, beyond the rhyme and reason of the world. And that’s how it should be – after all, Jesus was a foreigner in a foreign land…

Sabbath 1/10/17

 

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Listen: That’s my King by Dr SM Lockridge (YouTube; spoken word).

Read/pray: Psalm 25

1 In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
2 I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.

Listen: What A Beautiful Name by Hillsong (YouTube lyric video).

First reading: Philippians 2:1-13

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Second reading: Matthew 21:23-32

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Listen: O Come to the Altar by Elevation Worship (YouTube lyric video)

Pray:

Lord, You alone are worthy of praise. Given authority by the Father to do so, You came to earth to be our Light, died to be our Way, rose again to be our Salvation, and ascended to be our Lord. I am graced to be in your presence this sabbath moment, and humbly submit myself and my life to Your authority, mercy and love.

But it’s not always so, Lord. I’m stubborn, and much like the Pharisees in today’s reading I question Your will for my life. I’d much rather live by my own rules and live my own way. I confess that I’m in need of Your guidance, Your friendship, Your teaching, but most of all your Lordship, and I seek to repent of my stubborn willfulness. I call on Your help, Holy Spirit; help me to change; help me to want to change.

Thank You, Merciful Lord, that I can rely on Your love in the same way I can rely on your wisdom; that in the same way I can trust in your grace and mercy, I can trust in your leading.

Be with me this week as I seek to reflect our relationship in my own messy way. Help me to make each day a Sabbath day, each moment a Sabbath moment. Meet the needs only You can fill, and all other needs besides. Help me, heal me, guide me.

In Jesus’ holy name I pray, amen.

Listen: Greater by MercyMe (YouTube lyric video)