It's About the Nations, Stupid
2008-11-17 by Anthony Bailey
Psalm 100, Matthew 25: 31-46
It’s always been about the nations with God; the people of all the earth. God’s covenant in Genesis is made with all Creation. Authentication code: Rainbow. God’s call to Abraham and Sarah is about being a blessing to all the “families of the earth”. God’s choice of Israel as a “chosen people (nation)” is all about being a light and a blessing to all the nations and peoples. And when Israel got too uppity and forgot their covenantal mandate and purpose for being, this God is not beyond being heard to proclaim, (regarding the seminal redemptive act in Israel’s salvation history – exodus)
“Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel?” says the Lord. Did I not bring up Israel from Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir? Amos 9:7
In other words, God is committed to “Exodi” (to borrow a term from Walter Brueggemann) for other nations as well, not just Israel.
In Psalm 100 all the earth is enjoined to praise God. One hundred and fifty times in the Jewish psalter, the nations are summoned to “Praise the Lord”. As we have learned in the covenantal, prophetic and legal dimensions of Israel’s salvation history, there is no separation to be made between praising God and executing justice for the people in the land, particularly the widows, orphans, aliens and poor.
With God, it’s always been about the nations. It is no wonder then that in the Matthean reading the nations are hauled up before the Son of Man. Judgment is coming for the nations, because in many ways the security, vitality and justice God desires for human life rises and falls with the actions, attitudes, laws and practices of the nations in which people find themselves, ergo, the precipitating factors and consequent fallout of our present economic meltdown.
That the “sheep” nations and the “goat” nations did not know that they were respectively serving and ignoring Christ in the hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, ill and imprisoned ones, is not an excuse for the governments, churches, neighborhoods, and individuals within those nations not to be vigilant and activistic.
For me, both sets of nations are judged oblivious to the presence of Christ because of their particular preoccupations. The “sheep” nations are preoccupied with faithfully but “un-self-consciously” fulfilling their purpose for being; namely securing the well-being of all, especially those marginalized on the edge of life, and correcting injustices as they emerge. For these nations it is who they are and what they do. It is a matter of course. For the “goat” nations, they too are preoccupied, but it is with pursuits that ignore the plight of those who are hurting, and no doubt pursuits that in and of themselves cause a lot of the pain and suffering.
The judgement in this extended metaphor – for this text is not really a parable – is meant to disclose and to propel us in the direction of God’s saving purposes in the world. You see, now we know, we have no excuse. Christ is in the so-called discarded of society and we need to seek the power of Christ’s Spirit to challenge ourselves and our nations to get with God’s program. That is the way it is suppose to be, that is our mandate, it is the way of Jesus and God is dead serious about this. No more excuses about not having seen or not having known.
Our guest lectionary preaching blogger this week is
2008-11-16 by CJ Teets
The Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey. Originally from Barbados, he resides in Ottawa, Canada, where he is the coordinating Minister of Parkdale United Church. He has served as mission personnel in Kenya and in Kingston, Jamaica. He has taught at McGill University and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. In Ottawa he teaches at the Lay School of Theology and is an occasional sessional lecturer at Queen's Theological College in Kingston, Ontario Canada.
Along with Grace Imathiu, he will emcee the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta in May. Grace and Anthony will also preach that week.
2008-11-14 by David von Schlichten
Thank you, Marcia, for underlining the joy-over-fear in passages such as 1 Thessalonians. People tend to focus on the fear; we need to boldface the joy. Thanks.
Readers, scroll down to read our guest blogger's other contributions for this week, as well as contributions from other bloggers. There is much here to help with sermon preparation.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Fear Not! 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
2008-11-14 by Marcia Mount Shoop
Things happen when you least expect it. Be prepared. That thinking was behind the massive earthquake drill done in southern California this past Thursday. Five million people participated in the simulated major earthquake and its aftermath to practice how to respond. Hospitals practiced evacuations and triage. Banks practiced backing up computer files and securing assets. Businesses practiced keeping employees safe. School children practiced how to stop, seek cover, and hold on. Preparing for the worst can make you think about the worst and so it can be scary. But preparation is also the mother of staying calm, cool, and collected in the mist of crisis. It’s not about fear, but about confidence.
This passage and other eschatological passages in scripture, particularly those with apocalyptic language, have been used to sound the alarm, the urgency of being prepared for the day the Divine
(re)enters directly into our space and time. Often these passages have been used to induce fear and trembling—you better be ready or else!
I can unfortunately relate to the efficacy of such a threatening tone. I confess that I play that card with my children all too often: “If come back in here and you haven’t gotten your pajamas on then you lose your TV show for tomorrow.” I know it’s better to reward positive behavior than to punish bad behavior. But seriously, when the chips are down and I am tired and they aren’t listening, nothing works like a good threat.
But I think that kind of threat is not what this or other biblical eschatology is trying to hit home with us believers. These passages are more descriptive of human experience than they are predictive of how fed up God is going to be when God finally gets here and we’re all still not in our pajamas like we’re supposed to be. The point this text is making is that the world works this way: stuff goes down when you least expect it. You better not be too distracted by things to not be awake to that fact. Don’t live as if the core of life’s meaning isn’t pressing on you today. Live as if it is your top priority—because it is!
Yes, that’s life. When everything seems good, then the labor pains will begin. So be ready.
And Paul wants to expand on how this urgency affects the faithful. He speaks to them pastorally (you can do this) and theologically (remember who God is). He says, do not worry you’ll be awake since you’ve got the lights on and you are alert and watching and aware. Our job is to be awake and sober—in the day light, ready. And God provides our confidence and assurance with the “breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” That love and hope that encircles us keeps us from despair and paralyzing fear.
The beauty of these pastoral and theological assurances for us is that we can reject the temptation to respond out of fear. We are not awake from fear, but joyful anticipation. We are not aware from paranoia, but from assurance, courage, and God-given strength. We are not in the light because we are right about everything, but because we know and have embraced God’s love for us. We’re not destined for wrath, but salvation!
And perhaps the tenderest part of Paul’s message is this: even if we are asleep, Jesus’ death is powerful and efficacious for us, too.
So encourage each other, build up each other—be the Church, not the voice of an angry, impatient parent who is coming soon to tell you your fate.
The Agony of the Approaching Absence of Anna
2008-11-13 by David von Schlichten
One reader lamented that, at the end of this church year, Anna Carter Florence will cease to write the "Preaching the Lesson" column for Lectionary Homiletics. Anna, you have done a magnificent job; your witty incisiveness has been priceless.
Even though Anna will no longer write "Preaching the Lesson" for each week, she will still contribute. Also, we have many talented writers who will provide valuable articles for "Preaching the Lesson."
For now, we have a couple more weeks of Anna, and we shall savor every moment.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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