The Intersection of Lectionary and Life
2008-10-10 by Frank Lewis
If your life is anything like mine, a lot has happened since I started looking at this Sunday’s lectionary texts. I watched a documentary on John Lennon last night and listened as the former Beatle said “Life is what happens while you are planning for your future.” Don’t know if that’s original with him or not, but life certainly happens to each one of us as we plan for Sunday.
On Tuesday night, my city played host to the Presidential Town-Hall Debates at Belmont University. As I listened to two men who love our country, both of whom aspire to lead us toward a new day, I found myself thinking about Moses as a man and a leader. In a country filled with golden calves and stiff necked people, how can anyone be expected to move us forward? Why would anyone even want to try? I didn’t hear anything Tuesday night to convince me one way or another about either candidate, but I am committed to pray a bit harder for the eventual winner come Election Day. If anything, America needs some intercessors and I need to be better in this role as a spiritual leader.
On Thursday my annuity statement arrived showing that for the fourth quarter in row, my losses were greater than my contributions. I may never be able to retire. I’m not usually an anxious person, but my anxiety level is rising. The words from Philippians continue to scroll across my mind “Be anxious for nothing…” but it’s hard to be confident right now. If I feel this, I can’t imagine how others must feel. I’m young enough to recover from most of this, I think, but many are not. I imagine that as we preachers stand to offer words of hope this Sunday, we’ll be standing before people who have lost significant portions of their financial portfolios, their jobs, their dreams, and their confidence. I think Sunday matters more right now, than it ever did. So do our words as God uses them to bring comfort and assurance to worshippers.
In just a few hours I’m leaving with my wife and son to attend “parent’s weekend” at my daughter’s college. She’s a freshman this year. Without her in our home, life has certainly changed. It’s a lot quieter. There’s less laundry and fewer things to pick up in the kitchen. But I miss her terribly. She has a laugh that sounds like music to my ears. I can’t wait to hear it again. I just hope that we can all get along. We’re all related to Euodia and Syntyche when it comes to our feelings, expectations, frustrations, and opinions. I hope that we can remember who we are (parents, children, siblings, etc.) and act like a family who’s aware of the treasure we have in one another. If I were preaching this Sunday, I think I’d want to remind my congregation that in difficult and uncertain times, it’s probably more important to be family to one another than ever before. We need each other, and we need to get along for the sake of the Gospel.
Add to this the pastoral needs of a congregation. Like you, I’ve been made aware of too many hurts this week. Family members have passed away. A husband has left his wife and children. One family is four weeks into the grief of a suicide, another has just learned they are pregnant after trying for six years to conceive, and it’s risky. A faithful deacon who leads young adults in Bible study came to the end of his severance package this week and there is nothing in sight as he seeks to find employment. I’ve seen three ministry colleagues from our staff retire or leave for other ministry opportunities in the past twelve months, and their positions are still vacant. The church is anxious. They fear change. They look at me and wonder if I’ve got what it will take to navigate us forward. Some have already inked the drawings for a golden calf just in case.
Yet above it all I still hear the music from the other side of the castle wall. The lyrics are true, and the music is noble, just, pure and lovely! It’s the music of a celebration. A king has extended an invitation to join in the wedding celebration for his son. I don’t know how I ended up on the guest list, but I did. I’m blessed. I’m favored. I’m graced. And so are you. If percentages were intended by this week’s parable, the odds are pretty good that most who hear God speak through us will gladly put on new robes and join in the festive dance. They’ve heard the dirge of despair and they have known the refrain of regret, and they are ready to embrace a better song. So let’s preach it boldly!
Praise the LORD!
Oh. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
Grace and Peace!
Frank R. Lewis
Euodia and Syntyche Running for President
2008-10-09 by David von Schlichten
I've been thinking about the quarrel between Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4 and how that dynamic reminds me of the nastiness between Obama and McCain.
Also, Euodia means something like "good journey" and Syntyche something like "fortunate," so one could say that these people need to live up to their names. Likewise, God calls us to live up to the name conferred upon us. To put this point another way, we are wedding guests, so we need to act accordingly, not to earn salvation, but because we're at a party.
Thank you to all for the blogging entries this week, and a special thanks to our guest blogger.
Be sure to go to Share It! to read Ron Allen's thoughts about preaching on the election.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-10-08 by Frank Lewis
This Sunday’s gospel reading contains one of those “hard sayings of Jesus.” A traditional interpretation tells us that Jesus is drawing a clear line in the sand. On one side, ancient Israel has rejected God’s anointed in the person of Jesus. On the other, the good news of the Kingdom continues to be extended beyond the people of promise as may be illustrated in the parable when the second wave of invitations is extended into the highways and byways. In the end, one has come into the presence of the king robbed in his personal best, which isn’t much. We imagine a ragged and dirty man looking for a free meal at the church picnic. Suddenly he’s surrounded by a couple of security guards and removed. We’ve all seen it. End of story.
I’d like to make this part of the lection line up with the verses in Exodus and Philippians. To do so, I need to find an intercessor in the crowd. But this parable isn’t about the Good Intercessor, although it would have possibly made for some great preaching along that theme. Imagine if Jesus had included an Egyptian tailor and his wife who saw and befriended the wedding guest before the king laid eyes on him. Together they could have found a pair of drapes hanging in an ante-room of the palace and stitched, tucked, pinned and pleated his way into some first class party clothes. After spraying some first century odor cover upper toward his direction, they would have joined hands and sung “You’ve Got a Friend.” Later in one of Paul’s letters there would be a reference to Omar and Mervadt’s Drapery to Formalwear business where Paul wintered and put his tent making skills to work creating a new line of missionary attire. We’d connect the dots quickly and end by encouraging our people to be on the lookout for the dirty rag wearing wedding guests in our midst for they may just turn into the Bishop of some modern day excavation site. We preachers love to spin such stories, but that’s not possible with what Matthew records.
My commentaries and preaching books are pretty slim on this parable. Most resemble what I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph, but I don’t want it to end there and the discipline of romancing the texts won’t let it.
If we take this Sunday’s texts in chronological order as the events unfold, we could possibly script a worship plot as follows:
We Baptists love to sing that old hymn “The Solid Rock” written by Edward Mote. (The Baptist Hymnal, 1991 p. 406) It helps me wrestle with the parable as the final stanza proclaims
When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.
I think this is how I would treat the passage this Sunday. First, it’s a parable. Maybe a little exaggeration is employed by Jesus to give the story the punch it needs. Get your robe on, clean yourself up, and start living like someone invited to the party. Don’t expect God to accept you on your terms. God is God, you are not. Yet everything you need has been provided. You have no excuse. There’s nothing more you need to do. Get dressed, and come on in. (It’s been suggested that the King even provided robes for the guests to wear since they didn’t own anything fit for such a celebration. What an image of the gospel!)
Second, I’d remind the congregation that while there is trouble in the texts (restless travelers in Exodus, quarrels and anxiety in Philippians, and a crisis for a man who chooses to stand in the king’s presence improperly attired) God has provided good news for us. God relents of anger, surrounds us with people to help us on the journey of faith, and forever holds out the invitation to come and enjoy the celebration of the kingdom. We don’t have to devise substitutes. We don’t have to let bitterness or anxiety drag us down. We aren’t left outside looking in at the party of grace, unless we choose to stand outside or insist on the garb of our fallen humanity.
The parable is bleak if the focus is on the rejection of the king’s invitation. And while we need to be clear about the seriousness of not taking God’s invitation lightly, it seems to me that the balance is in the invitation itself. A king has invited us to share in the celebration of his son’s wedding. The best food awaits us inside. A robe is hanging with our name on it. None of this is ours because we earned it or deserve it. It’s all a gift. Let’s celebrate.
Frank R. Lewis
No Holding Back
2008-10-07 by Steve Schuette
The Matthew themes continue on…the insistence that violence leads to more violence and that the ending isn’t always “…and they lived happily ever after.” And while Luke records that those invited find excuses not to come, going to their business and farms (Luke 14:16-24), it’s Matthew who includes the bloody killing of slaves. The “slaughter of innocents” never seems to end. And for Matthew the camera always seems to shift to the one who is thrown out rather than all the invited guests who get to rejoice and celebrate the wedding banquet.
And yet Matthew does bring the point home: rejoicing is not an option, just one choice among many. Either we live into this or we don’t. Either we fully give ourselves over to the occasion or we hold a part of ourselves back, coming in but not fully dressed for the celebration. Anna Carter Florence is on to it, I think….either you fully own the joy of God in your life – which is connected in a real way to who you are, what God made you for – or it moves on. And Paul’s joyful, peaceful letter from prison becomes an example of living in a way that is so rooted in these spiritual realities that the circumstances are secondary.
John Shea quotes the mystic poet Kabir in reference to this text: “If you do not cut the ties that bind you now, do not believe that death will do it for you.” Maybe the crises we’re facing are calling us back to a clearer perspective on what is of real value and worth….that the things we are anxious about (business/farm), as Frank suggests, are in the way.
Question: is there any justification for imagining the wedding gown as connected with the baptismal gown?... “put on Christ Jesus?”….that owning one’s call in Christ and one’s identity in baptism is key to fully being oneself and fully participating in the community banquet (communion)?
PREACHNG ON THE ELECTION
2008-10-07 by CJ Teets
Go to HOMEPAGE and Share It! to read Ron Allen's thoughts on preaching during this election season.
Also, check out the new material for All Saints' Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Advent in UNLECTIONARY.
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