Heaven in Disguise
2011-11-18 by Dee Dee Haines
In the author’s note to his readers, Gregory Maguire (The Next Queen of Heaven, New York, 2010) suggests that what he has written is a new genre for his work. He tells us that he is usually a writer of fantasy (he wrote Wicked), but this is something different. His observation about his fictional real world (if we can stretch to understand this contradiction), is intriguing. He writes, “It’s my suspicion that heaven may be both more disguised and more accessible than any other fantastic locale I might choose to write about.”
Sometimes when I read Matthew’s story of the sheep and the goats, I find it quite disappointing to hear that even at the end, when everything is supposed to be the very best that it can be, there will be a great division---that judgment means separation. I suspect this disappointment comes to mind because I understand Jesus to be a man of unity, one body. And so I wrestle with what is supposed to be the point of the story. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense that it is a story about a great sorting. Instead, I hear Jesus speaking about what makes our world so unlike the world that God intended.
In the past when I have preached this text, there is the inevitable portion where the preacher suggests that all we have to do is see the face of Jesus in the prisoner, in the hungry, the sick, the naked. If we can just do this, all things will be well. That is easy to say and hard to do for so many reasons. But recently it came to my mind that maybe the hardest part about seeing Jesus in others comes because it is not our habit to see the “whole of Jesus.” Could it be that for much of the time, we only see a part of who he is?
In the church, we often spend a lot of time talking about a very tidy Jesus. We see him as freshly bathed and clothed, lounging with his disciples at the last supper scene or sitting with children at his feet. We can picture him casually encountering the woman at the well for a conversation. We cherish his gentle voice and touch. And whilst that is a part of who Jesus is, what about the rest of him?
It’s harder for us to remember him in less tidy situations. We’re not as likely to picture him eating with the poor, resting with others who had no place to rest their heads, or washing miles and miles of dirt from his own feet. The scenes where his bold speaking of truth to power required tremendous courage and a passion for justice, these images are not as easily accessed in our minds. But more than anything, the suffering, the deep and painful wounds of not only his body, but also his spirit--- the tender part of him, are not the aspects of his image that we keep at the forefront when imagining him, then, or now.
For me, judgment is not about separation, but about liberation. It is about being freed from being prisoners to ourselves, captured by our brokenness. If this story is to help us to see the face of Jesus in others, we must firstly see the whole of him---so that when we meet him in others, we can recognise his face. Wouldn’t that just be a taste of heaven on earth?
My sermon title this week will be, “Heaven in Disguise.”
Dee Dee Haines, Isle of Man
Thoughts on Readings for November 20, 2011, Reign of Christ
2011-11-17 by David von Schlichten
Scroll down to read my post on ideas related to themes of the day.
Ezekiel 34: God as Good Shepherd. God will judge between the fat and lean sheep. Here, "fat" means those who gain through oppression, and "lean" means those who are oppressed. This passage has parallels to Jesus' eschatological story of the sheep and the goats.
Matthew 25:31-46: The sheep and goats eschatological explanation. It is tempting to respond to this story by trying to determine who is which. Which am I? Am I a sheep or a goat? The answer generally is yes. The point of the story isn't to get hung up on the categories or the end-times. The point of the story is to get us to walk the walk. If we are part of the Church, then we have a calling to help people in need.
It's easy for us to make excuses not to help people in need. "I don't give because I don't want someone conning me, ripping me off." "I don't give because I know that someone else will." "I don't want to interfere because it's none of my business." "I don't want to interfere because I might get into trouble if I do."
It's easy to make excuses, and it's easy to pass the buck. Penn State tragically reminds us of how easy it is to scapegoat, pass the buck, make excuses, and look the other way when someone is in distress. When we do not help a person crying for help, we turn our backs on Christ.
But Jesus says that we are to minister to the least. By the way, when we help people in need, we help Christ. Want to meet God? Go help someone in need.
All of this relates well to Christ's reign. Christ is not the type of ruler sitting on a throne far removed from the subjects, out of touch. Christ is not a corrupt politician. No, Christ is the little boy crying for help, and Christ is the one doing the helping, and Christ is the one who enables us to be healers of a broken community.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Initial Thoughts for November 20, 2011, the Reign of Christ, Thanksgiving, New Year, Penn State
2011-11-13 by David von Schlichten
On Wednesday, I will reflect on the readings for this Sunday. Today, I am reflecting on salient themes for this Sunday.
CHRIST AS RULER: What does it mean to say that Christ is our sovereign? In part, it means that we are to be servants. After all, Christ's model of leadership is that of servant-leader. He leads primarily by being a servant. We are to go and do likewise.
We can also talk about how Christ the leader succeeds where human leaders fail. Christ, for instance, is not corrupt or out of touch with the people. Christ is not sitting on a throne being a glutton while the masses starve. On the contrary, at least one of Christ's thrones is the cross. Now THAT'S a different kind of leader.
THANKSGIVING: One important truth to lift up is that thanksgiving is not just about words of thanks but a lifetime of thankful acts, such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger . . .
END OF THE CHURCH YEAR: You may want to reflect on the last twelve months in the Church and on the joys and challenges to come.
For instance, at my church, this year we have experienced a significant drop in attendance, and no one seems to know why. I could express disappointment about this drop and resolve that we will try to get numbers up in the next year. I could also celebrate the strengths that St. James has despite the numbers-drop, such as our steady, dependable outreach programs.
PENN STATE: The crisis reminds all of us that, when someone is being victimized, it is our responsibility to do something to help the person. The crisis also reminds us of the importance of showing justice and mercy to everyone involved in a crisis. The crisis also reminds us of the special needs of children, who often get mistreated despite the ubiquitous, loud rhetoric about how important it is to care for them.
What thoughts do you have, either on the readings or on themes for this Sunday? Feel free to send me an email or to submit a post for possible publication here.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
The Antidote to Fear
2011-11-11 by Dee Dee Haines
This past week I heard a preacher end the service by saying, “I love you, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.” As I looked around at the faces in the congregation, none of them seemed the tiniest bit disturbed by his proclamation. I concluded that maybe this preacher finished every service with that line---maybe they were used to it. Then, still, I wondered to myself how long I would have to hear such words before I could begin to fathom the implications of someone telling me, “I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Today’s Old Testament text tells the story of Deborah, an unlikely heroin of ancient Israel. The book is filled with graphic descriptions of an on-going cycle of war for the people of God. But if truth be told, the stories of the book of Judges might leave us wondering if any of the characters could be understood as hero, or heroine, material. They are all so deeply flawed. They are stuck, fixed in a cycle of violence and self-destruction.
They seem to have short memories. They appear to be easily influenced by those around them. They don’t seem to be able to escape the temptation to do things their own way, despite the consequences that accompany poor choices. And in many places, the story records that they feel as if they are lost, and there is no one to lead them. But in just as many places, the story tells us that God hears their lament, their cry, and empowers them to find their way. Perhaps, at the root of it all, this is God saying to God’s people, “I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
I wrestle with the thought of God as some kind of Holy Stalker. But maybe that is the truth--- that this God of ours is a God who says, no matter what is happening in your life, I will not let you go. This is the God who says that despite anything we do--- goodness and mercy shall pursue us all the days of our lives. This is a God who pays persistent attention to even the most flawed of people and broken communities and inspires them, enables them, and uses who they are to transform their world. It seems that even in the midst of self-destructive practices, God’s saving Spirit never fails to beckon, and never ceases to sustain.
Some of us may conclude that the ending to a sermon based on this theme must be that we respond to God’s unending love by embodying that love in our world. We love because we were firstly loved. But I want to say more. I want to know that this knowledge is not in our heads, but it our hearts, and it can liberate us from our fear---the kind of fear where we may be hesitant to invest what God has given us. A fear that keeps us paralysed and resistant to the changing world, the ever-flowing creativity that makes a path for God’s saving grace to shape our lives and our communities. This is a fear that whispers into our ear that the myth of scarcity is real, that this story was then but we live in the now, a fear that must be spoken aloud before it can be met with an antidote. Perhaps there is much to be found in wrestling with the question, what is the antidote to fear? I suspect the parable has much to say about this dynamic remedy.
Dee Dee Haines
Isle of Man
Further Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30
2011-11-09 by David von Schlichten
This morning at Bible study my attendees leaned toward self-righteousness. 1 Thessalonians 5 urges Christians to be awake and sober, in the light, and Matthew 25 urges Christians to use their "talents" to serve God, or face the consequences. My Bible study attendees -- who are commendable Christians on the whole -- responded to these texts by talking about all the people out there who are stumbling around in the dark and burying their talents because they are scared or just plain lazy.
It is easy for us Christians to think along these lines. It certainly is easy for me. Indeed, there are plenty of people out there who are stumbling and burying. However, it is important for us Christians to turn this passage on ourselves. I ask, "What causes me to fall asleep as a pastor?"
One cause of spiritual soporificity is apathy. Apathy can be contagious. When I encounter apathy about Christianity, one way I cope is by becoming apathetic myself, falling asleep.
What else causes us to fall asleep or bury our talents, and how does God wake us up and empower us to exhume those talents and invest them?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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