The hopeful waiting...
2010-10-14 by Christine Smaller

I’m thinking of the Chilean miners too… along with the rest of the world, I suppose.  As I read and re-read the parable I keep thinking about how important it is how we wait.  To faithfully (but actively) wait while trusting fully in God is a narrow precipice to perch on.  The widow carries on each day with dignity, never knowing if it will be the day things change.  A non-passive but trusting life of quiet hope.  If this parable illuminates the saga of the miners… it is easy to see how the miners’ dignified self-organized life underground mirrors the widow.  But who is the judge?  The mining industry as a whole?  They have been silent and unresponsive in other similar situations.  The government?  Many administrations have stood at a distance while tragedies like this have played out.   The limits of technology?  At the outset of this crisis there were voices saying that there was no way to rescue at such a depth. The “victims” themselves? The miners own fears and potential break downs could have derailed a safe rescue.  It’s as though the judge can represent the variety of barriers that keep us from living fully in hope… living in the light of Christ’s love for us and God’s invitation into continual transformation.  The parable and this world event shows that barriers can be overcome.  And then of course we need to ask ourselves – are we the victim or the barrier?  The honest answer might be that we are both and… we are the ones kept down, we are the ones who are often oppressing others – and we are something else.  The thing that the parable and the mine rescue points to – we are filled with the potential of God’s hope for us.    

Beyond Reasons
2010-10-14 by Stephen Schuette

There are a couple of challenging aspects to this story. Within Luke's setting there's the invitation to compare the one to whom we pray with an unjust judge.  I'd like to talk to Luke about that one and ask him what he was thinking.

Apart from the Lukan context the challenge of the story is that the right thing happens (justice) for all the wrong reasons.  What does that mean?

It may mean that the Kingdom comes in its own way and on its own terms and not in the neat, clean way that we imagine if we were in control of the universe.

It may mean that an over emphasis on understanding from our perspective can preoccupy us and blind us to the bend in the universe that opens a new way.  I think of St. Francis' prayer: "...grant that I may not so much seek to be...understood as to understand."

It may mean that it's better to set aside a preoccupation with reasons that might lead us to a "half-empty" despair and instead focus on the reason to celebrate any and all signs of justice that come along.  In that sense this is similar to the woman who found the lost coin or the shepherd a lost sheep, which, in the end, wasn't everything.

We want the judge to change, to become compassionate and open and sympathetic to the human need and conditions of those who seek justice from him.  Apparently that ain't gonna happen.  But it doesn't stop justice.  Hallelujah, Amen!

Chilean Miners and the Persistent Widow
2010-10-13 by David von Schlichten

Our guest blogger has provided three substantial posts that will excite your thinking about the gospel for this Sunday. Stephen Schuette has also made one of his characteristically valuable contributions.

I've been thinking about the Chilean miners and their rescue, which demonstrated the power of faith, persistence, and teamwork. Our lessons for Sunday emphasize the importance of persistence and faith, and the Bible in general underscores the strength that comes from unity.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Yours in Christ,

Oppositional Transformation
2010-10-13 by Christine Smaller

       James Howell ponders in his journal about the impact of the short and simple… like in an operatic aria.  He says that we have too many words in our sermons and I feel like replying tartly that I don’t think I have nearly enough words in mine (although I suspect my congregants would beg to differ!).  I am new to this triple header service marathon each Sunday.  I am not complaining – I’m actually enjoying it immensely.  I prayed for the opportunity to preach and God answered as God often does… with abundant generosity and a quiet chuckle.  But it means I can only really preach for eight or nine minutes… ten if I tighten up the prayers and 12 if there are no children for children’s time (but God be praised there are usually children!  And teenagers too – who actually seem listen to the sermon!).  Mark Twain prefaced a lengthy letter with the words “I apologize for this long letter, but I simply do not have the time to write a short one this week”!  Which captures, for me, the problem of short and simple.   Because of course Howell is right, and I am just railing against the added difficulty of being concise to an already challenging weekly project of writing a meaningful sermon.           

       Despite the brevity of the parable of the widow and the judge, the themes spring forth abundantly… and as Holly Hearon suggests in this week’s Journal, “the parable is constructed around oppositions”.  I am finding it tough to narrow the focus of the message for Sunday, here is some of what I’ve been looking at: 

Kingdom:  (the here and the not here, the now and the not yet)  Jesus’ parables seem to speak of kingdom on at least two levels – how it is forming in the present reality of human life and also how comes as an in breaking of God’s reign, a taste of the promised future.  Yarbrough talks about “Longing for days of the Son of Man”… captures that sense of yearning... deep sighing we have for what should be.   The same sense in the Jeremiah reading this week: “the days are surely coming when the Lord will make a new covenant… the day when all will know the Lord and the law will be written in all of our hearts…”  This woman getting up every morning to make the journey to the gate house to petition for change – what would she be thinking along the way?  I can’t help but think of the Chilean miners waiting waiting, keeping each other company while somehow keeping hope for rescue alive.  Or for that matter, people who come to church every Sunday in dwindling congregations – making and remaking spiritual community while longing for the return of the church’s “golden” years.   How do we open ourselves to transformation?:  new way of life… living in the kingdom in the here and now… working as co-creators for the coming kingdom and faithfully awaiting kingdom…  transforming individually, congregationally, and the world… 

Justice:  (Just/Unjust)  The stark – almost deconstructed contrast of just and unjust in this parable is difficult to unpack… to reconstruct (faithfully) into an accessible message.  How do we hold this good guy/bad guy pantomime in tension with the gospel message that we are all loved, all forgiven, all invited into transformation through  God’s merciful grace? 

Faith & Prayer:  (you got to have faith to pray… but you have to pray to have faith… but do you want either?)  I love how Craddock in his sermon on this parable says… "‘Let thy kingdom come.’ Let the realm of God, the realm of justice come. Do I really want to pray that? Believing, hoping, trusting it will be true when I know for a fact that if that prayer is answered I will suffer severe dislocation: geographically, and socially, and economically, and professionally because I must fit into thy kingdom come. Do I really want that?” 

Shame:  I am fascinated by the play on shame in this parable.  To begin with, the behaviour of both characters is shameful (or shameless) in a way – the judge who doesn’t take his duty seriously and the woman who flaunts convention by insisting on being heard.  If everything was truly about honour and shame in Jesus’ time and place, then this must have been significant.  Kenneth Bailey, in Through Peasant Eyes, says “that the word translated "respect" in the NRSV (entrepomenos) has to do with shame-pride and should be translated ‘has no shame’ here.  This judge ‘cannot be shamed.... There is no spark of honor left in his soul to which anyone can appeal”.  But is there really no spark?  If we carefully reconstruct the characters of the widow and the judge, applying layers of flesh and a blood transfusion or two… could that possibility of change of heart be there? When the judge does finally change his mind he says it is because the woman will wear him out…  the Greek hypopiaze is used – “she will give me a black eye”  But it is such a gruff, sarcastic explanation (covering up something more tender?)… an excuse for taking his duty seriously. 

Empowerment:  (passive victim/totally consumed crusader)    Where is the boundary between being a co-creator of God’s kingdom and becoming obsessed with a futile project?  The widow here embodies that fragile balance of relying on God and living an active, empowered, faith.   But there is a red flag here…  living out a faith that degrades one’s own agency.. one’s own possibilities.  Wally Fletcher – in the Journal  - captures this well:  “Healthy persistence is rooted the positive not the negative— in generosity, in love of truth or beauty, in longing for peace or justice, in hope for the future, in faith in the ultimate goodness of life. Healthy persistence is progressive in outlook and courageous in spirit. Pathological persistence is resistant to progress and defensive in spirit.”

Forward, Not Back
2010-10-12 by Stephen Schuette

Ever looked back and reviewed what you said (or didn’t say) and thought of what you’d like to go back and say instead?  It is perhaps one of life’s greatest hazards.  Not that we can’t learn something with a healthy review of the possibilities that could help us be prepared for the next time.  It’s the ruminating over it that tends to pull us down and can begin to preoccupy us so that in the next moment we don’t respond with what we might have because we were not present in the moment but back somewhere else.  Once the snowball takes over it can keep rolling.

Worse yet is the tendency to try to defend what we said.  With heels dug in it’s hard to make any progress.

Jesus always knows exactly what to say.  So why can’t I always know exactly what to say as a follower of Jesus?  (Even though the answer is obvious it doesn’t prevent us from asking, does it?)

Once I let go of an insistence on (or illusion of) my own perfection communication can begin to open up.  Letting go of prior moments allows the present moment to be full of new opportunity.  What didn’t work, didn’t work.  Giving up isn’t going to lead to better communication, that meeting of the souls for which we so deeply long.

I suppose the widow could have given up.  She had a lot stacked against her.  She had no rights by law.  But she did not let the prior evidence and all the experience of failure deter her from trying again.  She made it a contest of wills relying on the one resource she had in abundance.  She kept looking forward, not back.

In all the readings there’s an underlying affirmation of healthy ego strength, something we may not always teach in the Christian tradition.  There’s often a tendency to make no distinction between ego in excess and ego that is healthy, to everyone’s detriment.  The eldest members of every congregation I’ve served all have a bit of Jacob-like chutzpah.  Growing old, like being a widow in ancient Israel, is not for the weak or those without will.  Neither is faith.

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