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Archive for September, 2008

Matthew 20 & Psalm 1

Matthew 20: 1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Psalm 1

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on his law they meditate day and night.
3They are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do, they prosper.

4The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
   nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

 


 

In today’s scripture, we have a landowner who hires workers throughout the day.  But when it comes to the end of the day all of the workers are paid the exact same wage—some of them only worked for ONE hour!  That hardly seems fair.  And when the workers who’ve worked long and hard—through the hottest part of the day—call the landowner on it, they get chewed out.  And this is what the kingdom of God is all about? 

            In parables like the workers in the vineyard and the prodigal son, many of us usually relate to the one (or ones) who have been working all along and yet seem to receive no reward for it.  As a woman and a mother, I know this feeling all too well.  There are many things that I am simply expected to do—clean the house, laundry, cook the dinners for my family and yet no one ever makes a big deal about it.  However, if my husband, Joel, does just one of these things he is praised for being generous and a terrific husband.  I’m sure I’m not the only woman to have experienced this or something like this.  I imagine that most of us, men and women have had these kinds of experiences where we have been working diligently—doing what is expected of us—yet we receive no rewards, no kudos, no thank-you’s, and then along comes someone else who receives the highest praises for doing just one piece of the work we’ve done.  It’s frustrating and it is unfair.  No one likes to be taken advantage of; no one likes it when they are simply expected to do something rather than having a choice or receiving at least a hearty thank you.

Expectation and obligation seem to zap the joy from our lives.  How do we bring the joy back when it feels like we are simply fulfilling obligations?  Yes, the workers who had worked long and hard hours in the heat of the day were miffed—perhaps after seeing the others receive far more than their share of their daily wage they began to imagine the increase they were going to receive and then were greatly disappointed.  Rather than understanding and remembering that it was the end of the day, that they had received what they had been working for—they were caught up in what the others were getting.  There was no stopping to rejoice in the extra blessing that the others had received. There was no stopping to rejoice that their work was done and the time for celebration had begun.

This week while watching the video for the Psalms’ Bible Study, the scholar pointed out that in Psalm 1—it reads, “their delight is in the law of the Lord.”  She went on to talk about the differences between our understanding of the Law of God and the Jewish understanding of God’s Law.  I’m guessing that most of us would cringe thinking about “the law” or “the rules.”  Those of us who grew up or are growing up in the United States tend to get upset if witness anything that doesn’t seem fair or democratic.  After all, our country rebelled against the Motherland of England because we were being taxed without representation and that simply wasn’t fair!  It seems that a rebellious streak is part of our social DNA.  I know that this is true for me.  I was a rather rebellious child, some would say that I still am.  If my mother told me not to do something, I would immediately try to figure out how to do it.  All she would have to have done to get me to eat broccoli or spinach would have been to tell me that I couldn’t eat any—if she would have known about reverse psychology she probably could have turned me into a well-behaved child.

            I had never considered that I should “take delight in the law.”  That is a foreign concept to me.  However, what if we were to take delight in the law?  If we were to take delight in following God’s path—understanding that God is not the ultimate party pooper, instead understanding that God offers a way for us to find the most joy and meaning in our lives.  Really, when you think about it, do you really want to steep yourself in envy, kill another human being, make statues to worship, dishonor your parents, work 7 days a week, spend your time wishing you had what your neighbors had rather than enjoying the stuff you do have?  Why should the law feel like a burden when it simply offers a guide to keep us from doing things that hurt ourselves and others? God’s law simply keeps us out of trouble and free to live an abundant life.  Man’s law, government’s laws, may not always be just or helpful but God’s laws are a different story—they simply boil down to loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves.

                         

            Envy and obligation are an ugly beasts.  They prevents us from enjoying our lives, our friends and family, and the stuff we have.  Envy, like obligation sucks the joy out of our lives.  The only cure I know for envy ands for obligation is gratitude.   If we are grateful for the people and things that are in our lives—envy and obligation has less of a chance to roost in our heads and hearts.  Thanking God for the gifts we have received helps us to appreciate what we have. 

This is a story about God’s grace, God’s generosity and I am certainly glad that God isn’t keeping score on how long I’ve been a Christian, how many times I’ve made it to church—or not, and that I don’t have to work in an attempt to earn salvation—we’ll all receive that—there is enough salvation to go around.  The story isn’t so hard to understand or to take joy in when we think of salvation as the daily wage.  Most, if not all of us, realize that we couldn’t make it on our own—we would all be in big trouble if we were ever received what we actually deserved, to have our just desserts. 

            Perhaps, if I remembered with appreciation and gratitude the gifts that God has already generously given to me, then my first response to the story of the workers in the vineyard wouldn’t be “that’s not fair!”  Perhaps then I would see that just as God has given me a promise of salvation, a hope that my life clings to not based on the works I’ve done, it’s been granted and promised even though I have not and could not ever earn it, the workers who came late to the vineyard were given a free gift to take care of them and their families—they were given what they needed rather than what they “deserved.”  Perhaps then I could simply rejoice that we have all been offered and promised something we could never earn, a gift that we should not take for granted, a gift for which we rejoice and praise God whenever anyone accepts it.  Amen.

 

 

 

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Songbird writes, “It’s that time of year, at least north of the equator. The windows are still open, but the darned furnace comes on early in the morning. My husband went out for a walk after an early supper and came home in full darkness.

And yes, where we live, leaves are beginning to turn.

As this vivid season begins, tell us five favorite things about fall:”

1) A fragrance
pumpkin spice
2) A color
orange
3) An item of clothing
my strawberry shortcake hoodie
4) An activity
taking walks in the crisp air and observing all of the beautiful colors of autumn
5) A special day
Halloween of course! 

Bonus Answer:  My favorite thing to cook in the fall is Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins!  YumYum!

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs 
  • i can of  pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (or more) of your favorite chocolate chips
  • Directions

    1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease and flour muffin pan or use paper liners.
    2. Mix sugar, oil, eggs. Add pumpkin and water. In separate bowl mix together the baking flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.. Add wet mixture and stir in chocolate chips. Don’t mix too much–just enough to get things wet. 
    3. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

    (ps. this is not my exact recipe but i’m not sure where mine is–ugh, i hate unpacking! it’s pretty darn close!)

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    not just animal cruelty

    I’ll admit it, they piqued my curiosity with the line: “Actor Allegedly Beat Cat to Death in a Jealous Rage”.  Sick as it is I wondered who this could possibly be and what kind of jealousy?

    As I began to read the story my stomach churned.  All of the attention was focused on the awful and excruciating death of this cat.  It is horrifying what this man did but it wasn’t just about the cat.  This is not just about animal cruelty!

    This is a news story about DOMESTIC VIOLENCE!  This was/is a guy who beat and killed his girlfriend’s beloved pet because “she gave more attention to the cat.”  Prior to killing the cat he woke her up by putting his knee on her ribcage.  Let’s get real–what does that look like?  Do you think he gently touched her ribcage?  NO way!  It didn’t even seem that the author of the article investigated to see if she had broken ribs.

    Unfortunately this kind of abuse of animals also goes hand in hand with domestic violence–domestic abuse.  A partner will threaten and/or injure the other person’s animals as a way of holding power over them.  Sometimes it is meant to “show what I’ll do to you” and others it is meant to manipulate that person into doing whatever the partner wants in order to protect their animals.

    What is going on with our society?  Every time we read about a boyfriend/husband who has killed or beaten the girlfriend/wife’s child the comments are applied to her…”why didn’t she protect her kid” or “she should be thrown in jail too, she left her kid with him.”  Does no one stop to think this man (i use that term loosely here) has likely been beating the mother as well?  There is so much manipulation going on behind the scenes in domestic violence cases–the man is able to twist and turn even the thoughts a woman has.  Don’t get me wrong–I understand the frustration with a woman who goes back to a violent home.  However, I also know that there a elements and things that I don’t possibly know that push her to do this.   

    In my family of origin for several years there were a few holes punched into the walls of our porch.  They stood as a reminder of what my father was willing and able to do.  It’s a small, almost undetectable manipulation–but that is exactly what is was.  Every time we looked at it–we knew what could happen.  Often there is a look, the way he would hold my step-mother and put his face next to hers, on the outside it might look like a loving posture but those of us who lived in the house knew there was something far more sinister going on or about to occur.  People (men and women) who abuse others are brilliant manipulators–otherwise they’d never get away with it. 

    I’ve gotten off track a bit but it makes me crazy to read such a report and have the piece be concerned only with animal abuse.  Unfortunately, most of the time in articles such as these and those dealing with child abuse don’t move beyond the obvious, don’t ask questions about the home, everyone else’s experience.  I suppose it’s easier not to ask, not to know the bigger picture.

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    I recieved this cartoon in an email from a wonderful parishioner this morning.  There were several others attached but this one gave me quite a lot of thoughts. 

    1. Do Christians really want to be the lions?  It seems that the past 3 weeks in the lectionary absolutely state that because we are Christians we are not to become “the lions.”
    2. What about liberal Christians?  Or are liberals exempted from being Christian?
    3. How sad is it that we have become so polarized in this country that the angry Christians in the cartoon actually resemble much of the anger (and hate?) I saw in the folks at the GOP convention?  How are we to come together when this kind of rhetoric continues to get expoused?
    4. Lastly, liberal media?  Fewer and fewer every year it seems. 

    I’ve actually been having nightmares about politicians and this ugly “war” for the presidency.  I’m just not stomaching the election process this year.  Whoever made the comment about being “Americans” rather than dems vs. rep. had a good thought, but unfortunately it was way too shallow, all that person meant was Republicans are US Americans and the rest of us aren’t.  That kind of thinking is getting us no where.

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    Mandy-Monday!

    Over the summer I had a ritual and at our house we called it Mandy Monday (think Bananarama, Manic Monday).  My good friend Mandy (and if we were lucky, Trouble would join us) and I would meet for lunch and catching up.  Since the move there have only been 1 or 2 Mandy Mondays.  Today suprised me with another!  Hooray!  It was especially blessed because Trouble came as well!

    At first the day wasn’t so wonderful.  I was scrambling around with Joel heading back to KC, the girls getting ready for school and me attempting to look professional for the DCOM interviews.  It was raining like mad (automatic bad hair day!).  As I was getting the girls out the door I realized that I had left my wallet/purse in Joel’s car venturing towards KC.  By the time I got ahold of him, he was practially in KC already.

    However, I was lucky that we live in a small town because the bank was kind enough to cash my  check withou an ID–a wonderful benefit of everyone knowing who you are!  I was relieved because at least I’d have cash for the next few days.  I’d just have to hope that I wouldn’t get pulled over.

    I gave Mandy call to double check on the difference between justification and sanctification–I tend to get them switched around and wanted to be sure I had it right before the interviews.  We ended up making plans for lunch at a great Indian place, Swagat, in North Kansas City/Zona Rosa.  Mandy and Trouble stopped by Joel’s office, picked up my wallet/purse and brought it to me!  Hurrah!  What a relief!

    I got to St. Jo and the interviews began.  I love our district because it’s totally laid back.  The first set of interviews was in regards to my preaching.  It was actually fun and helpful!  I was hoping that the next 3 would be just as fun.  The second group was about taking care of myself and my family.  It was nice as well, one of my predecessors was in the group and it was nice to see him.  The next 2 sets had to do with Wesleyan Doctrine/UMC beliefs and then Theology and Doctrine.  I’m definately a Wesleyan thinker so that wasn’t too bad.  The Thoelogy/Doctrine was a little rough.  For whatever reason, I found one of the persons to be very intimidating and kept looking at them for some sort of sign for how I was doing.  The person totally called me on it and said that I can’t do that–that I need to talk as if it was factual and not care what anyone else was thinking.  I thought it was very helpful advice.  The worst part was when of my frustration with myself I began to cry.  UGH!  I hate that!  The group was very considerate and told me not to apologize but I hate feeling weak in front of others.  I felt foolish but they, being good pastors, were very kind and pastoral so it was alright. 

    I’m definately waiting a year to proceed.  One of the interviewers talked about finding my voice in this coming year.  I think she was dead-on, I need that, I need to be more sure of myself in ministry than I am right now.  I can’t help but think a year of experience will help a great deal.

    All in all it was a fantastic day. 

    Thanks God!

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    DCOM

    Tomorrow I go in for my DCOM interviews.  It’s not a huge ordeal but enough to make me nervous.  I still haven’t decided if this will be “for real” so that I can be considered for commissioning in the spring or not.  I guess it will depend on how the interviews go tomorrow.

    Part of me wants to wait another year but the other half of me doesn’t see the point of waiting–it’s going to be time consuming and stressful no matter what.  I guess we’ll jsut wait and see, perhaps the DCOM will be nice and suggest then and there if I should be waiting or plugging ahead.

    Life will get very busy this week.  I will begin teaching 2 bible studies and Merkin will have her first volleyball game.  I’m excited for those things, but I’m slightly concerned about how it will all balance out.  One of the sets of questions we were given have to do with support for our families and how are they getting support.  I’m not sure my family is getting the support they need right now and I’m not sure how I can do more for them.  Or who I could direct them to, to get that support.

    I shouldn’t complain.  Life is going very well.  The weather is beautiful and you can feel that fall is on its way.  The girls are doing well with the change of schools.  Val breaks down time to time because she misses her friends.  I can relate–I miss my friends too!  I think we all do.  One of the stranger things that I miss is CostCo!  I totally miss CostCo!  I imagine that my wallet is fine with it but I miss just wandering around and finding strange things deeply discounted.

    If you get a chance, say a little prayer for all of us who will be going through interviews tomorrow.  It will be a 3 hour process (so much for my Monday rituals!) but I’m already planning on stopping at Chipotle for lunch and that will be wonderful!

    Peace.

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    Sunday’s Sermon

    I get nervous about posting my sermons.  Not because someone will steal it, rather that I’m gonna get flamed for it.  However, being new and all to preaching.  I figure posting the sermons and getting some feedback is probably a good thing.  So here is my sermon for tomorrow:

    Matthew 18: 15-20

    “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

     

    Romans 13: 8-14

    8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

    11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

          My birthday was this past Wednesday,  a good friend of mine in Independence sent me a gift.  I doubt you can read it, so I will tell you what it says, “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints!”  Her son was worried that this might be offensive to me, Joel wasn’t sure that I’d even think it was funny—only that it was true.  My friend never thought I’d put it up in my office, let alone use it in a sermon.  I absolutely love this saying, it is the truth and it is also witty and funny.

    Today’s scriptures have to do with how we, who strive to be Christians, are to live our lives  in a broken community, in a hospital for sinners if you will.  Christians are not people who have gotten everything figured out and never even make a mistake, let alone hurt someone else.  No, we can be just as thoughtless and as mean-spirited as anyone else.  Jesus knew this, Paul understood this, and this is why they left us words of wisdom, about how to live with each other.

    In today’s scripture reading, Jesus tells us how to work with someone who we believe to have wronged us.  Jesus says, ““If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

    First of all, we—the injured party, if you will—are supposed to approach the person alone.  We are to show them respect by talking about the problem in private rather than chewing them out or embarrassing them in front of a bunch of other people. 

    If that doesn’t bring about reconciliation, then we’re supposed to find two other Christians to come with us as we talk with the offending person again.  Now this is not to be our 2 best friends so that they can act as our own private goon squad—ready to straighten the person out if they disagree.  No, this is so someone else is present who can help negotiate between you and the offender.  It’s like taking a friend to the doctor with you when you are expecting some heavy news—your friend comes with you so they can listen and help you to process  the information.  When we are hurt or angry we can fail to hear and see things as they are, rather our emotions, our anger can color what we hear.  In addition these 2 other people may be able to translate what you’re saying to the other person if it’s not making sense to them.  And lastly, if you still can’t come to a good place, a place of reconciliation then you have two people to vouch for you that you tried, you did your best to make things right with this person.

    It was Hebrew custom to have 2 witnesses in order to bring about charges of a crime, if you couldn’t produce 2 other people who witnessed the same thing then you were simply out of luck.  Instead of needing two witnesses to prove that the other person is wrong, these are witnesses to demonstrate that you attempted to make the situation right.  These are 2 people who were witnesses to your attempt to bring the person who had hurt you back into right relationship with you. 

    It seems a bit strange doesn’t it?  That if we are the one who was hurt that we are supposed to then go and tell the person who hurt us that we’d like an apology and for them to somehow make things right again.  But that’s what this is saying,  perhaps it is because sometimes we are hurt and the other person never even knows it, they might never know that they hurt us and yet we find ourselves distancing ourselves from them until the relationship is completely broken.

    This scripture has also been used by people in power to keep others oppressed and in line.  But that is not how this scripture is to be used, nor understood.  This scripture is about creating a community where we are upfront and honest with our relationships so that we may grow closer in love, not hurt one another in an attempt to “keep the peace.”  Christian relationships are to be based in trust and Christly love.  Jesus talked about leaving us with peace, not the peace of the world, but a different kind of peace, a real peace.  Peace is not simply the absence of fighting.  Real peace has to do with trust and vulnerability.  When we turn to a friend and tell them that they have hurt us, it makes us vulnerable—we have no way of knowing how they will react.  But when we do this in love and trust, we can expect an honest response.  Hopefully one in which the relationship can be restored and made right once again.

    This is totally counter to our cultural norms.  We live in a society that by and large values maintaining a “stiff upper lip,”  never letting anyone “see you sweat,” we are supposed to be tough and strong—never weak and vulnerable opening up about the true hurts and weaknesses in our lives.  This idea that we always have to be strong, comes out of distrust, a lack of peace.  This mask we put on to hide our weaknesses and injuries, is only necessary if we are afraid to be real and truthful, to be ourselves. 

    Jesus isn’t telling us to be whiners, no this openness and honesty is the stuff of real strength and courage.  As Paul reminds us in Romans—we are to put on the garments of Christ, to clothe ourselves in the love and strength of Christ.  It is only when we can be honest and open with one another about the truth of our lives—both the good and the bad that we can begin to form real community, to stop trying to be a museum of Saints and understand that we come to church knowing that we are sinners, that when we have hurt someone else, or have been hurt by a friend we can come clean in this place.  We can come to this “hospital” and be made whole again, to put our relationships with one another and with God back together in love and trust because we have put on our Christly garments, we have gone from mere believers in Christ to actual followers, doers of Christ.

    Christ shows us a new path towards justice.  It doesn’t make sense with our social values of revenge and punishment—it moves beyond mere punishment to the restoration of relationships, to making things right.

    And finally, if none of this works we are supposed to treat the person who harmed us as Gentiles and tax collectors.  What did Jesus teach us to do with Gentiles and tax collectors?  Push them away?  Shun them?  No, we are to show them love, and if we can’t do that—because sometimes it takes a long time to get to that place of forgiveness—we are to pray for them and treat them with kindness.

            As Christians we are supposed to be different.  Much of the time we fall short of living a life that reflects the love of Christ.  We fall short of being Christians, but that is why we come back week after week to this hospital for sinners, so we can dress our wounds in the garments of love given to us by Christ.  We come here to be made whole, to restore our relationships with one another and with God.   We come here to honor and worship our Holy Creator and rejoice in the grace we are offered.  Today, as we come to the altar, the communion table, let us pray that we may forgive those who have offended us, and may we ask forgiveness from those we have hurt.  Let us pray for reconciliation so that we may open our hearts as we receive communion and be made right with God and one another.  Amen.

     

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