Monday, November 27, 2017

Longing for Presence

Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9 (NRSV)

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  The insane quest for just the right gifts for your loved ones has likely commenced.  The decorating of the homes has begun.  Our household even managed to get a tree up already!

For many, Christmas is "the most wonderful time of the year."  What makes it so special?

There are parties to attend and lots of goodies to eat.  There is Christmas music on the radio and in the stores.  There is the annual debate over whether one should say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays".  There are church cantatas and candle lighting.  There are school programs and specials on television. 

There are cards to write and cookies to bake; gifts to wrap and family to see.

We spend extra time thinking about others - even if finding the right gift is frustrating because they really have everything they need.  But even if buying the right present is difficult, we are still moved in some way in our generosity toward others.

For some, the rush is too much.  The hustle and bustle has taken away the special feelings we may have once cherished.  Within the Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown is trying to capture that Christmas spirit that seems to be eluding him because of all the commercialization.  Instead of buying the shiny aluminum tree for the Christmas pageant, he buys the sickly looking tree that looks like it needs some love.

Sometimes simplicity and vulnerability
capture Christmas in a profound way.
This compassionate twist is what makes the story enduring. 

It reminds us in some way of the Gospel story.  Jesus is vulnerable as a baby - born in a manger rather than in opulence.  God's vulnerability is contrasted to the might of Rome in that day.  And yet, the one who has ears to hear recognizes which is ultimately more powerful.

This Advent, we will be exploring our "Longing for God" as we explore the prophetic readings from the lectionary texts.  As we reflect on Isaiah's passage today, we can see the people longing for God's presence.  As Advent begins, we remember that this is an important part of our preparation for Christmas.

In Christ,


Photo by Pete B. via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Power of Trust

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

I've seen creativity shut down in groups plenty of times. 

Someone may come up with a creative idea that is a little too creative.  It seems unfeasible and not realistic for actual implementation.  And so the idea is sneered at, laughed at, scoffed at.  At worst, the presenter of the idea is ridiculed. 

The creative person doesn't add any more to the group process after this point.  Their voice has been effectively silenced.

As group dynamics go, there are certain rules to brainstorming sessions.  One of the primary rules is that when brainstorming, there are no stupid ideas.  Everything, even the most ridiculous, gets written on the board. 

To ease anxiety, we let people know that just because something is written down, doesn't mean that it will be adopted.  Brainstorming is not the time for critique.  It is the time for thinking outside the box.

The great thing about ridiculous ideas is that they may spur thinking toward something different and new that is not ridiculous.  It is just unique.  I've also seen this happen time and again.
Learning to swim takes a lot of trust but the
end result is very rewarding!

The reason that the rule of "no stupid ideas" is so important is that it gives permission to be a little silly.  We can laugh with the person in delight but never in derision at the person.  This creates an atmosphere of trust.  When we begin to trust one another, we pull in a variety of viewpoints.

Otherwise, the loudest voices always dominate because they shut down quieter thoughts.  In a group process using brainstorming, the less vocal participants are given time and permission to share their ideas.  The experience and outcomes are always richer when the entire group enters into the process rather than hearing from only a minority.

This Sunday's gospel reading is a well-known parable for many dealing with the owner entrusting money to the servants.  As you read it over, how does a lack of trust stifle the creative use of the money with the third servant? 

As we continue to examine gratitude and thanksgiving this Sunday, I will be preaching on this parable with the examination of how trust and thanksgiving intertwine.  I trust that you'll join us if at all possible!

In Christ,

Photo by PoolSafely via  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Prioritizing Our Lives

Sunday's Lectionary Reading: Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)

I never liked the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.  It feels more like a morality play than a parable.  It has a ring to it of The Little Red Hen or Aesop's The Ants and the Grasshopper.

There is nothing wrong with a good work ethic. 

There is nothing wrong with rewarding effort given.

The apostle Paul even states that "anyone unwilling to work should not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Of course, he is referring to Christians simply waiting on the second coming of Jesus.  They believed that the end was near and yet Paul was practical enough to know that the idle should not rely upon others bending their backs on their behalf if they are able-bodied.

The difference for me in this parable is that it follows along nicely with a works righteousness theology which doesn't always fit with the idea of grace. 

Works righteousness is what we would like to see in the marketplace where work would be valued appropriately.  But it may not be what we would like when it comes to our spiritual lives.  This is because we may have a deep and underlying sense that we could be doing better. 
Okay, I have my moments but I'm not this bad!

I'm often the lazy cat saying, "Not I" when asked to help plant the wheat.

I'm often the grasshopper whittling away my time while others stockpile for winter.

And I'm often the foolish bridesmaid who is looking to my friends to see if they have any oil to spare for my lamp. 

I can easily identify with those who are left on the outside looking in.  It is hurtful imagining Jesus saying to me, "I do not know you."

Because I believe compassion and grace are core components of Jesus Christ, I am forced to look deeper into my interpretation of this parable.  It seems that we are looking at priorities.  For Matthew's gospel, the oil may indeed reflect good deeds.  This parable asks us, "What do we realize spiritually through our participation in good deeds?"  And conversely, "What are we lacking in perception when we remain idle in works for others?"

As we continue to look at thankfulness as an overriding theme in worship, this Sunday I'll be preaching on "The Priority of Thanksgiving" as we look together at this gospel reading.  As always, there will be four opportunities for you to hear it on Sunday morning - and more if you livestream our Facebook feed or watch it later at your leisure.  Trey Witzel will be preaching at the Late Night service at 7 pm and I would encourage you to drop in if you miss Sunday morning!

In Christ,