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Join Us For Worship!

Join Us For Worship!
Sundays at 8:30AM, 9:45AM, and 11AM

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Parable of the Two Debtors

This week's reading:  Luke 7:  36-50

We have so much to think about in this reading, and the parable takes up a very tiny part of it.  It seems one of the more straightforward parables:  two men, two debts, one of which is bigger than the other, and which one is more grateful for debt relief?

The parable is embedded in a larger story about how the contemporaries of Jesus treat him.  We have a woman who lives a sinful life, but she's the one who treats Jesus with the most hospitality, washing his feet (presumably filthy from weeks of walking through the muck that would have been the highway system) with her tears and anointing him with perfume.

A woman who lives a sinful life is even lower in status than a regular woman--and all women would have been low on the status list in this ancient patriarchal culture.  But she's the one who treats Jesus best.

Simon hasn't offered Jesus the simplest hospitality of water to wash his feet.  The names can be confusing.  At first, I thought we were talking about Simon Peter.  But I think that this Simon is actually the name of the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner.

Given the history of Jesus and the Pharisees, we can assume that it wasn't a simple dinner invitation.  I assume that this Pharisee was looking for ways to indict Jesus.  And when Jesus lets a sinful woman touch him, the Pharisee thinks he's found the evidence he seeks.

Jesus takes this opportunity to remind Simon--and us--of the larger reality, how religious people can be so blind to the sacred as it appears in our midst. We religious people forget that the God of our Judaic-Christian scripture is most often found in communities of the poor, destitute, and outcast. We prefer to stay in our sanitary structures, to not let the poor and destitute trespass in our hearts. In doing so, we're likely to miss out on a deeper relationship with God.

People who are part of institutionalized religious structure face dangers that we often forget to understand. We lose ourselves in rules and regulations; we create a rigid hierarchy to help us determine who is holy and who is a sinner. It's so easy to forget that our central task is to love deeply and widely. Jesus comes to tell us strange parables so that we'll remember. Jesus comes to show us a way to live that will be a way of love and far-flung community. Jesus comes to give his life, to show us that the way of love is such a threat to the larger culture of empire and conquest that we can expect the same. But God incarnate in Jesus comes to show us that the risks are worth the reward.

Jesus also comes to remind us that we're all debtors.  Some of us have a heavier load, and the relief of our burdens is greater.  But in the admonishment to the Pharisee, some of us might hear the relevant message that we've all got a burden.  And Jesus comes to lift that burden.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

This coming Sunday...

Sunday at worship at Trinity Lutheran, our year-long journey from Joshua to Job will come to an end. 
We have wrestled with genocide, rape, the de-valuing of women, murder, why bad things happen, and the role of God in the midst of the human condition in every way imaginable. We have met strong women and wise women; wise kings, foolish kings, rapist kings, murdering kings, weak kings, faithless kings, selfish kings, warrior-kings, and exiled kings. We have heard from the prophets the voice of God crying out for justice for the oppressed. We have witnessed cities and nations born, torn asunder, destroyed and re-built. 

We have listened through the lens of our own experience (because we cannot help that) and through the lens of that which draws us more deeply into the heart and ways of Jesus who declares that our very best is to love God and neighbor; to love one another as he loves us. We read the scriptures through this lens because it keeps us from falling into the temptation to use the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament passages we encountered this past year, to justify our own thoughts, our own prejudices, our own limited world view, our own hates and judgments. 

We did not let the God expressed in these stories from Joshua through Job off the hook. We asked hard questions. We read them through all that God expressed through Jesus. We read them through the Lutheran traditions of Law and Gospel, of letting scripture interpret scripture, of salvation by grace through faith, of the scriptures as the cradle in which the Christ-child is laid. We were not satisfied to leave the ways of God as unfathomable, when the ethics we encountered ran counter to the teachings of Jesus. No. We took the harder road and our faith is more robust for it. 

 We discovered that these Old Testament stories could still speak  powerful truth to the events in the world in which we live. And we drew upon the life of Jesus as expressed in the Gospels, the letters of Paul, the Psalms, and more to help us.   

So Sunday we will review the journey and reflect upon how it has challenged us and enlivened our faith . Please join us!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Job's Happy Ending

On Sunday, Aug. 28, we finish our reading of Job with this passage:  Job 42:7-17.  In this passage we seem to see Job enjoying a classic happy ending:  new wife, new children, fortunes restored.  How do we interpret this ending?

One standard--but troubling!--way to interpret this ending is to see it as Job's reward for being faithful.  One way this approach troubles modern theologians is the interpretation of faithfulness: is he faithful because he talks to God and listens when God responds?  Is he faithful because he stays true to God, even in the midst of suffering?  How much are we expected to endure?

As a 21st century reader, I'm troubled because I know that Christianity has a history of holding up examples like the one we see in Job as a way to encourage people to put up with difficult situations without trying to change the structures that make the difficulty possible.  I'm thinking of generations of women encouraged to stay with their abusive husbands.  I'm thinking of Civil Rights workers being told to suffer and wait for society to catch up with them.

I'm also troubled because Job seems to leave his old family behind and move on to the replacement family, but that probably says more about me.  I'm trying to see this ending as a presentation of Job embracing life and learning to live and love again.

Here's a more radical interpretation:  theologian  Kathryn M. Schifferdecker says, "Job's fortunes are restored. He (and presumably Mrs. Job) have more children, and he gives his daughters names befitting their great beauty and an inheritance along with their brothers (an unheard-of act in that patriarchal culture). In other words, Job learns to govern his world the way God governs God's world: with great delight in his children's beauty and freedom. Like God, Job gives his children the freedom to be who they were created to be."

I wonder how my relationships would change if I, too, could be more like Job at the end and God--if I could give those around me the freedom to be who they were created to be.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Job's God in a Time of Climate Change

The readings for Sunday, August 21, 2016:

Job 38:25-27; 41:1-8; 42:1-6

In these passages, God continues to give Job a tour of creation.  When I first read it, it was hard for me to shake the tone of God saying to Job, "Who are you to question me?"  But my response still shows a human-centered approach to God, God as being defensive.

Why is it so hard for us to come to Job's realization?  Why is it hard to see God as expansive?

For some of us, it's hard because we have to admit our puniness.  Humans are not the center of the universe.  Creation was not made for humans.  We are not the largest element or the smallest--and that means contemplating the idea that we are not the most important.

I will be interested to see how theologians wrestle with these ancient views during our own time of extreme climate change.  Is it different to read the texts for this week as we create new records for hottest month and hottest year on record?

I find this vision in Job a comfort in our own times of mass extinction.  Creation will continue, even as various species expire.  God will continue to delight in creation, in all of its varieties.

God seems to invite Job to join in this wonder and exaltation.  I'd like to see other translations of Job's response.  My text uses words like despise, dust, and ashes.  Job's response seems extreme, but maybe it's just more ancient, and thus, harder for me to understand.

Like Job, I need to return to this vision that God offers.  I despair in what seems like planetary depletion, but God reminds us that the Creator works in wondrous ways.  I need to be reacquainted with this rain bearing God, the one who makes grass spring out of the desolation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Marc Chagall on Love



In our life there is a single color, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.
- Marc Chagall

Blessing of Teachers and School Staffs and CHOCOLATE!!!

So this Sunday AUG 14th is Blessing of the Teachers and Staff for all of those folks heading back to schools in our community. We have some prayers for them and goody bags and I will be making Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothies during all coffee hours. Whipped Cream and Chocolate chip topping optional. So calling all teachers and school staff people: We want to chocolate you up! All Welcome!

God Speaks to Job

The readings for Sunday, August 14, 2016:

Job 31:  35-37 and Job 38:  1-11


In the readings for this Sunday, we see Job wanting God to speak to him--and then God does.  On the face of it, on the first read, we might see this as God saying to Job, "Who the heck are you to question me?"  But upon additional readings, we see a creator who takes the questions of Job seriously.

Job gets a tour of all of creation, perhaps as a reminder that humans aren't the reason why creation exists and humans aren't the reason that God exists.  In many ways, the God that we see in Job seems very modern.  This God that we see this week is a God with much to do, but not too busy to attend to Job's request.  This God is a God of the entire universe, not just a wish granter/magician for humans.

We see a vision of God in control, but not a God who is controlling.  There are boundaries that God has established, but all of creation has enormous freedom within these boundaries.  Luther Seminary professor Kathryn M. Schifferdecker explains in this essay, "God gives his creatures the freedom to be who they were created to be, and that freedom is a great gift to human and animal alike. In this vision of creation, the world is not an entirely safe place for human beings, but it is a world of order and of beauty, and its Creator delights in it."

Many of us may find this vision of God to be very different from the God we might have thought we were worshipping.  We may have been told that if our faith is great enough or if we pray hard enough, all of our prayers and wishes will be granted.  But that's crummy theology--it doesn't take into account free will or the problem of evil in the world or countless other factors that will undermine our faith in the world of that theology.

Job shows us a more mature vision of God--a God that has created the universe with certain laws and boundaries, a God who allows freedom, even though that freedom may bring heartbreak.

For many of us, it's not a comforting vision.  It means that the cancer cells may win, regardless of how hard I pray.  I might prefer the Santa Claus God of my childhood Sunday School classes.  But the Santa Claus God is not the true God, although it may be the more comforting God.

These passages in Job show us a God who has not deserted us, but at the same time, will not necessarily rescue us.  For many of us it's a tough vision.

But throughout the Bible, we see God's promise:  that God will be with us and that God delights in us--and in all creation.  God will be there, not as the magical easy fix, but as a much larger force, one not controlled by humans.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Sunset with Gandhi



When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator. 
- Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Psalm 16:11



You show me the path of life.
 In your presence there is fullness of joy
Psalm 16:11
http://thelivinggospel.blogspot.com

The Hope of Job

Our off-lectionary study of Job continues with these passages for Sunday, August 7, 2016:

Job 14:  7-15 and Job 19:  23-24

In these passages we see that Job still wrestles with how to handle his suffering and where to find God in this suffering.  In these passages, we see similar themes that careful readers see throughout the Bible.

Job finds hope--strange, inexplicable hope--in the middle of his extreme suffering.  He doesn't have the same kind of hope in an afterlife that twenty-first century readers might have.  He senses that other parts of nature might have more hope of an immediate redemption, new sprouts, and that humans die and dry up as a lake might.

Yet he also professes belief that he will see God, and Job yearns for this time, even as he admits to not understanding how it will happen.  Job's response feels familiar to me.

I think of the Easters that I have celebrated when the Easter message rang hollow to me, when death felt more victorious than God.  I felt surrounded by happy people who felt more reassurance than I did in that Easter message.  In these times, I like the message of Job, the message of the Psalms--I like these texts that show us the human response to God and to suffering.

I know that the disadvantage to a free will world is that God cannot just sweep in and make everything OK.

But I also know that the message of that weaves its way through our Bible, with the Easter culmination, the promise that Death will not be the final answer.  We do not know how and when Death will be defeated--at least, I'm not going to try to engineer God that way.  We know the how of the beginning of the defeat of the Death culture:  we have spent days hearing that part of the story.  But we don't know the future part.

But we do have God's promise that Death doesn't have the final word.  We see it as a constant theme in our texts, and we see that announcement throughout all of creation.  And even when we feel the despair of Job, even when we doubt this promise, God will not abandon us.