Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Podacast for a Just world advent part 1

I am sharing the UCC New podcast over the next for weeks  let those who have ears hear...

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Journey to Gratefulness Luke17:11-19

Pastor Andy Cook Shares “the story of Pam, who worked in downtown Chicago. Every morning, she encountered a heavyset, middleaged woman in a shabby coat soliciting spare change in front of an old brick church. She greeted everyone with a smile and a pleasant "Good morning." Pam almost always gave her something. After almost a year of this routine, however, the woman in the shabby coat disappeared. Pam wondered what had happened to her.

Then, one beautiful day, she was in front of the church again, still wearing the same, shabby coat. As Pam reached into her purse for the usual donation, the woman stopped her. "Thank you for helping me all those days," she said. "You won't see me again because I've got a job." With that, she reached into a bag and handed Pam a wrapped package. She had been standing at her old spot waiting, not for a handout, but for the people she recognized so that she could give each of them a doughnut. She was thankful.”[1]

Being thankful is not always so easy.  Working our way into a grateful life takes practice and it is a Journey.  Listen to today’s Gospel. Jesus is traveling when he hears ten lepers Call out from a distance.

Leprosy is a terrible disease. It is a communicable disease that affects the skin and nerves of those infected. Though it is still around today most people will not catch it.  It requires a compromised immune system and or poor nutrition.  It is treatable with a regimen of medications. Annually there are 214000 new cases every year.[2]

Back then, in Jesus’ time, they had figured out that it was a communicable disease so if one were to display symptoms they were exiled from their family, their community from all they knew. Being that there was no treatment except for a miracle most died of disease and or starvation.

This disease took a terrible toll on the body.  As the nerves die one easily injures themselves and so sores and infections set in.  Besides loosing limbs, people literally would rot from the outside in.  The smell was the worse.

“Beth Moore, in her book Jesus The One And Only, tells of an occasion she had to be near a modern-day leper colony. Something within her had always wanted to minister in a leper colony, but her trip overseas had given her the first opportunity to be near such a place. She walked by the entrance three times. She saw those who were suffering. She begged herself for a chance to go inside. But she could not.

The reason? The smell overwhelmed her. She could not work up the stomach to go inside the colony. She could not bear the thought of witnessing for the Lord, but at the same time becoming violently ill as she faced human beings already acutely aware that they were different. The trip passed, and she was not able to go inside.”[3]

Lepers lived in groups and would beg for money or food.  But this wasn’t your normal fashion of begging.  They had to keep a distance, people could not get near them and they understood this.  So, they would stand not even on the side of the path or roads but in the nearby fields and they would shout at the top of their lungs hoping someone would have pity.

I Imagine, since they were not allowed to get close to people they often had their begging bowl set next to the path though they were a way off.  This opened them up to robbers and thieves who could easily steal their money before they even had a chance to see what might have been tossed in their plate.  They were subjects of fear and loathing often run off while rocks and stones were tossed at them. Human contact besides fellow lepers was seldom.

Jesus is on this road and he hears ten lepers shouting from the distance “Jesus Master have Mercy on us”! I imagine at first, he just heard noise in the distance because he did have a crowd around him.  But as they proceeded the shouting became louder and the crowd quieted down as they realized who, well really what was making the commotion.

Now Jesus does not approach them. He has hardly any interaction at all he just shouts back “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”(Luke 17:13)  My first thought, if I was one of them might had been “what are you kidding? Been there done that! That’s how we got here”

“The local priest had duties other than leading worship on each Sabbath. He was also something of a health official. If a person was miraculously healed of leprosy, it was up to the priest to inspect the body, to test for a complete removal of the disease, and to announce the person healed. In such cases, the person would have been cleansed, and at that point, it would be fine for the leper to see his wife again, to hold his daughter again, to look for work again. If the priest gave him the OK, he would be healed!”[4]

In the same way it was the priest who proclaimed the person unclean and sent them into exile.  So yeah been there done that would have been my thought.

But not this group.  This group, still diseased, still with open sores and extreme pain start to walk to the local priest.  These ten ill people who know their disease can see it is still running its course set out on the road.  They did not wait for the healing.  They did not wait for their prayers to be answered.  They trusted in Jesus so much that they started to walk down that road they were told to walk.  They stepped out in huge faith before their prayers were even answered.

Rev. Cooke says; “In other words, all of these men were no better off than they had been ten minutes earlier, when they had first spotted the famous teacher.

And yet, they headed off in search of the priests. And on their way, they were healed. On their way, a hand reappeared, and tingled with life. A crutch tripped on a filthy rag, as it fell to the ground. The leg was back, healthy, whole, complete. The skin cleared, and the tiny hairs on a forearm turned from snow white to brown. One looked at the other, another looked at the rest, and the screaming started. The smiles broke into cheering, and a sweet madness. They raced off in the distance, not believing that the nightmare was finally over.

But for the miracle to happen, these men had to start walking in faith before their circumstances had changed one tiny bit.”[5]

I try to be faithful.  I try to trust in God.  I have stepped out in faith not knowing what was coming next.  But wow this one is hard. I imagine these men just still sore still pain ridden turning to seek a priest in despair.  They had nothing to lose.  They have heard of this great teacher.  They have heard about his miracles and, so they just start walking.

They start walking slowly at first for it is painful to walk.  Then slowly one starts to notice his step becoming lighter.  A little way down the road another starts to notice he can feel his feet.  A third can feel his hand.  Suddenly they all stop realizing what has Just happened and they rejoice.

 I wish my faith was as great as theirs.  There are so many roads I would have walked down.  Then again perhaps they were not mine to walk down. Funny thing stepping out in faith. It is particular. It is a process and when it happens what is meant to be will be.

I truly believe these lepers were sent to the priests because that is what they were called to do.  Even though doubts were high.  Perhaps they were even touched by healers before and nothing happened.  We do not know their whole story all we know is that this time.  This time when Jesus gave them a task their hearts were moved enough that they stepped out.

There is a cooperation needed for the miracle to happen it takes three.  That’s what I said it takes three. It takes God to give us an opportunity and/or many opportunities.  It takes the spirit prompting us , encouraging us to step out.  Then finally it takes us taking that deep breath and to actually start down that road.

It is a challenge for us and we always want to well bargain.  You know what I mean.  Ok God I feel you are calling me to do this, to go here, to try that.  I will go, do, and try, if you dot dot dot.  Right? I mean how many times is our prayer God if you just dot dot dot then I will dot dot dot!

“But we cannot wait until the problems are over to start walking in faith. You cannot put conditions on holy God. You cannot say, "Lord, as soon as there's enough money, I follow your instructions." You cannot pray, "Lord, if you'll just solve this issue in my family, I'll start to church." You cannot put conditions on God! Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything at all has changed.”[6]

This is a long road, this faith journey and it requires of us some bold moves.  God requires of us to be bold. But even being bold in God requires a process.  For us it’s called discernment. “Discernment is more than just a process. Even for the most 'material' or 'nitty-gritty' matters, there is a Spirit at work nudging us, leading us, even pulling us by the nose ring. Then again, even for the most 'spiritual' matters, there are disciplines, methods, processes, lessons, means, and tools which the Spirit can work through to help us discern rightly. Discernment isn't usually a sudden zap from beyond, but something which emerges from hard work and close attention.”[7]

This process of the journey with God means we listen with our spirit, with our soul for patterns.  God doesn’t usually just drop something on us and expects us to act right away.  I said earlier there are often something that continues to arise in our heart.  An opportunity from God that seems to come to us again, and again, and again. Until we take it to prayer and say is that you God.

Remember Samuel?  The lord called him three times.  The first time he thought it was Eli, so he went to Eli and said here I am and Eli said go back to bed.  The God called Samuel a second time this time Eli realized what was happening and told Samuel to answer here I am Lord the next time he is called.  I took 3 calls and a spiritual director to figure out that it was God calling Samuel.

We really cannot put God on hold oddly enough she will keep pestering us till we answer the call that is placed upon our heart. 

Also there are times we should step out on the road that God has called us to in spite of where we are at on our journey.  Much as with the lepers.  They were not healed yet and they started upon their Journey.

“God might say, "Love me despite the disease. Obey me despite the lack of talent, or the lack of resources. Follow me now, despite the depression. Say no to the temptation, while it still is difficult. Praise me in the darkest of nights, and in the worst of circumstances."[8]

It is here through the most difficult of times when we are tested.  Do we step out on the journey with God knowing that we may not have all the gifts needed?  Perhaps knowing that we do not have all the resources?  Perhaps knowing that a ministry may cost the church money?  How many times has anyone heard a story of people seeing a need and begin to fill it then and only then does the money come to help make the ministry stronger, better?

I know of a church in Medford Massachusetts called sanctuary. Now this is not an example for this congregation but an example for stepping out in faith.  They had this big old historic sanctuary and the congregation was down to about 30.  They knew they had to do something different.  They sold their sanctuary and moved into a store front in downtown.

They didn’t know if that would work.  They were scared and for the first two years or so it seemed truly rough going. But now it is a thriving congregation ministering to youth.  Ministering to the people who walk by.  They have Projects of partnering with other churches.  They have a ministry to a Lakota reservation.  They have art church, Faith and Film, and dinner church.

Again, I am not saying this is your future what I am saying is sometimes it seems crazy and impossible when we step out in faith. They almost failed a few times but now they thrive, and they are grateful.

First, they were grateful for their history and all their old sanctuary was. Then they were grateful for a new beginning. It didn’t matter how tenuous, they were greateful.  Then they were grateful to offer a warm place where one can come in form the cold right downtown. Today they are very grateful to be a thriving congregation.

Remember our Lepers.  They had to say ok to God before they were healed.  They had to step out in faith to be healed. They had to be grateful for just the chance that this Jesus might be the real thing.

“This is the nature of God, a God who loves you so much, He'll give you the opportunity to be thankful when nothing about your circumstances gives you that motivation. My friends, that is the very definition of faith. If you praised God only on the good days, only in the best of circumstances, it would not be faith at all. That would be more like a business arrangement - and this is not about business!”[9]

So, what about that road to gratefulness.  We assume 9 lepers went to the priests praising God for their miracle.  They went to the priests for verification of the miracle, so they could be welcomed back into society, so they could get home to their loved ones.  So, they could have a full and wonderful life again.

So many of us have a prayer answered and barely take notice.  So many times, we are faced with small miracles daily.  I mean just the sunrise here is a miracle in and of itself every day. It is so beautiful and yet so many just take it for granted. I have said this before and I will say it again in a few minutes. God answers our prayers and sometimes it is in hindsight that we see it.

But the challenge is when we see it do we just acknowledge it and move on.  Do we Give God the credit due?  Do we make the journey back down the path to stop and say thank you before we move on to the task at hand?

“One of the men came back to Jesus, and praised God. He was thankful. He was public about it. He was loud - he wasn't shy at all.

Why was he so loud? This guy had been forced to yell for as long as he'd had leprosy. Had it been years? He'd probably yelled so long, he didn't know how to come to the Lord quietly, or even in a normal voice. When he came back and fell at the feet of Jesus, he was just louder than the normal person, and he was praising God.”[10]

What is praising God louder than normal.  What is giving thanks out loud and so all can hear? Isn’t that worship?  Isn’t that a Sunday service?  Do we not intentionally put time in our service to be grateful?  This thanksgiving weekend do we not take a little extra time to be grateful. Right her right now is the end of the road to gratefulness.

“One healed leper came back. One caught himself in the midst of the celebration, and returned to Jesus. He reversed his steps, put his family on hold, put the priest on hold, and came back to the cause of his celebration. His response and life situation were unique, but in the simplest sense of what he did his thankfulness led to action. And boy, did that turn out to be important!

"Where are the other nine?" Jesus asked.

Do you realize what this says? Jesus said, "Go, and show yourselves to the priests. Jesus never commanded that any of them express thankfulness to God, or return to him, the healer. Nevertheless, that is what Jesus expected.

What kind of action is Jesus looking for from you? Has God's Holy Spirit been urging you toward some action step? Had the Lord been tugging at you for some step of faith? Is there a family, a friend, or even a stranger in need of help this Thanksgiving season? Is there something you feel compelled to do?

My best advice, based on what Jesus was looking for 2,000 years ago, is to take that step of action. Assume God is pulling you toward that area, or that action, and get it done.”[11]

Talk to others about it perhaps God is calling more than one.  Whatever, wherever you are being called to I suggest you listen pray and talk with others about it.  But through it all be grateful.

[1] Andy Cooke, Sermon: A lifestyle of thanksgiving - Luke 17, last modified 2017, accessed November 2, 2017, http://www.lifeway.com/Article/sermon-thanksgiving-lifestyle-lepers-healed-luke-17.
[2] Lepra.org, Leprosy FAQ, last modified 2017, accessed November 25, 2017, https://www.lepra.org.uk/faqs-leprosy?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3dTQBRDnARIsAGKSfll7JjMmmowTAjM0y38ukTB_jTHqLdjOIFj0sMuqebXYqbRN4U-wLK4aAgVGEALw_wcB.
[3] Cooke, Sermon.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Robert Longman, Spiritual Discernment, last modified April 2, 2017, accessed November 25, 2017, http://www.spirithome.com/discernment.html.
[8] Cooke, Sermon.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Talents vs Talents Mathew 25:14-30

This parable can be fun.  This parable can be funny.  This parable can be confusing.  This parable, for me is all the above! Kathryn Matthews who does the UCC sermon seeds reminds us; “Preaching on a text that contains one of Jesus' parables can be a challenge. Invariably, one scholar insists that we need to avoid a given interpretation of the parable, while another presents that "incorrect" interpretation in a persuasive and helpful way. So, I remind myself that parables are stories with layers, or perhaps many facets of meaning, stories that can be heard in different settings in different ways, stories that come with a warning that I once heard years ago: if you believe that you know "the" meaning of a parable, you can be assured that you're mistaken.”[1]

First off, those pesky talents are in the scripture again.  A talent was a form of currency.  Originally just a piece of silver that weighed a certain amount. Remember “kikkar, Hebrew for "talent" in the Old Testament, literally means "ring like." People would wear their money!”[2]

Now as time went on coins eventually came into fashion, I mentioned this a few weeks ago but I think it bears repeating when it comes to the talent, Stan Hudson has a bit of education for us around that:

“At any rate, by the end of the second century B.C., coins were probably fully accepted in Temple services. From this time to the first century A.D., Jews were not able to make their own silver coins, for political reasons—their Syrian or Roman rulers wouldn't permit them. So they chose the silver coins of the nearby city of Tyre, which enjoyed a special political status. Specifically, the coins chosen were Tyrian didrachms (two drachma pieces) and tetradrachms (four-drachma pieces), which approximated by weight the Jewish half-shekels and shekels, respectively. First minted in 126 B.C., they appeared in large enough numbers and with good enough quality to end the real need of scales and weights (if they were still used). These coins were dated according to the year of the Tyrian dynasty, 126 B.C. being "year one."

It is ironic that Tyrian coins bore the image of Melkart, the Phoenician equivalent of Baal, Israel's old enemy. This surely stirred a resentful thought or two from the pious Jew worshiping in the Temple. The reverse carried an Egyptian-styled eagle and the Greek inscription "Tyre the holy and inviolable." The date was to the eagle's left (Figures 2 and 3).

That Jews so soon after the religious revival of the Maccabees chose coins tainted with paganism for sacred service is based on two factors: (1) the liberal Hellenistic Sadducees had gained administrative control of the Temple, and (2) no one wanted to use Roman coins, such as the tetradrachms of Alexandria or Antioch. Apparently, no one wanted "Caesar's image" around the Temple. Even Baal was better than Caesar!”[3]

So we know Talent is a currency but Ironically for this parable it may be interpreted as skills or gifts.

“We often interpret this story to be about "talents" in the sense of personal gifts and abilities that God expects us to use well--for the sake of the Reign of God, of course. (Several scholars point out that the word "talent," which was a unit of money in the ancient world, came into the English language from this very parable, because of this interpretation.) Use our talents well and good things happen, including amazing growth: in us, as well as in the Reign of God. Bury them, leave them unexercised, and we end up out in the cold. The parable would be about things like responsibility and accountability, then: putting our resources and our talents to good use.”[4]

There is nothing wrong with that interpretation it is totally valid.  God gives us Gifts and we are too use them to better where we live.  To better how we live.  The one who is given many Gifts is expected to bring a great return.  As the first slave went out and invested his talents and thus came with a return of double.

The issue then becomes what about this last poor slave the master didn’t give much too.  When the master returns the slave is terrified.  I would say he has been so poorly treated by his master that he dares not do anything.  When the master returns this slave, who fears him explains rather than risking losing it all I bring you back what you gave me safe and sound.  So of course, the master, whom we assume to be Jesus, takes pity on the poor slave and offers him a reward as he did with the others. But no not here, not in Matthews gospel.  He is thrown out into the dark where there is gnashing of teeth.

Oh, my what ever happened to the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  Where is the all loving God we proclaim?  Where is the love, mercy, and Justice?

“It helps to read this parable with the other two, and to read all three in light of where Jesus is on his journey. He's preparing to leave his disciples, knowing that there will be a long "meantime" until he returns, a meantime in which they will have to live. In the Gospels, there are passages where Jesus speaks with great love and reassurance when he's leaving the disciples. We are often comforted by the words, "Do not fear," in the Bible. But then there are these parables that challenge us and even, at times, warn us.

In last week's reflection, Fred Craddock suggested that parables can "present justice and grace, either of which becomes distorted without the other" (Preaching through the Christian Year A). All three of our parables in this chapter seem to be about justice and consequences, including this story about talents, enterprising or lazy servants, and an anticipated reckoning when the One we await returns.”[5]

Of course, this Parable for people of the time would have been funny and extreme. After all it is a story which is supposed to convey a certain meaning, a meaning at the time Mathews readers would understand.

Let us see what is happening first off, the slaves are entrusted with the master’s wealth as he is going on a journey.  The first is given 5 talents.  Hmm

“a talent represented a rather large sum of money. According to New Nave's Topical Bible, one who possessed five talents of gold or silver was a multimillionaire by today's standards. Some calculate the talent in the parables to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker.”[6]

There is no general agreement about the value of a talent however it is agreed that to Mathews community this was an enormous unheard-of amount of money. so, the parable is established as extreme not to be taken as Gospel truth.

We also need to remember as in the past few parables Mathews community is at odds with the Jewish leadership of the day.  They are being persecuted, stigmatized for being followers of Jesus.  Mathew sees the kingdom of heaven as upside down empire.

So when the Master returns and the slave who he has given the money to returns it doubled he is praised.  Commentator warren carter puts it this way:

“The slave emphasizes his efforts and their results. His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave.” The commendation recalls 24:45. The faithful or trustworthy slave is one who carries out the expected task, who acts in a manner consistent with the slave-master relationship and his identity as slave.  The slave is called good, which designates action reflective and consistent with his inner commitment (7:17-18)- [Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good.]-His Living imitates God who is good (19:17, 20:15, 7:11) and Contrasts those, such as the religious elite, who are evil and do not do God’s will (12:34-39) you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things (cf 24:47) enter into the joy of your master. The verb enter into is commonly used about entering into God’s life or God’s reign/empire”[7]

So, Professor Carter sees God’s Kingdom as the true Empire and our relationship as followers of Christ are mirrored in this slave master relationship.  We are given tasks as Christians and are expected to work on the master’s behalf even to the point of increasing his wealth through our efforts.  This is reflected again in the second slave but the third slave well…

Even though the third slave was not given as much he was still expected to carry out the known wishes of the master. But he does not and his called wicked and idle and lazy. Professor Carter goes on to explain; “the designation wicked links the slave with those opposed to God’s purposes: the elite who misuse their power (5:39), the devil (6:13, 13:19); religious leaders and this generation (12:33-42); 16:4). The slave is condemned for making no effort to increase the masters wealth. Vigilance or preparation for the master’s coming consists not of passive waiting but of active and consistent service.”[8]

We are expected as followers of Jesus to be active in our preparation for his return and those who fancy themselves as better than or worse yet as was said in Mathew before, those who sit upon the seat of Moses and preach one thing but do nothing well...

Though the message is harsh Mathew does lighten it up.  Besides having the Master hand over exorbitant amount of monies, this 3rd slave has the gall to insult the master. First in the version I have he calls him a hard man, calling him strict/ unforgiving.  Then he claims the master is known to reap where he hasn’t sown and gather where he didn’t scatter so he now has called the master a thief.  This is unheard of no true slave would ever disrespect their master to his face like this and a slave who loves and respects his master would never say anything like this even in private.

So then the Masters response becomes sarcastic in saying why didn’t you give my money to the bankers at least I would have earned interest.  This is basically saying why didn’t you add injury to the insult for biblically speaking collecting interest on money through what would have been loans is usury and another sin.

This whole parable is above and beyond the point of a fish tale.  Everything in it is big. But its point is clear. “For all those who have (been faithful to the responsibilities/tasks entrusted to them by the master), more(talents/responsibilities) will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing (to show from the talents/s they have because they have not used them faithfully), even what they have will be taken away (by God).”[9]

Andrew Warner, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, has written a thoughtful reflection on this text, beginning with a question that's perhaps a bit whimsical: "Did the 'worthless slave' know the story of the foolish bridesmaids?" It's an imaginative approach, because characters in parables are, of course, not historical figures; in fact, Warner calls the servant a "caricature, a foil for you and for me, someone who shows our own potential for folly."

But wouldn't it be interesting if a foolish bridesmaid and the unwise servant could have a conversation? Warner observes that it's understandable that the servant would "focus on preserving his money." However, "[i]t turns out that preservation is not the same as preparation, and endurance is not simply ending up where you started" (The Christian Century 11-4-08).

L. Susan Bond observes that the master, upon his return, "begins his critique not against the empire, and not against unbelievers, but against his own too-timid slave." She also suggests that the unfortunate slaves is not sentenced to punishment in the afterlife but in life here and now, when "our sense of safety and security" is taken from us (Preaching God's Transforming Justice, Year A). How often have we tried to cling to that safety and security in making decisions, instead of being willing to take risks for the sake of the gospel?

One layer of meaning in the story addresses what's going on inside the third servant, and his commitment, courage and worldview. Is he lazy, or stupid, or immobilized by fear? (Some might say yes to all three.) The lesson we can learn from the story about money and loans is to put our gifts into circulation: This parable, Richard Bauckham writes, "compares the use of all God has given one...in God's service, with the use of a financial loan in order to make a profit for the investor."

If we hoard and hide money, it doesn't do what it's supposed to do; in the same way, Bauckham says, "what God has given us--ourselves, our lives, our faith, our abilities, our gifts, our possessions--is given in order to be spent and put into circulation," in order to be "the source of further blessings for others and for ourselves" (The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels).

It's no wonder, then, that this is often read as a stewardship text. But how often is courage or risk part of our stewardship preaching? The third servant's fear prevented him from taking the risks of a life fully lived, which followers of Jesus understand as a faithful life that follows Jesus no matter what may lie ahead, remembering that what lay ahead for Jesus was suffering and death, and resurrection as well. Bauckham writes that God's gifts are similarly given to us "to be risked in new ventures in God's service. Every new step in living for God is a risk" (The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels).”[10]

So, in that light, what risks are we being asked to pursue?  Where is the spirit moving us that may be challenging?  Are there talents, currency, skills and gifts we have been hiding that we would like to bring forward?

Part of my job as interim minister is to challenge the congregation to grow.  To follow your passion, to find your gifts and allow them to be invested.  Invested here, as a congregation, but also invested in the community around us.  This church at one time participated in the parades here in town Visibility is part of outreach.  Just letting people know there is a unique church up on a hill that is welcoming to all.

  This church once had a food pantry. Serving those who are under nourished or seeking temporary relief from the daily struggle to makes ends meet is a great ministry. Though that has ended here, is there other places that we may volunteer as a congregation to continue that kind of outreach? 

This church once had a garden.  Care for the earth and using our land as a gift for our congregants perhaps our neighbors or even another food pantry is wonderful.  Can the garden be used by another organization?  Can we restart it?  Perhaps partner with somebody so the land is used to the benefit of our community. Did you know if you are growing food there is no rationing of, or over use fee on water? Does that change how we may perceive our opportunity here?

There is a possibility of having a farm stand here that accepts food stamps. Is that something we want to pursue?

  We are partnering with habitat to collect items for those affected by the fire.  We are looking at partnering with two other churches for a possible local build this spring. Even if we are just their perhaps to provide a lunch or water for those who are doing physical labor.

This congregation is a blessing.  There is a ton of talent sitting right here.  How do you want to use your gifts to share the love of God and Christ with your community?  Where is the spirit moving you? Are we called to offer programing that may benefit the community such as a lecture series?  Maybe a concert series?

This can be a very exciting time for the congregation.  The things you have done in the past are great and to be proud of and even celebrated as a great part of the congregation’s history but now…Now ... what does the future hold?  What does United Church of Christ Petaluma envision for its future? When Christ does return what return on God’s investment shall we present? 

I do not have the answers to any of these questions.  This is up to you.  If there is something you are passionate about?  If there is a need you think this congregation may be called to fill, then talk to me about.  Talk too some friends about it.  Get excited and let’s see how we can be the United church of Christy in Petaluma in the 21st century. Amen?

[1] Kathryn Matthews, Investing what is offered, 2017, accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_november_19_2017.
[2]Stan Harris, The Money of the Jewish Temple, September 1, 1984, accessed October 21, 2017, http://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1984/09/the-money-of-the-jewish-temple.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Kathryn Matthews, Investing what is offered, 2017, accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_november_19_2017.
[5] Kathryn Matthews, Investing what is offered, 2017, accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_november_19_2017.
[6] Mary Fairchild, What is a Talent, April 11, 2017, accessed November 16, 2017, https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-talent-700699.
[7] Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, The Bible & liberation series (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2000), 490.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., 491.
[10] Kathryn Matthews, Investing what is offered, 2017, accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_november_19_2017.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The tale of Ten Maidens Mathew 25:1-13

In the ancient days of Jerusalem a groom and his bride would go through a ritual cleansing
After the immersion, the couple entered the huppah (marriage canopy)—symbolic of a new household being planned, to establish a binding contract.
Here, the groom would give the bride money or a valuable object such as a ring, and a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows.
In this public ceremony under the huppah, the couple entered into the betrothal period, which typically lasted for about a year.  Although they were considered married, they did not live together or engage in sexual relations.
During this erusin period, the groom was to prepare a place for his bride, while the bride focused on her personal preparations:  wedding garments, lamps, etc.
Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour.  He could come earlier.  It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for him to return to collect his bride.
For that reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night, sounding the shofar (ram’s horn) to lead the bridal procession to the home he had prepared for her.[1]
So we can see the basis for this parable Mathew is using the Marriage ceremony symbolically to answer the question “tell us, when will these things be, and what is the sign of your return and of the end of age?” (Matt. 24:3)
One interpreter points out that
“this is a good story, though the point is not crystal clear. We are presumably meant to laugh, and learn the message, which is probably about being prepared rather than about staying awake; the story perhaps does not take itself all that seriously – there is the unexplained gap between the first announcement of the bride groom’s arrival and his actual appearance; There is an absurb picture of the ‘foolish’ maidens trudging off to the shops, which are presumably closed at the hour of night; and the pragmatic attitude of the sensible virgins (‘why don’t you go shopping’) is not especially attractive”[2]
And dare I ask where is the bride? These weddings were great cultural affairs
“Richard Swanson suggests that this was a good chance for unmarried women and men to connect, for prospective husbands and wives to find each other, so these young women might have been keeping an eye out for their own futures as much as watching for the bride's groom. It's no wonder, then, that "the young women have a huge interest in being noticed favorably," he writes. We may be surprised to hear that five of them refused to share what they have, a note that clashes with the rest of Jesus' teachings about generosity. Perhaps, Swanson continues, "This competition may help explain the odd actions of the young women."[3]

by Kate Matthews
One essential theme in this Parable is a matter of timing.  The early followers of Christ were anticipating the return of Christ as any day now any moment.  By the time Mathew is writing the return of Christ as Immediate is becoming …well rather doubtful for some.  Some may even be growing lax in their practice.  The tale here is more or less to remind us we do not know the hour or the time.  The problem for the maidens is not that they fell asleep but that some were prepared and others were not.  Even though they had plenty of time to prepare.
I was reading where spencer Kimball the 12th president of the LDS church had an interesting perspective on the maidens being told go buy their own oil. He says “This was not selfishness or unkindness. The kind of oil that is needed to illuminate the way and light up the darkness is not shareable. How can one share obedience to the principle of tithing; a mind at peace from righteous living; an accumulation of knowledge? How can one share faith or testimony? How can one share attitudes or chastity...? Each must obtain that kind of oil for himself .... In the parable, oil can be purchased at the market. In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living."[4]
All in all this is not an easy parable to read or comprehend “If the disciples were looking for reassurance, the words of Jesus must have given them a lot to think about.
After speaking at length about the end of the world in the previous chapter, Jesus begins to tell his followers several parables, … right before this week's passage, Jesus has spoken about a master's unexpected return that catches his unfaithful servant off guard, one who thinks he has plenty of time to misbehave, to beat his fellow servants and to eat, drink, and (presumably) be merry. Today's parable about ten bridesmaids follows the harsh warning about the fate of that unfaithful, unprepared and surprised servant.”[5]
The story, after all, isn't about generosity or sharing, but about being prepared.  This is about navigating the real world, be prepared for here and now and yet knowing that what can go wrong will go wrong thus the bride groom is delayed. In the same way I do not believe any one of us expects Jesus to return tomorrow however we know it is possible that Jesus returns this very second and we work at keeping our hearts and minds with Christ and living out the Gospel the best we can…we are in it for the long haul and need to be prepared to leave now.
 “Five of the young women had sense enough, then, as Thomas Long puts it, not to be ‘ready for the groom but...for the groom's delay.’ If the bridesmaids, both the foolish ones and the wise (or prudent) ones, represent the church today, how ready are we followers of Jesus for his return? What does ready, or having "enough oil," look like almost two thousand years after Jesus died and rose again, promising to return one day, but not saying when? "The wise ones in the church...hold on to the faith deep into the night,’ Long writes, and ‘even though they see no bridegroom coming, still hope and serve and pray and wait for the promised victory of God.’”[6]
“Jesus' story ends with the foolish young women being locked out of the party. His words sound familiar to readers of Matthew's Gospel, because we remember another harsh warning from Jesus, as he finished the beautiful Sermon on the Mount, about people who sound religious but haven't lived out their faith, who haven't done the will of God. When those people cry "Lord, Lord," Jesus says that he'll claim he never knew them (Matthew 7:23).”[7]
Those words are hard to hear.  We do not like to believe that anyone would be locked out of heaven.  I proclaim a loving and forgiving God.  I believe in a God whose forgiveness goes beyond even what the most gracious human is capable of. So I suspect we might be getting more Mathew than Jesus at this point.  We recently spoke of how Jesus in Mathews gospel was often chiding the religious leaders of the day for their behavior and bravado. I have no reason not to believe that some of this harsh ness that is being expressed again may be some of Mathews disdain for those who would assume they need to do nothing more than what they have done to get into heaven.
One commentator asks
“What do we need to do?
Today's text, about oil and bridesmaids and wedding parties, is a bit more of a challenge, but we remember that these early Christians in Matthew's community, a generation or so after Jesus had ascended to heaven, were still scanning the skies, setting their sights and their hopes on his quick return. We suspect that the first generation may have believed that Jesus would return in their own lifetime, but by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, there had already been a delay. And perhaps that delay prompted some questioning and some falling away. Matthew's account, including these difficult parables, certainly addresses that falling away.
“Today, we are two thousand years of delay later, and our questions may be just as pressing: What are we to do? What does "ready" look like for people of faith? When will things change? What is God going to do about the mess that we're in? When will our enemies get what they deserve? (We just can't help ourselves any more than they could, long ago.) We even have to wonder, unlike any generation before us, if we ourselves will bring an end to the earth, or at least to life upon it.”[8]
"Trouble and beauty" in the Gospels
So this reading leaves us with some questions.  Why does Mathew have Jesus speaking so abruptly and how are we being called to live into this reality? How do we live as a people of faith knowing we are to expect Jesus at any moment and yet also live into this daily life not knowing if or when Christ may return? how are we to live faithfully in anticipation of his return but also prepared for the Continued delay? “Fred Craddock describes two types of parables, "those that offer a surprise of grace at the end...and those that follow the direct course from cause to effect as surely as the harvest comes from what is sown. There are no gifts and parties." Craddock notes that we need both kinds of parable, and the "justice and grace" they convey.”
“We often need to hear about grace, but we also need to hear regularly about justice. While Craddock writes of cause and effect, Arland J. Hultgren describes it as "both threat and promise, law and gospel." One of my favorite phrases, heard years ago, is the image of "trouble and beauty." Matthew's Gospel has plenty of both, from the graceful lilies of the field to these unprepared bridesmaids, hearing the terrible words, "I do not know you" (25:12).”
As we wait, then, for the return of Jesus and the fulfillment of all things, how are we to live in the meantime? Like the five "wise" or prudent bridesmaids, how can we be prepared? It may be true of every age there are those who are always anticipating the end of times.  We have the bad theology of the left behind series.  There are those who believe we need to get into Jerusalem and rebuild the temple as if this would force God’s hand and bring about the end of times.  There are those who believe we can rape and pillage the earth abusing her resources as we a see fit for the end of days is now. So being good stewards doesn’t matter.
Some people are so busy with their end of times novels, or seeking out each and every sign that points to the end of all creation that they miss what God is doing in our midst here now today!  They miss the chances God gives us to care for each other, to grow in God’s love and be a true supportive and loving place.  God calls us to work to change this world to work at the injustices in the world and introduce the loving compassion that Jesus teaches us.
It really seems as if some are just living for the drama and the fear of the end of times as opposed walking the path that Christ calls us to.  There is nothing in any text that says be fearfull, hunker down and make yourself ready for the end of times ignoring all the work the needs to be done.
“However much we may be anxious about a dramatic end time, our faith reminds us of how often the Bible says, "Do not fear," and then challenges us to work here, on earth, for the bright day of God's reign in its fullness, which is glimpsed in every act, every moment of compassion, sharing, and justice. Even as we trust that we will be with God one day, in glory, we taste the sweet goodness of generosity and love right here, right now, through ministries of sharing the abundance with which we are blessed.”
We are ready to live in Love, we are called so seek justice and to do it joyfully.  I mean just look at this community in which we live.  I love the T-shirts that say the Love in the air is thicker than the smoke. The response that the Sonoma communities have had to our neighbors in need is overwhelming.  It is not just one response and we are done, it is ongoing.  As I volunteered some chaplain time at coFfey Park I walked with chaplains from all faith backgrounds just providing a presence to the people there.  For many that wasn’t enough. I listen to a group of young volunteers decide to sign up to be called when needed by the red cross.  They needed to keep on giving to our most vulnerable.
Remaining faithful in the face of disaster or tragedy may be hard.  We will hear cries of just wishing Christ would return now to make all things right again. But we are called through todays gospel story to remain vigilant and that means we are called to live out the life Jesus has called us to live every day and every minute. “Jesus told us how to live according to the values and vision of the Reign of God, and loving God and our neighbor expresses the heart of his message.”[9]
“Loving God will inevitably lead us to worship God rather than idolize the false gods of modern culture (like materialism and nationalism …to name only two). Loving our neighbor will lead us to greater compassion and a firm commitment to justice, to making this a different and better world for all of God's children. This kind of living isn't sitting around and waiting; it's active and fully engaged in the present moment, as we trust in a future that is in God's hands, even if the timing of that future is unknown to us.
An ending, and something new…
Arland J. Hultgren suggests that keeping faith "includes care of the earth and making peace for the sake of future generations. It is necessary to plan for the long haul, remain faithful, be wise, and stay strong." We note the difference, of course, between "making peace" and simply avoiding conflict.
M. Eugene Boring says that such faithfulness makes it possible to "lie down to sleep in this confidence, rather than being kept awake by panicky last-minute anxiety." But it also requires endurance: "Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and the bridegroom is delayed." No wonder we're tempted to yearn for a sudden intervention when God takes care of everything.
However much we may fear a dramatic end, Hultgren reminds us that our faith sees "the end" not as the end, but as "the doorway to the new--the new age, the new creation." We can trust, as Paul says in  1 Thessalonians, that "we will be with the Lord forever" (4:17b). This, for us and for all creation, is "finally good news." Indeed!”[10]
So in the meantime we keep studying God’s word and listening for it anew today.  We keep seeking out ways to serve each other and the community around us. We seek to continue the work we are called to do as Christians every day, ever vigilant and always ready!

[1] the messianic prophect bible project, Ancient Jewish Wedding Customs and Yeshua’s Second Coming, 2017, accessed November 12, 2017, http://free.messianicbible.com/feature/ancient-jewish-wedding-customs-and-yeshuas-second-coming/.
[2] Nicholas King, The Bible (Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013), 1876.
[3] Kathryn Mathews, Be Ready, November 12, 2017, accessed November 12, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/weekly_seeds_be_ready.
[4] Wikipedia, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, November 7, 2017, accessed November 12, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Ten_Virgins.
[5] Mathews, Be Ready.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Kathryn, Mathews “What Should I do?”, ucc,  Novemebr 5, 2017, accessed November 12, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_november_5_2017
[10] Mathews, Be Ready.