The more I reflected on Jesus' parable in yesterday's gospel reading (Matthew 22:1-14), the more I was inclined to see in it a call to sanctification, to holiness. Rev. Cattenhead's sermon certainly pointed us in that direction. My sermon went that way, as well.
In a sense, Sunday's parable is "out of season." We need to remember the placement of it to catch its meaning. Jesus has already entered Jerusalem for what we now call Holy Week. He is between turning over tables and being crucified. This is the most intense week of his life, ending with the most unjustified capital punishment ever.
The children, as expected, did very well leading us in worship yesterday. I'm grateful to everyone who gives time, prayers, and support to make our children's ministry excellent.
More times than any other Sunday I can think of, the word "rules" was used yesterday. "Rules" must be one of the early vocabulary words for children; it's certainly a word they are quite familiar with by elementary school.
We are celebrating Children's Sabbath this Sunday (11:15 in the sanctuary) and the lectionary, developed before Children's Sabbath was a thing, is not a friendly companion this week.
Spend some time with the appointed passages for Sunday - Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46 - and think about what you would tell children about them. For that matter, consider what you'd tell adults.
Life comes with all sorts of experiences and emotions. This past weekend was a microcosm of that. There were the joys of service as people cared for the needy in the Parking Lot Mission, by making beds, and by sleeping in cardboard boxes to bring attention and money to homelessness issues. There was the grief of funerals for people many in our community loved and felt left us far too quickly and too young. There was the celebration of worship and music ministry and United Methodist Women and the dedication of the Prayer Garden. There was the blessing of praying for peace and unity as two neighboring churches communed in ways their ancestors wouldn't have predicted.
The chief priests and elders were always skeptical of Jesus. After he marched in Jerusalem and overturned the Temple's money-changing tables, they were downright determined to rid themselves of him. He was a disruptive force at times, willing to protest injustice even when it displeased the authorities.
Derrick's powerful sermon based on Matthew 20:1-16 yesterday gave me new insight into Jesus' parable. I had paid attention to the agreement with the first hirelings (the usual daily wage - verse 2). I knew well the surprising conclusion (that those who had worked the least were paid the same as those who had worked the most).
If you open your Bible to Matthew 20:1-16, you might find this section called, "Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard." But, is that right? It might be, the laborers are a distinguishing marker of this parable, but are they really the focal point? What do you notice about the landowner? He seems critical to the parable's message.
A pastor friend, when discussing worship experiences based on forgiving others, said he once gave everyone in the congregation a tongue depressor and instructed them to write the name of someone they needed to forgive on it. He then invited those who were ready to let that debt go to snap the tongue depressors on the count of three. The sound, he said, of all those cracking depressors was a powerful experience knowing that people were attempting to let go of sins against them.
In Psalm 103, the psalmist tells himself (his soul) to bless God. After he does so a second time he begins to give reasons why his soul should bless God. The very first reason? Because God forgives.
"Love your neighbor as yourself" is easy to preach. It's a thread that holds the entire Bible together. You can read versions of it throughout, including these direct references: Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, Romans 13:19, James 2:8. Other religions have a similar teaching. It is a timeless message about how we're to treat others and it's returned to time and again because takes practice.
Love is a word we throw around a lot. Sometimes I’m critical of society’s use of it (we “love” everything from pizza to our parents), but an outsider might question the church’s use, too. We say things like, “Love God and love neighbor” and “Owe no one anything, except to love one another” and that all the commandments can be summarized, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does love mean in these central Christian principles and how are we living it?
I read Paul's instructions in Romans 12:9-21 and think, "Yes, let's do that; let's be that" and then I start moving about in the world or in my house or even across the room and it feels like I can't do that. I can't be that. (And, that other person in the room isn't doing that or being that, either.)
On Saturday our family spent a little time with the Cattenheads. The children watched a television show where a sociologist put on a compassion experiment. The set it up so that a man (an actor) bumps into the subject heading into testing room and is very rude to him or her. When the subject looks through the two-way glass the person who mistreated him or her is sitting there waiting for the subject to select the hotness level of the salsa the actor will have to eat.
There is a significant connection between ignorance and fear. We fear what we do not know.
I’ve been honored to be with a few people who knew their last days in this life were upon them. They may have had some regrets, many had sadness about leaving those they love, but their fear was not knowing what was to come. It wasn’t that they suddenly lost faith in God or thought they were facing a bad eternity, but it was the unknown - how would it feel in those final moments, what would the moment of death be like, what comes next?