Monday, July 25, 2011

Limping:Proper 13, Year A

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Genesis 32:22-31 or Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

This Week's Reflection
If you choose to focus on the Genesis passage this week, you will find yourself in the company of a guy I wouldn't want to have in my family. Jacob has fought to be first from the womb, tricked his brother, lied to his father, and ran away like a coward to avoid Esau's wrath. On the night mentioned in the passage, he is waiting it out alone because he has sent all of his loved ones on with bribes for Esau in the hopes that he will be forgiven for all his mischief. And, it is this night that he encounters a stranger that most preachers will say was God, or at least some representative of God. Is it any wonder that Jacob held on for dear life asking for a blessing? He had been doing that since before birth.

I fell in love with this story when I was a student at Memphis Theological Seminary. I'm sure I was writing an exegetical paper which led me to delve into the details of the story in a way that I had never done before. It wasn't the wrestling that stayed with me. It wasn't the blessing received. It wasn't even the name-change in the end. What sticks with me to this day and keeps me interested in this story is that it is about this arrogant man, Jacob, who does not walk, but limps away from the encounter with God. Imagine this guy who had so very much, some of which he received through deceitful ways, returning to the family he had run from, not walking, but limping, broken, humbled, and changed - Israel, "for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed."

The disciples were humbled when Jesus answered their call to send the people out for food. In the Matthew text this week, the crowd was gathered listening to the preaching. The disciples are worn slap out and, I imagine, hungry themselves. "Hey boss. These folks need to eat. Could you hold off on telling any more stories and send them back to town where they can get a good meal?" And, Jesus instead of agreeing, says "Yeah, you are right. They need to eat. So, guess what. You feed them! Don't expect others to do that for you. Take care of it. Get to cooking."

Most of us know the rest of the story. There are many theories as to what happened on that hill (in my mind's eye I see a hill!). Did Jesus take two fish and five loaves and miraculously turn them into enough to feed over 5000 people? Did the generosity of a few inspire many to pull out their own lunches to share with their neighbors? Either way, it was a miracle and the disciples didn't get the answer they expected, but they did receive a blessing. They limped away from the encounter humbled by the fact that they did not act with compassion in the first place.

I fell in love with the story of Jacob on the banks of the Penuel because I became amazed that God's story includes examples of arrogant and tricky people who recognize the need to fight for a blessing from God. I fell in love with the idea that God provides that blessing, but it doesn't mean we will go skipping away fancy free. Often times, we are left limping, humbled, blessed, but broken - in other words, we are left as Israel - those that strive with God.

This Week's Art
in order of appearance in reflection
Tenacity by Joanna MarieJacob Wrestling the Angel of the Lord by Jack Baumgartner
Feeding 5000 by Ray Mefarso
Feeding of 5000 Men by Justino MagalonaJacob and the Angel by Shraga Weil
Monday, July 18, 2011

Shocking: Proper 12, Year A

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Genesis 29:15-28 or 1 Kings 3:5-12

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39

Matthew 13:30-33, 44-52

This Week's Reflection
At church Sunday, a member of the congregation asked me if I was tired of coming up with sermons about seeds. This makes me wonder if he is tired of hearing about seeds! This Sunday's lectionary text is the final in a series of three weeks covering parables of Jesus involving planting seed. This week has Jesus giving what others have called a "rapid fire" parable feast. The kingdom of heaven is like . . . a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, fine pearls, and a net full of fish. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is hidden, yet glorious; unexpected, yet all-encompassing; unseen, but always present.

The same church member also took issue with my claim that Jesus was a city boy who knew nothing about farming. He said it makes more sense that Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about, but pretending to know nothing about farming. He is probably right. Jesus was most likely trying to shock everyone. I wonder how much we take these parables for granted. If you are reading this, then you likely read other reflections in which the same point is made - these are shocking details in the parables. For those in the pews, who are there week in and week out, how shocking do they seem these days? As preachers, we need to recapture that for our listeners. The first hearers of the parables would have laughed out loud at the thought of allowing mustard weed to grow and birds to nest in it; one scholar compares it to Kudzu in the southeast. And, we think we understand the use of yeast as comparison for the hidden kingdom, but this was work kept only for women.

For this Jewish rabbi to use "woman's work" as an example for the kingdom of heaven would have been laughable at the least and riot-producing at the most. We could go on evaluating each parable and the ways in which each is shocking - I mean a guy who finds a treasure in someone else's field, then hides it and buys the field? - shocking!

Are the lectionary creators trying to tell us something about being shocking this week? The Genesis passage is that crazy story of Laban tricking the trickster, Jacob, into "going in to" Leah, his eldest daughter instead of Rachel, the younger daughter whom Jacob loved. Is it a story about perseverance, Jacob working seven additional years, making a total of fourteen waiting for the love of his life to be presented to him? Is it a story that should create in us dis-ease about how women were (and are) treated like property? Is it a story about justice where Jacob finally feels the pain of his own brother, Esau, and his father after tricking them out of the birthright that was not rightfully his?

And, what about Paul's letter to the Romans? Is there anything shocking to be found in this text? How about that part that says "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." Anyone who has been fired by a church with no explanation knows this is just not true. Cancer patients reading their Bibles daily find this sentence shocking. Children who have lost their parents due to a stranger driving drunk don't hang this up on the fridge. For our congregations' sakes, we have to be willing to ask the question for them, "Really? Am I really supposed to believe that all things work for good despite all the evidence to the contrary?"

The ending of the Romans text is that beautiful passage about nothing being able to separate us from the love of God. No question is off limits. No shocking detail is too much. No amount of trickery keeps us from the kingdom of heaven indefinitely. As Christians, we must be able to see what is hidden among us. We must be willing to share the shocking details of God's kingdom that is here and now. In so doing, we point others toward the shocking kingdom of heaven and do our part to reveal it on the earth.

This Week's Art
Mustard + Parable found at Maria Laura's Blog
The Hidden Treasure by
The Leaven by Sir John Everett Millais
A Little Leaven by James B. Janknegt
The Kingdom of Heaven is Like by Kathie Luther
Treasurefield #2: Sell Everything by James B. Janknegt
The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Monday, July 11, 2011

No reflection

Greetings! Normally, I include a reflection on the lectionary texts here. Thank you for checking in. Because I am a student in a doctoral seminar this week, I'm giving myself a pass on this week's texts. Be sure to check out these great resources (the last of which I learned about today in my seminar on Renaissance art, humanism, and theology) and come back here next week!

The Text This Week

Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Center of Excellence in Preaching

The Lectionary Lab

Art Project powered by Google

Monday, July 4, 2011

Roots: Proper 10, Year A

This Week's Lectionary Texts

This Week's Reflection
Roots mean something. It is a common analogy that we use, isn't it? In order to grow strong and bear much fruit, we have to have deep roots. That is why it is shocking when Esau is willing to give up his birthright for a bowl of stew. In a way, Jacob convinces Esau that he doesn't need to worry about any roots whatsoever, that the here and now is what matters. And, because his belly was grumbling, Esau didn't need too much to be convinced. "Cut me off from my family and my inheritance. I don't care as long as my desires are filled immediately."

As a person who was raised in a society of immediate gratification supported by drive-through windows, microwaves, and Google, I have to admit that I struggle with this myself. Allowing time for an idea to grow and mature doesn't come easily for me. So what are we Gen Xers (and our friends on either side of our generation) supposed to do with our faith? How are we to "put down roots" in the good soil so that our faith will grow strong and produce good fruit when we haven't learned the patience necessary for gardening?

I love the parable of the sower from Matthew because Jesus felt it was so important that he actually explains it after telling the story. I do imagine him so fed up with folks just not getting it that once he looked in their faces and saw that once again they had no clue what he was talking about, he decided to say, "Okay, let's take this slowly. Here is what I meant by that."

And, what he says that he meant was that we have to allow the Word to fall deep within us in order for our lives to be all that God dreams they can be. We have to have roots, deep roots of the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in order to bear the fruit that will feed God's children. When we expect our faith to come in a tidy cardboard box with a gender specific toy delivered to us immediately and asking very little of us in return, then we can expect to wither on the vine. Developing roots takes time. It requires patience. And, it will produce more than we could ever imagine.

This Week's Art
in order of appearance in the reflection