Monday, November 21, 2011

Cycle Repeated: Year B, Advent 1

Follow Miriam's Tambourine on Twitter @MiriamsTam

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

This Week's Podcast:

This Week's Reflection:
321 by Melissa Bridgman
Happy New Year! I never get tired of doing that with congregations. Most folks give me strange looks and think that I've lost my mind. But, for Christians, this Sunday marks the beginning of a new year on the liturgical calendar. After being reminded that Christ is King and reigns eternal, we begin the process of waiting all over again - waiting, watching, longing, hoping - for Christ to come.

I've often thought how wonderful it would be to skip all these days leading up to the big feasts of Christmas and Easter. On this Sunday, we are reminded of a quaking earth and darkness and sin. Man, it would be much more fun to just skip right over to that precious baby being born. So, why do we have to remind our congregations every year? Why do we have to go through this over and over and over again? I know of a woman who likes to say, "I know the end of the story already! Why do we have to do this?"

We Americans don't do well with delayed gratification. In fact, we have built a culture upon finding ways to have instant gratification - fast food, high speed internet access, on-demand movies - so waiting for something that we know will be wonderful is really, really hard for us. Why wait? Why repeat this process each and every year?

It isn't some deep theological reason. It is simply that we need to remember. We need to be reminded because we tend to get caught up in our lives and we forget. Oh, we say we remember. We say that we understand the implications of the coming of the Savior, but we really just gloss over it and carry on with our lives just like usual. So, once a year, every year, we come to a brand new year in the Church and on that first day of the new year, we hear scriptures that remind us that we are sinful, that the world can be very dark, and that we need to get ready. We are reminded of these things so that we reconnect with the fact that WE REALLY NEED A SAVIOR and face the promise that A SAVIOR IS ON HIS WAY. Not just a baby Jesus born in a stable all those years ago, but the King of Kings coming to save us when he returns. A Savior that we wait for, anxious and ready, a Savior who bursts onto the scene again and again.

We may know the end of the story already, but it isn't enough to know it. We need to live it out, to experience this anticipation, this longing, this hope, so that our waiting is active and our longing is shared. Our kids understand this, though they may be waiting for new Lego's or baby dolls or electronics. May we expectantly wait for the coming of the Messiah as if we don't know the end of the story, as if we are counting the hours until Christmas morning where we will find Him waiting for us beside the tree. May we understand the need to go through this cycle every year so that our faith remains fresh, active, and real. Happy New Year, y'all! Jesus is on his way.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Control?: Year A, Christ the King Sunday

This Week's Lectionary Texts:

Ezekiel 34:11-24

Psalm 100 or Psalm 95:1-7

Ephesians 1:11-23

Matthew 25:31-46

This Week's Podcast:

This Week's Reflection:
So, what is the deal with all these sheep? We approach the end of another year on the Christian calendar this week. As such, we celebrate the Reign of Christ or Christ, the King Sunday. If you check out the podcast, you will hear Andy mention that one of the reasons we recognize the Reign of Christ is as a reminder of who we are and to whom we belong. He doesn't say it quite that way, but he is used to me putting words into his mouth! He reminded me that it is of the utmost importance that we remember our allegiance is to Jesus, the Christ, first and foremost, above all others including our own nations.

You can find other blogs that will explain exactly why all these sheep references are included in the Christ, the King texts. I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of thinking of myself as a sheep nor am I able to truly comprehend what a good shepherd does with a herd; however, I do see the importance of remembering who I am in the big picture and thinking of myself as a sheep following Jesus isn't so terrible afterall.

There is one word that I have been struggling with all day today and that is CONTROL. I too often think I have it when I really do not and I more than likely will desire to obtain it if someone else nearby has it in their possession. In another life, I was called "stage manager." Now, I'm just a control-freak! So, you can see why this simile of the sheep can be bothersome for me. I'm sure it is just from where I sit right now, but I'm wondering if these texts aren't a reminder to us that we are not King. 

Now, before some of you get too upset, I'm not one of those people who is going to encourage you to beat up your congregations in order to help them see the errors of their ways and come to their senses and avoid the eternal flames. There is something to be said for humility, though.

In the Matthew text, the "good guys" had not recognized the Christ either. It wasn't that they had seen things differently. It was that they had done things differently. Not out of knowing who they were serving, not out of seeking the reward of eternal life, not out of a desire to benefit in any way - these folks had fed the hungry and clothed the naked, visited those in prison and given water to the thirsty. I think that exhibits an abundance of humility and a willingness to lack control. Christ is our King and he reigns eternal. May we seek to share that good news this week.

This Week's Artwork:
(in order of appearance)
Sicilian mosaic at Cefalu'
The Risen Lord by He Qi
Control Key found at
A detail from the mosaic to be unveiled at Christ the King church in Sophiatown, Johannesburg

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Twitter Feed and Sermons

Greetings Readers! The post for this week's lectionary will be coming later tonight or Monday. In the meantime, we wanted to make you aware that you can now follow Miriam's Tambourine on Twitter. Exciting, eh? Follow us @MiriamsTam.

Also, Chaplain Tiffany, who writes the posts for Miriam's Tambourine, preaches weekly on the very same lectionary texts. Though it scares her to think you may actually do it, you can now find podcasts of her weekly sermons at Check it out, but don't tell her you did!
Monday, November 7, 2011

Contradictions: Year A, Ordinary 33

This Week's Lectionary Texts

This Week's Reflection
"What's the meaning of life?," she asked me, as we sat eating our lunch. "That is what I struggle with. I know that God exists. I know that God loves me, but what is the purpose of all the [bad stuff] in the world?" She went on to talk about the contradictions in life that she experiences, contradictions between the all-loving and wonderful God and this God who allows good people to suffer again and again and again. She mentioned the contradictions of the same that are found in the Holy Scriptures. And, I immediately thought of the lectionary texts for this week.

Judges 4 in which the writer says, "So the LORD sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan." The Psalmist who cries out, "Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud." and "For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed." I thought about the prophet in Zephaniah 1 writing, "That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness." I thought of these verses listed along side 1 Thessalonians, "For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ," and Matthew 25 ending the parable with "As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

I thought about these verses and the ways in which we humans are so incredibly uncomfortable with contradiction. I should clarify because I imagine this is not necessarily common to all humans, but common to we westerners. Eastern religions seem perfectly comfortable with the fact that contradiction exists in this world. My friend mentioned above and myself, though, not so much.

I've written in this blog about the Matthew text once before. This parable was not the parable from the lectionary that week, but I used it to make a point. The point was about how we should ask ourselves what it would mean for us if it is not a parable about preparing ourselves for eternity, but instead a parable about the ways in which those in power abuse the powerless. I owe this thinking to Dr. Aliou Niang, former professor at Memphis Theological Seminary and current professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. I'll recap.

Starting in verse 24, the slave says to the lord, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours." This occurs in the gospel just before the bit about judgement and how those being judged will be told, "for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink." You know the rest . . . Keep that in your mind.

Presumably, if we are to read this parable the way that the Harper Collins Study Bible would have us read it, we are to believe that the master in the parable is God, well, Jesus. We are those given the talents (that is money to keep) and some of us do well with those talents and others do nothing with them. Those of us that do nothing will be thrown into the outer darkness. The folks who created the lectionary must have interpreted this text in this way when we compare it with the Hebrew passages and Epistle they chose to accompany it. The theme seems to be about being prepared because we do not know the hour or the day.  And, if we are not ready, we will find ourselves gettin' a hurtin'.

Dr. Niang's interpretation, from the viewpoint of a man raised in an African nation, was that we have attributed words to Jesus that are actually the words of the master within the story that Jesus is telling. In a time when those with power and money used that to take advantage of those without (oh, isn't it wonderful that times have changed?) Jesus is telling a story about a man with little power standing up to the powerful and being willing to risk his life to do it. Did you keep in mind the whole "I was hungry and you gave me food" thing? Looking at the context of the parable supports these ideas. Are we truly supposed to believe that Jesus would tell us a story that has "the God character" referred to as "a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow"? Even the harshness found in the Hebrew texts for this week do not include an image of God as a thief! It is as if Jesus says, "Listen, the way of the world is harsh and ugly and you should stand up to it. It will be hard, but it will be right."

It feels contradictory in a world that promises us new, easy, and feel-good. And, I'm not real keen on the image of God "selling Israelites into the hands of a king." Be ready. I get that. But, am I really supposed to stand up and preach to the congregation that if they are not ready, then they are going to burn for it? I know many preachers will preach that very thing. And, for many reasons, I'm just not willing to do it. I'd rather sit with the contradictions a while. I'd rather remind folks that we can't possibly understand it all. I like Dr. Niang's interpretation of the Matthew text. In fact, I find it to be much more powerful than "Be good. Do good. And, then you'll have good." But, I don't know that it covers the whole truth either. I'm not willing to simply ignore Zephaniah's warnings. Nor am I willing ignore Paul's reminder that God does not destine us for wrath.

We can attempt to simplify the works of God all we want. And, God's works and ways and Word will continue to baffle us - if we have our eyes open and our listening ears on, that is. What's the meaning of this life? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that it is an unanswerable question.