Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ (Proper 29 [34]): The Gospel Passage – Looking out for the “least”

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.” (Matthew 25:31 – 33)

This should be a clue – being on the right hand side of a ruler means you are within his favor. Being placed on the left hand side, however, means that you might be in for some hard times. So also the categorizing of sheep versus goats. Goats sound too much like that the strong sheep in the Old Testament passage that butted flank and shoulder.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ “ (Verses 34 – 40)

While this might be a metaphor, beloved reader, the needs in our world are real. When I was young, there were two types of mission work that were done. There was mission work done for “those people” who are in an other place and whose lives were lived out under conditions that I had no knowledge of. And there was mission work done to home people whose situation was more dire than mine, but who were close at hand. But there is a third type of mission work, and it is perhaps work that is less obvious. It is the task of being caring, giving and supportive to those who do not seem to be in need. Simple compassion and care for people who are already in your life. Needs are not always obvious, and suffering is not necessarily one that is a lack of resources. Having worked in the mental health field and social services field, I know that some needs are simply the need that one has for companionship and compassion. Jesus’ parable talks about the hungry and thirsty, the stranger from far away, those who have material needs, who are sick or in prison. But those needs are easy to see. But hunger and thirst in spirit, being alone in life and circumstances, being bereft of shelter from life’s harshness, being sick in mind and emotions, and being imprisoned in one’s downward spiraling thoughts are just as dire; and just as in need of mission and ministry.

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” “ (Verses 41 – 46)

We do not know, we cannot know, who the “least of these” are. We know, WE KNOW, what it is to be in need. Not the dire needs that are in this parable, but the small needs of life. And do not think for one minute that it is any less a blessing to minister to the small needs. Because sometimes it is the small needs of life that are overlooked. I have spent many years of my life working with people who have relatively “small” needs. And I know how important it is to meet those small needs. I used to be afraid that I would be the “goat” on the left hand side of the Lord. But I do not have that fear anymore.

You do not really need to go out of your way to minister, beloved reader. Need might literally be in your own backyard, or even in your own home. You know what you need in life, beloved reader, to be cared for and taken care of. Extend that care and concern to others. The “least of these” might already be someone you know! Shalom!

 

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 29 [34]): Thanksgiving Day – Giving thanks in the proper season even when the season is lean

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.” ( Deuteronomy 8:7-18)

If you have been following along the story of the Israelites, their exodus and settling in the new land, as well as the story of the judges and kings that governed the Israelites, you would know that they did NOT remember to give honor to the Lord for their deliverance. At least that is the perspective that many of the accounts seem to take; that the Israelites displeased the Lord and were punished.

King David, or at the person who wrote the psalms, encourages his audience to give praise to God, as the passage of Deuteronomy states. And today, Thanksgiving Day, we are to do just that. We have been “settled” in our lives, and we should remember the blessings that the Lord God has given us.

“Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” (Psalm 65)

Thankfulness and remembering the Lord God is commended and commanded to us. The writings produced from the Hebrews/Israelites’ exodus direct us to remember the Lord who delivers us from dire circumstances and leads us to pleasant places. The psalmist exhorts us to praise the Lord God for what the Divine has done and for who the Divine is. And the apostles and disciples of Jesus commend and command new believers to praise God and to share what blessings the Lord God has given them.


“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.
Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” ( 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

What of, you may ask, those whose need is dire and who have no hope of deliverance or blessing. It is true, at this season of the year not everyone is provided for. At this writing my circumstances have not changed much from late spring and summer. The fall did not bring a reverse of circumstances. And this Thanksgiving season is one where our family is not as assured as we have been other years. But the Lord does watch over us, and we still find things to praise God for. Larger or small, we must remember to thank the Lord God at the proper time. Great things or those things that seem small in comparison to what we had in the past need to be lifted up to God in praise. We can never know when our circumstances may have a major turn around.

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

The Israelites went from being slaves to property owners who had abundance and security. From a small group of refugees grew a great nation, that at its own peril, forgot who to give praise and thanks to. The psalmist tells us to praise God, and Paul follows that up with exhorting those who have abundance to share with those who have little. And Jesus’ own words remind us that it can at times when we are at our lowest that the greatest miracle of blessing may come. We need to be ready to return praise and be ready to return to our Lord God to praise the Almighty. I hope and pray, beloved reader, that this Thanksgiving season finds you with much to be thankful and praising for. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ (Proper 29 [34]): The Epistle Passage – A message to believers new and established

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15 – 19)

Are there any new believers reading this? If so, this passage is especially for you. I know that us mature seasoned believers would love to have this said about us, but the truth is we should already know much of what Paul commends to us. But for a moment say that we don’t. This is what is commended and exhorted to us:

  • Have faith in the Lord God and in Jesus Christ
  • Love your fellow believers
  • You are prayed for
  • You are blessed and have been given wisdom through the Spirit of God; use that wisdom in your every day life

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Verses 20 – 23)

Now if we take Paul’s words literally, and Paul would expect us to, this blessing and wisdom was first established when Jesus ascended back into heaven. It has been in place much longer than any of us living today have had faith. It was established over 2000 year ago. It pre-dates my faith and your faith, and the faith of our spiritual forebearers. While Paul was addressing his remarks to relatively new believers, the establishing of Jesus Christ’s authority through the Lord God was set into motion soon after the first believers, the disciples, were commissioned through the Holy Spirit. New believers may come to new faith, but the faith is old and well established.

I have said often the focus of this lectionary year was new believers coming to new faith. But it is also for established believers coming to a deep faith, discovering new depths of faith. As we come to the end of this lectionary year, let us take some to time examine our faith and see if it has indeed deepened. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Reign of Christ (Proper 29 [34]): The Old Testament Passage – The Lord is the Shepherd for God’s people

For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

If it were not for Psalm 23, this passage from Ezekiel would not be nearly as instructive. From the psalmist’s thoughts we understand what it means to be a shepherd of sheep, and protector of people. This passage from Ezekiel also illuminates Psalm 23; perhaps the psalmist received inspiration from the writer of Ezekiel as to what a good shepherd does.

But what impresses me the most about this passage is the predominance of the the pronoun “I”. It is not the Lord God commissioning someone or sending someone to take care of the sheep. It is the Godself who is tending to the sheep. This during a period of time when the Israelites were feeling the dominance and oppression of the nations around them and the warfare that was brought against them. And the absence of the protection of the Lord God, that they ascribed to the nation not following the Lord God. Here is assurance that in a day to come, the Lord will undertake for them. Present is also the promise that “the fat and the strong”, who must assume are those who oppress and the seek the ruin the Israelites; or at least those who flaunt and press their advantage over the weaker Israelites.

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.” (Verses 20 – 24)

There is a great deal of social justice “preached” in the Old Testament. Many times it is the prophets (major and minor) who are conveying the Lord God’s words to Israelite and demanding that those in charge and with power protect and defend those who are powerless. Jesus preached the same thing in his time. It is unfortunate then, that in our time there are so few people whose voices ring out with the same weight as the prophets of old and Jesus Christ. The need for social justice is just as strong now as it was then. And considering that our modern awareness spans the globe, the need for voices raised is even greater. That is why the Old Testament needs to be given attention and emphasis. So often the less caring aspects of the Old Testament are raised and used to justice horrors against humanity at large.

With our awareness of what in the Old Testament needs to be preached and put into practice is that those who are in power and have the advantage need saving too. The weak and the marginalized need our care and concern. But the strong “shoulder and flank “ butt-ers need to be taught and redeemed also. One cannot address the sin without trying to save the sinner. That is something that is not often preached in the Old Testament. I guess the assumption was that the powerful should know better. We in modern society see that is not true.

Verse 16 tells us, “the fat and the strong” will be destroyed. That is one reading of the social justice in the Old Testament. The New Testament gives hope that the strong and fat will use their advantage for the betterment of those weak and poor. The lesson in this is that everyone needs something. The weak and poor need to be strengthened. And the strong need to be humbled. I will leave it to you, beloved reader, which is your need. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28 [33]): The Psalm Passage – Lifting our eyes to see hope

Preacher: “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!”
Seeker: If I look down, I only see the ground I walk on. I see where my feet have journey, and I see the path ahead of me. But I am so consumed with looking down, I do not see those who are around me. And if I do not see others, how can live in peace harmony with creation and humanity.
If I look sideways or around me, I see the world and all who struggle in it. We are all here, a struggling mass of humanity. I know that some look as if all is well in their lives, but need and sadness do not always show outwardly. I do not assume the wealthy and the well off have no problems. We have different problems; but everyone has struggles of one sort of another.
It is only when I look up that I can see where my hope and help might come from. Lord God, help me to look up!
Preacher: “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until he has mercy upon us.”
Seeker: I need the Lord’s mercy. Actually, I need many things. Mercy is but the beginning of my needs. If the Lord’s mercy means compassion and care, sustenance and support, guidance and direction – then the Lord’s mercy will sustain me. And if the Lord will but look on me in my lowly state, I will have hope that the Lord’s mercy, care, and compassion will be bestowed on me.
Preacher: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.”

Seeker: If I have contempt for myself, that I do not value myself as the Lord values me, and that is wrong. If the contempt of others presses me and oppresses me, then I will plead my case before the Lord. I pray that the contempt of others will not sour my soul, and that I will never pass on the contempt I feel from anothers. I beg you Lord that I may not fall into that sin.
Preacher: “Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.” (Psalm 123)

Seeker: Remind my Lord God that all have fallen short of your expectations. Those who seem at ease and those that are proud are not more worthy of you attention than I. Let me judge only by you, O Lord. And be merciful unto me. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28 [33]): The Gospel Passage – Meditating on job searches

For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matthew 25:14 – 18)

I am always tempted, when I read this parable, to read it literally as talents or skills as opposed to sums of money. So I always remind myself – money, not skill – so I don’t feel guilty if I am not performing up to my full potential. Thus reassured, I can continue reading it and understanding the wisdom of using wisely the resources we have from the Lord God.

“After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ “ (Verses 19 – 23)

“Enter into the joy of your master.” That phrase had never caught m y eye before. I wold take that to me that it is joyful and rewarding to tend and nurture projects and ventures, and to see them grow and thrive. These two slaves, having experienced and succeeded at what their Master had accomplished for himself, are now invited and elevated to a higher life’s work.

“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘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.’ “ (Verse 24-25)

The last slave, however, was too nervous to take any chances with his master’s resources and thought only to preserve the little he had then to take a chance of making any errors. But his nervous efforts did not garner him praise.

“But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.” (Verses 26 – 28)

In other words, his master depends on the work and efforts of those under his supervision. How else could he gain if he did not do the work. It is the master providing resources to t hose under him that enable him to gain and prosper. And his slaves with him.

So suppose, I ask myself, it is actually talents and skills that are given out? Would it not be lazy and wrong to bury one’s talent and not use it? I am thinking about this on the cusp of yet another job interview; one where I am again talking about myself, my skills, my background and job experience. I often feel like a chirpy little bird just peepsing and babbling about myself. I don’t like doing that. But then I read this parable, and it seemed to me that I am out there using and investing my five talents, and hoping to turn them into ten.

“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Verse 29)

So I am hoping that by helping others with the skills and experience I have from past jobs will result in the reward of a job. A job where I can nurture others in developing their own skills and abilities.

“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “ (Verse 30)

And by this logic, if I hid away my abilities and did not talk about my strengths for doing a job, I too could find my self in “outer darkness” where I would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” which is really kind of ironic since I have been bemoaning the fact that I do not have a job yet. However, there is moaning and bewailing to the Lord when my future is uncertain, and mourning lost opportunities to contribute to the welfare of humanity. So I will persist in my job hunt, and work towards the mission and vision of my Master, the Lord God. Selah!

Season After Pentecost (Proper 28 [33]): The Epistles Passage – Paul assumes, and so do I

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!” (1 Thessalonians 5:1 – 3)

These verses are sort of at odds with what the modern day mindset is. We long for peace and security; and when we have it, we consider it a blessing and feel we are blessed. But Paul is saying when there is peace and security, and when things are too quiet, that is the time to be aware. In order to understand this dichotomy, beloved reader, you need to understand the perspective that Paul has. He is not against peace and security as stance and condition for believers; rather it is for the unsaved who do not realize that there is peril if the Lord God returns and the sinner has not confessed the sin and been redeemed through Jesus Christ. And it is for that reason, I imagine, that Paul does not feel the church at Thessalonica needs to be concerned.

“But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Now, I can well imagine Paul writing this reverse psychology exhortation. Stating the assumption that the Thessalonians are living good Christian lives. But . . . . if they are not, then they should remedy that situation quickly!

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (Verses 8 – 11)

As I said yesterday, the time is wounding down to the end of the “Season After Pentecost” and moving towards Advent. We will soon depart from this time of teaching, and the focus on coming to new faith. The Thessalonians were relatively new to faith. And while Paul had every confidence in them, he was not above pushing them to remain faith if/when those around them were not espousing and living according to the Christian faith.

I do not think I have to warn you, beloved reader, neither in a reverse way or straight on to be diligent in your faith. I trust that if you are reading these postings, you read them strong in your faith and your belief. And that the peace and security you have comes from walking in the path of Christ. And seeking the Lord God in your journey through life . . . right?

May shalom be yours, beloved reader. And may the coming Thanksgiving season find you among close friends and family. Selah!