Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – A narrative of truth that exposes the best way to handle wealth and resources

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ “ (Luke 16:1 – 4)

This is another one of those parables by Jesus that it took me some time to understand; not just, mind you, studying it once but delving into to understand the hidden meaning and the concepts that Jesus is pointing out. What I did not realize was that the rich man firing his manager is an allusion to the end of this life and the coming of the life/world to come. In this sense it, well, makes sense.

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ “ (Verses 5 – 7)

Understood in this way, I can see a parallel to my work life. For, beloved reader, I do not have wealth to give to others that will provide for me a home. Nor do I have command to power to make the changes that this manager does. What I did have in my last job, however, was the power and authority to establish a certain way of handling my employees and the clients who have services from us. My approach was compassion, understanding, acceptance of people’s weakness & needs, and patience that could be stretch pretty thin. While I had to set some boundaries, I always did it with compassion and care. And I made myself available to both employees and clients 24/7 – to the frustration of my family who become tired of me constantly on call. My new job does not quite give me the same latitude, but I approach each work day with that mind set. I was not dishonest – I could never be that. But I freely admit I took advantage of my position as a supervisor to be exactly the type of boss I would want to have.

“And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Verses 8 – 12)

I have been at my new job for almost two full years. And in that time I have been given much more responsibility than I thought I would. At times more responsibility than I really wanted. I guess if I was very honest, putting aside humbleness, I would have to say I have been faithful with the “little” I was given. And as I showed my faithfulness “more” was given.

“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Verse 13)

Now to make sure that the people who were listening to Jesus did not get the wrong idea, Jesus establishes the boundary that wealth is not to be used to commit sin. But it is to be used to accomplish the goals of caring and compassion. The manager did not steal from the rich man as he showed compassion to those in debt to his master. He used his position to make their lives easier and better. And that has always been the overriding purpose in each job I have had – to support, improve, and add to the lives of others. May you do likewise beloved reader! Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – A narrative of truth that inspires quiet, peace, Godliness and dignity . ., . but still is the truth

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1 – 2)

We are back with Paul and his first letter to Timothy. Please notice, and I have put them together so you can, the reason and purpose for praying for kings and those in high places. So that there is quiet and peace. And that the lives of the believers are Godly and dignified. Where there is not quiet and peace, there is no Godliness and dignity, and vice versa.

I grew up in an era when Anabaptism prompted us to be “the quiet in the land”, going about one’s faith life without drawing attention to one’s self, and not entering into the “secular” world. But I grew into a world where quiet, peace, dignity, and Godliness was had to maintain because the world intruded and made noise, and committed acts that not only challenged living in peace but ruined that option for others. So, we started to speak up. We reminded ourselves and each other that our Anabaptist forebearers also spoke up when wrong and ungodly things were happening. Jesus Christ spoke up also when he say wrong being done.

“This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (Verses 3 – 4)

Truth has been modified and categorized in many ways; the way I like the best is an “inconvenient” truth. Truth is truth no matter how you try to dress it up, disguise or camouflage it. It gets to be “inconvenient” when it refuses to hid and be discrete.

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (Verses 5 – 7)

Paul may have urged prayers for those in control of the worldly government: but he still spoke the truth about the gospel as he knew it, and preached it as it was revealed to him. Paul in his time and teaching (at least in some of his letters) counseled living quiet and unobtrusive lives. That was for the benefit of the new believers who might face persecution and oppression. But Paul, for himself, was loud and brash, speaking truth and not concerning himself as to who it might offend. I will say that there needs to be a balance between being the “quiet in the land” and speaking/teaching/preaching truth. That is one of the things that comes through his letters to Timothy, and why I enjoy them so much!

May you, beloved reader, speak truth when it needs to be said – but also live a life that is peaceful, Godly, and dignified. And even if you can do it quietly, make a little noise once in a while! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher & Seeker reflect on Psalm 14

Seeker: “Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” I once was a fool – I admit. I did not think God existed. And if there was a God, what that to me? I was not corrup. I did not do “abominable deeds”. I least I did not think they were. And I did try to do good. But it was shallow good, passing good. If it was convenient and easy for me “good.” Yes, that is how I was a fool. I did not think beyond my own self.
Preacher: There are good people. People who do good things, are compassionate and caring. The Lord God does look favorably on such people. Do not be so hard on yourself, Seeker. The psalmist is on the look out for people who are more “corrupt” and “abominable” than you. People who hoping, in vain, that there is no God so that there is no consequence to their evil. Because you realized your folly and repented of it, it is unlikely that anything you might have done would have been to the scale that the psalmist is describing.
Seeker: “The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.”
You are correct, Preacher. I did search my heart and I did see that at my core there was something missing. There was an emptiness inside me that nothing that was in my life at the time could fill. It was only when I acknowledged the Divine that the emptiness inside was filled. And when the emptiness went away, I knew there were other things inside of me – a careless attitude and disregard for others – that needed to be gone also. When love of God and love of humanity filled me, there was no room for anything else.
Preacher:
There is a very good stanza from a hymn, “I sought the Lord, and afterword I knew he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.” The Divine searched for you, and you did not ignore that call. Jesus himself said that the Good Shepherd will seek the lost sheep.
Seeker: “They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.”
But Preacher, how can this be true? How can the psalmist be so pessimistic?
Preacher: “Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?”
Ah Seeker, you have not discerned the hidden intent of the psalmist; or more precisely, the wile of the psalmist. The psalmist is looking outward to the nations around and sees that those nations are not following God, as the Hebrews/Israelites were trying to. It is, sadly, an “us” versus “them” situation where the Hebrews of the psalmist’s generation are trying to live as their God lead them but they failed. And the fools, the evil ones, took it to mean that there was no God. That the failure of the Hebrews was believing in something that did not exist.
Seeker: “There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.”
You are correct that the psalmist is staging his remarks. It is interesting that while the Hebrews/Israelites are failing to live up to that the prophets expect of them, the nations around them take this as proof that there is no God.
Preacher: “You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.”
Here is the proof then, Seeker. Having come to faith in the Lord God you are now part of the company of the deluded and afflicted who have supposedly weakened themselves because of their belief in the Divine. Your care and compassion, according to non-believers, has weakened you. And your apparent failure to live up to what your deity demands has caused your stature in the eyes of the wicked to suffer. But do you not see what this failed judgment on the part of the unbeliever reveals? He or she try to claim wisdom by not believing in a deity as you do. But they are the fools because, according to the psalmist, the Lord God exists and will judge them not only on their unbelief but on their treatment of those who do believe. “O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.” (Psalm 14)
Seeker: It seems to be a two-pronged situation. The prophets chide the people for failing away from the Lord God, and the people of other nations fault them for their lack of devotion to Yahweh. Yet the people of those nations disavow any belief in the Hebrew God, and therefore are free to sin and do evil as they want.
Preacher: If the Hebrews have it tough, non-believers have it even tougher. This same idea and theme comes all the way down to Paul and his preaching. Now that Jesus Christ made professing belief in the Divine available to all, and the way to salvation and redemption a simple matter of belief, he could not see why anyone would deny or disavow it.
Seeker: Then I was a fool; that is, a fool to avoid believing. In my fallibility I may look weak and foolish to others, but if I keep my faith alive despite my missteps I may look like a fool to others, but I will be very wise!
Preacher: Careful there Seeker, you are starting to sound like Paul! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Jesus speak about the joy in heaven concerning salvation

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: . . . “ ( Luke 15:1 – 3)

When I have misplaced something, I am obsessive until I find it. It use to be that I would not rest, physically rest, until it was found. Now, in my comparative maturity, I “just” keeping turning over in my mind where the missing item might be. I have not found everything that I have ever lost, and I have realized that some things lost are not find-able. But overall, what I have lost I have found again. That goes for issues of faith as much as items of possession. But the losing and finding of a soul, that is different. And is really what these parables are about. The Divine having lost a soul created, and diligently working to have it return.

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Verses 4 – 7)

The reason then that Jesus welcomed and ate with sinners is because you cannot regain a lost soul by being at a distance from it. You need to be there, close, nurturing when nurture is not really asked for. And caring is not really required from the recipient. But still, you keep the lines of communication open. That is one of the things I have always strived to do when I am in relationship with others – keeping the lines of communication open. Being human and fallible, I am not perfect at that. But I try with all the might and ability that the Divine has given me.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Verses 8 – 10)

And rejoicing . . . rejoicing when the lost is found – be it spiritual issues or items of possession. And, just as importantly . . . at least for issues of spirituality and faith, when a strained or broken relationship is restored. This too is what these parables are about. Rejoicing when the lost is found and the broken is made whole.

Beloved reader, may you hold tenderly and dearly the people and faith/spirituality issues that are within your circle. Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Gospel Passage – Hope and Faith Life That Demands Much

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25 – 27)

At some points in the New Testament it seems that Jesus is kind of disparaging toward family relationships. The word “hate” does not casting of family and leaving the circle of relationship. Nor does it mean abandoning your family of blood and marriage in favor of the family of God. The news of Jesus Christ was so revolutionary that in some families members were in opposition to each other in believing in Jesus as the Son of God, or at least at this point in his ministry that he was sent by God. Belief in the Lord God Jesus Christ can come at a high cost, and stalwart authentic believers have to be prepared to pay that cost. And . . . . before pledging one’s self to follow Jesus, the obligations and cost must be calculated on all levels and terms, and be accepted.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.” (Verses 28 – 32)

I have set a bit of a challenge in front of my self. I plan to take some vacation time away from home Sept 13 – 15. And because of where I am going, I will not be able to write or post any entries on the Revised Common Lectionary. So I am working ahead so I can take those days away and not interrupt the flow of posts. It is not a hardship, or not much. It meant carving out time on the weekend to write extra. And that was actually a treat! I tend to write more when I have the luxury of time to think and ponder. So I am not complaining about that. But, when I read these verses it did make me think about calculating the “cost” of taking the time off without skimping on the four weekly postings. (Five actually, because there is in that week religious celebration day – watch for it. )

Another thought that came to mind is working extra to make up for taking time off from work. Unfortunately week day appointments can not neatly scheduled before or after work, so I need to take off during the day and then make up for that time by starting earlier or ending my work day later. It does make for long days. Again, this is calculating the cost, and choosing to not use sick leave. After my health scare earlier this year I prefer to reserve those hours for when I truly cannot work or make up the time.

But do you hear the things I refuse to give up? Appearing/posting on the days I have scheduled for myself and not giving my self a rest break. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to “strut” my theological stuff. Not depending on the Divine to provide for me if I become ill. Not trusting in the Lord to keep me well, but making my own arrangements. And so it goes. It may seem like minor stuff, my “little” obsessions. But is it following the spirit of Jesus Christ’s words when he says . . . .

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”(Verse 33)

Before any venture, beloved reader, may you calculate the cost, not only to your own worldly life, but to your faith life as well! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – Hope from the Master’s Hand

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.
I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.” (Philemon 1:1 – 6)

I do not remember when I first read this epistle from Paul to Philemon; but if I am remembering correctly, my first impression was that it was like his other letters to area churches who were new in the faith. And would be shared with the group and passed from person to person. However, this is a more personal letter sent to an individual or, more likely based on the salutation, a specific household – Philemon’s. And it deals with a specific issue; not straight theology nor an issue of theological faith, but living out Christian ideals. And one ideal specifically. But Paul has ground work to lay first.

“I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love–and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” (Verses 7 – 9)

Paul commends the recipient of the letter for the faith that Paul has heard of, and based on this faith, that Paul has certain expectations of how Philemon should and would act concerning this matter.

“I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Without the background of who Philemon and Onesimus were to each other, this was confusing for me to read. Even more so, because at the age I was when I read it, I had no idea that there were commentaries to explain books of the bible. (A note aside – I sometimes think that I grasped biblical concepts with greater ease WITHOUT commentaries and their sometimes confusing narratives. But having consulted with them enough, I return to them when I mistrust my own understandings ONLY to discover I had the right of it all along! But I digress. Sigh.) When I did gain an understanding of the back story, the letter made more sense.

“Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother–especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” (Verses 15 – 17)

Here Paul applies the subtle pressure. Onesimus has come to faith, and having faith is now considered an equal relative in the family of God and Jesus Christ. As Philemon would consider Paul as a relative to him under the Divine. Apparently, however, it was not always so. But now it is, and Paul wants Philemon to understand this . . . clearly.

“If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.” (Verses 18 – 19)

Again, when I read this long ago it puzzled me. What would Onesimus owe Philemon or how would he have Philemon? And what sort of triangle of obligation or debt is Paul referring to?

“Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Verses 20)

Let me reassure you, beloved reader, I am now completely and fully aware of the nuances and implications of this passage and the letter in it entirety. The good news and salvation that comes from that news is highly prized by Paul. It is worth more than any one in a lifetime could accumulate. In fact, according to Paul, if a person had nothing but a assurance of salvation in their life, they would have more than any one unsaved but with gold, silver, and possession untold. Paul, in leading Philemon to faith, gave him this most cherished of gifts and blessings. And so Paul feels that he can call upon Philemon to indulge him and grant any favor that Paul might ask. Paul says, in affect, that because Philemon has shown such devotion to Christian living and principles his faith must be deep and firm – kudos and commendations to Paul. Therefore, Philemon knows the value of this faith. And he knows that others who have this faith must be valued and given equal status as Philemon perceives himself . . . and Paul.

So, we come to Onesimus . . . who has also received faith and salvation . . . and like Philemon is dear and valuable to Paul. And, but, & however . . . . Onesimus is/was Philemon’s slave. (And when I realized that, beloved reader, I was blown away! A Christian owned/still owned a slave!)

So Paul is sending Onesimus back. Not, however, as a slave but as a dear son of Paul and in Paul’s esteem. Equal, in Paul’s estimation, to Philemon. And Paul wants Philemon to consider Onesimus in the same way; not as a slave but as a brother and fellow believer in Christ.

What a position for Philemon to be in. And what a position for Onesimus to be in. What love and faith Onesimus must have in Paul. And what faith Onesimus must have in Philemon’s conversion to Christianity. And lastly, what faith Paul must have in Philemon’s continuation of authentic Christian living.

I talked about a triangle of obligation and debt that existed amongst these three people. Each presuming on faith that the other two would live up to expectations. But there is also hope – a concept we looked at two weeks ago. There is the reality of what happens when we stray from the ways and guidance of the Divine. And the hope we have that we will be welcomed back. The called and chosen people faced this reality, and nurtured the hope that the Divine would welcome then back. Onesimus faced this reality when he ran away. Paul gave him hope; first in the Lord God, and second that Philemon would welcome him back without punishment and recriminations. Paul based his hope on the value that Philemon gave to his salvation and his relationship to Paul.

Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Verse 21)

I do not know what happened between Philemon and Onesimus. One would “hope” that the slave was welcomed back with open arms, and became a brother and worker in in the labor of the household, and in the mission and evangelism that Philemon was a part of. That the position of master (hence the title) and slave might be redefined.

The story might conclude right there. However, Paul was never one to let things rest without a final nudge. And the following is not part of the lectionary, but I thought beloved reader you might find it interesting.

One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you. . . . The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Verses 22 & 25)

Make of that what you will, beloved reader. I know I did! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Hope from the Potter’s Hand

We have been hearing a good deal of grief on the part of the called and chosen people. And a good deal of exhortation from the prophets. When we lift those words from the Old Testament and apply them to our world and lives, we seem to take that grief and exhortation into our world as well. It was with a joyful heart, then, that I read this passage of hope.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” (Jeremiah 18:1 – 4)

In high school I took a class in pottery. I really loved it! In one image of myself I could see myself throwing pottery and sculpting. But I was so dependent on the affirmation of others and not confident enough in myself, that I was discouraged on my first and second attempt, I abandoned that dream. There are so many things I wish I had persevered on. Thanks be to God though, that I refused to wavering from writing! But, I digress.

“Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.” (Verses 5 – 8)

I think, beloved reader, that is one of the best reasons that the Jewish nation endured to modern day. Enough good was seen by the Divine, and done by the people, that the Divine kept remaking it over and over. The same may be true for us. In the midst of all that is going on in our world, if we would show forth good and believe in the Divine . . . . perhaps the Divine would pick up the ruined “pot” that we (meaning wider society) are and re-make us into something salvageable and worthwhile. I think of all the political news and rhetoric; the good and the bad seemingly existing side by side, and hope that enough good remains long enough for the Lord God to remodel us and not toss aside unconditionally. As if, however, the Divine would do that.

“And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.” (Verses 9 – 10)

That is the fear. That is the warning that the writer of Jeremiah spoke to his audience. And that, beloved reader, is the warning I give also. Do not let the evil that exists around you pull you down and mar you in the sight of the Divine. And, remember, the sight of the Divine is everywhere!

“Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.” (Verse 11)

Is the Divine Potter sitting in heaven, sighing as the world spins round and round on the Divine’s potter’s wheel? One could fear, I suppose. But I have seen skilled potters steady a vessel, and where disaster might loom at every turn of the wheel, a true artisan can steady the wheel and rescue the creation. Praise to the Lord that the Divine is so talented! Selah!