Ecclesiological Etchings: 04-30-14


Scripture: Matthew 25:14-16
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.

Thought for the Day: It was George Buttrick who wrote that a “talent is evidently like any other coin: it has two sides. On one side is written endowment, and on the other responsibility.” Just because someone has been given (endowed with) a talent or gift, it does not automatically mean it has been used…let alone, used for the purpose it was given. In the life of the church, we have been called to communicate the news that every human being has been uniquely gifted, but also communicate the divine calling upon that gift. At the time of Matthew’s Gospel, the church was young and fragile. If its members chose to sit back and do nothing more than celebrate God’s gifts, then the potential of the church would be lost. The church’s responsibility was to lead the celebration, along with putting forth the high expectation that God had with every gift, talent, skill and blessing. These were not to be ignored, hidden or used for a selfish end. Instead, the purpose was to help reveal the Kingdom of God! How are we doing in communicating what Matthew’s Gospel was attempting to share — a clear sense of responsibility placed upon each and every person?

Prayer: Let me see both sides of the coin, Lord. My heart celebrates your gracious giving, but it also desires to see the calling you have put upon my life. Amen.


Going Deeper-Study

Ecclesiological Etchings: 04-29-14


Scripture: Matthew 19:24
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Thought for the Day: Jesus presented – what some believe – was a very short parable. Parables provide a window through which we glimpse the Kingdom of God, and in this case, Jesus was suggesting that wealth might be a hinderance at the doorway. Upon reading this passage (it is in all three Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke), the usual response is to define wealth as something more than we currently make. We build in a buffer of comfort between the line to which Jesus was speaking and our income level, yet it is interesting how the line set by Jesus always goes up with every raise we receive to maintain the buffer.

Instead of trying to push the parable away, maybe it is better to embrace it along with the discomfort it may bring. Recently, I read this parable alongside Philippians 2 where we read of how Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to which he should cling, but emptied himself of the divine nature and took on the form of a servant. It is interesting how the passageway to and from the kingdom requires the relinquishing of everything…for Jesus and us.

Prayer: I do not wish to wait until death before I become a citizen of your kingdom, Lord God. Whatever I need to renounce or leave behind so I might more fully participate, please help me to see. Amen.

Are You Coming

Going Deeper-Study


Ecclesiological Etchings: 04-28-14


Scripture: Mark 4:30-32
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Thought for the Day: In the last week, I have had three separate conversations around parables in which someone said, “I was told the parable means…” (and the individual went on to describe what s/he had been told). In each case, I responded by saying the interpretation might be true alongside other interpretations. It was the French Philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, who spoke about “the inexhaustible capacity of the parables.” If Jesus would have wanted to make a specific point, don’t you think he would have used something a bit more concrete than parable. I once said there is a vague truth to parables, and though it sounded strange coming from my mouth the first time, I have come back to that description on more than one occasion. Truth, at least as we usually define it, should not be vague, but even in this parable of the mustard seed, the truths being communicated are numerous, a bit amorphous, yet capable of meeting different people in different situations and transforming their thinking. It is a pretty impressive approach that Jesus had.

Prayer: Holy Mystery, make me available to the new thing you are doing through the parable I think I already know. Amen.

Going Deeper-Study

Ecclesiological Etchings: 04-27-14


Scripture: Luke 10:38-41
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Thought for the Day: This story of Martha and Mary comes immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan where we learned what defines a good neighbor—a good neighbor is one who does the hard work of unconditional love and compassion. So when you read of Martha working her tail off in service to Jesus and Mary resting at the feet of Jesus, you might have thought Jesus would remind Mary of the Samaritan who didn’t take a break from doing the good works of grace. But to our surprise, Jesus praised Mary who was reclining and challenged Martha who was working. These two passages side by side remind us that simple answers don’t often work even though many people will try to provide them. In the end, faith is learning and listening and trying and listening and learning all over again. We do it all under the grace of God believing that if we are a Mary when we should be a Good Samaritan or a Martha when we should be a Mary, God’s mercy will encourage us to try again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Kind and Gracious God, continue to work with me as I live in the challenging tension between faith and life. Amen.


Ecclesiological Etchings: 04-26-14


Scripture: Matthew 13:24
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field…

Thought for the Day: As we learned in class this past week, the word parable is the word Parabole in the original Greek of the New Testament. Parabole means to place one thing alongside another, yet when you look at the parables of Jesus, they are more than simple commonsense comparisons. Reread the above verse from Matthew’s Gospel. The kingdom of heaven is like someone who sowed good seed in a field. When you think about it for a moment, that’s nuts! How exactly is the reign of God – the holy vision of the Creator – like a farmer who does what he always does? It was the scholar, Marcus Borg, who called Jesus a “subversive sage.” In Matthew’s Gospel, the most Jewish of the Gospels, Jesus acts in such a way that would have made some of the religious leaders very uncomfortable. He compared the sacred to that which was mundane, yet it was the Gospel writer’s way of reinforcing the Jesus story. Not only did he cross long-held boundaries between sacred and the profane, but the very idea of the incarnation is God choosing to break through these dividing lines that were never intended to be. It is like God telling the world, “I do not wish to be set apart, but brought close.” God is the living parable, the divine coming alongside humanity.

Prayer: Creator of All, how is that you are found in the mundane? How is it that your holiness is revealed in the run-of-the-mill stuff of life? Show me again how you emptied yourself and took on the form of a servant for our sake. Amen.

Ecclesiological Etchings: 04-25-14


Scripture: Luke 5:37-39
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.”

Thought for the Day: Too often this passage is used to knock our Jewish brothers and sisters, depicting them as old, useless and potentially destructive to something new. Yet the last line, though potentially sarcastic, could also be stating a very simple truth. Old wine in old wineskins can, in fact, be some of the best wine anyone has ever tasted…at least to connoisseurs of a certain fermented fruit beverage. For a Gospel writer (Luke) who was so passionate about anyone who might be marginalized, it seems a bit counterproductive to marginalize another group by discarding them as “the old stuff”. And then there are troublemakers like me who do not really enjoy wine. I’d much rather have a glass of grape juice that could be put in either old or new wineskins because it doesn’t release the gas that would cause the skin to stretch and tear. So maybe there are certain times when something life-giving can exist in both the old and new. And maybe it just takes a bit more creativity.

Prayer: God, you do new things all the time, but it appears that you also have a love of certain old traditions. There are probably times and places for both, and so help me to perceive how best to respond to each unique situation. Amen.

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Ecclesiological Etchings: 04-24-14


Scripture: Luke 15:1-4
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “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?”

Thought for the Day: In my two classes yesterday, we had interesting conversations around the parables found in the 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, including the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the lost one. Of course, I was emphasizing the importance of the historical context. It allows the scripture to speak for itself, instead of us reading into it what we wanted to find there. What’s fascinating about the parable of the shepherd is how the character of the shepherd is probably to be understood as God. This might seem fine as King David was a shepherd and the 23rd Psalm describes God as this wonderful and caring shepherd. But the Biblical Scholar, R. Alan Culpepper, points out that by the time Luke’s Gospel was being written, shepherds had a lousy name. No other place in the New Testament is God viewed as a shepherd. Culpepper writes, “…shepherds had acquired a bad reputation by the first century as shiftless, thieving, trespassing hirelings. Shepherding was listed among the despised trades by the rabbis, along with camel drivers, sailors, gamblers with dice, dyers and tax collectors” (NIB, Vol. 9, p. 296). This might seem strange, yet Luke’s Gospel was written to those who were despised and considered outside the reach of God. The parable describes God’s nature as being passionate for the sake of the lost and forsaken, and it is fascinating how the parable depicts God in the role of one who is despised. God is willing to do whatever is necessary for the sake of humanity, which includes being viewed as a scoundrel.

Prayer: We are thankful, O Lord, for your grace made real in your willingness to stretch out to us! May our thankfulness turn to true celebration. Amen.


Concert in the Centrum