Proper 18, Year A: Matthew 18:15-20: Community and Conflict

Paper cutouts of colorful people holding hands in a circle

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 18, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This is some very practical teaching about community from Jesus. The Kingdom of God is all about being in relationship with God and with others.

Here’s a great breakdown from a lesson found on the Episcopal Digital Network:

Remember the steps to Conflict Resolution:

  • Step One: Go directly to that person.
    • Remember the Greatest Commandment – Love the Lord your God and Love your Neighbor as yourself.
    • The Golden Rule – treat others how you would want to be treated.
    • Be Respectful and responsible.
  • Step Two: Bring along another person or two.
  • Step Three: Bring the situation to the church (or this may mean to your school, work, or community depending on the situation.)
  • Step Four: Walk away from the situation and take a breather. Continue tocommunicate with the person and when they are ready to come into the community, welcome them.

We can use this kind of advice in a lot of situations, not only within church. I have been in situations where someone had a problem with me or what I was doing, but instead of coming to me with their concern, they seemed to tell other people and it got back to me. I admittedly can think of situations where I complained about another person’s actions without confronting them about it. It’s good to remember that the best choice is to talk directly to the person first (unless they are physically abusive and you need protection from them–in which case you should seek help and not confront someone alone).

 

The Kingdom of God is the community of God–people working together to love their neighbors as themselves.

Proper 17, Year A: Matthew 16:21-26: Lose Yourself

Saint Peter Painting

St. Peter – Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 17, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus tells his disciples that he has to go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be killed, then he will rise from the dead. Wow, can you imagine how that came across?  How do you think you would have reacted to that? Well, we know Peter’s reaction: “God save you from those sufferings, Lord! That will never happen to you!” 

Jesus rebukes him harshly, “Get away from me, Satan! You are not helping me! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.” (These quotes are from the Easy-to-Read version here.) Ouch, he called him Satan! I don’t think Jesus was implying Peter was literally possessed by Satan or anything, but more that he is speaking against God and what God wants at this moment. Remember that just last week we read about Peter being called the Rock on which the church will be built. What a change to this story! It happens to all of us–faithful and loving one time, failing and wrong another time. Meanwhile he just wants Jesus to not die, which doesn’t seem so awful to our human eyes. It seems Peter understand Jesus was the Messiah, but not all that might mean. 

Jesus goes on to say the following:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Matthew 16:24-26 (NRSV)

I love it when Jesus speaks in paradoxes. Maybe that’s weird of me. Lose your life to save it. Amazing. What does this mean to you? What are you giving of yourself today? How are you following Jesus?

Proper 15, Year A: Matthew 15: 10-20, 21-28: Inclusiveness of Jesus

Jesus and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), published in 1877

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 15, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today we hear more of Jesus’ teaching. He says,  “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” This is important because of the culture Jesus was within–a culture that had very detailed rules about cleanliness and purity. There were specific rules about what foods were eaten and how to prepare them, etc. 

So his disciples asked him about it, saying that the Pharisees were offended (Pharisees were huge on following those rules). He says they are blind leading the blind. Peter asks for further explanation. Jesus seems incredulous that they still don’t get it. He says that what goes into the mouth, goes to the stomach, and then out to the sewer,  but what comes out comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”  So what comes out of the heart, which reveals what’s within you, is more important than what goes in. Many Christians today are still obsessed with purity and following rules, usually of a sexual nature–but is it as important as what comes out of their mouths? Is it more important than the fact that these same Christians often condemn others rather than showing love?

In the second part of the reading, Jesus comes across a Canaanite woman (so, a foreigner, not Jewish), who calls out to him to have mercy because her daughter is tormented by a demon. His disciples want him to send her away and he does not answer at first. And then his first response seems harsh: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and when she continues to ask for help he answers, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She says that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. He then tells her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed. This seems like he is almost testing her, and teaching his disciples at the same time. We know that Jesus came for more than his own Jewish people. He often reaches out beyond them in other interactions (with the Roman centurion who has a sick servant, with the Samaritan woman at the well, for examples.) The Bible is continually about expanding the love of God; it is a story of inclusiveness–as God’s love reaches out to the whole world. Even in the Old Testament, when men try to hold their faith tight, God reaches out to the rest of the world–as with Ruth, as with the people of Nineveh Jonah doesn’t want to save, and in many other stories. Jesus’ love is meant for all. If your faith teaches you to be exclusive and reject others, it’s not really the faith Jesus taught–it’s more like the faith of the Pharisees.

Proper 12, Year A: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52: Mustard Seed

Sermon on the Mount Stained Glass

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 12, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus continues with parables about the Kingdom of God.  Interesting, as a child growing up in the evangelical church, when I heard God’s Kingdom, I thought it was talking about heaven, but that’s not really what he’s talking about if you actually read it.

Here are all the things Jesus says God’s Kingdom is like in this reading:

  1. Mustard seed–starts small, grows into something huge)
  2. Yeast–little bit of yeast makes all the dough rise
  3. Hidden treasure in a field–worth selling everything else to gain it
  4. Fine pearls–again, worth selling everything to gain it
  5. Fishing net–catches so many people, good and bad–good gathered up and evil to be thrown into the fire

That’s a lot to unpack. The kingdom of God starts out as something tiny but grows into something huge and worth everything else in life. And it will gather up both good and bad people and throw out the bad.

I like this part:

Then Jesus asked his followers, “Do you understand all these things?”

They said, “Yes, we understand.”

Matthew 13:51 – Easy-to-Read Version

Do they really understand? Do we?

Finally Jesus says that teachers of the law who have learned about the Kingdom of God now has new things to teach. It’s like he has new and old things in his house and he “brings out the new with the old.” There is value in both the new teaching of Jesus and the old teaching of the law.

Who are you in the Kingdom of God? Are you helping the mustard seed to grow into something amazing? Are you spreading the love of Christ? Or are you doing evil? Go into the world and do good today.

Proper 10, Year A: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23: Parable of the Sower

Christ Sowing Seeds, Stained Glass Window

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 10, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In today’s lesson, Jesus gets into a boat to speak to a crowd on the shore (because they were really crowding him on land). It’s a cool visual to think of him sitting in a boat speaking to a crowd lining the shore.

Then he spoke to them in parables–parables are just little short stories that teach a bigger spiritual lesson. I think of them as fictions that reveal truth (things can be true without being factual–admittedly hard for me to say as I am obsessed with getting facts right and not spreading false information–I have a whole other blog about that).

Anyway, his story today is one that may be very familiar–about a farmer sowing seed.

Here’s the story (Easy-to-Read Version):

“A farmer went out to sow seed. While he was scattering the seed, some of it fell by the road. The birds came and ate all that seed. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where there was not enough dirt. It grew very fast there, because the soil was not deep. But when the sun rose, it burned the plants. The plants died because they did not have deep roots.Some other seed fell among thorny weeds. The weeds grew and stopped the good plants from growing. But some of the seed fell on good ground. There it grew and made grain. Some plants made 100 times more grain, some 60 times more, and some 30 times more.You people who hear me, listen!”

The great thing about this particular parable is that Jesus goes on to tell his audience the meaning. The seed that fell by the path is like people who do not understand what they’ve learned about the Kingdom of God. The seed that fell on the rocky ground is like people who accept the teaching of the Kingdom but they don’t go any deeper–they follow for a time but then fall away from it. They give it up easily. The seed that fell among the weeds is like people who hear the teaching but let their anxieties and love of money grow up and choke out the growth. Then there’s the seed that fell on good ground–that’s like people who hear and understand. They grow and produce “a good crop, sometimes 100 times more, sometimes 60 times more, and sometimes 30 times more.” 

So what is the good crop they produce? That can be found in studying more of Jesus’ teachings. Here’s one good summation from Jesus himself:

He said, “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”

Matthew 22:36-40 – Easy-to-Read Version

Proper 8, Year A: Matthew 10:40-42: Righteous Reward

Syrian refugee camp in Turkey

Syrian refugee camp in Turkey – Source: iStockphoto.com/mrtaytas

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 8, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew from Track 2.

This passage is short and sweet, but says so much. These are the last of his instructions to his disciples before he sends them out to do his work. He is saying they are his representatives and how they are received is how he is received by the people. He also talks about the rewards received by those who receive them and do good. To welcome the disciples (or today’s disciples—followers of Christ) is to welcome Jesus himself.

Here’s my favorite part:

[W]hoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

To me, this takes the analogy further. It is not only about welcoming the disciples but in giving in their name (or in the name of Christ) to others—about welcoming others in kindness. I don’t normally get political here, but it might be considered political to say that I think this goes from the personal to the national. Not only should we be welcoming hosts in our churches and homes, but we should be welcoming refugees and immigrants into our nation. I am not basing that on this little passage along.  Check out this list of Biblical references to immigrants and refugees.

Are we welcoming people into our churches and are we welcoming immigrants and refugees? Please check out the Episcopal Migration Ministries website for information on how the Episcopal Church is welcoming people from all over the world.

Proper 6, Year A: Matthew 9:35-10:8: The Disciples Sent Out

Jesus spreading his teaching to people

Jesus spreading his teaching to people – source: iStockphoto.com/artisticco

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 6, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew from Track 2.

Today’s reading begins with Jesus doing his work, traveling around, teaching, preaching, and healing people. I especially like this part:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

So many of us today need that compassion. We are harassed and helpless, looking for leadership, sometimes following the wrong people instead of Christ.

Jesus sends out his twelve disciples with some pretty strict instructions and a pretty demanding set of tasks:

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

They are also sent only to the Jewish towns to minister to their own people at this point. As we know from the story of the Ascension, they will eventually be sent out to the whole world, but for now they are only reaching out to gather in their own people and save and minister to them.

These instructions could also be useful for Christians today. Start in your own backyard and later move on to serving the whole world. And make your focus healing and caring for people, as well as proclaiming the good news. There’s no need to get bogged down in anything else. If you start to get bogged down, it’s time shake the dirt off your sandals and move right along and keep sharing the love of Christ.

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Easter 5, Year A: John 14:1-14: Doing Great Things in His Name

John

John – Source: iStockphoto.com/tracygood1

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

A lot of times I like to paraphrase the Gospel story as I write.  This week I’m not able to paraphrase very well because it just seems best to go ahead and put it in Jesus’ own words (well, in the English translation we have of Jesus’ own words).  This week’s Gospel lesson is about another time Jesus spent with his followers after his resurrection.  Jesus is talking to his disciples and tells them not to be troubled but to trust in God and to trust in him.  He tells them, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back. Then I will take you with me, so that you can be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Remember Thomas, who is curious (not just doubting)—he is the one to ask a question here: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Thomas is the kind of guy who likes to be more certain he knows what’s going on.  Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father too. But now you know the Father. You have seen him.”

Philip responds with, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”  (Isn’t it a shame Thomas gets a rep for being Doubting Thomas? No one ever talks about a Demanding Philip.)

Jesus answered, “Philip, I have been with you for a long time. So you should know me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The things I have told you don’t come from me. The Father lives in me, and he is doing his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or believe because of the miracles I have done.

“I can assure you that whoever believes in me will do the same things I have done. And they will do even greater things than I have done, because I am going to the Father. And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you. Then the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.  If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.

I like the part about “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too.”  It’s the heart of the story here—God sent us Jesus to show us Himself.

I’m less comfortable with the end of Jesus’ speech, because it’s been taken to mean some pretty crazy things by some Christians.  “And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you.”  I once attended a church where people were into the prosperity gospel (believing God wants believers to be prosperous and all it takes is faith to have success, money, healing, whatever—flip side is if you have any problems you must just lack faith—I consider that very damaging theology).  The day a teacher got up and said he felt he lacked faith because he gave his daughter Tylenol I walked out and never returned.  Anyway, I think the key to that verse is the “in my name”.  It’s not a magic formula—if I just pray “In Jesus’ name” I can have whatever I want.  I think it’s more about praying in accordance with what Jesus himself would want—praying in His way, if you will.

I also love how Jesus promised that those who believe in him will do great things.  You could talk about how we can do great things for Jesus in our own community—for instance in our church we have a program that provides breakfast to the homeless every Thursday morning.  And the Episcopal church at large has so many programs of great things they are doing out in the world. For instance, Episcopal Migration Ministries is helping refugees (click here for more info and while you’re there, click the Ministries tab near the top right and see how many other amazing things the church is doing for Jesus).

We know a lot about Jesus from the Gospels talking about what he did healing and helping and also the stories he himself told about how we should live.  From there we can see the great things he did and how we can then do our own great things in our own communities. I believe that we have to look for where God is at work and join Him there—healing and helping around the world.

Easter 4, Year A: Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd

Nazareth Shepherd

Nazareth Shepherd – Source: iStockphoto.com/nopow

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Psalm reading.

First, this psalm is so beautiful I want to start by sharing the whole psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I’m not even sure how much this passage needs a breakdown. It’s a beautiful description of God’s care for his people. Most Christian or Jewish people or even people who live in the Western world will have heard this before.  But take time to read it anew.  I think the time when this psalm is most wanted, is when its promises seem the farthest away.  It is a soothing reassurance when we are at our lowest point, so I suggest either keeping it marked with a post-it in your Bible to pray through, or print a copy to keep nearby.  Use it as a prayer when you need a dose of love and assurance.

I found a cute printable online here, but if you prefer yours with a bit more restraint, go here. And here is a link to an easy-to-read version if you prefer that or want to share it with children.

 

Easter 3, Year A: Luke 24:13-35: On the Road to Emmaus

Man in cloak tearing bread into two

Man in Cloak Tearing Bread in Two – Source: iStockphoto.com/fotograv

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

This week’s Gospel lesson occurs shortly after Jesus’ resurrection.  Two of his followers are going along a road to a town called Emmaus.  It’s 7 miles away—a long walk by modern standards, probably not too bad back then.  These two men are talking about what has occurred in Jerusalem.  While they’re walking along and talking, Jesus comes up and joins them on their walk.  The scripture says, “But the two men were not allowed to recognize Jesus” so I guess they just think he’s some random dude.  He asks them what they’re talking about and they stop.  It says they looked very sad.  One named Cleopas says, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has just happened there.”

Jesus said, “What are you talking about?”

They tell him all about Jesus, how amazing he was, but how he was killed on a cross.  They say, “We were hoping that he would be the one to free Israel. But then all this happened.” Then they go on to tell him that some women told them that Jesus’ body was not in his tomb and that they’d seen angels who told them Jesus was alive.  Then they say that they went to the tomb and it was indeed empty, but they didn’t find Jesus.

Then Jesus tells them they are foolish and that they haven’t believed the prophets. He says, “The prophets said the Messiah must suffer these things before he begins his time of glory.”  And he goes on to explain everything about him that was in the Jewish scriptures.

Finally, they come near to Emmaus.  Jesus acts like he is going to keep going but the men beg him to stay as it’s getting dark.  So, he goes to stay with them.  As they’re eating supper, Jesus takes some bread and gives thanks and then breaks it and gives it to them.  I like this part:

 “Just then the men were allowed to recognize him. But when they saw who he was, he disappeared. They said to each other, “When he talked to us on the road, it felt like a fire burning in us. How exciting it was when he explained to us the true meaning of the Scriptures!”

So, then they go straight back to Jerusalem to find the followers of Jesus who tell them Jesus has indeed risen, and the two men tell the other followers of their experience talking and sharing bread with Jesus.

It’s kind of mysterious and interesting how they men at first were “not allowed” to recognize Jesus and then they saw who he was as he broke bread—much like he broke it at the last supper, or how we break it today during our Eucharist.

This reminds me of the previous story of Mary Magdalene we read on Easter Sunday, who at first does not recognize Jesus outside his tomb.  And just as it moved me that she turned toward him and knew him upon hearing her name, I am moved by this story—the men see Jesus for who he is in the simple act of him giving thanks and breaking bread.

This week I want to think about being on the road of life, a journey with Jesus by my side, but I hope I can recognize him day-to-day and see what he sees.