Lectionary Reflection for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost
November 10, 2013
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 3:16-17
It is so easy to become sidetracked on adiaphora, that which is not essential. Focusing on the small stuff enables us to avoid dealing with the big issues–the truly important, bedrock issues of faith on which we should all stand and which convict us on a regular basis. What seems like it should be simple is actually pretty tough because of our pesky human nature.
Both Paul and Jesus in this week’s epistle and gospel readings try to refocus folks on the things that really matter. In the gospel, the Sadducees have brought Jesus a hypothetical question to try and trip him up about resurrection. In the epistle, Thessalonian believers are all atwitter about whether to go about their usual life and work or to simply hang out and wait for return of Jesus. Only Job, in the lesson from the Old Testament, seems to have things in the right perspective, when he says “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27a). Even Job’s proclamation comes on the heels of a long and painful struggle.
Think about it. What issues sidetrack folks in your worshiping community? Is it the budget? Are there arguments over worship styles and practices? I’ve known people to get downright snickety about how many verses of a hymn should be sung, for example. Do parishioners quibble about where to send mission support and whether the adjudicatory body is responsive enough to receive support? Does fur fly and hackles raise over the issue of human sexuality? Most battles seem to focus on the minutia or sensational rather than the fundamental. Emotions such as fear, boredom, and stubbornness cloud vision and prevent real dialogue.
Notice how Jesus deals with the religious leaders. He doesn’t fall into their fanciful world of hypotheticals; rather, he brings them right back to center, to the heart of the faith. God is indeed not the God of the dead but of the living. File your teeth on that idea, folks, he seems to say. And Paul, practical Paul, uses his powerful rhetoric to call the faithful back to the present moment, to the work at hand, and to the reality of God’s presence among them.
What if this week we have the courage to lift up the issues that stand in the way of the gospel, that litter our discipleship path with stumbling blocks, and that prevent the world from seeing Jesus reflected in our words and actions? What if we look at this failure to focus as a very real stewardship issue that hinders our ability to grow in faith and that waters down our witness in the world? Yes, it’s risky to point to the truth and to call folks back to that uncomfortable place where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, but we’re talking about matters of eternal importance here. Do we really have any other choice if we wish to remain faithful to our calling as disciples and servant leaders? Even more so, do we trust and “own” Paul’s words of blessing printed above? I hope and pray that we do. Blessings on your bold and faithful proclamation and teaching! God is with you, and that is very good news!
Consider using Paul’s words of benediction and blessing from the end of the Epistle reading this week in your own worship. Invite parishioners to hold hands, or to lay a hand on their neighbor’s head or shoulder and repeat the words a second time after you. Perhaps even alter your words of sending to something like this: “Go in peace to love and serve God in word and deed!” Have the congregation respond, “We will by the grace of God, with the strength of Jesus, and through the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen!”
The idea of what happens after death may be troubling to youth. Consider using this week’s gospel message, along with Paul’s words from the epistle lesson, to help them focus on the idea that our God is a God of the living, and that we have been promised real life in Jesus. Death has no hold over the one who has been named and claimed in baptism. Sure, we will all have to pass from this life into eternal life, and the unknown and unseen can be scary. But, as Job says with confidence, “For I know that my Redeemer lives,” so too can we have confidence in the promises of God. Consider taking this opportunity to allow youth to express their fears, concerns, and questions about death and dying. Be sure emphasize the promises of God–including that our God is the God of the living.
Apples and Chickens
This week’s Psalm offers some wonderful imagery to help children understand how precious they are in God’s sight. Show them an apple and a picture of a mother hen nestling her chicks under her wings. Ask them if they know what these two images have to do with how much God loves them. Then, proceed to unpack Psalm 17 a little bit.
Talk to them about how the term “apple of my eye” refers to one who is special and precious. In Hebrew the idiom used here literally means “little man of the eye.” It reminds us that when we look into another’s eyes, we can often see a tiny reflection of ourselves in their pupils. We should then hold one another precious just as God holds us precious. The imagery of hiding under God’s wings refers to the care and protection of a mother chicken for her brood. Therefore, we are precious in God’s sight and lovingly protected. God is always with us–even when the way ahead seems dark and dangerous. And that’s something to crow about!