Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 27 (32), Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
November 10, 2019
Lessons: Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people avoid splitting theological hairs and improbable scenarios and instead focus on following Jesus and loving both God and neighbor.
Key Scripture: Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive. -Luke 20:38
Have you ever played a game of what if? I suspect that almost all of us have engaged in some what-iffing, considering the nature of our common humanity. That certainly seems to be the case in this week’s gospel lesson when a group of Sadducees (who deny resurrection) start a little game of what if with Jesus. To make matters worse, they try to trap him by using the body of a marginalized woman. Remember, women were quite literally regarded as the property of either their husband or fathers, having precious little agency of their own. On top of that, they set this woman in a contrived situation involving seven husbands, the lack of an heir, and whose property she will be in the afterlife. They reference Mosaic law, but this group is clearly not interested in a life-affirming answer for all parties involved. Jesus, predictably, will have none of it.
In verses 34-38 Jesus sets them straight on the nature of God and basically tells them that their what-iffing has no valid point. Their fanciful marriage scenario fails to trap Jesus and even lands him some praise and stops the ridiculous questioning that started after Jesus entered Jerusalem, cleared out the temple, and began teaching there. The last few verses of chapter 20 include Jesus’ calling out and condemning the legal experts for their conduct and practices. It appears that they miss the point of God entirely.
I wonder, dear Church, if we’re not still in the business of trying to trap and confine Jesus in dear little comfortable boxes of our own construction. After all, a small Jesus is more likely to be a safe, low-maintenance, and low-expectation Jesus. We’re still pretty good at playing what if in and with the Body of Christ. Think about the what if’s that seek to strangle Christ and your community of faith. Are they causing folks to miss the point of the beloved community and the life of faith?
What if we move from a traditional worship service to one that reflects a more blended worship style? We might lose people. People will be angry, and we don’t like conflict. If we lose people, we’ll lose money, and that will put our congregation in jeopardy.
What if we become an open and affirming congregation, welcoming everyone regardless of their sexual and gender identities, race, economic status, ethnicity, citizenship, politics, etc.? We might lose people. People will be angry, and we don’t like conflict. If we lose people, we’ll lose money, and that will put our congregation in jeopardy.
What if we consider a candidate for ministry who is part of the LGBTQIA+ community? We might lose people. People will be angry, and we don’t like conflict. If we lose people, we’ll lose money, and that will put our congregation in jeopardy.
What if we talk about money and stewardship of time, talent, and resources in our congregation? And, what if we actually ASK for people to commit to supporting the ministries? We might lose people. People will be angry, and we don’t like conflict. If we lose people, we’ll lose money, and that will put our congregation in jeopardy.
All of these what if scenarios miss the point and produce similar results. We follow a God of the living, as Jesus says, “for to him all of them are alive.” Whenever we start playing the what if game we leave little room to listen for God’s call—on our individual lives and on our life together as church. We turn inward, fall prey to worry, and fail to see the presence of God among us in the very folks and situations about which we fret and fume.
Instead of lining up our litany of what if’s, let’s pay attention to God calling us to what’s right in front of us and where the Spirit wants to lead us in Jesus’ name. When we’re fully present as stewards and disciples of Christ, it’s impossible to miss the point of what we do and whose we are.
Last Sunday was All Saints Day, when we remember those who have completed their life on earth. This week’s gospel lesson keeps us on the topic of the afterlife with a gnarly question about life after death. We’re also drawing near to the winter solstice (the longest night of the year) and Christmas, which can be a painful holiday for those who mourn. What questions might folks in your congregation have about death, dying, and eternity? What deep fears and anxieties might worshipers harbor? How do we talk about grief? Consider inviting worshipers to submit questions about these topics, and then spend some time either in a future worship service, class, or publication to provide healthy conversation and words to counter our death-avoidant culture.
This week’s words from the story of Job make a powerful faith statement. Despite all that Job suffered and lost, he still proclaims a sure and certain faith that death will not have the last word and that he will see God.
How difficult is it for youth to continually affirm their faith when others, even their friends, may try to convince them otherwise? Invite a conversation about what they need to remain strong in their faith, even in the midst of difficult life situations. Ask them to discuss what they believe about the nature of God. Of what are they certain? What do they doubt? What do they hope?
This week’s focus verse is 2 Thessalonians 2:15 – So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
Ask the children if they know what a nave is. Share with them that nave is a Latin word meaning ship that long ago became the name for the central part of a church where people gather for worship. Some naves even look like an upside down boat, an architectural decision that was no accident.
Today’s verse from the second letter to the Thessalonian Christians reminds us of the importance of the church in keeping us safe and growing in faith. Just as one would stand firm and hold fast in a boat on a stormy sea, the teachings and faithful gatherings of Christians in this congregation and in others all around the world keep us safe in a dangerous and difficult world. Together in this space we gather at Christ’s table, we baptize, and we worship. We are strengthened and equipped to live faithful lives every day—not just on Sunday.
Finish with a simple prayer and blessing for each child.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Our gospel lesson this week reminds us, as stewards and disciples, to keep our eyes, minds, and hearts focused the God “of the living” in order to avoid falling prey to a losing game of what if’s.
Stewardship at Home
This week at home pay attention to time that you may be tempted to play the what if game. Whether the subject is work, finances, family, faith, or other aspects of your life, take a deep breath and remind yourself of what and who really matter. Take a deep breath and seek God’s desire for you and for all life. You may find that your attitude and responses change when you see the point of life as a child of God.
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/11/focus/
Images: a2gemma; wiredforlego; and The U.S. Military Academy, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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