Fairness, Grace, and Grumbling- Matt 20

Exodus 16:2-15; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

In our Gospel reading today Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hires people to work in his vineyard. People who had no other work would stand around and wait to be hired for the day. Kenneth Bailey is a specialist in understanding the New Testament through Middle Eastern culture. He spent 40 years in the Middle East and he has seen unemployed young men standing in certain corners of markets where they would hope to be hired for the day. As an example, he said that this would happen near the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. There, “unemployed Palestinians gathered each morning at a spot on a major road. Employers, usually Israelis, would pull up in vans. As the vans approached, five to ten young men would rush into the street to see how many men the employer wanted, hoping to be selected” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p.358).  They would usually work hard because they would hope to be hired again and maybe even get a re…

Handling non-essential differences in the church- Rom 14

Exodus 14:19-31; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
First, in our Exodus reading, we read about the continuing story about the rescue of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. God saves the Hebrews from the Egyptian army and separates the sea. This saving act is central to the identity of the Hebrew people, and even as Christians we use this imagery- we are rescued from slavery to sin and are set on the path to the kingdom. It's an important reading. 

In today’s Gospel reading, Peter comes to Jesus wondering when his responsibility to forgive someone ends. … Jesus tells a parable about a king whose servant owed him ten thousand talents. A talent was the largest monetary unit of the time. One talent was worth more than 15 year’s wages of a laborer (150,000 years of labour!). So, there is no possible way he could repay this debt. The idea is that when we sin against a holy and perfect God, we create a debt that we have no way of paying back. Amazingly, the king has pity and forgives t…

Dealing with Conflict- Matt 18

Matthew 18:15-20

I find encouragement in Jesus’ teaching in our gospel passage because Jesus anticipates that there will be conflict and disagreement in the church. This is not a surprise to him, and Jesus gives us a way to deal with conflict. We sometimes think the church should be a utopia, but Jesus never had that illusion…. Jesus’ own disciples argued about who was greater (Lk 22). One of them betrayed him into the hands of those who killed him, and Peter denied knowing him (Lk 22).

Later, in the book of Acts, they are in conflict about the place of Gentiles in the church (Gal 2; Acts 15). Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark argued about whether Mark should accompany them on one of his missionary journeys because he had left them prematurely on a previous journey (Acts 15). We could also look at Paul’s letters, most of which seem to have been written in response to a conflict in a church.

This was nothing new for God’s people. They squabbled under the leadership of Moses, under the pr…

Why is it that religious people are often resistant to, or slow to get behind social movements?

Why is it that religious people are often resistant to, or slow to get behind various social movements? This is a question that leaves some of my non-religious family and friends shaking their heads. Why are so many religious people so stubborn? I think the main reason comes down to the foundations for ethics. Where does the average non-religious person get their ethics from? I'm not talking about a university trained ethicist (The branch of philosophy dealing with ethics). I'm talking about the average person on the street. I think their foundations usually come from family, friends, and the media they consume- What news outlets they watch/read, what TV shows they watch, The music they listen to, the books they read, and what their friends think is likely where the foundation of their ethics rest. This can be an uncomfortable realization. As people who value individualism, we don't like thinking that our minds are so malleable. In Western culture, the general values we te…

Overcome Evil With Good- Rom 12

Exodus 3:1-15 Romans 12:9-21 Matthew 16:21-28

Again, we have amazing readings this week. Moses encounters God in the burning bush and commissions Moses to lead the charge as God saves the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. And God shared the Divine name with Moses- “I AM That I AM” (or "I AM who I AM")- he is the self-existent being.

And in our Gospel reading Jesus reveals to his disciples that part of his being the messiah involves him being rejected by the leadership, suffering at their hands, and being killed. Peter pulls Jesus aside and scolds him for his misunderstanding of the role of the messiah. He plays the role of Satan, tempting Jesus away from his path.

Today I want to look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, again. Paul gives guidance for living the Christian life. This section almost sounds like a list of proverbs, and there is a lot of wisdom there for living the Christian life.

This section starts in a way that seems to state the obvious. “Hate what is evil, …

Be a Living Sacrifice- the way of transformation- Rom 12:1-8

Romans 12:1-8
We know what a dead sacrifice is. In the Old Testament an animal is killed and dedicated to God as a part of a religious ritual. There are a number of kinds of sacrifices- sometimes the sacrifice is to deal with sin, or perhaps it is to offer thanks to God. So we understand a dead sacrifice. … Paul uses a fascinating image. He speaks about a living sacrifice. 
It means handing your life over and it is no longer yours. It has been sacrificed. It means handing over all that is yours- all your wealth, all your talent, all your strength, all your time. This is a shocking idea in a world where we often treat Christianity like a hobby- Some people build model boats, other people go to church. Are we willing to be living sacrifices? - every day offering ourselves, our talents, our time, our treasure, and our will to God?

We should remember that a sacrifice isn’t a waste. There is a kind of return. For ancient Israel, sacrifice had to do with their relationship with God. O…

Racism on the lips of Jesus? Matt 15

Genesis 45:1-15 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 Matthew 15: 10-28

Once again, we have wonderful readings this morning. It’s hard not to comment on them all. The Genesis reading is a good companion to our discussion about suffering from last week. Joseph looks back on his life and the suffering that he went through, and he saw that God was able to use the awful things that happened to him to save many people. It is a hint of the cross. The suffering of Jesus was used by God to bring salvation to humanity. This story shows us that sometimes there is something going on that we can’t see from our limited perspective. Sometimes as we look back, in this life or the next, we might see how our suffering makes sense.

In our Gospel and Epistle readings we see the ugly head of racism. Racism seems to be a persistent problem throughout human history. It is so persistent across cultures and throughout time that it seems to arise almost naturally in our fallen state. We are profoundly broken people. Our min…