Monday, July 25, 2016

Chasing after Wind – 31 July 2016 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 18/ Proper 13

Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

We can chase after the winds of ephemeral, temporal pleasures. Or we can let the winds of the Holy Spirit push us toward the treasures that do not rust, disappear, burn down, or disappoint.

Luke 12:13-21

To understand the laws of inheritance found in the Torah, often an heir would come to a religious leader or teacher, like Jesus, when a question about how to divide an inheritance came up. Jewish law allowed for the religious leader to be the arbiter and demand that an inheritance be distributed equitably. However, Jesus would not allow himself to be triangulated in this family argument, but took the opportunity to warn this man and those who were listening about the danger of greed. . . .

Jesus then tells the parable of the rich fool. This man, having produced more than his barns could hold, finds himself in a dilemma: what to do with this abundance? Rather than sharing it with others, he decides to tear down his existing barn to build a bigger one and then rest on his laurels, never having to worry about the future. However, God had other plans—the man would die that night. Just as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes concluded, the man died before enjoying his bounty. . . . [C]an we find hope in the promise of life when our riches are toward God rather than toward the things of this earth? – Carrie L. Lewis La Plante

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18–23

Building bigger and bigger barns is a common human undertaking. Even when Ecclesiastes was written (ca. 250-167 BCE), life’s toil could seem meaningless. “All is vanity and a chasing after wind,” sums up the view.

Everything that humans do is like chasing the wind. It never lasts and it can never fulfill us. We spend our time seeking out wisdom, but the quest is unhappy, because gaining all knowledge and skill is simply not attainable in this life. Pleasure is also put to the test, looking for self-fulfillment in many things but with no satisfaction. . . . To top it all off, the Teacher realizes that ultimately, his toil will be turned over to another at his death (who may be undeserving and foolish with it), and he will not be able to reap the good that he sows. What is the point of straining at my work everyday? For what does my labor, and by extension, my life, count? We are left to wonder. – Carrie L. Lewis La Plante

Colossians 3:1-11

[B]aptism has significance for our lives and should affect the way in which we behave. We have died to the life that worships the things of this earth and that indulges in idolatrous vices (vv 5–8). Rather we have been raised with Christ and are “hidden in Christ with God” (v 3). Therefore, we have been given a new life that is Christ-centered, and are to be clothed with the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love and peace. When we have allowed the vices to die and concentrate on the virtues of our life in Christ, we are then able to live with one another in the image of the creator, as a family where race, ritual, culture and social divisions no longer matter. As Christians, we are not immune to the trials and temptations of this earthly life. However, this advice reminds us that we have been given defenses to face those snares. Serious spiritual formation heeds this advice. – Carrie L. Lewis La Plante

Carrie L. Lewis La Plante, pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Indianola, Iowa, has written for Currents in Theology and Mission as well as for Homily Service.

Homily Service 40, no. 9 (2007): 3-12.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Time for the Table of Our Common Pleasure

Rebecca F. Spurrier contributed to the issue of Liturgy 31, no. 3, on “The Lord’s Table in a Changing World” by describing Holy Family, a church in which she served as an intern. She was advised to enter into the lives of the congregation – which was made up of people with mental illnesses and other disabilities – by “loitering with intent” to learn the rhythms of the community’s members.

In a many-layered essay, Spurrier makes challenging observations about the importance of a church home for people whose way of entering into that community may not seem at all familiar to many.
The majority of Holy Family congregants are unemployed and, therefore, have time to spend with one another throughout the week. In addition to Sunday and Wednesday services, congregants gather for arts, gardening, yoga, bingo, health clinics, and socializing on Tuesdays and Thursdays as part of Friendship Circle programs. At the center of a weeklong liturgy is the remembrance and anticipation of shared meals. Many of those who come to Holy Family eat together six or seven times a week. 
When I describe writing about this parish for those outside the congregation, a congregant declares to me: “Tell people we’re good people. We love the Lord, and we eat all the time. Three times a day!” Outside of mealtimes, congregants recall the tastes of breakfast foods, discuss the lunch menu, conjure up meals eaten together at group homes, or remember childhood meals. 
When I ask. . . members why they come to the church, they often talk about “something to do.” The irony to newcomers from outside of a group home system is that some of those who come to do something apparently do nothing. They sit side by side with other silent community members. They listen to others sing, watch others play bingo, and wait eagerly for meals to be given. They work with time in a different way than those of us who mark time through a series of accomplishments. . . . 
Spurrier especially invites us to imagine the communion meal as a vehicle through which God, in sensate ways, becomes tangible goodness. It is a call to open our hearts to a new way of seeing the foretaste of the feast to come and the time it takes to savor it.
Even within a congregation like Holy Family––which expressly desires mental difference to be at the heart of its Eucharistic celebrations––there is a danger of . . . [wanting to] transform those who gather rather than inviting the experiences of disability to transform theological symbols and body practices. It is, for example, possible for wealthier members, volunteers, and visitors to serve meals and celebrate communion with those whose lives are different from their own and yet regard these persons as objects of pity, charity, or sentimentality. It is more difficult to envision all congregants as theological subjects whose own imagination and forms of gathering bespeak and enact God’s dream for the world. What might it mean, then, to pay attention to Holy Family not as a symbol of a future feast but as an experience of what it feels like to gather difference at a common table?. . . . 
If I imagine a time when everyone at Holy Family has access to the means to live, it begins with those who gather scattering out into one another’s lives across the divisions of ability, wealth, race, and security, to share the desires and aesthetics of many common tables. . . . As those who gather are sent into the world “to love and to serve” in a city where some congregants’ lives are of very little public worth, the pleasures of being fed well in a home of one’s own must be distributed; everyone who has access to a communion table also deserves access to what they need for the life anticipated by that table.

Rebecca F. Spurrier is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Division of Religion, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Rebecca F. Spurrier, “Disabling Eschatology: Time for the Table of Our Common Pleasure,” Liturgy 31, no. 3 (2016), 28-36.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ask and Receive – 24 July 2016 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 17/ Proper 12

We pray persistently. . . not to open God's heart, for it is always opened to us, but to build up a relationship with God. . . . Prayer gives us not only a way for dialogue, but a reason to have it, for in and through prayer we come to know God as our friend, our protector, our provider.– Judy Buck-Glenn

Luke 11:1-13

In The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1999) Douglas-Klotz briefly considers portions of this Lukan lesson, writing: “All three words that ask us to exert ourselves—‘ask,’ ‘seek,’ and ‘knock’—in Aramaic reflect the sense of creating space with sincere intensity” (63). We cannot overemphasize the importance of naming aloud what we seek, need, fear, cannot accept, long for, and so on, which serves to remind us of what is most important to us, and what we are willing to work for. The quote above, coupled with. . . “The inner shrine by which God's name is hallowed can be developed only through letting go, releasing some of the clutter inside” – both calls us to listen to ourselves as we pray in order to fully comprehend, and make room for what we are seeking. – Carol J. Noren

“Lord, teach us how to pray.” Preachers preach extended series on the Lord's Prayer. Teachers teach semesters on the elements of prayer. Books are written on just this prayer. We spend a lifetime trying to understand the power of prayer. This is an impossible passage to preach, especially on a Sunday in late July when many are gone on vacation, often including the preacher, and those who remain stick to the warm pews and dream about the lake or an air-conditioned restaurant. . . .

If this is a Sunday to delve into the depths of prayer, a more academic approach could be taken. Expound on the different kinds of prayer found in a worship service, and in the Lord's Prayer (adoration, petition, confession, intercession, etc.). Or pick one petition with which your people struggle; forgiveness perhaps, or our worry about daily bread. 

Whatever you preach, pray this prayer together, reminding the congregation of the millions of other believers who join with you this day. – Hilda A. Parks

Genesis 18:20-23

The story of Abraham and YAHWEH discussing the fate of Sodom. . . explores the complicated and often confusing relationship between God's justice and mercy. At first it seems like Abraham is bargaining with YAHWEH over the fate of the city. But if bargaining it is, YAHWEH does not seem to be very good at it, since he easily concedes to Abraham. Abraham is not so good at it either since he gives up after reaching ten innocents. Rather, as has been pointed out by Walter Brueggemann, this dialogue is an exploration of “God's righteousness and its power and authority in the face of wickedness” (Genesis [Atlanta: John Knox, 1982] 170). . . . “Does God's justice leave room for mercy?” The answer in this dialogue: “Yes.” ­– Jeffrey Galbraith

Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]

In Colossians, Paul reminds his readers that Christ lives within us. . . . which grows as we spend time in prayer and meditation. – Carol J. Noren

 Judith M. M. Buck-Glenn is associate rector at Christ Church Episcopal, in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

Jeffrey Galbraith is pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Greenfield, MA, and a professor of business administration at Greenfield Community College.

Carol J. Noren, a United Methodist pastor, is the Wesley W. Nelson professor of homiletics at North Park Theological Seminary. She served churches as pastor in Minnesota for twenty years.

Hilda A. Parks, ordained in the United Methodist Church, also holds a PhD in Liturgical Studies from Drew University, Madison, New Jersey.

Homily Service 40, no. 8 (2007): 39-47.