Monday, October 16, 2017

I am the LORD – 22 October 2017 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 29

Jesus has already taught that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). So the questions that come about applying the law have to run through Jesus who bids us to follow him. The answer will not come in propositional statements or even a well-told story but through life in him.

In this way, all the questions that come to Jesus in these last days, even with the best of motives, cannot be answered by simple citation. At the end of the day (or the sermon) we are not called to show how Jesus is clever but whether we will commit our lives to him. –– Stephen C. Kolderup

Matthew 22:15-22

To those of us who routinely pay taxes to the secular authority, the strength of the emotions involved in the question of “rendering to Caesar” may seem strange. This is not just the sort of reluctance that we all feel about paying taxes. Jewish nationalists were deeply offended by the requirement to pay taxes to Rome; the Herodians and Pharisees, supportive of Roman rule, would have considered refusal to pay the tax treasonous.

Perhaps we can get a better sense of the intensity of feelings about this issue when we realize that the poll tax provoked the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in 66. . .  His opponents thought they had Jesus trapped. But. . . Jesus tells them to give the coin to Caesar, while not neglecting to give to God what is God's. –– Joseph McHugh

Isaiah 45:1-7

Cyrus II, founder of the Persian dynasty, attributed his success in conquering many nations to his pagan god. But the prophet Second Isaiah knows that it is YAHWEH who is the cause of Cyrus' success. We should not minimize the impact of the first sentence: Cyrus, a pagan king, is the Lord's anointed, his “messiah.” This is the only time that scripture bestows the title on a pagan.

The prophet calls upon his people to. . . see that the Lord has called Cyrus to conquer Babylon and other nations on behalf of Israel. . . To borrow the wording in the Gospel, in conquering Babylon, Cyrus will be giving to God what belongs to God. –– Joseph McHugh

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul opens this letter with much thankfulness for a congregation that is grounded in faith, love, and steadfastness. This is a church has that has fully embraced the calling of God to be a beacon of light in the world as they live out their faith. They are not mere adherents to doctrinal propositions or denominational polity. No, the church in Thessalonica recognizes that its purpose is to live in response to the Gospel's invitation to new life in the Holy Spirit through repentance and faith.

. . . This congregation has come to the realization that if they are going to be a true living witness then the members' lives must be authentically lived. There must be an intentional and incarnational presence manifested daily to a world that is searching for something to believe in, that needs to see the love of Christ demonstrated through action, and that wants consistency in commitment. –– Chris L. Brady

Chris L. Brady is lead pastor of Wilson Temple, United Methodist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Stephen C. Kolderup, a PCUSA pastor, recently served as temporary pastor to Frenchtown Presbyterian Church, Frenchtown, New Jersey.

Joseph McHugh is a freelance writer who writes on scripture and other religious topics.

Homily Service 41, no. 4 (2008): 80-89.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Feast of Rich Food – 15 October 2017 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 28

A line from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” (and attributed to Augustine) could be the epigraph for today’s readings: “Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.” The ill-dressed man who was invited to the banquet and then tossed into the outer darkness should serve simultaneously to wake us up and to give us confidence. The called-out ones, the ekklesia, are invited to the banquet but we are to approach the table with awe and humility.

The sermon focus might be that faith comes through need rather than acclaim or accomplishment. What does such a focus look like in your community?

Matthew 22:1-14

Set within the growing conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities, this parable condemns Jesus’ enemies for failing to receive and honor him as the Son of God. . . Matthew used it to intensify his condemnation of Jesus’ adversaries.

The text is similar to Luke 14:15–25, but differences suggest that Matthew has shaped the story to address two settings at the same time. First, the parable recalls Jesus’ conflict with the representatives of the religious establishment. By rejecting him and his message, they have refused to participate in the feast of God’s reign. With barely veiled images, Jesus announces that God’s judgment will fall on them and the city of Jerusalem. Matthew also has in mind how missionaries from his community experienced persecution. . .

The imagery of the parable—a king giving a wedding banquet for his son—is suggestive of the messianic banquet. Matthew may in fact, on one level, intend that the story be seen as a picture of the end of history and the celebration of God’s triumph. However, elements within the story also tell of the life and mission of Jesus’ followers now. . .

The appearance of a guest without a wedding robe at the parable’s ending is unique to Matthew. The lack of a proper garment has been taken as a metaphor for many different things, among them a lack of love, righteousness, or good works. . .  The presence of the man without a wedding robe reminds believers that “God’s judgment comes upon all, including those within the ecclesia” (p. 208). –– Aaron J. Couch

Isaiah 25:1-9

Isaiah 24–27, known as the “Isaiah Apocalypse,” probably does not come from the hand of Isaiah of Jerusalem. Chapter 25 celebrates God’s goodness, first in a song of thanksgiving for God’s judgment against the proud and then in a vision of all people feasting for God’s triumph over death. The destruction of “the city” may be a reference to Babylon, or stand as a symbol for all human power and pride opposed to God. The feast for God’s victory evokes and overturns imagery from ancient Canaanite religion.

Texts from Ugarit depict Mot, the god of death (from the same root as Hebrew mawet, death), as swallowing all. Isaiah declares that death himself shall be swallowed up, finally and forever, by the LORD. At the unfolding of such glad news there will be no more tears. –– Aaron J. Couch

Philippians 4:1-9

Because Christ gives peace, Paul calls for God’s people to demonstrate that peace. Paul urges reconciliation between two believers who are at odds with each other. He instructs all of them to stop worrying, and instead to know the peace of God that guards their hearts and minds.

With a list of virtues recognized by the wider Hellenistic culture as characteristic of “the good life,” Paul encourages believers to dwell on those good things, aware that the God of peace is with them. Paul also describes how he has discovered the secret of the kind of peace known as contentment. He is able to live with gratitude, regardless of the circumstances, because he experiences the sustaining presence of Christ. –– Aaron J. Couch

Aaron Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.

Homily Service 38, no. 11 (2005): 15-25.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Worship as a Practice of Care-Giving for Those Living with Depression

The most recent issue of Liturgy is on “Liturgy in Rural Settings,” with one essay, excerpted here, on the mental health needs of rural people. The church’s weekly worship can serve as a place for solace and meaning for people who are floundering, writes Jeanne Hoeft, associate professor pastoral theology and care.
One of the aims of pastoral care is to help people give meaning to their experience of suffering. Crises can disrupt prior frameworks for understanding one’s self and the world. While chronic stress, illness, abuse, and ongoing struggles exert persistent pressure to be spoken, pain and suffering often seem to defy words. Available explanations are not adequate and can lead to further pain and suffering 
 Persons living with depression may describe themselves as worthless and their depression as a sign of personal failure. When depression continues, it reinforces the sense of worthlessness that further exacerbates the depression. An alternative, more life-giving framework would describe feelings of worthlessness as a consequence of physiological occurrences that require courage and strength to live with. In this way, persons living with depression can describe themselves as strong and courageous, which can actually help reduce the symptoms of depression. 
 Pastoral caregivers often help people reframe their understanding of God’s story or lift up alternative stories that might be more life-giving. People of faith long to see themselves interacting with God, loving, and being loved by God, and they find hope in the stories of God’s interaction with ordinary people throughout history. 
 Hearing the stories, perhaps through Bible reading or hymn singing, can remind [those living with depression or trauma] that God’s presence does not rely on their “feeling,” just as sometimes when persons do not feel loved they must rely on the evidence of that love through others’ behavior. A person lost in the depths of depression may be able to say, “I know I am loved because someone cooked a meal for me.” Likewise, the community of friends and family are challenged to trust that love matters, whether or not it seems to be appreciated or to make a difference, because often someone in the midst of severe depression has little ability to express love in return. . . . 
 In addition to supportive conversations and other activities of care, Sunday morning worship can be a means of pastoral care for people who live with mental health challenges and risk of suicide. Worship is not primarily a means of care, but looking at worship for its potential to serve as a means of care, or as a barrier, is especially important in rural communities where there are limited programs or opportunities to address more broadly issues that impact persons’ well-being. 
 Worship can be an opportunity for education, but it does more than that from a pastoral care perspective; it places day-to-day human life in the context of the day-to-day activity of God. As pastoral theologian Herbert Anderson and liturgical theologian Edward Foley argue, worship weaves together narrative and ritual as a means for “transform[ing] persons and communities of faith into signs of the presence of God.” (Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals, Jossey-Bass, 1998). 
 In worship, the story of God, Christ, and church is enacted, embodied, and envisioned. For those living with mental illness and risk of suicide, worship can contribute to well-being . . . providing an interpretive framework for a life of hope in the midst of mental health problems. 
Find the full essay in Liturgy 33, no. 4, available by personal subscription and through many libraries.

Jeanne M. Hoeft is academic dean, associate professor of pastoral theology and care, and the Franklin and Louise Cole Associate Professor in Town and Country Ministries at the United Methodist Saint Paul School of Theology, Overland Park, Kansas.


Jeanne M. Hoeft, “Worship as a Practice of Care: Rural Mental Illness and Suicide,” Liturgy 32, no. 4 (2017): 2-10.