Monday, October 23, 2017

Being Reformed for Love – 29 October 2017 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 30

Many churches, Protestants and ecumenical gatherings, as well, may be celebrating on this day a special worship service that commemorates this year as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It is that celebration that Pastor Kolderup refers to in the following:

While not every preacher will choose to connect the Sunday readings to the coming week's anniversary of the protest of Martin Luther, we have a reading that closes out the remarkable life of Moses and gives us opportunity to review his leadership in the life of God's people. He is the first of the great prophets in Israel's tradition and Matthew's Gospel evokes the memory of Moses in its structure and in his teaching.

If this is indeed going to be a Sunday in which other leaders in the faith are celebrated, Moses is an excellent starting place. If the Reformation was about leaders who sought to focus on what is central in God's salvation, Moses can be honored as one who most intimately lived the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Their returning to the center of the faith was tied to his continuing instruction and intercession. –– Stephen C. Kolderup

In these readings, the preacher can find many connections between the faith of the Hebrew people and the followers of Christ Jesus as the Messiah. One of the writers for Homily Service in 2008 offers this question to ponder:

It would not be Reformation Sunday without saying, “Thanks be to God for new life in Christ,” and asking, “What is the Holy Spirit reforming in us today?” –– Robin K. Brown

Matthew 22:34-46

The interchange between Jesus and the religious leaders ends with his question to them about the Messiah. We may not appreciate the scriptural ploy that Jesus used to trap the Pharisees in their answer about David. Many of us grew up being suspicious of so-called proof texting and this at first feels like Jesus out-dueling the players at their own game. However, Jesus was just as serious in his discussion of scripture as were the Pharisees. For all of them it was worth delving into the word of God and discussing the matter at hand in light of the study.

Classic Jewish writings are full of lively discussion aimed at being faithful from day to day. Sometimes these discussions reopened matters thought to be decided and closed. One such topic was the Messiah's identity as the son of David. While this could be accepted as true, Jesus was proposing that there was more truth about the Messiah. Jesus' use of Psalm 110:1 invites his debaters to step outside that box and consider the Messiah to be even greater. That greatness would not be an extension of David's military and political achievements.

As Jesus would demonstrate, the Messiah would be revealed in rejection, suffering, and death. On many days, we stand with the Pharisees, stuck inside the box of Messianic expectations that avoid the cross. The last question is still waiting for an answer—from us. –– Stephen C. Kolderup

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

In Leviticus 19. . . [the] central theme is holiness, regarded as the end of law. Israel becomes holy (1:1) as it meets the norms God set in the law and participates in divine intent. To emphasize this point, each exhortation to obey God's commands is followed by the declaration, “I am the Lord.” This emphasis on holiness and its ethical import serves as a midrash upon the first line of the Shema, quoted by Jesus as the first commandment. The selection from this chapter concludes with the verse Jesus quoted for his second commandment (Lev. 19:18). –– Fritz West

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

[This passage] recounts that Paul and his companions when proclaiming the Gospel persevered despite difficulties (2:1–2), distinguished themselves from contemporary philosophers (2:3–6), and nurtured the Thessalonian Christians as one would a child (vv 7b–8). –– Fritz West

Robin K. Brown, a Lutheran pastor, is the Associate Director, ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal at the ELCA headquarters in Chicago.

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

Fritz West, a liturgical author and retired pastor of the United Church of Christ living in Minnesota, serves as the Presiding Member of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship Steering Committee.

Homily Service 41, no. 4 (2008): 90-99.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Gay in a Quaker Respite in Rural America

I am a Connecticut Yankee Quaker living in the wilds of rural Central Pennsylvania surrounded by Amish Mennonites and their farms. Compared to these neighbors with their horses and buggies and low-carbon lifestyle, I am a fast-paced, modern believer with electronic devices and access to a global community of Quakers, or Friends, as we refer to each other. Some days my life on the banks of the Susquehanna River doesn’t seem much different from the time before I became a Quaker when I lived, studied, and worked near the Hudson River in New York City during my twenties. 
 Today when I step into Quaker meeting for worship, though, here in the countryside and even in large cities, my life gets simpler, downright primitive, and profoundly divine. After years of worship in Evangelical and Pentecostal Holiness Churches, it may seem odd that today I take part in a quiet, contemplative worship service. Culturally it still seems foreign to me, but my journey as a Christian, who happens to be gay, led me to worship with the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, and within this faith community I have been able to thrive in a rural setting.
 Like many gay men in America I originally come from a rural community that I escaped the first chance I had after high school graduation. Born in the city of Stamford, Connecticut, we moved to the Catskill Mountains in New York State when I was five, in part to help me flee the pollution of the city that routinely sent me to the hospital with asthma attacks. Coming of age in rural New York state during the HIV/AIDS Crisis and a growing organized movement to protect the church and family from what was called “The Gay Lifestyle,” I consumed secular and religious messages that told me I would be more valuable if I were heterosexual and masculine.
It was in a rural independent Bible church that I gave my heart to Jesus and determined to repent from homosexual attractions . . .  and spent seventeen years and $30,000 on three continents pursuing a cure for being gay so that I could finally be eligible for Christian service in the churches I chose to attend.
 One day, though, I had to face reality and admit that change was not possible; in fact, the only real change I experienced was a growing depression, self-loathing, and despair—not the fruit of the Spirit I wanted for so long. With great reluctance, I came out gay and immediately assumed I had to become an atheist. I still believed that I could not be gay and Christian. I was a lousy atheist and regularly missed being part of a church.
Then living in Hartford, Connecticut, a week after the 911 terrorist attack, I stumbled into a Quaker meeting house on a tree-lined city street. There I experienced a service that seemed the exact opposite of what I knew from Evangelical and Pentecostal churches; I experienced quiet.
The full essay is available in Liturgy 32, no. 4 available by personal subscription and through many libraries.

Peterson Toscano is a theatrical performance activist exploring issues of sexuality, faith, and climate change. See his work at


Peterson Toscano, “Quaker Liturgy in a Rural Context,” Liturgy 32, no. 4 (2017): 20-24.

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.