Monday, November 20, 2017

The Hungry, Thirsty, Naked King – 26 November 2017 – Reign of Christ

This day we worship a king whose power came from. . . extreme weakness. Raymond Brown called this the “embodiment of truth.” In God's economy, to give life is to gain it. To receive the gift of membership in the kingdom through baptism is to become free from the need for power as the world knows it because God works through us. We are called to embody that truth which says I do not need the glory or the credit, God has already taken care of me.

This last Sunday of the church year . . . is a time of fresh starts and new perspectives. We are used to the idea of Jesus reigning in our hearts [but] . . . we struggle to let that reign have an effective reality in our world. It is uncomfortable to be counter-cultural, but that is the call of the Christian. Can we speak up in our churches, at least, and say. . . “Let's organize to take care of that autistic child on Sunday mornings so her parents can attend church.” Or, “Jesus and his family were refugees. How can we welcome immigrants?” ­­–– Judith Simonson

Matthew 25:31-46

In . . . the end time. . . the Son of Man. . .  will be seated on his throne. . . The people will be separated by the enthroned one into two groups: sheep and goats. In an amazing twist, the enthroned one. . . is the one who was or was not visited, fed, clothed, welcomed by the people—the eventual sheep and goats. Those in need are the ones with whom Jesus most desired to spend time. In another amazing twist, often the wannabe sheep of the church today want to minister to the least in an effort to carry Jesus' love to those in need; but . . . Jesus himself is already there waiting to be found by us—“as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me.” –– Eric T. Meyers

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

The sheep, that is, the people of God, have experienced terrible days of “clouds and thick darkness” (v 12) and are scattered from their homeland (referring to the exile). YHWH comes to shepherd them back to their homeland. God will provide everything they need: good food, flowing waters, rest, and healing. God will favor the weak, lost, and injured but will punish those who use their authority for selfish gain. –– Eric T. Meyers

Ephesians 1:15-23

Those who have faith in the Lord Jesus, Christ the King, the writer of Ephesians tells us, face . . . a future so bright it is described as “the immeasurable greatness” and “glorious inheritance” and “power” for us who believe.

The belief that Jesus ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of God is only possible by the power of God, the same God that indeed raised Jesus from the dead. And this resurrection power is what the writer of Ephesians says that we in the church, as children of the King, possess. –– Kelly Lyn Logue

Kelly Lyn Logue is pastor of Benson Memorial United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Eric T. Myers, a former church musician, is pastor of Frederick Presbyterian Church in Frederick, Maryland, and adjunct professor of worship at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Judith E. Simonson is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Homily Service 41, no. 4 (2008): 139-147.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Funeral Honoring Native Culture

This excerpt from the issue of Liturgy on “Liturgy in Rural Settings” is from Sharron Riessinger Blezard’s essay on funerals in the rural church.
Most mainline rural North Dakota congregations are not diverse, unless they are on or near a reservation, so it is rare for Native American traditions to be integrated into Scandinavian Lutheran funeral liturgies. Congregational leaders can be open, however, to incorporating Native traditions when the need arises. Not surprisingly, Native views of life and death and funeral practice are quite complementary on both a theological and social level to those of their Scandinavian-descent Lutheran neighbors, as both emphasize the power of community to accompany the family grieving death, food as a tangible sign of support and care, the gathering prior to the funeral for prayer, and the deep spiritual belief. . .   
 When David was approaching death, he wanted to make sure that we would honor his family’s Native American heritage and traditions, requesting that a drum circle be part of the funeral, that he be buried in a plain wooden casket with no vault, and that his buffalo hide be buried with him. He also wanted to make sure that, as he was a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War, there would be military honors. His wife of more than forty years also wanted the funeral to be held in the local Lutheran church where she was an active member and leader. 
 One of the sons arranged for a drum circle, and the ushers figured out the logistics, opening the accordion doors to the parish hall on the south side of the nave to make room for the drummers and overflow seating. David’s wife and I chose the one Dakota hymn in Evangelical Lutheran Worship,“Many and Great, O God,” for a congregational hymn. The words are particularly appropriate for a funeral, with the second verse ending “Bless us with life that has no end, eternal life with you.” 
 The church was packed with congregants, David’s tribal co-workers, family, and friends. A traditional Dakota star quilt draped the casket, and mourners brought additional quilts. The drum circle moved one of the ushers, a lifelong Lutheran, to tears. “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he told me. “It’s profound. Beautiful. Holy.” 
 After the committal, David’s body was lowered into the grave in the community cemetery atop a windswept hill on a cold, late-February day. After the military honors, hugs, tears, and words of scripture and hope, one by one the mourners took turns dropping in handfuls of soil—earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. All around us were the stone markers where other friends and family members were laid, some adorned with flowers, angels, mementos, and small gifts, connecting lives past with lives present. Death is well-grounded in this place, this community, where the land and sky meet on a thin line, in a thin place between that which is and that which is yet to come. There will be grief and sorrow aplenty, but life will go on until it doesn’t, the trees will bud, the last clumps of soiled snow will melt away, and the farmers will sow the fields yet again.

The full essay is available in Liturgy 32, no. 4 by personal subscription and through many libraries.

Sharron Riessinger Blezard, an assistant to the bishop of the ELCA’s Lower Susquehanna Synod and a published poet, contributed to the Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual (2014–2016), and posts weekly lectionary reflections at


Sharron Riessinger Blezard, “Grounded: Life, Death, and Funeral Liturgy on the Prairie,” Liturgy 32, no. 4 (2017): 25-31.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Day of the Lord – 19 November 2017 – 24th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 33

It is nearly the end of Year A when we turn, in Advent, to the Gospel of Mark. Typical of Matthew’s urgency about the good news, we hear today of the serious responsibilities of the faithful in stunning images of God’s ultimate power. But we hear especially that these scripture readings assess human life in honest terms, not neglecting the hardships of this world.

In truth, the heaven or hell into which the servants in this morning's parable were cast was self-chosen. As symbols of accountability, heaven and hell are of our own making, and they begin in this life. There is no reprieve from accountability. Heaven is the life that loving people of faith live. Hell is the life of suspicious, paranoid people who trust and love no one, not even God. Life for people so turned in on themselves is hell. –– James Gaughan

Matthew 25:14-30

This parable is probably a good opportunity to teach a bit about parables in general. The tendency for the casual reader is to compare the powerful figure in each parable with God. But clearly, the master cannot be equated with God. God is not a slave owner, a harsh man, or one who engages in shady dealings. The meaning of the parable must be sought elsewhere.

Pastor Richard Jeske, some years ago, taught workshops in which he challenged his hearers to interpret parables by finding the Gospel in them. He said that you would find the Gospel at the point in the story where you found yourself offended. That is, when the story began to go against the values of our society, values we have all internalized, and things are turned upside down, that is where you will find good news. . . .

Taking chances on behalf of the Gospel is the way Jesus' followers participate in the kingdom. –– Judith Simonson

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Judah, while enjoying political independence, suffered under the influence of foreign religious practices including the worship of pagan deities. The people had really stopped believing that the God of Israel was involved any longer. (See 1:12. The people believed “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.”) The prophet Zephaniah voices the contempt of YHWH towards the current state of affairs. The day of the Lord, a great day of wrath, is announced. –– Eric T. Myers

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Paul continues what he began in the previous six verses, that being the theme of the coming of the Lord. He assures them that the day of the Lord is coming but that no one knows when. No one knows when a thief will strike. If the victims knew, something could have been done to stop the crime. Similarly, no one knows exactly when the coming of the Lord will take place. To hammer the point home, Paul uses the image of a pregnant woman. No one knows exactly when the pains of labor will begin, but everyone knows the pains will begin suddenly and without warning. So too will the coming of the Lord occur. The people of Thessalonica can fully trust that the Lord will return and Paul now urges them to be ready: stand watch like a girded guard on watch during the night.
–– Eric T. Myers

Grace, the grace of forgiveness and the grace of love, is the gift we are to live and to share. It is the gift we are not to bury or hide. It is the gift that enables us never to be taken by surprise, when the final day of accounting comes. That is Paul's message to us this morning. –– James Gaughan

James Gaughan is a retired UMC pastor living in Minnesota. He originally was ordained as a Franciscan priest.

Eric T. Myers serves as pastor to the Frederick Presbyterian Church in Frederick, Maryland and is a former church musician and adjunct professor of worship at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Judith E. Simonson is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Homily Service 41, no. 4 (2008): 130-138.