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“The Way”- a weekly devotional                     
       Gospel Lesson for  
        October 22, 2017, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 22:15-22
 
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Dear Friends,

What Jesus doesn’t say is the key to understanding this story for me. He doesn’t say that taxes shouldn’t be paid. He does not stand over against the reality of human governments. That is for him part of life.

Instead he affirms the two realities in which we live: the secular and the divine. One scholar’s translation of “for you do not regard people with partiality” was helpful to me. He said the Greek can be translated as “you do not look upon people’s faces.”

Here is the reference to the coin and the face of the emperor and everyone else’s face as well. Jesus looks to the face of God for living his life. The face of the emperor, despite what the coin says, is not divine and not in control of how he lives. To the emperor we owe taxes and to God we owe our devotion.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                                  
       Gospel Lesson for  
        October 15, 2017, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 22:1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Dear Friends,

I have gone through periods of my life when I dismissed the idea of a final judgement. God will just forgive our sins, I thought. I have also wondered if it is healthy for our souls to not be held accountable for our choices. There are reasons why we make poor choices. If we don’t examine them how will we ever be healthy and whole?

I am pretty good at guilt. My mind quickly goes to the guest who didn’t put on the wedding robe and think that is me.  I wonder if what I am doing for the kingdom is right and good or if I have shied away from the invitation to share in the banquet.

When I sit quietly in the morning my brain often rehearses all the things that I regret having done and have felt guilty about. Some would say it is unhealthy. But it doesn’t happen every day and I don’t sit down to do it intentionally. Some days it just happens.

I let it run its course so my prayers can turn to other matters and I can concentrate on reading.

I have wondered if it is God’s crucible for the refining of my soul, right now, rather than at the end of my life. Actually, I am okay with that if it is. 

Peace to you, Keith 
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        September 24, 2017, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 20:1-16
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So, they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Dear Friends,

I think the parable is best understood as a whole. Maybe the only way to get there is to dissect it like so many are prone to do. But no matter how many ways you examine what the landowner did, one must conclude He is not fair and He is not just. This is not about an equitable system or about giving everyone their due.

This is about compassion for a human being who needs the minimum of incomes to survive the day. This is about our need for grace even though we don’t deserve it. This is about food and care for a homeless laborer who needs the smallest of coins to buy a meal.

This is about a kingdom in direct contrast to our world system. And the Creator’s right to do as She pleases. For every wayfarer is one of Her children. Our sense of justice and fairness may well have made them poor. But we have a God who is unjust and unfair. There is hope for us all. Thank God!

Peace to you, Keith

 
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        September 17, 2017, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 18: 21-35
 
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church[g] sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven[h] times.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[i] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[j] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[k] from your heart.”

Dear Friends,

There are so many interpretations of this passage. If we try to break it down and analyze each event we can take a variety of paths.

What if it was intended to be one image? What if Matthew was trying to dream of a church that was as magnanimous as God? He imagined a community of people who did not quibble over money or debts but rather forgave one another for every little thing and every big thing no matter what?

The parable is about debts not sins. The dream was of a church that was based in grace not dollars and cents. The dream was of a most forgiving people like the world had never seen before.  

Ponder this story the next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer. The dream made it into our most sacred prayer.

Peace to you, Keith

 
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        August 27, 2017, 21th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 16: 13-20
 
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Dear Friends,

There is a subtle shift in the story that we can easily miss. The move is from Peter to the Church. The church will bind and not bind – which is a rabbinic way of saying what is ethical and what is not. The authority of heaven is not vested in one person but in many.  We are to be a community of faith together who wrestle with the issues of life. We are together because we believe Jesus is the Messiah. It becomes impossible to say what “I believe” without saying what “we believe.” In fact, no one can be a Christian, a follower of Christ, alone.

I cannot think of a more important lesson for a parent to teach their child than “You belong to a Christian family. Who you are is tied closely to who we are together.” To make the lesson have value to the child takes time to be with the household of God in worship, education and fellowship.

We can teach good ethics and morals in our homes. We cannot teach community apart from time with all our children’s godparents. When our teens go out into the world and come up against people who do not love them, they need to have the knowledge that we are a people who love them. When they come up against an unethical philosophy of life they will need the teachings of Jesus to bolster them against the opinions of others.

School is important; sports are important; jobs are important; but without the community of faith, Christ’s church, our children will not know who they are or whose they are. We need to find time to be together for their sake and for Christ’s sake.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        August 20, 2017, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28 (CEB)
21 From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 23 But he didn’t respond to her at all. His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”

24 Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”
25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”

26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”

27 She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”

28 Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.

Dear Friends,

I knew someone, over a period of years, who hated African Americans, Jews, Catholics, and every group other than his own. Modeling love and tolerance didn’t change him. Nothing did. Instead he taught me a great deal about likeminded people.

He told me painful stories about how he came to be who he was. He was obviously unwilling or unable to set aside the pain caused by his parents and others. Affirmation and agreement from people was like a hunger. Disagreement was his personal enemy. Reflecting on his personal pain and the pain he inflicted helped me understand better the nature of hatred.

Hatred has no resting place in our hearts as love does. There is no internal confirmation of owning it. The peace of Christ that passes all understanding is not available to those who hate and so they are left to seek something else. They unfortunately don’t realize what they need is repentance: the ability to forgive others, be forgiven, and turn around and face in another direction.

Hate is a demonic possession that I would define as “a lie that someone believes is true.” The only relief for such individuals, so possessed, is to release the hatred outwardly from time to time. They “need” opposition- an enemy. It is not the “ideas” of the opposition that are helpful to them; it is the opposition’s energy and hurtful words and insults. Evil needs a fight to justify itself. Hatred is justified by hatred.

The only way to render hatred powerless is to not respond. We need to let them chant their hatred and then let them go home unopposed. It is counter intuitive but it is the most effective way to minimize harm by them ….and to them. Hurtful words will reinforce the source of the pain from which their hatred was born. We can make them worse.

The psalms teach that in the face of evil/hatred, we are to get out of its way. It is God’s responsibility to deal with. In time, it will destroy itself, literally eat itself, as Fredrick Buechner so aptly wrote. If the hatred becomes violent or illegal then the police, the courts, or armies will get pulled into the fray. But saying nothing, may keep it from getting that far and allow God to act and heal in ways we cannot.  

Peace to you, Keith
 
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        August 6, 2017, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
 
Dear Friends,

I don’t look at this as a miracle story but rather a spiritual story. If is only a miracle, so what! Jesus doesn’t cater church meals today. Only they who were present that day benefited from the bread and fish.

Spiritually speaking, I am grateful for the bread Jesus gives me and those who love him. His insights and wisdom and love still transform my life.

Last week, at VBS, I told the children that I was walking around praying with my eyes open asking God to help me teach them well. I wondered privately if the bread I have would be sufficient for each little soul that God had sent our way.

Now a week later I pray that I did and that they ate what the staff and I offered. As I have in years past I wait with the other teachers to see if the bread we served filled them up. I trust that what Jesus blesses-- will. Through him, whatever bread we have will always be enough.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        July 16, 2017, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 13: 1-9 [18-23]
 
That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore.

He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”

Dear Friends,

Jesus said that his story was a parable…not an analogy, not a metaphor, not an allegory or a fable.

Yet the church has treated it as anything but a parable. I intentionally did not include verse 18 to 23 because they are an allegorical interpretation of the parable. Even in Matthew’s community there was such a desire to have it speak to a problem the church faced, the interpretation was included.

Obviously, the interpretation was a comfort to them and it made it into the text. They were confounded about why everyone didn’t believe in Jesus’ teachings. This was an answer for their disappointment.

Parables, as I understand them, create an internal conundrum within the believer. If I “pay attention” I will sense that this parable is about me. It is safer to think it is about “them” who don’t believe, but what of my unbelief? What about my interpretation of Jesus that lives among thorns of condemnation of others or of ideas like loving your enemy that I have no intentions of adhering to? What of ideas about love and care that I apply just to those people I like or who return the favor- can I be so shallow rooted? Unfortunately, yes.

Historically, the church has used parables to explain a problem or bring comfort to believers which is all well and good. My sense is that Jesus, if push came to shove, intended to unsettle us.

Peace and unrest to you, Keith

P.S. One might argue that I have interpreted this allegorically and simply internalize the allegory. A parable has layers upon layers of interpretation. For example, “thorns” can be many things in parable, not only the way I have used it here. Do not let an allegory limit the value of a parable, not even my interpretation!
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for   
        July 9, 2017
                               Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30
16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Dear Friends,

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way…the early church frequently compared Jesus to Wisdom (vs. 19b) in the Hebrew scriptures (Proverbs). The metaphor made him Wisdom with whom God created the heavens and the earth. She (Wisdom) was in the beginning with God and were true ideas that were the world’s foundation.  

Another little tidbit…rabbis were known to call Wisdom a “yoke.” Thus, the verse “learn from me.”

Burdens then are ideas that weigh us down, demoralize us, shame us, imprison us within our heads. It is most readily understood by those who have been beaten down by life. But is there anyone who hasn’t? Is there anyone who would not welcome the yoke of a Friend who reassures us that we are loved and valued by God?

Wisdom helps us see the world and ourselves in a different way – as God sees us, loves us, treasures us, and blesses us on our way.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Epistle Lesson for Trinity Sunday
        June 11, 2017
                              II Corinthians 13:11-13
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, good-bye. Put things in order, respond to my encouragement, be in harmony with each other, and live in peace—and the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Say hello to each other with a holy kiss. All of God’s people say hello to you.

13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Dear Friends,

What can we say when a Muslim or Jewish friend asks why we believe in three Gods? We can say that we don’t, yet this doctrine of the trinity makes us seem like liars. The Trinity cannot be explained logically and defending it would be nonsense.

There are affirmations in all religions that seem like nonsense to outsiders. Affirming our cultic ideas without understanding what they mean is useless even to the believer.  We need to take the time to understand our own doctrines before we dismiss someone else’s—well, we have no right to dismiss anyone else’s.  

Again, what if they ask? What if they initiate a dialogue? What do we say? I think our search in our discussions is for common ground. What does the trinity mean to me? Verse 13 is Paul’s effort to share. He connects the Persons with grace, love, and fellowship. What faithful Jew or Muslim would take issue with those concepts? 

Now ask your friend what they believe about their affirmations of faith. Maybe we believe it too.

Peace to you, Keith
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