Bible Study 3.5.12, 3.8.12, 3.11.12 For Worship 3.18.12
Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.”
37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?
41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.”
43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.
45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.
48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him.”
49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Hail, Master!” And he kissed him.
50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.
The Garden of Gethsemane is a powerful story. It appears in all four canonical gospels. Jesus has to make a choice – a difficult choice. He could have very easily climb the Mt. of Olives in the darkness and disappeared into the Judean Wilderness. Should he save himself and betray his vocation or remain faithful to God’s calling and suffer a horrible fate? What gives me some hope for my own lack of courage is to see Jesus’ struggle in his hour of trial. His choice wasn’t a slam dunk. He struggled. The Letter to the Hebrews interprets the story this way: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. . .” (Hebrews 5:7-9)
In Jesus’ prayer, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt,” we can see that the will of Jesus and the will of God we not one and the same. With struggle Jesus was able to embrace God’s will, but not without struggle.
Even as Jesus was struggling with his decision to remain faithful, his closest associates were failing him. He chose Peter and James and John to keep watch with him, and they all fell asleep — maybe too much wine at the Last Supper. We can perhaps understand Jesus’ disappointment, if we have ever experienced a sleepless night and a loved one has been unable to stay awake to comfort us in our sleeplessness. Or perhaps we have experienced the annoyance of a loved one who has been unable to sleep and we could not stay away with them.
The other major failure of the evening was Judas’ betrayal. According to the gospels Judas attended the Supper and left early. Recently some scholars have speculated about the possibility that Jesus wanted Judas to betray him. If Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him, why not stop him? Surely the eleven disciples could have overpowered him. But that would have only worked, if they had killed him, uncharacteristic for Jesus, or tied him up and then escaped. Escape was possible without tying Judas up, that was the struggle in the Garden. So why did Jesus permit him to leave the Supper, unless he intended for Judas to betray him? All of this is in the realm of speculation, and we have only the memories of the disciples for the details of the evening. We just don’t know.
If Jesus had not put Judas up to betraying him, then we can speculate about motives for Judas. The early church seems to have settled upon greed as the intention that drove Judas. It is unclear what coins are spoken of, although later in Matthew, when Judas returns the coins, the Priests, unwilling to return blood money to the Temple Treasury, use the sum to buy a field for the burial of paupers. So the amount may have been of some value. Probably the thirty pieces of silver reference Zechariah 11:12-13 intended by Matthew to interpret the Jesus Story to be another fulfillment of Hebrew Scripture.
If greed was not Judas’ motive, then perhaps, he was driven by jealousy. Toward the end of the gospels Jesus seems to place more and more emphasis on an inner circle of followers: Peter, James and John. Judas was the treasurer of the group, was he a trusted follower, who found himself excluded from the inner most circle?
Another possible motive might have been disillusionment. Judas was described as a zealot. Perhaps when Jesus failed to initiate a revolution following the Palm Sunday Demonstration, Judas became disillusioned and betrayed him. Another possibility might be that Judas believed that God would send an army of angels to rescue Jesus, if we were arrested. Or perhaps Judas believed that general population would rise up against the Temple or the Romans if they arrested Jesus. We don’t know. According to the story Judas led the Temple thugs to the Garden of Gethsemane and in order to make sure they arrest the right person in the dark he betrayed Jesus ironically with a kiss.
Almost all humans who live in community will at one time or another experience betrayal. Betrayal hurts so much, because it comes to us at the hands of someone we have loved and trusted. Why do humans betray one another? Many motives: envy, greed, hurt, ego, misunderstanding, lust, fear, disappointment, disillusionment. The betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane is so powerful, because we have experienced the feeling.
The driving force behind Judas’ betrayal was probably much deeper and more complicated, than simple greed or ambition. If Judas committed suicide afterward, his betrayal must have haunted him, and ultimately confronted him as a betrayal of himself as well as a friend. Why do we do it? What can we do, when we find ourselves betrayed? What are times when we have betrayed ourselves? There is so much we can learn in the Garden with Jesus.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. After the Last Supper where does Jesus take the disciples?
2. Does Jesus remain with all of the disciples?
3. What does Jesus ask of Peter, James and John?
4. In the Garden what is Jesus prayer?
5. While Jesus is praying, what are Peter, James and John doing?
6. What counsel does Jesus give to Peter, James and John?
7. How many times does Jesus retreat for prayer?
8. What does Jesus say, when he sees Judas coming?
9. Who all is accompanying Judas?
10. What have they brought with them?
11. What gesture did Judas use to signal the crowd who Jesus was?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Have you ever had a sleepless night? What has kept you awake?
2. Have you ever tried to comfort someone else who was experiencing a sleepless night?
3. How do you understand Jesus’ prayer in the Garden?
4. Have you ever felt like you wanted to run away?
5. Have you ever had friends disappoint you?
6. Have you ever been convinced God wanted you to do something you did not want to do?
7. What do you think was Judas’ motive in betraying Jesus?
8. Have you ever experienced being betrayed by a friend or loved one? What do you think drove that person to do it?
9. Have you ever betrayed someone? What was your motive?
10. Have you ever had the experience of feeling like you have betrayed yourself?
11. Why do you think we have such a hard time living in community?
Rich Toward God
Luke is harder on the rich than any of the other gospel writers. All of the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke include the rich young ruler story, where a rich man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus answers, keep the commandments. When the rich man responds that he has kept the commandments, Jesus tells him to sell what he has, give to the poor and come follow Jesus. In each version of the story the Rich man goes away sadly, because he had great possessions. In all three versions of the story of the rich young man, the text says that Jesus looked at the rich man, “lovingly.” Jesus loves all people including wealthy people. But in all three versions of the rich young man story, Jesus responds to the young person’s going away sadly, by saying, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Some of our current politicians would accuse Jesus of “class warfare.” I believe our scripture today and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus can help us to understand why Jesus believed the rich have such a difficult time entering the Commonwealth of God.
Our scripture this morning is sometimes called the Parable of the Rich Fool — the foolishness of accumulating wealth we cannot use. What’s the point? We’re all going to die anyway. Is there some contest to see who can die with the biggest bank account, or does the person who dies with the most toys win? What’s the point? There are no pockets in a shroud, there is no U-Haul following the hearse. Go visit the pyramids or go to the Cairo Museum and see the treasures of King Tut. What good did they do him? Vanity of vanities all is vanity.
Of course some people will try to accumulate money and then leave it to their children, or to charitable organizations to support causes of which they approve. People sometimes try to use money to immortalize themselves. Using money to immortalize ourselves is a sad exercise of ego. Leaving money to children does not guarantee their happiness – in fact inherited wealth sometimes works to the detriment of the happiness of the heirs. Leaving money to charitable enterprises is probably a responsible way to dispose of assets after our death, but how much more fun it might be to give or share those assets, while we are still alive, and see the good it is doing. We should all ask ourselves, accumulating for what? Jesus is also asking us in this parable, how much is enough.
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus has a different emphasis from the Parable of the Rich Fool. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the wealthy man is condemned for indulging himself, while he was ignoring the needs of a poor man who was suffering on his doorstep. Of course one reason we have created gated communities and the social safety net, such as it is, is to make sure the poor and the homeless don’t show up on our doorstep. On the other hand, in a world of pervasive media, the needs of the poor half a world away have a distressing tendency to show up on our televisions and computer screens.
I want to give credit, where credit is due. We make an effort at the United Church of Huntsville, to share our resources and reach out to the needs of others. One Great Hour of Sharing coming up on March 18th gives us an opportunity to share our resources with people in need worldwide through Church World Service. Last year people in our congregation gave $1,676. The Cookie Walk last year reached out to hungry kids at the Dump in Tegucigalpa with over $1,000 in aid. We also gave over $1,000 to Ceder, ministry to homeless elderly people in Honduras. Also, last Spring, people in our congregation inspired by Emma Prasher gave over $500 to the Peace Corp’s Camp Glow in Burkina Faso. People in our congregation gave almost $1,300 to the Neighbors in Need Offering that supports Justice, Peace and American Indian Ministries. And our Congregation continues to send warm clothing and this past year $250 to the Dakota Association of the South Dakota Conference, for our mission on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.
Habitat for Humanity gives our congregation an opportunity to positively impact affordable housing right here in Huntsville. Our giving to the Deacon’s Fund on Fifth Sundays supports the Huntsville Assistance Program that reaches out to poor people who are struggling here in the Huntsville area. We have several people at United Church who volunteered at Foodline, and last year not only did our congregation give boxes and boxes of food, we also gave over $1,000 to Foodline. Through the Mission One initiative at the beginning of November, our congregation brought in over 500 food items and raised an additional $175 for St. Mark’s Food Pantry.
Next Sunday, while I am gone, the Diaconate and the Stewardship and Mission Board are leading worship and they plan to feature many of the different volunteer ministries being pursued by members of our congregation: tutoring, meals on wheels, water testing, tornado recovery, Habitat for Humanity, Foodline, First Stop, NAMI, Dining With Friends, Alabama Arise, North Alabama Health Care for All. I think we will be surprised by the number of people who volunteer and the diversity of missions in this congregation.
The question we are always left with, however, whether we are accumulating money or stuff, or whether we are counting our donations or volunteer hours is how much is enough? Is there an amount of income that is too much? Is there a level of donation or a number of volunteer hours that are enough?
I am reminded of a story attributed to the two authors Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut. They were attending a party on Shelter Island, a private island, given by a Billionaire Hedge Fund Manager. Looking around at all of the lavish facilities, luxurious food and exotic entertainments Kurt Vonnegut asked Joseph Heller, “Joe how do you feel, when we think that our host made more money in a day, than you’ve made on your book Catch – 22?
Heller thought for a moment and replied, “it’s o.k., because I have one thing he will never have.”
Sometimes I am tempted to believe that wealth can bring contentment, but in a study of members of the Forbes 400 “richest” list, the world’s wealthiest individuals rated their satisfaction at exactly the same level as did the Inuit people of northern Greenland and the Masai of Kenya, who have no electricity or running water. Apparently multi-million dollar bonuses are not the answer to enough.
My sense is that part of discovering enough is returning to God. Connection with the divine is the foundation of happiness. One of the names for God in the Hebrew Scriptures is El Shaddai, the mighty one of the mountain, but it also means the God of enough, the God who gives enough. This isn’t the Santa Claus god who gives us everything we’ve ever wanted, no this is the God of enough, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Earlier last week I was helping the Birmingham 8 finish up their project exploring connecting with the Divine. They have identified what they are calling twelve pathways to the Divine that are fairly universal across the world’s great religions. Various religious traditions give different emphasis to these pathways, and there is great divergence of opinion about the meaning of these spiritual practices, but beginning this coming Thursday evening we will explore these twelve pathways to the Divine.
The twelve pathways are: sacred texts, rituals, community, sacred places, silence, awe, hospitality, compassion, mending the world, prayer, spiritual guide and transcendence in the presence of the Divine. Connecting with the Divine is an important step in discovering enough. For when we connect with God we discover we already have enough. God has given us enough for all our needs — not just our needs to survive but our needs to thrive. When we can give up the incessant need to consume, we discover that we live in a world of plenty.
Jesus also taught us to cultivate charity and compassion for others – “I was hungry and you gave me good, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick or in prison and you came to me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” When we cultivate a sense of enough that involves having less, we are more able to give to others in need.
I am convinced that no one can tell anyone else how much they should give either in time or money. We can maybe help to inspire other people to give of themselves, but we cannot guilt them. Sometimes the example of others can help to lead us into giving, but finally the motivation to give comes from within. The commonwealth of God comes into the present moment, when we share our time and our resources. Let us learn how to live generously, so we might become rich in relationship to God.
Bible Study 2.27.12, 3.1.12, 3.4.12 For Worship 3.11.12
Luke 22:7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.
8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.”
9 They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?”
10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters,
11 and tell the householder, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’
12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready.”
13 And they went, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
14 And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him.
15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
16 for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves;
18 for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
20 And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
21 But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.
22 For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”
23 And they began to question one another, which of them it was that would do this.
Jesus was very intentional about the last week of his life. He intended to be in Jerusalem during Passover. When we examine the details of Palm Sunday, we can see that the demonstration as Jesus entered the City was not entirely spontaneous. Jesus had planned his entrance. He had arranged for the donkey in order for people to associate the demonstration with Zechariah9:10-13. He walked into the Temple and deliberately overturned the tables of the money changers in order to force a confrontation with the Temple authorities who were foreclosing on peasant farmers and pushing them into poverty. During the week he returned to the Temple day after day almost daring the Temple or the Romans to try to stop him. But he also knew his days were numbered. Jesus already suspected one of his followers was going to betray him. So he was sleeping in a different undisclosed location outside of the City every night. He also made elaborate plans to be able to celebrate the Passover in the City, without his inner circle knowing where that meeting was to take place. That is why there is so much cloak and dagger going on at the beginning of the passage.
In ancient Israel there was a fairly strict division of labor between the sexes. Carrying water was women’s work. In verse 8 Jesus tells Peter and John to go into the City to prepare the Passover Meal. When they ask him where they should prepare the meal, he tells them to go into the City and look for a man carrying a jar of water. They are to follow him and go into the house the man enters. They are then to ask for the householder and use the secret password, “The Teacher says to you, where is the guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?” Probably by this time Jesus suspected that Judas would be the one to betray him, and Jesus wanted to be sure that Judas did not know the location of the dinner, so he would not be arrested before he had the opportunity to share the Last Supper with the disciples.
In taking such care of setting up the Last Supper, we should infer that Jesus was very deliberate about all of the facets of the meal. The special ritual around the sharing of the bread and the wine was no accident. The words he chose for that ritual were very deliberate. Jesus probably had some hope that he was leaving his followers with a very special memory that might become part of their ongoing mission in the world. The words of institution took ritual form at an early date among the followers of Jesus. We find in I Corinthians 11:23-25 the remembered words of Jesus from the Last Supper written down probably within 20 – 25 years after the Last Supper and 10 to 15 years before the writing of the first Gospel. Because “the breaking of the bread” became the central act of worship of the followers of Jesus, we can assume the words were ritualized early on. What Jesus accomplished in the ritual of the breaking of the bread was to provide a symbolic action using concrete elements, bread and wine, to symbolize his life and mission.
We should also consider the relationship of the Last Supper to the stories of the mass feedings that occurred during the ministry of Jesus. Not only was Jesus pointing to self-sacrificing love as the defining focus of his life and ministry he was also emphasizing table fellowship and the feeding of the poor. Indeed in the early church, “the breaking of the bread” was initially celebrated as a communal meal that also provided sustenance for widows, orphans and the poor.
The meal at which Jesus broke the bread was the Passover Meal. There were seven symbolic foods on the Passover Table: wine, unleavened bread (matzo), bitter herbs, parsley dipped in salt water, charoset (a combination of ground apple, nuts, wine and honey) boiled egg and lamb. The early followers of Jesus would have known the significance of the Passover Foods as well as the story of the angel of death passing over the houses of the Israelites marked with the blood of the Passover lamb. The sharing of the bread is referenced as the body of Jesus, the cup is identified with his blood, but also a new covenant. Since Jesus was always grounded in Hebrew Scriptures “new covenant” takes us to Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV)
Literally the new covenant of the bread and the wine is ingested by the worshipper and in the act of eating and digesting the bread and the wine become part of the flesh of the worshipper. Thus, Jesus’ intention is that the new covenant will be linked to the incarnation of the word of love in his followers.
The last three verses of our scripture bring us to the betrayal. Jesus apparently knew about the betrayal and who would do the betraying. This was a very powerful memory for the followers of Jesus. Judas’ action regardless of motive was shocking and abhorrent. It can be a reminder that even in the most intimate moments of friendship betrayal is never far away.
LET’S ASK QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. On what special day did the action in the passage occur?
2. Who does Jesus send to prepare the meal?
3. Why does Jesus want to keep the location of the meal secret?
4. How will the disciples know where the place is for the Last Supper?
5. What is the secret pass word?
6. What symbolic action did Jesus initiate at the meal?
7. What were the symbols in the ritual?
8. What were the symbols supposed to symbolize?
9. What other issue did Jesus bring up at the meal?
10. Who picked up the check?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Have you ever attended a Passover Seder?
2. What does the Passover meal commemorate?
3. What new significance did Jesus give to the elements of the Passover meal?
4. What do you think about all the cloak and dagger surrounding the Last Supper?
5. Why do you think Jesus chose bread and wine?
6. When you share the Lord’s Supper, what does it mean to you?
7. Do you think the Lord’s Supper is as meaningful, when it is not part of a full meal?
8. Why do you think the early church adopted the “breaking of the bread” as the central act of worship?
9. Why do you think the theme of betrayal at the Last Supper is so powerful?
The Parable of the Lost Coin is offered as a rejoinder to the accusations of the conventionally righteous people that Jesus was having contact with unsavory people: tax collectors, prostitutes, the poorest of the poor who had no hope of keeping all of the complicated kosher rules of washing and food restrictions. The good shepherd goes and looks for the lost sheep, the woman lights a lamp, sweeps the floor searching for the lost coin, the good Father never gives up hoping that the prodigal son will come home. Rob Bell, a prominent evangelical preacher wrote a book entitled Love Wins, where he challenged the traditional doctrine of hell, and promoted the notion that in God’s infinite love all that is lost will be found.
Over the last few weeks we have talked about reaching out beyond the walls of the church, reaching out to the socially marginalized, so this morning I would like to examine the Parable of the Lost Coin from a different perspective. In a clergy group in which I used to participate, after I had made an especially sarcastic remark, a member of the group turned to me and said, “Hurst, there is yet a corner of your soul that is unredeemed.” My guess is that there is more than a corner of my soul that is unredeemed, and so I would like to invite all of us to consider this morning, what parts of our personalities or spirits are yet to be redeemed? What’s lost? What about us still needs to be found?
“Repentance,” according to Scott Peck in his book, What Return Can I Make, “is turning to walk with God. Who were we walking with before we repented?” asks Peck. “We were walking alone, because we preferred it that way.” Actually, we never walk alone, God is always there but we often keep God at a great distance, so that God’s presence never seems real to us. Repentance is finding our way back to a relationship with God.
In finding our way back to a relationship with God, we may have to be willing to begin by acknowledging God is God and we are not. Sort of like the counselor who said to her client, “I’m not aware of why you have come to see me, so perhaps, you could start at the very beginning.”
“Of course.” replied the client. “In the beginning, I created the Heavens and the Earth…”
As long as we are still trying to replace God with self, we are not going to find our way back to a relationship with God. The first two steps in the spiritual recovery of Twelve Step programs are to recognize our lives are out of control, and acknowledge our need for a higher power, God, in our lives. Recovery programs ask the question with what are we trying to fill the God hole in our lives – alcohol, drugs, food, work, stuff? All of our addictions including consumerism the mass addiction of our age are just attempts to replace God with something else as the center of our lives. Many of us don’t have to look very far to find the unredeemed corner of our souls. But strangely enough for many of us to take the step of seeking God, we have to hit bottom. Some devastating event like a recession, losing a job, losing a spouse, a kid, our house, our 401K is required before we stop trying to stuff the hole in our souls with something else, and instead go in search of our relationship with God. Like the Prodigal Son we have to come to our senses. Remember it is not until the Prodigal Son is contemplating eating the pig slop he finally comes to his senses. Some of us have to consume spiritual pig slop before we come to our senses. Only then are we ready to get found.
We have a wonderful resource in our congregation in Jim Norris. In his counseling Jim uses the Internal Family Systems model.
Internal Family Systems sees consciousness as made up of various “parts” or sub-personalities, each with its own perspective, interests, memories, and viewpoint. If you have ever found yourself having an internal dialogue trying to make a decision or think through a problem you can identify with this notion of internal parts. A key understanding of Internal Family Systems is that every part has a positive intent for us, and all the parts are trying to help us or protect us against pain, even if the effects of that part is counterproductive or causes dysfunction. This means that there is never any reason to fight with, coerce, or try to get rid of a part; instead we can allow the Internal Family Systems method to promote internal connection and harmony.
Now sometimes as a result of trauma or painful experience in childhood, some of our parts can become separated and buried deep in the unconscious – they become exiles. And one of the goals of therapy can be to help the exiles come home.
Sometimes the lost parts of our souls are the hurt or damaged pieces. Our memories of being told we were stupid or lazy or inadequate. The bullying we may have suffered. Abuse from parents, siblings, teachers, peers. And the healing of our spirits calls for tenderly and compassionately loving those sometimes hurt, sometimes angry feelings that haunt us.
Often the dysfunctional pieces of our personalities are just waiting to be acknowledged and claimed. A person who was legendary for outbursts of anger, after he had claimed his temper and asked good spiritual friends to pray with him and for him stopped suffering angry outbursts. His dysfunctional anger just wanted to be acknowledged and loved.
It takes courage to ask good spiritual friends to pray with us and for us, when we try to embrace a part of our personality that has gone into exile. I don’t know why or how prayer works. It’s a mystery but it helps, especially when others pray with us and for us. Of course asking other people to pray for the lost parts of our spirits makes us vulnerable. Embracing the shadows of our souls shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, and only with people we believe we can trust. But finding good spiritual friends with whom we can be vulnerable is important to our spiritual health and development.
On the subject of allowing spiritual vulnerability, I have a story from Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Did you have a kid in your neighborhood who always hid so good, nobody could find him? We did. After a while we would give up on him and go off, leaving him to rot wherever he was. Sooner or later he would show up, all mad because we didn’t keep looking for him. And we could get mad back because he wasn’t playing the game the way it was supposed to be played. There’s hiding and there’s finding, we’d say. And he’d say it was hide-and-seek, not hide-and-give-up, and we’d all yell about who made the rules and who cared about who, anyway, and how we wouldn’t play with him anymore if he didn’t get it straight and who needed him anyhow, and things like that. . . . No matter what, though, the next time he would hide too good again. He’s probably still hidden somewhere, for all I know.
As I write this, the neighborhood games does on, and there is a kid under a pile of leaves in the yard just under my window. He has been there a long time now, and everybody else is found and they are about to give up on him over at the base. I considered going out to the base and telling them where he is hiding. And I thought about setting the leaves on fire to drive him out. Finally, I just yelled out the window, “GET FOUND KID, GET FOUND!” It’s really hard to know how to be helpful sometimes.
<To the extent that most of us are lost, or have parts that are lost, those unredeemed corners of our souls, we are playing hide-and-seek. We play hide-and-seek with God. We play hide-and-seek with the Pastor. We play hide-and-see with the other people in our faith community. We complain, because no one seems to care. No one is able to read our hearts or our minds. No one can intuit our hurt or pain or anger. No one seems to be aware of the hole in our soul. No one seems to understand we are bleeding to death. Of course, we’re not telling anyone either. We’re not asking anyone to pray with us or for us. They’re just supposed to know, and we shouldn’t have to say a word. If they were real Christians then they would just know I’m hurting and need their help. And the reason we don’t want to have to say a word, the reason we don’t want to ask for the prayers of others is because once we get found, we become accountable. We can’t ask people to pray for us and still go on pretending there’s nothing wrong. Once we get found, we might have to change. And of course no one really wants to change. We want to wave a magic wand and have everything around us change, but we get to stay the same – no effort, no pain, no change.
Oh I don’t have to ask others to pray for me, I’ll just take it all to Jesus. But that’s the Jesus who lives in our left hip pocket who only tells us what we want to hear, and who never holds us accountable. Our spiritual friends can help us light the lamp, sweep the room and get found.
It’s up to us. It’s in our hands. God won’t violate our free will. But once we begin asking for the prayers of others, the healing power of Christ might begin to take hold in our lives. Get found Kid! Get found!
Subversive Wisdom, the World Stood on Its Head
“What must I do to inherit eternal life,” was the hottest question of First Century Israel. The lawyer in our scripture asked the question. Nicodemus in the Gospel of John asked the question. The rich young ruler asked the question in Mark and Luke. We should note that Jesus never answered exactly the same way twice. To Nicodemus he said, “you have to be born anew.” To the rich young ruler Jesus said, “You know the commandments. Do them.”
And when the rich man said, “I’ve done them all since my youth.”
Jesus looked upon him lovingly and said, “you lack one thing. Go sell what you have, and give to the poor and come follow me.”
Jesus seemed to understand that each person was seeking a unique answer, they had to figure out for themselves. In our scripture today, when Jesus was asked the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He answered with a question. “What is written in the law, how do you read it?”
So the lawyer responded by giving the summary of the law the great Rabbi Hillel had formulated, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Agreeing with Rabbi Hillel, Jesus said, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”
And this was where Jesus got really radical. He told a story. He started out talking about a guy traveling by himself from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and a band of robbers jumps him, beats him almost to death. Strips him naked and leaves him for dead right there in the road.
Boy is Jesus’ audience identifying with this story. Everybody knew how dangerous that road was. You should never travel that road alone. It served him right for being such a fool traveling alone down the Jericho road. Jesus has his audience with him.
So, the first person to come along and sees the man beside the road is a Priest. The Priests weren’t real popular especially with the crowd following Jesus. The Priests were implicated in foreclosing on farmer’s debts, and pushing peasants off the land. They didn’t care about anybody but the money changers anyway. No when the Priest passed by on the other side of the road, the crowd probably booed and made rude gestures. Jesus’ listeners are really with him.
Next in the story comes along a Levite. Levites were employees of the temple. They collected the Temple Tax, supervised the money changers, and took care of the business end of the Temple, and they weren’t very popular either. Everyone saw the Levites as having cushy jobs living off of the revenues from the Temple. And of course they weren’t surprised when the Levite passed by on the other side of the road. Someone probably yelled out, “Levite scum wouldn’t lift a finger to help any of us.” And as everybody laughed and shook their heads Jesus knew he had this crowd in the palm of his hand.
And then the third person to come along the road, who stopped and helped the poor man, of all things was a Samaritan. The mouths of everyone in the crowd dropped wide open. They couldn’t believe their ears. The hero of the story was a Samaritan of all people – a dirty stinkin Samaritan.
In order to communicate how shocked Jesus’ audience might have been, let me try to put this in our modern context. A conservative legislator Bubba is traveling from Birmingham to Montgomery. He forgot his cell phone. He has a flat tire. He gets out to change the tire, and some gang members come along, jump out of their car, beat up the legislator, steal all of his money, his wallet with all of his identification, even take his expensive leather shoes, and leave him along the side of the road unconscious.
The first person who comes driving along is Deacon Jones, a wealthy car dealer, who sees the man lying beside a car with a flat tire, and says to himself, “he should have had onstar,” as he drives on by.
The second person who comes driving down the highway is Rev. Smith. And Rev. Smith is a busy, busy man. As usual he is running late to a meeting, and so when he sees the man lying beside the road, he consoles himself, that surely someone else who isn’t so busy will stop to help the man.
The third person who comes driving down the highway is an illegal alien – an undocumented Mexican chicken processor. Pedro sees the Bubba lying beside the car with the flat tire, and though he is scared he might get found out, he stops. Pedro can see the man is really hurt, and since Pedro has no cell phone, he puts Bubba in his car, and drives him to the nearest hospital.
“I don’t know Senora. I found him on the road, and he doesn’t have a wallet or identification.”
“Well, who’s gonna pay for it?”
And poor Pedro, who has just been paid, pulls out five-hundred dollars and says, “I don’t have much, Senora, but please take care of him.”
Who proved neighbor to the legislator who was robbed?
Jesus was absolutely radical. If we were retelling this story in Israel today, the victim would be a Jew, the hero would be a Palestinian. If we were retelling this story, in Northern Ireland, the victim would be a Protestant and the hero would be a Catholic. Given all the animosity expressed about poor people lately, the victim could be a nice white upper-class society matron, and the hero could be a welfare mother on food stamps. For that matter given all the animosity generated toward the wealthy, if Jesus were retelling the story at an Occupy Whatever Rally, the victim might be a poor person and the hero might be a wealthy person who shows compassion. Jesus is radical. The principle focus of the Good Samaritan is not about helping people, although that is a nice subplot, no the radical subversive Jesus wants to challenge all of our stereotypes. Who is my neighbor? Whoever we don’t happen to like. Jesus makes it tough. Just when we think we can follow him, he throws us some of his subversive wisdom and stands our ordinary common sense values on their head. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” And just for good measure our neighbor is one of those dirty rotten Samaritans we don’t like, or a Palestinian, or Catholic, or a liberal, or a conservative, or even an illegal alien.
Following Jesus is hard. Even leave out the cross business, it’s hard. Jesus is constantly asking us to stretch and grow and move out of our comfort zones. And part of the impact Jesus needs to make on our lives is to slow down and care.
For a final exam in an ethics course, a college professor gave all of his students a sealed envelope and told them not to reveal to any other student what was in their envelope. Inside the envelope were three different sets of instructions.
The first set of instructions given to about one third of the students told them that the time was now 1 p.m. and they were to proceed to the Communication Arts Building (about a 25 minute walk across campus) and report to room 205 by 2 p.m., to pick up their final grade for the course. The second set of instructions given to another one third of the students told them that the time was now 1 p.m. and they were to proceed to the Communication Arts Building and report to room 205 by 1:45 p.m. and their successful completion of these instructions would account for 20% of their final grade. The third set of instructions given to the last third of the students told them that the time was now 1 p.m. and they were to proceed to the Communication Arts Building and report to room 205 by 1:30 p.m. and their successful completion of these instructions would account for 40% of their final grade.
Unbeknownst to the students the professor had hired students from the drama department to play the part of students in distress, and he had them stationed at various places along the path between the exam room and the Communication Arts Building. He even had a student in a wheel chair turned on its side at the steps of the Communication Arts Building.
Two thirds of the students in the first group, the group who had a whole hour to get to Room 205 just to pick up their grade, stopped to help one of the people in distress along their way. One third of the students in the second group, the group who had 45 minutes to get to the Room 205 for 20% of their grade stopped to help any of the people in distress along their way.
And the students in the third group — the ones who only had 30 minutes to make it to room 205 for 40% of their grade? None of them could report even having seen anyone in distress on their way to room 205.
In addition to our difficulty in reaching across the chasms of prejudice in our lives, we may also need to look at what our pressured time conscious culture does to us spiritually. Who proved neighbor to the people in distress? The ones who helped them? Go and do likewise.
Bible Study 2.13.12, 2.16.12, 2.19.12 For Worship 2.26.12
Luke 12:13 One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.”
14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?”
15 And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully;
17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’
18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’
20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
21 So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Luke is harder on the rich than any of the other gospel writers. All of the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke include the rich young ruler story, where a rich man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus answers, keep the commandments. When the rich man responds that he has kept the commandments, Jesus tells him to sell what he has, give to the poor and come follow Jesus. In each version of the story the Rich man goes away sadly, because he had great possessions. In all three versions of the story of the rich young man, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Some of our current politicians would accuse Jesus of “class warfare.”
The gospel of Luke goes even further in its condemnation of the rich. In Luke’s version of the beatitudes Jesus says: Luke 6:20 “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. . . . 24 “But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.” And then Luke presents two Parables about rich people, that do not occur in any other Gospel – the Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12:13-21; and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31.
The Parable of the Rich Fool, our scripture today, is about the foolishness of accumulating wealth we cannot use. The Parable is prefaced by a story intended to provide context. Jesus is asked to play the role of judge in an inheritance dispute. It was not uncommon in the First Century to seek a Rabbi’s intervention or judgment in a legal dispute. Jesus begs off from the request by noting a concern about covetousness and the lure of worldly possessions. The point of the story then is to ask, “When we die, what’s the point?” There are no pockets in a shroud. There is no U-Haul following the hearse. Of course some people will try to accumulate money and then leave it to their children, or to charitable organizations to support causes of which they approve. People sometimes try to use money to immortalize themselves. Using money to immortalize ourselves is a sad exercise of ego. Leaving money to children does not guarantee their happiness. Leaving money to charitable enterprises is probably a responsible way to dispose of assets after our death, but how much more fun it might have been to give or share those assets, while we are still alive. We should all ask ourselves, accumulating for what?
The Rich man and Lazarus story has an edge to it. What about people who accumulate wealth, and refuse to reach out to the needs of others? In this story, the rich man suffers torment in Hades, while the poor beggar he refused to help is comforted in the bosom of Abraham. This Parable is based upon a Sheol. Sheol is neither heaven or hell. Sheol is instead a holding area for souls awaiting final judgment, but even in Sheol, temporary though it may be there is a division where different kinds of souls wait for final judgment. Good people are invited to wait in Paradise or in the words of Luke the Bosom of Abraham, while bad souls are consigned to suffer in Gehenna, a place of fire and torment. We should note that the time of waiting is for the Last Judgment when souls will receive permanent assignments.
The Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus is the only place in the gospels, where there is speculation about the geography of the afterlife, that has fueled the Roman Catholic doctrines about Purgatory. I like the Parable of the Rich Fool better than the Rich man and Lazarus, because while there is an implied judgment about the accumulation of wealth in the Rich Fool the behavior itself is its own punishment or reward, rather than the imposition of a system of rewards and punishments in the afterlife to make up for injustices in this life. We can hope that those who have more than they need will be inspired to share with those who do not.
LET’S ASK QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. What prompts Jesus to tell the story of the Rich Fool?
2. How does the rich man become wealthy?
3. What does the rich man see as his immediate challenge?
4. What does the rich man assume his abundance will afford him?
5. What is God’s response to the rich fool?
6. Does the story tell us how someone becomes rich toward God?
7. Does the story tell us what a person’s life does consist of?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. Has there ever been a dispute involving an inheritance in your family?
2. How was the dispute resolved?
3. For you, how much is enough?
4. Has “enough” changed over your life time?
5. Do you have a plan for dispersing your assets, when you die?
6. What will be your most important legacy, when you die?
7. How do you think someone becomes rich toward God?
8. What do you think a person’s life consists of?
9. What do you think is the meaning of the Parable?
Great or Small, All That I Am
God isn’t fair. Our gifts are diverse and they vary in kind, in quantity and quality. And that is one reason we are always a little uncomfortable with the Parable of the Talents. It’s not fair that one guy got five Talents, and another three and then we really feel sorry for the poor guy who only got one. No wonder he stuck it in the ground, right? But then that is not really the point of the parable, and we can see that if we focus on Luke’s version of the story. In Luke each of the servants is given one pound. When the servants are called to give an accounting of their stewardship they have invested their resources differently and have produced different results. In each case the Master offers the stewards congratulations, except for the one servant who was so afraid of losing what he had been given, he hid his resources and did not use them.
This Parable may not have originated with Jesus. The Talents does not appear in the Gospel of Mark, or the Gospel of Thomas, and Matthew and Luke’s versions are quite different. I’m thinking the Parable of the Talents probably originated in the second half of the First Century, maybe after the destruction of Jerusalem, when people realized that Jesus might not be returning soon.
The Disciples originally believed Jesus was coming back any minute, they didn’t know the day or the hour, but any moment he was going to return and take all of his followers to heaven. But as time dragged on especially after the trauma of the destruction of Jerusalem and the original followers of Jesus began dying off, some people began to question the imminent return of Jesus.
We can see this concern about the imminence of the second coming in the placement of the Parable of the Talents in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew Chapter 25 contains three Parables, the Wise and Foolish Maidens, the Talents, and the Last Judgment, or even though you did it to the least of these, you have done it to me. The point of the Wise and Foolish Maidens is that the Bridegroom has been delayed, and so the followers of Jesus need extra oil for their lamps, a goodly store of patience and faith, in order to persevere during the long wait until the Bridegroom (Jesus) comes. The Last Judgment Parable emphasizes in the absence of Jesus the need to care for the needs of others as if they were the Christ, “even though you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me.”
me about the meaning of the Parable of the Talents is that during the time of waiting for the return of Jesus, those who are called to follow him, are to use the spiritual gifts bestowed upon Christ’s followers to bring the Common Wealth of God into the here and now. We are not supposed to sit around eating bonbons waiting for Jesus we are given the task of using the spiritual gifts to help make the Common Wealth of God a reality now. And granted everyone has different gifts both in kind, in quality, and in quantity, we can all still use all that we have to serve Jesus now.
On the insert in your bulletin is a list of Spiritual Gifts. Some of these gifts can be found in the Bible, and some of them are sort of imaginatively implied by scripture. The point is there are a multitude of spiritual gifts, and everyone has at least a few.
I ran across a humorous author who suggested there are some additional gifts often found in the church. First is The Gift of Receiving — if there is a supernatural gift of giving, then doesn’t it make sense that somewhere there is someone who feels their calling in life is to receive? Some people with this gift specialize – receiving advice, help, spiritual truth, money.
Somebody once told a guy, “God told me to give you this Cadillac.” His instant reply: “God just told me to take it!” He must have had the gift of receiving. Sometimes you can spot a person with the gift of receiving by their reluctance to give back. Ask them to give spiritual truth, money, or time? “Sorry. Not my gift.”
Another gift often found in churches is The Gift of Criticism — for years it has been said that the most critical people anywhere can be found in churches. Maybe some people can’t help it. Maybe they’re actually exercising a spiritual gift. Their calling in life is to criticize what other people are doing.
The goal of this gift is to keep everyone else inside and outside the church as humble and as close to hell as possible. And let’s face it – some people are way beyond good or talented. They’re gifted at it.
Finally, perhaps my favorite is the Gift of Discouragement — for every congregation filled with encouragers, maybe the Lord needs to send someone with a second opinion — somebody with a supernatural sense of reality. A spiritual “hang it up” expert.
Think about it. Shouldn’t the Almighty have somebody to talk us back from the point of undertaking a faith challenge? A voice in the congregation who can let everybody know that God says it’s OK to not to challenge ourselves? I’ve known people who were powerfully used to change the direction of some stupidly visionary, faith-filled people. God bless us every one.
Some gifts we can do without. But seriously we all possess talents, and God will provide every community of faith the resources needed to do what God wants us to do, if we commit ourselves to using our gifts. So why do we hold back? What prevents us from using our talents to help our community of faith to thrive?
Both versions of the Parable agree the servant who buries his gift is afraid. So what is the fear? Many of us struggle with a fear of failure. Hey if we don’t try anything we can’t fail! What if we’re not up to the challenge? What if my gifts and talents aren’t good enough? For some of us the experience of failure is so traumatic we never really try again. That fear of failure not only applies to individuals, failure can also haunt organizations. Some church consultants will ask me, why does United Church have such a hard time growing? And we have to understand one of our formative institutional memories was getting a good start. This congregation initially took off, and then the Big Lay Off hit in the late 60’s and people sold their homes and left town and United Church struggled. We have come close to closing the doors a couple of times in our past. There is the classic story of the treasurer Bob Bergman laying out all of the church’s bills on his bed, and trying to decide what bills to pay with the $18.95 that was left in the church’s bank account. Those kinds of memories create anxiety and fear that can haunt an organizational memory for years. What if we fail? If we don’t try we can’t fail.
Fear of criticism can also hold us back. Even when it is offered with the best of intentions criticism can hurt, especially if we received a lot of messages in childhood that we weren’t quite good enough. Fear of disapproval leads to a practiced false humility, not putting ourselves out there, where others can disparage us. Please don’t ask me to do anything I can’t face the prospect of criticism.
Many people suffer from the fear there won’t be enough. What if I make a commitment to give, or do, or perform and it turns out there isn’t enough. When my father died my poor mother wouldn’t spend any money on herself, because she was afraid there wouldn’t be enough. When we talked about it she remembered as a child they were so poor at one point in the depression during one two week period all they had to eat was corn meal mush. Sometimes our memories from childhood can instill fears we never leave behind.
The fear that there won’t be enough is also similar to laziness. Gee I’m not going to make a commitment, I’m not sure I want to work that hard, or I’m not sure I want to give that much. We do have to make choices in life. We can’t do everything. We can’t give or spend more than we have.
On the other hand we are called to live as if God will provide enough. When we are focused on doing what God wants us to do, assets beyond our own meager resources become available. Until we reach beyond what we know we can do on our own, we haven’t yet lived by faith.
It is like the story of the nun who was working as a hospice nurse. One day, when she was making her rounds, she ran out of gas. She walked to a gas station down the street, but they didn’t have a gas can. She was late for her next appointment, so she hurried back to her car to see what container she could find to carry gas. All she could find was a bed pan. So, she went back to the gas station and came back to her car with a bed pan full of gasoline. Then very carefully she started pouring the gasoline into her tank.
As the Nun was pouring the last of the gasoline into her tank Father O’Malley came driving along rolled down his window and said, “Sister that’s what I call faith.”
May God grant to each one of us the faith to overcome our fears and use our gifts to bring the Commonwealth of God into the present moment. Whatever our gifts, great or small, God asks us to give all that we are. Let me close then with a poem from Thomas Troeger:
If all you want, Lord, is my heart,
My heart is yours alone –
Providing I may set apart
My mind to be my own.
If all you want, Lord, is my mind,
My mind belongs to you,
But let my heart remain inclined
To do what it would do.
If heart and mind would both suffice,
While I kept strength and soul,
At least I would not sacrifice
Completely my control.
But since, O God, you want them all
To shape with your own hand,
I pray for grace to heed your call
To live your first command.