September 18, 2016 – Prayer

Pentecost 18    September 18, 2016   Psalm 145, Romans 1:8-12, Ephesians 1:15-19, 3:14-19; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5, 5:16-18; Philippians 1:3-11, 4:4-7 Prayer *************************************************************** Anytime we welcome a new member, we say together these words from our Hymnal: “As members together with you in the body of Christ and in this congregation… We renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church – by our prayers – our presence – our gifts – and our service – that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” The first of the vows we make as members of the body of Christ is prayer – our promise to remember and hold all the church and one another in prayer. And… Naming prayer first in our vows is no accident. Prayer, in the deepest sense, is the beginning of our life of faith… Following the example of Jesus, who is truly God and also truly human, we remember how Jesus prays and teaches us to pray. Jesus spends the whole night in prayer before calling his first apostles (Luke 6). Jesus goes often to quiet places to pray. He teaches us to pray – giving us the words of the Lord’s Prayer (in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11). Giving us also a string of parables about how to pray. A man bangs on his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night, asking bread for a visitor who shows up at his door unexpectedly. The neighbor refuses help at first. But because his neighbor won’t stop knocking, eventually he will get up – Jesus says, even in the middle of the night, and give him what he asks. So ask – seek – knock – Jesus says, and consider: If you, who are not so good (Jesus said it not me) know how to give good gifts to your children – won’t God who is good all the time, give God’s best gift, the Holy Spirit – to you? (Luke 11.) Jesus also tells a parable about a widow who petitions an unjust judge, badgering him till the judge gives up and gives her justice. And won’t our gracious God do better than this unjust judge? Jesus asks. Jesus prays and teaches us how to pray – persistently – with expectation that God hears and God is good… And in the book of Acts we see the early church, taught by Jesus, gathering together in prayer, again and again…. In nearly every chapter of Acts we see and hear the church at prayer. Late in Acts, as the apostle Paul says goodbyes to churches he won’t see again (Acts 20, 21) he and church members kneel down together in prayer with tears of love for one another… And today as we hear the words of God through the apostle Paul, again and again we hear these same themes of mutual love – persistence in prayer – holy expectation – doing everything we do in the spirit of prayer, with thanksgiving. Always thanking God in all our prayers – always remembering each other in prayer. Even when Paul hasn’t met church members yet, as with his letter to the church in Rome – he hasn’t been there yet when he writes – still he’s heard of their faithfulness – and he’s...

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September 27, 2015 – For such a time as this

Pentecost 18   9/27/15 James 1:1-8,5:13-20; Esther 4:1-3,10-17,   For such a time as this *********************************************************** Sandwiched between our readings from the letter of James – most Jewish of all New Testament letters – is our reading from Esther – perhaps most controversial of all Old Testament books among Jewish teachers of old… James, brother of Jesus, is deeply rooted in Jewish traditions. He reveres Torah (the Law of God). He highlights the names of Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah, whose steadfast faith is expressed in their works… He knows his way around in the local synagogue and the Jerusalem temple… The book of Esther, on the other hand, is the only book in the bible in which the name of God is never mentioned. In Esther no prayers are heard, no visible signs of worship (other than fasting) appear. Stylistically, Esther is closer to the Persian novelistic literature of its day than to other books of the bible. Which troubled Rabbis of old sufficiently to delay Esther’s acceptance…Though, over time, as teachers came to recognize the beauty of the hidden-hand-of-God-at-work in the story, they accepted Esther as sacred scripture. James, similarly, was one of a handful of New Testament writings that took longer to be accepted as scripture by the church. James, it was sometimes said, sounds more like an Old Testament prophet than a New Testament letter… Jesus is only mentioned twice in the letter. The word grace never appears. But, like Esther, over time, James was accepted as holy scripture. (It often takes time for the message of prophets to be appreciated… as a life-saving word…) And perhaps the story of Esther is also a prophetic book… For just such a time as this…. *** Once upon a time, King Ahasueres – also known as Xerxes – ruled over the vast Persian empire. When we first meet King Xerxes, he’s putting on a grand banquet and drinking festival for his staff and political supporters that continues without a break for 180 days. (Even in famously party-hearty ancient Persia that’s a long banquet.) The king then follows up with a seven-day-banquet for all the men of the city, great and humble, with a very big open-bar. As the party’s in full swing, Xerxes sends for Queen Vashti, his wife, who’s been hosting a woman’s banquet. ‘Come over to my banquet, honey; show your face to my guests…’ he says. (Some Rabbis of old say she was expected to show more than just her face.) Vashti says no. (Even showing up well-robed before a huge crowd of men who’ve been drinking night and day for a week…was considered over-the-top, even by royal Persian standards, bible commentaries tell us…) King Xerxes gets very angry, but doesn’t know what to do – so he does what kings do when they don’t know what to do. He calls in political consultants, and asks: ‘What should be the punishment for a Queen who disobeys?’ ‘Make her stay out of your palace’ advisors say. Keeping her away from where she’s refusing to go sounds like funny logic to me… But these advisors are wise in the ways of the world. They’re concerned about precedents. Once other women hear what Queen Vashti’s up to, what’s to keep all of them from saying no to their husbands?...

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October 12, 2014 – One in Mission

Exodus 17:1-7 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah – testing – and Meribah – quarreling – because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Exodus 17:8-13 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.   Philippians 1:27-2:5 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own...

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September 22, 2013 – Pentecost 18

Luke 16:1-13 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” *** Pentecost 18 Sept 22, 2013   Luke 16:1-13   The Shrewd Manager ***************************************************************** What is Jesus trying to tell us? – in this rather strange story of a dishonest manager, who, facing loss of his job, unilaterally reduces debts owed to his boss – then gets a thumbs-up approval from his boss? Well, if we’re puzzled by this story Jesus tells, we’re in good company. Bible interpreters through the ages have been baffled by this story. Even St. Augustine, back in the 4th century, who believed the bible was absolutely always the word of God, considered this story of the Dishonest Servant so difficult to understand that he couldn’t quite believe Jesus really said it. And what we hear in a story of course depends on what we bring to the story. In his book, What Do They Hear?, Mark Allan Powell explores some of the ways people hear the bible differently:             When I was in high school, way back in 1969, [Powell writes] my mother told me that she liked “that song about the bathroom.” She didn’t usually like Top 40 music, so I was intrigued–but I had no idea what song she was talking about. She explained: “The one that goes, ‘There’s a bathroom...

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