Meditation for October 18 2020
“ What Do We Owe God ? “
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Exodus 33: 12-23, Matthew 22: 15-22
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
I rarely meet anyone who really enjoys paying taxes. The old adage is true, the two constants in life are death and taxes. For me it’s always anxious going to the tax preparer-will there be a refund or will there be an additional payment ? Thankfully ,the last couple of years has been a been a refund.
Despite the fact that I ‘m not thrilled about paying taxes, I know that the tax system is set up for good purposes. We pay tax for the privilege of living in a free society. After all, its tax revenue that supports education, roads ,highways, railroads, airports and other infrastructure. Tax money also supports national defense, social security and other important vital federal programs.
According to Wikipedia:
The Revenue Act of 1932 (June 6, 1932, Ch. 209, 47 Stat. 169) raised United States tax rates across the board, with the rate on top incomes rising from 25 percent to 63 percent. The estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15 percent. Taxable Items included dye, chewing gum, furs, soft drinks, and sporting goods; firearms, shells, and cartridges; coal, coke, and copper ore; telegraph, telephone, cable, and radio dispatches; and checks, jewelry, matches, refrigerators, stamps, and toiletries, and this act enacted one of the first taxes on gasoline. The provisions of the act applied to the taxable year of 1932 and all subsequent taxable years. It was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover.
As you can see, this list of taxable items is familiar to our ears today, as well as other items which are also taxed including hotel rooms etc. Taxes would have also have been a sore subject in first century Judaism. Talmudic literature is filled with complaints against the severity of the taxation in Ereẓ Israel during the period of Roman domination. However intolerable this may have seemed, it was not discriminatory, and the pagan population of the area doubtless had similar complaints. On the other hand, the *Fiscus Judaicus introduced after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., diverting to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome the half-shekel formerly paid voluntarily each year by every Jew to the Temple in Jerusalem, was definitely discriminatory, paid by no other than Jews.
The writer of Matthew’s Gospel describes how the Pharisees and other religious leaders tried to entrap Jesus in a rhetorical argument. Jesus is recorded as saying: “ You hypocrites ! Why are you trying to trap me ? Show me the coin used for paying the tax. They brought him a denarius, and he asked him. “ Whose portrait is this ?And whose inscription ? Caesar’s they replied.
New Testament Scholar John Dominic Crossan has started that in the first century Hellenistic Judaism society that it was common practice to have inscriptions on coins that featured profiles of Caesar. What is striking is that when early Christian followers stated that “ Jesus Is Lord “, they were making a very revolutionary claim, because during this time there was the notion that there was only one Lord and that was Caesar. Therefore to make the claim that Jesus was Lord was to make a claim that would threaten the very nature of the Roman Imperialistic state.
( Excavating Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, 2001 )
Jesus then says to them:
“ Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s “
So what do we owe God ? What are the gifts that we offer to our Lord and to the Kingdom Of God ? For centuries, ornate places of worship, buildings like Chartres Cathedral in France were built as an expression of gratitude expressing the glory of God. This was certainly one way of expressing thanksgiving for the presence of God in the world, but are there other ways in which we can express our gratitude ? Jesus is heard to say when you feed the hungry, when you clothe the naked, when you do these things to the least of these, you do them unto me.
Where are the hungry in our own community ? Where are the poor in spirit ? Where are those who are alone, those who have no one with them, no one to talk to, no one to speak on their behalf ?
Could it be when we extend ourselves to someone who is homeless, to someone who is lonely, to someone who is effected by domestic violence etc. that we are giving our very best of gifts to God? We are expressing with thanksgiving the very blessings which God has bestowed upon us.
As we continue to celebrate this time of Fall, this time of harvest, may be mindful of what we can do to further share of our bounty and resources with those who have no resources.
May we know that as do this, we become more acutely aware of God’s presence in our individual lives and in our lives as a community of faith.
In Christ’s name.
May it be so.
Meditation For The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost October 11 2020
“ Whom Do We Worship ? “
Exodus 32: 1-14, Matthew 22: 1-`14
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Recently, I have started to orient myself to using Microsoft Teams. A lot of organizations are migrating towards this platform as opposed to using Skype. One of the advantages of Microsoft Teams is that you can see everyone you are talking to at the same time. This feature is not prominent with Zoom or with other portals regarding digital communication. What I did notice about Microsoft Teams was that the audio connection was not always great and there was with my connection an undercurrent background noise that sounded like running water.
Most of us can certainly attest that digital communication has expanded greatly, especially now with this world-wide pandemic. We are meeting for worship via the internet, meetings for work, communication with family and friends, and ordering take-out food are now being handled by digital platforms. All of this can feel artificial, at times, and there can be the understandable longing to experience someone, in the flesh, being in the same room with you.
Technology is understandably valued in our culture. Whoever has the best computer, camera and microphone and who has the best bandwidth is someone who has the leading advantage. South Korea has been credited as having the fasted broadband speed of anywhere in the world, faster than anything in Silicon Valley. We’ll see if this still remains true with the advent of 5G.
Several years ago, I was reminded of the luxury of having speedy broadband reception. I was out at Joint Base Lewis McChord, WA ( Tacoma, WA.) I was working at Madigan Army Medical Center as a Army Reservist on two weeks active duty. I was providing mental health services to patients in the Emergency Room and Inpatient Psychiatry. While I was there I stayed at the Bachelor Officers Quarters ( BOQ).
One night I went down to the computer room at the BOQ in order to construct a word document which in turn I wanted to send as an enclosure in an E-Mail to my E-Mail address. I went online, so far so good, and I was able to complete the word document. Now was the test, getting the document as an enclosure to an e-mail to my e-mail address.
My this connection was slow ! It reminded me of the days of DSL on the old Apple Mac computers. My frustration level was increasing and at one point, I said to the person sitting next to me, “ Gee, do you think we need to call Bill Gates up the road in Redmond and see if he can come down and give us better bandwidth ! “ I found out that the base had long-term challenges with internet speed.
The writer of the book of Exodus conveys a story that resonates with our modern ears. The people of Israel were at the holy mountain waiting for Moses to come back down with the tablets of the law. As humans are prone to do, they got inpatient, like looking to get out of as traffic jam on I-10 or looking for better broadband speed, they wanted something tangible and they wanted it now.
Like Jim Morrison and The Doors used to say:
“ We want the world and we want it now ! “
The next thing you know people were taking off their golden rings, necklaces and earrings and they were all melted down to create this image of a calf made out of the precious medal.
Then they said: “ These are your gods. O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt. “
The text indicates that God was not happy with this human enterprise: “ Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation. “ ( Exodus 32:10 )
The writer of Exodus suggests that there appears to be ambivalence regarding what should happen to the people of Israel. Enter Moses, whose diplomatic skills would make Madeline Albright and Colin Powell envious, when he suggests: Why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand ? Why should the Egyptians say, “ It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth. Turn from your fierce anger , relent and do not ring disaster on your people. ( Exodus 32: 11 )
We then read:
“ Then the Lord relented and did not bring upon his people the disaster that he had threatened. “ ( Exodus 32:14 ) This is one of the few instances in scripture where we learn that God changes movement and decides to do otherwise. Wow ! The power of diplomacy! What happens when people choose not to use force, but rather choose dialogue and open non-judgmental communication in order to understand one another? Clearly from the events that we have painfully witnessed this year, especially the violence in our cities, there is a great need for this kind of interaction.
What do we worship ? Is it power, wealth, domination or might it be love, compassion, and empowering others through the love of God made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ ?
It’s been said that what we worship is what we value. If one worships power with no compassion, its predictable what the end result will be, that of continued suffering. However, if one worships compassion with strength then I would argue the end result will look different. There will be the real possibility for reconciliation, forgiveness and redemption. So what will it be for you and I? Will we worship our own human powers and abilities or will we worship the eternal God who continues to promise to create all things new through the transforming presence of the Kingdom Of God?
Maybe we need a greater spiritual bandwidth, a greater sense of connectivity with the God who creates, who sustains and who redeems.
May this happen for us.
May it be so.
We pray in Jesus’ Name.
Meditation for service 10/04/2020 Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
“ What Is Our Stewardship ?”
( Isaiah 5: 1-7, Matthew 21: 33-46 )
For several years, I have tried to put in a garden at my house. There is a good size plot of ground in my back part of my property to plant vegetables. My wife and I would rototill, we would put down fertilizer, and mulch. We would plant seed no later than April and would look forward to hopefully getting some tomatoes, lettuce, maybe even some squash. Texas summers being what they are; Our yield would do well in May and June. We would get a fair number of tomatoes, lettuce and even some squash. We felt like we were being good stewards of the land. But then fourth of July would come and bam!, one hundred degree plus weather and heat would come and you guessed it -dwindling returns from the garden and items shriveling on the vine.
One year, we even had two garden specialists come out to our place and they constructed a wooden trellis with a canopy overhead which would ideally shield against the hot sun. The structure looked like something you would see in Tuscany on a huge estate. We were optimistic that this would help us have a higher yield from the garden. Alas, there wasn’t a great improvement.
Over the years, we have scaled back. This year we have planted tomatoes, squash and peppers in planters around our pool spa. We have large oak trees that provide shade in that area, and now this year, we are doing well in growing tomatoes, squash and peppers.
Sometimes, you have to prepare soil in order for things to grow. Other times seeds are thrown into the ground and plants grow, much to one’s amazement.
Matthew’s account of the parable of the tenants is a remarkable story of stewardship gone awry. The story records how a landowner builds a vineyard, builds a wall around it, and a wine press and also a watchtower.
The landowner goes away on a journey. While he is gone he sends his servants to collect the fruit of the harvest from the tenants. We read that the tenants kill his servants. Again, the landowner sends more servants than before and also they are killed. Finally, the landowner sends his own son thinking “they will respect my son “ and incredulously the son is also killed by the tenants. Matthew ends the parable with Jesus suggesting that the Kingdom Of God will be taken away from those who squander and defile and given to those who will produce its fruit. ( Matthew 21: 41).
One of my former seminary professors George Stroup used to say “the miracle of the Gospel is that it invites us to discover our own story within the Gospel story. Stroup and German theologian Hans Frei used to refer this as “ theology of story.“ I wonder today where we are in this story ? Are we the landowner concerned about the harvest or are we the tenants who want to grab as much as we can when there is the presence of vulnerability for all concerned?
According to recent rankings from US New And World Report I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Texas was ranked 40Th out of 50 regarding worst polluted states. Texas even beat out my home state of Oregon which was ranked 44Th, Washington State was ranked 21St. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/natural-environment/pollution
This is good news. When I moved here in 1997, we were rated 50Th out of 50 for the environment.
Still these numbers beg the question what can do to become better stewards of our home, this planet earth ? What can we do to improve water quality, air quality and ecosystem balance while we contend with the consequences of global climate change? If we want to identify with the landowner in this parable, then I think that we have to recognize that there is a divine imperative that we protect the creation that our God has created.
Instead of viewing our resources as finite and therefore be prone to want to be selfish and to hoard, instead maybe we are being invited to view God’s creation as being filled with abundant resources for all, however, with the caveat to be an appropriate custodian of those resources.
So where is our stewardship here at Redeemer United Church Of Christ ? Yes, we are doing well with our budget and with our memorial fund and we can thank the generous giving of our membership as well as the expert management by those who have served as treasurers and who have managed the funds. But I want to expand the idea of stewardship further by raising another question: What does Redeemer United Church Of Christ want to do in terms of its mission outreach for ministry , not only during this Interim period but also when a new settled minister is called?
There have been churches that have embraced feeding the hungry, clothing the naked (Matthew 25:35-36 ), setting up or supporting existing food pantries, or doing the same regarding clothing drives for the needy. There have been other churches that have supported organizations like Heifer International, Bread For The World, Samaritan’s Purse proving assistance to those who lack basic necessities and who may be affected by war and/or natural disasters. Still other churches have chosen to support those who suffer from Mental Illness. The United Church Of Christ has enacted the Widening The Welcome Movement that strives to promote mental health friendly ministries within churches, and also working in concert with organizations like the National Alliance For The Mentally Ill ( NAMI ) in the effort to provide better advocacy and political legislation that will promote better and more accessible mental health services for all.
What might we do as Redeemer United Church Of Christ in our time together ? What might we do as we seek to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here right now, transforming our very lives? As I mentioned previously, it takes a lot of skill, good soil and perhaps a lot of good luck and green thumbs in order to produce a great garden. I‘ve discovered that there is a lot of trial and error and from some previous disappointing outcomes I’ve learned that it can be easy to give up.
Yet, I believe Jesus continues to call us to work for the harvest, to throw the seeds on the good soil, not on the soil that is rocky or full of thorns and weeds.
May we be open to what God would want us to bear as fruits in our lives and in the life of our congregation, our beloved community of faith.
May what we plant always provide a great bounty now and always.
May it be so.
In Christ’s name.
Meditation for the service 09/27/2020
“ Is The Lord Among Us Or Not ? “
( Exodus 17: 1-7, Philippians 1: 21-30, Matthew 21: 23-32 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
When did you have to take a big risk in your life ? Maybe it was when you graduated from high school and you either went to college, joined the military or went to work ? Maybe it was when you decided that you were going to start your own business but there was the uncertainty of raising the money to make the business a reality ? Maybe for you, it was when you fell in love and you were in a relationship, but you weren’t sure if this relationship was going to be permanent or not ?
All of these examples and more can be described as “ turning points “ in our lives. If you decide one way your life could take this direction and then again if you turn the other way, the direction of our life may go somewhere else.
I remember Sophomore year in college, I was offered an opportunity that was a total surprise. I was going to school at Portland State University in Portland ,Or, living at home, I was an English and History major. My grades were really good. One day, I got a big surprise. The Los Angeles Times called me and offered me a summer internship. Wow ! what an honor- they want me ? Part of me was envisioning working in a busy newsroom. Maybe I could be the next Doyle McManus, the journalist who has covered global affairs for the paper.
However, there was a stumbling block. How much would I get paid and where in God’s name would I live in Los Angeles ? I had been to LA before and I knew it was a huge place. I wondered if I could make it ? I wondered if I would be safe ? My hesitancy got the best of me and regrettably I turned down the offer.
I can relate to the people of Israel who were wandering in the desert. They wanted to get to the promised land. They wanted to be in the land flowing with milk and honey, maybe even have an ocean view.
Yet the reality that was evident for them was not encouraging,
“The writer of Exodus notes:
“ But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said.
Why did you bring us out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?
You can’t blame them for being concerned. Water is essential for human life. Here in South Texas, we are acutely aware of this, especially when there are proposals for pipelines carrying petroleum products that may traverse ecologically sensitive lands.
The people of Israel were concerned. They were concerned about their safety and welfare. Like me, they were asking the question, where will I live, maybe not in LA, but nevertheless where will I live ?
The writer of Exodus then asserts that Moses was asked to walk ahead of the people. He was asked to walk with his staff out to the rock of Horeb “ Strike the rock and water will come out of it for the people to drink. He does this and lo and behold there is water for the people to drink.
A year later, another opportunity came by way. This time, I was awarded a fellowship to spend the summer in Ashland Oregon attended three academic seminars sponsored by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon College. This time I was determined to go, even though Ashland is a good five hour drive away from Portland.
The summer weather in Ashland was glorious. I attended Shakespeare seminars and lectures during the day, wrote a few papers, attended theater every night, and talked with professors over drinks after the theater performances.
Indeed, life was good !
As a result of that summer, I went back to Portland and thought about where I wanted to go to seminary. I thought why not apply for schools in the East and one in Southern California ? I applied to Princeton Theological Seminary, The University Of Chicago and Clairemont School Of Theology. I got accepted into two out of three with the first one offering me a full scholarship.
Is the Lord among us or not ? Some of those who listened to Jesus asked this same question. Matthew relates that some asked : Where does he get this authority from heaven or from humankind ? Jesus doesn’t really answer their question. Instead he describes this strange parable of the two sons. One is asked to go work in the vineyard and at first he refuses and then he decides to go. The other son says yes I’ll go work but then does not show up. Jesus challenges the legalism of his audience regarding what it means to respond to the reality of God’s Kingdom.
Right now, it would be more than reasonable for someone to ask “ Is the Lord among us or not ? “ given everything that is happening in the world. Jesus invites us live in the Kingdom Of God which makes all things new. Sometimes there are surprises regarding God’s revelation for you and I Sometimes there will be challenges
How will I live in LA ?
How will I live in my life ?
May the love and the grace of God always inform us that our God is one who is with us in all times and in all places: in our life, in our death and in our life beyond death.
Yes, the Lord is among us now and always.
May it be so. Amen
“ The Divine Economy “
( Exodus 16: 2-15, Johan 3:10-4:11, Matthew 20:L 1-16 )
This week, a new chapter in the faith history of Redeemer United Church Of Christ (Zuehl ) Marion, TX has begun. A long pastorate of eleven years by Rev. Lee Zillmann and his wife Sharon has ended the new interim ministry with Rev. Peter Bauer has begun. New beginnings include both the process of reflecting back at what has been achieved and to look forward to what God would have us to do for the future.
I must say that I have been impressed with what Redeemer United Church Of Christ has accomplished in its ministry to this community and beyond. Your faithfulness has been manifested in your steady high attendance in worship, your desire to grow more in the knowledge of God’s word and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. You have supported well the work of the larger United Church Of Christ by supporting Our Church Wider Mission of the United Church Of Christ.
Redeemer United Church Of Christ has been a beacon of light here in the Zuehl community and beyond now for over one hundred years !
Now here we are again at another moment of change.
Bob Dylan reminds us:
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'
When we are honest with ourselves, a lot of us do not like change. We want things to stay the same. We want the certainty of being with our family, being with our friends and being with those we love. These sentiments are quite understandable and good.
Redeemer United Church Of Christ has a lot of family togetherness and connectedness. A lot of people in our society today long for this type of community and affiliation.
What is striking about the biblical texts that we have heard read today is that they all point to another understanding of faith and community.
The Hebrew people who found themselves wandering in the wilderness, according to the writer of Exodus, longed for the flesh pots of Egypt, they longed for security even though they didn’t what came with that security.
I realized this , along with others, when during the Spring months of March and April 2020 I would go shopping at the store for the relentless search for toilet paper. I will never forget those feelings of concern and alarm when I would roll my shopping cart down aisles that were completely bare of needed supplies. I felt helpless and alone.
Not unlike the people of Israel as they languished in the desert or for that matter Jonah who was determined to preach God’s message of repentance to the people of Nineveh, only to feel thwarted and then go through the indignity of being thrown overboard by desperate shipmates into a raging sea, being swallowed by a whale and then being vomited[BPE1] up on shore.
Needless to say, it was not a good day for Jonah.
Matthew’s rendering of the parable of the workers in the vineyard is also starting and disturbing for us. What is this that the person who works for one hour gets the same wage as the person who has worked all day ?
That’s not fair ?
That strikes at the heart of our Protestant work ethic.
If you work hard, you should reap the benefits of your labor.
Yes, that may be true and yet God calls us
To be about a “ different economy “ a divine economy, where there is no hunger, where there is no want. Where everyone will get their basic needs of food, water, clothing, shelter met and where everyone will be able to sit under their own fig tree.
Today, you and I as partners interim minister and congregation, are embarked on masking this divine economy a reality here at Redeemer United Church Of Christ. You and I will work together to think and articulate what a new mission might look like for Redeemer.
What would God have us to do in this new time and place for the life of this congregation?
My prayer is that you will join us in this journey and is this discovery together.
May it be so in Christ’s Name.
15th Sunday after Pentecost September 13, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 114; Epistle: Romans 14:1-12; Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Meditation Title: “God’s Extravagant Forgiveness”
The story is told that a baseball umpire was running late getting to a baseball game for which he was to be an umpire. Sure enough, driving down the highway, he gets pulled over by a policeman for driving too fast. The umpire pleaded saying that he had to be an umpire for a baseball game, and with difficulties in his family, he was running late. He also said that he had always been a safe, careful driver and that this was the first time that he had ever been pulled over by a law officer. Well, as you would know it, the policeman wouldn’t buy it. He just told the driver to tell his story to the judge and gave him a whopping ticket with a hefty fine! Well, two months later, the umpire was working a baseball game and guess who was first to come up to bat? Yes, you got it, the policeman who gave him the whopper ticket! When the officer came up to the plate, he then recognized the umpire, and the umpire recognized the policeman! Oh dear, the officer thought. Quickly, the officer wanted forgiveness and quietly asked, “How did the thing with the ticket and the judge go?” With a mean look on his face, the umpire told the officer (now batter), “You better swing with everything you got!” Obviously, the umpire was out for REVENGE!
Well, we have all been there. We have been slow to forgive and let go of a grudge, and we have been on the other side of the fence wanting forgiveness from others. Forgiveness is a big problem in our lives. There have been persons who have wronged us and it is so, so difficult to let go of our feelings of anger, resentment and even hatred. Even Simon Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother who has sinned against me?” “Up to seven times?” Peter said this because Jewish law had it that a person was to forgive a person three times, and Peter upped it to seven times. However, Jesus said, “No, seventy times seven,” which really meant to forgive over and over and over again. For many Christians, forgiving people who have hurt them is the biggest obstacle to their mental, emotional, and spiritual well being.
In “The Science of Influence, How to Inspire Yourself and Others to Greatness,” business guru Brian Tracy tells about a man who was at his wits end in life. He had been raised in a dysfunctional family; he didn’t get along with his siblings. He had a bad marriage, was cheated by a business partner, lost all his money, and now, he was quite sick. He was given only six months to live. To this, his doctor said quite bluntly, “You are going to die. Your system in like a worn-out car. Everything is shot.” So, the doctor told him the best medicine that he could give him was to make peace with himself and with whomever he was unhappy with in life. The doctor confronted the man about his anger. The man was angry with many people. The doctor told him that he needed to “let it all go.” So, for six months, he either called by phone or traveled miles and miles asking for forgiveness and forgiving others whom he thought had wronged him. He also put all his affairs in order, he wrote his last will and testament, and he sold all his property. But, strangely, the more he traveled and the more he forgave others, his health got better and better. At the end of six months, he went back to his doctor. The doctor couldn’t believe it. The doctor said, “You have no more symptoms; you are completely well!” Not only was his health restored, but he began excelling in his work. He was feeling great toward himself and others. It is amazing what forgiveness had done for him. It is also amazing what forgiveness can do for us, as well. However, forgiveness is not easy, but there is a secret to it. Jesus shares with us the answer.
We have to realize that for our mistakes, sins, and wrong-doings, Jesus is always willing to forgive us if we are sincere. Since Jesus died on a cross to forgive us, he paid a huge price for our forgiveness. In the Lord’s prayer, we also pray for the forgiveness of sins. In particular, we are used to saying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” but this can also be translated into, “forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others.” Through Christ, God forgives our sins, and we are set free to live a new life. We are free from the bondage of sin. We are free to live a new life free from anger, resentment, and hurt. We can “let it all go.” As we have been forgiven, we also must forgive others. God’s forgiveness is extravagant! It is amazing! We need to live out His forgiveness, and likewise forgive others.
Now taking this a step farther, who in your life do you need to forgive? (pause) What have you done that is really eating away at you that you need to ask God for forgiveness? (pause) Well, whatever it is, forgiveness is there for you and for me. That is a promise from a forgiving, loving God, through His Son, Jesus.
I want to close this meditation with my most favorite story. I have shared it before with you in previous sermons, but it bears telling again. If you remember it, that is good. If you don’t remember it, you need to hear it. I first heard it from the Rev. Richard Kuretsch, who was once pastor here at Redeemer years ago. He told this story at one of our Thursday morning Pastors’ Bible Study Group.
The story is of a young man who had difficulties relating to his family. He had a strained relationship with his parents. He never really got along with his brothers and sisters. He ended up in a big argument with his family. So, he packed up his belongings and left town. He got a job in another town, and was doing well; however, he missed his family and wished that he could see them. Many years passed. His heart was aching to share with his family. He sat down and wrote a letter to his parents and family stating that he would like to see them again. He said that he would take a train to his home town, and since the train tracks ran right behind his parents’ home, if they wanted to see him again, they should hang a white towel on the clothes line. If there were no white towel on the line that meant that they did not want to see him, and he would just keep riding on the train and not get off.
Well, the day came, and as the train rounded the corner toward his parents’ home, he strained his neck to see if there was a white towel on the wash line. When he got closer, he saw the parents’ house. What a surprise! Not only was there a white towel on the line, but everything white in the house was hanging on the line -- white pillow cases, white sheets, white shirts, blouses, and dresses. Not only was there one white towel, there were wash lines full of everything white that the family could find in the house. And so, the young man got off the train….
That is how extravagant God’s love and forgiveness is for you and for me.
14th Sunday after Pentecost September 6, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 119:33-40;
Epistle: Romans 13:8-14; Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
Meditation Title: “Building Walls or Building Bridges?”
I personally watch very little television; it’s just not for me. However, sometimes later in the evening, I will watch some of the old re-runs of The Twilight Zone or The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. They have some very interesting vignettes of mystery stories. In one similar story, this group of people were here on earth one minute and in the next, they were in some far-off, mysterious place. They were in some imaginative, remote place in some other time. The people kept asking, “Where are we?” “Why are we in this place?” “What is our purpose here?” “What are we supposed to do?” In the midst of all these unanswered questions, one of the actors noticed some building materials and some concrete blocks. They all say, “That’s what we are here for – to build something!” However, they did not know what they were to build. One suggested a swimming pool. Another one wanted to build a clubhouse. And yet, another wanted to build a hospital or clinic. Just then, they observed that they were not alone in this imaginary place, but that there were other people there also. Immediately, fear took over, and they proceeded to build a high wall to protect themselves and to keep the others out! The more they built the wall, the more they became afraid of the “outside” people. Finally, they built this huge, insurmountable wall. At that point, they noticed a “stranger” headed their way. The stranger tells them that he is an architect and builder, and that he had blueprints that are supposed to show them what to build. The architect/builder sees what they have built, and he tells them that they have it all wrong. They were not to build a wall around themselves. They were supposed to build a bridge – a bridge to bring the people together, not a wall to keep them out.
Now, let’s take an inward look at our lifestyles. Is it our nature to build walls or is it our nature to build bridges? Do we go around criticizing and spreading seeds of disharmony (in other words building walls) OR do we try to be caring and spreading seeds of harmony, (in other words building bridges?) Do we like to agitate and irritate others (building walls) OR do we possess a soothing, calming spirit (building bridges?) Do we like to pick out other’s faults (building walls) OR do we try to affirm others’ accomplishments (building bridges?) What kind of a person are we really? Again, do we build bridges to bring people together in harmony or are we building walls of disharmony and division?
The bottom line of our Gospel lesson this morning is: If we earnestly seek to build bridges, if we earnestly seek to live in harmony with others, if we earnestly seek to lift up the good in others, then, Jesus IS in our midst. For Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, THERE I am also.”
In truth that is what the church should be all about. The church, at its best, fosters a sense of community among people who may come from different backgrounds and who may even hold different ideas or thoughts. We, in the church, did not choose each other, No! But once we are together in fellowship, it is our responsibility to be a caring, loving community.
Yes, we need one another. It’s comforting to know that in times of need, we can lean on others and readily feel their support in the church and in our lives. That is why we need to be accepting of others, regardless of our differing thoughts and ideas. If there is a difference of opinions, we need to earnestly reconcile with each other; then, Jesus IS in our midst.
Evidently, in Jesus time, there was disharmony in his religious community. That is why this scripture passage was evidently written. Down through the ages, the church has always had to deal with disagreeing thoughts. However, by the grace and power of the living Christ, we can overcome our disagreements. Rev. Roland Pantermuehl once commented, “The church has existed in spite of its people!” We are God’s people. We are his family. We Christians are all family. I know that sometimes that is hard to believe, but it is true. Therefore, we should always strive for peace, harmony, and unity. If there is strife or disagreement, we must make peace, climb the wall, and build the bridge.
We need one another. More importantly, we need to know that Christ is in our midst – “where two or three have gathered in my name.” Therefore, let us join hands and hearts in unity and love. Then truly, Christ is in our midst.
13th Sunday after Pentecost August 30, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 26:1-8;
Epistle: Romans 12:9-21; Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
Meditation Title: “There Is a Hunger in All of Us for Something Better in Life.”
I learned to drive at a very young age. With my grandparents’ farm, there was always a tractor or truck or whatever to drive. I was operating vehicles when I could barely reach the pedals or see over the steering wheel. I am sure that a lot of you can identify with that. When it came to Drivers’ Ed., I had long been driving. One of my best attributes was, and still is, parallel parking. Sharon never could get over the fact that I could parallel park a car in a small space and only have a couple of feet between the car in front and the car in the back. But now, have you seen the Buick car commercial where the young teenager is taking a driving test to get his drivers’ license, and it comes to the point of parallel parking? The test proctor tells the young man to parallel park, and the teenager just pushes a button on the dash, and the vehicle automatically parallel parks with no effort from the driver! We even have cars now days that can be programmed to drive to a certain location WITHOUT a driver! Uber has some of those vehicles to transport people. All you have to do is sit back and let it go. Well, I suspect that many of us like to live our lives like that.
We don’t want to put much effort into those things that help us make the best of life. “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be…” (like the lines of the old song) … just sit back and let life go. However, my friends, there is a hunger in all of us for something better in life. All of us get so caught up in life, doing this, doing that, watching out for the unexpected, guarding, protecting – especially in these day with the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Life is impacting us from all sides. Remember the old pin-ball machines that entertainment businesses used to have? Well, we feel like the steel ball being bounced around from one target to another. With so much going on in our busy lives today, we faintly hear Jesus’ call to follow him for a meaningful, fulfilling life. Truly, we spend so much time every day running here, running there, doing this, that, and the other, and we spend so little time with what is most important, and that is, tending to and feeding our spiritual lives.
In essence, we get so busy living our lives and meeting all the deadlines that we get used to living a second-rate life. To compound all of this, we are living in the days of a pandemic where over 30 per cent of people are truly suffering from some type of medical, mental depression. And thus, the question for us today is: Isn’t it time for us to seek a better way of life – to seek excellence in living? Yes, truly, we need to take out time for those things in life that are rejuvenating and regenerating. Maybe, we need to put less effort into running all the bases in the world and put more effort into our spiritual lives which is really what gives meaning, importance, and purpose to our daily living.
What are we looking for in life? In life, we need something solid to hold onto. In everyday living we need “that something” that will give our lives stability as we go through all the valleys and hills of life. We need a way of life that will help us raise our families productively and keep families together. We need a way of life that will help us relate to our neighbors – which sometimes is hard to do! We need something to help us get “in touch” with ourselves, relate to ourselves, and find out who we truly are. Sometimes, often-times, we are looking in all the wrong places!
Jesus, the Master Teacher, has the answer to our life’s dilemma. He says, “Come to me all of you who are burdened and heavy-laden, and I will give you life.” These are words from our Holy Communion Service. Jesus says, “Come to me if you want a good life, for I have the words of life.” He assures us that in all circumstances, He will give us comfort, strength, meaning, and purpose in life. “For to live in me, is life,” says our Lord.
However, we follow the luring of the world. The world tells us that we can find happiness and joy in amassing more and more possessions, regardless of how far we go into debt. Society says that we should try to own more and have bigger, better paying jobs, etc. However, all this really cannot bring us happiness; it just brings us more worries and headaches. That is what Jesus was talking about in our Gospel Lesson when he said, “What does it profit a person if he/she gains the whole world, but loses his/her own life.” And so, we need to be faithful and listen to his call.
So, we need to ask ourselves the question: Are we channeling our energy toward Jesus and the wholeness and fulness of life that He can offer, OR are we channeling all of our energy into the expectations of family, jobs, and the wishes of the world? We need to think and pray about this. If we truly want life, good life now and eternal life later, we need to follow and make time to strengthen our faith and trust in Jesus the Christ. Let us take up our cross and follow Him.