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Archive for September 2017

Come to the Table: The Table of Grace

Matthew 20:1-16

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

 


Could there be a better parable to help us understand the “Table of Grace?”  I think not.  This is not one of Jesus’ parables that leaves us scratching our head, wondering what on earth he may have been talking about. Nope — this one is clear as a bell.

What would you call this parable? I think it says a lot about you when apply a title to a parable, because once you’ve titled a parable, you’ve already begun interpreting it. For example, if you said this was “The Parable of the Grumbling Workers,” the focus is on the disgruntled attitudes of the first workers to the vineyard, who are angry because they received only what had been promised to them. It just isn’t fair! This is a lot like us, isn’t it? We tend to misunderstand grace by thinking we earn it or we deserve it. A better definition for grace is “Receiving something we do not deserve.” Or better yet, “Not getting what we deserve” as in punishment or the negative consequences that should have befallen us.

Grace is certainly not “Fair,” but all too often we try to dole out who receives grace by who has worked the hardest or who has been the nicest. God doesn’t work that way. Instead, Jesus tells us “The first will be last and the last will be first.”

If you call this “The Parable of the Late Comers,” the focus is on the incredible wonder with which the last workers received their full day’s pay. This is closer to the idea of grace — being aware that they received something they didn’t work for. You might also be aware that they didn’t go seek out the field to work in, they waited for the landowner to come to them. The parable doesn’t go into details about how grateful those latecomers were, but I can only imagine how pleased they were. They certainly weren’t complaining that “It isn’t fair” that they received a whole day’s pay. Indeed, in this case, “The last were first.”

If we call this “The Parable of the Generous Landowner” we begin to to understand the concept of grace. This parable certainly could be about us and our perceptions of fairness; but my heart swells when I think of this landower heading out three or four times during the day to offer work to those who were needing it. I get all goose-bumpy when the landowner doles out the day’s pay and gives everyone the same amount. It helps me recognize that God doesn’t exactly play favorites. God’s justice is difficult for us to understand because it doesn’t seem fair.

God’s justice is more like a scene I saw on Louis CK’s sitcom, where Louis is teaching his daughter about fairness.  He tells her, “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to see that they have enough.”  But really, how often are we looking in our neighbor’s bowl to gauge whether we have as much as they do?

The table of grace is a place where God’s justice is realized: where everyone receives more than they deserve. Grace flows freely and plentifully to everyone at the table, no matter when they arrived.

It must have been difficult for the first Century Jews to grasp that God’s message of love and forgiveness was for the whole world (the late comers) and not just them (the first to work!). But with this excellent parable from our master teacher, we come to understand that our focus shouldn’t be on the good fortune of the late comers, nor on the disgruntled attitudes of the first comers; our focus should be gratitude filled for the gracious landowner, who gives freely and generously to all.

Come to the Table: The Table of Love

Before I talk about Sunday, I want to say a special thank you to the people gathered around our library table for lectionary study on Monday. Thank you for making our table a table of love by listening to me recount my crazy weekend and offering me love and guidance as I come to terms with the passing of my Aunt Sally. As I told our group on Monday, my Aunt Sally and her husband Uncle David (a retired Presbyterian pastor) live in Sarasota, FL and faced some obstacles in finding the right shelter during Irma. The shelter they were assigned to was set up for 400 people and before Irma hit, there were over a 1,000 special needs evacuees housed there. My Aunt suffered chest pains in the middle of the night and was rushed to the ER, where she died early Monday morning from congestive heart failure. Thank you for your compassion and prayers and all the love you so freely give.  Please continue to pray for Uncle David, my cousin Paul and his family. Thank you!  Paula

 

The Table of Love

Come to the Table

Our Sermon Series “Come to the Table” reminds us that our table should offer us a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. When we think about the table in the Kingdom of Heaven, we remember tables from throughout our scriptures: Abraham’s table where he graciously offered hospitality to the three strangers;  the table from Psalm 23 that “God prepares . . . in the presence of mine enemies;” the many tables that Jesus shared during his ministry years, where people accused him of “Dining with outcasts and sinners;” the table where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then offered them bread and wine as a reminder of God’s new covenant with us — for the forgiveness of sins.  At this table, Jesus commanded us, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  We must challenge ourselves to make sure our table is surrounded not only by faithful (and questioning) disciples, but also outcasts, sinners, and strangers. When we are assured of that, we can be assured that we are completing our challenge to create a table that offers a “Foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The Table of Love

Sunday we moved specifically to “The Table of Love.” We found our grounding in these words from Romans 13: 8-10 “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”  We completed the description of the Table of Love with this promise from Matthew 18:20: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Blessing of the Backpacks

During a somewhat chaotic service, we called the children forward for the Blessing of the Backpacks, and then invited them to get “comfy” at the front on bean bags and big stuffed animals. We offered our teachers and all teaching staff from Grand County a blessing on the school year, and prayed that they might find joy in their service. The sermon was then presented as a glorified “Time for Young Disciples” where I sat on the chancel steps and talked to the youth and children about God’s big “Table of Love.”

Outcasts and Sinners

It’s easy for children and youth to imagine what it is like to be an “Outcast.” Just think back to Jr. High or Middle School, when you had your sack lunch or hot lunch tray and you were walking around the cafeteria looking for any sign of kindness at a table — looking for a place where you could sit and eat and maybe even enjoy fellowship. School cafeterias can be a hostile environment! Or think back to elementary school when teams were being chosen in PE class: were you the first one picked or the last one picked? I was inevitably the last one chosen for any sport, as I have never been adept at anything beyond tap dancing or gymnastics. I did have a brief moment of glory in 5th Grade when I went to a school for deaf children (long story, I’ll save it for another time) where my mother taught, and I was the first one chosen for everything. How easy it was for me to bask in that popularity and forget what it felt like to be the one standing on the sidelines.

When we are the ones who are basking in admiration and glory, we are called as disciples of Christ to keep our eye out for those on the sidelines, and save a place for them at the table. Imagine how nice it must have been for Zacchaeus to have Jesus dine at his own table. It was nice enough that we read Zacchaeus repented of his misdeeds and gave back everything extra he had taken from people PLUS four times whatever he had overcharged as a tax collector!  The Table of Love can be healing and redemptive when outcasts and sinners find a place has been saved for them.

Conflict at the Table

Our reading from Matthew also included some directions for how to handle conflict at the table. As Christians we have to trust in this method of dealing right away with any conflict that arises. We do this one on one with the person who has offended us, and if that doesn’t work, we take a couple of people to help mediate. If that doesn’t work, we plan a loving a graceful “intervention” of sorts, where the one offending is given yet another chance to apologize or listen to reason. If all that fails, Jesus says to treat that person like a “Sinner or outcast.”  When I was younger, I totally thought that was my easy way out.  If someone made me angry or offended me and I gave reconciliation a good try to no avail — voila! I could write them off as a sinner or outcast.

As I’ve grown in my faith I’ve been challenged by this though, because the Table of Love shows us something different about how we are called to treat those “sinners and outcasts.” Those who we are so quick to write off are the very ones who Jesus welcomed with open arms. It really became a problem amongst the religious leaders of the time as they repeatedly complained about Jesus’ table guests:  “This man eats with sinners and outcasts.”

Table of Tough Love

Maybe we can acknowledge that the table of love is actually a table of Tough Love. Not because we are called to give tough love, but because it is really tough to love like Jesus. If we can admit this, then we can begin to discuss the struggle together and hopefully find ways to practice this tough love better. We’ll follow this up more next week when we discuss the “Table of Peace” as we own up to Peter’s question to Jesus “How many times must I forgive?”

“Hurt People Hurt People”

May you be challenged in your faith to continue to grow and love through conflict. Like the rest of the world, we are not called to write someone off because they have offended us. Rather, like Jesus, we are called to extend our arms further and make even more room at the table by tending to the needs of the very people who have offended us. I’m reminded of something Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber taught at a conference. She said, “Hurt people hurt people.” Jesus stopped to tend to those very hurts, and we must follow his lead and tend to the hurts of the people who hurt us if we are to truly embrace the “Table of Tough Love.”

Come to the Table

Romans 12:9-21

The Message (MSG) 9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

 

On Sunday, Sept 3, we began a new sermon series called, “Come to the Table.” We’ll be looking at our table and how open it is to “Outcasts and sinners” as we know and affirm that those are the same people who shared the table with Jesus.

What we need to do is transform our thinking from “Our” table to “Jesus'” table. Sure, the table is here at Presbyterian Church of the Eternal Hills, but it is in no way “OUR” table — it is the Jesus’ Table.

What would Jesus’ table look like today? It would still be a table of abundance — there would still be plenty for all (with leftovers, too!) — and it would certainly still be surrounded by “outcasts and sinners.” According to the scripture above, from Romans 12, it sounds like we should even have room at our table for our enemies.

That’s all good and well in theory; but in this day and age when it is so easy to label people with differing political views or different theologies “enemies,” inviting everyone to the “Open Table” is a little more difficult in actual practice.

Over the next several weeks leading up to World Communion Sunday on October 1, we’ll be considering Jesus’ Table at CEH. It’s a great lead in to our New Beginnings discussions, and a super way for us to really think through this most mysterious sacrament of bread and wine.

 

Click here for the sermon “Come to the Table”!

The Gospel is Going to the Dogs?

The Canaanite Woman Challenges Jesus to See Her Worth as a Child of God

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Thus says the Lord:
 Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
 to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
 and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
 and hold fast my covenant —
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
 and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
 will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
 for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
 who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
 besides those already gathered.

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

This Gospel reading is a little difficult to take, isn’t it? Although we hear people insulting each other all the time, it seems so much worse when the insult comes from the mouth of Jesus. “It isn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Wait! Isn’t Jesus the one who taught us to love unconditionally? To forgive and share hope with all of God’s children? Yes — and that’s why this passage is so striking. It’s so out of character for Jesus, it’s almost as if he is trying to teach us something through his words and actions. First he ignores her; then he excludes her; then he insults her.

Nevertheless, the Canaanite woman persisted. And by reminding Jesus of her inherent worth as a human being, it’s almost as if she was holding a sign that said, “Canaanite Lives Matter.” And Jesus opened his heart and his ears to this woman, and even praised her for her great faith.

What is it that Jesus is trying to get across to us through this strange story? To begin with, we see something here that was common for the day. The Israelites saw themselves as the chosen people, to whom the promises of God were guaranteed. They also saw the Canaanites as lower than human; NOT chosen; and often called them “Dogs.” Can you believe the Jews’ hatred of the Canaanites actually goes back to after the flood? Read all about it in Genesis 20. So it was perfectly acceptable for the disciples, even though they had been with Jesus through his teachings and admonishments to “Love one another”, to call this woman a “Dog.”

It’s easy to see the connection to our modern day dilemma, isn’t it? We live in a time where it has somehow become acceptable again to publicly decry other races, genders, lifestyle choices and more. But Jesus’ admiration of the Canaanite woman should redirect us to open our ears and hearts to those who are trying to draw our attention to their plight.

Like Jesus, when we take notice of injustice, we can choose to ignore it, acknowledge it, or work to stop it.  I’m certainly glad that Jesus let the “Gospel go to the Dogs” of Canaan; it reminds me that even I am worthy of God’s deep and merciful grace.

May this story be a reminder to you that we cannot be deaf to the cries of our brothers and sisters who are still being oppressed by systems of injustice, even if it is “the way it has always been.”  In Christ, we need to engage our heart before our mouth, so we speak in love; engage our ears before our fists, so we listen in love; engage our minds before our feet, so we act in love.

With Great Hope,

Rev. Paula

***
Gratitude and Opportunities to Lend a Hand

Good Stuff Happening — Come Join Us

Prayer Path Completion!

Many years ago, Bud Crawford imagined a path that would wind through the forest behind our church. Over the years progress was made — slowly and surely — but most of the work was done by Bud alone. For the past two summers, our youth have carried buckets and buckets of left-over mulch up the hill and have dumped them on the path. But thanks to Tyler Brown, the grandson of Jane and Dale Brown, the path is now finally complete. It’s even better than we could have imagined. With the help of Bud and a whole host of Brown family, this Eagle Scout candidate worked hard to finish our prayer path and a seating ring up in the forest. We will have a dedication for this new prayer path soon.

Thank You for Jim Childress Service:

Thank you Nancy Henry, Sue Perkins, Judy Schowalter, and Deacons Kim Jacobs and Stephen Eddy! ! ! You did an excellent job providing love and support to the Childress family during the service on Saturday, August 19. Thank you also to those who brought cookies or desserts for the reception!

Fellowship Hosts:

Practice Radical Hospitality and sign up to serve and clean up fellowship for our social time after the 10:00 Worship Service. There are always extra hands to help you get ready! Food is provided — all you need to do is put the cheese and meats/crackers/cookies on the platters and make coffee, lemonade and water. Call Sue Perkins to sign up.

New Beginnings:

Please begin signing up for your small group using the sign up sheets in the Fellowship Hall. Your help is greatly needed because we want to hear from all voices in the congregation. You do NOT have to be a member to participate! Small groups are being offered at various times throughout the day, so you can find one that fits your schedule!

Also, mark your calendars now for our first New Beginnings Session, on Sunday, Sept 17. Our first meeting will feature a catered lunch following church. We’ll meet as a big group and go over the materials before we break out into small groups for discussion. We will be finished by 1:00 to allow for your afternoon activities.