One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

The 15th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17C (8/28/2016)

Lessons:
Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112 (4)
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
St. Luke 14:1, 7-14

Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 2:4-13 or Sirach 10:12-18
Psalm 81:1, 10-16 (16)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace to those who are humble. Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

St. Luke 14:1, 7-14. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

Humility, Exaltation, and the Presence of Christ 

DIATSAI don’t want to take my belt and shoes off. I don’t want to remove my plastic bag of 3 oz. liquids. I don’t want to put my laptop computer and my step counter in a separate plastic bin. But what I really don’t want is to find myself in between those nylon straps, shuffling back and forth for up to 45 minutes, like so many cattle. What I want is TSA Pre! It has been granted to me a couple of times (undoubtedly with the hope that this might whet my appetite to actually pay for it…). And oh, what a difference it makes. I make my way to the far left line, queue up behind two or three others, and watch as the hundreds of people to my right anxiously make their way towards the TSA agent, all the while worrying about whether or not they arrived early enough to get through the line and get to the gate before their flight departs. I don’t want to wait with all of them. I want TSA Pre!

Which is, I suspect, what Jesus is talking about in this weekend’s Gospel lesson.

He makes mention of wedding banquets and dinners for friends. We might think of TSA lines, sporting event tickets, Disney’s FastPass+, or meet-and-greets at rock concerts. But at the heart of the matter is our very human desire to find ourselves ahead of all the others who are all behind us. It is human nature to want to sit at the head of the table, or stand in the shortest line. It is human nature to hope for an advantage that others don’t have. It is human nature to be pleased when we are considered to be the insiders, even as (or possibly: especially as) others are considered to be the outsiders.

Some would even describe the Christian faith as the ultimate ticket to the inside group. Embrace the correct beliefs, worship with the right people, say the appropriate prayers, make the expected contributions, and your life will be blessed. A healthier family. More success at work. Better parking spaces when you’re out shopping. Perhaps even fortune and fame will come your way if you are a good enough believer. This merging of Christian imagery with American civil religion is more predominant today than most of us want to admit.

Jesus lifts up a different vision. Don’t strive for the head of the table; humble yourself; sit at the lowest place. Don’t prepare tea for your rich friends; but for those who otherwise might not have tea. And this: don’t do so as a subversive strategy to be exalted in front of all the others, but  because the lowest place at the table is where Jesus-followers find themselves. Among the brokenness of this world. Surrounded by those whose misfortune is evident. Eager to be the presence of God for them. This is our call. If we stop lusting after the best seats and the shortest lines, we just might find ourselves in the very presence of Christ.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What was the appeal of the best seat at the banquet during the first century?
  2. How must striving for this kind of recognition have shaped people’s lives?
  3. What alternative is Jesus proposing here?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. In which situations do I most wish to be honored or elevated above others?
  2. How would it change me to step away from this desire?
  3. What might I experience, if I was wiling to spend time at the foot of the table?

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16C (August 21, 2016)

Lessons:
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8 (4)
Hebrews 12:18-29
St. Luke 13:10-17

Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6 (6)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright. Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

13:10 Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.


St. Luke 13:10-17. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

What Is Healing?

“A woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” We certainly wouldn’t describe it with those terms today. We might speak about the effects of an injury, or a degenerative condition, or a birth defect. Whenever someone struggles with a difficult physical (or emotional, or intellectual, or spiritual) reality, it is worth the effort to find language that takes the condition seriously, yet doesn’t blame or label the person involved. They didn’t worry so much about this in the first century. For them, either people were the way God intended them to be, or an evil spirit of some sort had caused them to be otherwise.

Nonetheless, a woman who had suffered for eighteen years meets Jesus in the synagogue, and the end result of the meeting is that she is freed from what had bound her all this time. How does St. Luke describe it? She is set free. She stands up straight. She begins praising God.

Does this story teach us that if our faith is strong enough — if our prayers are faithful enough — that God will heal us from anything that causes us pain and distress? No. In fact, there is no mention of this woman’s faith, or even that she asks Jesus to help her stand straight. He simply notices her, proclaims her to be free, and lays his hands on her. As a friend of mine says (who has been in a wheel chair for thirty-five years; almost twice as long as this woman was afflicted), it’s called a miracle because it rarely happens. Our faith doesn’t promise us miracles. It doesn’t promise an escape from the pains and struggles of this world.

This parable seems, rather, to be about the rightful use of sabbath, and the healing power of Jesus. Isn’t it interesting how the two characters mentioned in this parable, the woman and the leader of the synagogue, respond to this miracle in two completely different ways? The leader sees it as an infraction of the rules established for how and how not to honor God on the Sabbath. The woman sees it as an opportunity for rejoicing.

“Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” By the time of Jesus, the sabbath had long been a day of restriction, a day of obedience, a day of adhering to tradition. In this story, Jesus begins to redefine sabbath. In fact, he begins to redefine what is holy.

True holiness is not strict adherence to the rules. True holiness is recognizing who we are: children of God. (Jesus sees this woman not as “captive of Satan, but as “daughter of Abraham.”) True holiness is setting the captive free. True holiness is being able to sing a full-voiced song of praise.

May this coming Sabbath invite us into true holiness. And may our song of praise ring out, loud and clear.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How has this woman been bound (identified?) by her physical condition?
  2. Why does Jesus heal her?
  3. What do his actions have to say to the prevailing attunes about sabbath?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What binds us today, and prevents our song of praise to God?
  2. What would have to happen for us to be set free?
  3. How can we change the way we practice sabbath, so that we more regularly experience the sacred and powerful presence of God in our lives?

Devotions for Saturday, August 13, 2016

12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (St. Luke 12:49-56). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Discussion: How has my faith been a source of hope and peace during troubled times?

Prayer: O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Devotions for Friday, August 12, 2016

10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Acts 10:34-48). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Discussion: What barriers exist today between those inside and outside my church that need to be torn down?

Prayer: Redeeming God, we are all outsiders, brought into the family of faith by your grace. Help us to fight against any barriers that divide us from others. And gives us the courage and humility to reach across those divides and welcome others into your love. Amen.

Devotions for Thursday, August 11, 2016

6:8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

7:1 Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” And Stephen replied…

7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Acts 6:8-7:2, 51-60). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 

Discussion: What would it take for me to make a bold and clear testimony to my faith, even if others disagreed with me?

Prayer: God of peace and hope, in these disagreeable times, inspire us to a witness that is humble, genuine, powerful and compelling. May the faith you have given us multiply, as others come to know your grace. Amen.

Devotions for Wednesday, August 10, 2016

6:1 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Acts 6:1-7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Discussion: How might we deepen our commitment to care for our brothers and sisters who are in need?

Prayer: Compassionate God, your Son moved among us with power and might, healing and restoring those who needed his touch. Empower our congregation, that it might be an instrument of healing in our time, that through our care, others may come to know your love. Amen.

Devotions for Tuesday, August 9, 2016

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Acts 4:32-37). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Discussion: How could a spirit of radical generosity strengthen my church?

Prayer: Giving God, you have provided us with more than we could ever ask. or deserve. Touch our hearts with your generosity, and inspire us to bless others with what we have received from you. In the name of the one who would even give us life, we pray to you. Amen.

Devotions for Monday, August 8, 2016

2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Acts 2:37-47). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Discussion: What might my church do to help other people come to know the grace we have in Christ?

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, you have graced us with the assurance of your love. Grant us peace in your presence, and inspire us to share this life-giving gift with those who don’t yet know it. Through the one whose death gives us life, Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Devotions for Sunday Evening, August 7, 2016

12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (St. Luke 12:32-40). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Discussion: When have I noticed my “Father’s good pleasure to give [me] the kingdom?”

Prayer: Almighty God, you sent your holy Spirit to be the life and light of your church. Open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may be ready to receive you wherever you appear, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

The 13th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 15C (8/14/2016)

Lessons:
Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82 (8)
Hebrews 11:29–12:2
St. Luke 12:49-56

Semicontinuous Series:
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18 (14, 15)
Hebrews 11:29–12:2
St. Luke 12:49-56

Prayer of the Day:
O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

12:49 [Jesus said,] “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

St. Luke 12:49-56. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Jesus and Family Values

A devotional message based on this text will be posted by Tuesday evening.

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