The 24th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 28A (11/19/2017)

Lessons:
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11], 12
1st Thessalonians 5:1-11
St. Matthew 25:14-30

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm
Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123

Prayer of the Day:
Righteous God, our merciful master, you own the earth and all its peoples, and you give us all that we have. Inspire us to serve you with justice and wisdom, and prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

25.14 [Jesus said] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

St. Matthew 25:14-30, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

“You wicked and lazy slave!”

This text shows up in the lectionary every three years: The Parable of the Talents. Whenever I read it I can’t help but think of the unfortunate third slave. I try to imagine this imaginary character in Jesus’ parable. Compared to the two other slaves, he seems less ambitious, less driven, less adventuresome. He seems aware of the master’s demanding nature — maybe even more acutely aware than the other two. He seems to understand that there is significant risk in investing assets that don’t belong to him, and more than a bit frightened about what might happen to him if he trades with his master’s talent and fails. I know many people — fine, faithful, decent people — who probably would identify more with this slave than his less risk-adverse co-slaves.

I can see why a wealthy homeowner would want to place the first two “in charge of many things.” Anyone who has ever managed a small business (or a large one for that matter!) knows that the more capable the leaders are, the more effective the venture will be. We even find ourselves asking that question here at Saint Peter: “Which of our members seem to have the strongest leadership gifts, and how might we invite them to use their gifts and abilities in a way that moves us closer to our stated mission as a congregation?”

It is harder to understand why the master is so harsh with this slave. He takes the responsibility of managing this asset away from him and gives it to another, which seems to make perfect sense if the master’s objective is to grow his portfolio. But calling him wicked? Lazy? Throwing him into the outer darkness? Weeping? Gnashing of teeth? How is this an appropriate response? Is this how Jesus wants us to think of God?

Of course this isn’t a parable about money management, or leveraging one’s strengths and passions. Jesus isn’t necessarily teaching us that we had better put to work whatever God has given to us in a way that multiplies it. (There are some who might contend that if, for instance, one’s gift is playing the banjo, less might actually be better than more…)

It is helpful to remember that both in Jesus’ day and in St. Matthew’s day, there was a strong need for the faithful to stand up for what was righteous and just in God’s eyes. Under significant pressure from the state, followers of Jesus found themselves both called by God to share their faith, and pressured by the powers-that-be to hide their faith. The future of the church depended on their response. Some stayed as far under the radar as they could, to escape detection. Others spoke out publicly at great personal risk. Perhaps Jesus is speaking a critical word to those who shirked their responsibilities in those days, and a word of gratitude to those who stepped up and took risks for the sake of the Gospel.

In the next passage, Jesus will say to his followers (and to us), “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” In the final verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel he will say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” How do we understand these two passages in light of this week’s Parable of the Talents?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What forces opposed the early church, making it dangerous to be identified as Christian?
  2. Which early followers of Jesus were fearless and tireless in promoting their faith?
  3. How did this make a difference in the development of the Christian community?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who has been a model, for me, of courageous faithfulness?
  2. When have I felt called to stand up for my God and my faith?
  3. What do I do on an ongoing basis that strengthens my ability to be faithful to God’s call?

Faithful Waiting

November 12, 2017
Liturgical Day: the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; Year A

waiting for Jesus
grounded, gracious, generous
faithfully watchful

Summary:
There is much in our world — in our lives — that is capable of distracting us from what matters most. Christ calls us to live in a way that is watchful and wakeful, always on the lookout for signs of God’s presence.

Some discussion Questions:
1. In what ways can we prepare to welcome Christ into our lives?
2. What would it look like in our day for justice to roll down like water and righteousness like a flowing stream?
3. How are these words from the Apostle Paul in 1st Thessalonians an encouragement to the Christians in Thessalonica?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-11-12 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-11-12 TIH

The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 27A (11/12/2017)

Lessons:
Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom 6:12-16
Psalm 70 or Wisdom 6:17-20
1st Thessalonians 4:13-18
St. Matthew 25:1-13

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7

Prayer of the Day:
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need, and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

[Jesus said]  25.1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

St. Matthew 25:1-13, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

In the Time Remaining…

Parables are strange creatures. They are disturbing; sometimes even shocking. They attempt to shake us out of our own preconceived notions about what God is up to, and bring us to a new more faithful place. This is not always an easy journey to take, and we find ourselves resisting it, sometimes with all of our might. This week’s parable might be described in just such a matter. It is a “Kingdom of Heaven” parable —designed to help us see how Jesus envisions what is important to God, and how it becomes part of our lives. (more…)

The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 27A (11/12/2017)

Lessons:
Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom 6:12-16
Psalm 70 or Wisdom 6:17-20
1st Thessalonians 4:13-18
St. Matthew 25:1-13

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7

Prayer of the Day:
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need, and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

[Jesus said]  25.1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

St. Matthew 25:1-13, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

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

Blessed Are You

Date: November 5, 2017
All Saints Sunday; Year A

richly blessed by God
in good times and in bad times
saints show us the way

Summary:
It is fashionable to speak of being blessed. Jesus does so in today’s Gospel, but he understands it in a unique way. On All Saints Sunday we give thanks for those who have shown us this way, and who have been blessed by God.

Some discussion Questions:
1. When have I been aware of God’s blessing in my own life?
2. What future hope does 1st John 3:1-3 provide for those who have faith in Jesus Christ?
3. According to Revelation 7:9-17, what promise is offered to those who find the life of faith difficult and challenging?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-11-05 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-11-05 TIH

All Saints Sunday; Year A (11/5/2017)

Lessons:
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1st John 3:1-3
Saint Matthew 5:1-12

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lesson:

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

St. Matthew 5:1-12, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Blessed Are You! Holy Are You!
Rejoice and Be Glad! Yours Is the Kingdom of God!

Whenever I consider the Beatitudes — these beautiful and powerful words with which Jesus begins his well-known “Sermon on the Mount” — I can’t help but hear David Haas’ moving 1986 worship song: “Blessed Are They.”

Make no mistake, these are hard words from Jesus: blest are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who huger for what they don’t have, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted… And finally: blessed are you when you are reviled and persecuted and spoken about falsely. Not a collection of realities on anyone’s wish list these days! How is it that Jesus considers these as the blest ones in his world?  He certainly isn’t working with the metrics of blessing that seem operative in our culture. (more…)

You Will Be Free, Indeed

Date: October 29, 2017
Reformation Sunday; Year A

if Christ sets you free
then you will be free, indeed
reformation life

Summary:
Reformation Sunday is a chance for us to reflect on our heritage as Lutherans. 500 years into this journey we reflect on how we’ve grown together, and explore how Reformation themes continue to shape our lives today.

Some discussion Questions:
1. From what does my faith, or my relationship with God, free me?
2. According toJeremiah 31:31-34, what new reality is God making possible in my life today?
3. Based on Romans 3:19-28, how can I thank God for loving me and welcoming me unconditionally?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-10-29 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-10-29 TIH

Reformation Sunday (10/29/2017)

Lessons:
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46 (7)
Romans 3:19-28
St. John 8:31-36

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”  34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

St. John 8:31-36 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Happy Anniversary, You Lutherans! 

On October 31, 1517, as the story goes, a young German monk from the Augustinian order in Wittenberg, Germany made his way to the entrance of the Castle Church. On the doors there, often used as an unofficial bulletin board for the college community, he posted what has come to be known as his 95 Theses — www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html — 95 statements describing the ways in which he wanted his church, the Roman Catholic Church, to turn back to a more Biblically grounded Christian faith, and a bolder proclamation of the grace of God that can be known in Jesus Christ. (more…)

In Whose Image?

Date: October 22, 2017
Liturgical Day: The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 24A

a matter of faith
created in God’s image
giving back to God

Summary:
Leaders from Jerusalem argue with Jesus about coins minted in the Emperor’s image. Jesus challenges them to remember that they are created in God’s image, and are called to honor that with all they say and do.

Some discussion Questions:
1. In my life, what are the things of the Emperor (the government, society, culture…) and what are the things of God?
2. In Isaiah 45:1-7, What role does Cyrus of Persia (576 – 530 bc) end up playing in the history of Ancient Israel?
3. According to 1st Thessalonians 1:1-10, how do the Thessalonians live out their role as a people “called” by God for faithfulness?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-10-22 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-10-22 TIH

The 20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 24A (October 22, 2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]
1st Thessalonians 1:1-10
St. Matthew 22:15-22

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99

Prayer of the Day:
Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts. Created by you, let us live in your image; created for you, let us act for your glory; redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

St. Matthew 22:15-21, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

“Give to God the things that are God’s.”

This weekend’s Gospel lesson sounds at first like a battle of wits. These educated religious officials (disciples of the Pharisees and some Herodians) pose a theological puzzle to Jesus, and he responds with a witty answer. But as we look closely at this story we discover it is more than a gathering of religious professionals playing a trivia game. It has to do with life and faith and politics and rebellion and idolatry.

(more…)