Hey, is that fair?

Let me be honest: every now and then, Jesus says something that rubs me the wrong way.  I can feel that resistance inside myself that says, I don’t want to hear that right now. Could we just talk about that some other time? 

This Sunday’s readings are one of those times. We hear the gospel parable about the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). The property owner goes out early in the morning to find people to work in the vineyard.  Once the early birds are working, the owner goes out several times during the day to find still more workers standing around idle (read that: can’t find work), so he hires these other workers as well.

The Late-arriving Workers by JESUS MAFA*

At the end of the day, the early-bird workers are paid the full day’s wages.  But then a surprising thing happens:  the other workers are also paid a full day’s wages, despite the fact they worked fewer hours.

Naturally, the early-bird workers, who toiled long hours in the hot sun, are jealous of the Johnny-come-lately workers. They complain to the owner, who responds, in effect, Hey, what’s the big deal? Didn’t I give you the full day wages I promised you, for your full day of work? Can’t I be generous with my own money if I want, and help these other men feed their families tonight if I want to? 

The parable ends with Jesus saying these now-famous words:

the last will be first, and the first will be last…

The point of the parable is not about how much a person is paid per hour, but rather about the generous love of God. Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven, in which God’s love and mercy are abundant and infinite.  In the kingdom of heaven, the newly converted Christian takes his or her place at the table along side those who followed Christ their whole lives. Those who are of “little account” in the world will have a great place at the heavenly table.

I think some of us are reluctant to dig deeper into this parable because it challenges our status quo.  We who are the “early-bird Christians” might secretly feel we are better than the newly converted Christian.  The people whose families have been in the United States for generations secretly (or not so secretly) despise the new Americans. Those who are heterosexual may have trouble accepting people who are in same-sex relationships. People working long hours may resent those who receive government assistance.

Jesus’ parable reminds us today that God’s love is far more abundant and far-reaching than we can imagine. We may be jealous of others, or secretly think we are better than others–and therefore more deserving of God’s attention and love–but to this Jesus says we are wrong.  God loves those “other people” just as much as God loves me or you. God’s generosity, mercy, and compassion are without end and for all people–much more than we can begin to fathom.

And if God is loving, merciful, and generous towards all people, doesn’t that mean those of us who claim to follow Christ should do the same?

 

*Artwork credit:
JESUS MAFA. The Late-arriving Workers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48296 [retrieved September 22, 2017].

 

Hope in God

O Lord, we wait for you, 
our God who helps and protects us.
In your presence we discover joy. 
We entrust ourselves to your care. 
Pour your faithful love upon us 
as we place our hope in you.

(Psalm 33:20-22, my paraphrase)

As we transition from 2016 to 2017, I am given to thinking about the past year and looking to the future. What were our best moments and greatest challenges? Where are we headed in 2017?

movingHistory will remember 2016 as the year of Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, but in our home we will also remember it as the Year of the Great Move. My husband and I spent most the year transitioning from the Twin Cities area to a less populated, more rural place in west-central Minnesota. We gradually sorted our belongings with an eye for what was really needed, prepared and sold our home. This process made us think about our dreams and goals for the next chapter of our lives.

In the midst of the long transition, I was looking for part-time work in some form of pastoral ministry. As it turned out, there was a small Christian community whose pastor had just left, and they needed someone to lead worship.  Because of our move, I could not become their pastor, but I did lead worship a number of times–and the community ordained me as an ecumenical minister of Christ.

And so it is, I write to you now as your sister in Christ and one who has been commissioned to serve others as an ordained minister.  This idea of “women priests” or women ministers is something I had wrestled with internally for many years, often doing my very best to resist and deny my own calling (!).

ordination-even-smaller-copy

Now 2017 is just beginning after a year-long transition to a new place and a deepening calling to minister to God’s people. I have rented a new office in Alexandria (MN) and will be continuing the spiritual direction ministry there (and on Skype). I will also be continuing writing and painting in the studio portion of my office.

As for the rest, I cannot see the future, but I believe that God will use my ordination for a divine purpose. I love the area I’m now living in. For the next few months I will be listening and learning about the needs of people here.

The new year holds much promise, but also a lot of fear for many Americans who are feeling nervous about the transition of leadership and about the direction our country might take in the future. I’ve been trying to think how to approach this new situation (it feels new to me) and I don’t have a magic wand to wave over the situation.

The thought I have today is that no matter what happens in the world, God is still with us. We might ignore God or turn away from God’s wisdom, love, and mercy, but God is still present, witnessing our struggles, sharing in our pain (as Jesus did), encouraging us to make wise choices, and watching over us with loving care.

44dcfc01a695be50b1f0edcd3ec3c2e0-hope-in-godAs we begin 2017, I choose to hope in God and to do what I can to make the world a better place.  I do not expect that everything will be easy or fair or successful or even peaceful.  Although there is much good, beauty, and love in the world, there is also selfishness, greed, cruelty, hate and any number of evils.  We humans are simultaneously both saints and sinners (thank you, Martin Luther), myself included.

Because humans are fallible creatures, we place our hope in God. 

The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope.  –Romans 15:13

Until next time, Amen! 

 

 

 

 

 

Children Explain Prayer

At my church this summer, we’ve had a sermon series on prayer. One major theme has been that prayer is primarily about relationship–our relationship with God.  In the very first sermon, we explored how Adam and Eve “hid” from God after they sinned, and yet, God still reached out to them. God knew what had happened, and yet called out to them, asking why they were hiding.

Like Adam and Eve, sometimes we “hide” from God, afraid or avoiding prayer because we think we don’t know how to pray, or we are not worthy. Despite this, God reaches out to us in various ways because God loves us, no matter what may have happened.  We think we are “hiding” when all the while God is watching over us, like a loving parent or kind teacher. No matter what we’ve done, good or bad, God still wants to be in relationship with us.

We can trust that God wants to be in this relationship with us because God keeps reaching out to humans again and again in biblical history despite people failing him again and again. God’s love is so unconditional that he sent his son (that is, God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ) and died on the cross while people were still steeped in sin.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8

I was thinking about these things when this short video of children explaining prayer appeared in my Facebook feed. Their hearts are open and trusting. Creative. Honest. Compassionate.

Being fifty-something doesn’t stop me from learning from these children. Their freshness and youth inspires me to be a little more honest with God, a little more free-flowing–and less worried about “if I’m getting it right.”

But aren’t we sinners? Yes, but we also God’s children, for it is God who gave us life. Little children don’t worry if their words aren’t elegant or sophisticated–and the loving parents around them continue to value what they say. We don’t stop loving children when they make mistakes or have difficulties. God enjoys having quality time with us, just we enjoy having quality time with our children.

Will you pray with me?

O God,
The next time I try to run from praying
because I am ashamed, guilty, or afraid,
please send your Holy Spirit to remind me
that you are the God of Mercy and unconditional love.
The next time I feel “I don’t have the right words to pray,”
remind me that I can say whatever I want or feel,
or even express myself to you in wordless ways,
trusting that you understand my heart
and love me just as I am.
The next time I want to pray, but feel inadequate,
please remind me that prayer is about
spending quality time together with you,
not mastering fancy words or passing an imaginary test.
Thank you, Lord,
for your constant love and attentiveness to us,
and help us to always place our trust in you.
This I ask in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

Words Jesus said. . . and meant (2)

The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus was crucified between two criminals, one who scoffed at him and one who respected Jesus. It was this second criminal who admitted his deeds deserved punishment–and then asked, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

In that moment, while hanging on the cross, Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

39 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--This day paradise(click on image to enlarge)

 This story reminds me that Jesus reaches out to all, and welcomes all into his kingdom. The “bad thief” was also welcome, but he wasn’t interested. In fact, he mocked Jesus. It is the “good thief” who welcomes Jesus–and who is received into the kingdom of God.

I also notice that Jesus didn’t make special demands on the “good” thief, in this last moment of his life. Jesus forgave him right then and there–and promised him eternal life, communion with God forever in heaven.

As I think about this today, I think about the symbolism we can apply to our own lives today. Jesus is alive, present in our midst. Do we mock him? Stone him? Crucify him?  Or, do we welcome Christ, ask forgiveness, seek grace and the kingdom of God?

Something to think about.

Until next time, Amen!

 

 

Things Jesus Said…and meant

During this last week before Easter–often called Holy Week–I’m going to post words of Jesus. Here’s one thing Jesus said while being crucified: 

38 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Forgive them (click on image to enlarge)

That anyone would say this while being tortured and cruelly executed is a truly remarkable thing. It reminds us that Jesus forgives our sins even in the most horrendous of situations. No sin you commit is so big that Jesus cannot forgive it. Christ’s love is more powerful than sin itself. 

This is a key message of Christ, and one that should make us think about how we treat others…Do we show mercy and forgiveness to others?

Something to think about…

Until next time, Amen! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness

For my Lenten images, week 4 is about forgiveness/mercy. (I should have started this yesterday, but ya know how sometimes things come up…)

Jesus showed mercy, love, and forgiveness again and again. If we are to be followers of Jesus, this means we are called to do the same. That doesn’t mean we allow people to keep hurting us. There are times we have to remove ourselves from a situation to keep from getting hurt (such as, domestic violence).

26 Lent--Week 4--Forgiveness--Jesus 7 times (click on image to enlarge)

I find this teaching of Jesus sometimes easy and sometimes extremely difficult. I don’t always do it very well, and I still have lots of ways in which I need to grow in forgiving others.

What do you do when you find it hard to forgive someone?
(Please share ideas in the comments.)

In our weakness God is strength

Today’s text is from 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

09 Lent--Week 1--Prayer--Corinthians

We all have some weakness or other, some kind of ongoing suffering. It may be the physical condition that doesn’t go away, the struggle to overcome certain problems, or the various limitations in our abilities. As Christians, we believe that God loves us and showers grace on us despite these difficulties. We don’t have to be perfect in every way before God can love us.

In fact, the biblical writer above is reminding us that despite how things appear, God’s powerful love may actually be strongest when we are feeling very weak.

Don’t ask me to explain how this works, because it’s still a mystery to me. One thought I’ve had is that sometimes when I feel I just can’t manage something, I turn to God for help.  Perhaps this is part of the explanation, but I still don’t completely understand how all this works. However, I have come to believe this bible verse is  often true in my life.

Until next time, Amen!