Sunday Prayer

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Local Woman in a Barley Field, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mmoorr/52722248/.

God Eternal,
you inspired Jeremiah to buy a piece of land
when no one could see a future in it.

Grant us such commitment to the future of your people,
that you will always have workers for your vineyard
and harvesters for your fields.

Amen.

Sunday Prayer

When joy is gone and hearts are sick, O God,
you give us Christ as our healing balm.He came in human flesh
that he might give himself as a ransom for our salvation
and anoint us with the Spirit of consolation and joy.

Hear the cry of your people,
that we may rejoice in the richness of your love
and be faithful stewards of your many gifts.

Amen.

Sunday Prayer

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Guérin, Jules Vallée, 1866-1946. Angel of Truth Giving Freedom and Liberty to the Slave, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Lord God, friend of those in need,
your Son Jesus has untied our burdens
and healed our spirits.
We lift up the prayers of our hearts for those still burdened,
those seeking healing,
those in need within the church and the world.

Hear our prayers
that we may love you with our whole being
and willingly share the concerns of our neighbors. Amen.

Leaving the Ninety-Nine

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Christ the Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.
Luke 15:1-7 (CEB)

As a bit of reflection on this Gospel reading, I’m going to share a parable I heard from Peter Rollins on the recent Pints & Parables episode of The Deconstructionists podcast. This won’t be a word for word transcription from what he said, but good enough to get the point across.

 A man imagined he went to heaven and he found himself standing in front of some large oak doors. The doors slowly creaked open and an unshaven, strong and solemn figure came out. It was St. Peter, and he welcomed him saying, “Come in.”

The man was just about to step across the threshold of the large oak doors to enter into heaven when looked behind him. There he saw some of his friends who were Atheists, Buddhists, and Hindu. All from a variety of beliefs, religions and philosophies and they were unable to speak. The man looked back to St. Peter and asked, “What about them?” St. Peter replied,

“Well, you know the rules. I’m sorry, they can’t get in.”

The man stood for a second and he began to think about Jesus. The heretic. The carouser with drunkards, sinners, and prostitutes. The friend of outsiders. He took his foot back outside of heaven, back across the threshold with the great oak doors and he said to St. Peter, “I’m sorry, I’m going to stay with these guys.” St. Peter looked at the man, and a smile began forming on his face. As St. Peter turned to go back into heaven he quietly repeated,

“At last, at last.”

Sunday Prayer

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Creator God, you form us on the wheel of life as a potter molds the clay.
Shape us into holy vessels, bearing the mark of your wise crafting, that we may remain strong and useful through years of faithful and obedient service
in Christ’s name. Amen.

What defines you?

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Potter, Pieter Symonsz., approximately 1597-1652. Trash in a Yard’s Corner, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

“Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.'”
Luke 14:25-33 (NRSV)

If there was a passage in scripture that leads people down the path of qualification and reservation surely this one lands within the top five or ten. Hating family and giving up of one’s possessions will lead any pastor, teacher or bible study leader to perform all sorts of mental and hermeneutical gymnastics.

What struck me this time as I read this passage was the seeming discontinuity between Jesus telling his followers to give up family and then conclude with giving up possessions. How are these two connected?

To me it seems family and possessions are two of the most important things we use to define who we are.

This was even more important in the ancient world, especially when possessions were more expensive and not as disposable as much of the items we buy today are. Just take the story of Joseph in the Old Testament for example. His technicolor robe was given to him by his father. That robe showed that Joseph was loved by his father and part of the family. Both of those get stripped away as the robe is taken from him by his brothers and he his sold into slavery. Joseph essentially becomes a “nobody” when he has neither family nor possessions. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the son is welcomed back with a robe and his father’s signet ring which demonstrated who’s family he was a part of.

So, by telling his followers to give up these two things (family and possessions) Jesus is essentially asking his followers to redefine and re-understand who they are in light of following Jesus and becoming his disciples. Jesus is asking his followers to not be defined by who their family is and what they have in their closet/garage/cupboards/dressers/dinner plates.

Family can mean a lot of different things as our family can define a lot about who we are. Our family often locates us in a cultural, religious, economic and possibly even political sphere. And this can go beyond even our nuclear family. Sometimes we move into a new “sphere” but we will often adopt a new family that helps define who we are in the space. New friends and acquaintances often take the space of family that we’ve moved away from religiously, economically and politically.

Ultimately both of these are summed up into the command to, “carry the cross.” The cross as a sign of scorn, shame, public humiliation, rejection, impurity, impiety, and retribution against those who try to operate outside a culture and system that depends on our allegiance to our family and possessions. When you no longer define yourself by who your family is and what you can purchase, society and culture has a hard time understanding who you really are and what to do with you.

Now, I’m going to “yeah, but” this a bit and encourage you to NOT actively disband and turn your back on your family or even throw all your possessions outside on the street. But, instead, encourage you to consider how much you define yourself by what and who you are surrounded with rather than seeing yourself in light of Jesus.

A family (nuclear, church or otherwise) that is united in this, against the scorn and shame of the culture, can do amazing and miraculous things.

Sunday Prayer

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Blind Men by Sergey Ivanov, 1883.

God of power and justice, like Jeremiah you weep over those who wander from you, turn aside to other gods, and enter into chaos and destruction.

By your tears and through your mercy,teach us your ways and write them on our hearts so that we may follow faithfully the path you show us.

Amen