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A collections of musings on faith - I am a practicing Christian (a Untited Methodist, specifically) and occasionally have something to say about that.

Sunday
Jul072019

The Banquet

Church got me again this morning.

The pastor has been doing a series on Jesus's parables this summer, and this week, it was the Parable of the Great Banquet. Here's the relevant passage from Luke's gospel:

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” -Luke 14:15-24 (NIV)

During the passing of the peace this morning, the pastor asked us to tell the other folks we were greeting what our favorite type of party was. Early morning slow thought caused me to undiplomatically (but not altogether dishonestly) answer that "I'm not much of a party person." At times like this, I can't help but think how fitting my name is - like my Biblical namesake, I try, but I progress in my faith more often than not by failing forward.

The sermon in large part dealt with not making excuses and not excluding others. I am decent at the latter, but I am terrible at the former. My introverted, somewhat socially-anxious nature tends to make me hesitant about social events, particularly large ones where the guest list is, as my pastor mentioned numerous times this morning, "EVERYONE." More acceptable and probably still honest answers to the question this morning might have been "adventuring" for snark factor or "small, quiet, and intimate."

Big social events like weddings or the going-away get-together of my friends currently living in Scotland tend to leave me feeling like a fish out of water, especially at the start. But I have observed something in even those contexts. Often at large events like that, you can find some like-minded folks who you can gravitate towards and talk with, and if you turn your eyes outward, you find more groups doing the same.

Over here, with me, are the geeky ones. Over there are business folks. At that table you'll find the local sports fans. That little cluster over there is about to request some energetic music from the DJ and tear up the dance floor. I know those people from church. That group is having a deep academic discussion about some interesting topic. There's a new person wandering alone. There's a person that looks like they're struggling. I'm not comfortable with all of them, but they have every bit as much cause to be here as me. In many cases, more. I may need to talk to some of them. A few of them may benefit from being able to talk to me. And God loves all of us.

Oh.

OH.

Everybody. Right.

Photo by Gor Davtyan on Unsplash
Sunday
Jun092019

Wheat and Weeds

 

My pastor preached a sermon on the parable of the weeds this morning. A really good sermon that got my brain firing, because one of the things that he did was invite us to consider a number of ways to interpret the parable.

The parable of the weeds is interesting in that it's given and then a short while later, it's explained. According to my pastor, there's some debate about whether the explanation was actually from Jesus, or if Matthew added it as part of writing the gospel. However, I think it works, though perhaps in an unexpected way. To get everyone on the same page, however, I'm going to quote both the parable itself and its given explanation.

 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” -Matthew 13:24-30

And here's the interpretation that appears later in the same chapter.

 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. -Matthew 13:36-43

The bit I want to tease out of that last passage is "The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy that sows them is the devil." The things is, the Devil doesn't have a whole lot of full-time employees. As my pastor mentioned this morning, we're all wheat and weeds to one extent or another throughout our lives. We hopefully get more wheat-y as time goes on, but if nothing else, it's a process. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 3:23 "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The other thing that came up during the sermon is "why let the wheat and weeds grow together?"

You can point to God's mercy, hoping that the weeds become wheat before the harvest, and while that is undeniably true, here's another thing to consider: sometimes our pain is what makes us righteous, or at least loving. And I don't think that I've ever seen that summed up better than I did here:



I am forgiving in large part because I have needed forgiveness. I know, much too well, what it is like to hurt people you care about and the anguish of wishing you could take that hurt back. I have been excluded and rejected, and that makes me want to not do that to others. I have been judged harshly, and have learned to judge more charitably because of it. The feeling of my wounds has made me want to bandage the wounds of others.

And I do it imperfectly. I fall short daily in thought, word, and deed. But the desire to do better, to be kind rather than cruel despite my impulses, that comes out of, well, the presence of weeds in my life. That doesn't mean that those things that were painful to me were good in and of themselves. But God is, and has always been, in the redemption business. As Joseph said to his borthers way back in Genesis:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. -Genesis 50:20

I think perhaps another reason the weeds are allowed to grow alongside the wheat is that it actually makes the wheat better.  We have all known people who are basically nice, pleasant folks, but have lead very sheltered, privileged lives. In a lot of cases, that leaves them with blind spots. They may be as pure as can be in their intentions, but when you've never experienced certain things for yourself, it can be way too easy to trot out some empty platitude that salts a wound instead of bandaging it. I know I've been guilty of this.

But a stalk of what that has had to grow with some weeds around knows how the thorns chafe. How the roots  twist. How the leaves cast the wheat sprout into darkness. And those who understand the pain are better equipped to provide succor for it.

One other thing to consider: the "full-time employees of the Devil" would definitely include demons. And one of the most compelling ways I've seen of interpreting the demonic comes from Richard Beck in his book Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, speaking in this case of the undeniably demonic force that is Nazism:

Once we come to reckon with something like Nazism as a moral force, we can entertain some empathy for those who were caught up in the storm. Have you wondered how you would have responded if you’d lived in Germany at the time? I’d like to think I would have behaved nobly and heroically, but more likely I would have been vulnerable to the temptations of the Wizard. And in the recognition of this vulnerability lies the potential for empathy. We can come to see how people just like me can get blinded to and caught up in some pretty nasty and evil things. This isn’t to go soft on Nazism. Quite the opposite. Our rage is directed at Nazism. Full force. But because we love, our goal is liberating human beings from their slavery to this spiritual power. To rescue them from the Wizard. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of wickedness.

-Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted by Richard Beck

While this is quite intentionally an extreme example, it definitely makes the case for why, at the end of things, the weeds will not only be pulled but burned. Nazism is a big weed. Most of us are fortunate not to grow right next to its strangling roots and poisoned thorns, though we can certainly see the ruin it's left behind when allowed to grow unchecked, and there are signs that maybe not that specific weed, but a collection of weeds in the same family, are experiencing quite a growth spurt in our world.

Which brings me to another thing to consider: while the weeds can help us grow and be be better, it's important to remember that that isn't their purpose. The purpose of evil stuff is, well, evil. It's not something to be embraced or celebrated, but fought against and grown past.

Just remember that the scars are useful, too.

Wednesday
Apr102019

Lenten Assignment: Uplifting Song

 

As I mentioned in the last post on this blog, my church handed out a calendar of daily spiritual practices for Lenth this year. Today's "assignment" is to listen to a song that uplifts me and share with someone why. I figured I'd interpret "someone" as "anyone who reads what I post online" today. I also went for a bit of "extra credit" and have two songs for you today. I've been on a female-fronted rock/metal kick even more than usual lately, so I have two songs of that genre for you.

The first song in question is a newer one from Battle Beast, and it's helped a lot by its video. I really love the symbolic imagery around scars in the video. The whole thing is about overcoming hardships and breaking out of unhealthy coping mechanisms. There's a bit of Judeo-Christian redemptive imagery in the lyrics, too, which will never go amiss with me. You can see the video here.

The second one is by Kobra and the Lotus. I have to confess, it was really hard to pick from their catalog, because so many songs fit the criteria. "My Immortal," "Light me Up," "Prevail," "Velvet Roses," and their version of "The Chain," all would have been solid contenders, but I ultimately settled on "Modern Day Hero" because I find the lyrics as inspiring as I do uplifting. The whole message of the song is "look at the good those before you have done, then go and do likewise." How can you not love that? You can listen to the song here. (As an added bonus, Kobra seems to be channeling a bit of middle-era James Hetfield as she's singing, which is kinda cool.)

 

Wednesday
Mar272019

Lenten Assignment: Passage from Luke

My church handed out a calendar of various spiritual practices to do throughout the season of Lent this year. Every day there's something to do - often some small good deed, minor act of self-denial, or passage of scripture to read and contemplate. Today's assignment, however, specifically said to "write my thoughts" on something, so I figured I'd share my armchair theological ramblings.

The "something" in this case is a passage from The Gospel According to Luke, specifcally Luke 4:14-21.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” -Luke 14:14-21 (NIV)

A couple of things stood out to me as I read this passage; the first of which was that all but one of the things listed in the passage are wrongs that we humans do to one another. Poverty, imprisonment, and oppression are all down to human fallenness and sin. And that's not even counting the year of the Lord's favor, also known as the year of jubilee, which was a periodic settings of things to rights - slaves were freed and debts were forgiven. There's an observation in there about how much of what's wrong with the world is directly the result of humanity.

But blindness is not typically down to human sin, or at least not attributable to any specific sin since the Fall. It's typically brought about by nature or accident, and is an unfortunate consequence of a world where illness and genetic defects happen.

Jesus made the bold claim that he was here to address all of it, though - he descended into the world of human evil and natural tragedy and preached hope that he was there to provide relief from all of it.

I do find the phrasing interesting, though "Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." It seems fairly clear because of who I believe Jesus to be that he was referring to himself, but it also sounds a bit invitational to me - "join me in this endeavor," if you will.