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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lectionary Scriptures:

For All Saints Day (Saturday, Nov. 1):  Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, 22, I John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

For Sunday, Nov. 2:  Joshua 3:7-17 AND Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 OR Micah 3:5-12 AND Psalm 43:1-5, I Thessalonians 2:9-13, Matthew 23:1-12


Since Sunday, November 2, is a day when many congregations will celebrate the saints as part of their worship, I’ve included the readings from Saturday (All Saints Day) along with the Sunday readings, although I will not be focusing primarily upon a traditional “saintly” theme.


Traditional theology has often included reference to a time of tribulation which we must survive to reach the promised eternal future with God, the future described in the reading from the book of Revelation as being “before the throne of God.”  There, we are told, the saints will “worship him day and night . . . and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.  They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  (Revelation 7:15-17)


This reading is included for All Saints Day because it seems to depict a gathering of the saints in this “heavenly” setting.  “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages . . . robed in white.”  (vs. 9)  These are the ones, we are told, “who have come out of the great ordeal.”  (vs. 14)


I don’t want to add to attempts to create a systematic theology of end things, nor even to discuss the meaning of this “great ordeal.”  I had no other name for it than “The Tribulation” when I was growing up.  Today I am able to look up many different translations and find it called “the great distress,” “the great suffering,” and “the terrible persecution.”  Those who want to emphasize issues of justice may like J.B. Phillips use of “the great oppression.”


Our son in Hawaii sent us a copy of “Da Jesus Book,” a translation in Hawaiian Pidgin.  Here the words are “da big trouble.”  Whatever the long term unfolding of history, most of us face enough trouble along the paths of life without adding a cosmic cataclysm to worry about.  Most of us see enough tragedy and violence, domestic and international, in the daily headlines, on the streets of our cities, or in our homes, to occupy all the attention we can give them.  Psalm 107 speaks of those the Lord “redeemed from trouble.”  (Psalm 107:2)


Finding our way through, or out of, trouble, seems to be one of the themes of scripture.  It’s there in the reading from Joshua, where it involves walking through the Jordan River on dry ground.  We are caught up in an astounding story where “the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap . . . while those flowing toward the sea . . . were wholly cut off . . . While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.”  (Joshua 3:16-17) 


I don’t care, today at least, to get caught up in a discussion of “what really happened,” i.e., to try to find a rational “explanation” for this event.  I don’t even want to interpret the place of this story in the history and identity of the Israelites.  I simply want to take it as another biblical example of God’s presence as we deal with the troubles that sometimes threaten to inundate us from this side and that.  We find it is Psalm 34:6---“This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.”  It’s there in the Beatitudes where there is comfort for those who mourn and blessing for the persecuted (and many others).  “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven . . .”  (Matthew 5:1-12)  Going back to Psalm 107, we read, “Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”  (Psalm 107:4-6)  In Psalm 43, the Psalmist asks, “Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?  O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; . . . Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”  (Psalm 43:2-3, 5)


We are not told that life will be easy, only that God will walk with us through all things, and that we can get safely to the other side of the river.  Even Paul, in I Thessalonians speaks of “labor and toil,” of working “night and day.”  (I Thessalonians 2:9)  As always he offers encouragement to the Thessalonians in their attempts to live a worthy life.  (vs. 12)


I wish I had an easy answer for getting through troubles.  An unseen presence does not always seem like enough comfort and encouragement, but on sometimes it’s all we have---and, as in all things involving faith, it may be more than we think.  In the meantime, we are encouraged to put one foot in front of the other and continue toward the other side.  During my tenure on the national denominational staff of the American Baptist Churches, I spent some years leading a department through some troubled times.  At the end of that time, one of my staff members said, “You not only kept us afloat, you continued rowing toward the other side.”  I still treasure his words these many years later.  May we all continue rowing toward the other side.


The two scriptures we discussed at breakfast this week do not address the theme of “troubles” head on.  Instead they focus on leadership.  Who will lead us through troubled times?  Can we trust them?  What is their motivation?  In both Micah three and Matthew 23, we are warned to be alert for corruption and hypocrisy.  With election day coming up, they seemed most appropriate.  Micah three warns against “prophets who lead my people astray.”  (Micah 3:5)  It speaks of rulers who “give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money.”  (vs. 11)  Following such leaders is to go down the path of destruction.  (vs. 12)  The true leader is “filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might.”  (vs. 8)


In Matthew the emphasis is upon leaders who “do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.  They do all their deeds to be seen by others . . . They love to have places of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues . . .”  (Matthew 23:3-6)  It’s important to notice that the teaching itself is not at fault.  “ . . . do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do.”  (vs. 3)  The punch line in the telling of this story, however, is in the instruction to be a servant.  “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (vss. 11-12)


It is true that those who are humble and willing to be of service to others may find others taking advantage of them, even ridiculing or persecuting them, but it is they, I believe, who will best find their way through the troubles and know the full meaning of living in God’s Kingdom.


That leaves one reading---I John 3:1-3.  The only thing it seems to have in common with some of the others is its reference to a time of transition---with no reference to troubles or tribulation.  The focus is upon our identity as children of God. “What we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.  And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  Getting through finally seems to be a matter of identity---as children of God, as those who live as “servants” in God’s Kingdom.


Reading the Bible in Hawaiian pidgin has been refreshing, so I leave you with that version of portions of two of this week’s lectionary readings.


Matthew 5:11---“You guys can stay good inside wen dey talk bad to you guys, an make you guys suffa, an dey talk any kine bout you guys, cuz you guys mines.”


I John 1:1-3---“Tink bout da kine love an aloha da Fadda wen show us! He even wen call us his kids! An we his kids fo real kine, you know . . . My good friends, we God's kids awready.


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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