Matthew 25:31-46

Matthew 25:31-46
Today we table the metaphors for a moment because it is a table kind of day. In the United States, a major portion of the population will gather with friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving. The emblematic cornucopia associated with this holiday is often portrayed as spewing food out its horn-like a mouth onto a dinner table, a glorious banquet to behold. This is the aim of the day, for us to sup at a bustling table bursting with the bounty of the earth. Many of us will likely experience this kind of table today.
But we also know the reality of food insecurity and hunger in our communities. According to the gospel reading in Matthew, those who lack food bear the image of Christ Jesus himself. The question, then, rumbles in our bellies: "Lord, when was it we saw you hungry?" Jesus answers: "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Might we make room at our tables this Thanksgiving to recommit to the hungry in our midst?
We pray: "O God, may our hunger for your justice lead us to feed the world you dearly love."
And Jesus responds: "Come, you that are hungry, taste and inherit the kingdom of God." Amen.
Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV)
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'
37 Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'
40 And the king will answer them, "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.'
41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'
44 Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'
45 Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

A Good Wife

A Good Wife
by Joni
"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."
Proverbs 31:30
Why is it I cringe whenever I read Proverbs 31? Probably because the wife mentioned is more than chief cook and bottle washer. This lady buys real estate, reads The Wall Street Journal, designs and sells clothes, keeps a daily exercise routine, runs her household as smoothly as a fine-tuned machine, is praised by her children, helps the homeless, gives to the poor, then goes to bed late and rises early. I'm exhausted just reading about her.
When I look to Proverbs 31 for inspiration, I find it hard to get past the first verse. Because of my disability, I can't even open a refrigerator door. Push a vacuum cleaner? I tried that once when I had a friend "tie" it to the front of my power wheelchair so I could push and pull it over the carpet. I'm still finding nicks and scratches on my floorboards to this day.
What's funny is that Ken thinks I'm a good wife. Our marriage is good not because I know how much toilet paper is left on the roll, or that I can juggle five bags of groceries when leaving the market. Ken believes I am a good wife because of one tiny verse in Proverbs 31-- I've learned, and am still learning, to fear the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and it is wisdom that gives any marriage depth and meaning. You and I may not be able to match the work level of the Proverbs 31 woman, but we can have her character. No matter what we do, we can be faithful, supportive, sensitive, kind, observant, creative, and loving.
The best way I can love my family and friends, Lord, is to first fear You. May I be faithful and loving today to those whom You've placed in my life.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Ephesians 1:15-23
Alas, more metaphors! The proclamation and prayer in Ephesians 1 leads us decidedly to the resurrected and ascended Christ seated in power next to God in the heavenly places. From here, the author of Ephesians leans into the body metaphor the Apostle Paul brilliantly appropriated to the church. In doing so, a bodily-ness is also ascribed to God. For Christ is seated at God's "right hand," and God has put all things under God's "feet" making Christ the "head" over all things for the church. What holds the metaphor together--a bodied God and an embodied church--is Christ! It is the word incarnate in Jesus that gifts us with a spirit of seeing and knowing the divine promise enfleshed in our lives and the world. We are a bodied church then, imitators of Christ's own body, seeking to reveal the hope to which we have been called, the fullness of Christ who fills all in all. What a metaphor! What a truth!
We pray: "That the God of our savior, Jesus Christ, may give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know God more fully in our lives."
To which God declares, "I have called you in hope, to the glorious inheritance among all the saints and to the immeasurable greatness of my embodied love." Amen.
Ephesians 1:15-23 (NRSV)
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,
18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,
23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

It Is Well with My Soul

It Is Well with My Soul
by Joni
"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."
Psalm 42:5
Have you ever started out your day feeling downhearted, a little blue... for absolutely no reason? The psalmist asks a good question, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?"
Is it the weather? Is it what you ate last night for supper? Is it an annoyance that's been building, or just a vague, hazy dullness of soul that can't be explained? Often there's simply no reason for being downhearted.
That's why the psalmist quickly advises to put our hope in God and to do it by praising Him. Nothing lifts our spirits quicker or higher than to place our praise at the feet of the Lord Jesus. Why don't you do that right now by saying from your heart (or singing, if you know it) this familiar hymn of praise?
Though Satan should buffet, tho' trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll:
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
"Even so" -- it is well with my soul.*
Lord of Hope, I place my trust in You and I praise You for making all things well with my soul. Please receive glory as I magnify and adore Your name, lifting my soul before You. With You, there is no reason to be downhearted.

Psalm 95:1-7a

Psalm 95:1-7a
Modern day philosopher Paul Ricoeur wrote how metaphors, and specifically biblical metaphors, create a network of relationships building off one another and thereby creating new meanings. In Psalm 95, three metaphors for God are networking together to enable the hearers of the text to envision new possibilities of re-describing our relationship with God. Here, the psalmist names God as rock, king and shepherd--by extension of verse 7 where "we are the people of God's pasture."
Though the patristic and hierarchical language of "king" may be problematic, its relationship to the other metaphors in the text might provide a network that speaks anew. A king who is both a "rock of salvation" as well as a shepherd who holds us as "the sheep in one's hand" is reliable, gentle, firm, nurturing, caring, steady and tenderly powerful. When these metaphors collide, even our inadequate language about God can open us to sing a new song, a joyful noise unto our rock/king/shepherd God!
We pray: "God, our river of life, our place of wisdom, our shepherdess of love: when our language fails us in describing your majesty and glory, you still meet our imperfect words and inconsistent worship with your very self."
And God responds: "Make a joyful noise! Come into my presence with thanksgiving." Amen.
Psalm 95:1-7a (NRSV)
1 O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Be Thankful

Be Thankful
by Joni
"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."
Romans 1:20-21
What child hasn't been told a thousand times, "Now, be sure to say thank you"? It's part of good training. More than common courtesy, expressing gratitude is critical to the development of a child's character.
I painfully learned that lesson when, as a little girl, I failed to say "thank you" to Aunt Kitty after she gave me (under my mother's watchful eye) a charm for my bracelet. The next day I was on the telephone, rubbing my sore backside and apologizing, "Aunt Kitty, you will never know how grateful I really am."
It's an old story: Ingratitude carries serious penalties. Probably the oldest story is out of Romans chapter 1. It says that although men knew God, they failed to give Him thanks. And you know what happened next. God seriously punished them for their thankless hearts.
That should say something to you and me; because if a thankless spirit was the undoing of a generation long ago and far away, is it any different today? In fact, you know God far better than those to whom He revealed Himself through creation -- that means that you have even more to be thankful for!
Look around you. The blessings abound: The smiles of children, the beauty of a glorious sunset, the comfort of a warm bed at night. Small and great, there are plenty of reasons to say to God, "Thank you."
Lord, receive glory today through my thankful spirit. I am so grateful for who You are and what You've done. Show me more reasons today for which I can give You thanks.

Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12
An "aha moment" is when we do not realize that something very special or very surprising is about to take place, and when it does, we suddenly declare, "I didn't see that coming," or "I didn't know that was going to happen!"
Matthew tells the story of an exciting "aha-moment." When the wise men find the baby Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, they fall to their knees and worship the baby Jesus. Even more than their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, what is special for them is the appearance (the epiphany) of the Star in the East--it would lead them to the infant Jesus and then beyond in faith to all that Jesus would accomplish in his life and ministry. As we worship the Christ child this Epiphany and beyond, we too can find a greater sense of what Jesus wants to do as he shows us the direction of his mission. He must move toward brutal rejection, toward dying on the cross, and to the ultimate victory of the resurrection. May we discover anew this year how Jesus through his Spirit yearns to deepen our love toward him so we can extend that love to other people who have never experienced finding the love, joy, and peace that only he can give.
Blessed Savior, in the manger of Bethlehem we find the peaceful Child born to give us new life. Because of your life, death, and resurrection, we find that new life coming to fulfillment in discovery of the new paths of life, love, joy, and peace made available only through the life you share with all who will reach out to you. Fill us with yourself so that those who see us may see you within each of us. Amen.
Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;
4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' "
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.
8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."
9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

In the Potter’s Hands

In the Potter's Hands
by Joni
"'Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message.' So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him."
Jeremiah 18:1-4
On November 19, 1991, Cathe Chermesino was running down South Street, trying to make it to Calvary Baptist School before the late bell rang. On the surface she had it all. She was a beautiful, talented thirteen-year-old who possessed YMCA swimming medals, not to mention a beautiful singing voice. When she ran across the street, she was hit by a fast-moving car and thrown into the air. Immediately Cathe became totally paralyzed.
Cathe now goes to school sitting rigid and upright in a bulky wheelchair. She breathes through a ventilator and has to carefully mouth her words so others can lip-read.
On the first anniversary of her accident, she gave her testimony at her church. "I'm like the potter's clay," she said. "I'm being reshaped into something that I believe will be far better. What looks harmful for me will actually turn out to be good. Before the accident I was an awful snob, but now God has given me an inner peace. I'm giving my voice a rest until I get to heaven."
Her mother looked lovingly at her daughter and added, "Cathe needs just two things to make it through. A lot of prayer and a little bit of oxygen."
Recently I wrote Cathe and gave her a verse from Deuteronomy 31:8, "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
Lord, if You can help Cathe to rise above her circumstances, I know that with Your grace I will rise above mine.

“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,”

"My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less," ELW 597

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
no merit of my own I claim,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in ev'ry high and stormy gale
my anchor holds within the veil.  Refrain

His oath, his covenant, his blood
sustain me in the raging flood;
when all supports are washed away,
he then is all my hope and stay.  Refrain

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
oh, may I then in him be found,
clothed in his righteousness alone,
redeemed to stand before the throne!  Refrain

What do you hope for? I talk a lot about hope with church councils, call committees and other people who are trying to figure out what is in store for their congregation or ministry. In the midst of pressing concerns and uncertain directions, it seems that the hardest thing for so many of us is to build our hope on the promises of God through Jesus Christ. Perhaps, part of the reason is that it is so difficult to see that budgets and other administrative issues that belong to institutions are also issues of God's concern for how we live into the future with hope. If we let God into all our decision-making processes, our focus would be clearer and our work tuned to the working out of God's purposes.

God, who brings hope to the hopeless, help us to value our neighbors more than electric bills or lawn mowing. Help us balance our budgets with care for the stranger and love for all creation. Amen.

Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew 25:14-30
It is not easy to manage an unexpected gift. Have you noticed that many who come into a windfall of cash tend to squander most, if not all of it. On the other hand, life experiences have taught me that most who acquire means over a longer time normally have the gift of being good stewards, yet even the best will blow it sometimes. The key for both groups is to be able to realize that what they have been allowed to use is a trust. For such people, ownership is a word rarely used. In a culture that is often driven by the desire to have it all, maybe Jesus' words can call us again to recognize the extravagant gifts of God. To recognize that we have received God's gifts as a trust, and that in Christ we can be drawn and empowered to lives lived simply and responsibly in the joyful use of God's gifts for the sake of our neighbor.
All giving God, we rest in the assurance that you will not hold our selfishness against us. We pray we can overcome those urges and share freely with all in a common good. Amen.
Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)
14 "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.