Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: "The Worst Parable Ever"

Here's the way it often goes in church. The Gospel lesson is read -- a lesson containing one of Jesus' more mysterious, less accessible parables. No one understands it -- often including the pastor who's charged with preaching on it. But we all sit there in our pews and nod our heads on cue as if we really do know what Jesus is talking about; even though we don't have a clue.

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber doesn't mind admitting, "I don't get it," when she doesn't. Here are some of her thoughts on one of those inscrutible parables, one we heard a few weeks ago -- the Parable of the Wedding Banquet; or, as she puts it, "The Worst Parable Ever." Maybe it's the worst, she suggests, because we ascribe the worst behaviors to the wrong characters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Feast of St. Matthew, Evangelist

Matthew -- Tax collector; Roman collaborator; exploiter and opportunist; outcast; a most unlikely apostle. And yet that's who Jesus called to service, and whose feast is celebrated today.
You can read more about Matthew here.

We thank you, gracious God, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuneful Tuesday: "Let This Mind Be In You"

Here's a little sneak preview of Sunday's Epistle lesson (Philippians 2:1-13), sung by a Lutheran church choir:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mission Monday: Keeping Children Afloat After Natural Disaster

Natural disasters can be devastating to children,  not only in physical terms but psychologically as well. Traumatizing memories, losses big and small, anxiety about the future...all these things can take a toll on kids.

Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota's Camp Noah was born after the devastating 1997 Red River flood that hit parts of North Dakota and Minnesota, and can now mobilize on a nationwide level. Trained Camp Noah volunteers from around the country, assisted by ecumenical partners, hold five-day camps in disaster-struck areas, helping children in grades 1 through 6 use stories, drama artwork and play to express their feelings and make sense of their experiences. Camp counselors can also help parents connect with resources to assist them.

Follow the link above for more information about this program, or visit Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota's Camp Noah webpage here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Sights and Sounds: "Bless the Lord, My Soul"

Today in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons we learned that God is unfair -- in a good way. Here's a song from the musical Godspell, taken pretty much verbatim from Psalm 103,  that praises God for all God's benefits -- that shower down on slow learners and slackers just as faithfully as the folks who think they're doing everything right. (Lots of amateur productions of Godspell excerpted on YouTube, but this singer really brings it.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Saints Alive: Jerome

Of all the scholars of the early Church, Jerome was perhaps the most important. He was the first to translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the everyday Latin of his time, and his translation, the Vulgate, set the standard for Western Christianity until the time of the Reformation.

Jerome was born around 347. He converted to Christianity and was baptized as a young scholar in Rome. After a brief, unsuccessful stint as a desert hermit, Jerome returned to school in Antioch, where he studied both Hebrew and Greek, and then became the student of the noted Gregory of Nazianzus. He then became the secretary of Pope Damascus I; he also became spiritual director to a number of well-born, educated widows and their unmarried daughters who were interested in entering into the monastic life.

In Jerome's time the Bible had already been translated into formal Latin; but Jerome was interested in a translation that reflected everyday language -- "vulgar," as opposed to classical, Latin. He also decided to translate the Old Testament directly from Hebrew instead of relying on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that had long been used by both Jewish and Christian communities.

In addition to this enormous task, Jerome was a tireless author of theological works and polemics -- written arguments against opponents. He was very opinionated and judgmental toward other theologians, labeling as "Antichrist" anyone who disgreed with him. He was also a severe ascetic, following a strict rule of life and expecting others to do so as well. (Pictures of Jerome tend to depict him as a gaunt individual dressed only in a cloth.) Although Jerome had the support of the wealthy Roman women who came to him for spiritual guidance, he made enemies among many of his peers and the public in general. Rumors spread about the nature of his relationship with at least one of his spiritual direction clients. Then, when one of the younger women died after undertaking especially difficult physical deprivations on Jerome's counsel -- Jerome then telling the girl's distraught mother not to cry for her daughter -- much of Rome's Christian population was outraged.

Jerome's impatience with what he saw as the corruption of the Roman clergy, and his problems with opponents, led to his departure for the East. He finally moved to Bethlehem, and spent the remainder of his years as a hermit living in a small cell, with a small circle of male and female friends and students. He died in 420 of natural causes.

Martin Luther was highly critical of Jerome -- and with good reason -- for helping create a culture within the Church where extreme physical deprivations and mortifications were seen as good works. Lord only knows what Jerome would have said about Luther. But the two Christian leaders, though many centuries and theological points apart, did share something in common besides their basic Christian faith: a desire to translate Scripture into the common language of their place and time.

Saturday Saints Alive: Vincent DePaul

If you've ever been in a larger city you may have seen a Vincent de Paul center in the poor part of town. There's a person behind that name.

Vincent de Paul was born in France in 1580. His parents were peasants, but the young boy demonstrated intellectual curiosity and talent. In those days a career in the Church was one of the few ways that a lower-class child could receive an education, so his father sent him to seminary.Vincent himself was eager to do well in a clerical career and move up the ladder of the hierarchy.

Vincent was ordained at age 20, and became chaplain and tutor in the home of a French count, Philip de Gondi; a rather plum post that would seem a promising start for an ambitious young clergyperson. As a priest attached to the count's estate, Vincent became the spiritual father for the peasants who lived on that estate; and -- perhaps keeping in mind his own humble family background -- he found himself increasingly moved by the poverty and need, spiritual and practical alike, that he saw. After an encounter with a dying peasant, Vincent began to preach eloquently and urgently to his flock -- the lower-class and the elite alike -- about the love of God, forgiveness, confession and amendment of life. His sermons were so powerful that they drew more and more worshippers, until Vincent had to ask for priestly reinforcements. Vincent moved to Paris, where he began a ministry to prisoners awaiting assignment to the galleys -- convicts bound for servitude as oarsmen on large ships.

In 1625 Vincent organized an order of priests who vowed to shun career ambition and instead work among the poor in France's small towns and villages. He later founded an order of nuns devoted to the medical care of the sick and poor right in the community, not inside a convent; this was the first of its kind. He also organized laypeople who wanted to work with the disadvantaged. Concerned by the number of abandoned babies and children in Paris, he founded an orphanage, and personally searched the mean streets of Paris' poor neighborhoods for children needing rescue.

Vincent was concerned for the spiritual formation of all classes. He organized retreats for men preparing for the priesthood, then expanded the program to include laypeople. He also complained to the King of France that church positions were being handed out as political favors, with little regard for the spiritual fitness of the candidates. The King, surprisingly, set up a commission to vet prospects for church positions based on spiritual fitness, with Vincent acting as chairperson. (According to one story, one French noblewoman was so angry that Vincent refused to make her son a bishop that she threw a chair at Vincent's head;  bruised and bleeding, the priest's only comment to a companion was, "Is it not wonderful how strong a mother's love for her son can be?")

Vincent's concern for the poor extended beyond the boundaries of his own country. He trained and commissioned priests to work in many countries. He was especially concerned with the welfare of slaves in North Africa, mostly Christians who had been captured by Turks and forced to work for them in horrendous conditions. Vincent sent priests to minister to the slaves' spiritual and practical needs as they were able, and also, using money donated by pious patrons of his movement, organized agents to help redeem over a thousand slaves from their servitude.

Vincent's simple philosophy regarding his works of mercy and justice:  "We must love our neighbor as being made in the image of God and as an object of His love."

 Vincent died 27 September 1660.