Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 25, 2016

Greek conditional sentences and mustard seed faith

There are a lot of things in the news these days that stretch our faith. Shootings. Bombings. Racism. Xenophobia. A horribly contentious presidential election.

It would take an unimaginable kind of faith to make a difference.

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you. [from Luke 17]

(The parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark says that the faithful can move mountains. As if moving trees were not difficult enough.)

What can that possibly mean when planting trees in the sea is not in our experience?

A grain of mustard is a tiny round seed. Do we not even have that much?  Is Jesus condemning the disciples and us for not believing even the least little bit?

Actually, the meaning is far from that. This is intended to be an encouraging statement, though it sounds just the opposite to our ears.

One of my favorite learnings from those long-ago-and-far-away Greek classes was about conditional sentences. This particular saying in Luke 17 demonstrates a “condition according to fact.”

The way we usually interpret it in English is, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you could move this tree. Since you can’t move the tree, you obviously don’t have very much faith.”

Instead, a Greek speaker would have heard: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed —and you do, then you must act on it and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.”

That’s quite different, isn’t it?

Jesus is not condemning us.  He is encouraging us to act on the faith we have, no matter how tiny we think it is.

The smallest amount of faith is effective, if we act on it.

People of faith, when we act on our faith, can plant trees in the sea and move mountains. We can address racism and white privilege. We can refuse to allow people to be excluded or bullied. We can effect change.

We have enough faith. We just have to exercise it. Let’s go plant some trees in the sea.img_5725-copyright-low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 18, 2016

Naming and named

There may be no biblical story that so pointedly condemns what we today call income inequality. A story that disturbs the conscience. That disturbance is the essence of this passage—a troubling that reaches even beyond the grave.

‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’ [from Luke 16]

Interestingly, it’s the poor man who is given a name, while the rich man remains nameless. There are so many biblical stories where characters are unnamed. A Syrophoenician woman. A man born blind. Tax collectors. Sinners. Lepers. People who are considered unimportant to a community don’t have memorable names.

But in this parable, Jesus chooses to give Lazarus a name and to let the rich man remain nameless. Turning things upside down.

Not only is the beggar Lazarus named by Jesus, his condition is also vividly and horribly named and described. He’s covered with sores and is so weak he can’t shoo away the dogs that gather to lick them. We can assume that his illness is either caused by or exacerbated by his poverty and poor nutrition. Perhaps he doesn’t have access to bathing, or to basic health care. Maybe he is homeless, and exposure to the elements has increased his vulnerability to illness.

Rich Guy knows Lazarus. Knows him by name. And yet, he passes Lazarus every day as dogs lick the sores of the poor, hungry, ill one. He passes Lazarus and sees every day the evidence of income inequality, the lack of health care and food and shelter.

He passes Lazarus and does nothing.

When both Lazarus and Rich Guy die, the latter asks to have Lazarus come and give him comfort. Yes, the one who provided no comfort to the visible suffering of another while alive, requests comfort from that same other. Now suffering the torment of his own failure and faithlessness, he still doesn’t get it. Why is there a great chasm between him and Lazarus in death? Because there was a great chasm in life, a chasm that the wealthy one could have crossed any time he entered or left his home and saw a sick, poverty-stricken man who was hungry.

Rich Guy is not condemned for being wealthy. He’s condemned for ignoring the inequality, the great gulf, between rich and poor, and for not acting. Lazarus, the very symbol of poverty, is given a place of honor in God’s kingdom at death.

No matter our social and financial status, we all have responsibility for the other. A cautionary tale, this parable pushes us to see and hear the suffering of the poor and to cross that enormous gulf that exists between people, between communities. To see the poor and the sick as people with names, not just some jumble of faces. To name the injustices and illnesses they deal with. To reach out while we’re all still living, because it is the only chance we have to try and make things right.

Naming people and their situations gives them significance and reminds us that we have a responsibility toward all our fellow human beings.

Doing nothing is not an option.img_6075-crop-copyright-low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 11, 2016

Learning from our own dishonesty

Well, phooey. Just when you think you might be starting to understand what Luke’s Jesus is saying, even though it’s hard to live by, here comes a parable that seems, well, just plain wrong. I’m sure the original hearers/readers thought the same thing.

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ [from Luke 16]

Sheesh.

Okay, there’s a long sermon to preach here, but let’s just jump to the end.

Jesus is indeed praising the dishonest manager, but in a sideways fashion. Yes, he says with a smile (at least that’s how I envision it), this guy is smart. Imagine what he could do with his smarts if he were honest and generous. He’s been cheating his boss (almost certainly by overcharging customers and keeping the extra for himself—two sets of books, it seems). Now he calls in the ones he’s cheated and offers to cut what they owe. Perhaps now he’s actually charging them what should have been the original price. He keeps his job; the boss is happy; the customer is happy. What’s wrong with this? He is still dishonest! It doesn’t seem that he’s sorry for what he’s done, he is just relieved he was able to save his own skin, but there is no change of heart.

Smarmy, no?

You cannot serve both God and wealth. That’s the bottom line, and the last line of our text. It’s the truth that this parable is seeking.

If all we care about is getting wealthier, our relationships grow less important. We don’t care about the customer—just the customer’s money. We’ll give up time with family and friends to focus on what we think is more important at the moment. We don’t hang with our kids because we think we’re trying to make a better life for them.

If all we care about is getting wealthier, our bodies will suffer. We’ll be more stressed, less healthy, we’ll play less and sleep less, and eat things that aren’t as good for us. Because time is money, and you don’t get rich by taking walks and riding your bike, or by growing a garden and making a nice salad.

If all we care about is getting wealthier, our spiritual lives shrivel. This is just the truth that we feel in our bones. We find ourselves pulling away from our own spirits until the desire to be spiritual seems ridiculous.

We can’t love God and money. But it’s hard to figure out the balance. We have to work, have to pay the rent, buy shoes and school supplies for the kids, make sure we’ll someday be able to retire without burdening those kids.

Jesus doesn’t say it’ll be easy to do, this finding a balance. It will likely take a lifetime for most of us. But it’s worth the work of balancing. It’s worth the spiritual act of seeking money’s proper place in our lives and souls.

Our spirits will suffer if we don’t.img_5931-altered-copyright-low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 4, 2016

A sorry excuse for a party?

Just about everyone loves a party. One of the most difficult tasks when you’re hosting is deciding who will be on the guest list.

So much of Luke’s gospel is about who’s in and who’s out. And, oh my, in that culture where eating together was a cultural boon or ban, Jesus was always treading the line between the acceptable and unacceptable. Or just jumping right over it.

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’  [from Luke 15]

The people who thought the rabbi ought to be partying with them, or at least with their kind, just seemed to be upset much of the time. There was a certain decorum to maintain. A certain division of the religious and social classes. There were those who were holy, and those who were not. Jesus, as a rabbi and an observant Jew, ought to have belonged in the “those who were holy” class. But he was often found partying with those who belonged in the “those who were not” group. Tax collectors were the ones who were often rightly accused of stealing from the people. They could charge pretty much what they wanted. And sinners could be anything from murderers to prostitutes to those who weren’t attending synagogue regularly.

We people of faith tend to divide people into the groups of the worthy and the unworthy. And, how interesting that those we consider to be the worthy are the ones who are most like us. They look like us, pray like us, speak our language, think our theology, come from our country. Those who are not worthy are those who look, speak, act, pray, think differently. If we are Republicans, they are Democrats. If we are liberal, they are conservative. If we are white, they are not. If we are Americans, they are Iraqis or Mexicans or French, refugees or immigrants.

Those people we think aren’t worthy—they are the ones we need to picture partying with Jesus. And you and I are the ones criticizing.

Jesus hears our criticism and responds with 3 parables. The first 2 are rather brief, and they are included in our reading today.

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

One sheep in a hundred—is it really that important? The coin may refer to a bridal headdress which sometimes contained 10 drachmas—not valuable coins but perhaps of much sentimental value.

Both of these people—the shepherd and the woman (stand-ins for God, of course)—are going to a great deal of trouble to find something that isn’t worth very much to anyone else. Why? That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To God, there is no such thing as a person with no value. It’s a direct slam at those who criticized him for hanging with the unworthy.

Then, after the shepherd finds a lost sheep and the woman finds her lost coin, they call all their friends together and have a party. Now that sounds like a pretty sorry excuse for a party to me. “Hey, I found a quarter!  Come on over and bring some chips and salsa, and I’ll make a pitcher of margaritas!”

But Jesus knows differently. Each one, each one, is cause for celebration. The imprint of the Eternal is upon her. He carries God within. And whenever any single one is set aside for any reason, God seeks diligently until that one is restored and brought home again.

And then God’s going to throw a party, to which all will be invited.IMG_5352, altered, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 30, 2016

You must give up everything

Hey, don’t get mad at me. Jesus is the one who said it in the gospel reading for this week: “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.” And a little farther on: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

I’m guessing that doesn’t sit well with you. Me neither.

This is why Jesus is so much harder to follow than we want to admit. It’s exactly why we aren’t very good at it. It’s why we don’t talk about this side of faith. It’s just plain too difficult.

One of the other readings for the week illustrates this perfectly. Paul is writing to his friend and coworker Philemon, with a request. This tiny New Testament book has one purpose: to ask Philemon to release a slave, Onesimus, and to receive him as a brother.

I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Let’s try to understand the full impact of this. Paul is asking no small favor; it’s about as huge as they come. He appeals to love and faith. Onesimus has become like a son to Paul, and Philemon’s ownership of this human being is harming all three of them.

If he agrees to this wild plea, Philemon will lose so much. Economically, he will no longer have Onesimus’ labor without having to pay wages. In terms of social standing, what will people say if he takes a slave and makes him like “a beloved brother”? It’s hard to overestimate the social damage it would do to him, even (especially?) in the community of faith, perhaps in his own family. People with power, money, and social standing don’t take it well when things get stirred up. It’s threatening.

We never learn what Philemon decided. Was the letter preserved because he went along with Paul’s request? Was it preserved because he didn’t? Was it preserved to show us that we all make choices that are difficult, and that those choices affect so many other people?

What threatens you and your way of life? Are you willing and ready to part with things that are important, even things that seem essential, in order to follow Jesus? In order to lower yourself and raise up somebody else? This is the social justice that is the heart of Luke’s gospel.

Give up everything?

I wonder what we would gain in return?IMG_5614, altered, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

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Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 22, 2016

The challenge of a humble gospel

Luke has long been my favorite gospel. I think that’s because it challenges me so much. You don’t have to read very far in Luke’s treatise to see what he’s promoting.

From the very beginning he wants us to know that Jesus is all about social justice.

In the very first chapter Mary, the mother of Jesus, says:

God’s mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
The Lord has shown strength with his arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

And in the gospel reading for this week:

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’  [from Luke 14]

Here, as always in Luke, the question is “Who is in and who is out?” Who are the ones who should be invited and given places of honor? Who are the ones who assume too much?

A few years ago I heard an interview of two rookie police officers who had worked the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, DC.  One was Martin Niverth, a white officer.  The other was Joseph Burden, a black officer.  This was just a few months after Birmingham, Alabama’s sheriff Bull Connor turned fire hoses and attack dogs on peaceful protestors.  Both officers say today that it was the most peaceful demonstration they ever saw in DC.  And they were both changed by the event.

Niverth, the white officer, realized for the first time that there was a whole segment of society that didn’t have the same rights and privileges he had as a white man.  Society had encouraged him to be privileged his whole life, but not encouraged him to be humble.  He was shockingly paired with a black officer that day—something that never happened—and after they’d been walking for an hour or so his partner said to him, “Marty, I hope you can see what an important day this is for us.”  And Marty did.  Society had encouraged this black man to be humble all his life, but not encouraged him to be privileged and strong.

Officer Burden said that as a black man it occurred to him that even though he had a job, there were a lot of freedoms he didn’t have. He ended up on the podium near Martin Luther King. Officer Burden, too, had a dream.

He shared the dream with every person whose seat at the banquet has always been near the lowest place, where gifts are not recognized and equality is a mirage because the people at the first table have already taken the best this world has to offer, and they don’t plan to share.

So here is Jesus’ word to his listeners, to the church to which Luke wrote, to marchers and observers in August of 1963, and to us:  If you are one of those people who thinks you deserve the best place at the banquet, think again.  You need to be humbled.  And if you are one of those people who thinks (or you’ve been told) you only deserve the lowest place at the banquet, think again.  You need to be strengthened—you need to accept your own privileged status as a child of God.

At God’s table, every place is the same.  There is always enough to go around.  There is always room for you.  Be strong and be humble.  They are not mutually exclusive. IMG_8078, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 15, 2016

Standing up straight

The Olympics are awesome.

At this very moment I’m working on my laptop in front of the television, with the Olympics on low volume. I can switch my attention to it whenever I want, turning it up and tuning it in. The athleticism in every sport is just incredible and inspirational. (Though not inspirational enough to get me off the couch, apparently…)

As a storyteller, I’m even more drawn to the personal experiences than to the events themselves. The stories give the backdrop to the events.

Like this gospel story. There’s an event (a healing, criticism, rebuke, teaching, rejoicing), but behind that event is the personal, tragic story of a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. It’s her story that brings real meaning to the event.

And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. [from Luke 13]

This year the stories of the Olympic refugee team have moved me past words.

You may have heard of the experience of a Syrian swimmer named Yusra Mardini. A high level swimmer in Syria, her home was destroyed by a bomb. She and her sister decided to flee a year ago, going through Lebanon and Turkey, before getting into a small boat (built for 6 or 7 occupants) with eighteen others, heading for Greece. The boat’s motor failed, and it began taking on water. Ms. Mardini and her sister, along with the only other two people on board who could swim, got into the water where they spent over three hours pulling and pushing the boat to safety. Everyone survived, and the Mardini sisters and their parents eventually ended up in Berlin, where Yusra continued her training and was selected for the Refugee Olympic Team.

This story inspires me in so many ways. It’s amazing how a sport became a vehicle for freedom from tyranny and danger. And how this young woman’s personal drama challenges assumptions and fears about refugees, just as the woman Jesus healed challenged the religious norms about sabbath activity.

Whenever one person is able to rise from a situation that imprisons—illness, oppression, cruelty, misunderstanding, poverty—that story becomes part of the larger human narrative. It’s important to create a landscape where everyone has the opportunity to rise.

Because the truth is, when any person rises, we all are inspired to stand a little straighter.IMG_6054, altered, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

 

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 8, 2016

The radical nature of the gospel

Division isn’t something I’m all that crazy about. Especially right now, in this incredibly divisive presidential election season. I want us all to be harmonious and unified over the things that are really important, and not worry too much about the things that aren’t.

Maybe everyone feels that way (except for the few who live for division and controversy). The problem is, of course, that we can’t agree on the really important things.

That may be what Jesus has in mind here:

‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
  [from Luke 12]

I’m guessing the disciples must be pretty confused by this. I know I am. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?”

Well, yes, actually.

Jesus said a lot of things about peace. I love to preach about peace and unity and think they are some of the most important principles by which his followers stand.

He’s making an important rhetorical point here. Yes, peace is important. But so is justice. Real peace brings justice. The famous Pax Romana (Roman Peace) of the time wasn’t true peace at all. It may have embodied one of the signs of peace—the absence of war. But in order to preserve that truncated view of peace many, many people and cultural groups were oppressed, kept from full cultural expression, forced to use a language that wasn’t theirs, prohibited from following some of their religious practices.

That isn’t peace. And it certainly isn’t justice.

When we promote real justice and thereby seek true peace, we may anger the powers that be (whether they are capitalist, socialist, communist, Democratic, Republican, or Independent). When we seek liberty and justice for all as a religious practice—and we can’t even all seem to agree about what that kind of justice looks like—we may find ourselves creating division. Jesus certainly found that to be true.

In our culture, we try to thread the needle that allows us to make peace (and justice) and also attempt to keep the peace. Honestly, they are both laudable goals.

And they are also often difficult to accomplish. IMG_5573, adjusted, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 1, 2016

Preparing

If you live in the U.S. and have been at all interested in the major party conventions of recent weeks, surely you were impressed by the amount of work that goes into preparing such a gathering. Months (years, even) of planning, weeks of execution, days and nights of setup and teardown. Imagine all the signs, food, lighting, audio-visuals, and discussions about content and people who will deliver speeches. And there were, by estimates I heard, somewhere in the neighborhood of three million balloons. Three million! Who had to tie all those balloons?

All of this over-the-top preparation, in every convention, leads up to what we already knew was going to happen: a nominee is presented to the gathering and to the whole country.

After all the days, weeks, months, and years of getting ready. It’d be super weird if the candidate walked out on stage to deliver the acceptance speech, to find that the lights were out and everyone had gone home, that people got tired of all the preparations and went to bed before the anticipated arrival.

I know it’s a big metaphorical leap, but it would have been just as weird for Jesus’ listeners to think about unprepared characters in this brief parable about faith communities and individuals.

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.  [from Luke 12]

The right thing for the servants to do is to be prepared. Any other option would sound ridiculous to people in a culture where hospitality—even to strangers, and certainly to the boss—is one of the most important social mores.

But there’s a turn, and it’s the thing I love about this parable. The people are ready for the coming one in the metaphor, but that one is even more ready for them.

They’re sitting by lit lamps, watching out the window, waiting. You know what waiting is like. Waiting can be boring. It can be angering. It can be frustrating. Spiritual waiting may mean we’ve spent a long time grieving, wondering, aching, longing. Waiting is difficult, maybe even impossible. But we still hold out hope, even if hope is small and sometimes feels ridiculous. A tiny lamp, but it’s still lit.

Jesus says that spiritual waiting will be rewarded. Because when God shows up, God is the one who will feed and serve.

That’s the parabolic turn. We are a hungry and thirsty people, waiting for renewal, peace, hope to return. And God feeds our waiting, hungry, angry, hurt souls. It may take a lot of patience to see it, a lot of longing and hoping (and sometimes despair) to realize it, a lot of time for its fruition.

Someday, God will feed your waiting heart. God will nurture your yearning heart.

Just wait. And see.

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

IMG_5594, altered, copyright, low

 

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | July 25, 2016

Profit sharing

Jesus appears annoyed when someone asks him about judging an inheritance dispute, and then he tells a parable about a man whose priorities were all turned around.

‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ [from Luke 12]

What idiot decides that because he has a bumper crop, he should pull down the old barns and build new ones? A selfish idiot? One who simply wants to show off his wealth? Why tear down the old ones unless you want to demonstrate that you have so much, you can afford to act carelessly?

One of the interesting things about this story is how much the farmer thinks of himself: “I will do this,” I will pull down,” “I will store,” “I will say,” “MY barns, MY grain, MY goods.” Jesus says the man has stored up treasure for himself, but isn’t rich toward God.

What would it take for him to be rich toward God? An attitude shift.

Jesus is speaking to people who live and work on farms, or who are very familiar with farming. What would be astounding to them is that this guy thinks he’s the only one who’s done any work! In this pre-tractor society, it would’ve taken many workers to accomplish all this. And though he doesn’t legally owe them anything more than wages, he has a moral obligation to “profit share” with those who’ve made him so successful. Why not announce: “You all have done such a great job this year that my barns can’t hold everything you’ve planted, cultivated, and harvested. Isn’t that amazing! Please come take what you can use so it doesn’t go to waste, and let’s give away the surplus to the hungry in our community.” He’d save money by not tearing down and rebuilding bigger.

Wouldn’t that be a holy celebration? Wouldn’t the farmer feel honored to be able to return something extra to those who’d made him successful?

Profit sharing.

The God who lives, the God who gives, the God who shares, is the God who requires our very soul.  Not to harm our soul, or to heap shame on it, but to liberate it from being owned by the things that don’t care about us.  To be owned instead by an open heart that allows us to share what we have, and allows others to share with us.  To be able to open our ears, our hands, our hearts, our very souls, to the hearts and voices of others, and by extension, to the heart and voice of God. IMG_5330, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

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