Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Indulge me for a moment

If you came to see Renaissance Festival posts with the label "cleavage", scroll down...

I am taking a class through my church on preaching a sermon. Those in the class were given a homework assignment- to preach from the lectionary of the Presbyterian Church USA for last Sunday in May. For those of you not familiar with this church stuff, the lectionary is a series of readings on a regular cycle from the various parts of the Bible. For Sunday, May 25, the lectionary includes
Isaiah 49:8-16a
Psalm 131
1 Corinthians 4:1-15
Matthew 6:24-34

For those of you playing along at home, you can read the passages at the links above.

The common themes of these readings, I think, are the providence and faithfulness of the Lord. Isaiah prophesies that the Lord will provide Israel with freedom from Babylon. To counter ideas that the Lord has forgotten and forsaken the Nation, the prophecy ends with a comparison to the compassion of a mother for her child, and promises that while even a mother may forget her child, God will never forget Israel.

The Psalm is brief but carries the same message, saying that for the humble, still and quiet soul, the Lord provides hope, forevermore.

Moving to the New Testament, Matthew begins with the familiar passage about not being able to serve two masters- God and Money- implying that we have to make choices in life. From there, though, it quickly transitions into another familiar passage, that which illustrates the providence of God through the examples of feeding the birds and clothing the lilies of the field. If God provides for these, so says Matthew, of course He will provide for the needs of people, whom He loves. So we come back to the concept of providence.

We get few glimpses of an afterlife in the Bible. We are told by Christ, however, that he prepares a place for us. What will it be like? I try not to count my chickens, so to speak, because who knows if my faith will lead to a heavenly reward? But will heaven be worth it? If you look at all that God does to provide for us in this world, I think the answer is plainly "yes." What we have in this life, is more than most of us would dare ask for. Yet God provides it for us. But what do we do with all that He provides?

The fourth passage answers this question. In Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, he whips himself up into quite a lather! Say what you want, Paul calls them as he sees them. Paul often walks a curious, fine line in his letters, trying to guide various churches through the issues they are trying to deal with. In this passage, he tries, as he often does, to be humble when bringing the bad news. He starts by saying that he is trying not to be judgmental, for only God can judge.

Then he lays a judgment upon the Corinthians: He points out that they are living high on the hog, setting themselves up as kings. He states everything that the people have, they have received through the providence of God. And since it comes from God, they should not boast as if they earned and deserve these things. Wow. Sounds like us. We all strive for more, but look at what we have compared to the least of God's children.

Anyway, back to the passage. Paul contrasts the fine things the Corinthians have with the necessities he and his traveling companion, Apollos, do without. He lauds the virtues of the simple life they lead. Although he flatly states "I am not writing this to shame you," that's exactly what he is doing. He is shaming the Corinthians. But not just to make them look bad; he is trying to catch their attention. Just like the mother who scolds her child when he strays into the street, Paul scolds the Corinthians, he warns them against their luxurious ways when there are others who want.

Sound familiar? Next time you come across someone that needs help, help them. Why? Because you can. Don't worry about yourself, God will take care of you.

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