Proper 28 (November 16, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Zeph. 1:7, 12-18; Ps. 90:1-12; I Thess. 5:1-11; Matt. 25:14-30
This week we visited with a TourMagination group from Canada and the United States, who have been “following the steps of Moses” in Egypt and Jordan.
We also finalized job descriptions for next year’s SALT placements, began screening candidates to send to the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at EMU and prepared the fall progress reports for the beloved MCC database.
In the region this week, violence spiked in Iraq as multiple suicide bombings ripped through Baghdad.
On Sunday, we hope to get into Gaza to visit several MCC partners, but it looks doubtful given the current Israeli blockade that prevents journalists and UN supplies from entering the small coastal strip of land that is home to 1.5 million Palestinians. The situation in Gaza is bleak.
In preparing progress reports for MCC’s database, were especially touched by the stories of persons in Gaza who recently received emergency food aid through MCC partner such as Amera. One woman said: “I am the mother of 8 children and one of them is disabled. My husband is unemployed due to the lack of job opportunities. Amera’s social worker visited us and found us eating lentil soup without any bread due to lack of flour. My kids are shouting from hunger and I have nothing to feed them. In a few days, Amera visited us again and gave us a bag of flour and a food kit. My happiness was beyond imagination when I received the kit. Thank God for this grace.”
The Common Lectionary readings this week paint sobering pictures of God’s wrath and judgment.
The prophet Zephaniah describes the great day of the Lord as a day of wrath, distress, anguish, ruin, devastation, darkness, and gloom (Zeph. 1:15) – a “terrible end” for “all the inhabitants of the earth” (v.18). What human offenses have generated this judgment? Worshiping false gods (v.5), violence and fraud (v.9), materialism (v.11), complacency (v.12a) and the arrogance to say that God is irrelevant — “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm”– (v.12b).
The psalmist laments that humans are consumed by God’s anger and overwhelmed by God’s wrath because of their iniquities and secret sins (Ps. 90:7-8). “All our days pass away under your wrath,” the psalmist sighs (v.9). This powerful psalm draws a sharp distinction between God and humans. God is “our dwelling place in all generations” (v.1), “formed the earth and the world (v.2a), is “from everlasting to everlasting” (v.2b), and knows no constraints of time (v.4). By contrast, humans turn back to dust (v.3), are swept away like dreams (v.5a), fade and wither like grass (v.5b) and live a troubled span of 70 or 80 years (v.10).
But in the Epistle reading, Paul offers hope. “God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”(v.9). For this reason, we are to live as “children of light” (v.5), to “keep awake and be sober” (v.6), to put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (v.8) and “to encourage one another and build up each other” (v.11).
In the Gospel Jesus tells a story about three servants who are entrusted with their master’s money (Matt. 25:14-30. Two of servants make wise trades and investments, doubling the value of their master’s goods. They receive the praise of their master and are entrusted with more of his goods. Out of fear, the third servant buries the sum that was entrusted to him. Rather than seeing himself as steward, this servant acts arrogantly as if he is not accountable for his master’s resources. The master is furious with him and takes away the money that was entrusted to him.
What are we to make of these uncomfortable references to God’s judgment and wrath? Thankfully, these readings also contain references to God’s mercy and grace as well. God is our dwelling place (Ps. 90:1). We are not destined for God’s wrath (I Thess. 5:9). Two of the servants are commended for their wise stewardship.
Indeed, the overwhelming emphasis of Scripture is God’s love, grace and mercy. Yet one cannot discount the significant references to God’s judgment and wrath. They are sobering reminders that as humans we are to worship but one God; we are called to treat others justly; we are finite and fragile creatures not the eternal Creator; and we stewards not owners.
May these realities challenge us to live as “children of light” – humbly, gently, justly, compassionately and gratefully.