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Lenten Bible Study – Day 34

Monday, March 29, 2021 – Day 34
Matthew 20:1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage,[a] he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.[b] 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.[c] 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?[d] 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’[e] 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”[f]
When I was a young man, maybe 14 or 15, I washed dishes at a local restaurant. I worked extremely hard washing dishes, taking out the trash, and mopping the floor. I would be working non-stop on the weekends and would come home late at night tired and smelling like fish. My reward for my work was $5.35 an hour. As any young person I was shocked to look at my paycheck and see just how much taxes I had to pay on my already small check. On the flip side my younger sister babysat neighborhood kids. She would play with the kids and then put them to bed and watch tv.  She was paid by the families 8 dollars an hour and it wasn’t taxed because the people just handed her cash. She was literally making twice as much as me and was working not nearly as hard.
While I was completely jealous and bitter as a young person, I can look back at appreciate my experience. While at the time I felt it was un fair, both of us agreed to the money we would be paid. I could have left any time I wanted and was not forced to work for the wage I agreed upon. I used to think it was unfair that I had to work so hard for so little. Now I look back and realize that it was really good for me. It built in me a strong work ethic and made me appreciate money much more than some of my peers who just had money given to them by their parents. 
Often times when I read this parable I can understand why the early workers are upset. They work much harder and longer than the late workers. However, I now think that maybe there are other benefits to being an early worker than just the money. 
God’s grace is available to all people through faith in Jesus Christ. This can happen to some as children and others as adults. Some hear God’s words as children and cling to them, while others ignore it for years and years, maybe coming back to you later. I have heard some people say that the people that ignore God and live a crazy life don’t deserve God’s grace. The truth is none of us deserve grace, but it is available to all of us no matter when we call out to Jesus. If you haven’t taken Jesus as your savior I hope that you do, recognizing the grace and love that is waiting for you. I also hope that you do it today, there are a lot of benefits of living knowing how much God loves you!
God, we thank you for your grace. Let us be reminded that your grace is for all people no matter how old they are, or how they have lived their life. Let us also be thankful that we are living our lives knowing the promises we have in you. Amen.      

Lenten Bible Study – Day 33

Saturday, March 27, 2021 – Day 33
Luke 16: 19-31
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He 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.” 25But 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. 26Besides 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.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He 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.” ’
Rich people do not fair well when Jesus speaks of them in Luke’s Gospel. Woe to them, Jesus says. They are fools for building big barns to keep all their stuff that they will not need. They will never follow Jesus because they have many things. Their idols are their wealth and possessions. And they do not want to share. When they die, these things that gave them comfort are gone and there is no comfort to be had. That is the rich man in this parable. Unimaginably wealthier than the poor sick Lazarus, yet he does nothing for Lazarus. At death the roles are reversed. It is the rich man who craves just a finger of water, but Lazarus because both are now dead, can do nothing. He wants to warn is brothers, but that warning must come from the Hebrew Scriptures.
This reminds me of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Marley and his fellow ghosts are condemned to drag the implements of their wealth around for eternity. There is no rest. There is no end to the torment. But then there is this: they finally feel empathy for those they ignored in life, but now, because they are dead, can do nothing to help those they now want to help. That is the rich man’s fate. He is burdened and can do nothing.
What does it have to do with us? We are Scrooge. We are given this story by Jesus and can learn from it. What do we learn? That we are to care for those who need it. The hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, the oppressed. If we do, we do so to Jesus and are welcomed into the Kingdom of God. Jesus knows that no one can take care of all of the world’s Lazaruses, but if we take care of one, in some way, we take care of all. Who are you caring for this Lent? Something worth considering this Lent.
Dear God, help me to serve and give to those who are in need. Help me not to judge who is worthy of my service and resources, but to give as I feel called by you to do. You gave the full measure of service to us on the cross. Help me to do my part as well. Amen.

Lenten Bible Study – Day 32

Friday, March 26, 2021 – Day 32
Luke 16:1-8 
Then Jesus[a] 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 accounting 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.
On March 8th, 1987 my father gave me a talk that I recently had the privilege of giving to my daughter around 30 years later. It starts very simply, “if you want a dog you have to promise to take care of it”, the child responds with “I will, I promise”. The parent then continues “you need to walk it, feed it, bath it, etc.…”, “I will, I promise responds the child”. Now to Emma’s credit she has done a lot more for her puppy than I did when I was her age. She had been begging me for a puppy for 2 years now and finally I decided to cave and give it to her, mostly because I love her. I certainly had some reservations because I didn’t know if she would hold up her end, but I decided that I wanted her to be happy, so I caved.
This parable is considered by many scholars to be one of the most difficult parables to understand. We see a manager will be fired for squandering his masters property. He realizes he cannot do manual labor and doesn’t want to beg so he begins settling his masters debt by making the people give less than what is owed, he does this so that those people will like him and maybe give him a job. The master then commends the manager for doing this, though it seems it was a completely selfish act. There are many ways in which people try to justify this parable. Some believe the manager was commended because he didn’t take a commission. Other scholars believe the manager was commended for collecting and showing compassion at the same time (word of a caring master would encourage more business). While I’m not completely sure which of these I agree with, I will say that it is not the point of the parable.
God has given us many things in our lives. We have money, food, houses, and lots and lots of stuff. We were given this stuff not to own or use just for ourselves, rather it was given for us to manage. The questions become are we wise with our money? Are we compassionate when others owe us money? Are we managing it well for our master, or are we squandering it away. God has given us a responsibility to manage this world, will we be shrewd, or will we squander it away?   
Jesus, we thank you for everything you have given us. We recognize that we don’t always use the things you have given us as well as we should. Let us recognize that we are managers of your things, and we need to manage your resources in caring and careful ways. Amen.

Sunshine 04.01.2021

Holy Week has a new meaning for me during this COVID-19 pandemic. I do believe that it illustrates why we need hope in what, at times, seems to be a hopeless world. The pandemic has been with us for over a year now. But we are beginning to see the world re-emerge. Not quite resurrection, but it is the hope of a new beginning. But even if the emergence falters, Jesus remains our hope. We need to be patient. We are like his followers as he entered Jerusalem. We want Jesus to do things our way. To work a bit of magic and make all this virus go away. To demonstrate his ultimate power over the world and make it the way we want it to be. But Jesus does not work that way. Jesus did not become King, and Jesus does not magically make our lives just the way we want them. What Jesus does is make a promise. That he knows what we know. Feels what we feel. And walks with us through the darkest valleys and the highest mountains. This week, we try to understand that.
Like most churches, we at John McMillan Presbyterian Church traditionally experiences Holy Week in many ways. I say “experience” because we try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who were there with Jesus as he traveled to the cross – and then returned alive. We start our Easter journey on Thursday evening at 7:30 with our Tenebrae Service in the cold, cold parking lot. A service of “shadows”. The world gets dark as the disciples have their last Passover with Jesus. Someone betrays, others sleep, they all run away in the end. We listen to the story of Jesus’ last 24 hours with scripture readings and music. It all ends in darkness and silence.
Next, we gather at noon on Good Friday for a vigil where we hear the story of the crucifixion and try to understand what it has to do with us.
Saturday is silent, as we, like the disciples, are … well … speechless. Then! Then! It is Resurrection Day! We gather at 10:00 for a worship service in the parking lot and celebratory that old, old story. The one that we never get tired of. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is risen indeed.
And by the way, who knew first? Join us Easter Sunday and hear about that when Pastor Jeff Preaches, “The First Apostle”.

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