Sunday Gathered Worship–Matthew 13:24-43
July 23, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
A few years ago, two little girls named Ida and Kellan lived here at Koinonia Farm with their parents. I spent a lot of time with them in childcare and school. There was never a dull moment.
I read an article in “National Geographic” which reported that redheads feel pain more acutely than other people. This was definitely the case for Ida and Kellan. There was a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
When we started school together, I had a rule: No Weeping and Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth. If they were playing too wildly, I’d warn them, “Somebody’s going to get hurt and then there’ll be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and you know how much I don’t like that.” Or if they were teasing each other, I’d say, “OK, time to stop before there’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” I’m sure they got tired of hearing me say it, and maybe that’s why it was an effective way to get them to settle down.
I don’t know about you, but at the end of the age, I don’t want to be collected out of the kingdom and thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. I value my teeth too much. And you already know how much I don’t like weeping and wailing.
So how is it that we will be counted among the righteous who shine like the sun. Jesus tells us that we need to listen carefully.
What does the Gospel tell us? In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus speaks plainly about the righteous and the unrighteous. At the end of the age, all the nations will be gathered together, and they will be separated as sheep and goats.
The goats are the ones who did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, give clothes to the needy, and visit the sick and the prisoner. They will go away to eternal punishment, presumably the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The righteous ones are the sheep. Without knowing that they were serving the Lord, they fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, gave clothes to the needy, and visited the sick and the prisoner. The righteous will go to eternal life.
I often wonder how I’m measuring up. I feel like I have a long way to go, not for lack of opportunity. It’s that I’m shy and scared of the stranger. Before I lived and worked at the Open Door Community, I used to go out of my way to avoid homeless people. In Boston, I would cross to the other side of the street just so I wouldn’t have to look a homeless person in the eye. My friend Mary would force me to stay on the sidewalk and make eye contact, give a dollar, or say hello. She was just a natural at the Gospel life.
I still have to work at it. Even here at Koinonia, where we welcome the stranger every day, I find myself sticking to the familiar, sitting at the table with Craig, and avoiding new people.
It’s not necessarily easy to shine like the sun. But the light is infinitely preferable to the darkness. And the cool of eternal life is infinitely preferable to the fiery furnace.
So let’s wake up every morning, ready for a new day. Look for an opportunity to give food to the hungry. Share water with a thirsty person. Give clothes to the needy. Visit someone who is sick or in prison. Let me tell you, those things are infinitely preferable to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Sunday Gathered Worship, July 16, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
The parable of the Sower and the Seed might very well be the most well-known of Jesus’ stories. I remember learning the parable in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. It’s not a parable that makes us wonder about its meaning like the one about the overseer who has been cooking the books. What did Jesus mean when he praised that man and said, “Make for yourselves friends with unrighteous Mammon?” In the parable of the Sower and the Seed, Jesus even gives an explanation to his disciples so that there cannot be any confusion.
Sometimes Jesus’ parables are just downright confusing, and we might say that the disciples’ question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” is a good one. Why did Jesus use parables?
Well, there are some easy answers: the parables use images that are familiar. Here at Koinonia in rural Southwest Georgia, we understand about seeds falling on hard clay that are there for the birds to gobble up. We know about the scorching sun that burns up little seedlings. We see kudzu grow even while we’re standing there watching. We know about weeds.
Sometimes, though the parables are confusing. No matter how straightforward the parable of the mustard seed seems to be, I’m still not sure about it. Mustard seeds are just not the smallest of seeds, and mustard plants are not the tallest of trees. So that imagery just doesn’t work for me.
Is it possible that Jesus meant for his words to have some meaning that would be known only to those who were given the gift of understanding? I think so.
You can just listen to the parable of the Sower and the Seed as a nice agrarian tale. But you have to have ears to hear if you want to know what Jesus is talking about. And that’s the message of the parable.
If you’re hard of hearing, then the Word will just fall on the hard path where it gets snatched away by other things that make more noise. If you’re looking for the smooth and easy way, then the Word won’t be able to establish roots because there is no easy way to follow Jesus. If you get all tangled up in the worries of life, then the Word will be choked off by concerns other than life with Jesus. But if you have an open and well-nourished heart, then the Word will spring up, take root, and flourish in your life.
We are blessed to live with this Word so open to us. We can hear these stories with the gift and understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection told to us by the Gospel writers, by the Apostles, by the early Christians, and by all the faithful down through the ages.
Like Simeon, many longed to see the face of Jesus before they died. Simeon saw the salvation of the Lord, but many didn’t. They longed to see and hear, but they didn’t.
So let us be thankful for the words of the Gospel. Let us listen to them attentively each day. Let us see them at work in the lives of people all around us. And let us work hard to put them into practice.
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Gathered Worship Lesson, Matthew 10:37-42
By Elizabeth Dede
Just in case you haven’t noticed, it is really hot in Georgia right now. So what does that have to do with today’s Gospel lesson?
When I lived at the Open Door Community, we constantly faced the suffering of homeless people and the city of Atlanta’s indifference to it. In those days, there was one public water fountain in the whole city, and there were no public toilets. Most shops and businesses had taken the handles off their outdoor water spigots, and no homeless person was welcome to come inside to use the restroom. It was a hard life for people without homes in that city.
In protest of those conditions, and even though it made our neighbors angry, we had two water fountains (one inside, and one outside), lots of public toilets (both inside and outside), and a water spigot outside. There was plenty of water available to the poorest of the poor at our house.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, we’re told that to give a drink to the thirsty is to give a drink to Jesus. Here at Koinonia, we, too, give a drink to the thirsty.
We serve each other by putting food and drink on the table every day. And often we serve a stranger that way. Matthew also wrote that to welcome a stranger into your home is to welcome Jesus. Providing for the physical needs of people is clearly a Gospel call, and it brings us into relationship with Jesus.
From this Gospel reading, we learn that this relationship with Jesus is more important than any other relationship we can have. We have to love Jesus more than our mothers and fathers, more than our daughters and sons.
I think Matthew tells us pretty clearly how to love Jesus. But it isn’t easy to lose your life.
I’ve just got back to Koinonia from a trip to visit my mom and dad. For a long time, while I lived at the Open Door, I neglected my relationship with my mom and dad. I felt strongly called to serve the physically poor, and I truly believed that meant that I, in the strong words of Jesus, had to hate my mother and father. I didn’t actually hate them, but I didn’t pay much attention to them either. I felt that giving up my old life and ideas of how I should live it was finding my life in Jesus. And I suppose that for that time in my life it was true.
On this visit to Florida, though, I found myself regretting that neglect. Those years while I was at the Open Door were probably my mom and dad’s best years. They were still relatively young and full of energy, and they were mostly free of the weight of caring for children. Now I wish that I had not been so focused on a literal understanding of Matthew 25. I wish that I had enjoyed my Mom and Dad more.
But I don’t want to wallow in regret. Now that they are old, I can care for them, and lose my life in that. It is in those relationships with my mom and dad that I find my life in Jesus.
So give a drink of cold water to a child of Jesus. You will find your life.