Giving to God

Proper 24, Year A
Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22

Once again, people who opposed Jesus and his message are trying to entrap him. This is the first of three exchanges between the Jewish leaders and Jesus. The lesson begins with them buttering Jesus up, and then asking a question that they thought would show that he was speaking out against the government so that he could get arrested. However, Jesus does not fall for it and calls them to the test instead.

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We are Invited

Proper 23, Year A
Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14

This is the final parable that Jesus gives in the temple, and it is especially a difficult one for children and youth to understand. To explain the parable briefly, many sight it as being an allegory of salvation history. The wedding banquet is given by the king (God) for the son (Jesus). Many guests are invited ahead of time and say they will come, but on the day of the wedding, no one will come and some, in fact, abuse the slaves he sent to gather them. The king (God) is furious and sends troops to punish them.

The wedding banquet is still ready, so the king (God) tells the slaves to go and gather all who are in the streets, good and bad, to the banquet. They come, ready for the banquet – all except one, who is singled out and taken away. This final piece is said to be not about a physically being ready, but about leaving behind the old and being ready for the feast, being ready for God, presenting yourself to God in such a way as to say, I have prepared myself and am here. It is also good to note that in Jesus’ culture, when one was invited to a wedding, there were robes given to the guests to wear and this man chose not to – he chose to keep his own clothes, thus not giving himself fully to God and to the feast.

This is a difficult parable that has been used to exclude people and bully people into being a certain way to get into the feast. This is really about God inviting us to come, choosing to come, and welcoming us to be ready when we are invited. Jesus is urging us to come to the feast when we are invited and to put on the “clothes” that God has provided for us. We are all invited into the kingdom of heaven, it is our choice to accept and prepare ourselves or not.

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God’s Presence in Our Lives

Proper 24, Year A, Old Testament Lesson
Scripture: Exodus 33:12-23

Today’s lesson comes after the story of the Golden Calf from last week.  Following on the heels of that story, we hear and exchange between God and Moses about God’s role in their lives and in the rest of their journey.  Moses continues to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel and remind God what God had told them in the past.  We hear that Moses wants a better understanding of how God works so he can serve God better and have a deeper relationship with God.  Moses asks God to be made clearer so he might better understand how best to follow God and therefore how to be a better leader.  Finally, Moses asks to see the glory of God to deepen the relationship and be filled with God’s presence and love.  As God passes by Moses, he cannot see all of God, but only where God has been.  We as humans never see God at work, but only where God has been, only where God was.  Those “God moments” are evidence of where God has been in our lives in order to deepen our faith and understanding in God.

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Focus on God Our Creator

Proper 23, Year A, Old Testament Lesson
Scripture: Exodus 32:1-14

Moses has been on the mountain with God for 40 days and nights which means that the Israelites have been without either of their leaders.  In their anxiousness they turn to Aaron who helps and encourages them create a calf and then to have a festival.  As God sees what they are doing, God becomes angry and wants to get rid of them.  Moses, however, steps in and asks for God’s mercy, quoting God’s promise from Genesis.  This is a great risk for Moses, as he asks God to turn away from anger and remember the promises that were made to the people.  God changes his mind and does not burn wrath upon the people.

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Jesus is the Cornerstone

Proper 22, Year A
Scripture: Matthew 21:33-46

This follows the parable of The Two Sons who were sent to the vineyard.  One son, when asked to go work in the vineyard by their father said no, but went to work in the vineyard later.  The other son, when asked to go work in the vineyard by the father, said yes, but did not go work in the vineyard.  The parable from last Sunday and the one for this week are both about working in the vineyard and about doing God’s will, but this one has a twist at the end, reminding us that Jesus is the cornerstone.

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God’s Instructions to Live and Love

Proper 22, Year A, Old Testament
Scripture: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Prior to God giving the Israelites the commandments, the people of Israel reached Mount Sinai where God tells Moses how to prepare the people for what is to come.  The people are consecrated and waiting to hear God’s word, when the voice of God comes to them.

The Ten Commandments are straightforward instructions given to the Israelites by God for how to be in relationship with God and with each other.  The first commandment sets the tone for the rest as it is telling the people, I am your God, there will be no other.  It is calling all of Israel to give their life, every part of their being to God, and to put away all other gods that they may have known in the past.  This is a radical restructuring of their lives.

All of the commandments are about how we are to be in community and relationship with one another in this new way.  The first four are about how we are to be in relationship with God, how we are to interact with God and how we are to structure our lives around God.  The final six are about how we are to interact, honor and treat one another.

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Water

Proper 21, Year A, Old Testament Lesson
Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7

In the previous chapter the Israelites faced the hardship of not having enough food and God provided for them.  Now they are thirsty and don’t know where they will get their water for themselves and their livestock.  They once again complain to Moses.  It would be easy for us to see them as a whiney bunch of people who did not have faith.  But let us remember that these are people who have just been freed from slavery, and they are wondering what this journey is all about.  They are thirsty, and if you have ever been REALLY thirsty or if you have been dehydrated, you know that it is not something that you can just “power through.”  This is a life and death situation not only for the people, but also for their livestock and their well-being.

They complain against Moses, wondering again what his plan is or if he brought them out here to die.  Moses appeals to the Lord realizing what a tense situation they are in and God, once again provides for them.

This is one of the many times in Exodus where it is brought to light that the Israelites have trouble trusting in Moses and God.  Through God’s acts of bringing them water and food and water (again), trust is being built.  Remember, these are freed slaves.  Why would they trust in their leaders when their previous leaders and rulers has been cruel to them and made them work in horrid conditions.   Through Moses and through God’s actions, they can see that God can be trusted even in the most dire circumstances.

This also teaches us, the people of God past, present and future, that God is faithful, we can trust God, and we as people of God (like Moses) can make a difference in other people’s lives if we act on what God has called us to do. If nothing else, we see God meeting the people where they are (again) and providing for their journey.  O come, o come Emmanuel.

Download the Old Testament Lesson Plan for Proper 21

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What God has Given Us To Do

Proper 21, Year A
Scripture: Matthew 21:23-32

Jesus’ journey takes him to the temple for the last time and stays there.  During these next three chapters we see Jesus teaching on a variety of topics, not because he set out to do so, but because the high priests, elders and Pharisees are trying to trap him by asking tricky questions and backing him into a corner.  As we read these stories, we know that Jesus was not going to play that game.

Jesus is seen by others as having the authority to heal and teach, but in today’s lesson the chief priests and elders question this authority.  By answering their question with a question about John the Baptist, Jesus is not stalling them, but rather evoking the prophets that have come before him and identifying himself and John the Baptist with the prophets of the past.  When the chief priests and elders respond, they respond not from what they know to be true, but rather from a place of political maneuvering.  To save themselves, they say they do not know.

So Jesus presents them with a parable, a story that teaches us about a truth.  This is a parable about doing the work God has given us to do, not just saying we are going to do it, but going and doing the work, no matter where we are on our own journey or about what we may or may not have done in the past.  God wants us out in the world, doing what we are called to do.  As people of God we are to witness, to name our beliefs and be a worker in the field.

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We Are All a Part of God’s Work

Proper 20, Year A
Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16

This parable appears in the section of Matthew where those around Jesus are questioning him about everything. As Jesus continues his ministry and the disciples are witnessing his great works, they keep coming to him with questions about taxes, who is the greatest in Heaven, forgiveness, divorce, and how to inherit eternal life. The disciples are trying to figure out this new world that they are experiencing through Jesus’ miracles, parables, and teachings.  Just prior to our lesson today, the disciples have heard Jesus tell the rich young man that he must sell everything and give the money to the poor.  They begin to wonder, “We have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?”  Meaning, we have left our homes and our families, we have left behind what we know and love to follow you…what will we get in return?

So, Jesus tells them the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.  This is a difficult parable as there are many ways it can be read.  It could be seen as unfair or pitting justice with grace. However we read it, this parable is about God’s generosity and God’s grace.

The writer of Matthew’s Gospel has sandwiched the story of the Laborers in the Vineyard with 19:30 (30But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.) and 20:16 (“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”)  Clearly this is an important message for Matthew to get across.  That there is a reversal of the way we assume things will be and we are playing by a new rulebook.

A good number of the children will have heard “The first will be last and the last will be first.”  We don’t want them to think this is just about letting the last person in line go first or that they should always be last to receive a reward, but that this is about how much God loves them that it does not matter where they are in line or where they are finding God, but more that they are all a part of this together and we will all receive God’s amazing love and grace.  

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Forgiveness

Proper 19, Year A
Scripture: Matthew 18:21-35

This week’s lesson follows on the heels of Jesus teaching on how we are all to humble ourselves as children in order to enter the Kingdom of God, on how we are to look for the lost sheep if there is one lost, and how we are to solve conflicts in our communities.  This section of Matthew deals with how Jesus calls us to live together in community in this new way which leads to a good number of questions about what this means.

Peter asks Jesus how many times we are to forgive someone who has sinned against us or has done us wrong.  Jesus responds with the parable known as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.  Throughout the ages as people have interpreted Jesus’ answer of 77 times to mean never.  We are never to stop forgiving and the parable leads us to see that as well.  The servant who comes before the king owes him an outrageous amount. The king’s first reaction is to sell him and his family.  Out of fear, the servant begs for mercy, and he is forgiven his debt.  However, when the servant requires another person to repay him a rather small amount of money and does not forgive that person of his debt, the king shows no mercy.  When the king sees that the servant is unwilling to forgive this small debt, he lets the servant know that he has had enough and hands him over to be tortured until he can pay his debt.

We are to show mercy and forgiveness to others just as God shows us mercy.  The king’s willingness to forgive the debt completely at first is an example of how much God is willing to forgive us. It is only when we see the burden of our own debts that we can see the magnitude of God’s mercy in our lives.

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