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Gospel Reflection for March 19, 2017, 3rd Sunday of Lent

15 Mar

Photo via Flickr user Ashley Van Haeften

Scripture Readings: Exodus 17.3-7; Romans 5.1-2, 5-8; John 4.5-42

“Many Samaritans from that village believed in Jesus on the strength of the woman’s testimony.” – John 4.39

The Samaritan woman meets Jesus at Jacob’s well. He asks for a drink. In their conversation the woman from Samaria moves from misunderstanding to seeking living water, coming to believe the man from Nazareth is the messiah. She recognizes that although most Jews consider Samaritans heretics, Jesus comes in spirit and truth to include her people in his community. Like the fishermen who leave their nets to follow Jesus, she leaves the water jar that symbolizes her work and goes to tell her townspeople she has found the messiah and brings them to hear Jesus for themselves. Her witness can inspire our own.

Whose witness led you to believe in Jesus? Who believes on the strength of your witness?

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Gospel Reflection for February 19, 2017, 7th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Feb

Scripture Readings: Leviticus 19.1-2, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 3.16-23; Matthew 5.38-48

“You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” – Matthew 5.43-45

In the gospel this week Jesus asks us to take God as our standard in how we treat others. In this Jesus goes beyond the golden rule –“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden rule makes us ourselves the standard of how to treat others. To respond to enemies and evil with conscious, gracious, undeserved compassion goes farther. This is how a life-giving, merciful God acts.

Jesus exhorts us to be perfect as God is perfect. One translator of the word perfect suggests the meaning fully alive. Perfect can imply finished, completed, perfected, done. When one is fully alive, one is whole and wholly operational. We are able to use all our human capacities to know and love others, to live the values and strengthen the bonds that hold us together as families, neighborhoods, and today more than ever as a nation.

When have you made a friend of a seeming enemy? Who is at risk in your neighborhood? How can you help?

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Gospel Reflection for February 5, 2017, 5th Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Feb
Photo via Flickr user SidewaysSarah

Photo via Flickr user SidewaysSarah

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 58.7-10; 1 Corinthians 2.1-5; Matthew 5.13-16

“You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5.13-14

Salt became a precious commodity because it allowed fish and meat to be dried and cured to last a long time. By comparing his disciples to salt, Jesus encourages them to recognize their value and encourages them to preserve their community from moral decay during the Roman occupation of their land. Jesus’ disciples 2,000 years ago and we today have a vital role in preserving justice and charity in our society.

Roman rule kept Jewish people subjugated with little hope of being free and respected. Nonetheless Jesus challenges them to be like lamps in the darkness, to stand tall and share their light with others. Kind, gracious, generous, respectful actions toward others invite the same in return. Christians are to illumine our society in its darkness.

What light shines in your actions? What values do you preserve?

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Gospel Reflection for January 22, 2017, 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

17 Jan
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 8.23-9.3; 1 Corinthians 1.10-13, 17; Matthew 4.12-23

Jesus said “Come, follow me. I want you to gather people into your nets.” – Matthew 4.19

As his first action in his public ministry, Jesus calls four fishermen to accompany and follow him. From the beginning Jesus gathers companions. In fact, it is for the work of gathering people into community that Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Many Christians today may wonder why the four so unhesitatingly follow a man who comes walking along the lakeshore and invites them to, “Follow me.” Matthew is telling the story of the first disciples’ call more than 50 years later. Their initial response to following Jesus expresses the full commitment they grow into. They give their lives wholeheartedly to spreading Jesus’ good news after his death and resurrection. Responding to Jesus’ friendship changes their lives.

Who has called and empowered you to minister? How did you respond? How did your response change your life?

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Gospel Reflection for December 11, 2016, 3rd Sunday Advent

6 Dec

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.1-6,10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11

John the Baptist sends messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answers, “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind can see; the lame can walk; lepers are cured; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” – Matthew 11.3-5

In Sunday’s first reading the prophet Isaiah imagines the desert greening wherever God steps. The Israelite captives’ return from exile in Babylon brought healing joy and a new experience of God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. In his ministry Jesus gives life: sight, hearing, healing that reveals God as the giver of life and the lover of us all, again making Isaiah’s prophecy come true in his time. It’s Sunday’s first reading. God is faithful and keeps on giving life.

In the first week of Advent I visited my brother at the University of Minnesota Hospital. It’s where he got a living donor liver transplant from his son. It’s where my mother died of the same liver disease that damaged that vital organ in my brother. Mother was part of the research that in three years initiated transplants. Doctors and nurses are helping Isaiah’s vision keep coming true. We take part in giving life in many ways–giving birth, nurturing our children, caring for our planet, being good news for people living on the edge of sustenance. Like our Christmas trees God is ever-green, the encircling, sustaining life, and holy mystery in which we live.

As one of our local priests often started Mass, “In the name of our ever-living, all-loving, unfolding God.”

What do we hear and see around us that makes the words of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus quotes keep coming true? 

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Gospel Reflection for December 4, 2016, 2nd Sunday of Advent

30 Nov
Photo via Flickr User Karen Thurmond

Photo via Flickr User Karen Thurmond

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 11.1-10; Romans 15.4-9; Matthew 3.1-12

Two family trees figure in Sunday’s readings: the children of Abraham and Sarah hear God’s call, go to a new land, and await a child who will be the first of descendants as countless as the stars. Faith in God’s promise is their DNA.

The descendants of Jesse becomes the Kings of Israel. God promises Jesse’s son David that his throne will stand forever. Faith and repentance are in David’s DNA.

John the Baptist calls his contemporaries, who are children of Abraham and Sarah by blood, to become children by active faith. Fierce and holy like the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist is a lone voice in the wilderness, calling people to repent and prepare for one who will baptize them in Spirit and fire. Repentance is the true inheritance of Israel, John insists. The fruitful tree symbolizes the repentant person.

What spiritual values are in your DNA?

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The Role of Women

18 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

On his recent flight from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis told reporters, “Concerning the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands.” He added that it is not likely to ever change. The clarity of the statement surprised some in part because Pope Francis has been so supportive of the ministry of women in the church. He said, in fact, that “women can do many other things better than men.”

Are there fundamental differences in men and women that require such different roles in ministry? Making a gender role distinction by restricting women from overseeing word and sacrament, limits women, but also may limit men in the congregation. In a recent interview with Salt and Light, for example, Stephen Colbert shared a story about witnessing a female priest oversee Eucharist:

When I heard a woman say ‘This is my body,’ the freshness of hearing a woman say that gave the message a universality that it always should have — and I’m not saying it doesn’t coming out of a male priest — but it opened my ears to the possibility that it is also my body. That in my participation in the Eucharist, I participate in the gift that Christ gives me …

Saying women are better than men at many things also limits men. When he says women are better than men at some things, is it really because men are less capable of these things or is it because of society’s role restrictions? Take Glennon Doyle Melton passage from her latest book, Love Warrior, as an example:

God created woman as a Warrior. I think about the tragedies the women in my life have faced. How every time a child gets sick or a man leaves or a parent dies or a community crumbles, the women are the ones who carry on, who do what must be done for their people in the midst of their own pain. While those around them fall away, the women hold the sick and nurse the weak, put food on the table, carry their families’ sadness and anger and love and hope. They keep showing up for their lives and their people with the odds stacked against them and the weight of the world on their shoulders. They never stop singing songs of truth, love and redemption in the face of hopelessness. They are inexhaustible, ferocious, relentless cocreators with God, and they make beautiful worlds out of nothing.

It is a beautiful passage that made me nod my head and smile. It’s true. Women are amazing at this kind of love. I see it all around me. I think she is getting at what the Pope means when he talks about the essential ministry of women in the church. I have to wonder, however, aren’t these actions human actions, not feminine ones? Society calls on and expects women to hold families together, but that is not to say that men can’t.

Pope Francis’ statement about female ordination seems to carry some finality. Yet, in our love of God and neighbor, in our love of Christ and the Church, and in light of our recent presidential election, I believe it is essential now more than ever to continue to ask critical questions about how gender roles in our church and our world limit us all so that all of God’s children can flourish.

Reconciliation Among Christians

4 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Chris-Håvard Berge

Photo via Flickr user
Chris-Håvard Berge

On October 31, Pope Francis joined leaders from the Lutheran World Federation in Sweden to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The event also celebrates the ecumenical work accomplished by Catholics and Lutherans over the last fifty years.

Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517 by nailing his 95 thesis to a church door. He was excommunicated, and Catholics and Lutherans have been persecuting each other ever since. The focus of the event in Sweden is to name and ask forgiveness for this schism between the Lutheran and Catholic churches while committing to move forward, praying together.

“There was corruption in the church, worldliness, attachment to money and power,” Francis told reporters this summer. They are the same abuses Francis has criticized in the 21st-century Catholic Church he now leads. —Associated Press

I, for one, see the reconciliation event as both refreshing and necessary. I went to Catholic grade school and high school. I then attended a Lutheran college and graduate school. I have taught theology at a Catholic high school and a Lutheran church. Both Catholics and Lutherans have fed and nurtured me greatly. Both churches still hold serious misconceptions and reservations about the other. In all of these settings, Jesus is at the core of the mission, and Jesus did not spend time on the particulars of dogma or focus on the specific religious affiliation of people. Yet our human need to draw lines and remember the past holds us back from true ecumenical communion and dialogue.

Movement within institutions keep those institutions alive. The Reformation, pushing a Counter-Reformation, made the Catholic Church better and stronger. The Pope’s acknowledgement of that is hopeful. In a time of great national and global polarization and conflict, the Catholic and Lutheran Churches coming together shows communion and reconciliation we are hungry for.

Neighbors on the Path

19 Aug

It isn’t a new lesson, but it is one I have to keep revisiting. The Good Samaritan. One man in Jesus’ parable saw the humanity of the man on the side of the road naked and broken. One man stopped. One man did what it took to ensure the victim’s full restoration. It seems so elementary, but I have so much trouble following his example.

Jesus tells this parable to a man trying to find a loophole and get around the law. When he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds, with the story of the good Samaritan, essentially saying, “Your neighbor is anyone who has been put in your path.”

We, too, are challenged by Jesus’ ministry and this parable specifically to see the humanity of all people put in our path. We are called to stop, let others change our plans, let the urgency of restoration work shape our days.

It is no easy calling. Jesus is asking us to get our hands dirty. He is asking us to move into the heart of conflict. This may risk our reputation, our schedule, and the ease of our known lives. It is often our busyness, our vanity and our fear of conflict that holds us back from acting like Jesus and the good Samaritan. I am guilty of all three, so I must revisit this parable again and again.

Really knowing our neighbors, the people in our path, requires seeing and stopping. That is often the hardest part. If we do engage with unexpected neighbors, like the good Samaritan did, like Jesus did, then we are often filled with the compassion necessary to move toward creative and effective reconciliation work. So this week, yet again, I pray for the courage to be open and willing to fully engage with all of my neighbors.

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