Pastor Paul Carlson
American Lutheran Church
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow . . .”
We live busy lives in our culture, especially during the period between September and May. Summer is supposed to be more laid back but often disappoints us. One of my favorite Jesus parables is about flowers and how we might observe them in order to learn how to live. Jesus in his teaching about wildflowers and life notes that “they neither toil nor spin,” yet they grow into beautiful plants. This is wisdom teaching. If this is true of the lilies of the field, he says, how much more for us.
Jesus observes that we “toil and spin” throughout our lives and in so doing miss the essence of life. I suppose it’s the Martha-Mary problem, where Martha toils and spins anxiously while Mary pours oil on Jesus’ feet. Jesus takes Mary’s side over Martha, which continues to irritate the Martha’s of the world to this day. The teaching is that the foundation upon which we build our lives is trust in the love and goodness of God. Our toil can then be more free and unburdened. Each day we need to take time to consider, to reflect, to pray, to be silent, to listen.
A similar concept is sabbath. We associate sabbath with Jewish spiritual practice, but it also belongs to us. The idea of sabbath is that without a day each week in which we do not work, but rest, sleep, read, eat, enjoy one another, take a walk, remember God-without that we are slaves like the Hebrews under the Egyptian Pharaoh. And, Genesis is telling us, we are not slaves but children of God. In scripture even creation, the earth itself, is given a sabbath. The land needs time to renew itself and it is our responsibility that the earth receives that sabbath.
This isn’t new, but it’s important to remember. Our culture is driven and this has health implications physically and emotionally. Before modern medicine doctors would advise patients to take a cruise or take a vacation. Of course, this has never been possible for the poor and we need to remember that.
But it probably worked in many cases. When we back away from constant stress and work, even for a short time, our bodies and souls have an opportunity to renew themselves and we can re-enter the world with a fresh and more positive perspective.
The summer is a good time to contemplate this verse and teaching of Jesus: Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of such small faith.
This summer I am preaching on texts not found in the regular lectionary. Here is a preview of topics and texts for the summer.
June 3: Mark 2:23-3:6; this text deals with Sabbath and the healing of a man with a withered hand
June 10: Outdoor Service
June 17: Mark 1: 40-44; Jesus experiences compassion for a leper and heals him.
June 24: Mark 1: 29-31; Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law
The topic for July 1, the Fourth of July weekend, is “The Healing of the Nations;” the texts are: Isaiah 45a-46; Revelation 22: 1-2; 4; Mark 11: 17a.
The rest of July will be devoted to some lesser known but powerful Christian witnesses in the 20th century: Elizabeth Fedde (Norway), Josephine Margaret Bakita (Africa), Oscar Romero (El Salvador) and Toyohiki Kagawa (Japan). Each person’s story is inspiring and offers hope in the midst of struggle. Each person shows God at work in the world.
We are Blessed
Starting a New Conversation About . . .
I have recently been binge-reading and binge-thinking about stewardship. It happened after Mike Murphy gave an important alert to the congregation about our finances, what we might call our annual summer financial panic. It felt to me like déjàà vu all over again. In the course of conversations about the topic, it was suggested to me that stewardship isn’t a very welcome term for many people. There is a good reason for this. Every fall during the annual stewardship drive we learn to associate stewardship with money, and of course the request is always for more. Our first instincts are to run or hide.
We need to reframe the conversation and, if possible, reclaim the term stewardship as a central part of our Christian identity. The term is supposed to be holistic, encompassing all of life. So I was surprised to learn that the Bible doesn’t really emphasize the term stewardship very directly. It makes me think that we need to consider a new vocabulary. In that spirit I will ask you to lay aside your current notions of stewardship and start anew by rethinking the whole topic from the beginning.
The roots of this vocabulary are found in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. We all know that the Hebrew people were given land by God, a story that begins with Abraham and Sarah heading north from Ur in modern Turkey. The land that became ancient Israel was a gift to them and was therefore a blessing to the people. When Moses brought the people the law, or Torah, the message was that this is how they were to live in the land they were given. They were “blessed to be a blessing.” They were to be a light to the nations, living in such a way that other nations would want to emulate them. “To be a blessing” meant many things: to give the land periodic Sabbath; make of it a place of refuge and safety for foreigners; allow the hungry to glean unused grain from the fields; be sure widows and orphans were protected and cared for; and offer 10% of every harvest from the land to God, the first-fruits, as it says.
The notion that we are “blessed to be a blessing” is the foundational principle of gratitude. Many would argue that this is the basis of all spirituality. We are first receivers of blessing and abundance, well before we are givers and sharers of that abundance. This includes everything that makes up the fabric of our lives. This is the way we are called to relate to God, ourselves and to the world.