The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses said, “If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.’
Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’ And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.
The poor Sadducees. Their question on its face is almost a farce, as is the situation they propose to Jesus. Jesus, always one to tune into a trap or to discern an angle, is having none of it. He even seems to call them out on their incredulity regarding the resurrection.
Are we astounded by the teaching of Jesus? We should be. The teachings of Jesus are meant to speak directly to our hearts and to help us see where we are getting it right. Perhaps more importantly, however, are the places where we get it wrong. I don’t mean this in the sense that Jesus is looking for that gotcha moment with all of us. Rather, Jesus is looking for those places where we need healing and where our vision needs to be restored to us. Jesus is looking for those places where we’ve become deaf to the suffering of others. Jesus is trying to cure those places in our hearts that are still sick with sin. He does this by giving us the sight to see what is amiss and inspiring our hearts towards repentance and reconciliation with our God and with our neighbors.
So often Advent gets skimmed over for Christmas. Too often we miss the point of this season that gives us the time to prepare. As we continue to wait on Jesus, may we have the sight to see when we are missing the point, and as a result, are missing Jesus.
The Rev. Tyler C. Richards, SCP, SMMS
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church
De Pere, Wisconsin
"Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them."
I had a dream this week of Advent coming like a old fashioned horror movie, complete with a giant baby Jesus chasing me through the streets. Sometimes, Advent can feel that way. Like trying to stay one step ahead of chaos and disaster. There is too much to do and so little time to do it. It can be anything but peaceful. It’s stressful and overwhelming. In our streets, stores, workplaces and homes, this season is frantic and exhausting. In our churches, in our hearts, it doesn’t have to be that way. We can experience Advent as a peaceful and life giving time. It takes discipline. It takes patience.
Catholic woman religious, Rose Marie Berger offers this breathing practice as a reminder.
Slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and breathe out on the “vent” part...Breathe In. Breathe out. Ad Vent There! You prayed today. Keep it up! And May the peace that passes understanding guard your hearts and minds. In Christ’s name, Amen
"Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
Reverend Caren Teichmann
First Christian Church Paris, TN
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
This passage marks the first of four efforts by the religious leaders to entrap Jesus. Jesus’ answer is far more than disarming a trap. Jesus’ answer, that we render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and to God the things that belong to God, teaches us about His unique role in salvation history and reminds us of our calling, and the conditions of our lives until His return. In His answer, Jesus is reminding us that our work and witness will be within the existing political systems of the world, regardless of their oppressive natures. Jesus has not yet come to overthrow governments, nor has He come to create a kingdom that will compete with the Caesars of the world.
As God’s adopted heirs, our first allegiance is rightly to the Kingdom of God; Jesus’ answer, however, reminds each one of us that we are called to live as if we truly understand ourselves to be stewards of all that belongs to God. It is in our daily witness of loving our neighbor, of caring for the earth, and even of fulfilling our obligations to our political systems, that we glorify God until Christ’s return. And it is in this response to our witness that we see the working out of His plan of salvation, not just in our lives, but also in the lives of those around us.
The Rev. J Brian McVey
Church of the Advent, Nashville, Tennessee
"Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’"
The holidays are in full swing. The greens and silvers, reds and golds. The hustle and bustle. The stress. The anxiety. The excessive shopping. And the parties. Oh my word… the parties. The parties with the exclusive invitation lists and a constant flow of food, drink, laughter, and party games.
Growing up I was usually the last one invited (if I even got an invitation) to attend parties hosted by my peers. I was the nerdy, flamboyant, deep-thinking, androgynous personality that didn’t quite fit the mold of social normalcy. But when I did get invited, I was so gracious to be included. To be a part of the group. To have that opportunity to build community. To have the opportunity to feel accepted for all that I brought to the gathering --- the imperfections and the quirks of who I was at my core. But what I would do in those days was find excuses as to why I couldn’t go, all because I was too afraid of what others would think. I was so deeply terrified of sharing who I was at my core with others. I didn’t believe that I deserved to be invited because I wasn’t like everyone else.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet teaches us of the Creator’s generous call to a sumptuous feast to
which our RSVP’d acceptance to the invitation is expected. It is so easy to take God’s generosity for granted and through our fear and shame we scramble to find excuses not to respond. “...they made light of it and went away...” What is God inviting us to at this point in our lives? Are we as good at finding excuses not to answer the call? Are we just postponing our response because we don’t think that we deserve to be invited?
Even through our lack of response, God still invites us -- even those of us who believe that we didn’t even deserve the invitation. And at God’s table of plenty, we will be welcomed and served as honored guests, not because we have status or are part of the in-crowd but because we are loved right where we are: imperfections, near-perfections and all that lie between. May we accept God’s invitation with gratitude as we do the holy work of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, working for the good of others, so that all may have the opportunity to come and share in the feast.
Mr. Quincy Hall
Canterbury Chapel Episcopal Church
“We must leave this place better than we found it,” my youth minister said as our youth group began a retreat at a lake house on loan by a parishioner. After a long weekend, you can imagine how a house full of rambunctious teenagers looked. But we remembered the exhortation and set to work with a zeal, garnering praise from our youth minister and a return invitation from the host. That experience has instilled in me a life-long practice of striving to leave any home, lodging, office, classroom, church, community entrusted to me better than I found it. What’s more, the practice of what I call “gratitude blessing” sparks unspeakable joy in myself because I helps me to reflect on the ways in which I have been touched and blessed. Moreover, doing so, even when I’d rather be doing something else, always pays large spiritual dividends. It turns out, the act of being gracious instills grace upon the giver.
The wicked tenants in Matthew 21:33-46 would have benefitted from the lesson of my youth minister and the practice of gratitude blessing. While the parable suggests the profitability of the vineyard entrusted to their care, its well-tended and fertile ground is strewn with as many wasted lives by the end of this sad tale. The owner, now bereft of faithful retainers and his own son, is very correct in his righteous indignation at the ingratitude and disrespect his tenants have shown him through their misuse of the property entrusted to them and by their treatment of his agents and his own flesh. This parable is, of course, Jesus’ not so thinly veiled censure against those persons who are stewards of God’s people. He is criticizing those who God has appointed and set apart to tend the vineyard of God, and he is building upon the teachings of the prophets who proclaimed God’s indifference to the correct worship of those who neglected the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
Yet, we should be cautious about falling into the common trap of othering the characters in Jesus’ parables by seeing ourselves outside of the narrative. As we journey, God places people in our path, angels in disguise as it were, to give us practice in gratitude blessing, of leaving those committed to our care better than we found them as a gift of gratitude to God for all of the ways we’ve been blessed. Yet, how often do we reject God’s call to show the lovingkindness of human compassion to those who need it during the week in exchange for self-satisfaction in correct ritual and sound doctrine on a Sunday morning? If this parable teaches us anything it is that the religious prosperity of well-tended ritual and well-pruned doctrine is nothing to God if their maintenance is at the cost of ignoring God’s agents— the exploited, oppressed, and suffering masses pleading silently at a firmly guarded lichgate.
As Christians, we are called to leave our world better than we found it by taking the blessings of the church beyond the walls of the sanctuary and proclaiming Christ’s Gospel of love, peace, and equality before God to the world outside. In this way, we demonstrate our love for God in a life touched and changed through the practice of genuine worship and spiritual formation. It’s a big job, but our God is a big God, and we do it, in the words of the baptismal covenant, “with God’s help.” And Jesus has provided us with the very best model to follow in accomplishing this great commission: We meet people’s basic needs, we love them radically and unconditionally, we invite them nonjudgmentally into a spiritual reunion with God, and we leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. This advent, let us recommit to imitating Christ in loving and serving God’s people, those sent to test and temper our faith, so that when Christ comes in glory, he finds the beloved community he’s left us instructions to build. May it be so.
The Rev Darcy Corbitt
Minister at All Souls' Universalist Church
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
"By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?"
This is a typical reaction to hearing unpleasant comments on our way of doing
things. We don’t use such elegant language, though, and are more likely to say,
“Who do you think YOU are?” or, “Who put YOU in charge?” or something to
that effect. In this passage, Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and
has gone into the temple and driven out the vendors, criticizing what the temple
has become. No wonder they confront him and ask him who he thinks he is. Jesus
responds with two questions of his own, trying to get them to shed their prejudices
and see things in a new light and acknowledge that they need to shift their beliefs
and practices. When change comes, we too are likely to reflexively challenge the
source or the authority of the change: yet Jesus asks us to look into our hearts and
honestly examine this new thing with an open mind, weighing its value on its own
merits. As we wait on Jesus, let us keep our minds and hearts open to the new
teachings that he brings into the world, the new way of doing things, the new way
of walking the journey as Christians.
The Rev. Mary Lynn Adams, Deacon
St. Anne's Episcopal Church
De Pere, Wisconsin