Only Tenants

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab / window):
Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Lamentations 2:1-9, 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11, Mark 12:1-11


The Parable of the Tenants is a difficult story, which forces us to confront our unwillingness to put God’s desires above our own. A landowner entrusts his vineyard to tenants while he travels abroad. After the harvest the landowner dispatches servants to collect his share, but the tenants greet the servants with violence that ranges from beatings to murder. Finally the landowner sends his son, and they kill him too.

In the common interpretation of this story the landowner is God, the tenants are the appointed religious leaders, the vineyard is Israel, the servants are prophets of the past, and the son is Jesus. The leaders hold the people captive and forget the true head of the vineyard is God. They destroy any and all who oppose their claim to power, even those sent by the true owner. The death of the son foretells the crucifixion.

Contrast this parable with the second chapter of 2 Corinthians. The Biblical narrative tells us Paul visited Corinth three times. The first visit was to establish the church. The second one – which he refers to in his letter as “the painful visit” – was to reprimand church leadership for acting immorally. One man seems to have been particularly troublesome. In this letter, Paul says he is not going to visit again at this time precisely because he feels his corrections had been too harsh and wants to avoid causing any more pain for the church or himself. He asks the Corinthians to forgive the troublesome man and punish him no longer.

When Paul realized his approach was not true to his mission … he gave it back to God. A more stubborn man might have dug in his heels and justified his actions, maybe even returned to Corinth to double down. Paul knew spreading the Gospel was more important than defending himself. Refusing to surrender his plot of land might have broken the Corinthian church. Whether our plot is a ministry, a family, or an actual vineyard, we are all only tenants tending it best we can until the time comes to give it back to God.

Comfort: You don’t have to tend the whole world…

Challenge: … but tend your plot well and surrender it timely.

Prayer: Generous and loving God, teach me to care for your world as you have called me to do, and grant me the humility to change and grow with your seasons. Amen.

Discussion: When does your urge to punish endanger your willingness to forgive?

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Get Over It

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab / window):
Psalms 22; 148, Exodus 9:13-35, 2 Corinthians 4:1-12, Mark 10:32-45


When Christians – or any other religions – gain secular power, trouble follows. Some Christians like to claim we live in a nation that is – or at least should be – Christian. What exactly does that mean? To which particular branch of Christianity do they refer? And most importantly what part of the teachings of Jesus leads them to believe political power is a good influence on Christian character – or vice versa?

Jesus tells his disciples repeatedly, they are to be servants as he is a servant. To be first, they must be slaves of all. We live in a time and place where practicing our faith does not threaten our well-being. On the other hand, having been told that we should expect persecution, we have greatly skewed our sense of what that means. Having no real reason to fear martyrdom, we behave as if any loosening of our grasp on power and control is a form of persecution. For evidence we only need look as far as the trumped up War on Christmas: how did temples to commerce become a battlefront for religious freedom? Then there’s the outrage over religious displays which have been removed from government property or – worse yet! – made inclusive. Government establishment of our religion makes us beholden to that government – the antithesis of what Jesus taught.

In twenty-first century America we simply don’t suffer serious persecution for our faith – unless allowing people to disagree with us or having our feelings hurt has become a form of persecution. Instead of railing against perceived slights, we should celebrate them! When we rub society the wrong way, we’re just doing our job. When we rub other Christians the wrong way, we’re probably earning overtime. Paul says: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Does that sound like “Happy Holidays?” When we trade grace for outrage at everyone who doesn’t follow our beliefs, we demonstrate a faith too weak to handle the persecution ladled on those who truly spread the Good (but sometimes unpopular) News.

Comfort: Your faith doesn’t obligate you to be outraged over petty things.

Challenge: A lot of the things we think of as religiously sanctioned – think Christmas shopping – are really not.

Prayer: God of Mercy, help me to walk and speak humbly but confidently in your light. Amen.

Discussion: What things offend you more than they maybe should?

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Fragrant

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab / window):
Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Exodus 7:8-24, 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6, Mark 10:1-16


In his second letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul wrote:

“[W]e are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

Fragrances are complex. What smells pleasant on one person’s skin may be noxious on someone else. Just as body chemistry interacts with the composition of cologne or perfume, spiritual “chemistry” impacts the impression we make on those we meet. There is no single way to live as a Christian. If we slap on a particular style of speech or manners just because it is popular or endorsed by a celebrity, and it doesn’t authentically line up with who we are, the effect can be disastrous. At best we may seem like a cheap knock-off, at worst we will radiate a stench of deception. Authenticity is more important than brand recognition.

The powerhouses of attraction are not the fragrances we spray on, but those scents other people may not consciously detect. Pheromones are chemical signals secreted by animals and humans to trigger physiological responses in others. We don’t consciously control them, yet they can powerfully influence attraction or repulsion.

What signals of spirit and character do we unknowingly emit? When people encounter us, do they sense we are more interested in sharing the good news, or in showing off how “saved” we are? Do our words and actions leave an aftertaste of love or judgment? If we parrot Christ’s message of love, but demonstrate it through anger and condemnation, our fragrance quickly turns from sweetness to stench.

We can’t control other people’s perceptions, but we can cultivate authentic and loving hearts. Be truthful, even when it means admitting you have doubts. Reserve judgment, for someone sharing a beer and bad karaoke may reach a lost soul more effectively than a pew and a hymn – and vice versa. Don’t let your testimony be the cheap overused cologne that lingers unpleasantly after you go. Let it be the undetectable fragrance others can’t help but pursue.

Comfort: Your way of being Christian, as long as it grows from an authentic relationship with Christ, will speak to the people who need to hear it.

Challenge: Be authentic. God didn’t create you to be someone else.

Prayer: Loving God, may my words and actions be a sweet aroma, drawing the world to your grace. Thank you for meeting me where I am, loving me as I am, and challenging me to be more. Amen.

Discussion: Do any of the ways you express your faith feel artificial? How could you change them, or maybe even abandon them entirely?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!