Tag Archives: justice

Thoughts from the Backside

Parables frmo the Backside

I’m musing ahead of my sermon on Sunday. Lots of ideas still floating about. It has yet to form into a cohesive whole. The parable in question (Matthew 20:1-16) is a unique one. I’ve preached on it before, although I remember how tricky it was. Here’s the gist of it:

The owner of a vineyard goes out to hire workers in the local market throughout the day. He arranges to pay the first wave of workers one denarius, basically minimum wage for a day’s work. He continues to go and hire workers every hour or so, even minutes before sundown. When it’s time to pay, he lines them up and begins to pay from the last hired to the first, and shockingly, they all get the same pay. The ones who worked the longest hours grumble and complain (perhaps rightfully), and the landowner responds by reiterating that it’s his money and generosity. Jesus closes by saying – “So, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

Here’s a few observations on my end:

- The author of Parables from the Backside focuses on the workers hired last. It’s easy for us to think these folks were lazy or unmotivated, but in reality, there could be lots of other reasons that they did not get hired. I found myself thinking of all of my friends and family members who have been pounding the pavement for weeks and months looking for work in our own economic situation. It is a heartbreaking and exhausting process with little reward.

- Jesus really does key in on the landowner’s freedom. It would have been very unusual for a landowner to hire workers directly, preferring to delegate that task to an estate manager of some kind. And while not paying the first workers more may seem unfair, the landowner didn’t cheat anyone. He was generous. This is one of those shocking twists that Jesus was so good at.

- Though lots of theologians say the point of this parable is not to impose some new economic system, you can’t but look at the realities of our world that produce people who have to seek out labor day by day. In Jesus’ day, this was the fruit of land being conquered, possessed, and sold to foreigners and wealthy. Some farmers may have had to sell their land to pay taxes. You end up with a whole bunch of people who need work and have no means to produce anything on their own. Such a system is very open to major injustice. I’ve heard stories of people hiring day laborers and then dumping them on a random street corner without paying them in modern day. I can imagine that this happened in Jesus’ day too.

- This whole parable is in response to the disciples asking about rewards for following Jesus. What do we get out of it? I admit that I ask that question a lot too. However, Jesus seems to say the reward is the same, no matter those who put in long hours and those who come in to work just before the store closes. That’s challenging – it goes against some of our modern notions of work and compensation. It’s also liberating – there’s not supposed to be a social or corporate ladder in the kingdom of God. We are partners in the work together.

I’ll be praying that this all solidifies into a fun sermon before Sunday.

What do you think of when you read this parable? What sticks out to you?


Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins’ Pastoral Letter

Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, our General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), released this pastoral letter on the issue of sexuality within the life of the church. I highly recommend watching it. I am thankful for her work as a theologian, trying to make sense of what we are to do as faithful Christians when there is disagreement and division about an issue such as this. The most important thing she does is remind us that we are called to be gracious and welcoming at God’s table, regardless of how we feel or think about particular issues.

As for the Table, we welcome all to our community. We take seriously this idea that it is God’s table that we gather around, not our own. Since we don’t own it, how do we get to decide who can or cannot come? We too are guests.

I recognize though that it can be tough to dine with folks who have bullied or hurt others in the name of God. Our table, no matter the shape or beauty, can feel broken. We aren’t perfect ambassadors. Injustice still abounds in the church and in our world. People are still excluded and hurt. We are on a journey that is not yet complete.

Jesus said this – “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

I believe that bread of life is available for everyone. I believe when we gather around the table, God feeds us regardless of our hateful ideas and our broken pasts. Bit by bit, we move along the arc of justice, slower than a lot of people would like, but forward nonetheless into God’s future where the divine dwells in harmony with all Creation. We can be a witness to wholeness in a divided world. We don’t have to be perfect to be part of the solution.

What is your response to Sharon’s message? Do you find hope or challenge in it?


A Ripple of Hope

Here is the trailer from last night’s movie get together. We do this during the summer, watching a few films that we otherwise might not get to see.

“A Ripple of Hope” is only 60 minutes long, but it is an enjoyable watch about Robert F. Kennedy‘s speech given on the night Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The crowd in Indianapolis, IN had gathered to hear RFK speak as part of a campaign stop, but soon, especially with the news of King’s death, the throng had grown. There were some who were even possibly looking for an opportunity to lash out in anger over the terrible events of the day. RFK was encouraged not to speak, but he decided to address the crowd anyway.

What’s unique about the speech is this – he did it extemporaneously, and his message of hope, peace, and wisdom through suffering encouraged the crowds to disperse peacefully. There were no rioting or deaths in Indianapolis. It is one of the only speeches where he also referred to the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, openly.

This is a great film about courage, what is right, and what makes some politicians special. I pray that more people walk with this kind of courage and moral imagination, starting with me.


Do bad things really happen in threes?

Not sure what this is, but it doesn't look good.

I keep hearing from co-workers, friends, and neighbors that bad things happen in threes. For example, here in Dallas, you could easily count the following three as bad:

Dallas Mavericks get swept in the opening round of the playoffs. Except this was not really a big surprise, I guess. Anybody who had seen this Mavericks team play this season figured that they wouldn’t make it very far without some lucky breaks. The lucky breaks did not come.

The new Museum Tower is destroying the beautiful works of art at the Nasher Sculpture Center. This is really bad to be honest. This is a product of poor planning and investment. The Arts District in Dallas is an area of real growth and energy for Dallas. Why crush it with a super sun multiplying, heat ray tower of doom?

GCB got cancelled. Okay, maybe this isn’t bad either. I didn’t watch GCB, but television without a series based on events in or around Dallas isn’t really tv. Oh wait, I almost forgot about the Dallas remake coming. Crisis averted.

I am not being completely serious, although #2 above is something that should be swiftly dealt with, even if it means closing down construction. The truth is… there are always bad things happening in our fair city. Whether it is the realization that we put too many Dallas teens in adult jails, attempted kidnappings on a highway, some sort of alleged high school sex club in Prosper, or an ex-priest who hired someone to kill a young man who he may have once sexually abused, you don’t have to dig to deep to discover all the unfortunate, disappointing things happening in our city.

I’m not trying to bring a downer to your day, but I am trying to poke a hole in the myth that bad things happening to people is rare or just a short term reality.

Rabbi Kushner wrote a book called – “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People”. One of my church members, Rev. Ron Somers-Clark, pointed out the better title would have been – “Why Do Bad Things Happen to People”.

Point is – it’s part of life to go through periods of struggle, sometimes randomly, often without reason or purpose.

Sometimes, we can find growth and meaning in our bad days. That’s great. Often, bad times do not last forever, though occasionally they last for years.

Our challenge as people who are on a spiritual journey is not to understand such bad things as an aberration, like they are always easily prevented, but to see them as part of the fullness of life. God has given us the capacity to love and be loved. Therefore, when our world is disrupted by unloving, horrific, or uncomfortable events, we recognize that we may lose things we care about. As Mitchell and Anderson put it in All Our Losses, All Our Griefs, “to be a follower of Christ is to love life and to value people and things that God has given to us in such a way that losing them brings sadness.”

What we do with our grief and pain from the losses that we experience makes all the difference. Often, we need to find a comforting community to heal. Other times, we feel called to step out in prophetic action, working for justice for those who have been wronged. We may use our voice to call for change or advocate for those who have been left behind. These are all responses which help us accept the unfortunate dips, bumps, and pits of living but move us into action to join with God’s plan for renewal and reconciliation of our world.

What do you think? Does your understanding of life and of God include room for these bad things that can happen, sometimes without meaning? How do you accept them and yet move forward in some way? I’d love to see your response below.


Introducing the Disciples

Nathan @ the Table

Denominations are not super popular like they used to be. I overheard a young minister speaking to a homeless couple in need at Braums the other day, and when they asked what denomination his church is, he said, “Well, we are affiliated with Southern Baptist, but we’re really non-denominational.” I thought to myself – “So, you’re Southern Baptist. Why dodge the question?”

Whereas Southern Baptist might have a negative image to some folks, the Table has an opposite problem – most folks don’t know who the Disciples of Christ are. We’re not a big denomination. We used to be bigger but have been in decline for a while now. That’s both good and bad. It’s good in that it means we are already ahead of the curve in shifting to new ideas and avenues of ministry. It’s bad because it means we don’t have the clout we might have once had in the religious landscape of the US.

I love being a Disciple, and so as a quick and dirty introduction to our denomination, here are the key things I value highly that come out of our way of being and doing church together:

  • We believe Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and proclaim him as Savior of the world. Beyond that central core belief, we are open to other ideas. We do our best (but are not perfect) at trying to make space around the table for folks who see Jesus, the Bible, and God differently. Granted, this will vary from church to church, but it is a gift that defines many DoC churches.
  • We practice weekly communion. We don’t claim that we own this sacred tradition or that we have defined it completely. In fact, because of my first bullet point, people in DoC churches come to the table in a variety of different ways. Some see the bread and cup as the literal body and blood of Jesus. Others see it more symbolically. Still, some of us picture it as a radical, egalitarian act that points to a taste of heaven. Either way, it’s beautiful, uniting, and nourishing.
  • We rely on our local leadership to make decisions about our future, our property, and our budget. I’m trying not to use common religious terms here, but the basics is that we are very democratic and “flat” in our structure. Our property is not owned by the denomination. An individual congregation hires its own pastor and staff. Every member has a vote and an opportunity to share their voice.
  • We are diverse. The fastest growing part of the DoC are our terrific ethnic churches, which bring vital leadership and vision to our denomination.
  • Our mission statement is awesome – “we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” Can more be said?
  • We see ourselves as part of the larger church and respect other traditions and denominations in the same way. We don’t have all the answers. Our theology isn’t better. Our way of doing church isn’t better. It’s just different, but we do use our voice to encourage unity among Christians as we work for peace, compassion, and hope in our world.

Again, I am thankful to be a part of such a denomination. We have lots of gifts to offer. Your spiritual journey may lead you to such a community as this, and I hope you find your welcome around the table as I have.

So, what’s your story? What do you look for in a faith community that will connect your spirituality and passion to make a difference in the world?


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