Graceful Living Week 4

From the cowardice that dare not face new truth

From the laziness that is contented with half truth

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,

Good Lord, deliver me.

( Prayer from kenya Oxford book of prayer #377 )

Daily Readings

Day 1: Philippians 3:4b-11
Day 2: Philippians 3:12-16
Day 3: Matthew 21:33-46
Day 4: Isaiah 5:1-4
Day 5: Isaiah 5:5-10
Day 6: Psalm 80:1-7
Day 7: Psalm 80:8-19

Weekly Reflections and Questions

Matthew 21:33-46

This is the third parable in Matthew 20-21 in which Jesus uses the imagery of the vineyard.   This parable closely parallels the Song of the Vineyard found in Isaiah 5:1-7.   It would be helpful to read this Old Testament song to note the similarities.  The religious leaders to whom Jesus tells the parable would no doubt have been familiar with the passage from Isaiah.
The characters in the Isaiah’s story are clearly identified.  God is the owner of the vineyard who lovingly and carefully digs up the soil, clears it of stones, and plants the best vines.   A watchtower is made to protect the vineyard, and a wine vat is constructed for the harvest.  The vineyard is Israel; Judah is the planting.   But despite the owner’s loving care, only wild grapes are found. 
Likewise, in the parable of the wicked tenants, the same kind of loving care is depicted in the landowner’s actions.  The vineyard is entrusted to tenants who refuse the owner the harvest, abuse the owner’s servants, and kill the owner’s son.
This leads to the pronouncement of judgment and rejection.  The original tenants who confuse ownership with stewardship are replaced by another people (Greek word ethno) who will yield fruits of the kingdom (vs. 43) at the harvest time.
There are several points to note.  Both the heir and Jesus are killed outside the walls.  Also, note the Greek word for “time” is not chronos (chronological time, e.g., “What time is it?”) but kairos (the fullness of time, e.g., an expectant mother saying to the soon-to-be-a-father, “It’s time!”)This parable has been interpreted to give the early church its legitimacy as the “new tenants” of the vineyard.  But its message and its challenge speak to the church of every age.  God lovingly, graciously calls us into the vineyard.  God plants and equips the vineyard – the church – and then entrusts it to our stewardship.  God’s intention is a full, rich harvest of the fruits.  The harvest time will come. The question – and the challenge – for us is: “Will we have the courage to be faithful stewards, bearing fruit?”

1. Have you ever worked on a project with disappointing results? How does it feel?

2. What are examples of the “fruits” of the kingdom? (Look at Paul’s list of the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-26.) How are those fruits reflected in your congregation.

Philippians 3:4b-14

Paul’s credentials are impressive. He is a Pharisee, born of the tribe of Benjamin of the house of Israel.  He was circumcised on the eighth day.  His zeal led him to persecute Christians—that was until he had his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. (See Acts 9.) The transformation from Saul the persecutor to Paul the missionary is well-known.
But all those credentials mean nothing to Paul compared to knowing Christ Jesus. 
Paul is willing to suffer the loss of everything—including his own life—on behalf of Christ.  Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.”  (Philippians 3:10 NRSV)  These are not empty words.  Paul has already suffered persecution, imprisonment, and threats on his life.  Yet, his earnest desire to know Christ and power of the resurrection persists. 
It can be exhausting reading Paul and his intense pursuit of Christ.  It may be surprising to read that Paul does not feel he has reached his destination. He does not see himself as a finished product of God.  The goal is not yet achieved.
Christ has claimed Paul, but Paul still has room to claim Christ fully.  Like a runner in a marathon or an athlete involved in a lengthy competition, Paul presses toward the goal.  This is not the time to quit or become complacent.  This is not the time to rely on credentials or successes of the past.  Instead, Paul presses forward.
These words are surprising coming from someone who has invested such immense personal energy in spreading the word about Jesus Christ.  Of all people, it seems Paul could rest on his laurels and retire.  Keep in mind Paul is writing this letter from prison.  People would understand if he requested a leave of absence.  But instead, Paul presses forward.
Bob loved to run, especially home from elementary school.  His mother would be waiting for him with a hug and smile.  In high school, he ran on the track team, but it wasn’t quite as much fun.  Bob realized during the track meets how much he hated competition. 
He also began to notice loneliness creep into his life.  Bob found he didn’t have the words to explain the sadness on his heart.  Nothing could console him.  His mom tried everything to reach him, but Bob just slipped away into a deep depression.  Nothing brought joy. 
Then, his mother got very sick.  Bob wasn’t able to be much help; and so out of anger, Bob began to run again.  Faster and faster, Bob ran.  His mother urged him to continue running.  She could see him coming alive.  One cold night while running under the stars, Bob burst into laughter and tears.  He wasn’t sure if the tears were joy or sorrow; but on that night, for the first time, Bob knew he was alive.  And it felt very good.
In many ways, Bob was running for his life.  He pressed on, not wanting to slip back into the abyss of depression.
When Paul encourages the Philippians to press on, he is encouraging more than sustaining an athletic feat.  Paul is talking about the goal of Christ Jesus.  Despite the many people who converted to following Christ after meeting and listening to Paul, he is not satisfied.  Paul understands his life is incomplete.  As much as Christ had claimed Paul, there were ways Paul still needed to claim Christ.
This Philippians text contains wonderful words of blessing and encouragement for those who strive for justice and peace.  On many days, it sounds like injustice and strife are winning the day.  It is easy to become discouraged about the status of our world.  The work of peacemakers is ongoing.
Paul reminds us, “Press on.”  Make Christ our goal.

1. What does it mean to “know Christ?”

2. What does it mean for you as a disciple of Christ “to press forward?”

3. What areas of your life might be claimed by Christ?

4. What will this week look like for you if you truly “press on” towards Christ?

Reflections and Questions from McCullough-Bade, “Daily Discipleship,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2005.  McCullough-Bade, “Daily Faith Practices,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2011.
Prayer, “The Oxford Book of Prayer,” Ed. George Appleton, Oxford University Press, 2009, pg 115.