[F]or Christians to proclaim Jesus is the Christ is to say something more about who we are than to say something about who Jesus was as a figure recoverable by historical research.
~C. David Grant

Devotions

These are devotionals about random thoughts related to life and theology.

Pooled Ignorance?

I winced (kind of like I just winced as I typed the title). My shock was apparently obvious as he followed up his comment. “I know it’s kind of crude, but it’s true. Most lay-led Bible studies are pooled ignorance: a lot of people saying what they think something means without having any real theological basis for backing up what they say.”

My new senior pastor was explaining why he wanted me to focus on teaching a lot of classes myself at my new appointment instead of just empowering lay people to lead various classes. His goal was for me to teach, making a concerted effort to invite and include various lay leaders / teachers to take part to get a more firm theological basis for what they themselves taught.

He was right (though I’ve struggled with trying to find a less-offensive phrase to name it). I remember when I took Disciple I Bible Study how frustrated I was to not have real questions answered by someone who was at least a relative expert on the passages we read. Our lay leader was highly skilled at facilitating discussion but not at giving real historical or theological insight into our readings. Her most common response to our questions was, “Well, what do you think?” – an important and worthwhile question but a question that has led to many misinterpretations, less than Christ-like actions, and splits throughout the history of Christianity.

On the other side of the spectrum are those pastors who don’t think that people in the pews can handle or understand the things that we learned in seminary. Really?! A lot of these folks are doctors, lawyers, and engineers who understand things that may be more complex than intricacies of theology and biblical interpretation. On top of that, people who are “just” farmers, plumbers, carpenters, or electricians are highly intelligent people, which shows that some of our preconceived notions about their vocations can be a bit snobbish.

Frankly, many (maybe most) people in the pews are smarter than me. The difference is our calling. I am called to a vocation of ordained ministry within the day-to-day life of the local church. They are called to a different day-to-day vocation while still being extremely (maybe even more) important to the life of the local church. Because they are so important to the life of the local church, they, too, are capable and worthy of receiving a similar Christian education.  So, as a part of my calling, I teach much of what I learned in seminary.

For sure, some aren’t ready for some of the things we learned in seminary, but at the same time, there are some who are tired of hearing the same old trite, pious “Sunday School” answers that get tossed around in so much of Christian education. They long for something more. On top of that are the folks who don’t think they are ready, but stick with it despite the rational, emotional, and spiritual challenges they encounter in new ways of looking at things. Even if their basic beliefs don’t change, they often find the other side transformational.


I remember clearly a conversation with a preschool teacher. “I just don’t think I can continue with this study, Troy. I don’t think I’m supposed to believe this way. I think it’s wrong. Do you believe this?”

“Actually, yes, I agree with most of it,” we were using Marcus Borg’s Reading the Bible Again for the First Time for a small group study. “This is really a good summary of what we were taught in seminary about the Scriptures.”

“Really? That’s not at all what I’ve heard in the church through the years,” said the life-long Methodist. “I’m not sure I should even consider it, much less believe it. It’s just so different.”

“Oh gosh, I’m not saying you should believe it. I am asking you to hear this different viewpoint. Even if you don’t agree with it, surely it can help you better understand and articulate what you do believe – even if it is clearly saying you don’t believe this,” as I pointed to the book in question.

“Well, I guess.”

“I really hope you’ll stay with the study for the community as much as anything. We need to hear your point of view since it is different than what the book is saying.”

“Well, I’ll think about it,” she said with trepidation in her voice.

She came back. She finished the book. Her perceptions were changed. She decided it was okay to believe some of those things, and she was saddened that she didn’t remember ever hearing that perspective before. So, she started teaching some of those concepts to the senior high girls she taught in Sunday school, and those girls ate it up!

Another lay person (and college professor – later to be seminary student) seriously disagreed with me on some things I was sharing as a part of the Jesus in the Gospels Disciple Bible Study. One night our disagreement escalated to a blow up (a situation that I did not handle very pastorally, much to my chagrin).

Yet, she stayed at the table. She came back week after week, and at the end, she noted in a very cordial conversation that much of what she believed had not changed. Nonetheless, she said she had an expanded vocabulary for expressing her beliefs. She had a new appreciation for the fact that people can believe differently and still serve together. She had been stretched, and that was okay – no, actually good. I, too, had grown in how I approach teaching. I was reminded that I need to leave more space for differing beliefs in my leadership.

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Surely you’ve been near a swimming pool that has not been cleaned in a long while. Can’t you see the yellowish, greeny, brown slime beginning to coat the sides? The rancid smell is one that kind of sticks in your nose even after you walk away, right? And don’t breathe through your mouth, because that smell is one you can taste if you’re not careful. You can add more water, but it’ll just evaporate, leaving behind the mildew.

I think the same can happen in our individual lives of faith and in our communities of faith. No matter how much we stir around the same old thoughts and opinions, the water remains stagnant. The water that brings life becomes so dirty that we no longer get sustenance from us, and if we are not careful, it evaporates, leaving us dry.

We need new, moving, and living water (new ideas) – water (ideas) flowing in AND out to keep our lives of faith fresh. Water comes (new ideas come) to replenish us and leave us to take away that which is stagnant. We don’t have to retain all the water (ideas) coming through. Sometimes we need to let them pass on by, but attaching that which no longer works or is superfluous so that it leaves us, too.

We need to be careful to not simply become pools of ignorance. We need to be able to hear (and share) new and different ideas, not because they are necessarily right (or wrong), but because they can help us approach our lives of faith in fresh or cleansed ways.

 


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Growing Into New Life

When I was about 4, we had just moved “out to the country,” and my parents wanted to grow a garden. The problem was that the soil there at our “new” house was hard white clay that even grass and weeds had a hard time growing in, so my parents went to work to make it more fertile.

First, Dad had the area plowed, and then he tilled it by hand. Then we took our food scraps, week after week, to spread out on the garden-to-be. Man, did it stink! I hated when it was my turn to take the scraps out, wishing I had a 10-foot pole to hold the bucket on far away from my nose! On top of that, we spread the ashes from our fireplace all over the garden, too.

We did this for years, but it made this less than fertile ground a place of abundant growth – not to mention tasty veggies! The once hard, white clay became rich, brown soil. Out of death (non-fertile ground & food scraps) and ashes, new life burst forth.

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Lent is a time of preparation for new life on Easter, so a Lenten practice I encouraged the families of the church I serve to take part in was to plant something together and care for it with water and sunlight (noting that they didn’t have to use the stinky food scraps unless they  just wanted to). “Together,” I encouraged, “you can watch new life burst forth from the dead ground (or dirt in a pot) in anticipation of the new life of Christ that burst forth from the grave on Easter.”

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Honestly, even though I encouraged our church families to take part in this activity, we did not do this this year.  However, as I reflected on what these families might have been experiencing, I remembered that my son, Micah, and I did this last year.

I remember well the excitement Micah had because he had been given a “kit” that included dirt, a cup, and a lima bean.  We planted it, and EVERY morning, one of the first things Micah wanted to look at was to see if his plant had grown yet.  We kept it watered and made sure it got lots of sunlight.  It seemed to take forever, but eventually something green began to protrude from the lifeless dirt making Micah all the more excited.

It didn’t take long before it began to have more form, and though it had been years since I’d seen a lima bean plant, I couldn’t help but think that this did not at all look like a lima bean plant.  The more it grew the more clear it became that it was not a lima bean but a stalk of Johnson grass – a prominent weed in Texas (maybe in Maryland / DC, too).  Fueled by Micah’s excitement, though, we continued to check on it, water it, and make sure it got plenty of sunlight.  Before you knew it, we had a 1 1/2 foot tall Johnson grass plant.  The lima bean never grew.

As I think about the life of faith, it takes a lot of practice and effort to make it fruitful, and how often are we disappointed that what grows is not what we expected or wanted?I was certainly disappointed as I wanted Micah to get a chance to eat lima beans that he had grown himself like I did as a child (even though I really disliked lima beans).  And yet, Micah was not disappointed at all.  He had grown something.  Maybe that is all that was needed.

I wonder what that tells us about having a child-like faith.

I wonder what that tells us about giving up something for Lent.

I wonder what that tells us about resurrection and new life.


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Living Stones?

. . . a sculptor starts with a block of stone to arrive at a statue:
by chipping away what something isn’t,
you reveal the contours of what it is.

Robert Owens Scott

I know I’ve read the passage before (several times, in fact), but I’d never noticed the absurdity of one of the images painted in words there until my friend, Ali DeLeo, asked the question:

“How can a stone be living?
Aren’t stones dead?”

She was referring to 1 Peter 2:1-5, which we were studying at the Wednesday morning Bible Study that is part of the Our Daily Bread food and friendship breakfast ministry with the unhoused neighbors of Capitol Hill United Methodist in Washington, DC.

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (NRSV)

Without missing a beat, Rob Farley, who oversees Our Daily Bread, explained it in such an eloquent way that I could never fully write what he said, but here’s a brief summation.

A living stone is one that is “willing” to be molded into another form.  It is vulnerable, allowing another to shape it in a new way.  One need only look at the snaking of the Colorado River in a satellite view of the Grand Canyon to see the “dead stone” that refused to yield to the water that was attempting to shape and use that which was stripped away for another purpose.  And yet, the beauty of the canyon displays the living character of the stones that have been sculpted by the water.

John 4:10-11 speaks of Christ as the source of living water.  Yet, how often do we fail to yield to this life-giving source that seeks to turn us into living stones?

Of course, we often want to personalize this passage from 1 Peter, but as Fred Craddock and M. Eugene Boring are quick to point out in The People’s New Testament Commentary, this letter is not written to an individual, asking that person to become a living stone.  It is written to a community believers that are being asked to be living stones to be built into a spiritual house – and more than that – a holy (set apart) priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices.

Yet, how quick are we to leave a church or community we aren’t willing to work with? Maybe they are channeling the living water to us.  Maybe we are to be the one to channel living water to them!  (As an aside, the emphasis here is on quick as I recall Jesus calling disciples to shake the dust off their feet and move on if not heard – see Luke 10:1-12).

How quick are communities to turn their backs on those who would like to join because the “newbies” are different in some way: demographics (age, ethnicity, social standing, etc.), worship style, theology, way of doing things, etc?

As I think about the broader context of the passage in 1 Peter 2, we get some insights.

  • We (as a community) are to grow into salvation.  For a spiritual building to grow, sometimes walls have be moved and new walls built to incorporate what the Spirit is inviting us to include.  Are we willing to allow growth and change?
  • We (as a community) are to be a holy priesthood willing to sacrifice – ourselves, our wants, our pre-conceived notions, our traditions – for the community as a whole.  Jesus sacrificed and accepted even though he was rejected.  Are we willing to be vulnerable, to sacrifice and include (as opposed to rejecting) even if we are rejected?

Are we willing to be sculpted by God, letting the rock chips become pavement for others to find their way?

Are we willing to be eroded by living water, letting the dust  become soil for another’s growth downstream?

Lord, give us the nourishment we need to become the people you have created us to be!


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Heart, Mind, and Kidneys: Can We Find Balance?

Probe me, O LORD, and try me,
test my kidneys and heart;
for my eyes are on your steadfast love;
I have set my course by it.
Psalm 26:2-3 (TANAKH)

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One of my favorite “styles” of worship is that of the black church.  The energy, emotion, and enthusiasm are palpable, and time flies through what would normally be seen as a “long” worship service.  As someone who often stays in his head too much, I enjoy the opportunity to feel for a change.

I vividly remember my first such experience on Palm Sunday of 1998 as I helped chaperon a group of 6th grade confirmands with Rev. Jill Jackson-Sears to St. Luke “Community” United Methodist in Dallas, Texas.   Dr. Zan Holmes was still the Senior Pastor there at the time.  I still remember a major point of his sermon from that day, it was so good. Except for only 3 years, I never failed to return with a confirmation class each year for them to experience such an important legacy within the church.

A few years ago when I took a group, they had a guest preacher.  I don’t remember his name or why he was preaching that day.  I do remember that he was not United Methodist but from a more conservative denomination.  I remember thinking that was kind of odd, but I didn’t concern myself with it other than I hoped he’d preach as well as one of the church’s “staff preachers.”

As usually happens when attending such a service, I was quickly drawn into the impassioned sermon.  As he got going, so did I.  As he got more excited, so did I.  As he got to moving around, so did I.  The guy had me in the palm of his hand, and I was a willing participant in the call and response style preaching.  About 2/3 of the way through the sermon, I finally engaged my brain for the first time.  “What did he just say?” I asked myself incredulously.  I began questioning much of what he had said up to that point, and it was so NOT Methodist nor anything related to my own personal theology.  Yet, my emotions had brought me along for a ride that my mind would have normally said, “No!” to.

For the first time, I felt like I had experienced being a part of the so-called “mob mentality,” and I didn’t like it.  No matter what my “heart” was saying in my receiving of the wacked message in the beginning, it was still WRONG.

As a person too often stuck in my head, I’m left with an uncomfortable tension of how to properly involve my emotions in my life and in my life of faith.

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Although it was certainly not my favorite of the Short Term Disciple Bible Studies, studying along with the Invitation to Psalmsstudy at First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas was insightful in a number of ways – especially by using The New Interpreter’s Study Bible and the TANAKH translation of the Psalms.

One such insight can be seen in Psalm 26:2-3, which opened this post.  More than likely, you’ve never seen it translated that way.  You are probably more familiar with something like this:

Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in faithfulness to you.
Psalm 26:2-3 (NRSV)

Yet,the second line is literally “kidneys and heart” – in that order.  Say what?!

For ancient Hebrews, the kidneys were the seat or place of human conscience and emotions.  The heart was not; rather, the heart was the decision making organ, what we would call the mind.  Let’s consider some of the implications for this.

The Shema says,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NRSV)

What we literally have in that third line is “with all your decision making organ, and with all your very being, and with all your strength / energy.”  Yet, how often do we sentimentalize the word “heart” into our emotions when the functionality of the word is mind.  It’s fascinating to see that Jesus, in quoting the Shema, adds “mind” to the list (or does he add heart?) – see Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37 (which replaces might with mind), and Luke 10:27.  Either way, he wants both, no just one.

Consider the proclamation of the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (NRSV)

What we see here, again, is that God in the New Covenant will write the law on their “decision making organs” – in functionality, their minds – the place of memory.  The law won’t be written on their conscience or emotions as the passage is often interpreted.

Consider, also, Deuteronomy 10:16:

Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. (NRSV)

You guessed it, “Circumcise . . . the foreskin of  your decision making organ,” is what is really meant here.

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So what am I getting at?  What is my point?

I think part of my concern is that I think that often our decisions to do this or that is based more out of emotion than rational thought – or better, a balance of the two.  So much of the rhetoric of this politically charged time of life in the USA, if you really think about it, is emotionally charged.

Recently, I had an interchange with a “friend” on Facebook.  The individual had posted a picture with text discrediting a certain political candidate.  It sounded a bit hokey, so I researched it and discovered the info was false.  So, I posted that.  In the “discussion” that followed, I discovered that the person “felt” that it was okay to spread lies about people that this person thought would make bad decisions about our country.  Really?!  Defaming someone’s character is okay so long as I feel it’s okay?!

That is decision-making based solely in emotion, not rational thought – at least in my estimation (but maybe I’m wrong).

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So what can we do?

One of the best bits of pastoral care advice I ever got was from my mentor, Rev. John Mollet.  He said sometimes, when a person has had a traumatic experience, they may respond with hysterics, which are usually based in emotion.  Obviously, the person needs to deal with what has happened but sometimes this can be debilitating, so John recommended asking the person questions that engage their minds.  What actually happened?  How many people were involved?  What time did it happen?  Notice these are all seeking “factual” answers, but they take the focus off of emotion.

Some will respond on the other extreme and not “feel” anything, which is not healthy either.  John recommended asking questions that get at the persons emotions.  How did it feel when that happened?  What do you feel was taken away from you in that event?  These are seeking “emotional” answers to help someone experience needed emotion.

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I’m reminded of a story told by Tex Sample of his friend Jimmy Hope Smith and his Daddy who is “unredeemed in some very serious ways.”  The thing that draws the Smith family together each day is the TV; everything they do in the house happens in front of that set.

One day, while watching TV together, Rev. Jesse Jackson came on the screen.  Jimmy Hope’s Daddy said, “Someone oughta shoot him!  They oughta just shoot him!”

He’s stuck in emotion.

Jimmy Hope responded, “Daddy, you think someone really oughta shoot Jesse Jackson?”

“Yeah, I do!  They oughta just shoot him!”

“Well, Daddy, if you think someone oughta shoot Jesse Jackson, I think you oughta go to church on Sunday and pray that someone will shoot Jesse Jackson.”

“Boy!  Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout?  You know Jesus ain’t gonna put up with that shit!”

Jimmy Hope made his Daddy really think about what he was saying, and in the end, emotion was still there along with the working of the mind.

Balance.  Something we all need.


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A Progressive Christian Education / Nurture
– by Rev. Ben Marshall

This is a guest post by Rev. Ben Marshall, a colleague from the North Texas Annual Conference.  Ben is a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church residing in Dallas, Texas, who wants to continue to contribute to the faith formation of persons. He has served for over 4 decades as a Christian educator, seeking to understand how persons come to faith and how to communicate to them about the nature of our God who loves them.

Ben graduated from Perkins School of Theology in 1963 and received a Doctor of Ministry degree in Christian Education in 1982. He has completed the studies in Spiritual Guidance at Shalom Institute for Spiritual Formation and continues to practice spiritual direction as well as write and teach.

Ben and his wife, Karan, a young childhood specialist, have two children, two grandchildren and a black dog.

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I received an invitation to write in this Blog, and I appreciate that. Among the suggested topics was “progressive Christian education”. I chose that and want to share about a particular perspective on that issue. I may come back later and add some other stuff.

First, let’s don’t call it “education,” let’s call it nurture, or maybe formation. The problem with the terms is that there are so many definitions depending upon who is talking and what their concerns are. So I am talking–writing rather–and we have a problem with the term “education” in the church having come to mean “schooling” or the passing on of information. Our approach to the faith has for too long been one of asking people simply to “accept the concepts–the theology” at the intellectual level. Therefore, we have been “educating” them with the theology, the biblical knowledge, etc. There is more, much more to Christian nurture than that. Fortunately many people are catching on, at least in some recent writings. I doubt that it has filtered down too far as yet in terms of our actual practice in the local church.

We progressives like to make sure that we help people to not leave their brains at the door to the church. We also need to make sure that they bring their hearts. Christianity is fundamentally about a relationship, a heart thing, that then leads to loving action. I wonder if Jesus had not known God as “abba” (Daddy) if he would have been as compassionate as he was?

That is not to say that there is not a great deal to be done to help people to be able to think about and question the church’s theology and the bible stories, etc., because there is–definitely. We progressive clergy have done a disservice to our laity for being afraid a long time ago to let them know what the latest in biblical scholarship and theology was really saying–even if we had to leave that church. At least a few of the folks who were ready to hear it would have heard it, and maybe we would be a long way down the road now.

But, back to the heart thing. I think the mainline church has lost members, not because it was too progressive, but because it was not progressive enough. More importantly it was not spiritually deep enough. I keep remembering a book written back in the 90’s that reported on interviews with people who left the church, and the main reason they left was that they did not find there an significant encounter with God! Wow!

People are spiritually starving! Just look at the present booming interest in spirituality and not so much religion. My point is that we progressives have to be careful that as we help people be able to raise their questions and find a meaningful “head” theology, we must even more importantly help them to allow God’s Heart to touch their own heart. That means that we have to get to that place where we pray on a daily basis and let God really love us as God is trying to do–to open up to that love and let God give us what we are really seeking along with the good theology we are talking about. Otherwise we won’t be able to help them in the way they need helping.

~ Rev. Ben Marshall


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Clarity?

I’d hoped for clear direction as I finished my first semester in seminary.  At the end of the previous year, I’d left a lucrative career in electrical engineering assuming God might be calling me to ministry.  I’d followed the advice of my direct supervisor and taken a leave of absence so I could return to my position in case I was wrong.  I owed that employer an answer in about a month’s time, and I was really not any more clear than I was when I left.

For several years, I had enjoyed visiting Dinosaur Valley State Park down near Glen Rose, Texas.  I thought it was beautiful and peaceful – from the scenery to the sound of the Paluxy River flowing through the middle of the park.  I decided, since I was living only about an hour away, that I’d treat myself to a day of relaxation after completing that first, intense semester.  On top of that, I was hoping the day would clear my mind and help me to hear what God might be saying to me in terms of my call.

As long as I’d visited Dinosaur Valley, I had always wanted to cross the river and hike to the top of the tall hill on the other side.  I was certain that I would be granted a great view of the surrounding countryside.  So, I had decided before I left student housing that unless the river was too high, I WOULD go up that hill.

My shoes and socks got quite a bit wet as I worked my way across the river, but I did it.  The day was warm enough that I knew they’d dry out quickly.  Up the hill I went anticipating great photo opportunities at the top.  I was so focused on getting to the apex that I spent little time paying attention to what was along the trail, and I was getting out of breath as I neared the top.

Trees.  TREES!  Trees covering the top of that mini-mountain-wanna-be had not been a part of my dreams of what the view would be like.  Yes, I could see some surrounding countryside but only small snippets between the trees.  There was not great view, and I’d passed up other things to look at as I almost frantically strove to reach the top.   I looked for a rock to sit on and pout.

I found a rock, but the pouting never came.  I suddenly realized as I sat down that I had been looking for the “great view” of knowing exactly what God might be calling me to, and all I could see of that was small glimpses.

I thought about the journey of my first semester.  What had I missed in that very full few months?

As hard as it was, I enjoyed my studies and what I was studying – in fact the New Testament class was exhilarating!  I’d been working at my first position on a church staff at First United Methodist in Lewisville, Texas.  For the most part, I enjoyed what I was doing, and I knew people were appreciating what I was doing as many were affirming me.  And, as I considered my work, I felt that I was doing good things for the church.

Did I know exactly what God was calling me to in that instant?  No.  Yet, I felt that I could, with integrity, keep going forward with faith without knowing everything (isn’t that really what faith is about).  I knew I had made mistakes in my life in the past, and I knew that God journeyed with me, providing grace, to get me back on track.  I knew I could trust God to journey with me should I come to the realization that God was not calling me (so far I still feel called!).  It would be a little over 2 years (following a unit of CPEClinical Pastoral Education) before I received some clarity of my call: Christian Education as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church.  And yet, even then, the details of what and how that calling would play out were not clear.  These would only develop (and are continuing to develop) along the way.

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How many of us get lulled into inaction waiting for perfect clarity – waiting for the proverbial burning bush or neon sign of God telling us exactly what to do?  How many of us take lack of perfect clarity as God saying, “No?”  As an aside, how do we know it “ain’t the debil” (or ourselves) muddying the water and not God?  How many of us are afraid of what God might think (or do to us) if we act without perfect clarity?

Many will say, “The Bible says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ It also says, ‘Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength and mount up with wings as eagles.’ That tells me I need to wait until God tells me clearly.”

Didn’t Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) chastise the servant who did nothing?  It would have even been okay to simply put the money in a bank and earn interest.  The exact details of WHAT to do and HOW to do it were not stipulated.  Just doing SOMETHING was.  Yet, in that parable, fear led to inaction for that one servant.  Isn’t it interesting that Matthew follows this parable with the parable of the sheep (who DID for the least of these) and the goats (who didn’t even do the least for the least of these) – see Matthew 25:31-46?

Why should we fear a God who is full of grace – grace to forgive and grace to empower?  If we are truly seeking to love God, to love our neighbors (and enemies), and to love ourselves in our actions, won’t God forgive if we choose to do the wrong thing?  If we are loving God, our neighbors (and enemies), and ourselves in our actions, won’t God empower us to do the right thing?


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