communications

How do we make sense of Jesus’s challenging parables?

Jesus’s challenging parables are never against people themselves – Jesus doesn’t overturn the tables because he dislikes the tax collectors, or tell parables against the temple authorities because he opposes them as people. Rather, Jesus opposes the practices and systemic ways of life that aren’t actually aligned with the idea of abundant life for all.

A passage at the beginning of Mark illustrates this idea beautifully, and foreshadows Jesus’s final days in Jerusalem:

Again Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They were watching Jesus to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then Jesus said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. Jesus looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. – Mark 3:1-6

Although the Sabbath is supposed to be a life-giving observance, following the rule had become more important than saving and restoring life. Jesus reorients us, with anger and challenge. But key to understanding Jesus’s challenging parables is God’s love and the life that flows from God’s love; Jesus challenges the practices and systems that are against God’s love and abundant life. – Vicar Aaron Musser

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What are some ways to welcome different people in my life? (from a 6th grade student)

It starts by seeing different people.  I know this sounds overly simple, but it is an essential step.  Take just a few moments at some point in your day to notice the people around you.  Especially for a student at school, you may notice a certain group of people or your crush or the teachers first.  At work, you may be aware of where the boss is or a co-worker who often makes request of you.  Pay attention to this and then see if you can notice someone different.  Maybe you’ll notice a student or coworker or person at the grocery store who might need some help.  Noticing is the first part of welcoming! 

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How can I inherit the Kingdom of God?

How can I inherit the Kingdom of God?   The young man asks for actions to guarantee an inheritance.  Inheritance doesn’t work like that, though!   It is a gift passed in families.   In baptism, we have been welcomed into the family that is the Body of Christ.   The inheritance is secured by Jesus.  Our work is to live in response to this certainty. – Pastor Trudy Stoffel

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What’s really happening in Communion?

As Lutherans, we teach that Jesus is truly present in communion in, with, and under the bread and wine.  I like to call this a ‘prepositional’ understanding of Jesus’ presence.  Luther wanted to leave some space for mystery.  Ironically, no matter how you understand communion, there is plenty of mystery.  Luther attested to the power of the sacrament to forgive sin, and give life and salvation.  From Luther’s Small Catechism: “‘How can eating and drinking do such a great thing?  Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but rather the words…’given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin‘…when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking are…the sacrament…whoever believes these words have what they declare and state, namely, ‘forgiveness of sin.'”

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Why does Jesus sometimes ask people not to tell about what He has done?

There is not one single answer, just possibilities!  It could be that Jesus doesn’t want them to tell until they know the whole story.  It could be that Jesus doesn’t want people too caught up in the miraculous parts of His ministry because it doesn’t really build a deep faith.  It could be that it is important to be filled up first, and then get busy sharing.  We do know the whole story and have all the tools and support we need to build our faith, get filled up, and share the story of God’s love revealed in Jesus! – Pastor Trudy Stoffel

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What are those “unclean spirits” that Jesus casts out?

The word “unclean spirit” is sometimes translated as “demon,” but that’s a tricky translation for two reasons. First, the original Greek literally translates to “unclean spirit” and, second, our word “demon” is loaded with all kinds of connotations (think of scary movies). In the ancient world, there wasn’t a division between the supernatural and the natural – the ancient Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” is the same as their words for “wind” (ruach, pneuma). Can you identify the source of wind? Where does it come from? What about spirit, where does it come from? Unexplainable phenomena can be made sense of in all kinds of supernatural ways; therefore, the kinds of things that we might use modern methods and tools to understand (physics, medicine, etc.), ancient peoples might’ve understood in supernatural ways. – Vicar Aaron Musser

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Why does Jesus speak in parables instead of ‘telling it plain’?

First,  speaking in parables allows people to find themselves in the story, not just in the moment, but across millennia!  Second, Jesus says that He speaks in parables as a kind of code for the insiders.  For persecuted groups, this can be an important thing to do, to protect from the powers that oppress them.  This is more necessary for groups that are doing things that will upset the balance of power.  What is Jesus up to that is so disruptive?
-Pastor Trudy Stoffel

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