Lectionary Commentaries for October 30, 2016
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 19:1-10

David Lose

How you read and preach this familiar story about Jesus and Zacchaeus hinges almost entirely on how you answer one interpretative question:

Is Zacchaeus’ declaration of his financial dealings in verse 8 a promise of future action in response to Jesus’ visit, or is it a report on his present behavior?1 If the former, then this is a classic repentance story; if the latter, it is something else entirely.

Sight, Wealth, and Stature
Setting the scene leading up to the moment in question may help us decide which interpretive course to follow. Jesus, near the end of his journey to Jerusalem, is passing through the border town of Jericho. In that town is a man named Zacchaeus who is not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector which means, as Luke’s Gospel explains, that he is rich. He wants to see Jesus, but because he is short he cannot see over the crowds, so he climbs a tree. When Jesus arrives at the place where Zacchaeus has perched himself, he calls him down and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home, which simultaneously brings Zacchaeus joy and scandalizes the crowd, because they know that Zacchaeus is a sinner.

Among the various details in this story told only by Luke, three stand out, particularly in relation to passages that have come just before this one. First, sight is again critical. Earlier, it is the tenth leper’s recognition that he has been healed that causes him to alter his course (17:15). In the passage immediately before this one (omitted by the lectionary), a blind man receives sight and, in response, follows Jesus and glorifies God. Now, Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus, but even as he is trying to catch a glimpse of this prophet Jesus looks up, calls him down, and honors him by coming to stay at his home.

A second significant detail is wealth. Luke, more than any other evangelist, is consistently concerned about matters of wealth and, correspondingly, treatment of the poor. In the previous chapter a rich man, when asked to give away all he had, departs Jesus in sadness. When Jesus declares that it is nearly impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, the disciples — who like most of their time believe wealth a sign of God’s favor — are incredulous. In contrast, in this story another rich man receives Jesus with joy and gives (or promises to give) half of his wealth to the poor and restores (or promises to restore) fourfold any amount he may have defrauded, and Jesus announces that the impossible has now happened as “salvation has come to this house” (19:9).

Finally, Zacchaeus is short, not just in physical stature, but also in terms of his moral standing among his neighbors who, no doubt, despised him; hence their reaction when Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home. This is not the first time bystanders have been outraged by Jesus’ behavior. Think of Simon’s reaction that Jesus would allow a woman all know to have a poor reputation to wash his feet with her tears (7:39) or the reaction of the Pharisees to the sinners and tax collectors who love to listen to Jesus (15:1-2). Nor is this the first time tax collectors have figured prominently in Jesus’ ministry. As just noted, their delight in Jesus’ teaching prompts the grumbling that in turn occasions Jesus’ “lost” parables. And at the outset of the previous chapter, it is the penitent tax collector, not the righteous Pharisee, who returns home justified (17:14).

Decisions, Decisions
So, what do we make of all this in relation to our central question? Are the present tense verbs in verse 8 to be understood, in fact, as present tense, thereby describing the current and ongoing behavior of Zacchaeus (as in the RSV and KJV)? Or shall we give them a future cast, describing Zacchaeus’ penitent pledge of future behavior (as in the NRSV and NIV)?

Scholars, as well as translators, are divided, so we will have to explore the narrative evidence and interpretive outcomes before deciding. The cleaner choice is to translate the verses as describing future behavior. This not only creates a nice flow of action — Jesus honors Zacchaeus, which prompts his changed behavior, which Jesus then acknowledges — it also accords well with a tacit theological logic most of us hold: repentance precedes forgiveness. From this line of thought, we might therefore conclude — and preach — that in the presence of Jesus all manner of heretofore unimagined things can happen such that even a wealthy tax collector might give away half his wealth. Or we might deduce — and proclaim — that our repentance must include matters of the wallet as well as the heart.

For all the theological and homiletical logic of this interpretation, however, I am unconvinced. (In fact, in such cases I am generally suspicious of the more convenient reading, believing that the more difficult one is not only the more likely one historically but is also more likely to yield an interesting sermon!). Notice that Zacchaeus neither confesses his sin nor repents. Admittedly, one can construe Zacchaeus’ pledge of future behavior as repentance, but it remains a construal and contrasts starkly with the previous verbal penitence, for instance, of the tax collector at the Temple (18:13). Nor does Jesus commend Zacchaeus’ penitence, or his faith, or his change of heart. He merely pronounces blessing, blessing based not on anything Zacchaeus has done but simply because he, like those grumbling around him, is an Israelite, a son of Abraham. Further, Zacchaeus does not offer his financial disclosure in response to anything Jesus has said; rather, it falls on the heels of the grumbling of the crowd. Perhaps it is a response to Jesus’ presence, but perhaps it is his bewilderment at the crowd’s complaint or a defense of his reputation. In either case, I suspect that Zacchaeus is not turning over a new leaf as much as he is lifting up an old one for all to see.

Seeing Zacchaeus Afresh
Read this way, how do we preach this peculiar story? Rather than imagining it as the perfect conversion story, one we should in turn emulate (particularly during stewardship season!), we might take it as yet one more way in which Jesus does the unexpected. Notice that Jesus calls to this chief tax collector by name. “Zacchaeus, come down; for I must stay at your house today.” There is both intentionality and urgency in Jesus’ summons. From the outset of Luke’s gospel and throughout its narrative, Jesus sides with those on the margin, those considered down and out, those not accounted as much in the eyes of the world. While Zacchaeus is rich, he is nevertheless despised by his neighbors, counted as nothing, even as worse than nothing. Yet Jesus singles him out. Why? Might he know of Zacchaeus’ exemplary behavior? We cannot know. Yet by seeing him, calling him, staying with him, and blessing him, Jesus declares for all to hear that this one, even this chief tax collector, is a child of Abraham…and child of God. Perhaps Jesus is again at work seeking out those who are lost (whether through their own actions or those around them) in order to find, save, and restore them.

Or perhaps Zacchaeus serves as yet further evidence of the manifold possibilities present in Jesus’ presence. Thus far, almost everything about this story seems impossible — that a chief tax collector would want to see Jesus; that Jesus would stay in his home; that it would be revealed that this sinner exceeded the law by his generosity; that Jesus would declare not just him but his whole household saved? Yet just earlier Jesus declared that what is impossible for mortals is nevertheless possible for God (18:27). Perhaps Zacchaeus is one more example of the impossible possibility that Jesus embodies and regularly manifests.

Or perhaps Zacchaeus simply represents the chief attribute of all disciples: a desire to see Jesus and a corresponding joy in his presence. Zacchaeus cannot see Jesus because he is too short, both physically and morally, and so the crowds impede his sight. Yet this rich chief tax collector is so desperate to see that he will not be deterred and humiliates himself by climbing a tree like a child in order to glimpse over the crowd and see Jesus. Read this way, this story is not about formulas regarding repentance and forgiveness — indeed, as in other places in Luke, it calls into question any attempts to reduce the miracle of salvation to a formula (see Luke 7:36-50). Rather, it embodies the promise that anyone — anyone! — who desires to see Jesus will. More than that, anyone who desires to see Jesus will, in turn, be seen by Jesus and in this way have their joy made complete.

If we can imagine reading the Zacchaeus along any of these lines — or maybe even all of them! — then we might ask who among us, both in our congregation and outside, are those who have been left on the margin, who have been ruled out of bounds, who might surprise us by their generosity and faith, and who just want to see Jesus but have been kept at bay. If we are willing to ask — and dare answer — such questions, we might see both Zacchaeus and Jesus in a whole new light.


1. This commentary first published on this site on Oct. 31, 2010.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 1:10-18

Corrine Carvalho

When I come to church, I do not usually imagine God covering the divine eyes out of disgust for my worship, but this is the exact image this passage places before its readers.

The poem examines the interplay of sin and sacrifice, asserting that one can negate the efficacy of the other. This is not a new theme in Israelite prophetic literature; Amos 5:21-24 makes a similar assertion. Social injustice nullifies sacrificial good.

It is interesting that this message is part of the opening of the book of Isaiah. The first 39 chapters of the book reflect the devastating invasion of the Assyrian army into the Levant in the eighth century BCE. The Assyrians had built a powerful military force and sought to control the whole Fertile Crescent. First they fought with Babylon for control of Mesopotamia, then set their sights westward, hoping eventually to conquer Egypt. Nations like Israel and Judah stood in their way. The prophecies in the first part of the book contain oracles and later material that address the widespread devastation wrought by the Assyrians. The larger nation of Israel fell to this army in 722, and Jerusalem itself was besieged, teetering on the brink of disaster. The verses immediately preceding this passage reference this siege.

Although the book of Isaiah is often associated with its amazing poems of hope, for a utopian world, much more frequent are poems such as this one that not only reflect the devastation of the invasion, but present the invasion as God’s punishment for their sins. What is important to notice here, however, is that the people are described as appropriately pious. They are making sacrifices, they are attending to their religious obligations. These verses do not accuse them of worshiping other gods. They are law-abiding worshipers of Yahweh … or at least they think they are.

This section contrasts the care that they give to liturgical practice with their disregard for the poor and marginalized within their own community. It may not be obvious to a contemporary audience, but the sacrificial system was hugely expensive. The daily sacrifices referenced in this passage consisted in what are called “whole burnt offerings,” meaning that edible food, in the form of meat, vegetables, and grains were placed on the altar and completely burned as a way to send them up to God. The amount of food was increased on Sabbaths, and even more on the New Moon. The “festivals” referenced in Isaiah 1:14 were probably the three major festivals in Israel’s liturgical calendar, when the amount of food burned was enormous.

What is important to notice is the way in which the passage contrasts these sacrifices with the fate of the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow. These were the very groups that would have had the least access to good food. In fact, few Israelites would have eaten meat on a regular basis, and for the poorest in the community their own access to meat might have been only on festival days like the ones listed here. The passage, therefore, contrasts the extravagance of the sacrificial system with the destitution of large numbers in their own community.

The passage is clearly addressed to the elites, in particular the royalty. Kings were the ones who furnished much of the food for the sacrificial feasts. They were also the ones in charge of the judiciary system for non-landowners, i.e., orphans (poor or disenfranchised males) and widows (women not attached to a landowning male). The activity that Isaiah 1:17 exhorts would play out within the judicial system.

The passage also engages traditions about the city of Sodom, addressing the elite as “the rulers of Sodom.” In Genesis 18-19, Sodom is destroyed because of the widespread injustice in the city. While that lack of social duties is illustrated by the violent sexual abuse of male guests in chapter 19, none of the other eighteen references to Sodom in the Old Testament make reference to the incident at Lot’s house. Instead, Sodom is simply the wickedest city imaginable; Ezekiel 16:49 states that the people of Sodom were destroyed for their “excess of food, and prosperous ease, but (they) did not aid the poor and needy.”

The temple plays a central role in the book of Isaiah, and many scholars view chapter 1 as an introduction to the whole book. Isaiah’s call in chapter 6 takes place in the temple. The poem that opens the second part of the book in chapter 40 contains a satirical condemnation of the Babylonian temple ideology. But it is the third part of the book (chapters 56-66) that is framed by passages about the temple, this time, the second temple, rebuilt after the return of the exiles from Babylon. Chapter 56 opens with the end of our passage, urging the new community to “maintain justice.” It then goes on to describe a worshiping community that includes all of those left out in the system used during the monarchy. The book ends with a vision of the whole world that has become God’s temple, a universal temple no longer in need of animal sacrifice. Our verses from Isaiah 1 seem to anticipate the book’s end.

This passage from Isaiah challenges contemporary communities of faith to align their practices with the ethics embodied in their liturgical rituals. It reminds us that liturgy creates an ethical worldview, and for the book of Isaiah this is an ethic of inclusivity. Who are the Isaiah’s of today’s world? Perhaps they are those who are refusing to come to our institutional churches, the “nones,” because they too see a conflict between what is preached and what is practiced. Perhaps the self-imposed exile of so many of our younger members is really the voice of Isaiah reminding us that God does not listen if our religious life is only defined by our liturgical practice.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Richard W. Nysse

The heading for the book of Habakkuk reads: “The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.”

The heading is distinct but not without parallels elsewhere. Other prophetic books are labeled as oracles (Nahum and Malachi) or lack any mention of date (for example Obadiah, Joel, and Jonah). The jarringly distinctive feature of Habakkuk is that it starts with words addressed to God.

The “oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw” is not first a message from God that Habakkuk delivers to a human audience. Beyond that, the content of Habakkuk’s address to God is deeply disruptive. While objections are expressed in prophetic call narratives (for example Jeremiah’s assertion that he is too young [Habakkuk 1:6]), Habakkuk’s words are the bold speech of lament psalms. They challenge God’s conduct toward the community, not merely God’s decision to call an individual.

The classic expression “How long?” is coupled with accusations charging God with a failure to listen and save. The prophetic voice (the “I” in the text) has cried for help and specifically cried to God, the addressee (the “you” in the text). This is more than a generalized groan in the midst of pain and suffering; it is directed groaning. There is an addressee, namely God. Compare Psalm 88:13 and Lamentations 3:8 to capture the intensity. Compare the promise of Isaiah 58:9 to grasp the seriousness of the charge of not listening and not saving. This lament (or any biblical lament for that matter) should not be reduced to a permission to doubt or a warrant for therapeutic venting.

Wrong-doing, trouble, destruction, violence, strife, and contention — that is a long list of societal ruptures that persisted in the prophet’s world. They persist in our world as well and we can (and must) give specific names to the victims. Naming individuals and communities precludes spiritualizing the text into a hyperbolic abstraction. When God does not listen and does not save, there is room for societal evils to exist unhindered. The prophet pushes the language into boldly stated petitioning and accusing. Embedded in the “how long?” is both prophet’s charge that God does not listen and does not save and the assertion that God causes the prophet to see and look at the evil.

Consider the quotation often attributed to Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The prophet Habakkuk flips the quotation. His lament holds God responsible. God’s silence and inaction is intolerable in a covenant relationship. If God is not engaged, the world implodes. For Habakkuk the implosion is occurring. Six words, starting with “wrong-doing,” describe the implosion (Habakkuk 1:3). Verse 4 drives home the message: Justice never goes forth (New Revised Standard Version: prevails); justice goes forth twisted/crooked/bent out of shape (NRSV: perverted). The law is malleable (NRSV: slack); the wicked surround the righteous, eager to devour (see also Psalm 22:11-13). The defenses against evil are coopted and shaped to the advantage of the wicked; the language of justice becomes double-speak and the righteous are left at the mercy of the wicked.

The verses selected in the lectionary significantly distort the impact of the opening lament. Both the divine response (Habakkuk 1:5-11) and the renewed lament (1:12-17) are deleted. Chapter 2 opens with the prophet pledging to keep watch to see what God will say in response to his complaint. But this is not, however, the complaint in 1:2-4 as the lectionary selection now implies; it is the second complaint in 1:12-17. The second complaint responds to God’s response to the first complaint. Habakkuk 1:5-11 announces, contrary to Habakkuk’s assertion that God is indifferent to the societal collapse he is experiencing, that God is instead rousing the Chaldeans to bust the stranglehold the wicked have on the righteous. “A work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told” (1:5) — but, of course, now Habakkuk is being told. A different sort of disbelief will emerge, namely, that a righteous God could use violence to the magnitude exercised by the Chaldeans to redress the violence occurring in his own community. The Chaldeans are even less restrained in their violence than the wicked in Habakkuk’s community. No law restrains them; no kings or rulers inhibit their spreading, violent conquests. They answer only to themselves for their might has become their god.

Habakkuk objects to this form of breaking God’s silence and inaction. He states clearly what he confesses God to be in God’s essence (“from of old”): God marks the violent for judgment and for punishment (Habakkuk 1:12). God is a God of justice and therefore it is out of character to endorse imperial tyranny and exploitation. Surely, Habakkuk complains/laments, God ought not look with indifference on this uncontrolled violence. In these circumstances, people become like fish that have no ruler (1:14) and, worse, are defenseless against the ravenous nets of tyrants whose appetites are never satisfied and who know no mercy. The Chaldean “cure” is comparable to death itself (2:5). Habakkuk cries out against the response to his first lament: God, how can you abide (and summon) such treachery? The concluding question implies that it is unthinkable that God would standby while the Chaldeans continue to destroy nations without mercy.

As chapter two opens, Habakkuk awaits God’s response as a guard posted to alert a threaten community. The image is not one of docile submission. God answers Habakkuk’s second lament, but the content of the response is elusive. He is to record a vision for an “appointed time” which speaks of an “end.” Both Habakkuk and the reader are instructed to “wait” when the events of the vision seem to take an eternity to come about and, at the same time, are assured that the events will not delay — they will come. What is one to do as one waits for what will not delay?

The condition is resonant with the already-not yet of the New Testament: Christ has come and death has been defeated and yet life continues to be deathly and violence terrorizes community after community. We have been granted a vision that does not lie but has yet to be brought to completion. The righteous do live by faith because the vision is still in large measure a promise yet to be fulfilled. The wicked, on the other hand, remain restless; there is a premonition that their dominance has a term-limit. Wickedness never has enough; its voracious destructiveness is a sign that it has not secured its future (as Habakkuk 2:5 underscores). It knows nothing of trust. Its greatness and exceptionalness cannot mask the lack of a right spirit. The “alas” statements and the mocking of idol making in the remainder of chapter two underscore the instability of the wicked.

Habakkuk 3 ends with a similar double focus. Many allusions in the poem slip from our exegetical grasp, but it clearly recollects moments of deliverance that the prophet desires to have done again in his own time (3:2). He pleads for mercy within the wrath that will come with judging deliverance (“In wrath remember mercy” [3:2]). Hearing the ancient hymn commemorating past deliverance — and by implication promising a new deliverance — leaves the prophet trembling, with lips quivering. There is not a triumphant cry of vindication; rather there is quiet waiting (3:16). This waiting includes rejoicing and exultation (3:18). Quiet waiting knows the injunction to keep silence (2:20) and it also rejoices. There is nothing Pollyanna or naïve about this rejoicing for it also knows that the days of fig trees that do not blossom and flocks with folds are not at an end. The righteous live by a faith that does not refrain from bold lament as exultantly rejoices.


Commentary on Psalm 32:1-7

J. Dwayne Howell

Psalm 32 is one of the Penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143).

These Psalms center on the confession of sin and were a part of the worship of ancient Israel. Even today many churches participate in confession as part of their worship. The Lord’s Prayer offers opportunity for confession when we ask God to forgive us of our sins (trespasses/debts) as we forgive those who have sinned as us.

Richard Foster in his book The Celebration of Discipline reminds the reader that confession is a part of the spiritual disciplines; while we may consider ourselves a “fellowship of saints”, we are first and foremost a “fellowship of sinners.” Salvation is too often viewed as a one-time decision when actually it is a lifetime journey.1 There are times we will stumble on the journey. There are also times when we are blinded to our own short-comings by pride or prejudice.

The church, in ways, is similar to a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, where all recognize they have a problem and join together in helping each other through their problems. They share both in times of failure and in times of success. The church should also be a place where people can share both their successes and their failures:

                                    Hello, my name is Dwayne and I am a sinner.
                                    Hello Dwayne.

Psalm 32 is a story about one successfully confronting sin. Unlike, the other penitential psalms, which are spoken in the midst of the pain of sin, Psalm 32 is a song of deliverance from sin. Verses 1 and 2 begin with the word “Blessed”. Does that sound familiar? The same word is found in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and elsewhere in scripture. The beatitudes speak of those who find peace and comfort in a certain type of living. In Psalm 32 one finds peace and comfort in forgiveness. “Blessed is the one … whose sin is covered” (1c). “Covered” is the same word as for the Passover Lamb (peshach). The blood of the lamb spread on the doorpost of the homes in Egypt protected their inhabitants from the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn. The psalmist sees the peshach as a protection or covering from one’s own sin: “whose sin the Lord does not count against them.”(2b)

Why is the Psalmist happy? Because of the deliverance from the torment of unconfessed sin which is described in verse 3 and 4.

                3 When I kept silent,
                        my bones wasted away
                        through my groaning all day long.
                4 For day and night
                        your hand was heavy on me;
                        my strength was sapped
                                    as in the heat of summer.

There was no life when sin dominated the writers. “Bones wasting away” is a common image in the psalms to describe a broken life. It speaks of weakness and the inability to live life to its fullest. The wasting away is accentuated by the groans of what once was. The joy of life is replaced by conviction, portrayed as the heavy hand of God, depleting life’s energy like an oppressive summer heat.

Instead of staying in this sin sick state, the writer turns to confession in verse 5.

            When I acknowledged my sin to you
                        and did not cover up my iniquity

“Cover up” is the same word, peshach, as found in verse 1. However, here it refers to the fact that sin cannot be dealt with on our own by ourselves. Being willing to admit that one has a problem is the first step toward recovery.

Why did the Psalmist choose to share about his sin? To encourage others who were going through similar problems.

                        Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
                                    while you may be found;
                        surely the rising of the mighty waters
                                    will not reach them.

It is as if the psalmist is saying, “You can experience what I experienced! God will protect you from the chaos of your life and your world” (waters = chaos).

Finally, we do not fear approaching the Lord for forgiveness: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble.” (Psalm 26:7a, b) the hiding place is a safe place. In Louisville, as well as many major cities, there are safe places where abused, neglected, or lost children to provide protection and help. These locations are often marked by the yellow Safe Place placard. God provides a safe place for us, a place of protection and help where we can confess our sins and find forgiveness. It is also a place of comfort from the sins of others. And we are not alone for we are surrounded by others who are also singing their songs of deliverance.


1 Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Harper, 1998), 145.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Erick J. Thompson

In 2 Thessalonians, after the greeting, the author writes, “we must always give thanks.”

Two textual notes here: First, thanks is not something to be done once, but something to be done continually. Second, this opening differs from 1 Thessalonians in that there is an “ought” added to 2 Thessalonians. If Paul is the writer of 2 Thessalonians, I wondered if perhaps this heightened emphasis on gratitude compared to 1 Thessalonians is intentional, and led me to focus my reflections for this text on the notion of gratitude.

Gratitude and grace both derive from the Latin gratus, meaning pleasing or thankful, yet have evolved into separate concepts. Gratitude is about giving thanks, and grace is a much wider concept that as a noun usually involves freedom and, as a verb encompasses fullness and completeness. The point is that gratitude is related to grace, yet, I believe we are more interested in grace than gratitude. One might say that our ability to be grateful is directly tied to how “graced” we are. In other words, when we receive grace, we feel grateful. Yet, I wonder how often we feel we have received grace. My assumption is that many of us believe we are fully free and complete just as we are, with no help from anyone. Receiving grace would imply that one needed grace; that one was somehow insufficient.

The implication for our sermon preparation is that preaching grace to people who have no need of it might not do much good. Yet, I know that people are hurting, and are in need of a good word. The trick is to convey the need for grace without alienating people. Simply naming things that are taken for granted might help people realize that many of us live in abundance, but do not realize it. Afflicting the comfortable by showing them their comfort may create room for grace to abound, and gratitude to flower.

As I was researching this text, I did a quick Google search for “gratitude.” The first result was a dictionary definition from Google, that, when expanded, shows the usage of gratitude over history through Google books. I was amazed at what I found. The use of gratitude was about 6 times higher in 1800 than in 1990. While there has been an uptick in usage since 2000, it is still one quarter of the usage from 1800. Perhaps the decline in gratitude may be directly correlated to the decline in the need for grace. If this Google books anecdote is to be believed, we clearly have trouble expressing gratitude. Yet, gratitude is part of many traditions’ worship services, usually in the form of offering and Holy Communion. It may be that we can do a better job of educating people about gratitude.

Calling people to express their gratitude may take a variety of forms, from simple encouragement to creating space in worship for people to tell stories of gratitude, to a fuller explanation of the term Eucharist. Gratitude can change our outlook on life and could even help to create more room for people to hear grace in their lives.

2 Thessalonians 1 stresses how we ought to be continually thankful for the faithfulness of the people there. As I read this more closely, I wondered if we, as preachers, might need to be more thankful of those who come to our worship services to hear the good news. I often reflect that leading an all-volunteer organization challenges like nothing else, but it also rewards like nothing else as well. Perhaps we have missed some opportunities to be thankful that all of these people continue to show up week after week, and continue to be steadfast in their faith.

The other theme that may be of interest is that of endurance. I would hazard a guess that few of our parishioners face the tests of endurance regarding their faith that Paul is talking about. Yet, I believe that the real tests for our church-going folk come through all of the demands that are placed upon them by their families, employment, or the wider culture. There is so much going on that families can’t do it all and have to make difficult decisions. I have experienced more than one family choosing not to participate in confirmation events due to conflicting school events. I know many churches that do “rolling 1st Communion, Confirmation, etc.” as a way of not forcing families to have to choose between church and something else. So, there may indeed be a need for endurance for those in the faith as they try to find room for God in their lives.

Endurance in life also exists for the multitude that suffer because of poverty, racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. Part of our calling as preachers may be to boldly lift up our neighbors who suffer so that God can stir those of us who do not suffer the same oppression to action. By lifting up all that we have to be grateful for, we may help those of us living lives of privilege to realize how much we have, and to hear anew the calls for justice and peace in our world. As always, Paul prays that “God will make you worthy of [God’s] call, and will fulfill by [God’s] power every good resolve and work of faith.” We do not do this work alone. God’s call to us comes with the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. We are truly a blessed people, full of grace. Thanks be to God!