November 26, 2017–Doing What Comes Naturally

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Chris Heavner, Clemson, SC

 

Warm-up Question

Do you ever find yourself doing something a particular way and not really knowing why?  (Like putting on one sock and then one shoe rather than putting on both socks then both shoes.)  Athletes work to develop muscle memory.  Is it possible to develop human interaction memory?

Doing What Comes Naturally

The Jewish observance of Seder involves the young participants asking a series of questions.  One of these is “We normally eat standing up.  Why do we do eat this meal lying down?”  (The practice of lying down is to remind us of God’s protection and thus our ability to be at leisure.)  This instructional tool allows the elders to explain actions and their origins.

Each of us has automatic responses to situations which come up with some regularity.  We may (or may not) always take time to consider our response and how it has developed over time.

What is our programed response when we see a homeless person?  Do we have muscle memory which causes our feet to move us away from persons extending a beggar’s cup?

Pastors in my home Synod applauded the presenter at our conference, but shied away from his request for us to share stories about our visits to persons in prison.

The world teaches us many lessons which are antithetical to the message of Jesus.  Jesus was more concerned with caring for the other than with self-protection.

Discussion Questions

  • How would you characterize your own “muscle memory” when it comes to interactions with the hungry, the homeless, those in prison?
  • Let’s make it very clear that “muscle memory” needs to be in place to protect the innocent from exploitation and abuse.  There is no excuse for emotional, physical, or sexual abuse!  How do we make sure that we don’t over-react?  Have we allowed the need for personal safety to justify our turning a blind eye to the needs of others?
  • Caring for those naked or thirsty is a task which also falls to the systems and structures of our society.  What might Christians say to policy makers about availability of health care and/or protecting our sources of drinking water?

Christ the King Sunday

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

 

Gospel Reflection

The context for this passage is important.  For several chapters, Jesus has been engaged in a discussion with or about those who occupy positions of leadership among the faithful.  The scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees – all had come or sent their lackeys in an attempt to discredit Jesus and trap him in his words.  No attempt had worked.  Jesus consistently returns to the truth of God’s word and the claim God’s grace has upon our lives. When Jesus finishes this exchange, Matthew’s gospel moves to the Passion Story.

Matthew 25:31-46 serves as the closing to a message which began with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  “Blessed” are those whose natural reaction is to do what Jesus has done.

Too often, this story is dissected as a means of determining whether one is a sheep or a goat.  There is certainly this undertone to the exchange.  The part of the story to which we might give greater attention is that members of neither group were aware of their action or inactivity.  They were just doing what came naturally.  To one group, it was muscle memory to help and to care for others.  The other group had taken to heart lessons about self-advancement or self-protection.

We miss the opportunity to grow in our discipleship when we use the examples Jesus lifts up as a way of deciding who is the saved and who is the damned, who are the blessed and who are the cursed.  This story presents us with the opportunity to examine what resides in our hearts and gives rise to what we do with our hands.

Discussion Questions

  • These are the appointed lessons for Christ the King Sunday.  What does it mean, to label as our “king” the Christ whose concern repeatedly returns to those who live along the margins of our society?
  • Can you share an exchange between yourself and someone who was hungry/thirst/naked/in prison?
  • How do we set and enforce prohibitions against abuse and exploitation, while avoiding being so fearful of others that we close our lives and shut our eyes to the needs of others?

Activity Suggestions

  • Develop an elevator speech (this is a 45 second script which you rehearse) which can be used the next time you encounter someone asking you for money or food.  Give your “speech” to another member of your group, and allow them to critique.
  • Ask your pastor if they have ever visited someone in prison.  Take a simple survey of five church members, asking if they know anyone who is in prison.
  • Talk to an athlete about muscle memory and discuss whether it might be possible to alter our social responses by practicing and rehearing different responses.

Closing Prayer

Giving and loving God; open our eyes to the ways we interact with others and to the motivations which lie behind our actions.  Help us to see and to care for the lost and forsaken, the abandoned and abused. Amen.