Sunday Stretch: Vol. 8
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
Thanks for joining in for Week 8 of the Sunday Stretch: where I’ll break down some weekly Bible passages, share prayer and prayer requests with you and for this community as well as the broader world.
This Sunday, your church may observe All Saints Sunday. For many Lutheran churches like mine, where we celebrated the trifecta of Confirmation, Reformation, and Halloween (for the kids) last Sunday, Oct. 30, it makes sense to honor All Saints this day. I think, in these frenetic, fast-paced times, with a news cycle that hops from one tragedy to the next - it’s important to slow down and remember the saints, in my tradition, meaning all those who have died in the past year (and before). So for this Sunday Stretch, I’ll be focusing on the texts from All Saints Sunday, or from Nov. 1 (All Saints Day). Hope you enjoy this video from New Orleans for All the Saints …
For more fun New Orleans music, even at church, check out my friend Pastor Ben Groth’s congregation: Bethlehem NOLA.
Here are some weekly readings (from the Revised Common Lectionary), and some reflection thoughts/questions:
A note: I am using the readings for All Saints Day for this Sunday’s lessons, to honor and remember all those who have died.
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Dan. 7:1 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.
Dan. 7:15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”
Many of us know the story of Daniel in the Lions Den, and also the story of Shadrach Meshach, Abednego and the Fiery Furnace (did a play of that one as a small child in church - I had one line). But fewer of us have had time to delve deeply in the apocalypticism that is at the heart of the book. The images and stories shared by Daniel are strange and even frightening. Note here in this passage that Daniel himself, despite his great faith and courage, is troubled and even “terrified” by the images in his head.
On this All Saints Day, I’m thinking of the sleepless nights and terrifying images sometimes engendered by grief, and even by sometimes just thinking about the fact that someday, all of us will die: you and me included. I think All Saints Day is an invitation to acknowledge the fear and sadness that death brings, as Daniel does here, but also not to remain in it: to remember the final line of this passage: “… the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever — forever and ever.” I might make an edit here and say “kin-dom” rather than “kingdom,” to acknowledge the brutal role that monarchies have played throughout history.
Questions to Ponder
Why is apocalyptic language so strange and scary, do you think?
In what ways have stories about the apocalypse from the Bible been used to mislead people and take advantage of their fear to force them to ascribe to authoritarian or abusive religious movements?
Have you been terrified, as Daniel is here, by images in your head, late at night? What is your response to that feeling of overwhelming fear?
Eph. 1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Eph. 1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The writer of Ephesians writes at length of the inheritance we receive as God’s people and followers of Jesus. Too often, financial inheritance becomes a painful reason for intrafamily fighting and estrangement after a family member’s death. This inheritance is quite different: unlike a financial inheritance that begins to diminish immediately upon its receipt, God’s inheritance for God’s people is future-looking and a source of growth and sharing, rather than something to be hoarded or divided.
This letter also includes high-minded language about the relationship between God, Jesus, the Spirit, and the Church. We should not neglect to remember that the church is literally understood as the body of Christ. This passage tells us that bodies are holy, and that our connection to the Triune God is not merely metaphysical or theoretical but physical. Like bodies, we will experience growing pains and aches. But being a part of this body of God means a strong and powerful connection, not easily severed, a closeness entailing great divine love and commitment. This language is especially comforting as we remember those who have died this All Saints Day.
How do we know if we’re part of God’s inheritance?
Are these promises hard to believe?
What does it mean for the church to be a part of God’s body?
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