Off your dregs! Reflection 11-15-17

 Texts for Sunday, November 19, 2017 

24th Sunday after Pentecost

 Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

 Psalm 90:1-12
 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
 Matthew 25:14-30

 From this rather spectacular condemnation of God’s people by Zephaniah, I got totally drawn to the phrase I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs

In the spiritual practice of Bible reading called Lectio Divina, one would say that I was “captured” or “struck by the phrase”. Others might say that I got a little obsessed with it. First, I learned everything I could about dregs. Laying in the dark about to go to sleep, I asked my husband who has made wine, “tell me about dregs”. Are they good for wine or bad for wine?” Apparently, like so much in a Lutheran life, they are both/and. Of course.

In case you don’t know, dregs are the sediment from dead yeast (and other waste produced in the smashing and fermentation processes). They float around in the wine as it ages. For a while their presence can improve a wine. They impart “complexity and body” to wines according to those in the know. But, continues the wine-sage: After a while though, wine sediment [dregs] become like that house guest that stays too long. At first, it’s great to see them. Several days to several weeks later, you are waiting for them to gracefully leave on their own. The problem with [dregs] though, is that they never take the hint and leave by themselves. They’re like that house guest that’s still desperately clinging to the front door frame while you are pushing them and their bags outside*. It is possible to drink the wine through careful decanting OR using a filter (or, I suppose, just putting up with grit in your teeth).

Got it. Dregs. So, what are dreggy people like?  The Complete Jewish Bible uses the words “smug and thick”; the Good News translation calls them self-satisfied and confident; the Message paraphrase identifies them as those who are sitting it out, fat and lazy, amusing themselves and taking it easy.  It dawned on me that it wasn't dregs alone. I also needed to attend to “resting complacently”.

When I reflected on that phrase, I realized that Zephaniah’s rant was dangerously contemporary. We live in a time when the “common good” has little meaning. When uncivil and rancid discourse runs wild, and alternate understandings of truth abound. In the midst of all that, so much of the time, our eyes focus only on our own smug, thick, self-satisfied, and lazy existence: being complacent, satisfied with the status quo no matter how bad it is+.

The status quo?  We have a mass shooting at least once a week; sexual harassment charges have blossomed these past few weeks, revealing a basic lack of respect for others as well as the insidious use of power to have whatever we want; people are dying in amazing numbers from opioid addiction; children are being trafficked for labor or the sex trade; war and violence hangs over our heads.  

Beyond that, we still have children who are hungry, families living on the streets, refugees turned away, and immigrants detained months without due process. Our health care system is a mess and people are lost in the cracks of policy disputes that have less to do about what is right and more to do about “who wins”. Why the heck are we complacent? 

Hear Zephaniah’s warning. While the dregs quietly ruin the wine, the consequences are not pretty. 

So where is the Gospel/Grace in this passage? Good question.

I think the good news is that we are not stuck in our thick and smug ways. God looks down from the cross and says you are forgiven for your dreggy complacency. But, grace does not get us off the hook. Grace puts us back on the hook. Grace lets us see the pain and suffering of the world and frees us from our sludgy-dregs-existence. We are freed to be discontented and empowered take action. 
So, what do you think?

Your comments are always welcome below.

*The Online Encyclopedia and Directory of California Wineries

E Message Bible & Commentary on Zephaniah

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245