Fairness

Advent
December 17, 2018

Scripture Reading: Luke 3:7-18

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ –Luke 3:10-14

John the Baptist seems to be dealing with two types of help. The first is meeting immediate needs no matter what. If we have more than is necessary, we need to share extra coats and food with those who have none. The second expresses an ethical level of doing business. We are to treat people fairly by not overcharging or extorting money falsely for our own gain rather than being satisfied with the wages we make. Tax collectors collected whatever they could apparently if they gave Rome what Rome required.

Schools learned some time ago that students who were hungry could not learn. The school lunch program was expanded to include breakfast for that very reason. I heard on the news recently that our school system is offering dinner after school because for many of our students the school is the only sure place they will be fed. Volunteers from my church fill backpacks with food at a local elementary school each Friday to send home with some children who likely have no dependable source of food at home.

Areas of high poverty have limited healthy food and make a profit selling unhealthy food.

Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.

 This has become a big problem because while food deserts are often short on whole food providers, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, instead, they are heavy on local quickie marts that provide a wealth of processed, sugar, and fat laden foods that are known contributors to our nation’s obesity epidemic.*

John was most likely identifying the first century equivalent of food deserts among the people to whom he preached. His advice remains pertinent to us today as we live in a world where the rich get richer as poverty increases.

There are many issues that must be addressed between meeting basic needs and ethical business practices like offering quality public education to all and restorative criminal justice. John describes a good start toward a more equitable society that reflects God’s love for all God’s children.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we close our eyes to the hungry and ignore the business inequities of poverty. Amen.

*http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Clearing Away Logs

Advent
December 16, 2018

Scripture Reading: Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ Luke 3:7-9

Ever want to cry out something like John does in the scripture above as you watch the news and hear some of the most God-awful things being done in the name of God? I must admit I do want to rale against what I consider to be blasphemy. I also wonder sometimes if the people whose positions I am judging feel the same way about my faith stances. How do we discern what is just and right in God’s eyes? What is our role in confronting that which seems at the least misguided?

John had apparently reached the point that he could not keep silent when what he felt was the very core of God’s righteousness was being ignored by the religious leaders of the day. They seem to be interpreting the scriptures passed down from their ancestors to their own advantage. Of course, that is not uncommon behavior even today. Jesus spoke some wise words to us in this regard when he prescribed a good dose of self-examination before we try to engage with others regarding what is just and what is right.

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. –Matthew 7:5

True self-examination can be painful. Thus, it takes courage to practice it. There are suggested practices that are helpful particularly in obtaining some objectivity in our self-evaluation. One I have found useful is to seek a Bible story that is like an issue with which I am dealing and pray-fully role-playing in a meditation how each participant perceives the situation. For example, if we are trying to discern what is the just and right way to deal with immigration, we might look at the story in the Bible book of Ruth or that of the Syrophoenician Woman (Matthew 15:21-28). How did it feel to be in either role? In the Matthew story, how did Jesus respond to the woman? What do we think the Disciples learned from this interchange? Did we trip over any logs in our viewpoints that might be hindering us from loving like Jesus? Did we discover any new ways of being we might model for others regarding this issue?

Prayer: Lord, help me discover any logs blocking my soul vision of your will for my life and the lives of others who are impacted by my perception of what is just and what is right. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Gentleness

Advent
December 15, 2018

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

There is an assumption in the phrase let your gentleness be known to everyone in this scripture that all possess some amount of gentleness. Someone posted a picture of one of my adult grand-nephews recently on Facebook. He is a good-sized guy, was a football lineman in high school, and now has a full beard. The picture is of him asleep lying back in a recliner with a tiny kitten also asleep on his shoulder her head resting on his beard. The picture is the epidemy of a gentle giant and assures anyone around that nobody is going to mess with that kitten. One of the images of God is the gentle Savior who is present with all the Lord’s children and other creatures too.

The Greek word translated gentle in the above scripture is epieikḗs* and it means justice beyond ordinary justice. It represents true equity that appropriately fulfills the spirit not just the letter of the law. Sounds like a good helping of justice served with a touch of God’s grace. Isn’t that what God wants, what we want for everyone as we gently serve as God’s hands and feet active in the world today?

Gentle Savior, lead me on
Let Your Spirit light the way
Gentle Savior, lead me on
Hold me close and keep me safe
Lead me on, gentle Savior**

Prayer: O God, Lead us into greater gentleness. Amen.

*https://biblehub.com/greek/1933.htm
**Chorus of Gentle Savior lyrics by David Phelps / Kyle Matthews / Greg Bieck © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group. See at https://www.google.com/search?q=gentle+savior&oq=gentle+savi&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0l4.13560j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Do Not Worry?

Advent
December 14, 2018

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I really like this scripture and take to heart the promises of its first three short sentences. Then we come to sentence four which is an instruction to me that I find myself totally incapable of doing even with the knowledge of God’s continuing presence. The Greek word* translated “worry” here, also sometimes translated as “anxious”, at its root means drawn in opposite directions, sometimes to the point of pulling apart. I have concluded that my tossing and turning about something even in prayer is more for my benefit than anything else. In some cases, I must accept that there is nothing I can do about a situation but turn it over to God and let it go. At other times, I must accept that there is something I can do that I do not want to do but I need to do for the sake of bringing about wholeness, oneness, or justice. At such times, I am wrestling with God as Jacob did the night before his reunion with his estranged brother Esau.

What kind of a world would we have in the absence of God’s presence with us? We get a taste of what life without God would be every time we have pulled apart when our wholeness is shattered, dissent rules, and there is no justice. Thank the Lord in such times, God intervenes and sends someone to save us from ourselves. First, it was prophets and priest eventually, God visited us in human form as God’s son came and dwelt among us full of truth and grace and we beheld his glory. (John 1:14)

At this time of Advent, we revisit the acts of God’s saving grace as we prepare once again to recognize Gods abiding presence with us coming as a newborn child to bring hope and love and reconciliation into the world.

Prayer: God of Truth and Grace,
Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal**. Amen.

*https://biblehub.com/greek/3309.htm
**Verse 3 of God of Grace and God of Glory by Harry Emerson Fosdick see at https://hymnary.org/text/god_of_grace_and_god_of_glory

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Salvation

Advent
December 13, 2018

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely God is my salvation;
   I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
   he has become my salvation.
 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say on that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
   call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
   proclaim that his name is exalted. –Isaiah 12:2-4

Salvation:
1 a: deliverance from the power and effects of sin:  the spiritual saving of humankind especially from damnation
   b:  the means or agent of such saving or deliverance
2:  liberation from ignorance or illusion:  deliverance from clinging to the phenomenal world of appearance and final union with ultimate reality*

God’s rescue which delivers believers out of destruction and into His safety**

I wonder how many people who proclaim their faith in God and Jesus Christ believe they need to be delivered from the power and effects of sin. I recall two ways to salvation from my youth. One described by the phrase, “Once saved always saved.” Another was salvation by works, doing good and following Jesus’ teachings. There are, of course, dangers in both approaches.  People who subscribed to the “once saved always saved” viewpoint are tempted to take salvation for granted and fail to address their personal spiritual needs and their calling to help others. They may have a sense that they are elect people. We might identify white privilege in this category. People who invest all their energies in doing good works and following Jesus’ teachings may think they are the source of their own salvation. Of course, problems arise when they become selective or even judgmental about defining good works and the limitations of the love Jesus modeled. These are the folks who may ask, “who is my neighbor?”

Our scripture today is describing a higher plain ruled by love, absent self-interest because in God’s love we are made whole.

Prayer: Lord, help us to know the fullness of your love as we grow in faith and in loving you more dearly as we love our neighbors more nearly. Amen.

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/salvation
**https://biblehub.com/greek/4991.htm

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Prophets


Advent

December 12, 2018

Scripture Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
   a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
   he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
  as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
   so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
   and renown in all the earth.  –Zephaniah 3:17-19

I am reading Frederick Douglas by David W. Blight. A segment of his book relates Douglas’ youthful faith development. How the prophets of his day and time continually reinforced his growing faith in God even during slavery, family breakup, and uncertainty. The pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic prophets offered similar encouragement, food for thought, alternative perceptions for the people of their time that remain relevant for us today.

We live in a world, not unlike the pre-exilic times where some abound in great riches and others starve. The pictures of the emaciated children of Yemen juxtaposed against the wealth of Saudi Arabia comes to mind. We in the USA seem to be searching for a savior who can guarantee that we can have our cake and eat it too and care little about what is happening to other children of God. We indeed must be renewed in God’s love, if we are ever to find our way out of the chaos we are creating for ourselves.

In Advent, we have the luxury of hindsight as we read the words of Israel’s prophets for we know how the stories ended. The question is do we have the courage to see ourselves in similar circumstances and take the necessary measure of renewing ourselves in God’s love to prevent our repeating their mistakes?

Prayer: Lord, grant us insight into our behaviors that are detrimental to our living your love among and with all your children. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Advent
December 11, 2018

Scripture Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
   he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
   you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
   do not let your hands grow weak. –Zephaniah 3:15-16

An interesting sequence of statements appears in the above scripture:

Judgment is taken away>>>>>>fear disaster no more>>>>>>do not let your hands grow weak

What is this chain of thought saying? I think we can all appreciate not being judged for something about which we could, perhaps should, be judged. Does that statement indicate forgiveness?

There is an app on my phone from one of the local TV stations that sends out emergency weather alerts. Living in tornado alley develops a healthy respect for the storms and I appreciate having a loud and persuasive warning if a tornado is approaching. I must confess, I did not like having it awaken me recently at 3:00 am on a Wednesday morning to tell me that a winter storm warning was issued beginning at 6:00 am Friday particularly when the winter storm did not materialize. Being overcautious can result in ignoring the danger we may face or overactive fear. Prudent warning about disaster leaves no time for fear, only for action.

That leads us to keep our hands strong. Being prepared in general for whatever eventuality might come along is wise. I do think we need to work at good physical, mental, social, and spiritual health. This scripture seems to say even though we are freed from judgment, disasters can still happen, and we have a responsibility to address them to the best of our abilities with the Lord’s help.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for your forgiveness, for freeing us from fear, and for the ability to work together as your servants in making this a better world. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Prepare the Way

Advent
December 10, 2018

Scripture Reading: Luke 3:1-6

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight.
 Every valley shall be filled,
   and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
   and the rough ways made smooth;
 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’ –Luke 3:3-6

Arriving home from some shopping several weeks ago, I was surprised to see a truck parked in front of my next-door neighbor’s house and workers installing a temporary wheelchair ramp. I learned later that one of her relatives had been injured in an accident and he was moving in with her while he rehabbed since at that point, he was wheelchair bound. They were preparing a way for him to access the house.

When we read the quote above from Isaiah, we recognize that John the Baptist was being the front man for Jesus before he started his ministry. As I read this scripture today, it struck me that we are all called to prepare the way for all flesh (to) see the salvation of God. Those of us who are just as at home in a church as we are in our own living space may be insensitive or even blind to the fears of others who were not raised following the path of Christ. A few years ago, my church dropped the use of Latin words to describe parts of the service and started printing the words that most of us knew by heart like the Lord’s Prayer because they might be unfamiliar to many guests.

Worship is not all there is to prepare the way. Living a life of service modeling the ways of Jesus is just as important in our daily lives. Some may feel more comfortable feeding the hungry or tutoring children in school as they discover the ways of the Lord and certainly heartfelt hospitality is always a way to welcome the stranger.

Prayer: Lord, show us how to prepare the way. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Loving with Intention

Advent
December 9, 2018

Scripture Reading: Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. –Luke 3:1-2

I think we all tend to associate events in our lives when we try to recall when other things happen. What I have discovered is that as an adult there are fewer major events with which to link like births and baptism, starting school or getting one’s driver’s license, graduations and marriages. This results in time coalescing. I do not know how many times I have said something like “that happened a few years ago.” When I check the date of the event being described it may have happened 20 or 30 years ago. I am less likely to relate time to the tenure of leaders as I am to remember events related to leaders like the Kennedy assassination.

Luke apparently felt it important to be specific about when the word of God came to John but according to Roman records, Tiberius began his reign in 14 CE, some years after it is believed Jesus was born. I do not think the date is important to the story, but I do think it is crucial that we understand we may live through years doing ordinary things to the extent that our intentionality to be a part of God’s great vision of a world ruled by love gets lost in our routines.

This is a very busy time of the year. I find myself having to pick between various activities that are all scheduled at the same time most of which I would like to do; most of which have little or nothing to do with creating a more loving world except perhaps what grows from nurturing relationships with family and close friends. My opportunity to feed the hungry was canceled because of inclement weather. We were schedule to serve at 7:00 pm and the homeless must be checked in to most shelters by 6:00 pm to be assured that they have a warm place to spend the night.

The key word here is intentionality. We must make routine our acts of oneness in Kingdom building or they may get lost in the chaos.

Prayer: Lord, help me schedule time in my calendar to love my neighbors as I love myself, all my neighbors. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

The Harvest of Love

Advent
December 8, 2018

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:3-11

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. –Philippians 1:9-11

My dad was a custom hay baler. He bought a new straw hat every spring to wear while working outside, A wise idea for most people working long hours in the sun, it was especially important for him because he was bald. He had a habit of tossing his straw hate into the baler as he completed the last row of the last field to commemorate the end of another season when the hay harvest was over. There is something special about finishing a task. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into baling hay with a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. Weather is a primary determinate of success over which the farmer has no control. Machinery breaks down and must be fixed. I remember many trips to town to get a new part to replace one that was broken. My dad was also his own mechanic, welder, and make-doer.

Paul’s prayer for Christ’s followers in the scripture today is grounded in a similar knowledge that sharing the love of God is hard work, requiring adjustments on the fly based on the realities we face each day. Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the church calendar. Staying with the idea of the harvest, Advent is the time to get ready for the planting or as my dad would do, buy a new straw hat. It is the time of darkness before the spring sowing of seed that allows us to assess where we are in our mission to love others while recalling what the world was like without the light and love of God through Jesus Christ. During this time, we welcome anew the coming of God in human form in preparation for another year of our love overflowing as we strive to be the Body of Christ in the world today.

Prayer: Lord, surround us with your love during this Advent season as we perfect our art of loving as Jesus loves. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.