Renew the Church

Lent
March 25, 2019

Scripture Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

he Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. –Joshua 5:9

The story before this verse is straightforward. God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians but once in the desert they stopped following the ways of God as illustrated in circumcision. All the males who fled Egypt were circumcised but the practice was discontinued in the desert. Two generations passed, 40 years, before they were ready to enter the promised land. All the people who fled Egypt were dead and all the males left were uncircumcised.  Thus, when God opened the River Jordan for the Israelites to pass into the promised land Joshua reinstated the covenantal act of circumcised re-establishing their relationship with God.

I must confess I am guilty of changing my daily routines when I travel. Doing yoga every day is essential for my arthritic body to move well but I never seem to find time to do it on the road. I  apparently think sugary foods that I would never eat at home are necessary on a trip. I also act differently when my electricity is off for some reason. There is not much one could do without electricity. I have never taken a 40-year trip, nor have I experienced loss of electricity for more than a week. It appears though that the Israelites adapted to a permanent state of disruption throughout their journey until one or two generations had passed away. The interesting thing to me is not that they drifted away from who they were meant to be. Some apparently kept the faith, held on to the knowledge of God until the time was ripe for the whole people to reconnect with God.

Throughout the history of God, a small fragment of people of faith have carried forward the ways of God. God loves us and wants us to be one in a kingdom ruled by love. God is dedicated to making that so. We should be too.

Prayer:
Renew your church, our ministries restore:
both to serve and adore.
Make us again as salt throughout the land,
and as light from a stand.
‘Mid somber shadows of the night,
where greed and hatreds spread their blight,
O send us forth with power endued,
help us, Lord, be renewed*. [Amen]

*First verse of Renew the Church by Kenneth Lorne Cober see at https://hymnary.org/text/renew_thy_church_her_ministries_restore

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.

Being One

Lent
March 24, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 13:1-9

Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’ –Luke 13:6-9

The above scripture asks probably the most difficult questions for any follower of Christ to answer. When is it ever appropriate to give up? I have struggled with the question more than once in lesser and more serious situations and have discovered in many circumstances that the concept of letting something lie fallow for a time is a helpful interim step to giving up.

Lying fallow is an agrarian practice when the land is cultivated and planted for a time allowing it to recover its nutrients. In most instances this is practiced in rotation so that one’s whole farm is not lying fallow at the same time. The practice is older than Exodus:

but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. –Exodus 23:11

I have grown weary of war, which in my lifetime has never solved anything, although we seemed to fight someone about something continuously. The same can be said about faith organizations. Jesus was very clear about his intent that his followers become one. Instead of wasting our energies fighting each other to see who is right and who is wrong, we might serve God better if we let the things that divide us lie fallow and work together on the things on which we agree. Jesus outlines several on which we might concentrate, feeding the hungry, providing safe water to the thirsty, healing the sick, restoring the prisoner, welcoming the stranger. We might be surprised at how those divisive issues take care of themselves over time as we better invest our time working together.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we devote more energy to the things that divide than to the things that are more likely to make us one. 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 our Neighbors and Our Enemies

Lent
March 23, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’ –Luke 13:1-5

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. –Matthew 5:43-45

Bad things do happen to good people. Some people we might consider bad seem to skate through life with few challenges. Jesus implies in both the above scriptures something to the effect that it does rain on the just and the unjust. What he also says is that loving God and loving all of God’s children better prepares us for those events in life that are so unbearable.

Our age of instant communications immediately makes us aware of tragedies around the world. This week we heard of the killings in Mosques in New Zealand and a devastating cyclone and flood in Mozambique killing over 242 people. I watched a farmer walk among the 700 bodies of drowned pigs from floods in the USA, his family’s livelihood destroyed in a manner of minutes. That was just one farm. There is no telling how the floods along the Mississippi river will impact our food supplies.

Of course, the response to salvage what can be saved, comfort those directly affected and rebuild are all our responsibilities. We are also called to do what we can to prevent these type events in the future. New Zealand has already strengthened their gun control laws. Stronger and more levies may be needed along the Mississippi and water sources in Mozambique. We must also face the realities of climate change and do all that is humanly possible to address it. These are examples of working together toward the Common Good. They are also examples of loving our neighbors and our enemies.

Prayer: Lord, awaken us to the needs of all and direct us toward ways to help, as we strive to follow your example of love while working for the Common Good. 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.

God is Faithful

Lent
March 22, 2019

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. –1 Corinthians 9-13

This scripture reminds me of the joke about the guy on his roof in a flood. He prays for God to save him. A rescuer in a boat comes by and offers to take him to safety and the guy replies, “No thanks, God is going to save me.” After two other offers of help are dismissed the guy drowns. When he comes face to face with God, he asks why God did not save him, God says, “I sent three people to help you and you turned them all down.” One of the most difficult aspects for many humans in all kinds of relationships but particularly with God is understanding that the relationship is communal.

I think God delights in every aspect of our growth and development as humans from our first step to that aha moment when we ride a bike or read a book all by ourselves to being on the team that discovered how to create the airplane or cure cancer.  God loves being a part of our loving each other and caring for each other.

Humans are not perfect yet and we sometimes fail ourselves and each other but we must never be pulled into the trap of projecting our lapses onto God. God who is love is incapable of being unfaithful.

Prayer:  May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. [Amen] –1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

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.

Learning Love

Lent
March 21, 2019

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. –1 Corinthians 10:1-8

Would that the cause and effects of our lives were as black and white as Paul suggests. They are not. He is expressing the hindsight of a few thousand years.  We do not even learn from that history and thus history repeats itself. How do we escape the desire for evil? How do we learn from our mistakes? How do we escape the rationalization that we are the one who can dance with evil and come out unscathed? How do we pass that knowledge to others and coming generations? How do we build a kingdom ruled by love where evil’s power is no longer alluring, and its energies are refocused to good?

Perhaps we do need to become like little children* in our spiritual development. Infants learn from their mistakes rarely rapidly. They may miss their mouths many times but when they finally taste the food and find that it is good, that knowledge is recorded, and they soon no longer miss the mark. They also learn interactions with others quickly. Making it very important that parents react to them in ways that encourage independence while assuring loving support in the progress.

In like matter we learn of God’s abiding love and wisdom through a process of nurture and growth in a world full of distractions and tempting shortcuts in navigate the world about us. Our goals in life are impacted by those distractions and shortcuts. If we are hungry and have no food, we are more likely to do anything to survive. If we feel unloved like we do not belong, we are apt to search for love in all the wrong places.

As followers of Christ we are called to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We learn to love ourselves when we accept in every fiber of our being that God loves us, created us, and that in God’s creation God identified us as good.  Such love enables us to love all of God’s children even those who do not yet understand how much God loves them. Our job is to nurture that understanding.

Prayer: Lord, free me from the distractions of evil and empower me to be a sharer of your love. Amen.

*Derived from Matthew 18:2-4

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 Cure for Being Weary

Lent
March 20, 2019

Scripture Reading: Psalm 63:1-8

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
   my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
   as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
   beholding your power and glory.Because your steadfast love is better than life,
   my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
   I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
   and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
   and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
   and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
   your right hand upholds me.

This is my Psalm although I am happy to share it with others. I am sure I had read it before I entered spiritual direction training, but I discovered the depth of its spirit in that context. I find it especially comforting in these days of divisiveness, violence, and hate. It is easy to grow weary in such an environment. Spending quality time with God is always important. Renewing faith in love is crucial. This scripture helps me in both.

I found it interesting that the developers of the Lectionary I use chose only to use the first eight verses as do I for meditation. The last three lines are full of vengeance toward enemies. I guess I have grown weary of that also. The Psalmist though may have stumbled on to something that is helpful. It is a lot better to rant and rave to God when we feel a need to wish others ill will. If we get it out of our system before God, the path is paved for us to deal with others in the ways of God. Another of my Psalms is 51:10: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Our recognition of the trash in our hearts is the first step toward gaining that right spirit.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for listening to me sputter and spout about the actions of others over which I have no control. Help me to realize that I may not be seeing the full picture, that I never know another’s full situation and they do not know mine. Make us one in love, O Lord, make us one. 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.

Satisfied

Lent
March 18, 2019

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in rich food. –Isaiah 55:1-2

Water is necessary to sustain life. So how do we buy water when we have no money? Bread equals food also important for life.  Why do we spend our money for things that do not satisfy us?

I have a love hate relationship with food. A skinny, sickly child, I loved to eat all the wonderful food that is readily available on a farm but inherited a digestive system that did not always cooperate. Fast forward to adulthood and I suddenly found myself grossly overweight resulting in the need to totally revamp my eating habits. I find at times I hunger for something I cannot identify but searching in all the wrong places for that just right food does not satisfy and can hurt.

I do not think Isaiah is talking about food or water or even meeting the needs of those who cannot afford either. He is challenging us to rise above searching for a God substitute when God loves us as deeply as we can possibly be loved If we welcome God into our lives, God can and will satisfy the deepest hungers of our souls. There is no price for God’s love but our willingness to share our love with him.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me when I opt for lesser gods instead of responding to your wondrous love. 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.

Left to Us

Lent
March 17, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”’

Another mass shooting happened yesterday as I write. This time in New Zealand; this time at a Mosque; this time white supremacist claimed credit. I can envision Jesus sitting on a hillside looking down on our whole world and uttering the words:  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

It struck me recently that the United States of American is now Egypt or Rome. Either will do as an example. They were both great empires that thrived and then failed because of their greed and lust for power. Egypt once welcomed the stranger, Joseph’s family, but later became their oppressor. Rome is known for its amazing building innovations, the idea of newspapers, caring for the welfare of its citizens, roads and highways, even the calendar we now use*. Yet it crumbled from corruption, too much emphasis on military might, and not enough on climate change and disease**. Sound familiar?

Jesus said in the scripture above, See, your house is left to you. We still have a choice in the United States of America. We can choose to turn around and seek the Common Good not only for our nation but for the world or we can join the ranks of our predecessors who could not overcome evil with good.

We have an advantage if we are willing to accept it. The vision of a Kingdom ruled by loved as seen through the eyes of the one who can save us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise***. Amen.

*https://www.history.com/news/10-innovations-that-built-ancient-rome
**The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper
***First verse of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind  by John Greenleaf Whittier see at https://www.godtube.com/popular-hymns/dear-lord-and-father-of-mankind/
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.

He Lives

Lent
March 16, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 13:31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”’

On reading the gospels, one might draw the conclusion that Jesus had made enemies of all the faith leaders of the temple except perhaps Nicodemus. Thus, the story in the above scripture of Pharisees coming to Jesus to warn him against Herod’s threat indicates that there were those who may not have followed him but also did not want harm to come to him. We glean the life of Jesus from bits and piece of information collected and filtered through generations of his followers and distincters. In the final analysis, we discern Jesus through his love both as we observe it in the acts of his followers and in our own relationship with the risen Christ.

Faith in God is a choice not based on scientific findings or historic proofs, not ordered by despots or enticed by con artist, but formed through the acceptance of the pure love of the Creator God as demonstrated by God’s incarnation in Jesus, the Christ.

I serve a risen Saviour; He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him He’s always near. 

He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart*.

Prayer: That you Lord for the gift of Jesus who lived your love as a role model for all. Amen.

*First verse and chorus of He Lives by Alfred H. Ackley see at https://www.greatchristianhymns.com/he-lives.html

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.

Out of Sync with God

Lent
March 15, 2019

Scripture Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

At the time of this writing, I am studying Henri J. M. Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved. Thus, I found the final phrase of the above scripture particularly interesting. Nouwen posits that God recognized Jesus as God’s beloved at Jesus’ baptism. We, too, are God’s beloved through God’s love for us as demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrections of Jesus, the Christ. As God loves us, we accept all of God’s children as our beloved friends even family.

I take great hope in that statement particularly in a world that seems in many cases out of sync with God’s love. We are each called as individuals and collectively as the Body of Christ to bring our world into sync with God’s love. That all begins with our fullest understanding that we are indeed God’s beloved. I fear many, including me at times, have trouble accepting that reality. I wonder how much of our reticence toward accepting that we are the beloved of God is the result of our enchantment with some of the things of the world that cause our world to be out of sync? Things that are such a normal part of our lives we cannot image they are interfering with our relationship with God or impacting anyone else’s relationships with God.

Sometimes it takes a disaster for us to realize some of our life choices are interfering with the vision God has for us. I am afraid that disasters have become so common place that even those, unless they hit very close to home, no longer raise our awareness to comprehend what is off kilter in our society. Refugee children being separated from their parents and held in cages would not have been accepted as appropriate treatment of any of God’s beloved by the One who said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ (Matthew 19:14)

Prayer: Lord shake us out of our complacency so that we might better target our work toward building a world where all are recognized as your beloved.

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.