Heeding the Prophet

 

Ordinary Time
January 22, 2018

Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. –Deuteronomy 18:15-18

A follower of Christ cannot read the above scripture without picturing Jesus as this prophet, one the Jewish community still awaits. While we claim the calling and the title of Christ, do we heed this prophet’s teachings? I fear we invest a lot of time at the least putting our words in his mouth, at worst redrawing him in our image. Jesus’ teachings are hard, particularly in the “me first” world in which we find ourselves.

Matthew 5:41: and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

Matthew 7:1-3: ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?

Matthew 7:12: ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.’

Matthew 18:21-22: Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Matthew 22:39b: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We, of course, are called to follow all of these actions all the time. Sometimes when we are having trouble with one or the other, it might be a good idea to set aside a period of concentration on one of the more difficult teachings. Letting Christ do his job as judge, while my assignment is loving the other is perhaps the toughest. For some reason, we must think we will rise in Christ’s opinion of us if we are better than someone else. The very opposite of that is true throughout Jesus’ teachings. Indeed, he said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40b)

The above review just skims the surface surveying only Matthew for Jesus’ teachings on how to heed the prophet that we know as the Christ. Perhaps we might want to review his teachings one more time.

Prayer:  God, forgive me when I put my words in your mouth. Open my eyes that I may see your truth as I glean the scriptures. 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.

 

Gifts Differing

Ordinary Time
January 21, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:14-20

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. –Mark 1:16-20

A friend and I were planning a trip recently.  I had left our last conversation thinking we had reached a decision on our plans and just needed to finalize the reservations and so forth. The first words out of her mouth when we met were that she had received an ad in the mail about a meeting on Sunday where several travel agencies would explore various ideas on vacations. My first response was to say I could not attend because I had a conflict, which was true, but my gut was reacting with thoughts that we did not need any more input. At that point, it dawned on me that her process orientation and my goal orientation were bumping heads. One is not better than the other; both are necessary for good decision making. I am referring to Myers Briggs personality types*. In a nutshell, these types include 16 combinations of eight opposite traits: Introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuitive, thinking/feeling, and goal oriented/process oriented. The idea is that all of these types are necessary for our world but by their very nature they can cause confusion and misunderstanding. Learning about the types builds better understanding of communication.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus selected the twelve disciples that he did? Why Paul carefully taught that there are different gifts and all are important? God created an interdependent world. Synergy ** results when two or more are gathered together to go about the business of doing God’s work. Our investment in learning from one another and learning how to work with one another is directly related to the success of our work in God’s service

Prayer: Creator God, give us insight and wisdom to complement each others talents and skills so they may be used to your glory. Amen.

*For more information see http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/the-16-mbti-types.htm?bhcp=1

**Briefly the total equals more than the sum of the parts.

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 both Wise and Innocent

Ordinary Time
January 20, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ –Mark 1:14-15

What is our final straw? What must happen to get us up and out into the world to do our part toward building the Kingdom of God? Jesus and John had most likely talked and prayed about the need for change many times; may even have had a plan. Jesus probably saw the writing on the wall that John’s arrest would lead to his death. The mantle was on Jesus’ shoulders now.

I heard and read several voices of race-hate this week. Hecklers calling out in gatherings celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. disrupted meetings. I was stunned to hear of states placing work requirements for adults to receive Medicaid. There are very few adults even eligible to receive Medicaid, and if they do, they are most likely at that moment too sick to work. Many of these adults are parents of children who need them returned to health so that they can support their families. Why would we suddenly require thousands of refugees from El Salvador sheltered here to return to their homeland when we warn our citizens that it is a place too dangerous to visit? Are these types of policies the way you envision the Kingdom of God functioning?

I am a strong supporter of the USA constitutional separation of church and state. I respect the rights of people to practice freedom of speech and religion. I also think it is incumbent on each of us to make our voices heard regarding the way our state or country should function. Less than half of eligible voters, vote in most elections. Many who vote are caught up in one-issue or another without regard to how the candidate might act on other issues. I believe some candidates emphasis wedge issues to get elected because they have other issues that are more important to them but are not as important to their constituents. They are sly like foxes. Jesus tells us ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

Prayer: Lord, create in us pure hearts, hold us closely in synch with your will, and empower us to step out in faith in support of a world that reflects your 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.

Clarity of Expression

Ordinary Time
January 19, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

I follow the lectionary in writing these daily devotions because it challenges me to read scriptures to which I might not otherwise pay attention. Some, like the one above, leave me wondering what is, in this case, Paul trying to say? I consulted the NRSV commentary and found that the scripture is included with other suggestions (?) Paul has for the Corinthians and us too today, for how to live in the world but not of the world. Now the commentary did say that Paul left out some verbiage probably making it difficult to translate. Does he mean when he says let those who have wives be as though they had none that they should play the single man with other women or avoid intimate relationships with their wives? I will confess that I have reviewed some of my writing and in hindsight wondered what I meant by what I wrote. I hope that has not happened too often regarding anything that was read by others. One can see why strange interpretations can arise from Biblical texts at times though.

I say that only to caution us to search for deeper meanings when we come across something that is not clear at least to us. My final action in such instances is to determine whether my understanding of the text passes what I like to call the test of love. Does my interpretation of this scripture pass the test of love? Perhaps reading Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 would guide such discernment.

Prayer: Lord, help us to communicate your word and your way so that they are blessings to others and not stumbling blocks. 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.

Greed Addiction

Ordinary Time
January 18, 2018

Scripture Reading: Psalm 62:5-10

Those of low estate are but a breath,
   those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
   they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
   and set no vain hopes on robbery;
   if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. –1 Corinthians 62:9-10

God is magnanimous. having been made in the image of God, we are fully capable of being magnanimous too. So why aren’t we? And, why are we sometimes guilty of wrapping greed in sanctity?

Magnanimous means:
1. having, showing, or suggesting nobility of feeling and generosity of mind: devoid of meanness or          pettiness

2. showing or suggesting a lofty and courageous spirit.

The Indian Removed of the 19th century dubbed Manifest Destiny was nothing, but greed run amok. Slavery, often justified by using Biblical quotes, provided labor that garnered greater profits for their owners. Today, companies not paying a living wage, reap the fruits of their employees’ labor driving the stock market to record highs while forcing their staff to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and child care subsidies. Our society disparages people receiving these benefits. Private prisons, to make a profit, rely on an ample, and continuous stream of persons convicted of crimes and have little motive to rehabilitate them. The military industrial complex depends on war or the fear of war to be successful. And there is no question in my mind that our so-called immigration problem could be quickly solved if some folks weren’t profiting greatly off the backs of undocumented aliens.

So how do we move this mountain of greed and attain the abundance that Jesus desires for all of God’s children? A first step might be revisiting what that abundance looks like and what it means to have enough.

Regarding our epidemic of greed, faith groups universal must ascertain whether they are contributing to the problem through investments or even underpaying their staff. Individuals too would reap the benefits of examining their investments, attitudes, and behaviors. Justice requires us all to speak for those without voice or power.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we get caught in the grip of greed. Show us ways to live your love in all aspects of our lives. Amen.

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/magnanimous

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.

Silenc

Ordinary Time
January 17, 2018

Scripture Reading: Psalm 62:5-10

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
   for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
   my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor
   my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. 

Trust in him at all times, O people;
   pour out your heart before him;
   God is a refuge for us. –Psalm 62:5-8

The final two verses (9 and 10) of this scripture address the problem of greed which I will deal with tomorrow. My gut level reaction, after reading the first eight verses that segued into greed was: I am really tired of greed messing with my life and the lives of everyone else. So I went back and read these first eight verses again, and went for a walk. I believe that is a good prescription for people dedicated to justice, which includes alleviating all the damage caused by greed.

I am a child of the sixties who invested a lot of time and energy during that decade in stopping what I thought was an unjust war and eliminating racial discrimination. Here I am 50+ later still dealing with unjust war and racism. While I do get discouraged, my faith in God’s infinite justice is even stronger today. Why? I routinely spend time alone with God. God helps me ferret out what is important and what is not, where I can make a difference and where I cannot. I imagine God getting tired of my rantings and ravings. God has heard them over and over again. Once I get them off my chest, I am enabled to wait in silence and silence is the blessing that strengthens me to continue my work.

 Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’ (Psalm 46:10)

One of my favorite classic books is J. B. Phillips’ Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike. Perhaps it is time to dust it off and read it again. Perhaps it would help you too.

Prayer: Dear God, forgive me when I fail to recognize your omnipotence, unlimited power. 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.

Changes to Change

Ordinary Time
January 16, 2018

Scripture Reading: Jonah 3:1-6, 10

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
–Jonah 3:10

We can take great comfort in God who forgives and sends the Spirit to help us out of the muddles, in which we find ourselves.

My favorite movie of all times is The Mission. * Based on the true experiences of a Jesuit priest and a slaver in 1740. The priest was sent to Argentina and the western Paraguayan jungle to bring Christ to that area; the slaver was there to capture natives and sell them for a profit.  It is a complex tale of a corrupt church with a dedicated servant and a scoundrel of a man touched by the Lord through the priest.

My favorite scene in the movie is when the priest forgives the slaver and gives him the penance of climbing a rugged mountainside with all his armor in a sack tied to his body. I am not into penance necessarily, but my experience suggests that at times when someone has sinned in a way in which they cannot forgive themselves, it sometimes helps for them to physically and mentally enact their repentance through some ordeal. My preference is service to others. The slaver realized his forgiveness at the top of the mountain when with his energy spent, he came face to face with a native child holding a hatchet ready to strike. The man was vulnerable to what I am sure he thought was certain death when the child slams the hatchet down with all his might cutting the rope that held the heavy load of armor on the slaver’s back. As the sack and its contents tumble down the mountainside, the child, which the slaver would have formerly viewed as a source of profit, helps the slaver make the last push up and over the mountains edge. The story does not end well for any of the protagonists, but I think the last scene strongly suggests that God eternally planted hope in the hearts of the surviving natives.

We too live in a complex world full of bigotry and sexual harassment, poverty sapping the life out of children and adults, greed and lust for power and on and on. We too worship the same forgiving God who can and will make all things new, if we turn around and follow his Son’s example and message of love.

Prayer: Lord, take away the armor of the world with which we protect ourselves from fully knowing you. Forgive us of our sins, show us your path everlasting and walk with us throughout our lIfe journeys. Amen.

*For more information see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mission_(1986_film),

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.

Hearing with New Ears

Ordinary Time
January 15, 2018

Hearing with New Ears

Scripture Reading: Jonah 3:1-6, 10

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. –Jonah 3:1-6

In the cacophony of prophets, good and bad, speaking today, how do we discern the will of God? I do not think that the people heard God by either Jonah’s eloquence or even rightness. They heard the will of God that Jonah did speak because the Spirit stirred their hearts and their minds to listen with new ears.

The media is all over a story about the President using foul language to describe people he believes are not worthy of migrating to our country. While we might never use the language, he used, how many of us carry the same bigotry in our beings. Who do we want to come to the USA? Who of us do experience fear when we think about diverse people fully integrating into our society? How many of us can truly say Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free*?  Are we more apt to desire migrants who are the best and the brightest and even the whitest? Do we truly believe that God created the earth and all that is in it and that God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them? (Genesis 1:27) Whether you believe creation happened in seven days or millions of years, the truth of God’s image being the source of humanity rings true. When we think we are better than any of God’s children, we think we are better than God. Blasphemy separates us from God. Once our hearts are set right with God, we can discern the true prophets of God.

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.

*Taken from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus part of which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty
**First verse of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind by John Greenleaf Whittier, see at https://hymnary.org/text/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.

All of Me

Ordinary Time
January 14, 2018

Scripture Reading: John 1:43-51

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there Ithe fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’—John 1:47-51

My step-grandfather, the only grandfather I ever knew, was a craft carpenter. He did beautify work in wood. Picking the wood for a project was the most important aspect. Even after finding the perfect piece, my grandfather would study it completely learning every unique grain design, where the flaws were he might have to work around, and where the grain was just perfect so he could exploit them to make a good piece great. God knows each of God’s children in the same way. God helps us learn from and overcome our flaws and makes our gifts stronger.

I am a bit unnerved by the thought that God knows me so intimately, but I am probably more comforted by it. I do not have to waste God’s or my time pretending I am not me.  I remember Paul’s account of communing with God about his thorn in the flesh:

but [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God can use our flaws when we open ourselves fully to relationship with God.

One of my college English professors had worked as a public school superintendent. He told my class once that he never hired teachers who only made A’s. He feared they would not know what it feels like to fail and recover. I do not put that much stock in grades, but I got his point and remembered the wisdom of his concern. I also always made C’s in penmanship, so I had nothing to worry about meeting my teacher’s criteria.

Prayer: God of both the Weak and the Strong, help us learn from our flaws and use our strengths to your service. 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.

What’s in a Town?

Ordinary Time
January 13, 2018

Scripture Reading: John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ –John 1:43-49

I grew up on a farm near three small towns located about equal distance from where we lived. We did business in all three towns at one time or another. My dentist was in one, my doctor in another. I do not know why my parents chose which town to visit. As a teenager, I was cautioned not to frequent one of these towns after dark when I was on my own or with friends as it was dangerous. I never knew what that meant, and I did go there with friends occasionally. Nothing bad ever happened. I wonder if the caution came from something that happened in that town when my dad was a teenager some 30 years earlier. It was the closets of the three towns, but more boring than the other two. There was not much to do except drive around the square and see who else was there.

I do think that caution caused me to wonder if anything good could come from that town. Funny, how our minds associate things to make us assume something, not in evidence. Such transference is the bases of much bigotry.

Perhaps having to live with people judging Jesus by his hometown gave him a greater understanding of the importance of inclusiveness. He selected a broad sweep of disciples to train. I worked in an office once with all primarily white women. Don’t ever want to do it again. Give me diversity. One must work a little harder to understand or create the environment for success in such an environment, but the creativity from diverse experiences and training makes for far better outcomes.

Prayer: God, equip us to appreciate the value of learning from each other. 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.