Jesus: Friend, Mediator

Kingdom Building

September 20, 2019

Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-7

For there is one God;
   there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
   who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. –1 Timothy 2:5-7

While I am not uncomfortable with my conception of Jesus the Christ, I cannot explain it well. I cannot remember a time when Jesus was not in my life. Some call people like me, cradle Christians and that is accurate. I was raised in a Christian home. Jesus was my friend even as a preschooler, separate and apart from Sunday school lessons and prayers around the family table. One might think of that as the make-believe friend preschoolers often create in their minds and perhaps that is so. To this day Jesus as my friend teaching me how to love and is foundational to my faith.

As I grew and delved deeper into scriptures, adversity in my life circumstances made me question at an elementary age what I understood about Jesus compared to what others believed forcing me to analyze and compare, wonder and observe. Such early skepticism stood the test of time. I soon moved into trying to comprehend what this person called the Christ was. Jesus morphed into the Christ or always was the Christ maybe? Christ was and probably still is another name for Jesus, not a title, in my mind. Funny though, Messiah is a title to me and then there is God Incarnate. In my writing I discovered that in my mind Christ and God are both the Lord. The Holy Spirit plays some part in this spectrum.

Truth is it is difficult to know all the sides of the prism that is a human being. Knowing God is even more mysterious. I take great comfort in knowing that that which we call God grasps the fullness of all creation including all human beings even me. I appreciate God’s sending a mediator to intercede on my behalf in communing with God which brings us back to my friend, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord, we worship you as Creator all powerful and always present and praise you for loving us enough to send Jesus to broaden our understanding of your love and vision for our lives. 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.

Abiding Presence

Kingdom Building

September 19, 2019

Scripture Reading:
1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. –1 Timothy 2:1-4

We can work as hard as we possibly can to model our lives like Jesus being good people who do justice and show mercy. We can engage in communion with God to guide our actions and our behavior and work to walk humbly with God.  These actions grow our faith, nurture our hope, and expand our love. These steps, however, are preparation for the next giant step, joining in Christ’s call to create a world ruled by love. For it will take all the faith, hope, and love that we can muster to make that change happen.

Thus, the author of Timothy urges us to pray for all leaders and kings, whether we like them or not and trust me when Timothy was written there were more disliked than liked for good reason. We must understand that God’s gift of free will includes everyone and sometimes our prayers collide with the desires of others. Somehow amid such conflicting ideas, God is still God and engages with all of us in seeking a world ruled by love. That is God’s ultimate desire, I believe, and God can support multiple ways of making it happen. Our prayers for those leaders whether we think they are great, mediocre, or awful are important, if for no other reason than to help us keep [our] heads while all about us are losing theirs and blaming it on [us]* while God continues to work toward that vision.

Our faith and trust in God as we partner with God in seeking that vision is key to our salvation amid chaos and the salvation of all who will come to know God’s love.

Prayer: God who is love, the breadth and depth of which is beyond our understanding, thank you for your abiding presence and amazing patience. Amen.

*Taken from If for Boys by Rudyard Kipling. See at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46473/if–

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.

Accepting Responsibility

Kingdom Building

September 18, 2019

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 79:1-9

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
   Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
Pour out your anger on the nations
   that do not know you,
and on the kingdoms
   that do not call on your name.
For they have devoured Jacob
   and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;
   let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
   for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
   for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and forgive our sins,
   for your name’s sake. –Psalm 79:5-9

I read these two stanzas of a poem and decided they reflect a good grasp of humans. The first of the two expresses some amount of guilt saying will you be angry forever. Of course, I am assuming the person praying is assuming God is angry at them. Perhaps the person is also assuming that God is angry because the person is guilty of turning to other gods. Will your jealous wrath burn like fire? Then it takes a common human turn, get angry at all those other nations that do not even follow you. He or she then prays for God to not blame us for what our ancestors did. We struggle with that even today trying to deal with slavery and the massacre of indigenous peoples among other things.

Finally, like Jacob wrestling with God*, the author of the poem recognizes that we, too, like our ancestors and all other people are sinners. We are responsible for our sins. When we take responsibility for our sins and work to change our behaviors and bring reconciliation and restoration to correct any fallout from our sins, we are doing our part as a member of God’s kingdom of love. Even better when we learn to work together in love bringing about reconciliation and restoration, we further the development of God’s Kingdom in our world.

Prayer:    for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and forgive our sins,
   for your name’s sake. Amen.
*See Genesis 32:22-32

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.

Healing

Kingdom Building

September 17, 2019

Is there no balm in Gilead?
   Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
   not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
   and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
   for the slain of my poor people! –Jeremiah 8:22-9:1

I do not understand how our country has become overtaken by trite words and phrases that in no way describe the systemic problems we are called to address to assure the Common Good. We do not seem to want to dig past these surfaces and deal with the real problems threatening things like our health care. We treat them like Friday night football against our archrivals. I am a sports fan an enjoying cheering my favorite teams but that is a totally different situation from trying to address the Common Good. As a participant in a democracy we are called to take the time to determine what is best for the nation and each person who is a part of it. We all perceive the needs based on our own perspective. I know we see the issues. I see social media post, even TV pleas, asking for donations to pay for health care for special, heart rending cases, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

We must learn to share our perspectives with others while hearing their ideas and find the common ground that makes sense to provide for the Common Good. Negotiations, compromise, and give and take are all required. We the people are responsible for what happens in our nation. I have recently seen videos where two opposing teams worked together to allow a player with handicapping conditions to know the joy of scoring. Our teens may have a better handle on the Common Good than the adults.

Truth is there are solutions to the problems we face. We certainly do not know all the answers; I am sure we do not even know all the problems. We do know some interventions that work. God equipped us with brains to search for and find other answers. What we lack is the will. What we lack is the willingness to see that greed is a primary roadblock to progress. There is a balm in Gilead there are physicians, people just cannot afford them.

Prayer: Lord, when you walked upon the earth you healed many people. Make us healers also. 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.

Higher Ground

Kingdom Building

September 16, 2019

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
   my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people
   from far and wide in the land:
‘Is the Lord not in Zion?
   Is her King not in her?’
(‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
   with their foreign idols?’)
‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
   and we are not saved.’
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
   I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. –Jeremiah 8:18-21

Our world seems to be at a crossroad or perhaps more complex in a matrix a place or point of origin or growth*. The Israelites encountered such an event in the days of Jeremiah mid 600’s BC. He saw the way his people were distracted from the challenges of changes that were necessary for their survival. They continually followed the lesser ways of greed and power struggles, of trading the God of Abraham, Moses, and David for the god’s they could shape with their hands. Rather than step into a new tomorrow not being sure what the future held they chose to follow the path of self-righteousness and self-aggrandizement.  They chose what Paul would later call the world.

God seeks people that know how to build a kingdom that is ruled by love erected on God’s love and love for one another. God created all humans with such capacity. When he finds those who share God’s vision, God travels with them, communes with them, and delights in their development of that kingdom and they respond in kind. We, too, must make that decision whether we have the faith and the courage to follow God’s ways taking a step closer to God’s kingdom or get more and more mired in the wisdom of the world.

Prayer:
Lord, lift me up, and let me stand
By faith on Canaan’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
  Lord, plant my feet on higher ground. Amen.                                                                                        

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/matrix
**From I’m pressing on the upward way by Johnson Oatman Jr. See at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/396

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 Welcoming Table

Kingdom Building

September 15, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-10

So he told them this parable: ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’ –Luke 15:1-3, 8-10

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

All people at one time or another lose their way, miss the mark.  To paraphrase Matthew 7:3, we too often see the speck in our neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in our own eye. The church does not exist to provide a haven for groups of people with similar logs while ostracizing those with specks they do not have. That seems to be what was happening in the faith community addressing Jesus in our scripture above. It also seems to happen in faith communities today.

There is an old gospel song that recognizes that Jesus invited all to come to his table. This song, however, indicates for the people singing it, their being welcomed was not available to them in this life.

I’m gonna eat at the welcome table,
I’m going to eat at the welcome table, Allelu.
I’m gonna eat at the welcome table,
I’m gonna eat at the welcome table, Allelu.

I’m gonna eat and drink with my Jesus,
I’m gonna eat and drink with my Jesus, Allelu.
I’m gonna eat and drink with my Jesus,
I’m gonna eat and drink with my Jesus, Allelu.

Our call as Christ followers is to invite all to feast at the Lord’s table now as we strive to bring the reality of God’s Kingdom of love to the world in real time.

Prayer: Lord forgive us when we fail to see the log in our eyes as individuals and as collections of people. Open our hearts to love all your children and welcome them into our lives. 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.

Learning Love

Kingdom Building

September 14, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

 So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance. –Luke 15:1-7

Yesterday, I explored the definitions of a sinner in conjunction with the use of that word “sinner” in 1 Timothy 1:12-17. Two definitions were given: falling short of what God approves and forfeiting because of missing the mark. Today the lectionary developers illustrate that scripture further by sharing some of Jesus’ parables. The lost sheep has clearly missed the mark and may well have strayed from what God approves. What does the shepherd do? He or she searches for the lost sheep until the sheep is found and returned to the flock. The sheep was saved by and through the direct act of God’s love through the shepherd.

As followers of Christs we are called to share God’s love among ourselves and with every soul on this earth. We demonstrate God’s love through our lives and our concern for the other.  When the other is struggling to meet their basic needs those needs must be met before they can move beyond their sense of survival.  Jesus recognized this when in Matthew 25 he commanded us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, restore the prison, and welcome the stranger. Such actions open the door to introduce those in need to the love of God.  When the other is struggling with searching for self-worth in accumulation of wealth or power and coming up empty, we are called to love them in such a way that they can find the fulfillment by learning to love themselves enough to love others. God hardwired us with the capacity to love one another and we will always be restless until we accept that.

 Prayer: God of Grace and Mercy, teach us how to love one another as you love us. 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 is Sin?

Kingdom Building

September 13, 2019

Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. –1 Timothy 1:15-17

The Greek word translated above as sinners is hamartōlós (a substantival adjective, derived from 264 /hamartánō, “to forfeit by missing the mark”) – properly, loss from falling short of what God approves, i.e. what is “wide of the mark”*. According to the above scripture Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We all meet the definitions of sinners whether falling short of what God approves or to forfeit by missing the mark. The first definition demands that we take the time to know God well enough to learn what God approves. The second seems to indicate giving up when we do not attain a goal. When I read that definition, I thought of someone competing with another to see who could shoot the most free-throws and forfeiting the win when he or she missed the first shot. I can see where the One who commanded us to forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times might not be too impressed with us giving up doing what is right easily. (Matthew 18:22)

My mother shared that when she was a little girl, her family used an outhouse for the restroom. Making the trek several yards behind her home was no problem in the daytime but it was scary at night. Her concept of sin assumed that the devil would get her if she ever broke one of God’s laws. Since she was never sure what they all were she lived in fear that the devil would grab her and pull her down into hell in the dark as she made her way to the outhouse. She ran as fast as she could in the dark to that outhouse and back. Later she learned that God is a God of love and wants all of us to thrive in the abundance of that love.

Neither of these definitions fit my Mother’s understanding of sin from her childhood. To her sin was breaking God’s laws which is not the same as falling short of what God approves. Certainly, God gave us laws to guide our way, but what God approves cannot be contained in ten or 613 rules. We must discern how, when, and whether to apply the laws within the boundaries of our relationship with God. Christ Jesus came into the world to demonstrate how that works and ultimately gave his life to show us the full measure of God’s love for us.

Prayer: God of Love, thank you for blessing us with the life and love of Christ Jesus and help us as we struggle to learn your ways and give us the tenacity necessary to live your ways. Amen.

*https://biblehub.com/greek/268.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.

Workers Deserve their Pay

Kingdom Building

September 11, 2019

Scripture Reading: Psalm 14

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
   who eat up my people as they eat bread,
   and do not call upon the Lord?
There they shall be in great terror,
   for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
   but the Lord is their refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
   When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
   Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. –Psalm 14:1-4

This graphic poetry describes evil people who eat up God’s people as easily as they eat the bread of their table creating a sad scene but, I fear, a very real one. While the unemployment rate is low in the USA the underemployment rate is not. ($25,100 according to the Census bureau is poverty level for a family of 4) While large corporations make great profits for their investors and pay their CEO’s and other officers’ high salaries, many of their staff members’ low salaries are offset by food stamps, Medicaid, and childcare subsidies. Working class and middleclass employees pay a disproportionate share of the taxes that support these federal programs.

CEO pay is quickly outpacing yours. In 2016, the CEOs of the top 350 U.S. firms earned on average $15.6 million. … In 2015, CEOs made 286 times the salary of a typical worker and 299 times more in 2014. Compare that to 1978, when CEO earnings were roughly 30 times the typical worker’s salary*.

Big companies have long relied on strategies to reduce their tax bills. But the new tax law is making it even easier, with a new analysis finding that 60 profitable Fortune 500 companies paid no taxes on a total of $79 billion of profits earned in 2018**.

Doing justice requires God’s people to work to do what is right for all God’s children. Assuring that all workers earn a living wage*** receiving at least enough to meet basic needs is the right thing to do.  

Prayer: Lord, teach us how to do justice regarding our economy and give us the courage to seek justice. Amen.

*https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/22/heres-how-much-ceo-pay-has-increased-compared-to-yours-over-the-years.html
**https://www.cbsnews.com/news/2018-taxes-some-of-americas-biggest-companies-paid-little-to-no-federal-income-tax-last-year/
***For more information on a living wage see http://livingwage.mit.edu/

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.

Forgive Our Foolish Ways

Kingdom Building

September 10, 2019

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
   and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
   and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
   and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
   and all its cities were laid in ruins
   before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
Because of this the earth shall mourn,
   and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
   I have not relented nor will I turn back. –Jeremiah 4:11-12, 23-28

Have you ever wondered if any of the planets, now desolate, supported thriving civilizations that disappeared over time because the population was unwell or unable to do the work to sustain life? Jeremiah’s vision in the above scripture seems to describe such a situation happening to the planet earth as he chastises his fellow Israelites for getting so embroiled in their self-interests, they forgot their responsibilities of caring for the earth. Jeremiah was a prophet over 2,500 years ago and his words still sting us deeply today.

I remember studying about the Dust Bowl and how, yes, the lack of rain and the subsequent drought were bad, the major cause of the topsoil blowing away was over aggressive use of the land in the years leading up to the Dust Bowl. Droughts like recessions occur in the normal fluctuations of weather and economics. We have known that for years and yet we fail to heed the warnings. Joseph, son of Jacob, illustrated what could happen when people are prudent about the care of the earth and the economy. He foresaw the coming drought and had the Egyptians store up grain for use when the climate could not support a harvest, bringing stability to the economy in the down years saving his estranged family in the process.

Our situation with a changing climate is becoming dire when we know actions that can at least slow down the deterioration of the earth. The question is are we willing to give up our current self-interest to take restorative and proactive actions necessary to sustain life.

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 rev’rence, praise.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small Voice of calm. Amen.

*Verses 1, 3, and 4 of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind by John G. Whittier see at https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/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.