Gift of Love

Easter April 1, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Idle tale is that the equivalent of emotional women’s gibberish? Why did Peter run to the tomb if, indeed, it was only an idle tale? Did he expect something more sinister? Perhaps he was just a nice guy who wanted to calm the women and went to check so he could reassure them? Or had snippets of Jesus’ words been replaying in his head, something about the third day, that sent him running? Hope is a great motivator.

After experiencing a great loss of any kind humans tend to rearrange the priorities of their lives. Jesus’ death and resurrection did just that for a relatively small group of dedicated followers who after returning from that tomb, after reconnecting with the risen Lord, after a normal period of shock and grief set out as instructed to take the ways of Jesus to the ends of the earth and in so doing changed the whole world. We celebrate these events each year to remind us that we are responding to the same calling. To do it well we too need to rearrange our priorities because there is nothing, we can do that is more important than making the love of God the standard for our whole world in all that we do individually and collectively.

In all the world around me I see His loving care
And though my heart grows weary I never will despair
I know that He is leading, through all the stormy blast
The day of His appearing will come at last

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian Lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ, the King
The Hope of all who seek Him, the Help of all who find
None other is so loving, so good and kind*

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your wonderous love modeled for us by your son Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

*Verses two and three of He Lives by Alfred H. Ackley

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.

Silent Saturday

April 20, 2019

Scripture Reading: John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. –John 20:1-10

I am writing this on Good Friday, which this year is the 24th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. I listened to the morning news that covered a report regarding the 20th anniversary of the Columbine School shooting which is tomorrow followed by special local coverage of the speeches from the Oklahoma City memorial—all heart felt, some so close to the event that the 24 years melted away. While I recognize the importance of such remembrances, I am past ready for the creation of any more. I have been to Dachau and read the words “Never Again.”

I tried to imagine how Mary Magdalene felt when she arrived at Jesus’ tomb and found it empty—neatly empty. No broken stones are described, no wadded mess of linen on the floor, just emptiness. I remember the fervent search for bodies after the bombing, how important it was for those first responders to find all the people believed to be in the building. How important it was for families and friends to know what happened to them. It was just as important for Mary Magdalene to care for the body of Jesus.

Good Friday was so labeled because the death of Jesus marked the beginning of a new focus for the people of God. Out of great loss and grief a new commitment to living as God envisioned for God’s creation was birthed. Holy Week reminds us of our need to recommit our lives to that vision of peace and love where mass murders and school shootings and holocausts are no longer the norm but ancient history.

On what some call Silent Saturday as Jesus was thought to be lying in a tomb, the beginning of this renewed commitment was quietly moving forward. Let us prepare ourselves anew for the revolution of resurrection coming first witnessed by Mary Magdalene.

Prayer: Holy One, grant us the peace that passes understanding today as we place our hope in your resurrection. 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.

Love Unswerving

Good Friday

April 19, 2019

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
–1 Corinthians 15:22-26

I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state. I am a stronger believer in the day that is coming when our faith fully aliened with God’s love is reflected in all governments. I think that is what Paul is trying to say in the above scripture, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. We humans are the ones desirous of controlling or overthrowing governments by the force of our personal and national powers. We lean on bigger armies, more cunning political skills, and money lots and lots of money. What we fail to comprehend is that there is no power greater than God’s abiding love. As we are made in God’s image, fully capable of loving like God, and as we diligently strive to love like God that image will pass through us to are governance.

This is the day set aside to remember the greatest illustration of God’s love, the day Jesus was crucified. It is a good day for self-examination regarding our loving like God. It is a good day for us to renew our commitment to take on the very fiber of God’s love in our being and to live it in all aspects of our lives as individuals and as members of the Body of Christ charged with carrying forward the work of Jesus.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.*

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of you love, empower us to grow into loving like you. Amen.

*Verses 4 and 5 of Ah, Holy Jesus by Johann Heermann see at https://hymnary.org/text/ah_holy_jesus_how_hast_thou_offended 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.

Going Home

Maundy Thursday
April 18, 2019

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. –1 Corinthians 15:20-23

I end my book Houses Divided with these words:
. . .do we really want to live in a world that functions within the rule of love, God’s love, with God sitting right there, every day, all the time in absolute transparency? Is this the one to whom we really want to be married? If we have spent our lives judging others, deluding ourselves in what is right and is wrong for ourselves, or tearing down others to build ourselves up, I think that when we arrive in heaven we will at least experience some cultural shock and at worst think we are in hell.

 Jesus’ way is to start living as a citizen of the nation of God right now and every day forward. I believe if we love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, eternity will take care of itself. The last words my mother said to me were, “I want to go home.” Don’t we all?

 Going home, going home
I’m just going home
Quiet light, some still day
I’m just going home 

It’s not far, just close by
Through an open door
Work all done, care laid by
Going to fear no more

 Nothing’s lost, all’s gain
No more fret nor pain
No more stumbling on the way
No more longing for the day
Going to roam no more

 Morning star lights the way
Restless dream all done
Shadows gone, break of day
Real life begun

 There’s no break, there’s no end
Just a living on
Wide awake with a smile
Going on and on 

Going home, going home
I’m just going home
It’s not far, just close by
Through an open door
I am going home
I’m just going home*

Prayer: Lord, as we end our 40 days of remembering your life, death, and resurrection instill in us the understanding of the sure and certain truth that home is ultimately with you. Amen.

*From Going Home by Annie Haslam

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.

Become My Salvation

Lent
April 17, 2019

Scripture Reading: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

The Lord is my strength and my might;
   he has become my salvation. –Psalm 118:14

From what do I need to be saved? The world “salvation” loses meaning as it incapsulates a universal view without drilling down to specifics. That often plays out in whether one is destined for heaven or expelled to hell, which does not help a lot in the present situation. Drilling down into the depths of our relationship with God, discovering the shredded threads of our lives that separate us from God can and will provide the basis for repairing torn places in our souls.

I must start with myself for we must learn to love ourselves before we can ever love our neighbors as they need to be love. I like the illustration of the instructions we receive after boarding an airplane. A steward says something to the effect that if an emergency arises requiring the use of oxygen and we are seated next to someone who needs help accessing the oxygen masks, we are to first put on our masks because we would be no help to someone if we faint from lack of oxygen before we get the other person connected.

Becoming aware of our faults or sins or whatever we want to call them, seeking forgiveness, and turning away from continuing negative ways is not the only examination needed. We also need to become aware of our patterns of living that may be appropriate for us but may not be for another. We limit our ability to love these others if we can only love them when they are willing to become like us. I was born into a family with a strong work ethic and it seems to work well for my family. Others may not share in that cultural trait and their ideas about work may differ markedly from mine. I would have just as much difficulty changing my work ethic as they have changing their understanding of work. Until I understood that I was not able to help people who were never taught the value of work to learn to live in a world that expected them to be self-supportive.

Our wholeness is paramount to attaining the oneness to which Christ calls us. Our wholeness together in Christ’s oneness is the foundation of God’s justice.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for sending Jesus to be a plumb line against we can assess our wholeness. 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.

Dealing with Calamity

Lent
April 16, 2019

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

They shall not labor in vain,
   or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
   and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
   while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
   the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
   but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord. –Isaiah 65:23-25

The image of refugee children in cages flashed through my mind as I read, They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; I wonder if that is how the refugee mothers feel as they leave one hell-hole of death and oppression only to wander into the grasp of self-serving others who cannot be bothered by their plight. Evil is present in acts of omission as much as in acts of commission.

The perfect vision of the world God created, our world, is presented as a scene of animals sharing a meal together rather than following what we now consider their natural reaction of eating one another while the serpent, symbol of evil, eats dusts. Isaiah has a wonderful way with words.

Where does that leave the followers of this Creator God as we share Isaiah’s insights and feel so helpless to address the carnage that confronts us as we read the papers and watch the news? How do we, in small and greater ways, answer the call of Christ to usher in the Kingdom of God where the lamb does indeed lie down with the lion?

We must first recognize that we are not called to do anything along. We are called to be a branch nurtured by the vine of Christ (See John 15:5). The second thing we must practice is the art of being one in Christ. If ever there was a time for Christ’s followers to model oneness it is now. We are a part of the problem when are a house divided. We need to invest ourselves in finding Common Ground for the Common Good. It is time for us to stop allowing deep issues that divide us, control us. If we dedicate ourselves to following the list of actions Jesus set forth for us in Matthew 25:35-36, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” and let everything else go, I think we would find those divisive issues would disappear.

Prayer: Lord, make us whole, make us one, make us just. 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.

Missing the Mark

Lent
April 15, 2019

Scripture Reading: Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

 Sin: missing the mark; hence: (a) guilt, sin, (b) a fault, failure (in an ethical sense), sinful deed*. Also Hebrew to go astray

How many of us were raised to think that the definition of sin is breaking God’s laws? Perhaps breaking God’s laws could be a part of missing the mark, but that definition certainly has a broader meaning. Laws of any kind are basically shortcuts to order. Traffic laws are designed to help transportation move smoothly and limit accidents. God’s laws, too, are shortcuts to the order of our behavior. Shortcuts once know and understood allow us to function without having to take the time to figure out the best way to deal with a given situation. Thou shall not lie has saved a lot of children from a lot of trouble. Ditto for adults and the law to not commit adultery. Break them and we face the consequences of our actions. Indeed, breaking a law may be manifested in sinning but the breaking of a law is not included in the definition of sin.

The definitions of sin quoted above is based in activities of living going astray, missing the mark, failing to be ethical in all we do, a sinful deed implies doing something that hurts another or others. The problem with sin is that it interferes with our fulfilling our call to be the image of God to one another, loving one another. Living our lives in sin can impede the lives of others. The more we get caught in the web of sin the more it steals our gifts from being used to fulfill our calling.

God created restorative justice. God’s forgiveness of our sins frees us to continue our tasks toward creating a world ruled by love. It is certainly important that we learn from the times we have missed the mark or gone astray but being weighted down by guilt and shame limits our ability to make a positive contribution to God’s vision of God’s Kingdom. Through forgiveness God removes that weight for the betterment of all.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for forgiving our sins and restoring our role in building a loving world. Amen.

*https://biblehub.com/greek/266.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.

Called to Break the Silence

Lent
April 14, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 19:28-40

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
   who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
   and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ –Luke 19:36-40

What happens when the stones seem silent? Prophets warned the Israelite of pending doom and few if any paid attention. Exile resulted. For many years, experts have warned of the impact of climate change and are ridiculed by political leaders, while coastal areas deal with rising water and we all deal with unusual weather. A policy of reducing taxes for the wealthiest with the idea that wealth would trickle down to the poor failed in the 1920’s resulting in the Great Depression, failed again in the 1980’s leading to a recession, failed again at the beginning of the 21st Century resulting in another recession, and was implemented once more in 2017. The result is the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the stabilizing middle class shrinks. People with diabetes are dying because they cannot afford insulin. A patient with Type 1 diabetes incurred annual insulin costs of $5,705, on average, in 2016. The average cost was roughly half that, at $2,864 per patient, in 2012, according to a report released on Tuesday by the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute*. This essentially is the same insulin produced a hundred years ago.

Greed lies at the heart of all these major problems we face. As followers of Christ made in the image of God, we are called to emulate Christ in loving God and loving one another. In the simplest of terms, love means wanting the very best for another. Greed is the antitheses of love.

Are we destined to find ourselves in exile because we have failed to listen to the prophets of today?  Are we unwilling to turn around from the greed that seeps into our every day life? Are we willing to speak for the voiceless? Is God waiting for a signal from us that we are ready to deal with the realities of our world? Christ followers in our story above raised their voices in celebration of this One sent by God. It is in that context that Christ said if you do not listen to these you will hear from God on their behalf.

God made the earth and all that is within it including us. God calls us into partnership to build a better world. When God sees we are ready to act God can and will bring the entire weight of and earth to complement our efforts evening to having those stones shout.

Prayer: Lord, empower our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees** as we step forward in faith to love away greed. Amen.

*https://www.nbcnews.com/health/diabetes/u-s-insulin-costs-patient-nearly-doubled-2012-2016-study-n961296
**Derived from Hebrews 12:12

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.

Waiting while Doing

Lent
April 13, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 19:28-40

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.”’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. –Luke 19:29-35

Doing justice is hard work. I attended a Health Care Forum yesterday evening designed to education and inform the public about the crisis of affordable and accessible health care in Oklahoma and what can be done to alleviate it. Hours of work went into the research necessary to present the problem, tons of communication was developed to let people know about the meeting, expert presenters took time from busy schedules to participate on the presenting panel. The building and microphone system were provided and readied. I did not count the attendees, under 40 would be my guess, most of whom could already were aware of the problem and the solutions. Other meetings like this one are scheduled around the state. A rally is planned next week at the state capitol. All the bills that could have eased the situation have already failed. We all know that legislators can do anything they want to until the session ends. The routinely pull rabbits out of hats for politically expedient issues that most likely is not going to happen in this instance. But all this hard work is not in vain. It may lead to an initiative petition to make the changes needed. If that does not happen it will lead to another effort next legislative session.

The disciple’s trip into the village to get a colt for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem was preparation for their work to spread the love of God and to do justice following Jesus’ death and resurrection. It remains our call today as we work to bring about a world ruled by love.

Prayer:  Lord, during this Lenten season we are actively engaged in waiting as we are actively engaged in doing justice for, we know that
those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint*. Amen.

*Isaiah 40:31

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.

Created to Love

Lent
April 12, 2019

Scripture Reading: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 118:28-29

Why is it so hard for humans to put love first in our lives? If we accept the premise that God is love, why do we invest so much of ourselves being enticed by lesser gods? Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it as cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

 Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

We construct gods of our own making that do not require us to see ourselves for who we are in the wholeness of our potential. The richer life, fuller life is born of seeing ourselves through the eyes of our Creator and understanding who we are and whose we are in the light of God’s love.

Prayer: Creator God, as you continue to mold and make us in your image, give us the courage to live fully in 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.