Finding Our Vineyard

Living in the Spirit
September 23, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 20:1-16

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” –Matthew 20:1-7

Day workers are a common sight in most cities today. They know the corner where to gather in the off chance that someone will need a few people to clean up a building site or otherwise do odd jobs for minimum pay. Apparently, in the first century, such an arrangement existed. Earn a small wage, and you eat, perhaps feed a family.

I have no work to offer and am more likely to be approached by beggars. I never know what is right regarding panhandlers. The social worker in me says just giving them money contributes to their reliance on a self-deprecating lifestyle. Yesterday morning I went to the grocery store and saw a young woman carrying a toddler in the rain. She sized up another shopper and me choosing the other woman as I went into the store. She was still there when I came out, and she asked if I could give her a few dollars for gasoline. I never give cash.

It still lingers in my mind though. How do we fix a complex world where our actions of good may contribute to harm? In our story today, all who want to work are given jobs. There is no discussion of skill or training, prison records or work history,  Just the instruction to go into the vineyard.  Maybe that is the instruction for each of us. Every city has places that serve the people of the street. It is our vineyard. While we might not be wise to hand out dollars on the street, volunteering at a homeless shelter will open doors of understanding and clarify a means of helping others help themselves.

Prayer: Lord, you always had time for the least of these.Help me to find the vineyard where I can love like you. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, 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.

Righteous not Self-Righteous

Living in the Spirit
September 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:21-30

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. –Philippians 27-30

When we profess to be followers of Christ, how we live and treat one another, good or bad, is interpreted by the other as representing Christ, a responsibility we must take very seriously. How many people turn away from Christianity after being negatively impacted by the behavior of those claiming to be Christian? Much of such behavior appears to be more self-righteous than righteous. If God’s followers are set apart, it is for special service not because they are better than anyone else. White privilege grows from self-righteous seeds and self-righteousness stems from feeling unworthy.

I watched the PBS Program Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World, recently that described Luther’s early life of never feeling he could live up to the expectations of God. He tried everything he could including beating himself and confessing for hours every action he felt was sinful. He finally experienced an epiphany of grace leading him to understand the loving, forgiving nature of God. He went on to usher in the Reformation challenging the status quo of Christianity that had moved away from the basic tenets of Christ.

It is time we examine our ways of being and to ask God for our own moment of grace making us whole so that others can learn of the wondrous love of God through us.

Prayer: Lord make us whole and make us one with you. 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.

Our Time is God’s Time

Living in the Spirit
September 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:21-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. –Philippians 1:21-26

Christ calls us to disciplined, purposeful, and productive action. We need never be busy just for the sake of being busy to win favor with God. Brownie points are unnecessary; grace takes care of that. Using our time wisely toward the realization of God’s Kingdom is our thanksgiving for God’s love and our way of telling others of its wonder.

I have about equal doses of Mary and Martha* in my persona. One does not grow up on a farm without learning how to work. Yet, I have no problem at all reading a good book, listening to music, or sitting around talking with friends about faith or whatever. God mysteriously uses us at times always with purpose. We need to be open to those opportunities and not shy away from them even when they may seem out of our comfort zone at the time.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the full measure of your leadership to use our time wisely for our development and our service to others. Amen.

*See the story of Mary and Martha’s dialogue with Jesus at Luke 10:38-42.

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.

 

Thanksgiving leads Progress

Living in the Spirit
September 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 105;1-6, 37-45

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
   tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
   let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
   seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
   children of Jacob, his chosen ones. —Psalm 105;1-6

We are reminded regularly by Psalmist and others to give thanks to God for God’s fidelity in love and fulfilling all that the Lord has promised. Why do we say or sing praises to God in the short term while quickly moving to an attitude of “What have you done for me lately?’ Those of us who claim to be partners as the Body of Christ in effecting the Kingdom of God are particularly vexing when we get caught up in such an attitude. Shouldn’t our perspective be “We have reach a plateau where do you want us to go next.” Until the Kingdom is complete our work is not finished.

I love Romans 8:28:  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. There was certainly nothing good about the Oklahoma City bombing but the good this city has experienced since then is amazing. The bombing helped us see what was important. Helped us get our priorities straight. We have a lot more work to do and we must continually remind ourselves of what is important.

The same is true of our work toward the Kingdom of God. We should not rely on tragedies or natural disasters to bring us together to find the oneness we need to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants. There is no place in the world for greed or lust for power. There is a place for wise investment of resources and skills, and leadership through servanthood targeted at God’s vision for God’s creation.

Prayer: We do give thanks to you, O Lord, for your steadfast love as we take the next steps to further your vision for all. 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’s Perspective

Living in the Spirit
September 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 16:2-15

 Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’

 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. –Exodus 16:9-15

Change is hard particularly when the change involves moving from an environment where all one’s decisions are prescribed for them as in slavery. It is human nature to adapt to the situation in which we find ourselves even a bad situation. I remember a foster child whose mother was seriously mentally ill telling me that he assumed all mothers talked to people who were not present and made their children hide from threats that were not real. While the food in Egypt might not have been adequate or good, it was dependable. God provided for the necessities of life while leading the Israelites in becoming self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

While we may not question from where our next meal will come, we live in a frustrating and fragmented world in which we must we work to mold it into Christ’s vision of a Kingdom ruled by love. We, too, may be forced to give up long cherished ways of being as we learn from diverse cultures. Paul knew this well as he traveled about Asia Minor debating issues that seem strange to us today but were very real at the time. Should Christians eat meat offered to idols? Must gentile men be circumcised to become Christian?  Paul’s fall back response was to say he taught Christ crucified and ultimately that was what mattered. When we are getting bent out of shape over today’s issues, we should consider, does it pass the test of love? Christ was crucified because God loved us as we are to love one another.

Prayer: Lord, help us gain your perspective of issues that may go against our way of being but not yours. Help us learn to let you be God, and we be your vessels of 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.

Owning Responsibility

Living in the Spirit
September 18, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 16:2-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’ –Exodus 16:2-8

I firmly believe that the government of the United States of America is a very accurate reflection of its population. Only 54.2% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 elections. Anyone who was eligible to vote and did not vote abdicated responsibility for his or her future and the futures of their families and friends. Think about it, just under half the national population who could vote, did not.

I also firmly believe that the USA, perhaps the world, is suffering from an epidemic of greed that will be our downfall as it was for other nations throughout history if we do not get it under control. Government-wise we see that being played out through special interest who control much of our media. We are being groomed to distrust information as we fall in lockstep with half-truths and other misinformation some of which plays on our deepest fears and prejudices.

Most of our ancestors came to this country many for the freedom to worship and to participate in a government of the people, by the people, for the people, not special interest and not selfish gain. It means that truth matters and that we work a little harder at finding the truth. It means we must deal with the fears and prejudices that drive us to put our faith in lesser gods that prevent us from fulfilling our call as followers of Christ. It means that we must individually and collectively share with the diversity of our nation and develop empathy for those in different situations than ours as we work for the Common Good.

Prayer: Lord, help us learn from the stories of our ancestors in faith how you were always willing to guide them through troubled waters as well as arid deserts. 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.

Living Examples

Living in the Spirit
September 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:21-35

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 18:21-22

The Greek word translated here as church in other translations appears as brother. It means coming from the same womb and does refer not only to biological siblings but also people who share the same religious family.  My first reaction is to wonder should this instruction apply to all relationships?  I think it should, but the point may be that our life in Christ calls us to set an example for others to help them see the ways of Christ in action.

I am uncomfortable with the consideration that we are called to deal with our fellow Christian differently than we deal with all people. Granted Peter’s question does not directly deal with the issue of worldview. Perhaps his question arose from a specific incident involving fellow disciples. In any case we cannot escape the fact that how we treat each other is a reflection on how non-Christians perceive Christ.

With all the natural  disasters that have hit the world and particularly the Americas in the last few weeks, those who see God’s justice descending in such calamities are making the case for this system of belief falling back on their primary concerns of sins in our society related to things like no prayer in school and what they consider sexual deviations. I do believe that it rains on the just and the unjust. (See Matthew 5:45) I also think we all must face the consequences of our own actions or lack of actions such as ignoring our responsibility for care of the earth. But I think it is a little too convenient to cast dispersions on what we perceive to be the sins of others, certainly not our own, while we support cutting off millions of people from adequate health care, making profit from warehousing prisoners, and walling out strangers. We might do well to review Jesus’ criteria for judgment found in Matthew 25.

Prayer: Guide us, O God, in living lives worthy of representing you well to those who have not yet encountered you or perhaps were not introduced to you in a positive manner. 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.

Daily Judgment

Living in the Spirit
September 15, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 14:1-12

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
   and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God. –Romans 7-12

Standing before Christ at the final moment of our lives to receive our judgment is too late. I think it is important that we examine ourselves daily to discern where we are missing the mark in our relationship with God. Such a review allows us the opportunity to make a course correction. We cannot do that unless we apply Christ’s external measuring stick. Amos talks about it as a plumbline. (See Amos 7:8)

Jesus is quoted in Matthew 25 outlining the criteria by which he will judge us. Most are not high priorities in many of our lives. Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked perhaps draw more attention. Should not a part of the emphasis on feeding the hungry and clothing the naked include creating the world where hunger and lack of clothing no longer exists?

Matthew 25 also calls for us to care for the sick. Again we do that as we visit our church members in hospitals and nursing homes, take them food when needed, or provide transportation to services. Is not a part of caring for the sick assuring the adequacy of available, affordable health care for all?

The USA ranks low in providing restorative services to prisoners and Oklahoma ranks among the lowest of states in providing even the most basic care while having a high incarceration rate. Is not the intent of visiting prisoners to restore them to wholeness?

Jesus draws on an ancient practice in the Hebrew community when he instructs us to welcome the stranger. When we turn away the best and brightest of the strangers in our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) how are we treating others?  Jesus said to welcome the stranger with no strings attached.

I invite you to join with me in daily self-examination of our response to this short list that constitutes a part of the followers of Christ plumbline so that responding to these issues becomes our normal way of being.

Prayer: Lord, guide us in our self-examination so that we can see clearly how our own behavior impacts others. Show us how to love like you. 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.

 

Christ as Judge

Living in the Spirit
September 14, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. –Romans 14:1-6

I guess the reason we have denominations is that “birds of a feather flock together.” People have different ways of addressing the spiritual or for that matter various aspects of life. A problem arises when we think our way of being or doing is the only way and we try to enforce it on others.

Argument arises with the degree of importance some beliefs or practices are related to the authenticity of the faith. Believers baptism vs. infant baptism, immersion vs. sprinkling, communion every Sunday or once a month or once a quarter were each historical areas of fervent discourse. Who indeed are we to pass judgment? Jesus said,

‘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 7:1-3

The problem becomes more pronounced when we try to use our faith as a means of approving bigotry or hate such as we see in racism, ethnic cleansing, or discrimination related to sexual orientation, all human contrivances, each designed to set people apart. In Matthew 25 Jesus outlines the actions by which he will judge us: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, restoring those in prison, and welcoming the stranger. All these actions are in direct contradiction to bigotry and hate.

Prayer: God of Love, help us simplify our lives by accepting that you do the judging while we care for all your children in whatever situation we may find them. Amen.

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

The Wonder of God

Living in the Spirit
September 13, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 114
When Israel went out from Egypt,
   the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
   Israel his dominion. 

The sea looked and fled;
   Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
   the hills like lambs.

 Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
   O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
   O hills, like lambs?

 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
   at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
   the flint into a spring of water.

I thought of Pippa’s Song by Robert Browning when I read Psalm 114. Poetry or other artistic forms may be the only way even to begin to express the power and majesty and, yes, love of God.

THE year ‘s at the spring,
And day ‘s at the morn;
Morning ‘s at seven;
The hill-side ‘s dew-pearl’d;
The lark ‘s on the wing;
The snail ‘s on the thorn;
God ‘s in His heaven—
All ‘s right with the world!

The people recently rescued from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey might begin to understand the wonder of the Israelites as they stood on the safe side of the Red Sea. Cecil B. Demille’s notwithstanding, we have no clue what really happened as the Israelites fled the oppression of the Egyptians. Getting the facts right is not nearly as important as understanding God love them, desired for them to be freed, and they were.

What we need to comprehend is that God loves us, desires the very best for us, and is actively engaged in working with us when we are willing to work with God.

Prayer: Thank you for poets who give us a glimpse of your wonder. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your continuing presence. 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.