Category Archives: Uncategorized

It is a Small World

Living in the Spirit
August 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 15:10-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. –Matthew 15:28

Is this an instance of Jesus’ modeling for us that all people are God’s children? Is he demonstrating the human ability to broaden our worldview even when our life experience is limited to a very small area? Except for his trip as a baby to Egypt, Jesus never traveled further than a hundred miles from his home. Visitors traveling through his land exposed him to other cultures, the Canaanite woman for example. He certainly got a taste of the Roman culture. My experience as a child was limited to central Oklahoma with an occasional trip to Springdale, Arkansas, my mother’s home. I am an avid reader, so I visited many cultures in books and TV exposed me to other ways of being.

My first trip to Europe was with my church choir where we toured and sang our way through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In a tiny village in Switzerland, early one morning I saw a small chapel up on the side of a hill that intrigued me. Hiking to the chapel, I peeked through the door and saw a local woman praying. I waited outside for her to finish. She was somewhat startled when she came out encountering me gazing off over her lovely little home town. She asked if I spoke her language and I nodded my head no. She nodded back shrugging her shoulders to indicate she did not speak mine and started down the hill when she stopped turned back and gave me a big hug. I hugged her back, and she continued down the hill as I entered the chapel. Two children of God had surpassed language barriers to share God’s love.

Our world grew a lot smaller since my childhood. We know in a ping on our phones when a hurricane strikes thousands of miles away or when a public figure speaks inappropriately. Is our world becoming more loving as it opens to more scrutiny? Our primary purpose as followers of Christ is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In fulfilling that calling, we set an example for others as Jesus set an example for us. Everyone is now our neighbor in this communication revolution. God’s vision of a world ruled by love is as doable now as ever. We are the workers called to build such a world.

Prayer: Lover of Our Souls, bless us when we falter in our work of spreading your love so that your work may continue through the power of your love in spite of our weaknesses. 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.

Refugees Named Joseph

Living in the Spirit
August 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

[Joseph’s brothers] saw [Joseph] from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him. . . But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’. . . and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
–Genesis 37:18-20a-21, 24-28

How do we turn bad life experiences into good? I watch at least once a week news stories about refugees fleeing oppression in some instances certain death. These are human beings just like you and me with families they love. Some caught in the chaos of war, teach their children how to take shelter from bombs while trying to teach them to read because all the schools are gone. In Syria, a group of people* have formed to save as many of their neighbors as they can following a bombing. Some of these brave souls have lost their lives in the process, but they hold on to the sacredness of humanity in a world turned upside down.

I remember the shame I felt several years ago when I learned the United States turned away from our ports shiploads of Jewish refugees escaping Hitler’s regime. I feel the same shame as we turn away refugees or watch then die from the futility of escaping certain death if they stay in their homeland.

Joseph was a refugee sold into slavery who proved his worth to Egypt by saving them from famine. Jesus, Mary, and another Joseph also were refugees in Egypt. Jesus became our Savior who commanded us to follow the long tradition of the Israelites and welcome the stranger. When we have, we have most often been blessed. Yet, we hunker down in fear of terrorist while we watch refugees die. Whether we like it or not, ours is a country of immigrants and Native Americans, and we thrive not in spite of but because of our diversity.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”**

Prayer: Lord, when we turn away refugees, we turn you away too. Forgive us; strengthen us O Lord to follow the example of The White Helmets and save those who flee oppression. Amen.

*See The White Helmets on Netflix or http://www.newsweek.com/white-helmets-new-netflix-documentary-follows-syrias-heroes-training-rescue-496633

**Words on the Statue of Liberty from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

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.

Rights not Privilege

Living in the Spirit
August 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. –Mathew 14:13-14

I believe that affordable, accessible health care is a right, not a privilege and I think Jesus believed that too. He spread wholeness wherever he went both physical and mental to rich and poor and everyone in between. The provision of affordable, accessible health care in the USA is a major public policy debate today that began seriously with the Great Depression. What is government’s responsibility regarding the health and well-being of its people? Fifty-eight countries have some form of universal health care*; the USA does not.

The United States of America is a representative democracy that portends to be of the people, by the people, for the people according to Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. The phrase, initially coined by John Wycliffe, is in the prolog of his 1384 translation of the Bible where he stated, “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People”** I did not know that until recently. I knew Lincoln said it; I did not know its origin. I think what Wycliffe means is that the Bible’s support of the love of neighbor can best find expression in a government of the People, by the People, and for the People. Some of our founders might have also made that connection.

I like Martin Luther King Jr. do not believe we can legislate morality, and that is not the purpose of a government designed by its citizens. The purpose of such government is to provide for the Common Good of all. Such government protects rights not privileges and allows its citizenry the right to free expression of religion.

Prayer: Lord, show us the way we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves through the mutuality of a government of the People, by the People, and for the people.Amen.

*Data from 2009 see at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_universal_health_care
**https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/who-coined-government-of-the-people-by-the-people-for-the-people/2017/03/31/12fc465a-0fd5-11e7-aa57-2ca1b05c41b8_story.html?utm_term=.aa50cc91249f

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.

Fear Not

Living in the Spirit
July 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. –Psalm 139:7-12

We should each take great comfort in this scripture. The Spirit of God is with us even when our attention may be elsewhere. Why then is everyone so afraid? If people are not afraid then why is there so much discontent around, even violence? Are we, the people of God, not doing enough in sharing the good news of God’s abiding love with those who either were never introduced to God or are disengaged from God, perhaps because their introduction missed the mark? Do we live lives of substance exemplifying God’s love in all that we do and say? Are we doing more harm than good for God when what people see of us in not love in focus?

We are human; we each make mistakes which we must rectify in the best way possible.  We need to be very sure that how we live and what we say is of God. Does what we do and say align with what Jesus would do or say.  God forgives when we seek God’s forgiveness. We also need to forgive.  With all the vitriol in our world today, it is easy to get caught in the crossfires. As children of God, we must put our trust in God and not in the principalities and powers of the world. Evaluating what we read and hear by whether Jesus would author or say it also might be a good practice to adopt.

We must accept the world just as it is and do all we can as the Body of Christ to make this fragmented world whole through the Love of God, the power of the Living Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Calm our fears, O God, let your peace be in us and radiate from us to others. Amen.

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

Loving on Auto Pilot

Living in the Spirit
July 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:105-112

Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
   to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted;
   give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
   and teach me your ordinances. –Psalm 119:105-108

I wonder how many times I have sung Psalm 119:105 the first sentence of the quote above. The truth is I can no longer read it without the tune popping into my head moving the prose to song. Actually, the first word from the NRSV, “Your” causes me some confusion. I sing it, “Thy word” the way I originally learned it. I probably sang it before I could read it.

Learning to live like Jesus was an important part of my upbringing years before the phrase, “What would Jesus Do?” became popular, although that phrase applied then as it does now. I am glad I have these reminders of how I am to live forever etched in my memory banks for they have stood the test of time and are very helpful when life situations require us to respond from automatic pilot mode.

The Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City started an entrepreneurial program for their participants. They sell a magazine on the streets, which some help write. The first set they sell is subsidized, but they must buy the next set with those first dollars earned and learn to handle the profit they make as income after reinvestment for the next set. It is a teaching tool as much as a source of income. It is also a teaching tool for those of us who purchase the magazines as we learn about the struggles of those on the street. My problem is I never have the two dollars ready when I encounter them at the intersections and thus can not get my purchase made before the light changes. The answer, of course, is to keep two dollars within arms reach. Like those scriptures we learn throughout our life, our application of them needs to become a way of life too.

Prayer:  Lord, help my service to you become a natural way of being for me. 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 in the Spirit
June 29, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:12-23

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. –Romans 6:12-14

Civility starts with me. We choose whether we get caught up in the improprieties of our society even in the heat of the moment. I find myself ignoring articles that not only express a different way of thinking from mine but are peppered with words that denigrated people, like me, who share my opinions. I must say regarding any materials; I am disappointed when I see offensive labeling and descriptors that shed no light on the subject under discussion but disparaged those with a different viewpoint. Personal attacks deliver the message that the speaker does not have evidence to support his or her ideas. I now filter out material with which I probably agree, if the author feels it necessary to destroy the source rather than address the content.

Paul speaks to this issue in our scripture today. We are responsible for self-examining our hearts and minds so that we do not get caught in the hurtful and non-productive ways of the world that reduce our ability to be good disciples of Christ, following his way.

Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. –Psalm 51:10

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.

We Have a Savior

Living in the Spirit
June 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-14

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’ –Genesis 22:9-14

‘The Lord will provide.’ The Lord did provide the earth and all that is in it, our very lives, and knowledge and talents to use the resources wisely if we so choose. Some believed over the centuries that after creation God stepped back to observe how we humans handle such gifts. Abraham, I think, felt a partnership with God and  from the beginning, sought and received God’s guidance through all of his life as did Moses, David, and the prophets. Jesus introduced a more particular understanding of God with us. Jesus’ followers seek to fulfill the vision of a Kingdom, the world, ruled by love, as a calling to be a part of his purpose.

‘The Lord will provide.’ Abraham speaks in the future tense. Was this event the point at which Abraham realized that the Lord’s provision is eternal? I must say in times like these when the world teems with fear and hate and divisiveness; we need a touch of such faith. We need the provision of hope when our personal and communal resources feel stretched to the breaking point. We need a Savior. Thank God, almighty, we have one.

Prayer: We thank you God for the gift of Jesus Christ who dwelt among us and dwells with us today and forever. 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.

Journey of Faith

Living in the Spirit
June 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-14

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together. –Genesis 22:1-8

Several years ago, I toured Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Virginia. One of the things I saw was his Bible from which he had extracted all the parts with which he did not agree or like. I do not recall how he treated the above scripture, but if I were to edit a Bible, it would be one scripture I would leave out. I, however, do not see that as an option so I must deal with it. I have read several viewpoints and heard a fair number of sermons on Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. One I recall suggested that God’s stopping Abraham from committing the act was the example that leads to ending child sacrifice prevalent in ancient times. Others build on Abraham’s passing God’s test, while some are sure that God does not put people to such tests.

As a former child welfare worker who encountered a parent who held her toddler’s legs and feet in boiling water to make her mind causing permanent damage and another parent who drown her child trying to wash the devil out of her, I have visceral, preconceived opinions related to such stories. Most related to mental health issues for which our society is not well prepared and does not seem to have the willingness to address.

That said, here is my take: Faith for most is a journey with low valleys and straight plains and high mountains. Our relationship with the Holy on that journey increases our ability to love one another, not only our neighbors but our parents, children, and spouses. Sometimes we have to prove our faith to ourselves. Sometimes we do have to change cultural norms. I take great hope in Abraham’s from the beginning having faith that ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’

Prayer: Lord, we live in a complex world filled with pain and suffering. Help us create a society where our love commingled with your love enables 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.

Purpose

Living in the Spirit
June 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. –Genesis 21:8-14

Does this story leave a bad taste in your mouth like it does mine? I wonder how the sudden loss of Isaac’s older brother, one he apparently enjoyed, impacted Isaac? For all the hubbub about Ismael and Isaac that surrounded Isaac’s birth, Isaac’s only accomplishment recorded for posterity was fathering Esau and Jacob, and Jacob tricked him.

God seems to work within human falterings and failures. At least I hope God does because I have made a few missteps along the way. We learn from our mistakes or we should. Paul says in 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 it is again. We are called to be intentional about our purpose. What is God’s purpose for us? How do we know we are on the right track? There is an old ponderous hymn written in 19th-century language dealing with God’s purpose that says we must grow love in all people and work for the reign of the Prince of peace. I think those both are fitting for today.

God is working his purpose out,
as year succeeds to year,
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

What can we do to work God’s work,
to prosper and increase
the love of God in all mankind,
the reign of the Prince of peace?
What can we do to hasten the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea?*

Prayer: Lord guide us in your prospering and increasing your purpose and when we go astray show us the way back to your path. Amen.

*First and third verses of God is Working His Purpose Out, Words by Arthur Campbell Ainger see at http://hymnary.org/text/god_is_working_his_purpose_out

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.

Relationships

Living in the Spirit
June 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Paul was not acquainted with “Yours truly” or “Sincerely.” He ended his letters with extended admonishments and blessings. General in nature, his closings are good for most of us at any time. I particularly like his phrase Put things in order. A lot of our problems today result from us blowing things out of proportion. How much time do we spend trying to soothe ruffled feathers because we may not have communicated something well? How often do we ignore a small sore point letting it fester until it becomes a major issue? Barney Fife put it well; we need to nip those things in the bud.

I concur that we need to work on finding agreement with one another, and sometimes I think it is important we learn to agree to disagree deciding to work together on things about which we do agree. We certainly need to live in peace with one another.

When we do disagree or are even angry with another, we need to practice the art of praying for them and our relationship with them. Inviting God into any relationship eventually, brings healing and wholeness even when it may result in a parting of ways. Paul’s closing prayer is a good model to follow.

Prayer: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

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.