All of Me

Ordinary Time
January 14, 2018

Scripture Reading: John 1:43-51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in a Town?

Ordinary Time
January 13, 2018

Scripture Reading: John 1:43-51

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting New Norms

Ordinary Time
January 12, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. –1  Corinthians 6:16-20

In my book, Houses Divided, I wrote that I thought it was time to revisit the norms of sexual behavior in our culture. Leviticus was written in a time when people viewed wombs as incubators in which the male deposited the seed for a new life. Children often did not live to adulthood and were an economic necessity to staff the work of an agrarian culture. Even in the last three hundred years, my ancestry lists families with twelve to eighteen children. Most families had two or more mothers, because many died in childbirth. My father’s family was a your’s, mine, and our’s family including eighteen children, one dying at birth when her mother was killed in an accident, one dying at age two, and one at nine both of communicable diseases. While such families exist today, they usually have fewer children and are most often the result of divorce. The advent of stable birth control in the mid-twentieth century changed the world as did the availability of immunizations, women becoming more economically self-sustaining, and divorce becoming less stigmatized. Some view these changes as bad and would like to overturn them while most of society accept them as reality.

How do people of faith define the Greek love called Eros (erotic love) and Philios (sibling love) today? How do they intersect with Agape (God’s) love? Paul gives us a great place to start in I Corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

We need to be less concerned with how the world defines or advertises love and more concern about God’s love as it intersects with all our relationships.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for sending Jesus to model love for us. The world is too much with us in our relationships. Free us from its tangles and open our hearts and minds to learning to love in all aspects of love as Jesus loved. 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 of Self

Ordinary Time
January 11, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’, but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! –1 Corinthians 6:12-15

Here comes free will again. In this instance Paul, I think, is saying God expects us to take care of ourselves. Is this a part of Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself? (Matthew 22:39) It is interesting that Paul starts his comments on fornication with a short essay on food. We probably all fail to eat properly and in general fail to take care of our bodies: exercise, get adequate sleep, drink enough water. He is saying that food is necessary for life and food can be misused. The same can be said for sex. While Paul is often sourced for being critical of homosexual behavior, a careful review of his mention of it will show he lumps it in with heterosexuality when either is being misapplied. In our society fornication including adultery is a norm for many. Overeating and eating unhealthily too are norms.

What is interesting is that both eating and sex are drivers of our economy. Would we have an obesity epidemic or widespread venereal disease, if not for greed? Both cross all our advertising senses continuously.

My Facebook account routinely carries a report of some young girl being suspended from school for wearing inappropriate clothing to school. Clothing that does not comply with the school dress code for decency. I do think females, as well as males, should dress in good taste. I also agree with those who are critical of schools for laying all the blame on girls dressing outside the code being the problem because boys just are not capable of controlling their raging hormones. Paul is saying in our scripture today that we need to control our behavior and not let the world’s interest entice us to do what is not good for us.

Prayer: Lord, at the start of a new year, enable us to care for ourselves lovingly and to love our neighbors in the same way. 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.

Sins of Omission

Ordinary Time
January 9, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-20

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.’ –1 Samuel 3:10-14

We are as accountable for sins of omission, perhaps more, than we are of sins of commission. By all accounts, Eli dedicated his life to the Lord’s service. His failure was in parenting. He apparently turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his children. We do not know, if he was too tied up in his work to pay them any attention or whether he just could not bring himself to discipline them correctly. I will never forget a juvenile case many years ago. * Three young teenagers entered private property without permission and with a lot of beer. They broke some furniture and caused some other damages. The police soon arrived, arrested them, and notified their parents. All three appeared in court the next week accompanied by their parents. Two of the youth each standing between their parents apologized for their behavior. Their parents made restitution for their share of the damage assuring the courts the youth would pay them back. he two boys were sentenced to several hours of community service. Having successfully complied with all requirements their records were eventually expunged.

The parents of the third boy also appeared in court, said he was incorrigible and they could do nothing with him. They turned him over to the state and walked out. All present were stunned. The judge ordered temporary custody to the state, and we, not knowing what he was capable of, placed him with foster parents who had a lot of experience with tough kids, which as it turned out he was not. He was a child hungry for love and acceptance. He flourished in foster care, did well in school, and became an adult of whom most parents would be proud. I wonder if he ever saw his natural parents again.

Are their injustices we see but think they are not our problem and thus do nothing about them? Is there someone or something we know we have talents and skills to help that we ignore?  The start of a new year is a good time to, evaluate our sins of omission and set about correcting them.

Prayer: Lord forgive me for all my sins. Open opportunities for me to do those things I am omitting to do that are a part of your desire for my life. Amen.

*The situation description has been altered to protect the privacy of the youth.

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.

Here I Am, Lord

Ordinary Time
January 8, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-20

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. –1 Samuel 3:1-9

There is a difference in hearing the call and responding to the call. One thing is sure God calls all of God’s followers. When I first participated in my church, a  90-something woman in my church prepared the communion trays each week filling little individual glass cups with grape juice before worship and carefully washing them and storing them after worship for the next use. She lived four or five blocks from the church and, rain or shine would walk to the church on Fridays to prepare communion and return on Mondays to clean those cups. It was her calling, and she did it faithfully for years. We had to switch to plastic throw-away cups when she died. No one else was willing to do the tedious cleaning. I doubt her call was very dramatic, but it was something she could do at that age and stage of her life, and so she did.

Samuel’s call was more dramatic than our cup washer’s as was Paul’s, both callings so outstanding they merited Biblical documentation. Our callings are more likely to be similar to the cup washer’s. We may have a shining outstanding moment in our faith history, but most of our work is the persistent pursuit of the will of God whether supporting weekly worship or ministering to the whole nation of Israel or taking the Good News of Christ to the gentile world.  One of Eli’s last responses to God enabled God’s new servant to hear and respond to his call.

Prayer: Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.* Amen

Refrain from Here I am, Lord words by Dan Schutte see at https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-here-i-am-lord

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

Being an Advocate

Ordinary Time
January 7, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:4-11

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ –Mark 1:9-11

Baptism has a history all its own. The Jewish faith practiced ritual cleansing thus baptism was not a new concept with Christianity. Baptism and its purposes were a source of debate from the early years of Christian theology and may still be today although most of us have taken our stanch in our chosen denomination. What does it mean to you? What do you suppose it meant to Jesus?

Many students of the Bible demarcate Jesus’ baptism as the beginning of his earthly ministry. There is not much if any information about his life from the age of 12 when he visited the temple with his parents and his baptism when he was speculated to be around 30 years old. Was he working as a carpenter with Joseph during that time? I read a book a few years ago that suggested he was a disciple of John the Baptist and had traveled and learned from John until it was time for him to take the leadership role. Perhaps John’s death thrust him into the spotlight.

I was baptized at the age of six in a church that practices believers baptism. Apparently, some members thought I was too young. I understand our pastor, Dr. Fred Keller, was my advocate for accepting my confession of faith and baptizing me. I did not know about this issue until several years later. As innocent as I may have been at six, I probably never made a more sincere decision and commitment. I guess I was living the principle ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 18:3)

What I learned at that early age is that God’s Spirit advocates for us at times through our brothers and sisters in Christ and we need to be aware of any call we receive to advocate for others.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, strengthen us in your service when you need us as advocates. 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.

 

Help is on the Way

Epiphany
January 6, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
–Mark 1:4-8

“Help is on the way!” are precious words to those who are in distress with seemingly no control of what life is dishing out to them. Most of us know the feeling. I wonder what it was about the first century that made God decide humans needed more knowledge/awareness of the consistent, constant help God offers. Is that why God came to us in human form?

God created a very complex world capable of working well together like a fine-tuned instrument and capable of chaos. Parents know what that is like watching an infant striving to move across the floor on hands and tummies and knees until one day they lift themselves up on hands and knees and crawl. Next, they take that first tentative step. Parents are torn between letting them develop and protecting them from the dangers of their development. At times we all need a hand to hold whether we are learning to walk, learning to work, learning to love, or learning to die. Immanuel, God with us, came among us for just such a purpose.

John the Baptist suggests that people particularly need fresh starts recognizing when the path they chose was not the right path. He could help them by guiding them to confess their sins and start again, but he foresaw one coming who could lead them, us to the path of righteousness for God needs all God’s children to work and love together to actualize God’s plan.  Jesus Christ came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b)

Prayer: Thank you God for sharing yourself with us through Jesus Christ. Help us grow in your wisdom and truth. 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.

 

Finding Common Ground

Christmas
January 5, 2018

Scripture Reading: Acts 19:1-7
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.

I do not believe in coincidences, but my Sunday school class discussed Acts 19 this week. I enjoined hearing others describe interacting with people with viewpoints different from theirs. We talked about the diverse ways Christians perceive Christ even today. And we talked about finding common ground on which we can strive for oneness. I think it is time we set our disagreements aside and identify the things on which we can agree working on them with all our hearts, souls, strengths and minds. There may be instances when we agree on the problem but not the solution. My guess is we need all the solutions possible to deal with some of the major issues of our day. Poverty, for example,  may be addressed by .clothing, and shelter; ending discrimination in all forms. Surely we could all identify our niche among such a diversity of responses that are all desperately needed.

I wonder whether we disagree because it is easier to differ than to deal with the differences. I wonder if we struggle with divergences in faith because our faith is thinly based on what we perceive to be right rather than on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord, show us how to love one another and grow together in our love for you and all your children. 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 Holy Spirit

Christmas
January 4, 2018

Scripture Reading: Acts 19:1-7
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.

Most of us today have at least heard of the Holy Spirit, but I think the Spirit remains a mystery as a part of our life of faith. I worked with a woman who attributed something being a God-Thing to explain a right result for which there was no explanation. I picked up that language. I welcome the glimpses of the Spirit at work particularly when we have done our very best, and it just was not enough, but good came from it anyway.

We are called to do our very best as part of the Body of Christ in partnership with our advocate and counselor, the Holy Spirit. I am very thankful for the counseling; I need all the help I can get. Having a full-time advocate is a special blessing. We can all get down on ourselves at times. Advocates by definition speak in support of another. We envision our Advocate speaking to God on our behalf when we fall short of the glory of God. Advocates might also plant seeds of support in the hearts of our perceived enemies opening the door for reconciliation.

I recently watched the documentary The Sultan and the Saint on PBS that explores how Saint Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt risked it all to end the Crusades. I am sure much holy counseling and advocacy took place in that amazing encounter within the hearts and minds of both these uncommon people.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your constant presence with all your children. Make us each whole and make us all one. 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.