Called to Heal

Living in the Spirit
September 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 14:19-31

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’ –Exodus 14:21-25

The stories of God’s actions passed to us from history and still being documented today always include a partnership of interaction with a person, or more often with people.  I love Margaret Mead whose famous quotes stand the test of time and amplify the importance of our interdependence and our individuality.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

 Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

I always think of twelve ragamuffin disciples from the first century when I read the first quote. It applies to Moses with his brother and sister, too and Martin Luther five hundred years ago and Martin Luther King Jr. 60 years ago and someone today standing on the brink of Kingdom building ready to say “let’s go.”

Each of us must hear and respond to the call bringing our unique gifts all of which are necessary for the transitioning of the world from its current fractured state to a world powered by love. In such a world everyone is respected for the individual they are and for the unique part of interdependence they serve.

If we seem to be experiencing brokenness more than wholeness, perhaps we need to listen to the still small voice crying  “I am with you, let’s go” following our ancestors in faith to do the justice needed to heal brokenness and make the wounded whole*.

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul*.

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy, open our ears to hear your call, enable our spirits to response. Amen.

*First verse of There is a Balm in Gilead a traditional African American Spiritual see at http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/lyrics/hs889.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.

Modeling Love

Living in the Spirit
September 17, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:21-35

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’—Matthew 18:23-35

It is funny, but we waste a lot of time and effort trying to change someone else when the only person over which we have any control to change is ourselves. The paradox is how we respond to others often may result in a shift in their attitude. I worked in a building that housed a separate business from mine, but I met its staff on a regular basis coming and going from the facility. I did not know any of the staff, but we routinely greeted each other except for one woman who never responded to a “Good Morning” or “Have a nice evening.” In fact, she would never even look at me. I did not know what to make of her but just kept smiling and making common greetings when one day she began looking at me and a few days later shyly returned my greeting. Our exchanges continued until she was suddenly not there anymore.

Jesus modeled a way of being in the short time he walked the earth. In the parable today he calls us to forgive as he has forgiven us. It is, of course, futile to send someone to prison to make them pay a debt. If one cannot work, how can he or she earn any money? What difference do you think it would have made in the life of the second slave had the first slave said to him, “The master has forgiven me my debt, so I forgive you the debt you own me?” What difference would it make in the life of one we judge to be a sinner if we simply loved them for who he or she was anyway?

Prayer: God of Grace, give us each the self-confidence to love as you love. Enable loving behavior to be like yeast throughout our land. 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 with Me

Living in the Spirit
September 11, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 14:19-31

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. –Exodus 14:19-20

There are times in all our lives when we are forced to rely on God totally. When the Israelites left Egypt was one such time.  The angel led them out and then the pillar of cloud moved behind them to protect them from the Egyptian Army. Saint Patrick wrote the following prayer that is an apt description of the faithfulness of God.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

What we need to understand is this is true all the time not just when we are at a breaking point. In fact, we would many times avoid reaching our wit’s end, if we walked in faith with God continuously. God is not only an emergency call center. God wants us to live and move and have our being so that our lives are led by peace and love, being cognizant of how our actions impact our world and all that is in it.

Prayer: Lord, make us mindful of dialogue with you in every moment of our lives. Help us to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) 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.

Being Church

Living in the Spirit
September 9, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:15-20

 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. –Matthew 18:15-17

The above scripture is tough. If sin is separation from God, how does that play out in relationships between humans? If sin is missing the mark? Who establishes what the mark is? If the way we treat one another classifies as a sin against God, what is our responsibility to the other member of the church involved whom we are called to love? Does this scripture indicate that the church is a closed, exclusive organization with no concerns about people beyond its walls? How does that mesh with Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbors? It probably is not fair to separate verses 15-17 from verses 18-20, but I fear that is what happens in the everyday functions of any church.

Christ calls us to be one, and that requires us to figure out how to get along and work productively with one another. Becoming one is a challenge when we cluster with people who are very much like ourselves. Becoming one with people of markedly different cultures is much harder even impossible without the abiding presence of God’s guiding our way.

I cannot imagine what it was like carving out a new religion in the first century bringing together peoples from various other faith experiences or none at all. We see snippets of frustration with melding diversity throughout the gospels and the writings of Paul. One of the most difficult parts surely was moving from a predominantly exclusive system honed by years of oppression by outside forces to a fully inclusive system opening the doors to former oppressors.

With these considerations aside, the advice in verse 15 is sound. When there is a problem between two church members, it is best to discuss it calmly and privately. The inability to resolve the problem amicably resulting in involving others opens a different can of worms. History tells us when such situations lead to positive or negative outcomes. For good or bad, our many denominations are the result of such disagreements. It is very important that our actions are not missing the mark with God.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the gift of discernment that we may know how to deal with one another within the context of your rule of love. Help us to comprehend when we have sinned against another and guide us to seek forgiveness from the one we have harmed and you. When we feel someone has sinned against us grant us the wisdom we need to deal with the issue in a way that will bring you glory. 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’s Priorities

Living in the Spirit
September 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 13:8-14

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in . Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. –Romans 13:11-14

Some seem to thrive on quarreling and jealousy, always wanting to have something brewing, which distracts from the mission at hand. It is a way of controlling, bullying even. I fear I have little patience with such behavior. I am equally sure I have some personality traits that drive others up the wall. I am impressed with those who are gifted with the patience to deal with such distractions and return a group to more productive use of time. What is interesting to me about our scripture today is the inclusion of quarreling and jealousy with reveling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness. I doubt if most would combine them. Churches are renowned for quarrels and jealousy but have great disdain for the other items on Paul lists. Humans tend to find sin in the actions of others quicker than in their own.

Yet, here we are totally human and committed to being the Body of Christ engaged in the world today, warts and all. First, being a part of the Body of Christ necessitates being in close communion with Christ, being aware of how Christ worked within the community as an example to all and routinely testing ourselves against those standards. If something is wrong in the world, we are called to work toward its correction finding agreement on how that can best happen. Second, such work takes a combination of all our skills and talents. Learning to be stalwart when appropriate is as important as learning how not to sweat the small stuff. Third, synergy, becoming greater than the sum of our parts, happens when we get it figured out.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’—Matthew 18:20

Prayer: Lord, help us see past our petty differences and gain a clear understanding of being your Body in a broken world. Set your priorities in our hearts and guide us to be one in attaining 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.

Washing Feet

Living in the Spirit
September 7, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. –Romans 13:8-10

The lead into our scripture today is a much-debated segment advising Christ’s followers to obey authorities and pay their taxes among other things. The people Paul targeted did not live in a democracy; most had no input about laws or taxes. While the Romans tolerated various religious sects when they did not cause problems, Roman expected obedience to its laws and financial support of its governance.

Paul takes his instruction further in this scripture where he says we should owe no one anything but love and we owe love to everyone. We owe love because we receive and know the love of God through Jesus Christ. How are we to make a positive difference in the world, if we follow the same paths as the world? I recently watched with keen interest the clergy arm in arm forming a wall of love in Charlottesville standing against hate and violence. I watched a white man carrying two black children out of the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey. I watched our Mexican neighbors bring much-needed supplies and help to Texas in response to the hurricane. They simply loved their neighbors. I saw no fear in any of these faces only determination.

1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love cast out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

Jesu, Jesu fill us with your love,
Show us how to love the neighbors we have from you.

Silently washes their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them.

Jesu, Jesu fill us with your love,
Show us how to love the neighbors we have from you*.

Prayer: Lord, let your love free us from our fears enabling us to love like you. Amen.

*Chorus and first verse of Jesu, Jesu, words by Tom Colvin see at https://hymnary.org/text/kneels_at_the_feet_of_his_friends

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 Go High

Living in the Spirit
September 6, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 149

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
   his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
   let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
   making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
   he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
   let them sing for joy on their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
   and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
   and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters
   and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute on them the judgment decreed.
   This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord!

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people. We are a source of God’s happiness. If you are a parent or aunt in my case, it is easy to imagine. I take pleasure in seeing my nieces and nephews thrive and success using their God given talents. I apparently inherited that trait from God. So did you. God loves each human and thus wants the very best for each of us. We need to share in and support each other’s growth and development.

We all recently watched people rescuing people in the recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey’s hitting the gulf coast. A horrible disaster, yet the love that poured through that area surely gave God pleasure. Long-termed restorative care is now needed. An extension of letting our love pour through our everyday lives seems appropriate too. Disasters tend to remind us of what is important.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our behavior, and it is important that we take that responsibility seriously. As we live in community,  we meld our ways of being with others for good or for bad. Our goal is to maximize the good and minimize the bad, which means we must find common ground on which to build our society that requires the patience to understand one another and not take for granted what is reality for me is another’s reality. Finding common ground is hard work requiring us at times to leave our comfort zones and move to higher ground.

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

*Chorus to hymn Higher Ground words by Johnson Outman Jr. See at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/396

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

Taking a Knee

Living in the Spirit
September 5, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 12:1-14

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. –Exodus 12:12-14

We cannot imagine worshiping a carved image or even a natural phenomenon ascribed sacred status like the gods of Egypt. Much of the Hebrew Bible deals with the challenge of idols mostly those of other nations distracting the Hebrew people from their monotheistic commitment to God. The interesting thing about idols is that one can project onto them whatever properties one desires of a god as idols are void of purpose or meaning.

I fear, idols, by other names, are just as confounding for us today.The collection of things, materialism, is a current idol that has existed for some time and is easy to identify. We must have the latest phone, TV, shoes, etc. We tsk, tsk ourselves about it as we hand our credit cards to pay for our latest “Just gotta have it.” What about the idols that are so much a part of our lives, we do not recognize them?

I was surprised by the NFL’s position and much of the public’s response to the football player, Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the national anthem in protest of the rampant racism in our land. Taking a knee in most cases is a sign of humility, not an insult. Could Mr. Kaepernick have been saying in his action that racism goes against everything for which our country stands? All [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness*. When we do not subscribe to the basic values of our country we are dishonoring it. Have we reduced the flag of our country to an idol, an empty shell with only the meaning we chose to give it rather than our country’s defined identity?

Racism might not be an epidemic, had faith communities followed the tenets of God recognizing that God created all humans in God’s own image and all humans are thus God’s people. God who commanded us to love God and to love one another set the standard for living within the framework of our creation.

Do we imagine Joshua doing the ancient equivalent of taking a knee when he spoke these words recorded in Joshua 24:15:

Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’

Perhaps we all need to take a knee whether in the stadium to support the defined identity of our country or in our houses of worship regarding our relationship with God as we decide who we serve.

Prayer: Lord, open the windows of our hearts and help us to see that which is so ingrained we accept it as normal. Forgive us of our sins of commission, when we discriminated against any other. Forgive us of our sins of omission when we stand idly by allowing racism to exist. Empower us to do justice. Amen.

*From the US Declaration of Independence

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.

A New Tradition of Justice

Living in the Spirit
September 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 12:1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. –Exodus 12:1-11

Tradition, I love the song from Fiddler on the Roof; love the movie too. Traditions remind us from where we came, who we are, and whose we are. Such relationships and memories matter. I surprise myself how often I will respond to something saying, for example, “My Mom would say that is cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Many nights I went to sleep to my Dad singing and playing his guitar in the living room. I learned most of country-blues singer Jimmy Rogers’ songs and many World War II songs by osmosis. We draw from our pasts seeds of wisdom and culture that broaden our understanding of the world in which we live from the traditions that pass to us. Some are sage thoughts for the ages; others may be distorted or just wrong. We must filter through them to find what works for us today that we can pass to the next generation for tomorrow.

As I worked through my genealogy, I have stumbled on threads of faith that run through most of the lines I track. My heritage includes families that came early to the shores of what became America in search of religious freedom and families that took their faith across the nation to homestead on land previously seized from indigenous people. I found a record that one of those ancestors held the first worship service among white people at his new home. He was following in his father’s footsteps who working with others procured the land on which the first Methodist church his Pennsylvania community was built. I found Anglican baptismal records and Presbyterian roots and the man hosting that first worship service was called a Campbellite. I found where some of these good folks were slave owners.

We are not the first to deal with racism we need to work with all our hearts, minds, and strengths to be the last. I can envision my ancestor as a young man reading a flyer about free land in the west that said the land was yours for the taking if you work hard and build a home on the land and grow crops. I might have jumped at that enticement too. He may never have known the land first belonged to the Sauk and Fox or chosen to turn a blind eye to that fact or not cared. My ancestor who own slaves perhaps read the Bible interpreting it to sanction slavery or believed the views that black people were not fully human or just saw slavery as a way to enhance his own well-being.

Loving as Jesus loves invites us to envision whole pictures accepting all people as God’s children and thus our siblings. We are called to work to bring justice to all, a tradition upon which not only our faith but our country was founded.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us of our sins of commission and omission as they relate to our interrelations with the diversity of your children here and around the world. Give us the courage where needed to initiation new traditions of justice as Moses did at the first Passover. 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.

 

Taking Up Our Crosses

Living in the Spirit
September 3, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:21-28

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ –Matthew 16:24-28

Our lives stream with choices some simple some complex. We forget that choosing not to choose is a choice. I love the scene in the Jungle Book movie where vultures perched on naked tree branches are caught in a circular conversation, “What do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” How many times have we had similar conversations? Choosing to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Jesus is a life altering decision touching every aspect of who we are and what we do with our lives. We no longer can sit on the fence and watch the world go by saying “isn’t it a shame, somebody ought to do something about that.” We are the somebody.

The world often casts love as a role we simply fall into; make no mistake, love is a choice, as is indifference and hate. Choosing to love is a commitment that takes all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength leaving no room for indifference or hate. I fear our gravest departure from Jesus’ example comes in the form of indifference. How we act as we present ourselves as followers of Christ is how others who observe us understand Jesus. If we project an attitude of indifference, we present an inaccurate picture of Christ. If we caste hate-filled judgment on others in the name of re-creating them in our image, we may drive a wedge between them and the One in whose image they were created.

We have a choice right now in our society whether to live God’s love completely for all of God’s children. When the world tells any they are not welcomed, we must welcome them in the name of God just as they are. If they are hungry, we feed them if they have no clothing we dress them, if they are sick we work toward their healing, if they are in prison, we restore them, and if they are strangers, we recognize them as strangers no more but as our brothers and sisters in Christ. And if any of these realities are the result of systemic injustice, we do justice.

Prayer: God of All, make us whole, make us 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.