Oneness Leads to Wholeness

Ordinary Time
February 3, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. –Mark 1:29-34

One thing about Mark, he begins his gospel with Christ’s ministry. Mark is believed to be the oldest gospel, perhaps getting just the facts down at the start was the most important reason for writing it. We must take him seriously when he describes Jesus’ care for the sick.  The gospels all illustrate this healing nature of Jesus’ ministry. He obviously felt that health care was a right, not a privilege.

We apparently do not believe that in this country although every other industrialized country does. We don’t want to assure the availability of health care even when it is in our best interest. People without routine health care end up in emergency rooms very sick where their care is much more expensive than early intervention or prevention care. Insurance costs are derived from the costs of providing care, so we eventually pay for the higher costs of emergency care in increased premiums. The alternative of turning the sick out into the streets to fend for themselves creates public health risks about which we do not even want to think.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? One of my favorites of Jesus’ sayings is Matthew 11:28-30:

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

We make life complicated by trying to figure out the best angle for our wellbeing. When we love others as we love ourselves, life becomes easier for all.

Prayer: Lord, heal our souls as well as our bodies and our minds. Makes 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.

Mission Oriented

Ordinary Time
February 2, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:15-23

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. –1 Corinthians 9:19-23

I began my work as a social worker in public service during the turbulent 60’s when our culture was in a state of constant and challenging change. The mini skirt was all the rage but forbidden by our dress code, and when I started, females were not allowed to wear slacks to work. When I became a supervisor, I was required to enforce the dress code. I dealt with both my bosses and staff on the issues it raised. I suggested to my superiors that wearing well-tailored pantsuits might be more acceptable to the public than mini skirts. With my staff, I posited that if the client they were serving was more concerned with the way they dressed than what they were attempting to accomplish, they could not do their job. Wearing a mini skirt while talking with a teenage girl might win a worker points for her dress. Wearing a mini skirt while working with either an older female adult or a teenage boy would be a distraction for very different reasons.

I think this is the point Paul is trying to make in the above scripture. If anything we are doing or not doing is diverting attention from our intentions of doing God’s work, we need to be cognizant of it and make appropriate adjustments to it. When I toured Mosques on my trip to Turkey a few years ago, I wore a scarf and removed my shoes before entering. If we offend someone before we even are introduced, true dialogue will be impossible.

Prayer: Lord, help us prioritize our behavior to reflect your love for the other in all ways. 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.

Heart’s Desire

Ordinary Time
February 1, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:15-23

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. –1 Corinthians 9:16-18

Paul’s chosen profession, perhaps inherited from the family business, was tent making. He was apparently successful at it, able to support himself, and made friends through the enterprise. It afforded him the opportunity to pursue his avocation of proclaiming the gospel.

An avocation is a work done primarily for the pure joy of doing it. We sometimes interchange the meaning of the word joy with happiness. Joy may or may not evoke happiness, but it is the emotion one feels when one attains his or her greatest desire. In our scripture above Paul is describing his greatest desire as taking the good news of Jesus Christ to all people. His quest caused him many hardships and eventually resulted in his death, but for him, every disciple won was the source of great joy. The driving force behind his avocation was no doubt the tremendous joy he experienced in encountering Jesus Christ and the continuing relationship that resulted.

What source of joy has Christ written on your heart? In your service to God, what brings you the greatest sense of accomplishment? Identifying your faith heart’s desire and seeking ways to actualize it will bring you joy that will last for eternity.

Prayer: Open my being to know where the desires of my heart and your desires intersect, O Lord. Enable me to pursue those points with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. 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.

Ordinary Time
January 31, 2018

Scripture Reading: Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
   for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
   he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the broken-hearted,
   and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
   he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
   his understanding is beyond measure.
 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
   he casts the wicked to the ground. –Psalm 147:1-6

I saw a news story recently about a local group providing services to persons in Haiti still recovering from the horrible earthquake that killed over 100,000 people eight years ago. I was particularly struck by the interview with one mother living in a lean-to shack with no running water or electricity. They interviewed her because she spoke English. She spoke English because she was deported from the USA having been forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave her two daughters behind as they were American citizens and she knew the future she was returning to was grim and dangerous. Ironic isn’t it that faith groups are ministering to people in their desperate situations because of the actions of our own country.

I praise God for the work of the hands of God’s servants healing the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds. While such work is needed, our work at home doing justice has become even more imperative. The USA government recently ruled that the refugees we took in after that same earthquake must return to Haiti over the next year or so even though that country does not have the resources to support the population there now. The report gave no reason for the deportation order. It seemed an arbitrary decision based on someone thinking the refugees were here long enough.

I also saw a headline recently that asked the question whether democracy remained a viable form of governance. I did not have time to read the article, but the answer that came to my mind is that democracy can be a great form of governance if we all work at making it so. What do you think?

Prayer: Lord, you created each of us with skills and talents designed to bring about your Kingdom guide us in doing just that. 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.

On Eagles Wings

Ordinary Time
January 30, 2018

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31

Why do you say, O Jacob,
   and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
   and my right is disregarded by my God’?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
   his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
   and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
   and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint. –Isaiah 40:27-31

A bald eagle was found shot in a field recently in Oklahoma; a crime as bald eagles are an endangered species. I think killing any animal just for the sport is wrong, which seems to be what happened here. I do not think I have ever heard of anyone eating eagle, but this dead one was left to rot in a field. Eagles are hunters themselves. They know well the life of soaring above the earth searching for food to nourish their bodies.

Isaiah in our scripture today uses the eagle as an example for us to follow as one who needs nourishment to continue our life journeys. While we too require sustenance for our bodies, we also require nourishment for our souls, and that comes in our relationship with God.

What does it mean to wait on the Lord? Certainly, when we take something to the Lord in prayer, we need to be heedful for a response. I, however, believe that God is ahead of us all the time waiting for us to catch on and catch up to what we need to do. Our waiting involves being still and attentive enough to see the paths that God has set forth for us. God runs with us every step all the time.

Prayer: Lord, open my heart and my mind to your guidance so that I can run and not be weary. 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.

Empowered

Ordinary Time
January 29, 2018

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
   Has it not been told you from the beginning?
   Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
   and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
   and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
   and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.  –Isaiah 40:21-26

Recently I hunger deeply for the omnipotent God, the God of might and miracles I sang about as a child. I long to feel that what Robert Browning said in his poem Pippa’s Song is true. God ‘s in His heaven—All ‘s right with the world!* Of course, I long for the omnipotent God because all is not right with the world, but longing for the almighty God is the correct response in that case. Remembering that we love and serve the God who is love empowers us to rise above our limitations and address the wrongs that surround us. God has our backs what more do we need.

I participated in the Oklahoma City Women’s March recently and was amazed at the strength of the sisterhood and brotherhood present. The good spirit that prevailed was palpable. The signs illustrating the wrongs that beset us bore truths that might draw out anger and violence but that was not the case here. I was surrounded by resilience and tenacity. These people were past anger. They were ready to correct the wrongs that had too long ruled their lives and the lives of those who cannot advocate for themselves. Edmond Burke’s words came to mind: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing. ** I was amid good people empowered to address evil.

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to face our challenges to make the world a place ruled by love. Amen.

*http://www.bartleby.com/101/718.html
**See at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/edmund_burke_377528

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.

Evil and the God of Love

Ordinary Time
January 28, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

I do not have a great understanding of what were dubbed demons in the first century or the people who display similar behavior today with symptoms now given a psychological tag. I did read M. Scott Pecks book People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil several years ago, which explored similar situations.

I remember well sitting on suicide watch all night in a general hospital with a young teen awaiting his transfer to a psychiatric facility. Although heavily sedated, he cycled through stages of agitation looking at me wildly declaring he was Jesus Christ and he was to save the world, eventually wearing himself out until he collapsed on the bed and fell into a deep sleep. He would later awake proclaiming he had committed blasphemy by declaring himself the Christ and he needed to die for his sin. I even remember thinking this is like the demons in some of Jesus’ stories. There is so much we do not know.

I no longer question that evil takes many forms, and I am not sure if some type of mental illness is one of them. I am sure that humans can get so caught up in layers of self-deceit colored by many descriptors such as envy, greed, lust, hunger for power, violence that they alone cannot escape the chains those manifestations have on them. Jesus Christ can and does return people to wholeness when we let him.

Prayer: Spirit of the Living God protect us from evil, lead us to the empowerment of your love that heals the sin-sick soul. 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.

Open to God’s Word

Ordinary Time
January 27, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Jesus said what he meant and meant what he said. I do not necessarily think people heard what he meant. In too many cases we hear what we want to hear. I think Jesus would be surprised by some of the words we put in his mouth. Jesus spoke some very hard truths requiring us to rethink our entire system of values, particularly those values passed on to us for generations. We truly must become a new person in Christ.

The musical/movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas* includes a song for our times, all times really, titled The Sidestep. Peppered with all the right words we want to hear, it is pretty much nonsense but designed to hook our well-planted bias: proud/humble, flag, poor to riches, plain-spoken cannot tell a lie.

Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly see.
I assure you, and I mean it-  Now, who says I don’t speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I’m for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I’m a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie. 

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on. **

Prayer: Renew us O, Lord, help us not only to discern what you mean but live our lives guided by your Word and your example. Amen.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Best_Little_Whorehouse_in_Texas_(film)
**First verse and chorus from The Sidestep see at http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/t/thesidestep.shtml

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 Examples

Ordinary Time
January 26, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. –1 Corinthians 8:7-13

I had a neighbor several years ago who did not attend movies in theaters. He watched them regularly on television. When I asked him about this behavior, he quoted the above scripture to me. A minister I knew apparently regularly was seen entering a theater dedicated solely to showing pornography. He argued his transparency in action was admirable. Of course, he saw nothing wrong with his choice of entertainment. We must be constantly aware of the examples we set for others, and we must not rigidly follow practiced that tend more to make us appear self-righteous. God never promised us free will would be easy.

Now I do think we should pay heed to Paul’s advice, and we might need to do some self-examination of our behavior. In the name of hospitality, churches are notorious for constantly putting food, often unhealthy food, before us and encouraging us to eat it. Do we have any responsibility to at least offer a healthy, lower calorie choice at such times? How do we deal with serving alcoholic beverages in our home when we know our guest is a recovering addict? Gambling seems just a waste of money to me, but I love to watch horses race and attend concerts the music of some of my favorite performers; both activities are often available for watching at venues whose major enterprise is gambling. Paul, I think is saying when we sense the need to decide something we think might be misconstrued we need to err on the side of caution.

Prayer: Lord, help me be intentional in the way I present myself to others weighing the well-being of others against my personal desires. 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 Love

Ordinary Time
January 25, 2018

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. –1 Corinthians 8:1-6

How do we glean from the experiences of our first-century brothers and sisters in Christ ways to address the issues we face today? While eating meat offered to idols is no longer an issue, we still have idols. Greed and lust for power are two of the most virulent. Perhaps purchasing fair trade products is a counter to both of these idols. Greed and lust for power are directly related to all kinds of injustice in our world today. How we invest our money whether simply buying groceries or purchasing stocks matters.

The key Paul provides, for us to measure how we are to act, is love. We may spend hours comparing products to buy hoping to get the best appliance or the best deal. How much time do we spend discerning whether what we cannot live without was made by child labor working long days in horrid conditions? How much of our food is harvested by undocumented aliens because our government stalemates on creating an immigrant system that is effective and efficient? Who benefits from an antiquated and disjointed immigration system? Would border safety issues decline if a workable immigration system operated?

In the first century Corinth, Christianity was judged by the actions of its practitioners. It still is today. Reminds me of a children’s song I sang many years ago:

Watch your eyes and ears and lips and hands and feet
Watch your eyes and ears and lips and hands and feet
For there’s a Father up above, looking down in tender love
Watch your eyes and ears and lips and hands and feet.*

Prayer: Parent of All, help us remember what we learned as children and if we have not yet learned your message of love, teach it to us anew. Amen.

Summary last verse of Watch your Eyes, see at https://gospelchoruses.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/watch-your-eyes/

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.