Tag Archives: Grace

Not What We Want to Hear

Make Crooked StraightEpiphany
January 30, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 4:21-30

Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” –Luke 4:21-23

Jesus was not sent by God to say what the people wanted to hear, he was not sent to bring fame to his fellow citizens, or take sides in their disagreements. Truth be told, he should not have needed to have been sent at all. Jesus was sent to make the crooked straight (Isaiah 45:2), to clean up the messes that seemed to be beyond the people’s control. We still long for a superhero to come and make everything the way we want it to be today. I think we would be as surprised or disappointed or angry as Jesus’ neighbors were, if he walked in the door right now. Jesus came to change the hearts of God’s people, to restore our souls.

Thank God for the gift of grace Jesus provided, for we still find ourselves unable to walk the walk even with a straight path to follow. We try to bend God’s way to our own conventions. It is time for us to open our hearts, minds, and souls to God and welcome God’s mercy. Until we each and all allow God’s love to rule our lives and our interactions we will continue to spiral downward as a society.

I believe the political fiasco in the USA today is a mirror reflection of the attitudes of the collective American population. We are getting exactly what we want. Until we deal with our own sins of greed and entitlement we will lose ground as a nation. A reading of the Bible book of Amos might be a good Lenten observance. I think it will sound familiar.

Prayer: Lord convict us of our sins, forgive us of our sins, and journey with us as we strive to follow the path you have set before us. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Together as One

negativityEpiphany
January 5, 2016

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7

Do not fear, for I am with you;
   I will bring your offspring from the east,
   and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
   and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
   and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
   whom I created for my glory,
   whom I formed and made.’—Isaiah 43:5-7

Most read Isaiah as promising the regeneration of the nation of Israel. I cannot help but recall the book of Genesis when I read this scripture where Isaiah speaks of everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. God apparently glories in diversity for God surely created it. Why do you suppose it is so hard for us to glory in diversity?

Created as totally unique individuals, it does not take us long to cluster into like kinds: males on one side females on the other; red and yellow, black and white; athletes, scholars; working class, wealthy; conservatives, liberals. Apparently the world is easier to understand when we cluster and then create hierarchies of those clusters although it actually gets more complicated, when individuals from various clusters mix together.

One of the traits that Jesus modeled for all to follow was recognizing the uniqueness in each person with whom his path crossed. O, he knew about clusters. Had apparently learned about some. The syrophoenician woman was originally not on his radar. Lepers may not have been either, at first. He had this amazing skill to look past his predilections and see the image of God in each person. This is a skill we each need to hone, if we long for oneness and justice in our world.

Prayer: God, show us the treasure you planted in each human being and let us treat it as the gift of your grace that it is. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Christ Our Advocate

AdvocateLiving in the Spirit
November 5, 2015

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. –Hebrews 9:24-28

A few months after I moved back to Oklahoma City after finishing graduate school in Denver, the heat in my new apartment went out. I called the property manager and reported the outage but nothing was done. This went on for a month so when it came time to pay my rent the next month I informed the property manager I was not paying my rent until he got my heat fixed, and I did not pay it. Now I had looked up the law related to renters and was in compliance with it in my actions. This went on for another month and I did not pay again as he still had not fixed my heat. He sued me in small claims court for the back rent. I panicked and was telling my Sunday school teacher about this mess and he agreed to go to court with me. The judge greeted my Sunday school teacher and looked at him with a question on his face that said, “What are you doing here?” I told the judge I fully intended to pay my rent as soon as my heat was fixed. The judge ordered the property manager to fix my heat as soon as possible and when that was done I was to pay all the rent I owed. He fixed it and I paid my rent.

I knew that my Sunday school teacher was an attorney. I also knew him to be a man of high integrity and a dedicated Christian. What I didn’t know was that he was one of most highly respected attorney’s in the state who was way out of place in small claims court.

Hebrews is telling us in our scripture today that when we have Christ standing by our side we have the best representation possible. There is no greater advocate. What a wonderful gift of grace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your presence with us each moment of each day. Restore to [us] the joy of your salvation, and sustain in [us] a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12) 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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1Living in the Spirit
September 11, 2015

Scripture Reading: James 3:1-12

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. –James 3:10-12

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.* Could this “Thumperian principle” have been based on a reading of James? You remember, Thumper the little rabbit from the movie Bambi attempting to follow the instructions of his father. Try some time to go through a whole day without saying something negative about something. We move blithely through blessing and cursing every day. We may not perceive what we are doing as blessing or cursing but that in point of fact is the result of our words. James takes this idea even further. He is saying, if we are God’s people, we are as incapable of cursing another as an olive tree is of producing a fig. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

If everyone is made in the image of God, how can anyone be bad? Tough question to consider when we observe bad things happening all around us, isn’t it? We say, “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” but I don’t think it is possible. I do not believe any of us are capable of freeing ourselves from the clutches of sin unless we are loved totally for who we are at any moment in time. Unless we are touched by God’s grace. We are called to emulate Christ who is gracious always.

Freed from the ominous task of judging others, we have the holy opportunity to love each other toward wholeness. None of us has reached perfection. We are all on the same journey toward being one with Christ. The love that is God is more powerful than any evil. Our sharing such love among all of God’s children without regard to any of our behaviors can and will lead to peace and justice.

We also ignore evil’s presence at our own risk. Confronting the evil that is in our society is a part of doing justice. We will, however, never overthrow evil with more evil. Evil can only be defeated by love.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

 O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.** Amen.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumper_(Bambi)

**Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace by St. Francis of Assisi see at http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=134

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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Grace in Justice

Rich And PoorLiving in the Spirit
September 3, 2015

Scripture Reading: James 2:1-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? –James 2:1-7

There is probably no greater evidence of injustice in the world than in our judicial system within the United States. If you can afford the best attorney, you can most likely win your case or get a lighter sentence. If people cannot afford an attorney, even if they are not guilty they may be encouraged to plead guilty to get a lesser sentence.  If a person has the good fortune of having a family who can afford to pay for psychiatric care at the onset of an illness, he or she will be able to prove he or she was mentally ill before the crime and thus meet the constitutional criteria that says we do not execute the mentally ill. If the person is diagnosed after sentencing he or she will most likely be executed even though evidence of mental illness was present for much of his or her life.

We are called to not see class differences but it is really hard to do in a society that projects more worth on wealth than on personhood. I do not think the problem is so much being gracious to the upper class. The problem is ignoring or even stepping over the poor to cast your lot with the people whose prosperity equals power.

We need to show God’s grace in our lives to everyone. The rich can be as spiritually poor as anyone. The poor in worldly acquisitions may be rich in spiritual gifts. They are all welcomed as part of the Body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord, expand our ability to love to see your reflection in each person we encounter so that we no longer are driven to be concerned about material worth. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Overcoming Evil

LionLent
March 22, 2015

Scripture Reading: John 12:20-33

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. — John 12:27-33

It is hard to image Jesus’ having a troubled soul. The one who could turn water into wine, heal the sick, and raise the dead was facing failure. He had tried in every way possible to help people understand that the workings of the ruler of this world were not to their best interest. Yet as the prophets of previous generations had said, they listened but they did not hear. (See Isaiah 6:9, for example)

The twentieth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing is April 19, 2015. One of the things I heard on the news after that event was a comment form a local pastor that the first heart broken when the bomb went off was God’s. If we indeed are made in the image of God, then that comment makes sense. Just as it makes sense that Jesus’ soul would be troubled because he wanted the very best for all God’s children. It is sad that we seem, not only satisfied with something less than God, but we almost crave it. Evil saps us of our energy to love like God loves and we let it. We of course pay a high price for taking second best.

As we stand at the foot of the cross and remember the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, let us remember who made us and that we were made to love. By the grace of God though Jesus Christ, we have been empowered to love like Jesus, we just need to trust in the gift.

Prayer: Lord, sometimes I want to run away and hide from all the torment and tragedy in the world. I surely do not want to step into the quagmire and work toward a just world but that is exactly what you call me and all your children to do and we can only answer that call through the gift of your grace and the strength of your love. Strengthen our weak knees. (Hebrews 12:12) 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Grace, Love, Compassion

Create in me a clean heartLent
March 18, 2015

Scripture Reading: Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
   and cleanse me from my sin. — Psalm 51:1-2

In many Bibles our scripture today is preceded by and introductory remark like this. To the Leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.* This introduction has been there for a long time but scholars really do not know if it were with the original or not. It certainly adds to the flavor of the Psalm when it is considered in the light of the infamous story of David, King of Israel, taking the wife of one of his soldiers and then ordering the soldier to be placed clearly in harm’s way so that he would be killed. Of course David got caught. I wonder if he would have ever repented had his sins not been called out by Nathan. It is no wonder David felt dirty.

While based on David’s sin, the Psalm is really about the nature of God’s love. In these two verses, God is described as one with steadfast love, for which we might use the words unconditional love today, and abundant mercy, which we might call compassion. Later in the Psalm we read of God’s gracious love. But most importantly the Psalm talks about recovery, a return to wholeness from brokenness, we call that restorative justice.

I think I am sometimes a very strange person, but for some reason when I worked as a waitress in high school and college, one of the things I enjoyed most was clearing the table of all the dirty dishes and dropped crumbs and then resetting it with clean flatware and table linens, making it ready for the next customer. When we mess up in life, life still goes on. We must learn from our mistakes and continue the work God called us to do. We can only do that when we shed ourselves of the sin that corrodes our souls changing us and causing us to turn away from God.

Prayer: Lord, convict me of my sins of omission and commission and forgive me of them turning me around so that I might once more know your grace, your unconditional love, and your compassion. Amen.

The New Interpreter’s Bible: A commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume IV Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1996, page 883
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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Player not Just a Fan

unconditional loveLent March 13, 2015

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10 and [God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. — Ephesians 2:1-10

We did nothing to deserve the love of God and there is nothing we can do to earn it. God is love. All people are God’s chosen people. The concept that God loves us unconditionally is very hard to grasp in a society that is dominated by competition. We were, however, not created for competition with each other, but to do good works together as the Body of Christ. I do not question that part of being made in the image of God is the desire to improve our skills, increase our productivity as individuals and in teams. It seems to me that the most outstanding athletes are the ones who constantly strive to beat their own best.

What I, at times, and others of us might find, if we really examine our lives, is that we are fans rather than players in the Kingdom of God. God calls us to be players. Those who take the field as members of the Body of Christ must be well schooled in the ways of Christ, must practice them at every opportunity, must find our niche and hone it to what Paul calls perfection.  We must be ready to participate at a moment’s notice whether we are on the first team or warming the bench. And we must enable all our fellow players to do the same thing. We are called to be one in Christ.

Our ability to be the best that we can be starts with our accepting the gift of grace that is the unconditional love of God. We need nothing more to make us each whole. Wholeness enables oneness.

Prayer: Draw us in the Spirit’s tether,  for when humbly in your name  two or three are met together,  you are in the midst of them.  Alleluia! Alleluia!  Touch we now your garment’s hem.* Amen.

 *First verse of hymn, Draw Us in the Spirits Tether by Percy Dearmer
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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

That Which Enslaves Us

Credit-Card-SlaveryLent March 3, 2015

Scripture Reading: Exodus 20:1-17 Then God spoke all these words:  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. — Exodus 20:1-6

It is interesting that the first commandant relates God’s salvation of the Israelites from slavery to worship of other gods. Israel’s salvation from Egyptian slavery, as far as I can tell, was an act of pure grace on God’s part. God heard the people’s cries and God responded. In relation to Egypt, there are none of the stories about Israel’s sinning and being taken into exile that followed in later stories. No claim that the slavery was the result of any specific misdeeds.  Yet the Bible reminds the children of Israel many, many times of God’s saving the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt and in most of those instances, I think, the Israelites had lost faith or took it for granted and were placing their trust in lesser gods.

Lent is a great time for us to dust off our faith that may have been stored in an honored place but left there for all practical purposes unattended.  What lesser gods are we serving? Most of us do not have little effigies to which we bow, but we do have other gods: the quest for power at any cost, the desire to control other people’s lives, greed in all its manifestation, addictions certainly to drugs and alcohol but to things also, and the need to be better than other people played out in self-righteousness.

Just as God groomed Moses and sent him to lead the Israelites out of slavery, God sent his son to bring us salvation, also a gift of pure grace. I know it is hard to take in our tit for tat world that such a thing could happen. It requires us to grasp an entirely new way of being. It demands our full commitment, our very lives. It is the way to God’s abundant life in Christ.

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy, grant us the strength and courage to accept your gift of grace and may our receiving it be reflected in our lives. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Grace

Living in the Spirit
June 19, 2014

 Scripture Reading: Romans 6:1-11 

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  – Romans 6:1-4

Paul had quite a challenge bringing the gentiles into the Body of Christ. Coming from a markedly different culture than the Jewish one, they worshipped many different gods or none at all. Their lifestyles among other things included eating foods that were taboo for Jews as well as worshipping various effigies. Paul had to walk a fine line with them and the Jews who had become followers of Christ who still found meaning from their culture related to their Jewish faith. Paul had to help them all identify what was culture and what was sin, what was of God and what was not.

Our scripture today deals with another of those challenges, I call it fuzzy logic. If God’s love and forgiveness were somehow tied in with grace then the more we sin the more grace we would receive, right? These Roman Christian were having a hard time understanding that God’s grace is a gift freely given with no strings attached. In actuality the gift of grace frees us from the bounds of sin allowing us to develop habits of loving ourselves and others that we could never have done without grace.

We still struggle with this issue today. We sometimes even have the need to prove ourselves more righteous than another because we cannot accept that God’s grace and love have no strings for us or for anyone else. We are never closer to God because we perceive that someone else is further from God than we are. On the contrary we are actually turning our backs on God anytime we turn our backs on another. Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.—Matthew 25:45

Prayer: God of Grace, create in me a clean heart and a right spirit so that I may love more fully. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.