Tag Archives: Justice

Finding Our Vineyard

Living in the Spirit
September 23, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 20:1-16

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” –Matthew 20:1-7

Day workers are a common sight in most cities today. They know the corner where to gather in the off chance that someone will need a few people to clean up a building site or otherwise do odd jobs for minimum pay. Apparently, in the first century, such an arrangement existed. Earn a small wage, and you eat, perhaps feed a family.

I have no work to offer and am more likely to be approached by beggars. I never know what is right regarding panhandlers. The social worker in me says just giving them money contributes to their reliance on a self-deprecating lifestyle. Yesterday morning I went to the grocery store and saw a young woman carrying a toddler in the rain. She sized up another shopper and me choosing the other woman as I went into the store. She was still there when I came out, and she asked if I could give her a few dollars for gasoline. I never give cash.

It still lingers in my mind though. How do we fix a complex world where our actions of good may contribute to harm? In our story today, all who want to work are given jobs. There is no discussion of skill or training, prison records or work history,  Just the instruction to go into the vineyard.  Maybe that is the instruction for each of us. Every city has places that serve the people of the street. It is our vineyard. While we might not be wise to hand out dollars on the street, volunteering at a homeless shelter will open doors of understanding and clarify a means of helping others help themselves.

Prayer: Lord, you always had time for the least of these.Help me to find the vineyard where I can love like you. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, 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 Examples

Living in the Spirit
September 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
–Matthew 18:21-22

The Greek word translated here as church in other translations appears as brother. It means coming from the same womb and does refer not only to biological siblings but also people who share the same religious family.  My first reaction is to wonder should this instruction apply to all relationships?  I think it should, but the point may be that our life in Christ calls us to set an example for others to help them see the ways of Christ in action.

I am uncomfortable with the consideration that we are called to deal with our fellow Christian differently than we deal with all people. Granted Peter’s question does not directly deal with the issue of worldview. Perhaps his question arose from a specific incident involving fellow disciples. In any case we cannot escape the fact that how we treat each other is a reflection on how non-Christians perceive Christ.

With all the natural  disasters that have hit the world and particularly the Americas in the last few weeks, those who see God’s justice descending in such calamities are making the case for this system of belief falling back on their primary concerns of sins in our society related to things like no prayer in school and what they consider sexual deviations. I do believe that it rains on the just and the unjust. (See Matthew 5:45) I also think we all must face the consequences of our own actions or lack of actions such as ignoring our responsibility for care of the earth. But I think it is a little too convenient to cast dispersions on what we perceive to be the sins of others, certainly not our own, while we support cutting off millions of people from adequate health care, making profit from warehousing prisoners, and walling out strangers. We might do well to review Jesus’ criteria for judgment found in Matthew 25.

Prayer: Guide us, O God, in living lives worthy of representing you well to those who have not yet encountered you or perhaps were not introduced to you in a positive manner. 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.

Daily Judgment

Living in the Spirit
September 15, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 14:1-12

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
   and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God. –Romans 7-12

Standing before Christ at the final moment of our lives to receive our judgment is too late. I think it is important that we examine ourselves daily to discern where we are missing the mark in our relationship with God. Such a review allows us the opportunity to make a course correction. We cannot do that unless we apply Christ’s external measuring stick. Amos talks about it as a plumbline. (See Amos 7:8)

Jesus is quoted in Matthew 25 outlining the criteria by which he will judge us. Most are not high priorities in many of our lives. Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked perhaps draw more attention. Should not a part of the emphasis on feeding the hungry and clothing the naked include creating the world where hunger and lack of clothing no longer exists?

Matthew 25 also calls for us to care for the sick. Again we do that as we visit our church members in hospitals and nursing homes, take them food when needed, or provide transportation to services. Is not a part of caring for the sick assuring the adequacy of available, affordable health care for all?

The USA ranks low in providing restorative services to prisoners and Oklahoma ranks among the lowest of states in providing even the most basic care while having a high incarceration rate. Is not the intent of visiting prisoners to restore them to wholeness?

Jesus draws on an ancient practice in the Hebrew community when he instructs us to welcome the stranger. When we turn away the best and brightest of the strangers in our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) how are we treating others?  Jesus said to welcome the stranger with no strings attached.

I invite you to join with me in daily self-examination of our response to this short list that constitutes a part of the followers of Christ plumbline so that responding to these issues becomes our normal way of being.

Prayer: Lord, guide us in our self-examination so that we can see clearly how our own behavior impacts others. Show us how to love like you. 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 as Judge

Living in the Spirit
September 14, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. –Romans 14:1-6

I guess the reason we have denominations is that “birds of a feather flock together.” People have different ways of addressing the spiritual or for that matter various aspects of life. A problem arises when we think our way of being or doing is the only way and we try to enforce it on others.

Argument arises with the degree of importance some beliefs or practices are related to the authenticity of the faith. Believers baptism vs. infant baptism, immersion vs. sprinkling, communion every Sunday or once a month or once a quarter were each historical areas of fervent discourse. Who indeed are we to pass judgment? Jesus said,

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Matthew 7:1-3

The problem becomes more pronounced when we try to use our faith as a means of approving bigotry or hate such as we see in racism, ethnic cleansing, or discrimination related to sexual orientation, all human contrivances, each designed to set people apart. In Matthew 25 Jesus outlines the actions by which he will judge us: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, restoring those in prison, and welcoming the stranger. All these actions are in direct contradiction to bigotry and hate.

Prayer: God of Love, help us simplify our lives by accepting that you do the judging while we care for all your children in whatever situation we may find 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.

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.

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.


Creation’s Care

Living in the Spirit
September 2, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ –Matthew 16:21-23

Are we setting our minds not on divine things but human? How do we meld the divine and the human into one? My guess, if you are like me, we invest much of our time in very human ventures: eating, sleeping, working, etc. and all of the things that make those activities possible like buying groceries and maintaining a car and cleaning our houses. From where do we derive the values that drive those mundane activities?

I spent the morning gathering up my recycling to take to Goodwill Industries. The result is an amazing car full of plastic, paper, aluminum, cardboard, and glass. I now wonder how many years worth of that stuff, I once tossed in the trash, is in a landfill somewhere and will be for generations to come. God charged us with taking care of the earth in the first book of the Bible.

What we do in every aspect of our lives impacts others. People living on coastlines routinely measure how much of their land is lost to rising waters every year. Just as we cannot separate our humanity from our divinity, we cannot separate our individuality from our interdependence on one another. God’s call to love one another is not just a pleasant platitude. It is the foundation of our existence.

Prayer: God of all Creation, forgive us when we separate ourselves into self-serving compartments of divine and human. Help us realize our responsibilities to ourselves are also responsibilities to all your creation. 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.


Common Ground, Common Good

Living in the Spirit
September 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21

I read an article recently acknowledging the fact that the USA has lost its mainstream values. We seem to want to take great pride (which by the way is one of the seven deadly sins) in being a Christian nation while we grow further and further away from basic Christian values. Paul list many of those values in our scripture today. Is it possible that our government works best not enforcing the tenets of a specific religion, but when our citizens live the tenets of their faiths and thus they are reflected in statutes?

In William Martin’s historical fiction work, Lincoln’s Letters, the lead character from the Civil War sections gained the help of free African Americans because he was known to tip his hat to all he met. In the mid-19th Century, gentlemen tipped their hats to other gentlemen and ladies but apparently did not deem it necessary or appropriate to recognize others similarly. When asked why she helped him, one woman said something in effect that she was a Christian and she could see the good in him.

The major religions of the world share many values. They can and do come together to find common ground regarding faith interactions. I do not doubt if our elected officials sought the Common Good rather than practice my way or the highway politics, the USA would stabilize and prosper for all its citizens and immigrants.

Prayer: Lord, help us, be doers of the Word. Open our hearts to living your values. 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.

God’s Wonderful Works

Living in the Spirit
August 30, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 46b

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
   tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
   let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
   seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
   children of Jacob, his chosen ones. –Psalm 105:1-6

I spent much of my career planning for the future, trying to foresee changing issues, matching shrinking resources with growing need, and buffering for the unexpected. From time to time it was important to remember accomplishments of the past. History is a great teacher when we learn from it.

We should take heart in the history of God’s intersection with God’s people. A quick read of Hebrews 11 might be in order. We do not need to limit our exploration of the acts of God to the Bible. Just in my lifetime, God’s hand was surely in

  • The amazing restoration of Germany and Japan following World War II
  • The Civil Rights Act in the USA
  • The mothers’ movement in Ireland
  • The end of apartheid in South Africa
  • Reductions in Child Mortality particularly deaths caused by unsafe water
  • The Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS

What can we add to this list from small acts of God’s love to great?

After reading Hebrews 11, the above list, and the items we add consider the Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Our work is not finished: countries still fight, racism routinely raises its ugly head, the Child Mortality rate is still unacceptable, and new and different health problems demand responses. God’s loving nurture is needed throughout the world, and we are its conduits.

Prayer: God of Might and Miracles, strengthen us so that when needed, obstacles are moved keeping the world safe from war and environmental disaster; children and adults healthy in body, mind, and spirit; and justice prevails. 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.