Tag Archives: Justice

Spiritual Weeding

Living in the Spirit
July 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ –Matthew 13:24-30

One thing learned from gardening; it is a continuous process: preparing the soil; planting the seeds; watering, if needed; protecting plants from bad bugs and encouraging good insects; weeding; keeping critters from eating the plants or their produce, and harvesting. One cycle ends the next begins. All the things designed to get good plants produce a wealth of weeds.

Weeds need removing when they are small. Left to develop, weeds rob plants of vital nurture including water. If weeds are allowed to grow, their roots become entwined with plant roots. Their removal most likely results in killing the plants as described in our scripture today. Much like the garden with plants and weeds, we live in a world of both good and evil. We are free to choose which path we take. We pay the consequences or reap the rewards of our choices.

Individual choices are important, but what responsibility, if any, do we have regarding the negative impact evil inflicts on others? It seems that creating a world where evil is plucked early in development would not only benefit each of us individually but also all of us together. Evil rarely, solely resides in an individual. Evil’s continuing existence is as dependent on transmission to others as is Love’s.

Failed education systems are pipelines to prison, and our prison systems tend to turn out harder core criminals rather than people restored to wholeness. Our outlandishly expensive health care system makes some rich but limits the availability of affordable, accessible care. Those who cannot afford it often wait to seek help until it is too late and much more costly. We pay a heavy price for our greed as we reap its consequences.

Prayer: Lord, instruct us in the way we should go. 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.

Riding Out the Storm

Living in the Spirit
July 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:12-25

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
–Romans 8:18-25

Christ’s calls us to make a positive difference in our world today. While we study to learn from the past and prepare for the future, our focus is on the here and now. A wise and experienced person once told me that it takes at least ten years of persistent hard work to initiate a new government program. For example, in the USA we have worked since the 1960’s on health care for all. The more complex the issue, the harder it is to make change. The wise person likened it to turning a giant ship around in a turbulent ocean and taking it in a different direction straight into the storm. In a similar thought, the scripture above speaks to Paul’s experiences at the beginning of the Christian era in the process of initiating the Kingdom of God following Christ’s resurrection.

Humans seek every way possible to have the abundant life Jesus promised without following God’s path to attain it. In so doing, we turn to lower tier gods such as greed and power and never experience satisfaction. Greed and power demand more and more greed and power and always end in a futile waste of energy.

God created an interdependent world, which requires all to participate fully sharing and caring for resources so that all God’s creation works together in love. Love always begets more love.

Prayer: Spirit of God, shine a bright light on the path to wholeness, oneness, and justice that we may one day see your Kingdom of love ruling our world. Grant us the gift of patience in large measure when we enter troubled waters on this journey. 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 a Blessing

Living in the Spirit
July 18, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ –Genesis 28:10-15

Jacobs is running away from the wrath of his brother Esau after he and his mother tricked his brother out of his birthright. Esau and perhaps his father, Isaac, were not happy. Facing the consequences of our actions is one of the hardest things we will ever do. The murky stuff is always the most difficult to discern. Was it fair that the oldest son gets the lion’s share of his father’s wealth? This common Biblical practice did not survive in the USA. Was it right that a mother helps one son cheat another? There is much to unpack in this story. There was much running through Jacob’s mind as he settled down to sleep apparently a safe distance from danger.

God is faithful to God’s children. The Lord came to Jacob in a dream and renewed his hope. The saving grace of God seems to always come with the admonishment to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. We skip over that part sometimes. Jesus put it this way in Luke 12:48,

 But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy, thank you for loving us enough to forgive us. Show us the way to care for and nourish others on our faith journey. Amen.

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

The Great Physician

Living in the Spirit
July 17, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’ –Matthew 13:18-23

It is amazing how many times I can read a scripture and suddenly see something new. Scripture opens to us when we most need it. I think that is particularly true as we pass through the differing ages and stages of life but it is also true in relation to what is happening in our world at a given time. The phrase that caught my attention today is the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart. Recently, I became disheartened by the mean spirited comments made about providing health care for all. A friend just quoted back to me something I said in the past and still believe today, “ Americans for all their short-sightedness, really do not want their city streets marred by sick and dying people begging for help.” Comments I am hearing and reading seem to indicate that I am wrong.

I believe that access to affordable basic health care is a right, not a privilege, which places health care in the Common Good category. We are all better off for many reasons when our society is healthy. I support Medicare for all as the best and most cost effective way of meeting this need.  For those who want a higher level of care and can afford it, supplemental insurance is available.

Health care policy notwithstanding, what is wrong with us, if we can so easily say, get a job if you want health care when the vast majority of non-disabled adults do work and when the health care they need may cost more than they make. I have also heard dying is more cost effective for some cancer patients and some disabled. Jesus healed the sick and commanded us to care for them also. It is a heart thing, and we need to understand that things of the heart must be protected from evil. There is an old song my mother used to sing; we might want to think on it now and then:

The great Physician now is near,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer,
Oh, hear the voice of Jesus.

Refrain:
Sweetest note in seraph song,
Sweetest name on mortal tongue;
Sweetest carol ever sung,
Jesus, blessed Jesus*.

Prayer: Lord, grant us the gift of shared responsibility for the care of our loved ones, the loved ones of others, and particularly for those who seem to have no one who loves them. Amen.

*First verse and refrain of The Great Physician by William Hunter see at http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/The_Great_Physician/

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.

Plumb Line of Love

Living in the Spirit
July 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
   we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’ –Matthew 11:16-19

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”—Pogo*

As true as Pogo’s wisdom may be, it is really hard to accept. If we want to know what is wrong with our government, for example, we need only look in the mirror. We can’t have the best of all worlds or as Jesus put it ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:24)

Health care represents one-sixth of the USA economy. The U.S. spent 17.1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care in 2013. This was almost 50 percent more than the next-highest spender (France, 11.6% of GDP) and almost double what was spent in the U.K. (8.8%). U.S. spending per person was equivalent to $9,086 (not adjusted for inflation).** Some of our people are not getting any health care at all. Those other nations have some form of universal coverage providing accessible, affordable healthcare for all their citizens.

The word no one uses when addressing the problems of our failure to have accessible, affordable health care is profit. Profit is the leading contender for causing the higher cost of health care in the USA. Even the Affordable Care Act could not escape the tentacles of profit. ACA requires insurance companies to spend 80% of their premiums on health care resulting in a 20% allowance for insurance companies to cover their costs of providing coverage. Administrative costs for the Medicare program is somewhere around 2 or 3%***.

These administrative costs are just the start of profit’s influence of the cost of health care. For-Profit businesses provide much of our health care, including pharmaceuticals. The irony of this dilemma is profit making companies benefit the most from a healthy workforce that is why 80% of them provide insurance for their employees.

Of course, everything I have said above is refuted by some think tank or another. We do not know who to believe. I do know we are offspring of a loving God who wants the very best for us. The plumb line by which we evaluate our choices must be God’s love and concern for all God’s children. Changing our trajectory as a people starts with us.

Prayer: Lord, hang your plumb line of love next to every consideration we make and make sure we see it. Amen.

*http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2011/04/we-have-met-enemy-and-he-is-us.html
**http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/oct/us-health-care-from-a-global-perspective
***http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2011/09/20/medicare-is-more-efficient-than-private-insurance/

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

Love is a Choice

Living in the Spirit
July 7, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 7:15-25a

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. –Romans 7:21-25a

Choices, God gives us choices. Made in God’s image, we must assume that God has choices also and God chooses to love all the time, every time. God’s goal for each of us and as importantly all of us together to come to that same conclusion choosing to love, all the time, every time. If it is not our choice, we are not loving. There is something about the nature of love that requires righteous or just engagement one with another.

Humans like to define love with adjectives—tough love, eternal love, erotic love, brotherly love, Agape love. Love in any sense is wanting the very best for another or all others. In the final analysis, we do not get to define what that best is. Blessed with a role model in the life of Jesus, we can start our journey in love by loving as Jesus did. That requires us to take the time to study his ways of being with others. He seemed to have all the patience in the world for some and routinely expected far better out of others, like the religious leaders of the day. He welcomed the stranger, extended open arms to children, mixed with the untouchables, enjoyed a good party, mourned with those in grief, shared his love of God with everyone and as Saint Francis suggests sometimes used words.

The devil never makes us do evil; we always choose to do evil. That does not mean evil is non-existent and not tempting us at every turn. It just means we need to grasp the better way with a tighter grip.

Prayer: Teach us to love each other as you would have us, love. 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.

Loving like Jesus

Living in the Spirit
July 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 10:40-42

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

My paternal grandfather died when my father was ten years old. I obviously never knew him. So you can imagine my surprise several years ago when I met with a state senator from my home county. Upon hearing my last name, he asks who my father was. I told him, and he said “I knew your grandfather. He was one of the finest men I have ever know. Have a seat what can I do for you?” I not only had my foot in the door for the business I needed to conduct but I also felt the responsibility of living up to my grandfather’s reputation. I was welcomed not because of who I was but because of whose I was.

Our lives as followers of Christ speak volumes about God and Christ. We are responsible for conveying the love of God in every aspect of our lives. In sharing our love, we transmit to others that God loves them too.

Sometimes we feel obligated to place restrictions on our love requiring a certain behavior, mode of dress, language, religion, even skin color or sexual orientation, which, I fear, puts us out of step with God’s righteousness. Loving without judging takes a whole lot less effort and does a whole lot more good. We would do well to remember that we learned about love because God first loved us.

I was sinking deep in sin,
Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more.
But the Master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me.
Now safe am I.

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me.
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me*.

Prayer: Teach us to love as Jesus loved. Amen.

First verse and chorus of Loved Lifted Me, lyrics by James Rowe see at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/1070

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.

Of God and Idols

Living in the Spirit
June 30, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:12-23

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

  When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 6:15-23

Paul presumes in this writing that all humans must be slaves to something. The word slave brings on negative connotations for most of us who understand slavery as out of the slave’s control. Perhaps we need to look more closely at the words if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves. Paul is describing a person who is a slave by choice. I have ancestors who worked as indentured slaves, often called servants, as a youth to learn a viable trade. Such arrangements included binding legal contracts. I think this is what Paul has in mind. While it applies to our relationship with God, it clearly states that we also choose to make ourselves slaves to sin.

Choosing to place our faith in things that separate us from God is idolatry. One of the most insidious forms of idolatry is the prescription drug epidemic laying waste of many across our land. It starts so innocently but clings ever tighter and tighter. The same is true for illegal drugs. Greed and lust for power fit well into the pit of idolatry too. We are surely separated from God when we perceive ourselves as better than others because of the color of our skins or our gender or any other reason. I do not believe God loves any one of his children more than any other. Why do we have a need to establish such standards?

Before we acknowledged the presence of God in God’s righteousness and justice, we did not understand the significance of idolatry. We do now.

Prayer: Lord, free us from our need for lesser gods. Be present with us each step we take closer to you and away from 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.

Doers of Justice

Living in the Spirit
June 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 13
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
   How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
   and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
   Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
   my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
   my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
   because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Futility is a dangerous state of mind. Futility results when one feels ineffective, unfruitful. The population of the futile in our country is growing. Most work and still may go to bed hungry at night. The rate of low or very low food insecurity is 16.5% of the Oklahoma population*. Many of the working poor rely on food stamps to supplement their low wages facing the denigration that accompanies paying for groceries with a food stamp card. Many service industry jobs limit hours of work by whether the employee is needed making it impossible to know what income to expect. Most such jobs offer no sick leave and certainly no leave for parents to stay home with sick children. The vast majority of child care facilities do not take sick children and could call a parent in the middle of the day to pick their child up if he or she becomes ill. Too many of those incidences can get one fired. Two many firings listed on a job application can restrict one’s employ-ability. Living from one paycheck to the next is the only option. This first verse of this hymn is their song.

Our call as followers of Christ is to pave the way for the futile to learn about God’s steadfast love. One introduction to God’s love results from the example of our steadfast love exemplified in working together to form a just society where all earn a living wage and businesses flourish because all our citizens are a part of a vibrant economy.

Prayer: Lord, makes us each doers of justice for all your children.

*http://okpolicy.org/fact-sheet-hunger-in-oklahoma/

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.

Newness of Life

Living in the Spirit
June 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:1b-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 6:1b-4

The first time I walked after having my left knee replaced nine years ago, I was assisted by a young hospital staffer, I have no idea his job title. My immediate reaction was to say that my leg felt like it was turning inside-out. He patted my shoulder and said, “your leg has not been straight for a long time, you just do not remember what it feels like to walk with a fully functional leg.” He was right.

Life experiences, right or wrong, can change how we think, view others, and establish the belief systems with which we ground our faith. Changing the course of our life from poorly substantiated belief systems is hard whether those systems relate to faith or not. The strong arm of a patient young man enabled me to take one step at a time until I accepted the fact that my stainless steel knee worked.

Paul is telling us in Romans that we can walk in newness of life because Christ rose from the dead. There are libraries full of theology packed in that simple statement. My guess is Paul was very capable of explaining it in depth, but he invites us to accept it on faith. I think he is saying try it and see how it feels and fits. Walking in newness of life for most of us means major change. Learning to love all people no matter what takes time and practice and a large dose of Holy Support. Living justice in all aspects of our lives, including going the extra mile to assure someone else’s justice, constantly challenges us. Resting securely in the love of God should not be difficult but it is. I do not know about you, I am stubborn and keep thinking I got this when I don’t. Practicing the presence of God is fundamental to newness of life.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for showing us the way to live in harmony with you and the world in which we find ourselves. Be present with us as we struggle to walk in this newness of life. 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.