Tag Archives: Justice

Being an Advocate

Ordinary Time
January 7, 2018

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:4-11

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ –Mark 1:9-11

Baptism has a history all its own. The Jewish faith practiced ritual cleansing thus baptism was not a new concept with Christianity. Baptism and its purposes were a source of debate from the early years of Christian theology and may still be today although most of us have taken our stanch in our chosen denomination. What does it mean to you? What do you suppose it meant to Jesus?

Many students of the Bible demarcate Jesus’ baptism as the beginning of his earthly ministry. There is not much if any information about his life from the age of 12 when he visited the temple with his parents and his baptism when he was speculated to be around 30 years old. Was he working as a carpenter with Joseph during that time? I read a book a few years ago that suggested he was a disciple of John the Baptist and had traveled and learned from John until it was time for him to take the leadership role. Perhaps John’s death thrust him into the spotlight.

I was baptized at the age of six in a church that practices believers baptism. Apparently, some members thought I was too young. I understand our pastor, Dr. Fred Keller, was my advocate for accepting my confession of faith and baptizing me. I did not know about this issue until several years later. As innocent as I may have been at six, I probably never made a more sincere decision and commitment. I guess I was living the principle ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 18:3)

What I learned at that early age is that God’s Spirit advocates for us at times through our brothers and sisters in Christ and we need to be aware of any call we receive to advocate for others.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, strengthen us in your service when you need us as advocates. 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.

 

Free Will

Christmas
January 3, 2018

Scripture Reading: Psalm 29

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
   the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
   May the Lord bless his people with peace! –Psalm 29:10-11

We saw our fair share of floods and other weather-related events in 2017. People will be working to overcome the devastation for years. We take comfort in the knowledge that the Lord will be with all those impacted by the floods and all those who are trying to help in any way they can. we seek answers to the questions that plagues us, how do we contribute to weather extremes and how can we prevent or ameliorate our participation in influences these events?

The theology of having dominion over the earth draws us into the concept of God’s gift to us of free will and how we handle it. We face the same question with many other issues. After overindulging in rich foods and not keeping my exercise routine over the recent holidays, I am facing the full weight of my failure to exercise dominion over my health and well-being.  This too is a free will issue.

I suffer from wanting to do the right thing when it is convenient for me. Practicing freewill within the boundaries of God’s love requires a good helping of intentionality. We are not like working horses who must be fitted with blinders to keep their focus on the path ahead. We are more like the quarterback or point guard who sees the entire playing field or court and must make the right decision among the many choices presented. There are more ways than one to do the right thing, to exercise the talents and gifts with which God has graced us. Remember Jesus’ story of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).  Each servant was given resources to develop. All but one used their resources and doubled their worth. The one buried his and his gifts were taken from him and given to another to develop. Dropping the ball is not a choice.

I have no doubt that God’s will will be done. The question I must address is: am I doing my assigned role in making that happen? We live in a time when our best and most intentional efforts are demanded to bring justice into the world in which we live.

Prayer: Lord, give strength to your people and bless us with your peace as we attempt with our best efforts and intentionality to do your will. 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.

Priorities

Christmas
December 30, 2017

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’ –Luke 2:22-24

After an extraordinary trip and birth experience, Joseph and Mary went about the business of adapting to a new normal, parents with a child. What better way to begin that journey than to return to the ancient familiar, the practices of their faith. I find that true in my life. Writing these daily devotions is a test of my ability to mine the lectionary’s daily challenges requiring me to reach beyond my comfort zone of favorite scriptures. The lectionary makes me deal with uncomfortable truths at times. At other times I find a scripture I have read many times brings new insight, understandings. The beauty of the scriptures is how it molds to its reader’s needs as we move through the various stages of life. The same scripture so meaningful to me at the age of ten provides different truths that are just as vital to me now.

A new year brings new opportunities for growth and development. Funny, I seem to set similar goals each year, ones I did not attain the previous year. My stated priorities include decluttering my home and getting bids to get the house painted. The decluttering goal is years old. The painting goal started last year. My unspoken but controlling priorities win out.

I also think I have a strong priority of doing my part in creating a world ruled by love. I certainly give lip service to that goal but do my actions support my stated mission? Is my mission only a lofty goal I state each year but relegate it to the same level as my decluttering goal?

If ever we needed a world ruled by love we need it now. Only God can make that happen and we who call ourselves disciples signed on to be a part of the Body of Christ to make the rule of love a reality. More than ever we first need to work to be in synch with God and then work with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength with God’s help to create a just world.

Prayer: Prod me forward, O Lord, to work for the rule of love this year as I attempt to do justice. 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 Justice

Christmas
December 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Laws when properly used provide shortcuts for how we are to conduct ourselves, protect ourselves and each other, and create order out of potential chaos. The Hebrew Bible contains three types of laws: rules of etiquette, civil law, and religious law. I do not think we have much trouble with veering to our own interpretations of etiquette today. After all, times change, resulting in the need to change the way we interact in good company. We who have always lived in a society that practices the separation of church and state, probably have more difficulty parsing out what is civil law, meant to assure the Common Good, and what is religious laws, meant to assure our personal and communal relationship with God.

As people of faith, the command to love God and love one another serves as an overriding covenant for our way of acting and being. At times that has put people in the awkward place of going to jail as they broke the civil law while fulfilling their covenant with God. Notably, Paul was arrested more than once. In the Birmingham jail as guidance in loving as Jesus loved. Civil law was eventually modified to bring civil law into synch with the will of the majority of the people with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The passage of this law was impacted to some degree by people of faith doing justice.

Conflict arises when people of faith extract differing interpretation of God’s rules and attempt to enforce them through civil law. Our country is very divided today as we seek the Common Good through these differing views. In fact, in recent years the Civil Rights Act was modified to lessen its impact.

Christ was sent to redeem those under the law what does Paul mean by that? How do we reconcile our divisions and find the Common Good for all people? We are each called to seek God’s will for our lives including the justice we are called to do. Celebrating the birth of Jesus again and beginning a new year is a great time to put away our defensiveness and evaluate our attitudes and positions anew. What indeed would Jesus do?

Prayer: Lord, it is so hard to see our ways objectively. Be our mirror so we can individually and collectively love the way you would have us love and do your justice. Forgive us when we substitute our justice for yours. 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 with Us

Christmas
December 25, 2017

 

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:10-62:3

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
   my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
o the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
   to spring up before all the nations. –Isaiah 61:10-11

Funny how our brains work—when I first viewed these two verses, I thought how long they were. My immediate next thought was the remembrance that the shortest verse in the Bible is Jesus wept (John 11:35). I have not completed a complete comparison of the lengths of all the Bible verses. I placed my faith in unknown scholars who met my criteria as valid sources. I was also taught that the Bible in its original languages had no chapters and verses. These additions were made by humans to make the Bible conform to the ways of the people. Although I have read some of the books not selected for inclusion in the Bible, I generally accept that the compilers picked the right ones including the Book of Isaiah. I am human, and I make mistakes at times, so I think all humans make mistakes now and then.  I do have faith that God continues active and engaged in our lives and we see that activity clearer at sometimes more than at others. God forgives us for our mistakes, helps us recover from them, and when we let God, God will guide us in ways to prevent the same mistake from happening again.

This may seem like a strange meditation for Christmas Day, but it is what Christ’s coming to be with us is all about. He became the Word And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) The Bible is the source of strength and enlightenment about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. He is the Word toward which we strive that establishes the righteousness and justice of God. The Bible is an excellent source of knowledge about the works of God designed to enhance our lives in Christ every day as we seek to follow the Word in our lives.

While God wants us to each and all strive to be the people we were created to be, God recognized the need to dwell among us as we struggle to be God’s conduit to bring righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Prayer: O come, O Come Emmanuel. 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.

See Christ in Everyone

Advent
December 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 16:25-27

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

I like Russell Westbrook and commiserate with him when he takes his rest with bags of ice wrapped around his knees. Having had both of mine replaced, I understand some of the challenges of dealing with bad knees. Of course, my chosen profession did not require a well-honed body, which his job as a point guard does. I doubt that the injury he sustained to his knee had much to do with his primary characteristic that garners my respect. He has the tenacity to pursue his goal of winning basketball games that is unsurpassed in the sport. Part of that job is enabling other players to excel. Paul is calling all of Christ’s follower to be tenacious in our work to be Christ’s body in the world today including enabling all of God’s children to excel. The promise that God will strengthen us in such an enterprise accompanies that call.

I recently read someone’s disgruntled reaction as he tried to help the poor and found those he worked with to be unappreciative of his work and unwilling to do anything to help themselves. In 50 years of working with the poor, I too have encounters a few folks like that. They are still children of God made in God’s image, and we still must find ways to help them transition from dependence to be self-sustaining, self-supporting adults. I remember well a couple of families with whom I worked who fit this disgruntled helper’s description. In both instances upon returning to my office to write up a plan of service, I found myself writing as a first goal to change the outcomes for the children. Whether we like it or not, our parents strongly influence who we become. Breaking the cycle of poverty is hard. Think how lost you would be if your life turned upside down and you were on the streets with no place to go and children to feed. What would you do? How do you think that experience would impact your descendants?

I moved away from my hometown some years ago and had since learned that some of the children of those parents, I had written off as impossible, succeeded in school and work. One day while visiting my Mom, I took her to the Walmart store to pick up a few things and ran into one of those impossible adults, a father I had determined to be incorrigible.  He was washing the big windows in the front of the store. I spoke to him, and he grinned at me. Clearly, he was not as hopeless as I had judged him to be.

Prayer: God, strengthen us in your love so that we might see Christ in everyone. 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.

This Land is God’s

Advent
December 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. –2 Samuel 7:10-16

I like the American Indian concept of the land that the land including animals and vegetation are available for our use but not to be owned by anyone. This tenet was a major cultural difference from the viewpoint of the European explorers who first settled in what they called the New World. To the American Indian, the European name for the indigenous people here, the earth and all that it includes was as old as time. I think God’s words to Nathan speak more closely to the American Indian sense of the world than the European sense. Indeed, in the Hebrew tradition, God made the world for the benefit of the humans God also created. 2 Samuel attests to the ongoing nature of that arrangement.

Now I do not take this scripture to mean that the only place we can feel close to God is in a tent or a house or a great temple. God is present to us everywhere. Our energies are not to be vested in structures but our love for God and others. I do think God wants all people to be able to live at peace in a warm and safe place and that is the promise he extends in this scripture. We were given the assignment by God to take good care of the earth, which we sometimes seem to forget.

With this background, it is heartbreaking to see the offspring of Abraham fighting regarding who owns Jerusalem and some followers of Christ egging it on in the hopes of hastening Armageddon. God sets the standards for the use of God’s land. I do not believe humans can manipulate God into doing their will and I know God’s greatest joy flows from the love we have for God and one another not who wins battles over ownership of any part of what God provides for us.

Prayer: Lord, enable us to be good stewards of your earth. Groom us in the art of sharing and help us appreciate the diversity of ways we each can show our love for you and each other. 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

Modeling Christ

Advent
December 16, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said. –John 1:6-8, 19-23

All of us who accept Christ as our Savior are called as witnesses to testify to the light, so that all might believe in him. A tall order, wouldn’t you say?

John is described in Mark as one wearing clothes of camel’s hair, living on locusts and wild honey. Perhaps he followed the somewhat ascetic ways of the Essene Jews. While outliers like John serve important purposes in helping us think out of the box, most of us are called to live lives within the mainstream that exemplify the life of Christ. He went to weddings; enjoyed a good party; loved children; and was opened and welcoming to all: Roman centurions, lepers, women, strangers, the mentally ill, fishermen, tax collectors, and thieves. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick, welcomed strangers, and restored criminals. He never cast a stone at anyone. He did justice and did not have much patience for religious leaders who practiced self-righteousness rather than justice for all.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem shortly before his arrest. I believe he still weeps over us when we stubbornly ignore his admonitions that lead to a society ruled by love.  During this Advent season, we need to review what we preach whether in word or deed and realign our actions to more closely follow Christ’s lead.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me when I let my judgment of the behavior or attributes of any other person interfere with my loving them as you do. 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 Present with Us

Advent 
December 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

For I the Lord love justice,
   I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
   and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
   and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
   that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
   my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
   to spring up before all the nations.—Isaiah 61:8-11

We sometimes forget that God is all about justice as God defines it not as the world describes justice.  Micah 6:8 is the foundational scripture related to doing justice:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

 I heard the term apocryphal Christian recently. I do not know what apocryphal Christians are, but apparently, they are people who identify as Christians working to hasten the return of Christ. While I too long for the advent of Christ pitching his tent among us, I believe he charged us with the job of being his Body until he returns and promised his constant presence through the Holy Spirit. Thus, I think he would be very pleased on his return to see most of the fruition of his Kingdom. I believe he spelled out in Mathew 25 what such a Kingdom includes. First, I cannot imagine God’s Kingdom including any people who think they are better than any of God’s other children and all the people of the earth are God’s children.

I also do not think Christ will be thrilled to find a world where many are starving and do not have adequate clothing or health care. He would be shocked to see us turning away strangers fleeing from war, famine, drought, poverty, drug lords, and gangs. Christ would most likely be dismayed to see us imprisoning people for non-violent crimes offering no restorative services in private prisons where profit is the primary goal.

We might serve Christ better in real time by turning around from our worldly driven ways and practicing what he preached.

Prayer: Come, Immanuel, come into our hearts and ignite our wills to be your Body in this world today. 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.

Avoiding Disaster

Advent
December 11, 2017

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
   the devastations of many generations. –Isaiah 61:1-4

More and more I find myself, like Isaiah in this scripture, thinking recovery from disaster rather than preventing disaster. While I do continue to work, hope, and pray for the avoidance of catastrophe, all our avoidance work seems fruitless. Isaiah was writing after the fall of Judah and the Israelites’ living in exile and returning to rebuild Jerusalem.

My pessimism probably proceeds from having been here before, more than once. I was born after the Great Depression, but it illustrates the pattern: greed that leads to cutting taxes resulting in depression/recession* followed by war. I worked for the Oklahoma State Department of Human Services in the 80’s when the USA initiated the trickle-down theory again resulting in a recession followed by the Gulf War. In 2000, we cut taxes again. The 9/11 attack happened in 2001 that sent us into a war we are still fighting and led to a recession that was very close to a depression. In these last two instances, our public assistance caseloads shot out the roof while our resources markedly declined. One of the USA’s greatest sins is paying our soldiers so poorly many of their families must depend on food stamps while millions of taxpayer dollars are funneled off to private war contractors who make huge profits from our folly.

We stand on the precipice of this cycle once more. Enacting massive tax cuts while already awash in debt as we spar with North Korea who now says war is inevitable and we stir animosity in the Middle East. We need to listen to the prophets of old, repent of our greed and lust for power, and learn to live within our means while we protect the Common Good particularly for the least of these.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for being blinded by the world’s temptations. Write your ways on our hearts and enable our climbing out of the hole we have dug for ourselves. Amen.

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/11/30/im-a-depression-historian-the-gop-tax-bill-is-straight-out-of-1929/?utm_term=.8233789a07da

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.