Tag Archives: Justice

Politics and Practices

Living in the Spirit
October 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ –Matthew 22:15-17

Political leaders in Washington DC and Oklahoma are under the delusion that cutting taxes will put more money back into the economy. The fact they seem to miss is that we invest the vast majority of tax money quickly back into our economy.  Roads are built and maintained by people who work. In Oklahoma, last year 12 rule hospitals filed for bankruptcy, and three closed primarily from cuts in federal health care spending robbing entire communities of readily accessible health care not to mention jobs lost.

Civil government has played an important role in the development of our world since families grew to tribes and tribes needed to interact to provide for the Common Good. We may all want to gripe about paying taxes, but government serves a necessary purpose. Yes, governments need to operate efficiently and effectively and yes, governments need to handle our tax dollars wisely. The protection of the Common Good is the foundation for our otherwise thriving.

Pitting the church against the government as the Pharisees were trying to do in our scripture today is trying to catch Jesus in the politics of the day. Living under the Roman rule where its subjects were not a part of the decision-making process dictated a choice between following the rules or facing serious consequences. Rome’s religious tolerance ended at the tax collectors’ tables. Protections against such practices are in our Constitution, not to limit religion but to protect all citizens from having someone else’s religion imposed on them.

We, too, get caught up in the politics of the day, and it colors our decision-making practices as citizens in a democratic society where we do have responsibilities for assuring quality governance in the provision of the Common Good. We cannot and should not force our religious beliefs through laws on others. We can, and we must live our faith through our participation as citizens. Walking that tightrope takes courage and trust that Jesus taught us what was important. The thing is the Common Good fits nicely with Jesus’ teachings like feeding the hungry.

Prayer: Lord, give us the vision we need to see past politics and find the way to the Common Good. Amen.

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

Living the Word

Living in the Spirit
October 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

…you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. –1 Thessalonians 1:7-10

The first Christians waited with great expectations for the bodily return of Jesus. He had promised he would come back and they anticipated it would be in their lifetime if not very soon. I wonder when the bodily return became unessential for their everyday work as they experienced his presence in the Holy Spirit.

The church at Thessalonica was a charter church. Its members seemed to come from similar cultures to the other first century churches, but they somehow moved more readily from idol worship to accepting God as monotheistic. They also were apparently able immediately to be doers of the Word and not just believers.

We, today, tend to get hung up on living the Word because of our differences in interpreting the Word. It is no wonder that Congress and state legislatures are unable to get much done. They are mirroring their constituents’ (that is us) lack of ability to live the Word rather than investing our energies in expounding our understanding of what it says. Negotiating solutions is not necessarily compromising our values. One value, for example, is that every child should be raised in a loving home with adequate resources to meet his or her basic needs.  There are many ways to reach that goal that have nothing to do with abortion, welfare, or other divisive issues. Assuring that everyone who works full time earns a living wage would help meet the basic needs requirement. Quality public education where children learn self-respect and respect for one another and gain hope for their futures is known to reduce unwanted pregnancies which reduce abortions. I fear the sad truth is we do not share the common value of quality lives for our children. Wanting to be right in our beliefs drives our values rather than caring about the people impacted by our divisions.  Also, the cynical part of me thinks our values are driven by who has the most financial gain to make from policies. The result is we live in a world of stagnation and stalemate.

There is nothing new here. Amos railed about the same problems in 750 BCE. His answer remains valuable still. We must repent of our greed and use our faith to bring us together in love to make a better world rather than making our faith a stumbling block.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for getting caught up in divisions and stalemate. Show us how we can learn from each other to live your Word in our 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.

Privileged or Persecuted

Living in the Spirit
October 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, –1 Thessalonians 1:2-6

Having chosen to follow Christ, we enlisted in letting God choose us for whatever mission is needed. Opening ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern our calling is a challenging prospect. I love Gideon’s* experience in hearing his call to leave his regular job and lead the army. He asked for a sign and got it and then asked for a reversal of that sign as further proof and got that too. He was a very successful general even though he doubted his skills at carrying out the assignment. Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century monk, was called to do the dishes in his monastery. From that experience, we were gifted with his book The Practice of the Presence of God teaching us the importance of remaining in communion with God in all we do.,

History tells us that the Thessalonians faced serious persecution because of their faith and they remained steadfast in following the example of Christ. In our attempts to follow the path of the early Christians, I am concerned today that we may view the loss of privilege as persecution. The two are not related. Our call is to lift the persecuted from oppression not work to maintain our privilege that enables oppression. Loving God and loving one another requires us to want the very best for all, which includes both equity of opportunity and equality of participation in society.

Prayer: Lord, open our hearts to your call to do justice for all not just for a few. Amen.

*See Judges 6-8

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.

Trembling Before God

Living in the Spirit
October 18, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 99

The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!
   He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earthquake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
   he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name.
   Holy is he!
Mighty King, lover of justice,
   you have established equity;
you have executed justice
   and righteousness in Jacob.
Extol the Lord our God;
   worship at his footstool.
   Holy is he! –Psalm 99:1-5

The time is ripe for us to re-acquaint ourselves with the All-Powerful God. The God we learned to cherish as a child, the loving Father, still cares about our every need but we do not consider trembling before that God. I worked with foster parents who lived on a farm and often had as many as five small children in their charge. They had a huge Doberman. The children rode him he was so big. He was as much their caretaker as the humans. I think he sensed their life challenges. I also knew never to get out of the car when I drove into their driveway if the children were playing in the yard until one of the adults came out to welcome me. The Doberman was the children’s guardian angel. Similarly, God calls us to partnership in assuring and protecting justice for all.

Many children of our Mighty King, lover of justice, establisher of equity are living without justice and equity. We should be very concerned about that.

  • People are dying for lack of clean water,
  • Refugees are escaping certain death with no one willing to receive them
  • Vast discrepancies exists among children of color in school advancement
  • The working poor have little or no healthcare
  • Children are being left in unsafe child care settings because their parents cannot afford to pay for quality care
  • An epidemic of opioid drug use exists because companies make huge profits from the sale of prescription drugs.

I compiled this list from one night’s news.

While we can rest comfortably in the love of God, we must answer God’s call to create a world where all experience justice. Evil thrives in inequality. As it grows, it smothers that which is good resulting in more and more injustice. We must get educated and get involved to let the principalities and powers of our world know where we stand on these and other similar issues. We serve a mighty God who has our backs as we do the Lord’s justice. I somehow do not like the idea of standing before God and explaining why I did nothing. God does not expect each of us to do everything; God does expect all of us to do justice.

Prayer: Almighty God, empower us as we do your justice on our 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.

The Action of Repenting

Living in the Spirit
October 11, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
   we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
They made a calf at Horeb
   and worshiped a cast image.
They exchanged the glory of God
   for the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God, their Savior,
   who had done great things in Egypt,
wondrous works in the land of Ham,
   and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
Therefore he said he would destroy them—
   had not Moses, his chosen one,stood in the breach before him,
   to turn away his wrath from destroying them.                                             –Psalm 106:6, 19-23

Saying we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 2:23) and not doing anything about it is rather like saying “I eat too much” or  “I do not exercise enough.” Confession without action to change is fruitless whether trying to become healthier or trying to create a better world in which to live.

We invest a lot of energy being concerned about the chaos in our world today from tragic shootings to devastating storms to public policy. We worry a lot, and we may even pray a lot, but what are we doing to make a positive change? Do we keep our various elected representatives apprised of our stance on issues? Do we educate ourselves on the problems exploring a variety of resources? I watched a short video this morning outlining the problems homeless people without proper ID encounter. I had no idea. Walking a mile in someone else shoes might be illuminating.

We serve a risen Savior who calls us to do justice and promises to go with us and guide us every step of the way. We do not have to do everything; we do have to do something. There is a niche or two for each of us, and if we all fulfill our calling, we can create a world ruled by love.

Prayer: God of Justice, turn our lip service into justice realized. 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.

Reflecting Justice and Mercy

Living in the Spirit
October 10, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 32:1-14

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. –Exodus 32:11-14

God was none too thrilled with the Israelites creating a god made of precious metals. Moses implored the Lord to give the Israelites a second chance, and God did. The God of second chances is the same God in whose image God made us. We are called to be a people of second chances also. Our world, particularly recently, follows baseball’s procedures, three strikes and your out, closer than God’s.  We send people to prison for non-violent crimes without the benefit of much if any restorative services, like mental health or substance abuse treatment, remedial education or work training.  When we release them from prison, we stamp them with “felon” on job applications whether their crime has any relationship to the work they pursue.

Moses reminds God of God’s promise to Abraham of a land of milk and honey, and we inherited that promise through Jesus Christ. Christ calls us to a partnership in building a world where all have enough as a part of an abundant life, which requires all to participate as fully as possible in its actualization. Empowering others to that full participation is a part of that calling too.

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy, help us reflect your justice and mercy too. 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.

In Times Like These

Living in the Spirit
October 7, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”? Matthew 21:42

The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes. –Psalm 118:22-23

Cornerstone: the event, fact, or thing that forms the principal foundation or support upon which an achievement is based or from which a development makes its beginning*

Christ is the chief cornerstone of the Kingdom of God. The end we work for is not a shallow promise without substance. God wrote a vision of a just and good world on the heart of Jesus who came to earth to share it with us and invite us to join in becoming part of his very Body to make God’s vision real for all God’s children.

I turned on the news this morning to hear of another senseless shooting, the worst in the country’s history. We seem to compete for beating our worst. We are still recovering from some of the worst hurricanes in modern times and hear of the people of Puerto Rico caught in catastrophe with little food and water and no electricity. While our governmental leaders seem to be under the impression that if we cut our income, we will have more money to spend while recent and past experience tells us that is not true.

In times like these, you need a Savior,
In times like these, you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure,
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

CHORUS: The Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the One,
The Rock is Jesus, The only One
Be very sure, be very sure, Your anchor holds,
And grips the Solid Rock.**

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength and courage to continue our work toward your Kingdom in times like these. Amen.

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/cornerstone

**First verse and chorus of In Times Like These by Ruth Caye Jones see at http://www.namethathymn.com/christian-hymns/in-times-like-these-lyrics.html

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.

Privilege Debunked

Living in the Spirit
October 5, 2017

Scripture Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

Even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. 

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. —Philippians 3:4b-11

White privilege is a term tossed about today as we try to deal with racial unrest and injustice in our land. It makes most of us uncomfortable eliciting a “Not me” response internally, if not externally expressed, from those of us who meet the criteria. In our scripture today, Paul is describing something similar. We might call it Pharisee privilege. Privilege is defined as a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor:  special enjoyment of a good or exemption from an evil or burden. * It is not something one earns; it is more a bequeathed status. It is so much of one’s way of existing; it is taken for granted or not recognized at all.

How do we deal with that, if we truly believe that all people are children of God and thus are siblings and need to be treated with equality of respect and equity of opportunity? Paul perhaps suggests a solution in dealing with his status of Pharisee privilege. He regarded everything as a loss as he found something of surpassing value–Christ Jesus. Those of us of privilege fear we lose something if we must relinquish that which is not real in the first place. Paul insists that there is something of greater value on the other side of privilege that awaits in the love of Christ. Perhaps Jesus’ parable of the pearl of great price** has more meaning for our times than we may have thought.

Prayer:  Lord, help me realize the greater value of your love for all compared to any short-sighted privilege I may experience. Forgive me when I am ignorant of wrongs in our society. Help me be a conduit of your healing love and justice. Amen.

*http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/privilege
**See Matthew 13:45-46

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.

Fear of God

Living in the Spirit
October 3, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.’ –Exodus 20:18-20

I don’t think about being afraid of God much and do not think many Christians do. I cannot tell you when I have heard it mentioned in a sermon or study group. Perhaps we have lost something important. I can imagine the God of Justice being very fearful as God sees some of God’s children oppressing others.  The absence of love in any circumstance causes fear.

Fear is a God-given emotion provided to keep us safe from harm. Hearing the rattle of a snake alerts one to potential danger, and causes one to take preventive action.  The evening news alerted my community yesterday to the rise in mosquitoes carrying West Nile Disease and urged all citizens to avoid the risk.

We who live in privilege have lost some of our sense of fear. We trust locks and cameras, guns and alarms, to protect us. Sometimes they do not work. According to the Hebrew prophets, the people of Israel too lost their sense of fear. They put their trust in shallow worship and ill-gotten gain gradually over time losing their connectedness with God. That did not work either as they were overthrown and taken into captivity.

The fear of God protects us from the evil that would harm us. When we are in right relationship with God, we can sense spiritual danger when it accost us and turn around and return to God’s way of being.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we are so caught up in the world around us we fail to respond to your caution of danger ahead. 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.

Dealing with Greed

Living in the Spirit
October 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:13-46

‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’ –Matthew 21:33-41

Greed is epidemic in our land. So caught in it, we rarely recognize it in ourselves. God trusted us with the earth and all that is in it but we have not honored that trust by using it wisely and we deny that any of our actions relate to the devastating results. Profit drives our healthcare system not the well-being of our populace. Profit also drives our legal justice system. Growth is an important part of a capitalistic system. Thus our prison population grows in numbers and in years of sentences to sate the thirst of the for-profit prison business. While large corporations make larger and larger profits many of their employees earn less than a living wage and are dependent on food stamps, child care supplements, and Medicaid to survive.

Is this the world God intended? Does this describe the abundant life Christ envisioned for all? How do we turn these circumstances around? I think it starts with each of us examining ourselves and repenting of any part we may be playing in this process. We then must come together and find common ground on which to build the Common Good.

Prayer:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked* way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

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.