Tag Archives: Loving Like Jesus

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.

Let Love Be Genuine

Living in the Spirit
August 31, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21

; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. –Romans 12:9-13

I find the praise translated Let love be genuine intriguing.  Admittedly, I may be grasping at something that is not there. I am more social worker than theologian. I am definitely not a Greek scholar. The phrase seems to imply that love is a natural phenomenon among humans around which we might construct barriers keeping love from being fully actualized. The word love used here is the Greek agape* often used to describe God’s love, which centers in moral preference. God chooses to love us without condition, which does not mean we do not have to deal with the consequences of our actions. God calls us to choose to love God, and to love one another.

I borrow M. Scott Peck’s definition of love, which shortened is wanting the best for another. God wants the best for us, and we likewise are to want the best for all people. The problem arises when we try to define what the best for another might be. Such an act on our part is not in our job description. We can ask God for wisdom in dealing with people who seem to be traveling a bad road, but my experience is that trying to prescribe another’s behavior rarely succeeds. Each of us must work out with God our own salvation*. Our unconditional love, like God’s, if we are willing to let our love be genuine may be a catalyst toward someone  identifying and implementing changes needed.

Paul continues the scripture giving examples of how we can let love be genuine. Most regard choices we make in our interactions with one another.

Prayer: God of Mercy, instill in us the desire to choose to love unconditionally and nurture us to love in such a way that others can see the path you desire for them. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/26.htm
**Philippians 2:12

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.

 

It is a Small World

Living in the Spirit
August 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 15:10-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. –Matthew 15:28

Is this an instance of Jesus’ modeling for us that all people are God’s children? Is he demonstrating the human ability to broaden our worldview even when our life experience is limited to a very small area? Except for his trip as a baby to Egypt, Jesus never traveled further than a hundred miles from his home. Visitors traveling through his land exposed him to other cultures, the Canaanite woman for example. He certainly got a taste of the Roman culture. My experience as a child was limited to central Oklahoma with an occasional trip to Springdale, Arkansas, my mother’s home. I am an avid reader, so I visited many cultures in books and TV exposed me to other ways of being.

My first trip to Europe was with my church choir where we toured and sang our way through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In a tiny village in Switzerland, early one morning I saw a small chapel up on the side of a hill that intrigued me. Hiking to the chapel, I peeked through the door and saw a local woman praying. I waited outside for her to finish. She was somewhat startled when she came out encountering me gazing off over her lovely little home town. She asked if I spoke her language and I nodded my head no. She nodded back shrugging her shoulders to indicate she did not speak mine and started down the hill when she stopped turned back and gave me a big hug. I hugged her back, and she continued down the hill as I entered the chapel. Two children of God had surpassed language barriers to share God’s love.

Our world grew a lot smaller since my childhood. We know in a ping on our phones when a hurricane strikes thousands of miles away or when a public figure speaks inappropriately. Is our world becoming more loving as it opens to more scrutiny? Our primary purpose as followers of Christ is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In fulfilling that calling, we set an example for others as Jesus set an example for us. Everyone is now our neighbor in this communication revolution. God’s vision of a world ruled by love is as doable now as ever. We are the workers called to build such a world.

Prayer: Lover of Our Souls, bless us when we falter in our work of spreading your love so that your work may continue through the power of your love in spite of our weaknesses. 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.

Applying the Golden Rule

Living in the Spirit
August 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:13-20

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:18-20

We are all Peters called to build Christ’s church. We like Peter struggle to understand everything. Many perhaps are not as decisive as Peter or as bold in our pronouncements. He was born to lead; some are born to support.  Sometimes the roles reverse depending on the situations and the talents and skills we each bring to the building site. We all make mistakes, and from time to time we each get some things right. God is ultimately able to use all we contribute to the fulfillment of our call to build Christ’s church. We learn from our mistakes and gain confidence to continue the journey from the joy of love shared and received.

Raised on a farm, I am well acquainted with the problems that result when animals escape their fences. My brother and father tried to corral a cow once that was so determined to gain her freedom she swam the pond. Once caught, she continued to terrorize barns and milking stanchions and soon returned to the sale barn. Jesus in our scripture today calls us in our work of building the church to be careful what we loose on earth because what we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. It seems to imply that our calling to build Christ’s church is a partnership with God. God will indeed help us deal with the consequences of our actions, but God sure wishes we would consult with him first and carefully weigh our actions so that we are not investing more of our energy in chasing loosed problems than we are in productive outcomes.

We all need to routinely take a good hard look at how we deal with being the church, the Body of Christ in the world today, and apply the test Jesus gave us in Luke 6:31, Do to others as you would have them do to you. How would we feel if someone treated us the way we treat others? As we self-examine our behavior each day, it might be a good idea to role play in our minds how it would feel if we were the ones on the receiving end of that behavior.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see myself as others experience me. Help me to see others as they may need to be understood at certain time and circumstance. Give me the empathy to communion with others in such a way that work gets done as sharing in the task nurtures all involved. 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.

Sowing Love

Living in the Spirit
July 29, 2017

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ –Matthew 13:31-33

Are our churches packages of seeds not sown or yeast not blended? These two parables speak to the gradual transitioning of seed and yeast from inert materials to life giving produce in plants and bread. Jesus seems to be suggesting that his way of being spreads throughout the world best in a similar process requiring us to sow and grow God’s love with and among all of God’s children throughout the world.

I have some pesky ground cover that could easily take over my backyard if I let it. I do not know what kind of plant it is, but it is sturdy almost indestructible. It must have great DNA. The weather shifts of Oklahoma do not seem to phase these plants as they reproduce at an amazing rate. Weed killer does not phase them. Similarly, we are called to develop our interior strength and love in and through our communities of faith which enables us to go into the world and spread the love of God in very much the same way as seeds turn into plants and yeasts makes inert ingredients active. We waste seeds and yeast of love stored in packages on shelves.

Living as Christ modeled for us suggests a contagious spreading of love in our everyday interactions with others as well as the loving we do by design feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, tutoring children, working for justice, assuring that needed services are available in our communities and on and on. The greatest thing is the minute we sow or add our love God’s love strengthens us and strengthens those whom we love exponentially.

Prayer: God who is Love, enable us to love like Jesus. 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.

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.

A Cup of Cold Water

Living in the Spirit
July 2, 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.’

I jut received an alert on my telephone that Oklahoma City is under an excessive heat warning, one of the first of what might be a long hot summer. Such alerts come when the combined temperature and humidity is expected to reach a level that could prove life threatening if one is in it too long without adequate water. These conditions are especially dangerous for the elderly, who do not feel the heat as much as younger people, and for the homeless who must seek both shelter and water to survive. I suspect the people of Galilee and Judea were well acquainted with the problem in the first century sans air-conditioning and electric fans. Many were dependent on others willing to share life-essential water.

Love, too, is life-essential. Jesus encourages us to share our love in very ordinary ways without question and without judgment. Children absorb everything happening around them. Our attitudes and actions toward them plant seeds of hope or fear or love or lost self-esteem. It does take a village to raise a child.

Prayer: Lord, help us to love each other as you love us and particularly help us be good role models for the children we encounter along the way. 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.

Come to the Table

Eastertide
April 30, 2017

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
–Luke 24:27-35

Is it possible to recapture that first century sense of urgency? Is it necessary? Do we need to define a 21st century vision which encompasses the same drive of living and loving like Jesus? Did the first disciples experience frustration with dealing with the messiness of working with people who each have an agenda and are sure their way is the only way? How can we best support and nurture wholeness in each follower of Christ that builds the ability to trust each other’s called contribution?

Spreading the love of God through Christ requires a diverse set of skills. Paul outlined them well in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Learning to live into the synergy necessary to make diversity work can only happen when we accompany that by living into God’s love and working together on those things of common worth, while seeking discernment regarding the things about which there is little or no agreement. At times, we also need to practice the art of agreeing to disagree.

The Body of Christ also has a unique calling in this 21st century, leading the way in integrating the lives of five, even six, generations of people with differing histories. Those generations are an amalgam of races, creeds, and sexual identities all among those we are called to love. The power of God’s love is the only enabler of our succeeding in loving across lines that divide us.

Followers of Christ are people of the table. Jesus’ invited all to a seat at his table. It is incumbent on each of us to assure that all of us feel welcomed and needed for that is the Jesus way.

Prayer: Lord help us Do [our] best to present [ourselves] to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15) 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.

A New Thing

Eastertide
April 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ –John:19-23

For fear of the Jews, the disciples huddled behind closed doors not knowing what else to do absent their leader. I must say it is hard for me to image being afraid of the people with whom I have worshiped all my life. I think of Muslims dealing with groups such as ISIS. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer walking toward the gallows. I think how divided Christians are today and wonder could we be headed down this same path.

Even amid very real fear, Jesus calls and empowers us to continue his ministry. Sent is a key word here. We are not called to an enclosed locked-down hiding place. We are called to go forth into the world loving God and loving the way Jesus loved as our primary mission. Yes, it is important and necessary that we share our ministry in a loving community of faith that nurtures and trains us for ministry. Such a place is not an end unto itself but the means to the end of initiating and building the Kingdom of God in our world today.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is key to the success of our mission. We may have differing tasks. There are many ways to show love. Some provide food, some feed the hungry. Some who have recovered from alcohol or drug addiction mentor those trying to free themselves from addiction’s slavery. Others provide a caring, safe environment for the receipt of treatment. Some advocate for restorative justice. Others provide preschools to break the pipeline to prison.

I cannot image the Holy Spirit giving divisive guidance to those who have chosen to follow Christ. We need to find the things on which we agreed and divvy up the work according to our skills and resources. When we are out of sync with each other, we are most likely out of sync with the Spirit. In such situations, rather than trying to win battles against each other, we must turn to God, ask for forgiveness, and seek the Spirit’s guidance in doing a new thing.

“I will do a new thing in you;
I will do a new thing in you;
Whatever you ask for, whatever you pray for,
nothing shall be denied.”
saith the Lord; saith the Lord!* (See Isaiah 43:19)

Prayer: Lord forgive us when we get so caught up in being right that we become wrong in our love. Do a new thing in us. Amen.

*I will do a New Thing in You by Audrey Byrd see at http://www.hymnary.org/person/Byrd_Audrey

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.