Tag Archives: Loving our Neighbors

How to Love God

Living in the Spirit
October 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ –Matthew 22:34-39

What does it mean to love God? Strong’s Concordance* describes the Greek word, agapaó, used here for loving God as meaning to prefer God. It derives from the Greek word for God’s love, Agape. Loving God also speaks of wishing God well which I believe refers to supporting God’s purposes. Other descriptors of this type love include taking pleasure in God, longing for God, and holding God in esteem. It also denotes the love of reason as loving God.

The same word is used to describe how we are to love our neighbors. Here is where the rubber meets the road. We can extol God in word and song, but the way we love our neighbors demonstrates how we serve God’s purpose.

I liked the idea of loving God meaning preferring God over all others. The other ideas made sense to me. I was, however, surprised with the love of reason describing loving God. It makes sense. God created us in God’s image and gave us brains with which to reason. I wonder if the greatest sin in our world today is forgoing reason for selfish ends?

Prayer: Lord, help us discipline ourselves to using our power to reason to effect a world that reflects your purposes. Amen.

* http://biblehub.com/greek/25.htm

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

We Go High

Living in the Spirit
September 6, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 149

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
   his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
   let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
   making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
   he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
   let them sing for joy on their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
   and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
   and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters
   and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute on them the judgment decreed.
   This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord!

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people. We are a source of God’s happiness. If you are a parent or aunt in my case, it is easy to imagine. I take pleasure in seeing my nieces and nephews thrive and success using their God given talents. I apparently inherited that trait from God. So did you. God loves each human and thus wants the very best for each of us. We need to share in and support each other’s growth and development.

We all recently watched people rescuing people in the recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey’s hitting the gulf coast. A horrible disaster, yet the love that poured through that area surely gave God pleasure. Long-termed restorative care is now needed. An extension of letting our love pour through our everyday lives seems appropriate too. Disasters tend to remind us of what is important.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our behavior, and it is important that we take that responsibility seriously. As we live in community,  we meld our ways of being with others for good or for bad. Our goal is to maximize the good and minimize the bad, which means we must find common ground on which to build our society that requires the patience to understand one another and not take for granted what is reality for me is another’s reality. Finding common ground is hard work requiring us at times to leave our comfort zones and move to higher ground.

Prayer:
Lord lift me up, and let me stand
By faith on Canaan’s table land;
A higher plane than I have found
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.* Amen.

*Chorus to hymn Higher Ground words by Johnson Outman Jr. See at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/396

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.

Oppression 101

Living in the Spirit
August 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Exodus 1:8-2:10

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. –Exodus 1:8-14

Follow the money is the phrase often included in crime investigation stories. It is also good advice when trying to weed out oppression. Oppression happened in Egypt in antiquity; it is happening in the USA today.  Immigration laws need to be crisp, efficient and based on areas of the economy where there are not enough workers to meet demand. Such laws also must recognize that workers who come into our country and seek to stay, just like those already here, function best within a supportive family structure.

The reason we do not have that crisps, efficient system is the reality that undocumented workers stream into our country to escape all different kinds of hell and because of that are willing to work for less than would be required if they come in legally. It also means undocumented workers can be hired for jobs for which there is no shortage of local workers. Both sets of people, the undocumented and the locally unemployed or underemployed, are being oppressed by those whose only desire is to see their profits increase. The situation is further exacerbated by the principalities and powers turning these two groups against each other resulting in the legislative and administrative stalemate that makes it all possible.

When God created the world and all that is in it, God called it good. Humans created borders. As humans, we certainly are called to use prudently the resources God provides for the good of all. Borders and governments are neither good nor bad unless we make them so. When greed overcomes the love of our neighbor, we fail our calling.

Prayer: God of All, forgive us when we allow greed to overpower our ability to love our neighbors whether we are the direct benefactors of the greed or complacent by ignoring its existence. Open avenues of advocacy for us as we work toward the good of all. 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.

Watch Your Mouth What it Says

Living in the Spirit
August 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 15:10-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’ –Matthew 15:10-20

Words matter. Sometimes how we say something is as important as what we say. Once said words can never be taken back.  We filter everything we say through our own understandings, which our hearers, even our closest relatives or friends can never fully know. I broke my nose in high school playing volley ball resulting in a permanent bump below where my glasses sit. I broke it again in a fall last spring, and my bump got even bigger. I am again a little more self-conscious of it, not as bad as when I was a teenager. Sunday in Sunday school my class watched a DVD with a very handsome actor playing the part of Paul. As we began the discussion, I quipped, “For some reason, I thought Paul was not particularly attractive, had a big crooked nose or something.” I caught just the slightest reaction from one of the participants who was born with a crooked nose. I think she is quite attractive rather regal, but there is nothing I can say to make the results of my comment better now, and I could make it worse. God sent a messenger to redeem some of the damage I did. My friend and I sat together in church. An older gentleman walked by, patted her on her shoulder and said, “It is good to see you, beautiful ladies, today.”

We live in a world where we lay our instant thoughts out for display on social media uncensored. I think it is easier to do because we do not have a person looking back at us. Text messages to be brief may seem curt. There are some uncensored messages meant only for God’s hearing. We might want to take advantage of prayer as a means of cleansing our souls before we communicate with others. God knows us fully, can help us clean our filters, and make our communion with God’s other children more productive in both spirit and truth.

Prayer: Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
             keep watch over the door of my lips*
and my fingers or stylist on a keyboard or screen. Amen.

*Psalm 141:3

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.

Covenant

Living in the Spirit
July 24, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 29:15-28

Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. –Genesis 29:15-20

Arranged marriages seem strange to us although it is still practiced in some cultures. We might learn something from arranged marriages in that they deal with the realities of living and raising families more than our romanticized version where falling in love sometimes exceeds common sense. On the other hand, sharing life with someone, we never learn to love, might be worse. Someone once told me that the best marriages result in marrying someone with whom we fall in love and that we learned to love with our whole being continuing to grow that love over the years. Falling in love is wanting the best for ourselves; truly loving someone means we want the best for them too.

Marriage in the eyes of God is covenantal. A covenant is more than a contract. It is binding and is often the word used to describe our relationship with God. I fear we too experience the falling in love and loving conundrum regarding our relationship with God. The interesting paradox regarding our relationship with God is that what is best for God is always best for us also, although, at times, it is hard for us to accept that reality. God commanded us to love God and love one another. In so doing we will thrive.  Temptations suggest to us that there are short cuts to obtaining that end and that God’s definition of thriving may differ from the world’s definition. God also envision that thriving occurs in community. God calls us to want the best for everyone, which implies working together in love.

Of late, we seem more divided than ever. We invest in weapons of war rather than the nurture of love. If climate change is not affecting us directly, we cannot worry about those areas of our world already suffering from its impact. We are more interested in making a profit from prisons than restoring our neighbors to wholeness. If someone is hungry, he or she should get a job even though they already have one or even two. To the sick, we say no one dies from lack of health care.

What is it going to take for us to fall in love with God again and practice the ongoing art of loving God and loving our neighbors, wanting the best for God and all of God’s children?

Prayer: Lord, teach us to thrive in your love not seeking to thrive in the ways of the world. 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

Choosing God

Lent
March 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 4:5-42

The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. –John 4:19-23

Funny on how we can so easily reach agreement on that which we disagree and rarely take the time to build on that which we do agree. The Samaritans landed in Israel in the split of Israel and Judah after the death of Solomon. The temple was in Judah. Thus, over time, I guess, the Samaritans designated their own sight for worshiping God that was not recognized by the Judean side of the family. Thus, the subject matter for Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman reached back to this old breach. Jesus’ answer is very practical. The place and building does not matter. We worship God in spirit and in truth wherever we might be.

This mirrors the fight over prayer in school. Should it be allowed, should it be mandatory? The answer in a joke is “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in school.” I do not know who originated it and apparently, no one else does. I heard it first from Frosty Troy a former local newspaper writer. The point is well taken. Our relationship with God drives how we relate to others. We can never make others relate to us as we might wish. I believe the Lord wants us to choose to relate to God who is omnipotent, all powerful, capable of creating us and surely capable of changing our will but chooses to be loved by choice.

The solutions to our problems lie in our ability to identify the issues on which we do agree and build on them. While there is much descent on whether we should provide necessities to people who lack them, we never seem to discuss the fact that if all workers earned a living wage the need to subsidize those wages with food stamps, child care subsidies, and to a degree Medicaid would markedly be reduced. If we put as much effort into identifying ways businesses could succeed and pay a living wage, we could stop wasting our time with legislation requiring people to work, many of whom are already working.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we let our pride or our greed or our need to always be right get in the way of fulfilling your call to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Prevent us from making excuses, guide us to finding answers that provide justice for everyone. Amen.

For a better understanding of a living wage see http://livingwage.mit.edu/articles/15-minimum-wage-can-an-individual-or-a-family-live-on-it

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 Vision of the Common Good

Epiphany
January 31, 2017

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12

Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. –Isaiah 58:6-9

One of the positives that comes from political discord is we each must grapple with what it is we hold dear. I find it intriguing that we make a big deal out of some issues that are barely mentioned in scripture or not mentioned at all while turning our backs on ways of being that are mentioned throughout scripture multiple times, even commanded by God. Welcoming the stranger is an example. Loving our neighbors is another. These are both subset actions of the umbrella calling to do justice.

Doing justice implies the need to have structures and processes in place for societies to operate in an orderly and fair fashion. The United States functions within a representative democracy with a checks and balance system among three branches of governance; Executive, Judicial, and Legislative. The purpose of such a government is to provide for the Common Good of all its citizens. Such systems can be traced to the beginning of history. For example, Deuteronomy 26.13 describes the care required by the community of faith for widows and orphans.

We are called to do justice as individuals and communities of faith and as citizens of this country. Addressing that calling is challenging when there exists conflict among these entities. Such conflict requires us to reach deeper into the wellspring of God’s love for guidance.

What do we hold dear?

Prayer: Lord, I wonder sometimes how you feel when you receive prayers from your followers that are diametrically opposed. How do you sort that out? Please help us each to have a better and clearer understanding of your vision for us and guide us to find the Common Good for all your children. 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.

 

Walking Blamelessly

Epiphany
January 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 15

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
   Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
   and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
   and do no evil to their friends,
   nor take up a reproach against their neighbors –Psalm 15:1-3

Are you as tired as I am of the unnecessarily cruel things people are saying to and about each other? We can change that. We can stop carrying the message forward. We do not need to share it on any social media site or repeat it to friends saying, “Aren’t these folks awful who are saying these things?” I doubt if most of it is true but even if it were how does it help the situation to blast it out?

I am talking about character assassination not a discourse on our opinions about public policy or how we understand Jesus’ teaching even when our opinions may differ from the people with whom we are talking.

Such information is not worthy of our attention, and it serves to distract us from paying attention to the things that do matter. When the evening news is full of “He said, she said.” instead of providing updates on world events or new legislation or a new treatment for cancer, we all lose. The evening news broadcasts the kinds of things that we want to hear.

The Psalmist today provides us a good model to follow. It might be a good test to apply to any questionable information. Would I say this if I lived in a tent with God?

Prayer: Lord, help me to follow the model you have set before me. Guide me in seeking what matters in realizing your vision of our world and what my tasks are in attaining it. 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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

The Ugly American

the-ugly-american-movie-poster-1020236485Epiphany
January 12, 2016

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
   and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
   and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
   and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
   and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
   so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
   so shall your God rejoice over you. –Isaiah 3-5

While watching the news, the title of the 1958 book, The Ugly American, flashes through my mind occasionally even now. I do not remember ever reading it. I was in elementary school when it was published. I did see the 1963 movie, by the same name, several years after it was first presented. The term, The Ugly American, although not applied much today, still has resonance. While traveling through Europe several years ago on a eurail pass I got a tiny taste of locals’ attitudes towards Americans. I did not understand that the pass was for the first class cars and was really just thankful that I had gotten on the train and found a seat at all. Eventually, there was barely standing room because the car was so crowded. When the conductor took my pass he started yelling at me in German and gesturing toward the front of the car. I did not have a clue what he was saying but some high school students who had learned English soon translated for me that my ticket was first class and I was taking a seat that was needed by many others. I took my ticket and walked through several cars to the one car that was first class on which there was only one other woman seated. She was German but had married a Scotsman and moved to Scotland during the war. She was traveling home to see family. I told her about my experience and she laughed and said, “Oh, yes, the Ugly Americans.” We preceded to have a discussion about the perceptions people have about one another.

I long for my country to be known for its love. I long for my country to cherish its founders’ dream of freedom and justice for all. Yes, we can probably go back and ferret out that they really did not mean “for all” but that does not diminish the vision. As people of faith our love needs to be reflected in every aspect of our lives even our civic responsibilities.

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy write your vision for your world on our hearts and let it flow forth from there in our actions. Amen.

*The Ugly American is a 1958 political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer

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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Made in the Image of God

Bernadette-malecki-ruth-la-glaneuseLiving in the Spirit
November 2, 2015

Scripture Reading: Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing-floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing-floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.’ She said to her, ‘All that you tell me I will do.’ –Ruth 3:1-5

From what we can gain from the story of Ruth, Boaz was a good man. He not only allowed the poor to harvest what was left after the main gleaning, but order his servants to leave extra for them. He had already taken an interest in Ruth as the story goes. At this time the primary worth of a woman was in her ability to have children. Today in many parts of the world this remains true and even in the United States the work of women is valued less than men as women make substantially less for doing the same work as men*. I have some firsthand experience at that.

Ruth was actually blessed by having this good man accept her and marry her in spite of having to entice his attention. What is it about society, about our socialization, that effectively blinds us to the humanity of groups of people? We are all guilty of this you know. Whether we discriminate by gender or race or economic status or sexual orientation or the wearing of tattoos and nose rings. We are incapable of seeing the Christ in every person, the image of God, unless we fully commit to letting God open our vision to all the spectrums of God’s creation.

There are stories of Jesus where we learn of his movement from seeing the world as a good Jewish boy to claiming the other as his own, for example, eating with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:27-32), talking to and being served water by the Samaritan woman (John 4), and encountering the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30). We, too, are called to claim the other as our neighbor and love them just as they are.

Prayer: Lord, give us twenty-twenty vision to see clearly your presence in the other. Amen.

*Women’s median annual earnings in 2013 were $39,157 compared with $50,033 for men. See http://www.iwpr.org/initiatives/pay-equity-and-discrimination

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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.