Tag Archives: Mercy

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.

Self-Examination

Living in the Spirit
August 2, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 17:1-7,15

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry;
   give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
From you let my vindication come;
   let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
   if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;
   my mouth does not transgress.
As for what others do, by the word of your lips
   I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths;
   my feet have not slipped. –Psalm 17:1-5

Apparently, the author of this Psalm felt the need to justify this prayer. First, the Psalm professes the justice of a plea for vindication and then it itemizes the worthiness of the one making the supplication. I assume the person praying feels unjustly accused of wrongdoing. In high school, I was called to the office and questioned about missing money from the snack bar collections made at a basketball game the night before. Both the superintendent and principal were present and very serious. I was in charge of the snack bar and left the money box as instructed as we closed. I had no explanation for why there was money missing. Two people counted the money and put a note in the box with how much was in it at the beginning and how much was there at the closing. I was given no information about how much was missing. I explained the process we followed stating I had no idea why the cash on hand was less than the amount reported. I was excused and never heard another word about it. I felt the sting of unjust guilt and the importance of following protocols. My guess is the officials discovered what happened and handled it confidentially. Lots of rumors spun lots of possibilities. I remained in charge of the snack bar, and we continued to count the money the same way, but it was transferred directly to the principal after that rather than leaving it in an office.

My first reaction to this Psalm was that if we had to prove we were perfect to God before we asked for God’s justice, we were all lost. None of us are perfect, and God is the God of both justice and mercy. My prayers more often start with a request for forgiveness than a listing of my righteousness. That said, I think it is important that we routinely self-examine our behavior asking God to reshape us in the ways of love. Often our most conspicuously bad traits are the ones we do not see as they are so ingrained in our way of being. Holding ourselves up to the plumb line of Christ, using Christ as our model may be the only way we can free ourselves from habits that limit our success in serving God.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me when I fall short of being the person you want me to be. Help me see myself more clearly and enable me to shed bad habits. Amen.

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

Being a Blessing

Living in the Spirit
July 18, 2017

Scripture Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Rule

Epiphany
January 24, 2017

Scripture Reading: Micah 6:1-8

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? –Micah 6:8

The Hebrew Bible is a record of God’s holding Israel responsible for its actions. God sent prophet after prophet to extol leaders who were not following God’s plan. It makes me wonder why the United States seems drawn to policies giving Israel a pass on most things they do. We do not do that with any of our other allies. If we truly believe in the separation of church and state, then there can be no country to which we ascribe a different status because of the nature of its dominant religion. If, however, we do not believe in the separation of church and state and choose to deal with another nation regarding its dominant religion we must be very careful as we may be playing God.

The Hebrew Bible reports Abraham’s covenant including the call to be a blessing to the nations that applies to all of Abrahams descendants. (Genesis 22:18) Dealing with neighbors as described in Leviticus 19 must be reasonable and ruled by love. The prophet Micah refreshes Israel’s memories reminding it to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

We in the United States take great pride in being a nation formed within the rule of law where no one is above the law, although we have not perfected that lofty vision. In the Kingdom of God, no one is above God’s law and us as individuals or as a nation are not the final executioners of God’s law.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we get so caught up in ourselves we forget your roles in our lives. Help us walk humbly with you with justice and mercy for 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 American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Welfare Queens

feedinghomelessLiving in the Spirit
November 10, 2016

Scripture Reading: 2Thessalonians 3:6-13

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. –2 Thessalonians 3:6-9

If I were assigned the job of writing those little descriptive phrases that appear in some Bibles describing the theme of the verses to follow, I would write Words for Welfare Queens. In my long career working with public welfare, I cannot tell you how many times I have had this scripture quoted to me in a sentence with the words Welfare Queens. I quit arguing logic with them within three years or so. Most had strong opinions against abortions; none particularly seemed to care about the kids, just said the Welfare Queens should not have them. Closer to the end of my public welfare career, I went on the offensive. Once when speaking to a group of Christian women about welfare reform, I had three women in a road make the Welfare Queen salvo, with each getting more hostile toward those they called Welfare Queens than the previous. I probably should not have done it but I finally said to them, “If you do not like the government extending help to this family with children, put us out of business. You are called to do justice, you are called to show mercy, you are called to feed the hungry, and you are called to clothe the naked.” The implication was that if they were doing their job, we would not be doing ours.

I cannot say what problem the writer of 2 Thessalonians was addressing. Commentators vary on what it might mean. Some think people were not working in anticipation of Jesus immediate return. Others think the language described a general lack of cooperation with the group. Any family trying to put Thanksgiving dinner on the table knows there are always a few who just don’t seem to see anything that might need to be done and disappear if someone suggests a task. I can say that there are too many people living in poverty in our country, many working two full-time jobs. That is a justice issue. Ten percent of the children attending the elementary school my church has adopted take home a bag of food the last school day of the week to eat over the weekend because the school lunch program is their only source of nutrition. We get requests to purchase shoes for children who come to school on the first cold winter day in worn out sandals. Until justice is a reality for all, charity is a necessity. The government can and does help lift people out of poverty when properly funded.

My challenge to all is to walk a mile in the shoes of the poor. Learn their history. Understand them and the love them do not condemn them.

Prayer: Lord make us doers of Justice and in the meantime, help us be charitable to those in need. 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.

Not What We Want to Hear

Make Crooked StraightEpiphany
January 30, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 4:21-30

Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” –Luke 4:21-23

Jesus was not sent by God to say what the people wanted to hear, he was not sent to bring fame to his fellow citizens, or take sides in their disagreements. Truth be told, he should not have needed to have been sent at all. Jesus was sent to make the crooked straight (Isaiah 45:2), to clean up the messes that seemed to be beyond the people’s control. We still long for a superhero to come and make everything the way we want it to be today. I think we would be as surprised or disappointed or angry as Jesus’ neighbors were, if he walked in the door right now. Jesus came to change the hearts of God’s people, to restore our souls.

Thank God for the gift of grace Jesus provided, for we still find ourselves unable to walk the walk even with a straight path to follow. We try to bend God’s way to our own conventions. It is time for us to open our hearts, minds, and souls to God and welcome God’s mercy. Until we each and all allow God’s love to rule our lives and our interactions we will continue to spiral downward as a society.

I believe the political fiasco in the USA today is a mirror reflection of the attitudes of the collective American population. We are getting exactly what we want. Until we deal with our own sins of greed and entitlement we will lose ground as a nation. A reading of the Bible book of Amos might be a good Lenten observance. I think it will sound familiar.

Prayer: Lord convict us of our sins, forgive us of our sins, and journey with us as we strive to follow the path you have set before us. 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.

Judgment

justice and mercyLiving in the Spirit
July 1, 2015

Scripture Reading: Psalm 48

We ponder your steadfast love, O God,
   in the midst of your temple. Your name,
O God, like your praise,
   reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.
Let Mount Zion be glad, let the towns of Judah rejoice
   because of your judgments. –Psalm 48:9-11

God is the establisher of justice. We spend our entire lives dedicated to living into God’s justice. Our calling as people of God is not to oversee God’s judgments or even to enforce it. Our calling is to live justly ourselves and through our life’s work to draw others who do not know God to God. Yet we seem to spend a lot of energy on one hand trying to test the edges of justice ourselves while on the other hand defining our own understanding of justice for others. Jesus Christ proposed a radically different way of being. One in which we stayed as centered as possible in God’s justice and live God’s love in relationship with others.

Micah 6:8 tells us the other parts of our calling including showing mercy and walking humbly with God. Anytime we are dealing in the call of justice we must remember we are also called to mercy and humility.

Prayer: God of Love, enable us to take in your justice not define our own and help us to live justly with mercy and humility. 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.

Give me Patience Now!

God's willLent
February 27, 2015

Scripture Reading: Romans 4:13-25

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. – Romans 4:20-25

Do we have faith in God or not? I must confess I am stunned by legislation that is drafted, considered, and sometimes made into law that purports to do what the author seems to think God cannot do without the help of a civil law. Isn’t that interesting? Are we wasting precious moments of our time devoted to God doing futile things that may only cause more division? Is it more important to us to prove that God is on our side than to demonstrate that we are on God’s side?

Our scripture continues today Paul’s analysis of Abraham’s faith. Abraham was convinced that God was able to do what God had promised. Now that is faith. In all honesty Abraham did not live to see the culmination of God’s promise, but he knew it would happened. The sure and certain knowledge of God’s fidelity is the anchor we need in the chaotic seas of our world today.

This does not mean that we are to sit back and do nothing while we wait for God to make all our problems go away. Jesus instructed us to love God, love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to go into all the world and make disciples. Let’s just commit ourselves to doing those three things over the next few years and see what God can do when we are on God’s side.

Prayer: Lord, I want to wave a magic wand and make all evil go away, I want to end poverty and child abuse, I want to bring justice to the oppressed and assure that mercy is made available for those who need it, I want to shut down the pipeline to prison, and open the doors of opportunity for all our children, and I want it now! Grant me the measure of the patience of Abraham, the persistence of Hannah, the courage of Esther, the vision of Isaiah, and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ I need to fulfill my role in loving you and my neighbors and making disciples. 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.

Feed Them with Justice

leg pressLiving in the Spirit
November 17, 2014

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. — Ezekiel 34:15-16

The prophets can get downright nasty at times when indicating what will happen to oppressors and others of that ilk. In the part of the scripture for today that is quoted above, the prophet indicates that God will seek the lost, bring back strays, treat the injured, and strengthen the weak. Most of us try to identify with one of the other of these categories and feel good about this scripture. But I was rather taken back by what God threatened to do with the fat and the strong. God plans to destroy them by feeding them justice. I think that may mean that God is promising to return all to a state of good health including the fat and the strong.

I have mentioned before that I was morbidly obese for several years. While obesity is terrible on knees one of its few good side effects is that it strengthens bones and muscle because the mere act of carrying around all that extra weight is very real weight-bearing exercise. My self-imposed “feeding of justice” that returned me to better health was eating 1200 calories a day of quality food, and doing a lot of exercise.  As I began to lose pounds I also lost the ability to push as much weight on the leg press as I had been able to do when I was heavier. In moving toward optimum health for me, I had lost strength in my legs. Proportionately I have increased strength as I can now press leg weights equal to my body weight, which I could not do when I was overweight, although I could press more actual pounds when I was overweight than I can now.  I guess what I am trying to say is the person who is being oppressive is just as in need of God’s healing mercies as the ones being oppressed, although they probably do not think they are, because from their point of view, they are stronger than the people they are oppressing.

I may be putting words in Ezekiel writings, but I think he is saying that God wants even the oppressors in our world to know the “health” of the love of God. God wants everyone to function at their very best as co-workers in God’s kingdom with everyone doing his or her fair share and no one misusing his or her “strengths” to oppress others.

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy, grant us the strength and courage to love rather than to oppress, to prevent oppression, and to welcome the restored. 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.

Being Proactive for God

Sick ChildLiving in the Spirit
Light a Candle for Children
September 15, 2014

 Scripture Reading: Exodus 16:2-15

 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ —Exodus 16:2-3

In our society we waste a lot of really good energy avoiding the realities that we face. We want to have our cake and eat it too very much like the Israelites did. Our government reflects that we expect the government to solve problems while at the same time we rant about the size of government being too big and our taxes too high. What results is that instead of offering services that are proactive and that recognize that our citizens are our greatest resource, we provide emergency services that are too little too late and most likely cost us more in real dollars, but certainly in human capital, than we would have spent had we address issues before they got out of hand.

 The mother’s seven year old son had had a drippy nose and lots of “colds” from birth. The family had never had insurance coverage and rarely sought health care unless it was an emergency. It just cost too much. Anyway, all kids have runny noses from time to time. The family had a marginal income and were even in the process of buying their home on a rent-to-buy contract. The father, got into some trouble and ended up in prison, but the mother fairly quickly got a good paying job. Nine dollars an hour was better than minimum wage. There were no benefits though, no insurance. The son had one of his worst colds ever. Mom had missed worked for two days already. On the third day the son seemed so lifeless when the mother touch his head and found he was burning up. Mom raced him to the emergency room where he was immediately placed in ICU. She called her boss to say she would not be in again that night. He said, “If you don’t come in tonight, don’t bother to come back at all.”

 The boy had such a severe sinus infection that it had broken through to his brain, it was touch and go for some time, but at least with no income the family now qualified for Medicaid for him. Ten years later and six major surgeries, the son is doing great. He was diagnosed with serious allergies for which he is now being treated. The Mom lost her home. She could barely make the payments after her husband went to prison anyway.

We, like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, must pull ourselves together and deal with the realities of our world, in a proactive disciplined manner until all God’s children are doing at least OK and on target to be the people God created them to be.

Oklahoma Fact:   in 2011, 10% of children had no health care coverage* (The vast majority of these children come from working families who would have qualified for Medicaid had Oklahoma participated in the expanded coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act)

Prayer: Merciful God, take the energy we expend in complaining and turn it into action that will enable all of your children to become fully the persons you created them to be. Amen.

 *Definitions: Children under age 18 who were not covered by health insurance at any point during the year. Health insurance includes private sector insurance generally provided through work, as well as insurance provided through the public sector, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Children receiving health insurance through a variety of new State Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP) are counted as having health insurance. The figures shown here are 3-year averages of data. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/7251-children-without-health-insurance?loc=38&loct=2#detailed/2/38/false/867,133,38,35,18/any/14294,14293
 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.