Worth

Kingdom Building

August 18, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:49-56

He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? –Luke 12:53-56

Filters, we spend a lifetime building filters that shape for good or bad the way we perceive the world about us. The air condition technician just visited my home this week to make sure my air conditioning unit was working properly and to change the filters which were clogged with the dirt and other waste that floats in the air all the time and must be cleared regularly for air to flow freely either cooling or heating my home. My house was built in 1923 and I do not know when the first central heat and air system was installed but it was long enough ago that the filters required are rather unique, although still available. Using the wrong filter, would be at the least unproductive and might cause a negative impact if it allowed the spread of disease-causing elements.

Similarly, when our spiritual filters get clogged with the debris of the world, we must through the practice of our spiritual disciplines, seek God’s cleansing power to remove the clutter of life that prevents us from seeing what is right before our spiritual eyes. Such cleansing allows the rush of the Spirit’s renewing breath of fresh life that empowers our work and nurtures our souls.

One wrong-sized filter of our own creation that seems to permeate humankind is the one that says to us our worth is established through comparison with others. This surely was one filter that was planted in our hearts and minds very early in human history and it has plagued us ever since. Every human being was made in the image of God and we are called to see that image in all our interactions and relationships with others.  That is the basis of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. We each came with built in worth and because we each have built in worth; we are freed to love one another because we are all children of God. Much of our inability to see the damage we do to one another stems from our searching for our worth outside God’s love for us as we define the worth of others outside the love of God. Greed is often the driver of our need to create hierarchies of worth as is lust for power.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we forget who we are by moving away from whose we are. 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.

Moving from Division to Action

Kingdom Building

August 17, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:49-56

‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
   and son against father,
mother against daughter
   and daughter against moth
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
   and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ –Luke 12:49-52

Sound familiar? Taking sides seems to be the norm in our society today. What is Jesus trying to say here? What is the benefit of such chaos? Jesus grew to manhood during Roman rule where Jews could practice their religion if they did not make waves against the Roman Empire, which showed no mercy to anyone who crossed them. Jesus learned early the need to go along to get along. Much of his ministry was targeted at teaching his fellow Jews that going through the motions of religion was not living up to the covenants God has established with them, covenants regarding how to live and more importantly how to love, which in many ways were diametrically opposed to the ways of the Roman Empire.

I do not know Jesus’ motivation for allowing or encouraging division. I do know that division challenges the ennui* resulting from going along to get along. Perhaps Jesus was stirring up divisiveness to refocus God’s followers to take up their calling to foster God’s rule rather than Rome’s. Perhaps the divisiveness we are experiencing in our world today can be channeled into positive energy to lift us out of the ennui of our lives and help us to take up Jesus’ vision.

‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
   Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
   and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
   and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
   will not make your voice heard on high.
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? –Isaiah 58:3-4, 6

Prayer: Lord, let your Spirit flow through us channeling discord into energy for creating a just world. Amen.

*Afeeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement

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.

Cloud of Witnesses

Kingdom of God

August 16, 2019

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12:1-2

If we take the time to read the chapters in Hebrews that lead up to these familiar verses, we are reminded that our heroes in the faith prevailed through some serious challenges primarily through persistence and hard work and yet only moved the needle forward, never attained the final outcome desired. Nothing came easy for them. Working with people is messy. Trying to get people on the same page is even messier. Bringing people together while loving them as God loves us is downright impossible without the guidance, nurturing, and nudging of the Holy Spirit. Wholeness leads to oneness which leads to justice is a broken record for me, but I play it daily for myself and repeatedly for all who will listen.

At this point in my life, I feel like the needle is moving backwards that we are losing ground but then I see faith at work as living love. Perhaps the Spirit is stirring among us calling us to take the next giant step in created a world where all God’s children has a place and a purpose and are appreciated for their contributions.

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness,
calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea.

You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes,
from the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams,
our women see visions, our men clear their eyes,
with bold new decisions your people arise*.

Prayer:
Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness,
calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness,
Wind, Wind on the sea*. Amen.

*Refrain and verse 4 of Spirit by James K. Manley, see at http://users.rcn.com/exetercongchurch/Spirit.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.

Fullness of Faith

Kingdom Building

August 15, 2019

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:29-12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven, received the spies in peace. –Hebrews 11:29-31

How’s our faith doing? Have we measured it recently? We might forget to check it like the women awaiting the bridegroom who forgot to get oil for their lamps and were not prepared when he arrived*. Would we have had the faith to leave the oppression of Egypt to cross the red sea?

Most of the people fleeing oppression in El Salvador (86%), Honduras (87%), and Guatemala (87%) are Christian. They flee their sons being kidnaped and brainwashed into become gang members, they flee their daughters being kidnaped and trafficked into the sex trade industry, they flee with the faith that God goes with them. Where are we followers of Christ as they flee?

In Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, we were invited and chose to join a team challenged to create a world ruled by God’s love with many first experiencing God’s love through us. At want point are we allowed to rest on our progress and say, “Things are going well for me and my family-church-community-state-country, why do I need to worry about anything else? Won’t keeping these fleeing people out of my country, improve my quality of life?” It will not. As we install alert systems and build walls and do safety drills our lives are being revamped as we climb into our bunkers of fear.

Let us step forth in the faith of the Israelites as they fled Egypt and claim peace and tranquility through the power of God’s love not just for us but for all of God’s children.

Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Keep me burning till the break of day

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna
Sing hosanna to the Servant King
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna
Sing hosanna, let us sing

Give me peace in my heart, keep me loving
Give me peace in my heart, I pray
Give me peace in my heart, keep me loving
Keep me loving till the break of day *

Prayer: Lord, lift us from our complacency and renew our faith as we strive to spread your love throughout the land. Amen.

*First verse, refrain and third verse of Give me Oil in my Lamp see at https://www.google.com/search?q=give+me+oil+in+my+lamp+lyrics&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS852US852&oq=giveme+oil+in+my&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0l5.5637j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-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.

Undivided

Kingdom Building

August 14, 2019

Scripture Reading: Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19

Turn again, O God of hosts;
   look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
   the stock that your right hand planted.
They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
   may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
   the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
   give us life, and we will call on your name. –Psalm 80:14-18

I was reminded of the Oklahoma City Bombing when I heard about the shootings in El Paso recently. I always remember the Oklahoma City Bombing when I hear about senseless mass killings. I was not in the bombing directly and did not feel it when it shook the building where I was in an interior office. Suddenly, as if on cue all the staff sitting in the open area outside my office jumped to their feet and said “What was that?” They felt it and some heard it. As the crow flies the Murrah building was about two miles away. TVs went on in our building where they existed, and work came to a standstill. The call for blood went out immediately and as a universal donor, I left for the nearest blood bank where I found a two-block line already formed. I felt guilty as I was pulled from the back of the line and moved to the front because of my O negative blood. Today, we are burning ourselves with fire and people are being cut down.

When did we become so divided? When did we become us and them? Like the two mothers arguing over the one living child*, are we seeking a Solomon to rule that God belongs to one side or the other?

We are all children of the one living God who loves each of us and all of us and commands us to love each other. We need to let go of what divides us and seek together to find the things that bring us to oneness and invite God in God’s forgiveness of our divisiveness to nurture that oneness throughout the earth.

Prayer: Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
   let your face shine, that we may be saved. –Psalm 80:18

*See 1 Kings 3:16-28

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.

Bounded by Love

Kingdom Building

August 13, 2019

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

And now I will tell you
   what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
   and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
   and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
   it shall not be pruned or hoed,
   and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
   that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
   is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
   are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
   but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
   but heard a cry! –Isaiah 5:5-7

As I read this, I remember a sermon I heard many years ago when I was in grade school that obviously left an impression. I do not remember the preacher and thus it must have been one of the interims from Phillips Theological Seminary then located in Enid, Oklahoma. Between student preachers, professors would fill our pulpit at times until a new person was selected. In my naivete I did not know I was being blessed by some outstanding theologians in my tiny rural church like Craddock and Carstensen.

The preacher had us image God as being like a fence in the front yard of a home enclosing a beautiful lush lawn and trees where a small child was playing enjoying the wonders of God’s good earth without restraint as cars and trucks sped by the busy street next to the yard. Then he said image allowing the child to play in the yard with no fence with nothing to stop her from running into the street after a wayward ball and no one there to keep out the weeds and maintain the grass. I wonder if the preacher’s scripture for the day was the one quoted above.

We bristle at being restrained by even Jesus’ simple rules of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Willfulness stretches us to search beyond God’s common sense and self-righteousness asserts we do not need anyone or anything, we’ve got this.

I think most of us would say after watching the evening news that as a society we cannot say we’ve got this. We are missing the mark as individuals and as society. I think a little soul searching would benefit us all and call us to implore God to help us repair our fences.

Prayer:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise*. Amen

*First verse of Dear Lord and father of mankind, written by John Greenleaf Whitter, see at https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Dear_Lord_and_Father_of_Mankind/

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.

Harvesting The Fruit of Love

Kingdom Building

August 12, 2019

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved
   my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
   on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
   and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
   and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
   but it yielded wild grapes. –Isaiah 5:2-3

Wild grapevines are a perennial high-climbing vine, growing to 100 feet and clinging to whatever is available as they grow. Commonly found growing up into the forest canopy, wild grapevines attach themselves to tall trees with thin tendrils, or narrow, curling branches that wind around tree branches for support*.

Wild grapes grew wild (amazing as that may seem) on my family’s farm when I was a child. Preferring a little tartness in my sweets, I like wild grape jelly. Wild grapes are not a dependable fruit source like our pear tree was. Some seasons Mom could make a few jars of jelly from the wild grapes we harvested; other years there were none at all or only a few scraggly ones hanging from a tree. I thought for a long time they grew on the trees. Later I learned they were a separate plant just using the trees.

I fear our society is clinging to anything that meets our immediate desires regardless of the consequences of worshipping such lesser gods without thought for our wellbeing or the wellbeing of others. Lesser gods are more concerned with what they get from our relationship with them. The One True God the God of love always loves first and forever and always cares about all creation even each of us.

Perhaps Isaiah in our scripture today is using this illustration to caution the people of his day and us regarding our tendencies to cling to whatever is available* chasing after whatever entices our attention rather than reaping the harvest of God’s love in our lives. It takes a lot of work to care for a vineyard, weeding and pruning and harvesting. It takes intentionality of effort to grow a world ruled by love. We are all called to be a part of the effort, which will only reach full fruition if we strive for the oneness to which Christ calls us where he is the vine and we are the branches.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for loving us just as we are and for nurturing us when, we let you, to grow in spirit and in truth. Help us become conduits of your love. Amen.

*https://homeguides.sfgate.com/differences-between-wild-grape-vines-domesticated-vines-29825.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.

Slavery

Kingdom Building

August 11, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:32-40

‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. –Luke 12:35-39

Slavery was a norm in the first century when Jesus interacted with the crowds. His audience did not need further description to understand the situation. Of course, we are only 150 or so years removed from slavery being a legal reality in the USA. In many ways, we are still adapting to the cultural changes brought about by the Emancipation Proclamation. Immigrants without documentation are brought into this country by businesses who profit from being able to pay them less than minimum wage with no benefits which is close to slavery. Human trafficking of all sorts is more common than we want to admit. Since such activities are illegal now, it is usually the victims who are punished for the crime when it is discovered. Thus, I find It hard to read our scripture above to find the message of hope and faith that is buried in the sands of slavery, but there is both faith and hope as we drill deep into the story.

If we were the slave awaiting the return of the master and being alert to his coming would we expect him to invite us to sit down and eat while he serves us? Is Jesus turning the culture upside down? How do we relate to this all-powerful, always present, all-knowing God willing to serve us as a slave? How do we understand that such a God as this loves us all and wants the very best for each of us? The answer is simple, we love this one and only God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and pay God the highest honor when we love all God’s children in the same way.

Prayer: God who is love, forgive us when we fail to love you as fully as possible by loving all your children as completely as possible. 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.

Purses that Do Not Wear Out

Kingdom Building

Kingdom Building

August 10, 2019

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:32-40

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. –Luke 12:32-34

I am a one purse person carrying the same purse until it falls apart before I purchase another one and then I do not want to throw the worn out one away. Not throwing something away is peculiar behavior for me. Books are another thing with which a do not want to part as well as items my mother made but in general when something has served its purpose, I toss it.

Purses carry things we value. A few weeks ago, I ran to Walmart, grabbed whatever I needed, rushed back to my car, transferred my purchases, returned the cart to a stall, and headed home. When I reached for my purse as I got out of my car it was nowhere to be found. I panicked. As I drove back to Walmart, I realized I did not have my drivers license or my bankcard or any of my credit cards or any ID at all. I also felt the trip back was a hopeless one, but some wonderful person had discovered my purse in the parked grocery cart and returned it to customer services who were very happy to return it to me with nothing missing.

In our scripture today Jesus is telling us to take care of the important things specifically mentioning giving alms to the poor. My mother respected the idea of the tithe, but she taught her children that all our resources were dedicated to God and we need to use them with that in mine. We do need to handle our money wisely in taking care of ourselves and our families but also in assuring that all have enough including through are alms but also in the justice work we do as we strive to create a world where everyone has enough.

Prayer: Lord, give us wisdom in the use of our resources in your service. 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 Refugees

Kingdom Building

August 9, 2019

Scripture Reading:
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. –Hebrews 11:8, 13-16

We as followers of Christ are called to be refugees in our world today longing for and challenged to create a homeland that mirrors the love that Jesus modeled for us in his life. We are refugees sent forth into all the world to share the ways and worth, beauty and truth of Christ’s message. It seems to me that the closer we get to some semblance of peace and harmony in our segment of the world where our group has a pretty good life, having enough to meet basic needs and more, we grow complacent as the enticements of the world blend seamlessly into a worldview that equates our homeostasis* with God’s. They are not the same.

We are certainly not the first to view such things as our material success, being the same as God’s vision of the world. We even today have a title for it: The Prosperity Gospel. The stories of the Kings of Israel accompanied by the warnings of prophets like Amos and Isaiah illustrate the same scenario. I suppose that only proves that we truly do not learn from history. We, however, can learn from history striving to transition the whole world and all that is in it to God’s vision of the world God created. We not only can do this with God’s help, we must.

Prayer: Lord, save us from ourselves as we settle for less than your promises have to offer. Amen.

*a tendency toward maintenance of relatively stable social conditions among groups with respect to various factors (as food supply and population among animals) and to competing tendencies and powers within the body politic, to society see at http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/homeostasis

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.