God’s Norms Not Ours

Eastertide

May 26, 2019

Scripture Reading: John 5:1-9
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath.

The title listed for the above scripture in my Bible is Healing on the Sabbath. I think Healing when the Time is Right would be a more fitting title and would get at the heart of the issue, that John is trying to address. The author may be trying to illustrate that Jesus thought the strict observation of the Sabbath could be altered if necessary, to serve a greater purpose. I do not think God provided the guidance of the Commandment as a test to measure our worthiness. The Commandments do serve a purpose in providing common-sense rules to live in relationship with others including with God. It is those loving relationships that are important.

Does it bother you as much as it does me that the man has been ill for 38 years and seems to have had no one offering to help him into the pool? That may be the case, but it also may be the case that begging has become comfortable for him and he is not interested in changing his career. Jesus asked the crucial question, ‘Do you want to be made well?’  The man does not answer the question; he makes an excuse. Jesus healed him anyway.

It is too easy for us to follow well defined rules and not live our love of God, ourselves, or our neighbors. It is easy for us to see not wanting to change our norms in a poor beggar, but we all suffer from the desire to invest ourselves in activities that we can check off and feel comfortable about doing.  What do we accomplished when we are not helping the man because we self-righteously obeyed a rule? Jesus is challenging his followers to accept responsibility for the irresponsible attitudes and actions that can be the byproducts of our ridge application of rules. Racism comes to mind and any of the isms where we perceive ourselves as better than another or that, after years of practicing an ism, it becomes accepted as a normal value.

Prayer: Lord, guide us to separating the norms of our lives we create from the way you modeled life for 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 America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Trust God

Eastertide

May 25, 2019

Scripture Reading: John 14:22b-29
‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

“Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.” ― Saint Ignatius of Loyola

This quote attributed to St Ignatius has been stated in varying fashions by many faith leaders. I choose his because he uses the word trust. Trust is the verb of faith. Trusting that everything ultimately depends on God is a freeing experience. We are not perfect; we all make mistakes and yet we followers of Christ are entrusted with the most important mission ever assigned: to share the love of God throughout the world and thus create a world ruled by love.

I once heard a lecture regarding childhood development that I think applies here. I am sorry I no longer remember the occasion much less the speaker. She said we do not send children out in a front yard surrounded by streets busy with traffic, leave them alone, and expect them to do the right thing if they throw their ball into the street. We do want our children to explore and develop their minds, bodies, social skills, and spiritual life. To do that we most likely will first place them in a fenced yard with hazards removed and various safe toys and plants and sand boxes to explore as we may play with them or watch as they alone or with their peers discover new and wonderous things. The environment we create for a child is like the trust we place in God to love and protect us as we strive to love God, love ourselves, and love each other. Like a toddler we may fall, even scrape a knee, but our loving Parent is always there to give us comfort and forgiveness while guiding us to try again.

I do not think we can make anyone follow Christ or to live their lives as we interpret is the “correct” way to follow Christ. We certainly cannot legislate our evangelism. We can love them, accept them as they are, and journey with them as they become the persons God created them to be. Christ got the assignment to judge who among us love him and follow him. Our assignment is to introduce Christ to those who may not know him and to love the way he loves.

Prayer: Lord, we have an awesome assignment and sometimes it is hard for us to let you be God and we be your followers. Forgive us and strengthen us to trust you fully. 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 Tea

Eastertide

May 24, 2019

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. –Revelation 22:1-5

I must confess, I have thought the Kingdom of God would be actualized when Christ’s followers had finally spread God’s love to the ends of the earth. The phrase in the above scripture and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations leads me to believe that there will be more work to do even after Christ is pitching his tent with us. When I think of leaves healing, I think of tea. Now for me tea primarily has two dimensions. One is sipping a good cup of tea, I particularly like Rooibos, in comfy clothing with great music playing in the background after a hard day of productive work just enjoying the peace and the rest. The other dimension is sitting in a small tea shop or other restaurant that serves tea and catching up with a friend. For me God is often a welcomed guest in both instances.

There is a lot of healing needed among the nations today. When I visited Turkey a few years ago the tour I was on arranged a lunch for all on the tour in a small town with a few of us going to various homes. Turkey is a great place for tea. Shared hospitality is healing. We could use a lot more of these type experiences.

Prayer: Lord, be present with us as we search for ways to heal the nations and to heal our nation from within. 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.

Thy Kingdom Come

Eastertide

May 23, 2019

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

And in the spirit, he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. –Revelation 21:10, 22-27

I visited northern Sweden during the summer equinox and experienced a day with virtually no night. I must admit it was a little eerie. We, of course, stayed up until after midnight to witness the event. The locals went to bed and pulled down shades. Humans must have their rest. If there is no night is there no need for rest in eternity? The writer of Revelation, attributed to a man named John, is attempting to describe that which is indescribable, and he does a good job of making us think out of the box as we contemplate the possible nature of the Kingdom of God.

We have a taste of the glory of God being with us in the now as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

As people called to live in the now as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we might take some clues from the scripture above which talks about what we bring into the Kingdom with us and how we live differently than we might live in the world. The language used to describe these realities is ancient and thus requires us to consider their meaning for today. My guess is that would result in much discussion and many theological perspectives. In the final analysis, my fall back is Jesus’ instruction that we are to love God, placing God first in our lives, a part of which is loving ourselves as God created us in honor of God, and  ultimately loving all of God’s other children as much as we love ourselves. Thus, we only must study the way Jesus loved and follow his model of loving.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for our ancestors in faith who were visionaries of the way your world eventually is melded successfully with the world. Help us to see you more clearly as our role model in the now of your Kingdom coming. 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 Guidance

Eastertide

May 22, 2019

Scripture Reading: Psalm 67
May God be gracious to us and bless us
   and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
   your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
   let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
  for you judge the peoples with equity
   and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
   let all the peoples praise you.
the earth has yielded its increase;
   God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
   let all the ends of the earth revere him.

As I write this, I am receiving more and more ominous warnings about impending dangerous weather. “Flash flood warning” “A tornado watch has been issued for current location” “Oklahoma City opens disaster bunker as severe weather threat looms.”  There is more than one storm expected and they apparently all are not good. Our lakes are full, and more water means more floods. Tornados are not that unusual in May in Oklahoma, but this seems to be a particularly dangerous situation. It is good to have alerts. When I was a child, we spent a lot of time in our cellar because we knew the weather was bad, but we did not know how bad.

I open my computer and see the above scripture and wonder how this scripture relates to my reality today. Being under the protection of God’s wings would have been immediately meaningful to me. So I read it again and again and take a walk inside my house because walking helps me organize my thoughts. As I passed by my “safe place” which is where I will go if a tornado gets close, I was intrigued with what I thought was necessary.  The scripture puts emphasis on the power of God particularly as it relates to judging the people with equity and guiding the nations.

Our nation is in chaos making me feel like I do when surrounded by tornadoes. It is in times likes these when lust for power and greed are ruling our land and we are being divided in support of those sins. In times like these we do need to cling to the gracious God who blesses us. God is our safe place. In following God’s guidance, we can overcome the world.

Prayer: Lord, help us not be distracted by the things of the world, but to seek your guidance in all that we do. 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.

Hospitality

Eastertide

May 21, 2019

Scripture Reading: Acts 16:9-15

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us. –Acts 16:11-15

We need to revisit the heart of hospitality. In the first place, hospitality is not a milestone around our necks, an overbearing requirement to get ahead in the world or meet the expectation of others. Hospitality is a privilege for Lydia in our scripture today. She gets to welcome this wonderful man and all his friends into her home as perhaps a celebration of his great gifts which he shared with her.

My mother was a practitioner of the art of hospitality. I can just see her opening the door of our house with a big smile on her face saying, “Come in, it is so good to see you.” I do not think anyone left Mom’s house without at least being served a glass of water and usually was offered tea and something to eat. Now Mom could get into quite a frenzy preparing for guest and we kids were caught up in making everything just perfect but that was all a part of the joy of entertaining others.

The church in one of the few places left in the world where people of various generations can just, for a few moments, get to know one another and enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company. We say it every Sunday when we acknowledge that we are a people of the table. Jesus taught us to embrace hospitality as a reminder of his constant presence with us. While the formal service at the Lord’s Table is of highest importance, we celebrate his presence in every instance when two or three* are gathered in his name sharing good will along with cookies and coffee. Maybe if we practiced a little more hospitality, we would deal with a lot less hostility in our world today.

Prayer: Lord, teach us the joy of your hospitality as we share it with one another. Amen.

*Matthew 18:20

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.

Finding Our Faith Niche

Eastertide

May 20, 2019

Scripture Reading: Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
–Acts 16:9-10

This is often noted as a key scripture because it records the first indication that Luke had joined Paul in his travels. It is the first use of Luke writing in first person, we/us. He felt he had been called to proclaim the good news along with Paul. Luke was a doctor and Paul had some sort of reoccurring health issue, which has made me wonder if Luke join the crew to be available if Paul needed medical care.  In any case, Luke identified as a lay leader sharing the call of ministry like most of Christ’s followers.

Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 12 the diverse skills needed to complete the work we are called to do as we work together to usher in the Kingdom of God. All our varieties of talents are needed. As with Paul and Luke some preach, and some enable preaching. The list includes the following:

Apostles
Prophets
Teachers
Deeds of Power
Gifts of Healing
Forms of Assistance
Forms of Leadership
Gifts of Speaking in Other Languages

Most have skills for more than one of these areas of work, some multitask while others concentrate on one specific area. When I was a child my mother was almost always a teacher, and usually a leader, and one of the hardest working people around. I noticed as she aged, she shifted out of things she no longer had the stamina to do. My guess is she sent at least one get well, thinking of you, in sympathy card, to someone every day. Even when she was bedfast and to weak to write she practiced intercessory prayer. We have the same call as we work together to become one and change the world into one being ruled by love.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for equipping us to serve you more nearly. Help us each to find our niche and develop it fully. 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.

Glorified

Eastertide

May 19, 2019

Scripture Reading: John 13:31-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

So what does it mean when this scripture says that the Son of Man has been glorified? The Greek word doksázō* translated glorify ascribes weight by recognizing real substance or value. Glorifying God thus means valuing God for who God really is. Jesus’ glorification thus amplifies the glory of God helping us understand the full value of God in our lives. Do our acts as God’s disciples amplify the glory of God?

Joshua understood this concept when he noted among all the idols available for people in his culture to worship that Yahwah was the one with real substance and value. He said in Joshua 24:15:

Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’

What do we put above God? What are the 21st Century idols we choose over God? We are far too sophisticated to bow down to golden calves or mammoth carved stones. I fear our idols are more sinister. Certainly, wealth and power are more important to some than God. Politics and nationalism seem to push God aside or even worse use God as a steppingstone to their own ends. We, like the people Joshua led, need to carefully consider who we serve and reevaluate how our way of being is influencing others toward God or away from God.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we claim to be your disciples and do not have love for one another or any others. Amen.

*https://biblehub.com/greek/1392.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.

Choosing to Love

Eastertide

May 18, 2019

Scripture Reading: John 13:31-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

The Unabridged Merriam-Webster Dictionary* defines the English use of the word love using three and a half pages where it identifies eleven different definitions most of which are further divided into two or more iterations. And additional three pages deals with variations of love. I realize I write a lot about love and further understand that some of my readers do not get what I am trying to say because the definition of love they primarily use does not match the one I am thinking as I write.

The Greek from which the above scripture was translated has at least three definitions of love and the one used throughout our reading today is based on agape or what English speakers often refer to as God’s love. Here are explanations of that word:

agapáō – properly, to prefer, to love; for the believer, preferring to “live through Christ” (1 Jn 4:9,10), i.e. embracing God’s will (choosing His choices) and obeying them through His power. 25 (agapáō) preeminently refers to what God prefers as He “is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). See 26 (agapē).

ith the believer, 25 /agapáō (“to love”) means actively doing what the Lord prefers, with Him (by His power and direction). True 25 /agapáō (“loving”) is always defined by God – a “discriminating affection which involves choice and selection” (WS, 477). 1 Jn 4:8,16,17 for example convey how loving (“preferring,” 25 /agapáō) is Christ living His life through the believer**.

The primary emphasis in the Greek word translated love in the above scripture is that it related to goodwill and it is a chosen preference of the way we live as God chooses to love us. Our culture seems to see love as an enticement over which we have no control. Jesus chose to love the wild man of Gennesaret (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20) when no one else wanted to be near. He chose to love the son of the Syrian Phoenician woman (Mark 7:26) though in his religion/culture both she and the boy were unclean.  Jesus even loved James and John when they felt privileged and deserved more status than others (Mark 10:35-45) not understanding that following Jesus most likely meant great sacrifice. Who do we choose to love simply because they are another child of God deserving of our goodwill?

Prayer: Grant us the courage to choose to love others as you love us. Amen.

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

**https://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.

All Things New

Eastertide

May 17, 2019

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. –Revelation 21:5-6

I have never experienced the devastation of total disaster that happens like the level 5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma twenty years ago. The only thing left of many homes was the concrete foundation. Overhead pictures of the scene made it look spotlessly clean with those foundation slabs lined up in rows. Some victims of this storm lost their lives, some lost their livelihoods. Others were seriously injured. Those owners of foundations lost their homes and all its contents. All had to begin anew.

We need to think seriously about how much we want all things to be made new. Are we ready for the lamb to lie down with the lion? Do we long for all people to have enough—food, clothing, shelter, love, opportunity—to become fully the people God created them to be? Do we want to live among people who have no concept of greed or lust for power? Can we accept our worth as being established fully by the love of God with no comparison to any other? Until we grow into God’s love and let go of idols of our own making, we are not ready for all things to be made new.

We sing about it at Christmas time as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but the hymn, O come, O come Emmanuel* looks forward to the day when all things are made new. Are we ready for that?

Prayer:
O come desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Chorus:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!*, Amen.

*Seventh verse of O come, O come Emmanuel with Chorus by Latin hymn, 12th century, translated by John Neale, 1852 see at http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/hymn/ocomeoco.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.