Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Holy Wisdom

 


Philippians 1:9-10. NRSV

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless


When God asked King Solomon what gift he would like to have, he said, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” This pleased God so much that Solomon immediately received the gift of wisdom.  Indeed, that is what he is best known for.  (1 Kings 3:9, 12)


The gift of wisdom, the ability to determine what is best, is a precious gift indeed.  When we are filled with love for all of our siblings, it becomes easier to see what course of action is better for all people.  Clean air is good for all people.  Clean water is good for all people.  Healthy forests are good for all people.  Poison-free food is good for all people.   That’s pretty easy.


It becomes complicated when the desire for profit gets in the way. Companies who fill the air and water with pollutants would incur a great cost to clean up their act, and that would greatly reduce profits.  Cutting the Forestry Department’s budget for wildfire management pleases people who want lower taxes.  Factory farms that spray crops with all kinds of noxious chemicals to increase production would make less profit.    


We can do this kind of comparison with almost any issue in our society. Very few things are either entirely good or entirely bad.  Wisdom is the ability to discern what is best.  And wisdom is a very rare commodity, indeed.  “For wisdom is like her name; she is not readily perceived by many.” (Sirach 6:22)


Wisdom begins with a willingness to listen carefully and with an open mind to both sides of an issue in order to seek the truth that often lies somewhere in between.  According to the Psalmist:  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. (Psalm 111:10). and “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice. (Psalm 37:30). 


Wisdom begins with knowledge. Knowledge requires that we look beyond the surface arguments to determine all relevant facts.  Wisdom requires that we gain insight into the context and background of any given situation or report, and often requires questioning what we think we know.  The knowledge we gain in this way leads to the ability to discern what is right or wrong, just or unjust, what falls on the side of love and what does now.


Loving God, give us wisdom. Give us willingness to learn as much as we can before making decisions.  May our love for the other lead us to acts of righteousness and justice. Amen






Tuesday, September 29, 2020

My heart sings

 


Psalm 28:7 

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

    in him my heart trusts;

so I am helped, and my heart exults,

    and with my song I give thanks to him.


“With my song I give thanks to him.”. Yes, very much this.  


At 10:30 on Sunday mornings I am sitting at home in front of my computer with my communion elements close by waiting for worship to begin.  It begins with gathering music, then praise music and during the rest of the service there will be prayer music, message and communion and offering and benediction music.  Most of the time I sing the hymns lustily and with feeling.

Sometimes the voices of the Quarantine Qrew enrapture me and move me to tears so that I cannot sing.  But that’s ok.  My heart sings along with them.


I have heard people say that “If I cannot sing, it does not feel like worship”.  And I agree.  Which is going to make going back to in-person worship services that much harder for us. 


When we return to worship in our beautiful sanctuary, we will not be able to sing.  

We will not be able to pray the Lord’s prayer in unison or respond to the Pastoral Prayer together.


Even though we will all be wearing masks. 

Even though everyone has had their temperature taken on the way in.  

Even though we will be sitting  far apart from everyone except our own family.  

Even though we will not be able to hug each other.  

Even with all those precautions, we still won’t be able to sing.


For the safety of everyone present, and their families and friends and co-workers we cannot sing. 


That’s going to be hard.  I cannot imagine what that will feel like.


So I will continue to sing at home for as long as we worship at home.  I will continue to let my heart sing with the Qrew, and know that I will be able to do that, at least, when we come back together.


God of singers and musicians, from the earliest days we have worshipped you with music and thanksgiving.  We have written psalms and hymns to praise you.  We love to sing together, but when we cannot, help us to remember that we still worship you with the song in our hearts.  Amen



Sunday, September 27, 2020

Forgiven

 


Psalm 25:7.  NRSV 

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

    according to your steadfast love remember me,

    for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!


One of the things that should be on my gratitude list every day is my absolute belief in God’s grace and forgiveness - that God really does forget about my transgressions and the sins of my youth (although to be honest my “youth” did last until I was nearly 40).


In the church of my upbringing we went to confess our sins every week.  We would be given some penance - usually lots of time spent on our knees praying - and be granted absolution.  Which would have been fine and very Biblical.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”. (John 20:23).  But then I was taught that even if I confessed everything and received absolution, even if that happened in the last minutes before I died, I would still have to endure punishment in Purgatory for every one of the sins of my lifetime for thousands of years before I would be forgiven fully and allowed to enter Heaven.  


When I started attending 12 Step meetings people told me over and over again that:


There is a God, and it is not me. 

God loves me just as I am and wants only the best for me.  

God gave me free will so I could make my own life choices.

God will  forgive me everything, if I ask.  


Eventually I began to believe them.  I learned to go over my day each night, seeing where I went wrong and determining to do better the next day - and seeing what I did well so that I could keep doing that.


God forgives our sins and then allows us to start fresh as though they did not happen.  Each day is a new beginning, a new opportunity to choose the good, to make the decisions that are most likely to please God.  I am so grateful that my God loves and forgives and cares about me, even me, no matter what I did in the past.


Forgiving God, your willingness to forgive and allow a fresh start as many times as necessary is overwhelming.  I do not deserve your loving care and compassion, but I am so grateful for them.  I love you Lord and desire only to do those things that will please you.  Help me to choose the right today.  Amen

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Thy Word

Psalm 78:1
My people, hear my teaching;

    listen to the words of my mouth.


My first reaction to this sentence today was a snarky remark.  I will definitely be hearing words today. I’ll be listening to words for 3 hours during a virtual Annual Gathering of the Christian Church in Northern California/Nevada.  There will be reports and words and business items and more words.  I am so glad I don’t have to drive anywhere, but bummed that I won’t be able to see and hug all my friends.  


It seems like life is a series of “ooh, I like that part. . .but not so much that other part.” Or like a box of chocolates.  But at least with a box of chocolates you can pick the next one with a fair idea from the shape of the candy what sort it will probably be.  We can’t always choose the outcomes of the random events life brings us with any degree of accuracy. 


Who knew that there would be so much good to come out of Covid19 and the resulting shelter in place orders?  A lot of bad stuff, yes.  But it’s also forcing us to reach out harder to keep everyone connected with the congregation.  It has shown us the gaps in “All means ALL”.  Video worship means more people can be connected while at the same time some people who were at church services regularly can’t connect, so we have to work harder to connect them.  We were forced to step WAY outside our comfort zones to do things we never pictured ourselves doing.  Those of us who can work from home have found ourselves overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed and have FINALLY started paying attention to the oft repeated suggestions that we take some time for ourselves so we don’t burn out.  


In my case, I started getting serious about taking Monday as Sabbath Day a few months ago.  Then I instituted a new thing yesterday called “No Distraction Writing Day” because I kept having trouble getting all the things that needed to be recorded written ahead of time.  Only checked email once in the morning and then again when my writing was done.  No Facebook or Messenger.  It felt very strange to know when I woke up today that I didn’t have a deadline looming over me, because the stressful part was already done.  I did take many hours longer than usual to get the sermon to turn out ok, and I was whupped when I finished so I never did get to the Daily Journal.  *sigh* Regardless, I think this will be a good thing for me, and for the church.  It gives me the opportunity to focus solely on the Word without distraction from outside.  


Among the words out of God’s mouth was love your neighbor as you love yourself.  It seems to me that Covid19 has given us new opportunities to love, to share of ourselves, to reach out and to care for ourselves in ways we never did before.


Lord of Words, your words have given us direction, encouragement, and comfort.  They have energized us and provoked us to action.  May we be committed to listening to and learning from your Word, and then acting on what we have learned.  Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Tear down that wall

 


Ephesians 2:14    NRSV 

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 


If only.  If only the dividing wall of hostility would be broken down.  If only we could agree to at least discuss our differences and be willing to listen to one another.  If only . . .   And I’m not even talking about politics. I’m talking about Church!  


Paul was talking about the divisions between the Jews and Gentiles, the continuing arguments over whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised before being baptized and follow the dietary regulations.  Even then there were deep divides within the one Church, which I am sure really frustrated Paul who firmly believed that all of those things were side issues.  He continually wrote encouraging Christians to remember that they were Christians first - not Jew or Greek, man or woman, slave or free, eaters of meat or just vegetables.  He continually wrote that those things were not the important thing - the important thing is Christ, in whose death and resurrection we are all freed from the chains of sin.  


Clearly he was not successful.  There was one holy apostolic Church for a minute, then the splits began.  Christianity is currently divided into three general categories - Orthodox Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.  As each of these has also split over the centuries, often over something so small that all the others scratch their heads wondering what is the big deal, there are now so many different Christian traditions that no one can come up with an accurate count of them!   The number of total Christians can be figured, but not the number of all the different traditions of Christians.  Even then, quite a few of those different traditions refuse to accept the others as Christian to such an extent that over the last 2,000 years we have tortured and killed each other over our differences, in the name of Christ.


Even when a group of 10 or 12 denominations came together with the stated intention of forming an agreement whereby we can all worship together, our often small seeming differences kept us from coming to an agreement for decades!  


And yet - we all have Christ at the center of our being.  We all worship the same God, serve the same Savior, celebrate the same resurrection.  How is it we find so much to disagree about when the core of our belief is Christ?  As Rodney King famously said, “Why can’t we all just get along?” 


Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, we really should be able to accept one another in your name.  Yet our differences of opinion over ritual and tradition and even which translation of the Gospels we should use keeps us firmly on opposite sides of the fence when there should be no fence at all.  Help us accept each other, Lord. Help us work together in your name to bring the Beloved Community to the earth, as it is in heaven.  Amen




Wednesday, September 23, 2020

All the things . . .


 Romans 5:3-4 CEB

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.


Sometimes when I read this particular verse I think of the people of whom we might say, “She’s only happy when she has something to complain about.”. I’m pretty sure this is not the sort of response to problems that Paul is referring to.  Rather, he was talking about the ones who face down problems daily and just kept going - problems like poverty, racism, lack of health insurance, chronic illness, underemployment.  In pandemic time they add things like having to figure out how to get their kids educated without access to the internet while they themselves need to get to work every day so they all have a place to live.   Paul was talking about the folks who just keep doing the best they know how, whom every one in the community looks up to, who welcomes everyone and is willing to share what little they have with others who have less.  These are people of great character - and we all know some of them.  You can recognize them by the glow that seems to surround them, the glow of hope and faith, the knowledge that no matter what, everything is going to be alright.


I don’t have much in the way of problems in my life today.  Mine are more like first world person with privilege problems.  But even those can seem pretty overwhelming at times.  Sometimes I wonder how I am going to get through.  I’m being pulled in a half dozen directions. It’s not just that there is too much on my plate. It’s like I am sitting in front of a giant Thanksgiving Dinner that I have to eat all by myself.  Maybe trouble produces endurance, but when there are so many things in front of me, where do I even start?


At times like that I have to remind myself of the age old question “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.” And the other one, “Where should I start?   At the beginning.” It’s not always clear where the beginning is, but if I take a moment to settle myself I can usually find a starting point.  Whether it is a multitude of writing deadlines, or cleaning out the closets, once I get started all I have to do is keep going, doing one thing at a time, until I get finished.  


God of all the things, I know that with you any thing is possible, but sometimes there are just so many things to be done.  Help me to remember that I only need to do the next indicated thing, one thing at a time, until I have finished all the things.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Forgiving through love

 


1 Peter 4:8. NRSV

Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins.


I have found that it is so much easier to forgive someone you love - and by love in this instance I mean think of fondly.  If I like you anyway, forgiveness is not nearly as difficult as it is to forgive someone I already have issues with.  If I like you anyway, I am more likely to cut you some slack and let bygones be bygones.  If I don’t like you, however, each new incident tends to bring increased dislike and more difficulty in forgiving you for your behavior.


And it doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself I can love someone I don’t like, that in fact God requires that I love even the people I don’t like (or truly despise) - it is sometimes hard to wrap my mind around how to actually do that.


Then something happens to remind me of the difference between love and like.  In this time of Covid and wildfires it is not hard to imagine a tragedy touching the life of any person.  Maybe the person I dislike becomes seriously ill, or has an accident, or something else bad happens to them.  Then I immediately turn to concern for their wellbeing.  I pray for them, and I might seek tangible ways to help.  Any dislike or resentment is put away during time of crisis.


This is what Love is - the desire for another person to have all the good things I want for myself.  Not the perfect job or bigger car or visible good things.  Rather, peace of heart, joy, contentment with my lot in life, serenity, willingness to serve those in need...


In order to forgive, this is what I need to be able to do - to put my love, my desire for all persons to recognize God’s blessings in their lives ahead of my dislike of an individual.  In order to forgive I begin to pray for that person to have all those good things, blessings, and before long love replaces resentments and anger. I may still dislike you, but I can forgive you.  


Forgiveness does not require forgetting.  In the case of an abusive partner, for example, I have been able to forgive the behavior but remember it, and keep my distance for my own safety.


Perhaps even more importantly, having done all this I can then forgive myself for the anger and resentment I have allowed to take control of my mind.  I can forgive myself for whatever my part in whatever the situation was that required forgiveness in the first place.  


Forgiving God, I cannot imagine forgiving the same people over and over as I know you have done.  Yet that is precisely what you require of us.  May I love others sufficiently that I can forgive, even as you do.  Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Breathing out and breathing in

 


1 Peter 4:7b NRSV

“Be self-controlled and clear headed so you can pray.”  


I am reading a new book of daily devotions - I know, another one.  This one was written by my friend and colleague, Sandhya Jha and is titled “Liberating Love: 365 Love Notes from God.” (Available from Chalice Press and Amazon.com).  Today’s meditation came from 1 Peter 4:8-11, which sent me back to read the rest of that chapter.  I was struck by this - the 2nd half of verse 7.  There is so much for me to consider in just this one verse!  


This is why these daily meditations I write help me so much.  In writing a sermon I have to research and study and consider for whom I am writing and even put my feelings aside.  In these daily writings I can focus closely on one or two verses, and just respond with how it makes me feel.  These journal posts help me reach into myself and grapple with fears, pain, prejudices, denial as well as celebrating the joyful stuff.  


Be self-controlled and clear headed so you can pray.”  Right?  When my mind is spinning at 1,000,000 rpm I cannot pray.  I have to take a breath or twenty and calm myself in order to approach God with any words beyond “Lord, help me!”. Those words are good, and I use them a lot, but sometimes I need to speak my needs and fears out loud so that I can hear them more clearly.  When I am clear headed and under control of my emotions I am better able to see my situation, and to see what parts I can do and what parts I need to give to God.  


When I try to pray in the midst of reacting to the insanity of whatever crisis is going on, I often find myself doing a lot of circular thinking, or thinking I am in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  That is sometimes true, but usually not.  I won’t be able to see past that if I don’t take the time to settle myself.  


Breathing out slowly, I let the frustration and panic go.  Breathing in deeply, I welcome God’s love and peace into my heart.  I may have to do that quite a few times before my mind and heart have calmed down enough to begin praying.  Sometimes all that does is allow me to begin praying the Serenity Prayer,


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.


Sometimes it takes all of this to get to a point where I am clear headed and in control of my emotions and reactions enough to really speak to God, and then - and this is the most important part - listen for God’s response. I can hear a lot better when my mind is open and calm.


God of peace and quiet, I come to you for answers and for assurance.  I know that I cannot hear you when my mind is running at high speed.  May I always remember to breathe and calm down enough to listen when life is making me crazy.  Amen.



Saturday, September 19, 2020

Words of love.


 Ephesians 4:29      New Revised Standard Version

29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.


This is what I think pretty much any time I get on Facebook these days.  Even the kindest, gentlest people I know are beginning to be angry at the anger and rudeness.  That little angry face icon shows up more and more often - and that’s on the pages of ministers and other religious folk!  It would probably easier for me just to stay off social media, but a lot of my work takes place there.  I learn more about the families of my congregants and what is going on with them on Facebook than any other way.  In many circumstances it is the only contact I have with people.  So I have to be careful when reading posts to not let the anger get to me.


Speaking for building up seems to be a lost art.  We are quick to say, “Hey, that’s wrong. Don’t do it that way!” than to ask a person why they are doing whatever in the way they are doing it. They might need to be directed to do the thing differently, or you might learn a different way to do the thing. You never know.  When a child gets a low grade on a report card, praise them and encourage them to do better, don’t call them stupid and ask why they didn’t work harder.  See if they need help with the subject.  


I am as guilty of this as anyone else.  I often have to bite my tongue before the wrong words come out. Sometimes I don’t bite soon enough and I cause pain to another, which is rarely my intention.  Even customer service people who are giving me the one answer I really don’t want to hear deserve to be treated with grace and kindness.


If we truly love one another, we will speak gently, giving guidance and encouragement to the best of our ability.  But it seems, sadly, that our go-to reaction to anything that we disagree with even a little bit is that (overdone) meme of the two women screaming and pointing at the cat sitting at the table.  All of them look angry and accusatory, even the cat!  There is no grace evident in that picture at all.


It might be best to consider these questions before speaking:  “It is true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”   


Loving God, help me to learn to think first before speaking.  Let the words that come from my mouth always be spoken with love toward the other, that they might not cause pain.  May I always temper anger with love, and speak with grace and care to every person.  Amen.  




Friday, September 18, 2020

Awesome God!

 


Psalm 145:4  Common English Bible

One generation will praise your works to the next one,

    proclaiming your mighty acts.


I couldn’t seem settle to writing anything today.  None of the passages I read spoke to me.  Then a friend texted saying she was stuck halfway through writing her sermon for Sunday.  Somehow, I could relate.  LOL. We talked about a number of things relevant to her topic - Creation, specifically the sun, moon and stars.  And I said something like, “Look at how awesomely powerful God is, to create all of those amazing things, and yet he still cares about what happens to each one of us, and loves each one of us.” She liked it. I don’t know whether she will use it, but she liked it.


I think it is always good to remind ourselves of that - God’s immense power, and God’s love for humanity. We aren’t even his most powerful creature, but we are the one who is made in the image of God.  It is even more important that we don’t just remind ourselves, we need to tell our children.  


Teach all the children about God’s power and God’s love.  Teach them God created the world and everything in it, and the sun, moon and stars.  Teach them that Jesus loves them - red and yellow, black and white, all are precious is his sight.  But don’t teach them what too many of us learned - that God only loves you when you are good.  God isn’t Santa Claus, to make a list of the naughty children and withhold gifts from them.  No, God gives us all gifts, and then hopes we will use them wisely.  God doesn’t punish children for bad things their parents did. God doesn’t send a natural disaster to destroy an entire city because of something politicians did.  God is not so petty and mean spirited.


God is love.  This does not mean that God only does nice things that we will like, because part of love is justice, and justice is treating everyone fairly, and with mercy.  Sometimes love means saying No. 


God is not a butler, to fulfill our every prayer in just the way we want it.  Even though we may not get the thing or result that we prayed for, know that God did hear it, and answered it.  We just might not like the answer, because sometimes the answer is “No”, and sometimes the answer is “Not right now.”


Teach the children about God’s mighty works, so when they are grown they will know that God is good, even when some of God’s followers are not.  God is good, even when the church is not. And then they will teach their children.


Awesome God, I can’t even imagine the kind of power it takes to create a sun, to set the courses of the planets around it, and then to create not just that sun but an untold number of others and even more planets and moons around them.  But you did that, and then you created us, and you loved us.  Thank you God, for helping me to know that you are love, and that you are in my life today and every day.  Amen

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Sweet water


 Exodus 15:23-25. Common English Bible

23. When they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink Marah’s water because it was bitter. That’s why it was called Marah. 24 The people complained against Moses, “What will we drink?” 25 Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord pointed out a tree to him. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.


I love the miracles in the Bible.  I firmly believe in miracles and I believe that they do still happen.   It would be so awesome if God would just point out a way to sweeten whatever is bitter in my life.  I could say, “That thing is too hard!  Whatever shall I do?” and God would be all, “Just do thus and so, and it will be totally fixed.”  Yay, God!  


Yes, that would be awesome, and I would have learned nothing from the experience.  The things I learn the most from are the things that are hardest for me to do, things that cause the most pain.  If I could just rely on God to fix everything, or give me specific step by step instructions for every difficult situation I encounter, my spiritual life would be that of a child - if that child had a parent who never took the training wheels off that first bicycle. 


What God does do, however, is make sure I have access to people who can help me learn how to do that next difficult thing.   Not just official type teachers, but friends, classmates, 12 Step Sponsors, work colleagues, even random individuals who teach me important lessons - like what true generosity is, learned by watching a homeless person share one burrito with two friends who didn’t have anything to eat. 


God doesn’t give me step by step instructions, but God does make sure I have access to the tools and the knowledge that I need to do whatever it is that needs doing in my life, then leaves it up to me whether or not I will pay attention.  People I trusted told me how important prayer is, and that all you have to do in praying is talk to God as if God is a person. But I only knew how to pray the prayers I had memorized, and I wasn’t sure I believed God listened.  Then a difficult situation put me on my knees and I cried out for help from the depths of my heart. I poured out my pain, as if speaking with a trusted friend.  When I was finished, I felt heard.


I guess, in retrospect, God does point out ways to sweeten the bitter in my life - just not quite as clearly as the instructions that were given to Moses.  


Dear God, thank you, for all the people and the lessons you have put in my life to help me grow.  Thank you for listening, and for not just handing me the answers.  Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Embraceable you


 Psalm 103:13  

Like a parent feels compassion for their children—

    that’s how the Lord feels compassion for those who honor him.


I heard someone being interviewed on the radio this morning define compassion and empathy this way: compassion is feeling sorry for the other, empathy is feeling their pain.  They were pretty much right on, I guess. Webster.com defines compassion as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” and empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”


So, perhaps compassion is “I am so sorry that happened to you,” while empathy is, “I’ve been through something similar so I have an idea what that might feel like.”. Which perhaps explains why we find it easier to relate to Jesus than to God, as Jesus fully understood what it felt like to live among humans.  He knew what it was like to grow up with other children, recover from injuries, catch a cold, have to learn new things, grieve the loss of a parent, maybe even fall in love, and all of those other things that typical humans go through.  God does not experience life in the way humans do, but Jesus does/did.  God does not experience physical pain or death, but Jesus did.   When we consider God, we know that we cannot possibly measure up to God’s perfection, but Jesus was human, like us, and thus we can live as he lived.


This difference between how we perceive God and Jesus is part of why it is so difficult to explain the Trinity- God, Christ and Holy Spirit.  Trying to understand something that the greatest theological minds of every age have been unable to define clearly is, I think, a waste of time and energy for most of us.  It is one of the things that I simply believe to be true the nature of which I cannot even come close to understanding.  


There are, after all, a lot of things I don’t understand, but really don’t need to know, like how my iPad works.  It works and it makes my life easier, and more interesting.  That’s all I care about.  But I do care about my relationship with and perception of God.  It is good to believe that God feels compassion for me - that God feels sorrow for no other reason than because I am sad, and joy when I am joyful.  Knowing that God loves me as a parent loves their child is comforting.  I do not need God to be like me.  I only need God to care about me.  


Loving God, I am so grateful to know that you care for me as a parent.  Knowing that you have compassion for me gives me comfort, and lets me know that I am never alone.  I give thanks that you are always with me, holding me up in times of sorrow and embracing me in times of joy.   Amen.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Friends

 


Psalm 24:1 (NRSV) 

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,

the world, and those who live in it. 


When I checked Facebook this morning I noticed a comment (from a person I know in real life) on one of my sheltering in place posts that she is sorry that I am suffering from media induced fear of a not very dangerous flu.  Elsewhere I noticed she had made some anti-God-of-the-Bible posts and some blatantly racist posts. 


Periodically in the past I have chosen to take a break from this friend on Facebook and “ignore” her posts for a month or so.  I am well aware that some of my other friends routinely cut themselves off from people with whom they disagree so profoundly.  I simply choose not to engage her on those topics.  She is well aware of my position on these and other topics, and accepts that we do not agree.  If she were to attack someone else commenting on one of my posts I would un-friend her in a heartbeat, but not for simply stating her own opinion.  Not for simply disagreeing.  


You see, she and I have a number of things in common, and one of the most important of those things is this - we both believe that we don’t have to like everyone or agree with everyone, but we do have to accept others as they are.  We do have to love everyone.


This verse from Psalm 24 reminds me of that.


We belong to God.  All of us. We may not all behave as if we are God’s, or even believe that God is real, but we all belong to God.  God loves and accepts all of us, and has commanded us to do the same - to love one another.  Not just the people we like and get along with.  Not just the people we agree with. Not just the people who look like we do, or believe what we do, or behave like we do.  Everyone.   


Loving God, thank you for teaching us about love in so very many different ways. May we always remember that it is not just possible but necessary to accept others as they are right now, not as they might be or as we want them to be, but as they are.  Amen.



Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Why did he do that?

 


Matthew 21:18-22.  New Revised Standard Version

18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.


I’ve never understood this one, at all.  I’ve preached it as Jesus having a bad hair day, or Jesus making it really clear that he is, indeed, fully human.  But I still have never understood this story.  When Mark tells the same story in Chapter 11, he says “Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.” And then he cursed it.   To me, this makes the story even more incomprehensible because, dang, it wasn’t even fig season but Jesus got mad enough to curse the tree.  Talk about being “hangry”! 


Sometimes Scripture doesn’t tell stories the way we would like them to be told, even stories about Jesus. We think of Jesus as having been perfect, completely without sin, and forget that one of the most important things about Jesus is that he was human - fully human.  Sometimes humans act in ways that are less than perfect, because to be human is to be prone to error, even when that human is Jesus.   When we ask ‘What would Jesus do?” this story is not at the top of our list of examples to follow.


But this story also makes Jesus easier for me to relate to than when I am thinking he is perfectly well behaved all the time.  If even Jesus acts out now and again, that makes the rest of the stories even more amazing, because here is a normal human who is able to put aside typical human self centeredness in order to follow the will of God as close to perfectly as a human can.  If Jesus, a man prone to error and the occasional unprovoked outburst, can be such a devoted follower of God, then his example may be difficult for me to follow, but not impossible.   


Holy God, Lord of all, we thank you for sending Jesus to us as a human, with quirks and foibles like the rest of us, who follows your will to the best of his ability. May we remember his humanity as we follow in his footsteps along the path you have set for us.  Amen.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Mountains and Valley

 


Psalm 121:1-2

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

    where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.


We have a tendency to think of events in our lives as either mountain top or valley experiences.    Those are the times we remember best - the highs and the lows.  


When we are low, in times of need, we might feel abandoned.  We might cry out for God to come to us.  We may not remember that God does not ever leave us by ourselves. 


When we are high, we might think that we got there by our own efforts and merit, and forget to thank God for the gifts and talents that enabled us to climb to that height.


A few years ago I wrote a poem about highs and low and God’s presence.  


Whether on the mountain top

Or In the valley 

God is with us


But

Most of the time 

we aren't in either of those places 

Most of the time

we are just wandering along a level place 

sort of

Same Old

Same Old


God is with us there, too.


God of steadfast love, we thank you for always being with us, no matter where we are on life’s journey.  May we remember that no matter what, you are with us, upholding us with your love.  Amen.







Sunday, September 6, 2020

In loving obedience


 John 14:23. NIV

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.


I wonder what the world would be like if Christians took Jesus’ teachings most seriously?  I mean, we say we follow Jesus, but if we are honest we will see that too often we are following Paul  or Moses more closely than Jesus.  What would it be like if we were to ignore what Paul wrote entirely, and allowed the Laws of Moses to be condensed back into the Ten Commandments they expanded upon? All of the household codes that we disagree about are in the Epistles, not in the Gospels.  All of the abominations we fuss about are in the Laws of Moses.  Nothing Jesus said would lead us to approve of slavery, the oppression of women, the oppression of homosexuals, or the poor.  Nothing in the Four Gospels would lead us to allow the oppression of anyone, in fact.  What if we were to focus entirely on the two most important commandments, the two upon which Jesus said all of the Law and the Prophets depend?  


Mind you, there is much good in the Letters and the Books of Moses.  Both focus on how communities should get along together, but as time went those who interpreted the laws expanded upon them, making them more detailed and restrictive.  Even today, the Laws of Moses are continually revised and updated so that, for example, no one need question whether a thing is work or not as relates to Sabbath observance.  Everything is spelled out in great detail.  Jesus, on the other hand, was always a proponent of obeying the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.  


In the story of the Good Samaritan, the people who passed him were obeying the Law in avoiding contact with a person who was bleeding so that they might enter the Temple.  In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus went against the law to speak with that woman, but that enabled him to reach the entire village with the Good News.  When the Pharisees called Jesus out because his followers were plucking and eating grains - working! - on the Sabbath, Jesus reminded them that God had said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”  Again, when they called him out for healing on the Sabbath he called them hypocrits, “Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the manger and lead it away to give it water?”. The money changers in the Temple courtyard were operating lawfully, but even though lawful their actions were immoral, so Jesus chased them out.   Paul says women should not teach men, but Jesus sent the women to tell the men about his resurrection. 


When we are making a decision about an action, I think it is better to see how our action fits with the Love Commandments than with rules written by humans.  If we are wondering whether a thing is bad, we shouldn’t go looking for whether or not there is a rule against it.  If we have to ask whether it is wrong/bad/immoral, it probably is.  


If we love Jesus, we will obey his teachings, and he will live within us.


Lord of Love, may we always keep Jesus teachings at the front of our minds. May the laws of love which he taught us guide our words and actions always.  Amen

Saturday, September 5, 2020

A day for rest


 Psalm 149

1  Praise the Lord.

Sing to the Lord a new song,

    his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.


It’s been a long week.  It had the same number of days as all other weeks, but for some reason the things that filled those days was tiring.  Maybe part of why I am tired is the smoke and really bad air quality.  Maybe it’s because I had more writing and planning to do than usual.  Whatever the reason, I am tired today.


The author of the blogs I subscribe to writes daily, as I do.  But every now and then she says, ‘You know what?  I’m just too tired to write tonight.  I am going to rest this evening.  Good night, my friends.”


So I’m taking a leaf from her journal, as it were.  I will go rest and look forward to tomorrow’s worship service and sharing the Lord’s Supper with you all from afar.


Lord of Sabbath rest, you have commanded us to rest at least one day a week.  We give you thanks for permission to rest and relax so that we may be at our best in our worship and in our service to you.  Amen

Friday, September 4, 2020

Our Father in Heaven...


Deuteronomy 4:39  (NRSV)

39 So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.


Sometimes I think we forget that God is not just “in heaven above”.  I mean, we’re taught from an early age that God is up there.  When a loved one is gone, we tell children that they have gone to be with Jesus up in heaven.  When things are going really well, we say “Somebody up there must like me.”. When we pray some of us lift our hands and our eyes up to the sky, and speak as if God is above us, above the clouds.  Even the prayer that Jesus taught us begins by addressing “Our Father in heaven”.


So it’s probably not that surprising that sometimes we wonder where God is when stuff is hitting the fan.  “Where is God?” we say as we look up to the sky.  “Can God not see what is happening here?”  When that happens we may get discouraged and stop trying to do the right thing.  We may feel overwhelmed and alone. I think that is most likely to happen when we insist on seating God on a throne somewhere above the clouds, basking in the worship of the citizens of heaven, enjoying the music as choirs of angels sing Alleluias all the live long day.  


I believe that our God is a working God, sustaining the movement of the universe, paying attention to all of creation.  God not only sees what is happening, but stands right next to us, sharing our troubles and our joys while looking over our shoulders at whatever we are facing.  Not controlling the situation, but lending us strength and supporting us as we go through it.  


Sometimes it feels like Christians are all about how to get themselves into heaven by and by instead of doing the work of reconciling the world to God.  That’s what Christians are supposed to be doing, so that the earth can be like heaven, a place where abiding by God’s will is the rule not the exception.  We are supposed to be about the business of building the Beloved Community, a world where no one suffers oppression, and God’s justice and mercy rule.  God is our partner in that work, sometimes whispering suggestions in our ears, sometimes finding it necessary to hit us upside the head with a “God by 4” to get our attention.  


Where ever we are, God is with us, and we can take heart from that knowledge.  We are never alone, never abandoned, never neglected.  No matter what is going on, God has our backs, and all will be well.


Loving God, who lives in the heavens and on the earth, we are so grateful that you stand with us through the ups and downs of our lives.  Help us, we pray, heal the world, so that all persons can come to know your love and your peace.   Amen.