Friday, November 30, 2012

November 30 - Advent

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C

Psalm 25:1-10

Nehemiah 9:16-25

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

Today’s Reflection:

Some say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” but little things matter. My eyes widened and I experienced a genuine, “ah ha!” moment when reading the Nehemiah passage because it relates the details God remembered throughout the years of wandering the Hebrews faced before entering into the Promised Land – and equally important details when they arrived. In verse 21 the statement, “their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell,” first elicited a “Wow. They put that in the Bible?” reaction, but in rereading the passage it became a, “Wow! God thinks of EVERYTHING!” reaction.


My closet may be stuffed with more clothes that it can comfortably hold, but the Jews in the desert were not able to drop by Macy’s for replacements and they did not stop long enough for the cotton crop to reach maturity.


And their feet did not swell? How amazing is that!? I have resorted to only wearing shoes with hidden elastic to accommodate for my feet swelling after a day of walking around my workplace. Swollen feet may seem minor, but in unforgiving shoes – or barefoot – can change a good day to a bad one in a hurry.


Just as God thinks of everything, he wants us to be mindful of the details in our lives. As we anticipate Christ’s return, we have responsibility to act in the way he calls us to. The Thessalonians passage guides us in honoring one another through holding one another accountable in a loving way. We are instructed to maintain a faithful lifestyle, working toward Christ’s return with his to-do list.

Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29 - Advent

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C

Psalm 25:1-10

Nehemiah 9:6-15

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Today’s Reflection:

Today inaugurates the studies of Advent, a time of joyful anticipation of the presence of God with us through the coming of Jesus Christ. Each passage today establishes that anticipation. The Psalm, in verses 4&5, gives us the reason for this time of reflective expectation: Make me to know your ways, O Lord….” What better way to start the season with an open heart and mind. Nehemiah completes the picture by reminding us of the God of creation and the God of the people we know from the Bible. The completeness of God surrounds us: he has been with us before.


The New Testament passage from 1 Thessalonians reminds us of the reason we as Christians have the season of Advent. Christ already came to earth and left the Spirit so that we can “know his ways,” but he also promised to come again. Our duty as Christians is to be every vigilant to Christ’s actions in this world. As we begin a liturgical year and move into the Christmas season, we remember the birth of the baby, but we also anticipate the final return of the Lord.

Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 25 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 118, 145

Zechariah 9:9-16

1 Peter 3:13-22

Matthew 21:1-13

Today’s Question:

How do I determine whether I am doing the right thing?

Today’s Reflection:

Whenever I go to a big social event – it is rare, but it happens – I glance at the door panel of my truck, still unpainted Bondo four years after having it repaired. It looks bad but has nothing to do with the operations of the truck and somewhat reflects my view of a truck’s function: it works. A car, on the other hand, would have been painted right away. Still, when I go to that social function I feel a bit self-conscious about the entrance I make. Today’s passages foretell and describe the entrance of a triumphal Jesus and I feel a bit better because he comes in on the truck of his time.


This final Sunday in Ordinary Time and the liturgical year has us focus on the final Sunday of Christ’s physical life. He comes into town in the midst of great attention, energizing some and angering others. Some interpret the Zechariah passage as predicting a powerful warrior-king coming to retake the Holy Land with force. The passage though, with Jesus coming in on the donkey actually shows the anti-warrior-king, someone who neutralizes the warring forces and returns the land to covenant peace. The force of God’s presence proves sufficient to defeat those who would dominate the land with the sword (or power, or money).


The peaceful interpretation gets further fulfilled in the Matthew passage when the people respond to Jesus’s arrival at Jerusalem with peaceful celebrations and exultant joy. They connect to his lowly status and embrace his message of justice. The masses respond to the force of God’s presence and it proves sufficient to mobilize those in power against the prophet in their midst. Their positions are far too comfortable to be encumbered with his message and they are blinded by the work they have done to get into those positions to see how discrepant they are to the real work of God.


Jesus’s defiant cleansing of the Temple, particularly threatened those in power. The money changers and vendors within the Temple walls served those in power by taking advantage of the people coming to worship, charging them so they could worship and tithe following the Pharisees’ rules. Jesus, by throwing out the money changers, in a way baptized the Temple. He cleansed its spirit. 1 Peter describes that same effect on us through baptism. Baptism is not for the body, but for the spirit. As we face challenges, regardless of past sin, we are able to power through them, as Christ did, when we have a clear conscience.


Today’s scriptures remind us that the vehicle does not matter nearly as much as the message. Christ’s message changed his world because he lived the intent of the law instead of the letter. He demonstrated to all who saw and heard him that all of God’s commands came from a position of love and any other application violated the law. The law, followed to the letter without consideration of its intent, can actually do harm to the physical and spiritual lives of those upon whom it is inflicted. Jesus set the example for us, proving that the force of God’s presence is enough. Through our baptism, we access that force and are capable of doing anything he asks of us.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us keep a clear conscience as we daily immerse ourselves in God’s will and labor with God’s intent.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

November 18 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 66, 67, 19, 46

Habakkuk 1:1 – 2:1

Philippians 3:13-4:1

Matthew 23:13-24

Today’s Question:

How do we respond when things do not go our way?

Today’s Reflection:

The news about the fall of the CIA chief over the past week has fascinated me. The way such a powerful man could be driven to disgrace by actions that started off with nothing to do with him. As the intrigue grew, so did the circle of connections. A bizarre threatening email by a jealous woman leads to the downfall of some of the most powerful men on earth. The prophet Habakkuk saw the power threatening the Jews and could not imagine anything overcoming the invading hoards. We know the outcome and we know the power of God to overcome in overwhelming situations, but when the situation happens with us, we still wonder.


Habakkuk uses the most powerful language he can – referring to fearsome beasts from nature to describe the threatening forces. Putting them all together gave the sense that there was no way to stand against them and the invasion doomed Israel to utter destruction. He begged God to explain how he could stand back and let that happen. He focused on the present time and experience of the people while acknowledging the eternity of God.


The Philippians passage looks toward the future. The author encourages us to look forward to understanding more than we can possibly grasp in the now. He goes on to explain the nature of heaven and our eternal status. In contrast to the impending doom of Habakkuk, the Philippians receive a vision of the glorious victory promised to believers.


The two passages frame the options we have in facing adversity. We can focus on the now and be overwhelmed by the circumstances around us or we can focus on the future based on the knowledge we have through faith. Finding the bright side during the darkest times seems an impossible challenge, but scripture gives us the example and repeatedly describes the outcomes we will someday see. With the examples of those who came before us and the hope for our own future, the positive is much easier to find.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us have the vision of focus on the future and keep our minds clear of the clutter that comes with our present circumstance.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 11 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 93, 96, 34

Ezekiel 14:1-14

1 Corinthians 14:1-12

Matthew 20:1-16

Today’s Question:

How much does our intention matter?

Today’s Reflection:

Gadgets, gadgets everywhere. Infomercials. Commercials. Facebook. No matter where I turn, I see some new gadget I WANT. I HAVE TO HAVE! I am that gadget guy. I am the child with a favorite new toy that I play with non-stop until I get a new favorite toy. I idolize gadgets. I can always justify how each gadget increases my performance: they are all so useful. Really, though, I just want it and that is my intention. Our intentions impact much more than the toys we have, they guide our spiritual journey and the effectiveness we have in our ministry. Today’s passages examine the intentions of those who have and are seeking spiritual gifts.


The great prophet Ezekiel faced the challenge of advising people who clung to idols as much as, or more than, God. The verses tell us they “took them in their hearts.” The prophet knows that and wonders whether he should work with them or not. God responds to him, reminding him, that he is God’s voice to the people and that nothing God says to him will be misleading. Unless he delivers the message, or if he changes it, he will be condemned before the people.


The Corinthians passage considers spiritual talents and how they function to build and support the church. Paul, after identifying the role of prophet in the Christian church in chapter 12, reaffirms the value of prophesy in the New Testament church, which included a group of early followers with a special place in the church. Such prophecy though, falls more at the level of teacher/instructor with guidance from the Holy Spirit, rather than the direct message of God as with Ezekiel. Because the prophesy/teaching comes through our filters (beliefs, previous knowledge, worldview) the prophesy/teaching may be incorrect or slanted. It is not automatically wrong. Without it there would be no teaching, each hearer, though relies on their own understanding through the Holy Spirit to judge the teaching they receive.


A passage ostensibly about salary following two passages focusing on prophecy seems out of place; however, the Matthew passage connects the idea of pay to God’s parsing out of spiritual gifts for those seeking to use them. They are God’s to give as we are willing and able to use them. God may certainly empower anyone to do anything that he wishes. The key to receiving that power, though relates to our willingness to do what is asked. The workers in the parable, whether hired in the morning or late in the day, were all willing to do the work at hand.


Following the passage on love, Paul reinforces, repeatedly in the passage today the importance of seeking and using spiritual gifts that support the work of the church, rather than ones that benefit the recipient individually. Our intention should extend beyond ourselves with love as the motivation.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us open our hearts to the gifts God has for us and gladly use them to grow his kingdom with love and charity for all.


Veteran's Day - And Justice for All

         Each year at Veteran’s Day, we reflect on the sacrifices made by those who served in our armed forces to preserve the freedoms we value so highly as a nation. We remember those who died and honor those who returned. We celebrate that we live in a country whose ideals have survived wars, social change, political upheaval, expansionism and isolationism. No matter the prevailing winds, the commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and “liberty and justice for all” reign in each philosophy though we have many different ideas about how to get there and what those phrases exactly mean. Nevertheless, we celebrate them unquestioningly.

         In the last decade, and most vociferously in the latest election, debate raged over what these things mean in the scope of the government and the church. Labels like “socialist” and “bigot” flew from both sides toward anyone who believed differently than the insulter. Rather than examine the beliefs of the other, name calling became the easier tack. Anyone who understands what either of the terms means, knows that they were grossly misused, thus meaningless except for the sting of insult and serve to hurt the Christian image on both sides.

         It is no wonder the fastest growing religious group, is the group of people affiliated with no church whatsoever. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler, Jr., noted that their message had gotten out to the public, but that it was rejected. The polls finding that more people were turning away from the church are doing so because of the judgmental attitudes of those who proclaim Christian morals.

         This is exactly where the Church gets it wrong. From the books of the law through the prophets, Gospels, and epistles, acting with justice toward all overwhelms every other direction given to God’s people in the Bible. The Bible is equally explicit that God will be the judge, not us. As long as we spend our time fighting over who is or is not a Christian, both sides are being equally unchristian. We only regain Christian when we turn our faith into action by doing what Jesus commands.

Let’s be absolutely clear. Christian social justice, be it church or state originated, is far removed from Socialism. Social justice, from the Christian perspective, means removing barriers to equality for all people and caring for those, who, in times of need, are incapable of caring for themselves. Removing barriers involves guaranteeing that the justice and financial systems do not lock people into a lifetime of need, but that even the poorest can work their way out. Caring for others includes making certain people have the food, shelter, and medical care needed to overcome whatever situation makes them incapable of caring for themselves. Social justice means elimination of barriers keeping people from equal access. No one should be trapped in a lifetime of poverty or need due to confinement of social systems.

Likewise, social justice does not mean a lifetime of support from church and state systems. When the barriers are eliminated and the basic needs met, one is expected to leave the situation behind, move forward, and then help others who are needy as they become able. Some, through illness (including mental illness) or injury may need a lifetime of support, but it is not the norm.

         The central Gospel in New Testament social justice comes in Matthew 25, though it is hardly the start or end of the social justice message. The other Gospels include teachings from Jesus regarding wealth and the poor. Acts and the Epistles offer examples of how the church cared for the needy, the orphans, and the widows. Jesus brought all the law and prophets down to two commandments in Matthew 22:37-40. Love God wholly and love your neighbor as yourself: the laws about treatment of the disenfranchised continue into the New Covenant.

         While there is no doubt and little disagreement about what the Bible tells the church and Christians to do regarding the needy, much debate rages about the state role in social justice. Here too, the Bible makes it clear, that nationally, we are responsible to those in need. The law for Israel demanded that the nation care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the traveler: it was a national responsibility. Verses across the prophets describe the judgment of God on the nation coming because the nation refused to take care of all its residents. Nationally, we are responsible to make certain our social systems (legal, financial, medical) do not protract the length of time anyone spends in need.

         Unfortunately, the churches are spending too much time fighting over theology to meet those temporary needs for most, so nationally we are responsible to minimize the need within our boundaries if we are to call ourselves a Christian nation.  If every church lived their theology as much as they publicized it, there would be little need for the government to do social work beyond education. We, who call ourselves Christian, must do, not just believe. The doing is much harder than the believing, but it is what makes us Christian. If we believe it then we must do it. If we do not do it and shift the responsibility to the state, then we have no right to call anyone who advocates for state programs socialist or liberal.

         We, Christians, abdicated the responsibility and likewise relinquished any authority for name calling. The last election showed that the majority of the country do not buy fundamentalist social arguments, divisive rhetoric, or scare tactics over religious liberty and it is killing the (big C) Church. The only way left for the Church to regain credibility is for the Church to start being church and doing those things necessary to act on the mission of Christ.

         I am the first to admit that there are missions I have never been able to do. I have tried, but cannot bring myself to work with the homeless. As a trained counselor, I see too much mental illness among the homeless in the times I experiences I have had with homeless populations. I feel the need to “counsel” and help, but the opportunity to do meaningful counseling does not exist within any current structure. As an educator, though, I have ample opportunity to make a difference with that population and that is part of my ministry.

         My counselor training says not to use words like “must” and “should,” but as a Christian, the Bible directs us to the “musts” and “shoulds” any follower of Christ is to do. For me, God surpasses counseling philosophers. No matter where one looks in the Bible, social justice is the directing philosophy. The church will always lose the argument on social justice when its words, rather than its actions, dominate the headlines. We, people of the church, have been even farther behind at some points in history. We, people of the church, have overcome at some points in history to guide state policy.

         It was done with action, not words. Listen to the prophets. Live the Gospel. Love God wholly. Love your neighbor as yourself. That is social justice. That will change the world.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Food and Spirituality

         Making and eating food are among the most spiritual acts I perform. From gardening, ranching, and hunting in childhood, I have always had a close relationship with much of the food I ate. From the fresh vegetables raised in our garden, to the beef from the calves we raised then sent to slaughter, to the venison and other game meats we hunted, my hands had a role in the processing from beginning to end.

         Living in the city now, I have a modest garden in my back yard that produces more squash and tomatoes than I can eat, but certainly comes nowhere near sustaining me. The back yard definitely will not support a herd of meat animals or even a flock of chickens, so I am forced to rely on the grocery store or meat market for them. Until the time comes for me to slice and cook, I have no connection to most of the food.

         Despite the void between ground/hoof and table, the act of preparation remains spiritual for me. I do not exercise enough. I do not sleep enough. I drink too many high-caffeine drinks. Cooking and eating well prevent my body from going totally to pieces. Cooking and eating well honor who I am. I enjoy it and gain great satisfaction in preparing something delicious from the ingredients I am given.

         The relationship between each part of the meal encourages reflection on the connections between parts of my life. Too much of any one ingredient puts the dish out of balance. Friends, work, family, and God all shape who I am; they are the ingredients to me. Just like a recipe, any one out of proportion alters me and the person that I am. Food connects every aspect of life friends, work, family, and God. At the table, at a restaurant, or even in passing, food offers that moment of connection even if it is in passing.

         Perhaps, at a certain point, my career will allow me the opportunity to live on land again instead of being confined to the small spaces of the city and will allow me the chance to raise the majority of the food I eat. I like that connection, but it is not necessary for food to be a central spiritual aspect of my life. God is present no matter how many hands touch the food and I take solace in that knowledge.



November 4 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 24, 29, 8, 84

Ezekiel 20:27-44

1 Corinthians 12:27 – 13:13

Matthew 18:21-35

Today’s Question:

How do we love the way God wants us to?

Today’s Reflection:

A few years ago, I spent a few years studying the minor prophets in the Old Testament. It was one of the most fascinating studies I have ever undertaken – and it certainly opened my eyes to how we throw around the terms prophet and prophecy, and how we cite ancient prophesies in relationship to events today. We can take lessons from them, as the scriptures today provide, we just have to be careful what we say.


We have a living language that alters meaning over time, but applying current meaning to ancient language gives us a warped understanding of that time. The prophets in Israel’s history were specific people and they delivered a specific message for a specific people at a specific time. God did not speak a warning intended for centuries in the future. Those who connect the events of prophetic history to events today, fail to understand the specificity with which they were delivered. One can easily cite some great disaster as a threat if things are not done a specific way: that disaster has come and gone.


What we need to focus on comes in the verses preceding the disaster. How did the people fail God? Are we doing the same thing? What we know from the prophets is that God will act for those who do not follow his command and under the New Covenant that command is love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The passages from Corinthians and Matthew reinforce that concept emphatically. Throughout the Old Testament prophets when God’s people failed to care for the needy (their brothers and sisters, fellow Israelites, strangers in the land), when the wealthy let their means isolate them from the poorest rather than become a tool to alleviate desperation, when idols – both intentional and accidental – took the place of God, God takes action.


The recent trend crossing my news feed from religious groups carries the theme of how the church is failing and what can be done to change it. My news feed from secular press regularly reports on religious figures who make inflammatory, controversial statements. Largely, the religious groups find that people are turned off by the vocal message promoting a legalistic, agree with me or-else, image of Christianity. The secular press finds that people mock inflammatory statements and see the church as an arcane joke. People are right to be turned off against that church – it is not the church of Christ, or even Paul. Both of them focus on love in the passages from Matthew and Corinthians today.


Paul’s listing of spiritual gifts – then calling them worthless without being used in love demands that we consider our language of faith, our view of others, and our own belief of who God loves. Instead of polarization and judgment, unity and compassion may be the key to revitalizing the church. Threats of Hell never saved anyone; ministrations of love saved everyone who has been saved.


Loving, as God wants us to do, is incredibly hard. If it were easy, the command would not repeated so many times in Jesus’s lessons and the apostles Epistles. Loving, as God wants us to do, requires that we get out of our own head and into God’s head. If we really believe God sent his son to be tortured and killed for our sin, our shortcomings, is there anyone we should not love in his name? Failing to love will bring a response from God. The prophets of the Old Testament give us dozens of examples when that happened. The calamities they foretold will not be the punishment God sends our way, but as God created all things, he will find the punishment that is right for us.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us love with the heart of God as he has given us that love.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints Day 2012

From time to time I read a story of incredible violence and torture inflicted on one group of people by another. Sometimes it occurs in full-scale war, other times just in a tribal dispute. Regardless of the source, the harm one person can inflict on another exceeds even the imagination of Stephen King. Passages from the Old Testament and some from the New Testament give us cringe-worthymoments better than any horror film and illustrate just what challenges the faithful have withstood to continue the story to present times.

In the final verses of Hebrews 11, we get a listing of named and unnamed Biblical figures to consider in comparison to our present circumstances. The various heroes and martyrs overcame great odds and suffered unthinkable torture for the sake of their faith. Despite the incredible abuse heaped upon the Old Testament Jews for their adherence to God's law, the young Christian church faced similar persecution from the Jews and other powers in the world.

Instead of being stuck in the daily challenge to do right, we have the chance today to reflect on those who did do right and consider our challenges in perspective to theirs. All Saints Day prompts time for reflection of what is and is not a challenge for us. Taking the time to reflect on saints of the past and those within my own life experience humbles me. Yes, everyone has their own thorn. Everyone has their own tribulation. But I do not know anyone who has been sawn in half.

Let us take this day to reflect and consider what we are called to do in light of the obstacles in our way. Nothing I find in my life comes close to those things the saints before me faced.