Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent - Week 4 - Love

Isaiah 7:10-16
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

This final Sunday in Advent, we focus on love. The love God has for all of creation is important.  The love Jesus has for all people leading to the chance for salvation is important.  Without them the world would cease to exist - at least in any form we would recognize. As important as the love of God and the love of Jesus are, in the forefront of the scriptures this week is the love of people for God that affects the outcome of his kingdom on Earth.

In the Old Testament I think it is hard to find many figures who loved God more than the prophets. God gave them the thankless duty of delivering his message to the entire nation - from leaders to the least powerful. Most of their messages harshly condemned widespread behavior in the society that violated God’s rules. When they gave good news for an undisclosed point in the future very often the people realized that the good news was not even going to happen in the lifetime of their children (and sometimes even later). It takes a great deal of love to faithfully recite the message from God to the people. Isaiah faced that when the leader refused to do what God directed (ask for a sign). Instead he was forced to tell them of the sign (Messiah) who was to come some generations in the future.

In the Romans passage, Paul describes the process by which Jesus’s followers came to have the authority available to them: believe that Jesus was God’s son. After believing in Jesus, the believer is expected to love God enough to complete their part of God’s plan. In Paul’s case it meant giving up his prominent position within the Jewish religious elite to replace it with a New Covenant that also included the Gentiles. Early Christians abandoned tradition for a new teaching.

The story in Matthew would be vastly different if Mary and Joseph had not loved God as much as they did. Despite fantastical occurrences that friends, family, and society would have rejected outright in the moment, Mary and Joseph loved God enough to follow his direction and trust everything would work out as he promised. They too rejected traditional ways of behaving in the circumstances and followed the way God directed them to go.

We often refer to the power of love in trivial ways, but when we see the power love carried through these passages we begin to understand the transformative power of love in the world around us. As we reflect on the impact love had on the Christmas story we can also reflect on the many times Jesus gave directions to love. What would happen if we truly started loving with a love equal to that found in the scriptures today? Our world might be a little more like God wanted it to be. That’s the power of love.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent - Week 3 - Joy

Isaiah 35:1-10
Luke 1:46-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

In the third week of Advent we focus on the joy of the return of the Lord. The passages this week continue with the idea of Christ coming as a judge, yet we as the faithful take joy in that idea that when he comes, the world will be the one of justice we should be striving for today.

Isaiah and Luke both give us examples of celebration. In Isaiah we hear of the earth, the natural creation, celebrating God’s presence. Mary’s ecstatic response to being chosen fills the verses in Luke. I can only imagine how transformed we would be if we could celebrated with the joy that brings a desert into celebration and a young girl into song. As Christians we have reason to celebrate with such exuberance.

Our worship services, even the most dynamic contemporary services, are so scripted and routine that we find it quite comfortable to slip into the routine.  The gift we have through Christ, though, should cause us to worship in true celebratory fashion. Our social norms do not accept such ecstatic worship as we see in Isaiah and Luke; however, when we encounter God personally, we will find it impossible not to rejoice with our entire being.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent - Week 2 - Peace

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

A few weeks ago, one of the passages (Nov. 24, Colossians 1:11-20) gave one of the most complete descriptions of who Christ was in the human form for his ministry on earth. This second week of Advent we get another thorough description of Christ and who he is when his kingdom is established.

The Romans passage continues the lesson from the first week concerning living differently than the rest of the world. Specifically it deals with the welcoming of Gentiles; however, we can understand it to mean that we are to welcome people of all backgrounds. Just as Christ transcended traditions and rules of that time, he expects us to look beyond our culture and comfort zone in cooperation with others. God expects us to seek peace with all people. As the Prince of Peace he desires that we live in peace.

Isaiah 11 gives us the description of Christ. Recounting his human lineage which gave him all the physical nature of humankind. Describing God’s characteristics in Christ, we see the complete nature of God in him. In his kingdom natural harmony prevails. Christ judges all humankind and peace so prevails that even animals we know to be predator and prey coexist side by side. The harmony intended for the creation finally comes to fruition.

This week as we celebrate the peace of Christ, we are challenged to imagine just what that peace means. When we truly embrace God’s direction to welcome all people, we approach the vision from our imagination.  Advent guides us through anticipation of the Lord’s return, but even as we work through the anticipation, we are reminded that until that day comes, we are charged with providing an example of that coming kingdom in our lives.

Advent - Week 1 - Hope

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 12:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The Advent season brings us to the start of a new liturgical year and preparation for the Christmas season. This year we begin with the powerful reminder that God set us apart from the rest of the world. We are required to stand out and demonstrate to the world the expectations God has for our interactions with one another. We have been given the power to live in the world, among everything that entails, while maintaining a standard above the world.

We can live this way because we look forward to the return of Christ and this Advent season we prepare for that return. As we know what Christ will do with his kingdom we can avoid the conflicts common in humanity. When the ultimate judge is coming, our conflicts suddenly seem pointless.

Standing apart from the world while being immersed in the middle of it challenges even the most faithful. None of us are perfect, but with the help of Holy Spirit and guidance from the Scriptures, we do our human best. We have support and knowing when to use them shows both wisdom and faith. We just need need to find the endurance to persevere until Christ’s return.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 24 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Luke 1:68-79
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43
Today’s Reflection:
Today marks the final Sunday of another liturgical year. We have experienced the anticipation of Advent, the joy of Epiphany, the torment of Lent and Holy Week, the ecstasy of Easter, the empowerment of Pentecost, and heard a call to action and justice through Ordinary Time. Today we reflect on the function of the Christ summarized in Old and New Testament writings.

Human leadership ultimately fails the people. As well intentioned as they may be (or as self-serving as they may be), human leaders are human and have all the flaws that come with the limitations of the body. In Jeremiah, God, specifically addresses those leaders who misled through through their own evil intentions.  The prophet specifically refers to these who misled the people shepherds add scorn to their ineffectiveness. Shepherds played a valuable role in society as they protected the flock that provided food and other products for the community. The shepherd’s job was to keep the flock together and safe from predators. Effective shepherd held much respect; ineffective shepherds held no respect. Using the term shepherd placed these false leaders into a position of scorn.

Jeremiah does not spend the entire passage bashing those who have harmed the people, he goes on to tell of the one coming to reunite the people with God like none other has. The passage is cited upon the birth of John as his father recognizes he is the one paving the way for the prophesied leader.

In Colossians we get one of the clearest pictures of the identity of Christ. He is purely and completely God - the creator and beneficiary of all creation. For us, though, he became the physical manifestation of God so that we, with our limited ability to grasp the full nature of God could have something we could comprehend. In  one passage we get the eternal history, purpose, and eternal future of  God with us.

Very often, just when I think I have begun to fully grasp the nature and purpose of God in my life, something happens to remind me that God continues to be bigger than my mind can fathom. Rather than being an unbearable frustration, knowing there is more to find keeps me seeking.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

November 17 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 65:17-25
Isaiah 12:1-6
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19
Today’s Reflection:
One thing I like about working in education is that every school year comes with a fresh beginning. The previous year is boxed away (literally - grade and attendance documents are stored away until it is legal to destroy them) and teachers have new students and students have new teachers. Whatever happened the year before has been forgotten and we start the new year with new hope and energy. Unfortunately, the rest of our lives do not operate quite the same way, so we do have some hope when we see the hope a new beginning from God.

The Isaiah passages consider God’s role in our lives and the world he wanted. The verses from Chapter 12 celebrated God’s forgiving power in that even when we are doing wrong, God loves us enough to put aside his wrath and be our salvation. Chapter 65 describes the right and orderly world, as God intended, that he will bring about for the well-being of the faithful. God’s care for us is intentional when we do as he expects.

The passage in 2 Thessalonians reminds us that our work as Christians does not stop when we believe - that is where it begins. We all have a purpose and a job to do. Being idle or a busybody were people taking advantage of the generosity of the early church. The lived off the church without contributing anything to their own well-being. Others in the church worked to support themselves and then gave to the church. Paul reminded them, that regardless of his stature in the early church, he and his companions worked to pay their way, not expecting gifts from others.

Jesus shares a world of chaos and calamity in the Luke passage. Wars, famine, earthquakes, plagues will happen on the earth but we should not be tricked into believing that any of those things mark his return to the earth. The people acting in faith will always find themselves at risk by powers, religious groups, and even their own families, yet he assures them that not even a hair on their head will perish. This was not a physical promise Christ made, but a spiritual one. Many were martyred - but their souls have eternity through enduring in the faith.

New beginnings. Fresh starts. Our Christian faith, built on grace, accepts that none of us is perfect: we are human. Fortunately, we worship God who values us enough to let us be works-in-progress during our physical lives with the promise of becoming the perfect creation of his vision in the New Jerusalem.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

November 10 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Job 19:23-27
Psalm 17
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38
Today’s Reflection:
Whether I am feeling it or not, I make an effort to present a confident face in my work and public roles. For those positions where I am in a position of leadership it reassures those following me and bolsters their own confidence. Inside I may be feeling everything but confidence, but my posture, words, and actions mask it as much as possible. Each of today’s passages offer words from some of the greatest exemplars of faith in the Bible.

Job’s passionate declaration that no matter what happens, no matter what discouragement comes his way, he knows God, his redeemer, will be at his side in the judgment. Despite the lowness of his circumstance, he is confident that his right-ness with God will end in justice being done. He is so confident, his declaration opens with the wish that the words are recorded in a book and on a rock so they will last forever.

Likewise, Paul, in his assurances to the church at Thessalonica, knows that circumstances do not always merit confidence when we see them from our earthly perspective. The world was changing around them making many of them wonder if they were in the right. Paul reminded them that Christ had warned of such circumstances and that regardless of what happened in the world, his word was constant. Being connected to the eternal truth, as Job knew, ensures justice in the end despite the challenges that intervene.

The religious leaders in Jesus’s time never did learn the lesson about arguing the Word with the Word.  This time the Sadducees, leaders who did not believe in a resurrection (the Pharisees did) thought they found a loophole in the law that would cause chaos in a resurrection world. Their fault, like ours often is, came from seeing the situation from a human, earthly, finite viewpoint. The earthly order is not the heavenly order. In the heavenly, infinite, experience where there is no beginning or ending, there is no need for the institutions we employ. In heaven, we may or may not see grandpa. Even if we do, that powerful emotional connection we have with family on earth pales to nothingness compared to the connection we will have with God when we are in his presence.

Like Job and Paul, we also possess the justification for confidence. Job, Paul, and Jesus gave us the key to that confidence: focus on the eternal not the temporal. When we get drawn into human understanding, everything has limits. With God, no such boundaries exist and our assurances are well placed. It is hard to do those things that we have never seen, but we have directions - we just have to get past ourselves to follow them.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

November 3 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10
Today’s Reflection:
My biggest frustrations come when I have followed all the rules and directions and yet the results do not come out as anticipated. Usually, it’s a recipe that proves my frustration and emotional undoing. The cake didn’t rise or fell apart in crumbs. Cooking, baking in particular, follows set scientific rules, so any slight deviation leads to chaos. Many people seek to have a similar set of rules for religion but today’s scriptures remind us that our attitude has much more to do with meaningful faith than any set of rules.

The people Isaiah spoke to followed the rules on every occasion. When it came to ritual they had it down. They never missed a chance to come for worship. God replied to them, “STOP IT. I am weary of your worship.” God’s frustration came because the attitude of the people did not honor him. They followed the law yet showed no care for people in the world around them.  God’s direction proves challenging to us even today: stop worshiping and start doing good - take care of the needy and I’ll take care of you.

The story of Zacchaeus in Luke reinforces the idea that attitude matters more than fidelity to a worship plan. Zacchaeus was not liked or respected by the community. As an agent of the Romans, his job put him in conflict with the people, but his encounter with with Christ turned his attitude toward one of justice for all.

The prophets and Christ brought us a unified message: take care of the needy. Rules are easy to follow. A highly structured worship service is easy to attend. Ceasing to do evil; learning to do good; seeking justice; rescuing the oppressed; defending the orphan; pleading for the widow are hard. Worship, though, is worthless unless the work we do outside the church house represent God. God’s saints build his kingdom and almost none of that work is done inside a sanctuary.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dia de los Muertos - All Saints Day

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31
Today’s Reflection:
Anyone who has lost a loved one knows the pain, real pain, grief brings. Today, a day we set aside to remember those who have , passed away could easily rival Good Friday as the most depressing day on the Christian calendar. In English we call it “All Saints Day,” elevating our dead to a revered status, but in Spanish, “Dia de los Muertos” translates to “Day of the Dead!” We avoid “dead” and “died” in English as much as possible. No matter how we euphemise the end of our physical life we associate it with sadness. Regardless of what we would imagine the day to be it is actually a joyous celebration that rivals Easter. Today’s scriptures use words like forever, glorious inheritance, blessed! Today we replace tears with smiles.

Over the years I have observed that when the grief of loss has subsided, almost every memory we recall of your loved ones brings a smile or outright laughter. Those memories give us comfort and a keep us connected to those who have passed. While we celebrate their lives here, we rejoice that they have moved toward Heaven.

Each of the Scriptures for today points us to that heavenly eternity with those who believe. It is something for us to constantly seek while in this life. And on days like today, it assures us in our remembrances of those who came before us.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

October 27 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Psalm 84
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14
Today’s Reflection:
A few months ago Pope Francis caused quite a stir with his response to a social issue that has been a defining cause of the church in the last few decades. When asked a question about gay and lesbian people, he replied, “Who am I to judge?” In five words he summed up much of what Jesus tried to teach us: those of us who call ourselves Christian are God’s examples and the guides in the world for the world: God is the judge. Because we do not want to wait for his judgment, we prefer a system with an authority who provides an answer. Popes and many other religious leaders willingly accept the mantle of judge we hang over them. Each of today’s passages take us to an event when God is the judge and see the various responses to his judgment.

By the fourteenth chapter of Jeremiah, the people of Israel have reached the point that they recognize the many sins they and previous generations have committed and they beseech God to forego the impending punishment. Their pitiful pleas go unanswered and they blame God (while still recognizing that he is the one true god). Their thinking followed the logic that even though they messed up, God - as God - could fix it. They missed the part of the confession that led to a right position (contrition, humility) with God. Instead they continued repeating the same sins.

Paul, in these verses near the end of 2 Timothy, knows his execution will happen soon and accepts it as a judgment of man which he contrasts with the judgment of God. Though the human powers can take his physical life, he maintains confidence that God’s ultimate judgment will find him to have been a faithful servant who did as he was commanded. He saw himself as nothing more than a mouthpiece for God and by being that voice and nothing more he kept in the right relationship with God. If God spared his physical life as he had done in the past, there was more for him to do. If God did not, then his part of the work was complete.

Jesus’s parable in Luke 18:9-14 puts the two approaches toward relationship with God in the characters of two individuals. The Pharisee held on to the same idea as the Israelites in Jeremiah: I am so much better (judgment) than everyone around (and it goes double because God made me this way). Meanwhile the tax collector, a person of some authority with his position, demonstrates the Pauline attitude, recognizing he is at the mercy of God. I cannot find any translation in which Jesus’s lesson is not absolute. The moment we take for ourselves any authority that belongs to God, we have moved into the wrong relationship with God and are the ones facing judgment.

The rebels we want to be reject the law of the Old Testament. The humans we are seek rules for the New Covenant. Pope Francis’s statement about his role as judge, or rather his role avoiding judgment reminds us that we are God’s examples and guides in the world for the world. Christ’s Covenant is based on our relationship to him. Our charge to live his teaching as examples of Christ and guide people to him demand that we build relationships with the people in the world. The better we do at building relationships, the less judgment will be needed. I think God prefers relationship to separation; I know I do. When we keep this in mind it may be just a little easier to be and example of Christ in our next encounter.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8
Today’s Reflection:
In my building I provide the first line of technology support. When a computer, printer, copier, phone, etc. does not work the way it is anticipated to work, someone yells for me (it is a small building). Very often fault lies in the “anticipated” way the machine should work because it does not match the way the machine actually works. A little bit of education resolves that problem. When there is an actual issue with a machine, my next step is to stare at it thoughtfully for a few moments, press a few buttons and then turn it off and back on. A simple reset almost always solves the issue with the machine. The readings today reflect times when God did a reset with his people.

The Jeremiah passage begins with God about to turn Israel and Judah back on. They had been turned off because of the broken covenant. Conquerors overran the land and carried the people and livestock away. Because the people violated the prior covenant, God put in place a new covenant with the people coming to the land. This covenant bridged the first covenant with the people and the covenant we have through Christ. God promised he would not punish all the people for the sins of some, but that each person would be held accountable for his/her own sins because God placed the law in their hearts rather than restricting it to scrolls in the Temple. The law was not replaced; it became personal to each individual.

By the time Jesus arrived, the religious powers had again turned the law from the personal guidelines God made to an oppressive black/white application of the law. With the absolute application of the law, some groups benefitted and some did not. Jesus’s parable of the old woman pursuing justice until the judge relented, giving her the justice she should have had from the beginning because her protestations wore him down, demonstrated how God’s justice for us all is swift, but that humankind can pervert the intention of the guidelines for that justice into ways that profit them at the expense of God’s justice. The widow’s faith/determination/persistence delivered the expected justice that did not always happen in the society. Jesus reminded those hearing that their faithful prayers would bring God’s justice - the key being the faithful prayers.

In the passage from the second letter to Timothy, Paul recognized certain sacred writings extant throughout Timothy’s life that instructed people in the faith. He declared that they were able to perform for Christians under the salvation covenant what the law did for the Israelites before: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The teaching of salvation through Christ was the reset that came under this latest covenant. Instead of the law, the covenant was based on the relationship with Christ (God).

Pauls history as a Jewish leader gave him experiences that few others had. When he warns the church about groups turning or twisting the teachings to their benefit he knows how this was done from first-hand experience. Jesus’s teachings only gave two rules; everything else was guidance on how to live and bring honor to oneself and God. Paul knew that whether it was law or teaching people would alter, interpret, or emphasize it in ways that would most benefit them and warned the church to beware of anyone whose teaching did not follow the intent of Jesus’s teachings. So many of Jesus’s parables, like the one today, pointed out how misguided people (religious leaders, judges) were by enforcing the letter of the law while completely missing the intent.

God provided opportunities for nations and individuals throughout history to reset.  They realized (or were conquered and exiled to drive home the point) that they had strayed from God’s direction and then had the opportunity to return to the right relationship with God. What a great relief to know that when we break the covenant and stray from God’s intent we are always welcome back.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.