Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September 29 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Amos 6:1, 4-7
Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31
Today’s Reflection:
I confess: I can be one of the most stubborn yahoos on the planet. It is in my nature. Once I have studied and made a decision about something, anything that contradicts that viewpoint is simply wrong - I know it is because I have made my decision and my perspective is fixed. Convincing me otherwise is futile. Actually, convincing me otherwise is frustrating; I can be persuaded - which is good. As today’s scriptures demonstrate, when we become too fixed on a perspective, we often find ourselves at odds with God’s expectations. When God has to step in to correct an injustice, the consequences are not good for those who find themselves in conflict with holy judgment.

The prophet Amos came at a time of dramatic inequality between the wealthy and the poor. The law was in place, but the powerful had turned from it and abused their wealth, creating situations of desperation among some parts of the population. The wealthy were so far removed from the desperation that they either did not or could not recognize the circumstances of the people. Amos reminds those with plenty that the Promised Land, which gave them their plenty, was a gift from God and they had responsibility for all within it. He does not fault them for their wealth; he faults them for their abuse of wealth. He grants no quarter: they know the law and God’s expectation and those who failed to honor it would be the first into judgment.

Paul calls the faithful into contentment when we have our basic needs met. He encourages Timothy (us) to develop spiritual tools rather than bank accounts. Paul’s teaching about money in this passage leaves little to interpretation. Like Amos, he makes it clear that money and having money themselves are not bad things. Those who have wealth should share it rather than let it separate them from others. However, he knows human nature and that those who are not able to find contentment with what they have find themselves drawn into temptation and separated from God by the determination to gain more wealth through whatever means necessary. Verse 10 is often misquoted as “money is the root of all evil,” when it is the three words that precede the quote, “the love of,” that get to the heart of the matter.

The parable in Luke personalizes the fixed ideas of those who get stuck in the idea that social status gives them an elevated standing with God. Even in Hades, the rich man could not grasp that he was there because of the life he lived. He was not in Hades because he was rich and neither was Lazarus in Heaven because he was poor; they were at their appointed places because of their relationship with God. Our opportunity to live as God wants us to live happens when we are alive. Those opportunities are not repeated in death. We must in life operate on faith and not wait for some mystical proof as the rich man sought for his siblings. For both Lazarus and the rich man, the results came not from what they had but what they did with what they had.

A superficial reading of these and similar passages makes it easy to demonize the wealthy, but the lessons are for all of us and our stewardship with what we have. The rich provide the example in the passages, but we cannot afford to ignore the lesson because we are not rich. No passage condemns wealth, but they all condemn the abuse of it and caution about the attitude toward it. Regardless of the quantity of our means, we all have our attitudes toward it and that is why the lesson is universal.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts. www.commontexts.org

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 22 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13
Today’s Reflection:
The aspect of history that fascinates me most is seeing how leaders react and change while in the leadership role. There are as many reasons for taking a leadership role as there are leaders, but history teaches us that the power of position often changes the perspective and motivation of the leader. Power has a way of infecting even the most noble person. The passages for today recognize this and deliver blunt warnings to those who would take advantage of their position whether it be a merchant or the king.

Amos calls out the merchants for greed driven practices that are expressed by resentment of holy days that restricted commerce. Rather than approaching the days in thankful worship for the good things they have, Amos’s audience bemoaned the days dedicated to worship mourning the lost profits they could have. These merchants were not satisfied with the profits that came naturally in the buying-selling process, they inflated their gain through inaccurate scales and manipulating the currency. Greed governed their every thought. Such dishonesty did not go unnoticed by God who sent Amos with the message to remind them of his expectation and the promise of judgment for “trample(ing) on the needy and bring(ing) to ruin the poor.”

In Timothy the faithful are reminded to pray for everyone with special mention to all in leadership levels including the king. Those prayers include prayers for salvation because of God’s desire to have all be saved. Paul drives home that Christ came for  everyone regardless of social status. The prayers for the leaders included remembering the responsibility those in positions of power have for the quality of life of the people.  Paul reminded the people that leaders of faith would increase the chance that “we (the people) may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” The people of the time knew well what it was like to live under leaders who not only rejected God, but banned the worship practice of the Jews and Christians. The ability of leaders to make the right decisions with all the people in mind brought peace and prosperity to Israel throughout history. Leaders who focused on only some of the people led to war and social unrest. Paul, who knew the history of the Jewish people as well or better than anyone in his time, and then as minister to the Gentiles knew how important it is for leaders to govern for all people.

Jesus delivers one of his most scathing critiques of his ministry while addressing the character of the people. A dishonest man, upon being caught, becomes even more dishonest to preserve his status. Instead of facing greater consequences for the increased dishonesty (theft) he receives praise for acting shrewdly in the situation. The entire standard of right and wrong had been turned on end. However, when it comes to God’s plan we do not have the option to change the rules. Jesus focuses on the character of the participants: faithfulness and honesty either exist in a person’s life or they do not. This passage in Luke, as do so many other passages, reminds us that being faithful is an all-or-nothing proposition. We cannot only be faithful on Sunday and abandon it in all other aspects of our life. Jesus gives us no other option but to be in or out.

The lessons for leaders hold equally true for those not in leadership. We treat people with respect regardless of social status or we don’t. We make decisions that take into consideration the impact on all people or we don’t. We live all aspects of our lives faithfully or we don’t. Leaders draw attention because their actions affect so many people but none of us are exempt. Leaders are responsible for the ways their actions impact everyone under their authority. We all are responsible for the way our actions impact everyone we encounter. God set the standard: we are compelled to uphold it.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts. www.commontexts.org

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pride in My Creation

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139
Philemon 1-21
Today’s Reflection:
In Texas, September is a big month for Gay Pride festivals. We do know that most of the nation celebrates Pride in June, but it is simply too hot, so we delay to September in hopes of some modestly cooler temperatures. When Pride celebrations began, they made the statement that the LGBTQ community existed in our communities and deserved notice. Today they celebrate family and changing levels of acceptance. The scriptures from the September 8 lectionary fit the theme of pride and redemption well.

In Jeremiah we see the potter molding and remolding the clay until it becomes the vessel he set out to make. The original material was quality despite the flaw that came about in the initial molding. Perhaps too much pressure was applied in one spot or the potter’s attention went away for a moment. Regardless of the flaw, the clay was pulled together and the right vessel was formed.

The Epistle to Philemon tells one of the most powerful stories of human redemption in the Bible. We do not know the origin of the conflict that led to the separation of Onesimus and the church. What we do know is that in the time he has been with Paul, he has become a valuable companion and partner in service. The text makes clear that, despite whatever caused the separation, Onesimus belongs in the church and should be welcome there.

Psalm 139 poetically reveals our ultimate connection to God – his knowledge and value of each of us. God knows us like no other. His direction for us is specific to us. No message of exclusion can stand against the message of attention God paid to each of us in our creation. When we fully understand the power in the message that God, and none other, personally knit together, every person what believer can label any person “less-than?” The more I have pondered this one idea, the more powerful I realize it is. As powerful as redemption and reconciliation are in the Biblical scale, the message of relationship as told in Psalm 139 overshadows them both. No theology can stand against a personal relationship with God, no matter how adamant the adherent.

Much like Onesimus, the LGBTQ community has historically been pushed outside the community of the church for a long list of reasons. The passages in Jeremiah and Philemon are just two examples of the redemptive and inclusive nature of God’s love; the language here and elsewhere calls all persons to community in the church. Fortunately more and more churches are finding that message of the Bible and are becoming welcoming and affirming to ALL people. Forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation are powerful tools of the church, but none of them match the relationship we have with God, and ultimately that relationship is what matters most.

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

September 15 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10
Today’s Reflection:
Giving me time to have an idle mind sometimes proves dangerous. I may decide the entire house needs rearranging or the garden needs tilling with a spoon. Sometimes my idle mind proves delicious as I work out some new concoction in the kitchen. Times when my mind is truly idle occur only on rare occasion, but they lead me in directions I had no intention of going. In the passages today we see examples of what I could see as idle minds and some very focused minds.

While Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God, the others were gathered at the base of the mountain with nothing specific to do. No wandering. The Sabbath is only one day a week. What else is there to do on the other six days while Moses was away? He had been gone a long time and perhaps this time he was not coming back.  Idle minds lead to idols. The laws of worship had been given and a priestly order had been ordained so a group of people should have known better, nonetheless, they led the construction of the idol. We can only speculate on the motive. The only thing the scripture gives us is that they wanted a tangible form of God to worship.

The creation of the idol provides the back-story to today’s scripture in which we find a God who is ready to consume them and put an end to entire adventure in the desert. Moses, as prophets often did, intervened before God for the sake of the people. God gives the people another chance and the opportunity to return to his covenant with them. Ironically, the people received something of what they wanted; Moses brought with him the tablets of the covenant with God which were housed inside the Ark of the Covenant – which was a visible symbol of God carried before the people.

In both New Testament passages we find people who are singularly focused. In Timothy, Paul maintains his focus by remembering how God saved him from the sinful persecution of Christians he originally undertook. In Luke, Jesus again uses a parable to demonstrate the focus of God to have the lost return to him. Both passages recognize the patience God manages as he sometimes brings believers to him (Paul) and sometimes waits for the lost to return. Ultimately, God wants all to come to him.

Just as God is patient with us when our idle minds, or disobedient tendencies, overwhelm us, how much more should we turn that patience around and extend the same to those around us. As we learn to extend the grace of patience toward others, we too will find those celebrations of the shepherd and woman.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts. www.commontexts.org