Friday, October 21, 2016

Daily Lesson for October 21, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 10 verses 38 through 42:

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

A while back I preached the memorial service of a very beloved woman who was the older sister in a very fun-loving family. My text was Mary and Martha as she was definitely the Martha in the family.

At the end of the service one of her two sisters came up to speak. "Yes," she said, "my sister was a Martha in the kitchen while I and the other sisters were Marys out in the living.

"But let me tell you," she went on in a very lovingly joking and self-deprecating tone, "if we had been in the kitchen Martha would have sent us out anyways, saying we weren't doing it the right way."

Now here, I thought, is a woman who knows Martha.

Martha has taken it pretty hard over the millennia. Too hard, really. As the sister at the funeral demonstrated, tone is important. I believe the tone in which this story has been preached has been much harsher than the tone Jesus took with Mary that night in her house.  I know I was guilty of that for at least the first two times through the lectionary cycle. I mean, I really let Martha have it.

Then something dawned on me as I was preaching against Martha one Sunday. And what dawned on me was that I sort of kind of really really needed Martha for setting up the reception after the service. And I needed her for the potluck after church the next Sunday. Oh, and I needed her for the anniversary the weekend following.

Maybe Jesus' tone with Martha was a little softer than I'd first heard it. No, not just maybe -- Jesus' tone with Martha was definitely a lot softer than I'd first heard it.

The last time Mary and Martha came through the lectionary was this past summer. This time I used Gary Chapman's book on the Five Love Languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.

I said I thought Martha's love language was the act of service. She loved to set a table, cook a meal, and have company over, I said. Her mistake, however, was expecting her sister Mary to feel and so the same. Martha invited the company over, the scripture says.  But it was Martha's mistake to assume that Mary would find the same pleasure and meaning in serving that she did. Martha's mistake was expecting Mary to speak her same love language, I said.

I said it. But I said it very softly and lovingly and in a gentle and jocular tone because there was a potluck to follow . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Daily Lesson for October 20, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 10 verses 25 through 37:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

"Who is my neighbor?"

Now here's a question we have all asked many times.  And if I am honest I can tell you that I have asked the question for the same reason that the lawyer asked the question -- to justify myself, which I take to mean to justify my disinclination to love him or her as I love myself.

And so I ask, "Who is my neighbor?"

"Is he worthy?"  "Is she worth it?" "Is he dangerous?"

In the sphere of national security this is called "extreme vetting" which attempts to sufficiently answer the question "Is he a terrorist."  I personally have no problem with the process. I see that it is necessary.  Governments are required to do this.

And yet, the Samaritan in Jesus' story convicts and challenges me. While the priest and allLevite step aside, probably while asking the same self-justifying questions we ask, the Samaritan steps in without question. The Samaritan simply acts. He acts on impulse. On impulse, he follows the gold rule. He does what he would have others do unto him. He loves this beaten neighbor beside the side of the road just as he would wish himself to be beaten.

And so, Jesus changes the question. The parable begins with the lawyer's question,"Who is my neighbor?" But it ends with another question, "Who was the neighbor to the beaten man?"

And so Jesus turns the tables on the lawyer and also on me in changing the whole nature of the question from the self-justifying question about who my neighbor is to the self-convicting one about what kind of neighbor am I.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:

"On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?"

It makes me think that maybe learning to be a good neighbor has a lot to do with learning to ask the right question.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Daily Lesson for October 19, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 10 verses 17 through 20:

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

"Success" is not guaranteed. This was one of the things Jesus was trying very hard to get his disciples to understand.

He sent 72 of them out, giving explicit instructions.  When rejected, they were to kick the dust off of their feet and then go on. Rejection was going to happen and so they needed to get used to it.

When the 72 returned, they came home rejoicing. The demons had bowed down to them. Jesus, however, warned them not to rejoice.  Why?  Because the demonic were still alive and active. Next time things might not turn out so brilliantly.

They were to rejoice, Jesus said, not in the demons falling, but in the fact that their names were written in heaven. In other words, they were to rejoice not in being on the winning side, but rather on the good one.

A couple years ago, we had the Central American refugee crisis down on the border and all those mothers and children who were fleeing such terrible conditions were greeted with such vitriol by protesters here in America. A group of Christian clergy here in Lubbock got together and decided to make a counter statement. We were all worried about how things were going to be taken as we wanted our work to be as successful as possible.

I will never forget my now-deceased friend, mentor and Methodist pastor Ted Dotts stood up. "Now wait a minute," he said.  "We follow a man who was rejected and arrested by all the authorities, abandoned and betrayed by all his friends, and hung to die between two criminals. Now you tell me, is that success?"

The room was completely quiet. Ted then finished with this sturdy and sobering line:

"We're not called to be successful; we're called to be faithful."

The demons may or may not fall in submission.  That is not what matters. What matters is that for better or for worse, for success or for failure, we went ahead and decided to put our names down on record for which side we're on.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Daily Lesson for October 18, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 10 verses 1 through 12:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town."

The other day I was with a group from church and we were thumbing through an old hymnal looking for a song. We don't use hymnals anymore and haven't for 15 years, when we built our new building and the chairs we ordered to replace the old pews showed up without racks for placing either the hymnals or communion cups.

Tucked inside the pages of that old hymnal was the order of worship from our last service in the old church a decade and a half ago. I had never seen the order of service and had not given it any thought before. I was amazed.

We had been in between senior pastors and so Stephanie Nash, another pastor on staff, preached the sermon. "Packing Light" was her sermon title.  And she just happened to be with our little group thumbing through the hymnal, so she could tell us what she had said  on that last Sunday.

Like the 72 in today's lesson, the congregation was being sent out.  And the instructions were to pack light -- as in to pack only what could be taken.  There were movements in the service of recognizing all the liturgical elements that would be packed and taken along for the journey -- the cross, the dove above the sanctuary, etc. The rest would have to be left behind with the old building.  To move forward, much would have to be left behind. The pews with the hymnal and communion racks were just one example.

But there was another meaning to her title "Packing Light".  The church was not only needing to pack light; they were also needing to pack Light -- as in the Light.

We all have to Pack Light at some point in our lives. We are sent out, whether willingly or not, from the safe and secure world we have known and into the unknown. We cannot take everything. We have to leave much behind. There is grief in this. There is trepidation. There is darkness and unknown.

But there is something else. There is Light.  There is the Light of the world.  And it goes with us. And that is enough.

A good word for our church on that last Sunday in the old building. A good for us anytime.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Daily Lesson for October 17, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 9 verses 51 through 56:

51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.

Just because it's in the Bible doesn't mean it's okay by Jesus.

There's lots of things in the Bible that Jesus did not do and that he explicitly taught his disciples not to do also.

Jesus never stoned anyone for adultery. He never gouged out an eye in return for an eye.  And, as today's Lesson shows, he never burned anyone for heresy.

We can look to the Bible to justify all manner of retribution and punishment.  But we can't drag Jesus' name into it, though history tells us we've sure tried

"What Would Jesus Do?" was a slogan running around our country 20 years ago. Here's another slogan for our consideration: "What Would Jesus Not Do?"

That should tell us something important also.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Daily Lesson for October 14, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 9 verses 28 through 36:

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

There is a very influential medieval reflection on the meaning of prayer called "The Cloud of Unknowing".  In it, the anonymous author traces the path to knowing God as a way of "unknowing".  To come to truly know God is to "unknow" so much of what we think we think we know about God. This is the way of contemplation -- the path of knowing God beyond and in many ways contrary to what we know about God.  This is the way of prayer.

Peter thinks he knows the way of God. But Peter's way of thinking is his biggest problem. For Peter, the way of God is triumph, greatness, and glory.  It is the way of ascent.  It is the mountaintop experience. It is Mt. Olympus.

But Jesus is speaking now of another way.  It is a way of triumph, greatness, and glory; but it is a different way.  The way must first be suffering and death.  It is not the way of Mt. Olympus. It is the way of Calvary.

A mist descends. What could be seen is now unseen.  What was certain is now uncertain. What was known is now shrouded in mystery.  It is the Cloud of Unknowing.

And now the voice speaks, from the cloud “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Daily Lesson for October 13, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson is a TBT and comes from Jonah chapter 4 verses 1 and 2:

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord . . . I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

Jonah couldn't stand it that the Ninevites were such a wicked and perverse people. And when they repented of their evil ways -- so remorseful that they even put their livestock in sackcloth and ashes -- well, Jonah couldn't stand that either.

There are some people that just have to have somebody to scorn and condemn to hell. They're always up in arms about somebody doing something. And "sorry" is just never good enough. They want everybody to get what they have coming.

When that doesn't happen then they say, "a bad precedence is being set," or we're "sending a signal that this kind of behavior is okay," or we're "not acting responsibly."

But in the end Jonah doesn't look responsible; he looks small-minded, petty, and mean-spirited.

The Bible says we are to "love mercy". That means that when we hate mercy something just ain't right.

Love mercy. Delight in it's giving. Learn to celebrate with the angels that a sinner has walked back through the church house door.

And for heaven's sake, don't cut off your nose just to spite your face.