Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Daily Lesson for July 18, 2018

Today Daily Lesson comes from Joshua chapter 3 verses 1 through 6:

Early in the morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they came to the Jordan. They camped there before crossing over. 2At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3and commanded the people, ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, 4so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it.’5Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ 6To the priests Joshua said, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass on in front of the people.’ So they took up the ark of the covenant and went in front of the people.

The spirituality of the journey calls us to go places where we have not yet passed before.

Our tendency is to stay put. We want to remain in the familiar. We instinctively know where we are is not where we must be. But it is safe and it is known. So we decide right here will do.

But the LORD in today’s Lesson says, “Set out,” and the priests go. Then, as if knowing the people’s hesitation, the LORD says, “Follow.” And to the priests too, who have must have reservation of their own, the LORD commands, “Pass on . . .”

We are a pilgrim people. We are a journeying people. This means the LORD is always commanding us to pack up and move forward. Where we are now is not where we are to stay. It’s not the Promised Land. 

The Promised Land is out there, beyond our experience, and beyond even our field of vision. And that means if we’re going to get there, we can’t stay here. The Promised Land is beyond Jordan; and so that means the people of the Promise have got to be willing to rise up, break camp, and cross all the way over to the other side of the river.

NOTE: For the sake of rest and travel, Daily Lessons will be suspended for until the beginning of August. Until then, be well fellow pilgrims. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Daily Lesson for July 17, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Matthew chapter 25 verses 14 through 29:

14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.”21His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 23His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Jesus said:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Today’s Lesson is a parable about God and how we see God. In what light we see God determines how we think of God and what God requires. If we see God as a harsh and domineering master then we will act accordingly. We will either act to please the master out of fear, or reject and rebel against the master out of disgust. The latter was the third man’s choice in the parable; it’s an understandable choice given how he sees. 

But what in the parable suggests the master is a harsh and domineering?  The master is generous with his own and willing to share it with his subjects. While the whole Master/Subject analogy is distant and even problematic for us now, in Jesus’ time the parable would have suggested a perhaps subversive generosity from the Master and on behalf of the servants. Those who are given a little to begin with are given much in the end. What kind of master shared with his subjects in such a way?

But the third man in the parable does not see it. He expects the master to be harsh and domineering and to demand more than is just. In the end, his vision of the master shades his whole experience and determines his own fate.

God is our master.  God is our sovereign. But God is not master or sovereign in the way of the world’s masters and sovereigns. God is good. God is kind. God is generous.

And if we see God in another light that has more to do with us and our own dominions of darkness than it does the kingdom of light.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Daily Lesson for July 16, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Joshua chapter 2 verses 1 through 7:

Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there. 2The king of Jericho was told, ‘Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land.’ 3Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.’ 4But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, ‘True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. 5And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.’ 6She had, however, brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof.7So the men pursued them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. As soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

Today is the Feast or the Righteous Gentiles, a day when we remember those who took great personal risk to hide, aid, and speak up for Jews during the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of Jews reached freedom because of the extraordinary actions of these men and women. Their witness is both an inspiration and also a challenge. In the face of the Righteous Gentiles’ courageous actions, we are each left asking ourselves: Would we have done the same?

But, of course, that is really not our question. Our question is not about what we would have done then to save and spare life and to speak out against injustice. Our question is not about the past, but about the present. Our question is not about what we would have done, but what we are doing. 

Yesterday we had someone I consider to be a Righteous Gentile in our worship service, Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Republic of Georgia. His work for peace amongst Christians, Muslims, and Jews, has been honored worldwide. He described the extraordinary work of his congregation in Tblisi and especially its work to care for Chechnyan refugees who came across the border into Georgia. Since Chechnyans are the historic enemies of Georgians, the congregation‘s witness of giving refuge was especially powerful.

Of course Chechnyans are not Jews, and in this day of remembrance I would not wish to diminish the faithful witness of those Gentiles who acted courageously on behalf of the Jewish people in particular. Jews are a small minority in this world, who century after century going all the way back to Biblical times, have been systematically persecuted and threatened.  We must always remember our duty to aid and defend our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Yet at the same time, the Feast is the Righteous Gentiles, and the witness of Malkhaz Songulashvili, remind us that we are to act for the sake of righteousness wherever it is that we are, and for whoever it is that knocks upon our door. It is not just the Jew in Nazi Germany we must ask ourselves about, but also the Jew in our own city.  And not only the refugee seeking asylum in times past, but also the refugee seeking the same today. This is what the Feast of the Righteous Gentiles is truly about — it’s about the poor and vulnerable and persecuted knocking on our door today.

The Feast is the Righteous Gentiles is given as a reminder. We remember there were those who were called to act courageously on behalf of others in times past.  And we remember that we may be called to do the same in times present — perhaps even this very day. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Daily Lesson for July 13, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Matthew chapter 24 verses 15 and 16:

15 ‘So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand),16then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17someone on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23Then if anyone says to you, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “There he is!”—do not believe it.

Jesus does not call or expect everyone to be martyrs. Nor does he wish us to think that all circumstances can be changed by the power of prayer and negotiation.  Sometimes evil and abusive persons and powers take hold of houses, businesses, churches, and governments. In such times, there is no use wishing for a deliverance which will not come. Nor is there necessarily any valor in subjecting oneself to harm or danger.

There are times when we simply need to do what we can to protect ourselves. Sometimes this means fleeing. Sometimes it means not just walking but actually running away.

To leave does not always imply a lack of faith or courage. But what it can demonstrate is a real understanding of the danger of the circumstances and the likelihood that they’ll get a whole lot worse before they ever get better.

I know this isn’t exactly an optimistic Lesson from Jesus. But it’s one worth learning before it’s too late. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Daily Lesson for July 12, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Matthew 24 verses 1 through 8:

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.2Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places:8all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. . .”

The end of the world as we know it is always the beginning of something else. This was true for us at the beginning of life, when our little world shaked and convulsed and suddenly we were expelled from the safety of our first home. The process felt like death; we later came to know of it as birth. 

“In my end is my beginning,” T.S. Eliot wrote. This is the universal principle of circularity. A new beginning always means an end. A birth of the new always means a kind of death of the old.

Jesus said to his disciples on the night of his death:

“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy,” (John 16:21-22).

The time of grief is now for many. The world as they’ve known it crumbles. The institutions they had faith in have fallen or all but fallen. This is true about everything across the board including labor, religion, schools, politics, and government. It is indeed a time of grief.

But the end of an old order means the beginning of a new. Something is dying so that something else can be born. The birth process is terrifying and convulsive and changes everything.

“The one who endures to the end shall be saved,” Jesus said. We shall be saved like women in childbirth (1 Timothy 2:15). There will be pain. There will be suffering. There will be fear.  Everything that happens will be beyond our control. It will feel like the end. It will be the end. 

And it will also be the beginning. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Daily Lesson for July 11, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Deuteronomy chapter 1 verses 9 through 18:

9 At that time I said to you, ‘I am unable by myself to bear you. 10The Lord your God has multiplied you, so that today you are as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times more and bless you, as he has promised you!12But how can I bear the heavy burden of your disputes all by myself? 13Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.’ 14You answered me, ‘The plan you have proposed is a good one.’ 15So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officials, throughout your tribes. 16I charged your judges at that time: ‘Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. 17You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgement is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.’ 18So I charged you at that time with all the things that you should do.

Our nation will soon be transfixed by the drama of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice. 

This post does not aim to consider Kavanaugh’s individual merits. Instead, I simply want to underscore the import of a fair and impartial judiciary and justices who consider cases on their own merits and are not swayed by public opinion or the bullying and badgering of politicians.

This goes all the way back to Moses — who sits among the law givers in the frieze atop the Supreme Court Building. Before the Israelites even made their way into the Promised Land, Moses instructed the people to choose from among themselves judges who would hear and judge disputes with fairness. This was seminal to the nation that was to be.  Without a fair judiciary, the whole nation would be comprised. For justice depends on the scales of justice being read by the just minded.

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his plans for retirement I watched a brief piece on his career. I did not know that he had been confirmed by the Senate in a 97 to 0 vote. It is highly unlikely that Brett Kavanaugh or whoever else will replace Justice Kennedy will garner such unanimity.  The push and pull of our political polarization now makes unanimity on almost any matter now something of the past — especially the most important  of matters. 

So, in this much more polarized political theatre, it is imperative that the judges chosen be persons of keen intellect, fair-mindedness, and strong character. Pressure upon judges and justices is tremendous in a 24-hour news cycle.  The political winds blow mightily — in both directions. What is necessary is someone who can stand up strong in the face of the tumultuous winds, disregard their din, hear both sides to the case, and then cast a vote of conscience.

Only the nation’s very survival depends on it. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Daily Lesson for July 11, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Numbers chapter 35 verse 31:

“Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is subject to the death penalty; a murderer must be put to death.”

I have been thinking some this summer on the doctrine of Atonement and it’s central question: Why did Jesus die on the cross?

I, of course, grew up hearing judicial explanations using analogies from the realm of criminal justice.  The whole idea was that it is a matter of justice owed to God for human sin and the sin required death. Jesus died his death in our stead.  He died and because his life was perfect we all went free. 

But the justice analogy is fundamentally, well, unjust. What kind of courtroom would allow a convicted murderer condemned to death to be replaced on death row by another, innocent person?  Mothers and grandmothers would line up the world over to give their lives on behalf of their wayward children. This would never be justice. It would be chaos.  And the whole judicial system would collapse. 

I am thinking the whole judicial model of the atonement needs to collapse also. The idea that God had to mete out punishment is in the first place an undermining of the whole concept of forgiveness in the first place.  And, the idea that one person — even a perfect person — can actually repay the sins of a transgressor is a bizarre and entirely unsatisfying notion of justice. The whole law and order analogy of the atonement is itself actually fundamentally unlawful.

I don’t know how to solve this. I’m going to be reading up on other ways of thinking about atonement in the coming months. But one thing I know for sure: it makes no sense to take a fundamentally unjust resolution and ascribe it to defend the bloodthirsty actions of a purportedly just God.

What if God isn’t bloodthirsty at all?  What if God forgives without the demand of blood payment? What if, as Jesus quoted, God “desires mercy and not sacrifice”?

That would change a whole of our theology.  And I think it would change it for the better.