Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Daily Lesson for June 28, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Numbers chapter 22 verses 21 through 30:

21 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God's anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall. So he struck her again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam's anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

Here is the story of Balaam and his donkey, a story commonly referred to as the story of "Balaam's Ass", but which should be called "Balaam, the Horse's Ass" because that's what Balaam made out of himself.

Balaam knows where he is headed. He is intent to get there. And nothing is going to stop.

Nothing, that is, except life.

It turns out God has another plan; and no matter how hard Balaam tries to get that donkey of his down the path, the donkey (as we say in Texas) just ain't having it. He ain't having it because turns out the donkey knows more about the path than its rider.

I often quote Paula D'Arcy: "God comes to us disguised as our lives."  I take that to mean that when the donkey we're riding refuses to take us down the path we want to go then maybe God is trying to tell us something.  Maybe that's not the way after all; maybe it's the way to destruction.  Maybe we ought to stop and turn around.

We assume we know the path where life should take us. But then I remember the little warning my elementary teachers gave about those who "assume": It makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me".

It sure did of Balaam.

But in the end that turned out to be a blessing really; because realizing that he was actually dumber than a jackass spared ol' Balaam from being deader than a doornail.

And that there is the wisdom of humiliation.

May those who have ears as big as a donkey's let them hear.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson for June 27, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson is an excerpt from Marilyn Robinson's novel Gilead:

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light .... Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? .... Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.

Yesterday, Irie and the kids and I went back and worshipped in the little church where I was ordained and where Irie and I were married.  Lowe's Grove Baptist Church can trace its beginning to 1890, when a Sunday School class was meeting on the front porch of a home in a little community just south of Durham, NC.  That Sunday School and another church joined together and the church was officially organized in 1907. The building we were married, a quaint, partially-Georgia-style construction was built in 1947.  Though for most of its life Lowe's Grove has been mostly a quiet, family church, it has at times been a place for the compelling. In 1981, it was one of the very first Southern Baptist Churches to ordain a woman to the Gospel Ministry.  Irie and I the very same week that three crosses were burned by the KKK in downtown Durham, our fully integrated wedding a sign of hope and reconciliation amidst a time of strife and division within the city.

The Church has been without a pastor now for a couple of years and as often happens in times between pastorates the congregation has dwindled some.  It was mostly an older group gathered yesterday for Sunday morning, though the church was excitedly planning for Vacation Bible School which began last night.  I know they were wondering how many would come and how many would stay and what kind of future there is for a church like Lowe's Grove.

As I stood in the pulpit where I preached my very first sermon 13 years ago this coming fall, I read the excerpt from Marilyn Robinson's novel. It is the words from an old, old preacher in a little church in a little community, writing to his young son, who he had brought forth into the world at a great age. In a sense, it is Robinson's way of having the patriarchs, that "great cloud of witnesses", spoken of in the book of Hebrews, to write to this current, struggling generation of Christians trying now to hold on to the faith of our fathers and mothers. And the message is for this current generation to hold its hope and to remember that God's kingdom is among us, if we have eyes to see.

Sometimes God does breath upon this "poor gray ember of Creation" and for a moment something amazing happens -- a sleepy little Baptist church does something bold and lays its hands on the head of a woman called to preach, or rises as a sign of racial harmony amidst a world of division. God breathes for a time there is fire and there is light and he Church knows that it is alive, but then it sinks into itself again, and no one would ever know who did not themselves remember.

And so that was my message for the people of Lowe's Grove yesterday, to remember, to hold onto the memory of when God moved and breathed, and to hold onto the hope that God shall surely do it again -- in His own good time.

God bless you Lowe's Grove Baptist Church. God bless and keep you and make His face to shine upon you . . .

Friday, June 24, 2016

Daily Lesson for June 24, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Numbers chapter 20 verses 2 through 9:

2 Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.

I am at the Annual Gathering of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship celebrating the 25th anniversary of CBF's founding.  In 1991, this new Baptist movement began, dedicating itself to the freedom of the local church and its membership to practice freely without threat of disfellowship over issues of gender or doctrine.

Last night religion scholar Diana Butler Bass spoke to us and made an interesting and also painfully sobering observation. She noted that in 1991, just as we were beginning, there is no way we could have known that the next 25 years would see the most precipitous decline in membership and affiliation in organized religious life in 200 years. We could not have known how shallow our resources would be and how difficult that would make to equip missionaries, support churches, and help educate clergy.  She said, in fact, that 1991 was about the worst time in history anyone could have picked to begin a movement.

I listened to that last night and then get up this morning and read today's Daily Lesson. The Israelites are in their exodus and have escaped Egypt; they are bent on freedom. But then just as soon as they cross the Red Sea the resources run dry.  There is not enough food or enough water. The people bicker and complain and some blame Moses. "You see," they say, "it was better in Egypt."  And someone maybe says that this is the worst time in history they could have begun their movement. Some want to turn back; others are tempted to despair and die right there in the wilderness; most just don't know what to do.

But then Moses is told to look within, to look deep, to look deep into the hidden earth where it shall be discovered that there is resource and provision, water that God locked into the rock millennia ago -- for just such a time as this.

God does not leave those bent for freedom thirsty and dying in the wilderness. The LORD provides -- rams in bushes and water from rock. God meets us in our wilderness.

And then we discover something -- two truths about the Exodus. And the truths are these: 1) that even the absolute worst time in history for beginning a movement towards freedom is better than not beginning at all and 2) though at times the Promised Land does not look very promising their are resources hidden deep within us which will sustain and guide us along the way.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Daily Lesson for June 23, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Psalm 105 verses 12 through 15:

 When they were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners,
13 wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
14 he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
15 saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!”

And from Romans Chapter 5 verses 3 and 4:

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame.

Maya Angelou once wrote a book titled after a line in an old spiritual: "Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now".  What I take her to mean is that though she endured much hardship and struggle along her path, these were the things that made her who she was.  As the Romans lesson speaks today, it was Maya's struggle that gave Maya her sense of endurance and character and, ultimately, her hope.

Note the order of that. Hope is last -- the result of an enduring struggle. That means it is different from optimism.  Optimism is a favorable outlook based on what we can see.  I am optimistic that the sun will shine today. But hope is something stronger. Hope is what we have left when the sun has refused to shine.  Hope is still believing in the light, though it has been very dark for a very long time.

One of the most fascinating aspects coming out of research on this thing called Hope is that it can be learned and taught. Researcher C.R. Snyder studied hopeful people and discovered that hope is different from our feelings -- which we don't necessarily have much control over -- but is in fact a kind of mental process or thought framework. In short, hopefulness is a way of thinking about our world, ourselves, and our God.  The resilient among us -- those who have endured setbacks and traumas of many kinds --are those who have learned to see themselves as more than passive victims of whatever the days have brought, but have instead learned to think hopefully.  In other words, they've learned to think of the world as a place where right will ultimately prevail, to think of themselves as active agents of that goodness, and of God as the one who always tips the scales in favor of that goodness.

This kind of hopeful thinking can and is actually taught and passed down, in hopeful churches and synagogues, and in the words of hopeful people like Maya Angelou.

We wouldn't take nothing for our journey now -- because we know it's the journey that has taught us to think hopefully; and its our hopefulness that will teach others also.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Daily Lesson for June 21, 2016

I am taking a break from writing, but please enjoy again this Daily Lesson:

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Joshua chapter 4 verses 1 through 7:

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Every nation needs a memorial to remember its founding and other momentous events and people in its history. Pierre L'Enfant, the architect of the National Mall in Washington, DC knew this. As early as 1791 he was imagining a grand space where the new United States of America's government buildings, museums, and national memorials could stand in a monumental and dignified way.  L'Enfant knew memorials would need to be built in order for the people to remember their and know itself as a nation.

Families need memorials too.  For centuries most people were so poor, the only memorial most families could afford was the Family Bible, and I remember Willie Nelson's "Family Bible" say the same thing I'm trying to say this morning:

There's a family Bible on the table
Its pages worn and hard to read
But the family Bible on the table
Will ever be my key to memories

There's a Family Bible from Irie's side in our family. On my side there's an old pump organ that my uncle has that the Seay side of our family brought all the way from Gainesville to West Texas in covered wagon around 1900.  In our house there is a watercolor of Gettysburg a friend in Vermont painted and gave to us. The viewpoint is a densely wooded are with a stone gate opening to a sun-lit field. There's all kind of metaphor in that. Another memorial I have in my study at home is a 1950s era decorative plate with a picture of church set in it.  That church is Lowe's Grove Baptist Church, the church where I was ordained.

Joshua told the Israelites to make a memorial when they passed over the Jordan and came into the Promised Land. The memorial was not for them. It was for the generations who would follow -- so that they would know the history, remember where they'd come from, and who they're called to be.

May we continue to make memorials.  And may our children continue ask of their meaning. And may we always have something meaningful to answer.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Pastoral Letter After Orlando

After Orlando, many are wondering how we, our churches, and our denominations can reach out in embrace of the LGBTQ community.  I wrote this letter months prior to Orlando, but did not share it broadly. The time seems right to do so now.  This is my story of how I came to see things differently. It is my hope that this letter might make a space for broader inclusion and acceptance of all people who are seeking to love God and also their neighbor -- in spite of our differences. 

Dear friend,

I am writing you as a sister in Christ as I know you have concerns about our church at this time. I am writing with the hope of our remaining united in the bond of peace.  I am not necessarily expecting to change your or anyone else's mind about same-sex relationships in general or same-sex marriage in particular.  This seems to me one of those issues where everyone must act on his or her own conscience. I do, however, want to share with you from my own journey with the hope that you might understand how and why I have come to believe what I believe. 

Growing up in West Texas in the 1980s and 1990s, I did not know anyone who was gay. That is to say, I did not know anyone who was openly gay. To me, gays were abnormal and prime subjects for all manner of snide comments and jokes told by me and my friends at their expense. Gays, for me, were perverted and sexually deviant and if there were a rumor that someone might be gay he or she was to be ridiculed or avoided or, if absolutely necessary, tolerated.  

This negative view I had of gays predated my own acceptance of Christ when I was 16 years old and was therefore shaped more by only a cursory familiarity with Christianity and what I thought the Bible said.  Stories like Sodom and Gomorrah were in the cultural vernacular and were for me proof of the threat gays posed to a community.  But when I gave my life to Christ and first began reading the Bible and growing in faith, my hostility towards gays was not bolstered, but actually softened. Though I certainly still believed that homosexuality was a sin, I was now aware of my own sin and shortcomings and beginning to allow Jesus' admonition against judging others to convict and change me.  In fact, by the time I was in my latter years of college I felt deep remorse for the way I had acted towards gays in general and, in partnership, those people I suspected might be gay.  Though it is important for understanding my journey to again recognize that even at this time in my life I still did not know anyone who was actually openly gay.

That changed in 2001 when I moved to New York City and met and worked with a dozen or more openly gay people, including both my supervisors at the tour company where I worked. Though I was not exactly comfortable with their being openly gay and in openly gay relationships, I knew that I could not be closed to them as persons.  And I was not. We worked and ate and laughed together and they introduced me to their partners.  Though I was repulsed by much of the raunchiness I saw being conducted on the streets at the Gay Pride Parade that year and in some isolated cases on the streets of New York, what I found among my gay coworkers and now friends was mostly what I had always found amongst straight people -- a mixture of good and bad people, and relationships, and expressions of love and fidelity.  Most interesting to me as someone considering ministry, what I also discovered among those people was my first faithfully Christian friend who was openly gay.  He was gay; but he also went faithfully to church. And by all appearances he seemed to love the LORD. In fact, in many ways he was more faithful to God than I was.  It was then that I first began to have the hint of a question about what I had always believed -- or believed that I should believe.

After I left New York, I moved to Durham, NC where there were far fewer openly gay persons than in New York. I cannot say that I was friends with anyone who I knew to be gay during all three years of my seminary experience. Duke Divinity School, though having a reputation for being a liberal school, was in fact mostly conservative on this issue, with then none of its most prominent faculty at the time being openly affirming of gay rights in or outside of the church. But the question I already had inside me: What about my gay friend?  And though my professors did not necessarily advocate for gay inclusion, what they did do was even more important. They gave me a place to learn to let that question of mine and others be asked. And it was in the asking, and the questioning and the searching that my eyes began to be opened to an entirely new way of understanding what the Bible is and how we are to read it.

For example, my seminary professors encouraged me to approach the Sodom and Gomorrah story and try to discover what the story itself says, as opposed to what others have said it says. What I discovered then was that it is not a story about the evils of same-sex relations in general, but rather a warning against the ultimate self-destructiveness of a community which oppresses and exploits the powerless -- specifically, women and the alien.  I also discovered what Ezekiel said about Sodom, that her sin was "pride and excess of ease (some translations say 'gluttony'), but she did not help the poor and needy," (Ezekiel 16:49).  What this helped me to see was that for a long time I had actually misread the story, misinterpreted its meaning, and had done so simply because I had accepted what others told me the story meant, rather than thinking on it myself.  My eyes were now indeed being opened to new ways of seeing.

Beyond my new understanding of that one, single Biblical story, however, my seminary experience more generally gave me the gift of beginning to think through what I believe the Bible is in its substance and what we mean when we say it is sacred scripture. In the community and culture where I grew up I heard the expressions "Word of God" and "inerrant" used as synonyms or descriptors of the Bible.  As I began to think and read and understand how the Bible was comprised and who wrote it and in what context, my understanding of Scripture and how it is to be used began to shift. I discovered that the Bible is not so much a word dropped down directly from God to humankind, but is rather humankind's attempt to put words to their own experience and understanding of God. In the Biblical scholar N.T. Wright's metaphor, the Bible is likened as a library, full of different genres --some historical and some literary and others poetic and governmental -- each written from the  unique, but always limited perspective and understanding of the individual authors and their communities, contexts, and times.

I take as an example one very significant issue in the early church. The matter at hand was the inclusion of Gentiles in the early church and the question was whether these non-Jewish converts to Christianity would or would not have to follow the Jewish law -- with its mandates for circumcision (Exodus 12:48) and dietary restriction (Numbers 9:14).  The Bible had clearly laid out a set of mandates for foreigners in times past; yet certain voices within the church -- most especially Paul -- stated that "circumcision is nothing" and that there was neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ. These early church debates are recorded in 1 Corinthians and in Galatians and Philippians and most especially in Acts. Ultimately, Paul's voice won out and Gentiles were included without having to be circumcised or held to the strictest Jewish dietary customs.  And though the debates have changed, what we inherited was a more expansive church and an understanding that what the Bible mandates for one time and context and people may not necessarily be fitting for all others times and contexts and people.

But more than anything I might have learned in a seminary classroom, my meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Irie and coming to understand more fully the story of the history of African enslavement has most deeply shaped my understanding of the way I read the Bible. "Slaves obey your masters," was a word written from Paul to a particular people and time. It may very well have been a prudent and wise word for the circumstance, but over the centuries it was a scripture abusively misused to justify the enslavement of people around the world. And how many souls had been sent to the lower decks of some westward bound slave ship bound in chains with those words of Paul as permission?  It was in the Bible; but was it the right word from the Bible?  Looking back over those many centuries with so much blood spilled by the lash of the slaveowner and by the sword of the soldier, we can all say no.  And it is for this fact alone that I decided that what was once written in the letter of pen and ink may not in fact be what God is now saying in Spirit. "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life," (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Of course, "slaves obey your masters" is not the only word from the Bible which today's church has struggled with. Jesus' strict injunction against divorce and remarriage was another which I was soon forced to wrestle with.  Upon completion of my studies and soon after I was ordained, a couple came to me seeking to be married. They had each been divorced before, and yet appeared to love and want to enter into a serious covenant with one another. Having known many divorced couples within my church, family, and community, I did not consider not marrying them on grounds of what the Bible said. But I did pause to reflect more deeply why that was.  This led me to a more fuller developed understanding of what marriage is intended to be. 

I began to reflect on how when Jesus spoke against divorce and remarriage he was doing so in a very different context -- a time when men had all the power and could simply divorce a woman at will, leaving her financially and socially destitute. His words were meant to protect the most vulnerable from being thrown to the gutter. Unfortunately, and with sad irony, Jesus' words spoken originally for protection were for centuries actually used to keep people in abusive marriages and prohibit them from entering into more healthy and life-giving relationships. 

As I thought on this, what would be an important insight entered my mind. I remembered what Jesus said when criticized for healing on the Sabbath -- "the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath."  It began to dawn on me that I could say the same about marriage -- that marriage is not a weighty burden to be hung around the neck, but a gift given to serve humanity for the purpose of human flourishing.  This, to me, was what God intended when He said, "Be fruitful and multiply."  Or, in other words, "Give life."

I married that couple and then soon lost touch when Irie and I moved to Vermont.  But just this past week the woman from the marriage contacted me on Facebook to tell me her husband had passed some time ago and that my Daily Lessons are a comfort to her. I was not even aware she was reading them, but I am glad I can still in some way be her pastor.  That began when I said yes to officiating the wedding. 

Things were different in Vermont. Like New York, there were more openly gay people including several teachers and students at the schools where Irie worked and even a pastor of another church in our town. Civil unions were legal and many gays were living in open relationship with each other.  Most of the gay people we knew were kind and decent people, some of whom we formed meaningful friendships with.  Inevitably, however, whether explicitly or implicitly the question would be put before me as a pastor and friend: Did I approve of these people and accept them and their partners completely?  

And it was at that time, in my own spirit that I decided that I did accept and approve of them completely.  I could not look upon these friends and call the intimacy they shared with those whom they loved sinful.  They were committed to one another, and many of them were committed before God in a religious covenant.  They were giving life to the world, blessing it together with their relationship.  These relationships were emotionally and spiritually valid and "bearing fruit" in abundant ways. In my eyes, it was good.

When same-sex marriage began to be debated in Vermont in 2007, I openly supported it. To withhold marriage by way of use of the Bible alone seemed to me a double standard when so many others were able to be married in spite of what the strict injunction of the Bible says.  And I had no other reason to say no. Many of the couples I knew were in Godly, committed covenantal relationships. And they were a blessing to the church, their community, and in some cases their children. To me, this was the gift marriage was intended for; and it was enough to say yes too.

I understand we have individual scriptures such as Romans 1 which speak disapprovingly of same-sex relations. This is not surprising as most Jews at the time considered same-sex relations to be an act or result of sin. But there are many physical conditions such as blindness and lameness which when the Bible was written were also considered to be linked to sin. In fact, the blind and the lame and the sexual minority were together banned from entering the House of the LORD (Leviticus 21).  They were all seen to be unclean and unworthy of inclusion.  I cannot imagine how painful that must have been.  

I thank God our understanding of disability has changed over these thousands of years since. Physical deformity is no longer seen to be a manifestation or condition of sin. One who is blind or lame is no longer considered inherently unclean. Along the way, we arrived at a new understanding on these people. 

I believe we ought to do the same with people of same-sex orientation. They are not unclean or "inherently disordered" as they were once often described. In other words, they are not problems to be solved, but human beings to be understand and accepted in society and -- I believe -- in the House of the LORD also.

In the book of Galatians Paul boldly proclaims that there is neither Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ (Galatians 3:28).  The church struggled for long centuries to understand the fullness of this passage's meaning -- first with the inclusion of Gentiles and later with the emancipation of slaves. As Paul also said, we saw "through a glass darkly," (1 Corinthians 13:12).  Now, it is my understanding that the fullness of this message also includes those of same-sex orientation and marriage. I have changed the way I see this, but am at deep peace with it in my spirit.

And, I am also at peace in my spirit with those who see it differently. For me, it is a matter of individual conviction and in no way a test of fellowship. Others in the Body of Christ have differing views; but we still belong to one another.  As Paul said to the Corinthians when they were debating the dietary customs, "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God,  (1 Corinthians 10:31) and above all love (1 Corinthians 13).  Again, as Paul said, we see through a glass darkly, meaning no one has a full and complete picture. That is why we must treat each other with kindness and humility and commit to love those who see things differently.

There have been many issues which were matters of contention within the church before. More shall come after. Yet, in challenging matters like these, I often think of the wisdom offered in Latin by a church father of yore:

In neccessarriis unitas,
In dubii liberate,
In omnibus caritas.

In what is necessary unity,
In what is doubtful freedom,
In all things love.

"There is only one thing that is necessary," Jesus said, and that is our saving relationship with Him.  In the light of that all else pales, except love --which never ends. 

I love you my friend; and I hold you in my prayers.

My peace to you my sister,


Friday, June 17, 2016

Daily Lesson for June 17, 2016

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Matthew chapter 18 verses 21 and 22:

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

There are people I know whose capacity to forgive astounds and inspires and deeply, deeply humbled me. They live with the still deeply-painful scars from wounds inflicted on them sometimes decades ago.  The scars never go away; sometimes even the wound does not heal; yet they go on, and their lives are a source of hope inspiration and to others -- to me. They choose to allow the trauma that has happened to them to be transfigured from a thing of terror and fear and allow it to become a sign of mercy and of healing. They refuse to remain bound in fear and hatred and locked in the world of perpetual victimhood.

Many years ago, a woman I know shared with me that as a child she had been sexually abused by a man close to the family. The memory had been repressed for a long time -- as these kinds of memories often are -- but had been unlocked a few years earlier. She had then spent several years working through the memory and the still-traumatic feelings it evoked.

She wanted to talk with me about what forgiveness was like for her. She offered to me a reflection on the text from today's Lesson. "Do you know where Jesus told Peter that he had to be willing to forgive 77 times?"  "Yes," I said. "Well, I heard somewhere that that could also be translated 77x7 times."  "Yes," I said, "I believe that's correct." "Let me tell you what I have been thinking about and what I have discovered about forgiveness through all of this. The average woman lives to be about 77 years old. I have been thinking that if I am going to forgive him, then I have to learn to forgive 7 days a week for all 77 years of my life. That's what I have to do to forgive, and to no longer be his victim."

Like I said, there are people I know whose capacity to forgive astounds me; she is one of them. May the LORD give her the strength she needs to forgive again today.