Monday, August 21, 2017

Daily Lesson for August 21, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Acts chapter 23 verses 1 through 5:

While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, ‘Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.’ 2Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. 3At this Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’4Those standing nearby said, ‘Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?’5And Paul said, ‘I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.” 

We have arrived at what has now become an epidemic of incivility towards our public officials of all parties and at all levels. It is exceedingly common now to go on the internet and watch public officials be maligned and made fun of in the most malicious of ways. Supposed humor about the decapitation of our current president is a recent and glaring example, but insulting and abusive speech abounds. It has become now fashionable to speak cruelly and unkindly of our leaders and people on all sides of the political spectrum seem to feel at liberty to do so. It is, I think, a sign of moral decay in our society that people feel the license to speak uncivilly of public officials, but in fact speaking uncivilly is how one now becomes a public official. Sad. 

There is no instruction against criticism of policies and even persons. It is necessary that we be able to criticize public officials for the sake of a free democracy. Nevertheless, as the Lesson tells us today, we are not to speak evil of a leader of our people. That means we are not to wish them or their families harm or ill -- no matter how vigorously we might disagree with their policies and take exception to their character.

There are two roads. I wish we'd take the high one.  And I wish we'd quit being so entertained by, giving money to, and electing those who take the low. 

I may sound like an old man talking here. But passing 40 means I've earned that right. And I want you to know that what I'm saying matters for the sake of the character of our country. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Daily Lesson for August 18, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Psalm 107 verses 10 through 16:

10 Some sat in darkness and deep gloom, 
bound fast in misery and iron;

11 Because they rebelled against the words of God 
and despised the counsel of the Most High.

12 So he humbled their spirits with hard labor; 
they stumbled, and there was none to help.

13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, 
and he delivered them from their distress.

14 He led them out of darkness and deep gloom 
and broke their bonds asunder.

15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy 
and the wonders he does for his children.

16 For he shatters the doors of bronze 
and breaks in two the iron bars.

This coming Sunday's sermon is titled "Gratitude" and I will be giving thanks for so many things Second B has been for me and for my family for four generations. I am so thankful for so many things I neither earned nor deserve.  It's all grace. 

And beyond even the many graces Second B, there is the abounding grace God. Today's Lesson describes who I was a quarter of a lifetime ago. I sat in darkness and deep gloom, bound fast in the iron misery of my own rebellious ways. I despised the counsels of God and fled what I thought was the stifling presence of His saints. I wanted to live life my way. I wanted to be free; but really I ended up enslaved.  

As Richard Rohr says, for years I skated around the edges of my sin -- and then I fell in. It was a fall to grace. 

The grace did come easy. It was painful and humbling and if I hadn't been so sure that there was no other way in the world to be saved then through surrender then I would never have given in. So there I was, a prodigal returned, not to robe and ring and fatted calf, but to a single bedroom in the home of my new-octogenarian roommate. This wasn't the glory I imagined, but it was the way of salvation. By the flint-hard grace of God was I saved from my own self.

I am thinking today, I could have missed this all. I could have missed this life with God and the blessing which have come since. My family could have missed it. My children could have missed it. I was so close to missing it.

And when I think on how close I was to missing it all, a line from an old hymn comes to mind: "Count your blessings, name them one by one."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Daily Lesson for August 17, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Acts chapter 21:

27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, 28shouting, ‘Fellow-Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’ 29For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut.31While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. 34Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Away with him!’

A story with relevance for today, touchstones with current events I will note in a numerical list:

1) Racially/religiously-motivated zealots protecting what they see as "sacred", and willing to resort to violence in order to preserve it.

2) The zealots are mostly outside agitators, not actually from the place where they are fomenting a riot.

3) Zenophobia is a prime motivator for the mob.

4) The Roman officials are either unable or unwilling to determine the moral legitimacy of the parties involved in the crisis, arresting Paul, who is the victim rather than the instigator of the violence.  In fact, later the order is given to have Paul flogged for fomenting disorder in the city.

Karl Barth said, "Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible."

So here then is what the Bible tells us about the news and times we live in: It really doesn't end well for cities or for countries governed by mob rule.  When the wind is allowed to be sown then the whirlwind is reaped. That is why local, state, and federal governments with moral clarity and legitimacy are so necessary to intervene for the protection of life, property, and establishment of order. 



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Daily Lesson for August 16, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Mark chapter 10 verses 28 through 31:

28 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 29Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’ 

I want you to know that I have been on the receiving end a hundred times over among that special fellowship of people we call church. 

I have brothers who are closer than blood, with whom I have shared the deepest of laughter and who have been my support during the most difficult of times. I have sisters -- some I call "sister-friends" because of, well, Oprah and Maya -- who have been my Athenas, offering wisdom sublime. I have "rope holders", male and female, holding me tight lest the storm take me overboard. I have mothers, tender and always, always for me. And I have fathers, patient and proud. I have fields, vacation homes, light-keeper's houses, shared with love by those with gifts of hospitality and generosity.

Persecutions?  Yes.  Hard times and bitter struggles. Some big and important and some small and petty. As we say at Second B, this ain't heaven, it's church.

But at the end of the day, Jesus was right. Following Him has brought me family and blessings a hundredfold over.  With persecutions, struggles, and trials?  Yes. And in the end eternal life. 

In the end, a hundred times a hundredfold, forever. 

And the word that comes to mind is "Gratitude".  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Daily Lesson for August 15, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from 2 Samuel chapter 14 verse 14:

"We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished for ever from his presence."

God is still and always at work, maneuvering to bring the sinner home. Long after we ourselves might have given up on someone, or even closed the door on them, God has His ways. We may lock the door and throw away the key, but God always carries a spare. 

This can be tough for those hurt or wounded or who have done right while others have done wrong. But it is the very heart of the Gospel message. As the Psalmist says, "The LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting."

In a couple of weeks, we'll celebrate Second B's anniversary Sunday and will sing as we always do "To God be the Glory".  There's a line in that hymn which says, "The vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives."  The vilest offender.  Who is the vilest offender?  I am thinking about those so-called White Nationalists in Charlottesville.  I can hardly think of anything more vile than white nationalism. And here this word says that God is working on them too, that God hasn't given up on any of them.

I tell you this "everlasting mercy" stuff can be hard to stomach. I'd trade it in if I didn't know that at times I've been just about the vilest offender myself. I'd trade it in, except I wouldn't get anything back in return.

So I guess I'll have to keep it.  Offensive as it is, it really is the Gospel. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Daily Lesson for August 14, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Acts chapter 20 verse 28:

"Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son."

Some have noted that about 95 percent of the time the Daily Lessons come from the prescribed readings of the Episcopal Daily Office. So I never really know what I'm getting until the morning of. 

Today, I get Paul saying goodbye to a people he loves and cares for.  For those who caught yesterday's news about my planned departure from Second B, you can see that this hits close to home. 

Paul is going away, and he will not be coming back. So he calls the elders of the church together to give them instructions on the care for the "flock".  He tells the elders to keep watch over themselves and the sheep and later he tells them to watch for wolves who after he is gone would come to do harm.  "The Holy Spirit has made you overseers of this flock," he tells them. In other words, they've been called and fitted for the task.  They have within them what it will take to watch over these sheep for such a time as this. 

To entrust someone you love into the care of another is the ultimate act of faith. Jesus did it with the disciples, whom he entrusted to the care of the Holy Spirit. Paul did it with the church of Ephesus whom he entrusted to the same. Now, I do so likewise.

These sheep are dearly loved. So dearly loved that the very blood of the Son of God was poured out for them. Take care of them, friends. Take care of yourselves and also them. Take care. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Daily Lesson for August 11, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Mark 9:14-29:

14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15 When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. 16 He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” 19 He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out,“I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” 26 After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28 When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”

Amidst the chaos that is parenting, and especially parenting a child with special needs, and all the frenzy and fear and full-time worry over keeping the child safe and out of harm's way, and the belief of the mountain where we know all things shall be well and all manner of things shall be well, and then the unbelief of the valley below where we wonder if this child will even make through the day, amidst all these things it turns out that the real problem is not in the child at all. The child is not the problem. The problem is, well, also the answer: it's our prayer.

Now hear me, I have wrestled with this one. As a parent of a child with special needs, I sympathize with the father in this story. I have worried over my son being drawn into the lake by our house or into a busy street. I too have felt the panic of taking my eye off him for a split second and not knowing where or wha he wandered off and into. And no, I don't think prayer is going to take it all away, somehow "cure" autism. But again, maybe autism isn't the problem. My son is not the problem. The chaotic, frenzied, faithless spirit is really not in Daniel. It's in me. 

And so, I hear Jesus' words: "This kind can only come out through prayer."  And what I hear Jesus speaking of is not the spirit of this boy, but the spirit of the man. And it can only come out with prayer. 

Prayers for serenity for times beyond control.

Prayers for acceptance when things don't go as planned. 

Prayers for courage to face challenging situations.

Prayers for strength to get through today. 

Prayers for forgiveness when I am hurting or hurtful.

Prayers for help to get me through today's doubts. 

Prayers of gratitude because all life is gift. 

"This kind can only come out through prayer."' What kind?  Anxiety, anger, impatience, resentment, guilt. Those kinds. Those kinds do come out with prayer. 

They can only come out through prayer.