Friday, May 22, 2015

Daily Lesson for May 22, 2015

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.”

There is a difference between a chore and a labor of love. 

Those who serve God in the church work hard. And when they do a really good job we reward them by giving them even more work. That's just an unwritten rule.  No good deed goes unpunished in the House of the LORD.

That really is fine for most people -- at least for a little while. They serve well and feel good about doing it.  That's a win win. It is truly a labor of love.

Except when it isn't. 

Sometimes what was a labor of love turns in the chore of more. Service feels like a burden, a have-to task, and the one who started out gracious and hospitable turns angry and resentful.

That's when it's time for a Martha to become a Mary.

Whenever we start comparing what we're doing with what others aren't doing then we have moved from grace to works and Gospel to law. There is only one thing we can do to save ourselves at this point and that is to quit doing and simply be.

"We are human beings", some wise person once said, "and not human doings."  We can be anxious and worried about many things, but the one thing that is necessary is for us to be near and not far from Christ -- which we can do sitting at Jesus' feet in the living room or serving him in the kitchen; for it is not so much a matter of location and action as it is heart and spirit.

I always imagine that after that dinner over at Martha's house was finished, Mary staid after and told her sister she would take care of the cleanup.  I also imagine Martha -- true to form -- refused.  "Let's do it together," she said; and they did. And nothing about the long hours after felt for either like a chore but indeed a labor of love -- for Jesus and for each other. 

That's how I imagine it anyway. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Daily Lesson May 21, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Hebrews chapter 7 verses 18 and 19:

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

"A former commandment is set aside."

It's astonishing to see that kind of statement in the Bible -- especially for us Baptists who were so long taught that the whole Bible was infallible and all its commandments were to be believed and obeyed. But if we're reflective and honest enough we will admit that nobody is following the whole letter of the law; nor should they!

I know saying these things opens us to accusations of "picking and choosing" what to obey and what not to obey. For me it's not really about picking and choosing. It's about discerning. The law, according to the author of Hebrews, was never supposed to be taken as an ultimate end in itself. There was, as he wrote, a "better hope" to come. That hope is the Gospel, of which the law could only be a shadow.

Jesus taught that he did not come to do away with the law but to perfect it (Matthew 5:17). By saying that he implied that though the law was necessary and even good, it was not perfect. He came to show us "a better hope" -- in other words, a better way of salvation beyond the law. He showed us how to live into that better hope -- taking from the law what was good and useful, but setting aside what was no longer necessary or appropriate. He went beyond the letter of the law and surpassed it with the spirit of his life. 

When a former commandment becomes obsolete because of "weakness" or "uselessness" it is no longer a crisis of faith. This is what it means to be set free from the law; otherwise we still slaves to it. Jesus came to teach us how to live free; and so now we are free indeed. 

The Apostle Paul said that "we are not under law, but under grace." The grace given to us is the spirit -- something which a law, though perhaps necessary, can never give. Those who live in this spirit go beyond the law's requirements. They live into "a better hope". And the hope is better because the life of the spirit gets us closer to the heart of God than the law ever could.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Daily Lesson for May 20, 2015

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.”

We are not called to be successful, but faithful.

Jesus had sent his 72 followers out to preach the Gospel, heal, and cast out demons. They came back celebrated at what success they had -- even demons had listened to them. They rejoiced, and Jesus rejoiced with them; but then he used the occasion to teach them something they would need later -- when things weren't going to go so easily. "Nevertheless," he said, "do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

When we put all our emotional selves into whether we win or lose, whether others listen or not, whether we are received well or rejected, then our joy will always be subject to the vicissitudes of life and will turn to frustration and ultimately despair. Jesus was reminding them that their joy ought not be contingent on their "success"-- for success would not always come. 

He taught the disciples this lesson gain on the last night of his life, just before he was to undergo the ultimate rejection of his life and message. He knew they too would one day also undergo rejection.  He wanted them to be ready for that. He wanted them to keep their joy. "Nothing," he told them, "can take away your joy."

We do not rejoice in success or failure. Time and chance happen to all.  We seek not to be successful but to be faithful.  And we rejoice -- not in how well things go, but as Jesus said, we rejoice in our names having been written in heaven. In other words, we rejoice in having been true to God and in the end God's being true to us.  

This is enough; in fact it is everything because in the end it really is the only thing. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Daily Lesson for May 19, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Psalm 95 verses 4 and 5:

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

The geography of the soul encompasses many different kinds of places, but every place belongs to God.

Those who stand on great mountaintops in life should enjoy the view. They should exult in whatever they see. They should rejoice in whatever it is they have accomplished. They will have to come down again, but they should enjoy the heck out of it while it lasts.

Some journey through dry places. There is a desolation to the time -- a loneliness in the soul. The journey has been long and will be longer still and survival is sometimes doubted. But again and again there is oasis -- a spring of hope which keeps us alive and going. For this wilderness belongs to God also, and his hands fashioned its sand atop the earth and its hidden water beneath.

And then there are the depths -- a place with no footing where gravity keeps pulling us down and the voice of hope is distant and distorted as it calls to us from beneath the waters.  Yet its feint sound can still be heard -- it tells us to let ourselves go, to not be afraid of plunging more deeply.  For God is there also.

All the soul's places belong to God. There is no place the soul can wander where God is not.  Mountain, desert, ocean depth -- to God belong all the places of the earth and all the souls who inhabit them. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Daily Lesson for May 18, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Luke chapter 9 verses 

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah did?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." And they went on to another village.

Not unlike many other holy books, the Bible can be misused to justify all manner of things -- including very violence, bloodshed, and great evil against others. If someone wants to do something, they can always find their legitimation in the pages of holy writ. Scary!

While not denying that the Bible has its share of violent stories, Jesus refused to allow his disciples to misuse those stories for their own misguided purposes.

For example, in today's lesson the disciples' message had been rejected and they felt hurt and wounded, and in their hurt they wanted to act in retaliation. They wanted to call fire down from heaven to consume the Samaritan village which had rejected them -- and they pointed to the prophet Elijah's having done it before as their justification.  But Jesus refused. "The son of man has come not to take life, but to give life," he said.

We live in a time when many destructive things are being justified by pointing to various stories and words in various holy books.  But we know things by their fruits. If their end is the up upbuilding of life and human community then they are of the Son of Man; but if their end is death and destruction and the tearing down of people then they are not. 

This is the litmus test. Many will try to contort things and confuse us and many will be deceived. But this is the litmus test. The son of man has come to give life and not take it away. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Daily Lesson for May 15, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Hebrews chapter 4 verses 14 through 16:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God's throne is grace.

So many of us have an image of God sitting in a throne of judgement and wrath in some kind of heavenly courtroom. We would never ever in a million years enter that courtroom because to enter it would be to convict ourselves.  We would bring our sin with us and the charges would be laid out along with the evidence.  And our mortal sins -- murder, adultery, blasphemy against God -- we know would be too much to bear; but the venal sins -- lust, greed, gossip, jealousy, and maliciousness - would be even worse because they would show just how petty and mean-spirited and double-minded we are. We could never stand in such a courtroom and before such a throne. 

The Gospel tells us Jesus has gone to stand before and for us. He entered the heavenly courtroom on our behalf, stood before the judge, laid out the facts, and spoke in our defense. And the verdict was not innocent, and not even not guilty, but free of charge. And now he has come back out to get us and take us back in to meet the judge.  And the question will we trust him to come?

Any other word other is neither from God nor from Jesus. God's throne is grace.  And God wishes us to approach God's throne with boldness and confidence in our spirit.  That is difficult to do; but it is necessary that we might ourselves hear the words of grace and mercy and know what it means to be and to live absolutely free of charge.

This is the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Daily Lesson for May 14, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Psalm 8 verses 1 through5:

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

What a psalm and what a vivid picture!

There is the majesty of the heavens with moon and stars and galaxies upon galaxies. It is a wonder for us to behold; and yet in all that expansiveness there is then also a word uttered from the mouth of a child which God takes note of and which somehow has the power to still an enemy and change the world.

"What is man that you are mindful of him," the psalmist asks, "and the son of man that you care for him?"

In all the vastness and grandeur of the cosmos, God is paying attention to us; God is counting on us -- wee babes -- to play our part, to speak up, to do whatever small thing has been given us to do.  And it matters. 

There is an old poem whose author is unknown to me but which I first heard from the great black mystic Howard Thurman:

"Heir of the kingdom neath the skies,
Often he falls yet falls to rise,

Stunned, bleeding, beaten back,
Holding still to the upward track,

Playing his part in creation's plan,
God-like in image, this is man.

We are tiny -- minuscule in this vast cosmos. Yet God has sown eternity into each of our hearts. And we each have our parts to play; and all that is asked of us is that we play them well.