Thursday, July 24, 2014
Today's lesson is from Romans chapter 15 verse 4:
"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
These last few weeks I have been studying the work of Brene Brown, best-selling author and professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Brown studies what she calls "whole hearted" people, and their ability to survive and even thrive amidst struggle. One of the primary things Brown has learned in her research is that whole hearted persons are people of great hope. And what she discovered about hope - to her surprise and to mine - is that hope is something which is both taught and learned. In other words, hope is something that can be passed down, one generation showing another how to hold their hopes in spite of whatever circumstances they may find themselves in.
So I'm reading this 21st century researcher Brene Brown, and the open the Bible and see Paul saying the same thing 2,000 years before. Paul is writing the church in Rome, a church under persecution from both the Roman government and in conflict with certain parts of conservative Judaism. Paul knows they need hope and he tells them where to find it - in the scriptures, in the stories of those who have gone before, in the lives of those who in spite of great difficulties held on. Through their endurance, Paul says, we too find the courage to hope.
Hope is learned; and it is taught by the passing on of stories of hope-filled people. This is why for millennia the Scriptures have been such a source of power and inspiration to those forlorn, oppressed, and abused - because the strength of Hagar, or the courage of Esther, or the perseverence of Moses is literally passed down from one generation to another through the pages of the family Bible.
And it all just makes me think, in our current generation's Biblical and historical illiteracy we are in danger of losing more than a few good stories from times past; we're actually in danger of losing hope itself.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Today's Lesson is from Psalm 49 verses 6 through 9 and 17 through 20:
6 those who trust in their wealth
and boast of the abundance of their riches?
7 Truly no man can ransom another,
or give to God the price of his life,
8 for rthe ransom of their life is costly
and can never suffice,
9 that he should live on forever
and never see the pit.
17 For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
his glory will not go down after him.
18 For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed
—and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—
19 his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
who will never again see light.
20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
In his funeral oration for King Louis XIV of France, in he presence of some of the world's richest and most powerful, Jean Baptiste Masillon famously began his sermon with these straightforward words which put all of the pomp of so grand an occasion in perspective: "Dieu seul est grand. (Only God is great.)
I have over my years as a pastor been blessed to know many very wealthy people who keep things in perspective. They know that things could have turned out otherwise. they know what the writer of Ecclesiastes says is true:
"The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor riches to men of understanding; but time and chance happen to them all."
Those who are rich in things and also rich in soul know keep it all in perspective. They know their riches are a blessing to be used generously for the good of their families and also others. They know they have been blessed to be a blessing. And in the end they know that their wealth can never purchase the pearl of great price - which is what Jesus called the kingdom of heaven. Entry there can never be bought, but must instead be humbly received.
In that sense, whether rich or poor, in the end we're all beggars because only God is great.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Today we have two lessons:
Joshua chapter 8 verses 21 and 22:
21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had captured the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22 And the others came out from the city against them, so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side. And Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped.
and Matthew 26 verse 52:
“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword."
We see the images on television and the Internet. Gaza burning. Hundreds killed in just a matter of days. Refugees making their way through streets of rubble and ruin. We see these images and we know this is not the way to peace.
They say that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again with the expectation of different results. Yet again and again the results are the same - more death, and more destruction, and another generation of enemies made.
The just peace Palestinians are looking for will not come through bombs and rockets and the mustering of its people into intifada. Israel will not allow itself to be bowed by war and neither will its backers. On the other hand, the peace Israel seeks will not be gained by erecting more settlements in the name of security. Creating more enemies is not an effective means of security.
It is insanity, this living by the sword.
In the coming days I pray a ceasefire will be declared which will last more than just a few hours. When a ceasefire is declared there will be a period of mourning. In that mourning I pray leaders from both sides will see the insanity - that in trying to live by the sword they are actually dying.
Until then, Gaza burns; and her children pledge vengeance.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Today's Daily Lesson is from Joshua chapter 7 verse 13:
“There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”
In the book of Joshua, just after the fall of Jericho, there is a little-remembered story about a man named Achan, whose selfishness nearly cost the Israelites their claim in the Promised Land.
The story goes that when Jericho fell to the Israelites the LORD gave a strict command to all the Israelites that they were not to take the city's silver and told for themselves, but instead they were to give all the valuables unto the treasury of the LORD. As it happened, one of the Israelites, Achan, acted selfishly, taking some of Jericho's devoted things for himself. As a result, in the next battle at a place called Ai, where the Israelites should have won handedly, they were instead routed and dozens of their men lost their lives. The Bible says the Israelites were deeply grieved and their hearts melted and became "like water". Then the LORD spoke to them and told them why it was that they were so roundly defeated. “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”
We will never know the victory so long as we remain devoted to anything other than the LORD and the LORD's will for our lives. We cannot serve God and mammon. We cannot serve God and our ego. We cannot serve God and also serve what is safe, or politic, or popular.
The LORD requires our complete devotion; and the divided heart of even only one may cost us all.
Friday, July 18, 2014
Today's Daily Lesson comes from Romans 12 verse 15:
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."
Last year I saw something beautiful. It was during prayer time on at Wednesday night fellowship. Everyone was gathered around the tables and we were sharing prayer concerns and thanksgivings as we always do. Two women were seated at tables next to one another. One of the women's husbands had been diagnosed with a particular form of cancer which would likely take his life within the next year. Tests were being run on the second woman's husband but doctors suspected he too had the same virulent form of cancer. It was a very sad time for both families and also for our church.
But then the second woman stood up during prayer time and announced that the test results had come back on him and that he was cancer free. The congregation broke out in spontaneous applause and celebration. And at just that moment from where I was standing at the lectern, I could see the face of the first woman - the one whose husband really did have cancer. She too was clapping, and her face was wide with a smile, and her eyes were full of the light of good news. And then I saw as the second woman, he one whose husband was proclaimed cancer free, looked over at the first woman with a knowing and caring look and reached out her hand in sympathy. I could see that tears began to fall from both women's eyes. Tears then welled up in mine also.
We were rejoicing with those who rejoiced and weeping with those who wept and like I said, it was beautiful.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Today's Daily Lesson is from Matthew 26, a story about one of the last nights of Jesus' life:
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,1 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Up in Williston, VT there is a place called the Vermont Respite Home where those expected to live only six months or less go to spend there final days. It is a small house with only a few rooms surrounded by a beautiful garden tended by the University of Vermont Horticultural program. Every room looked out into the garden where during the summer roses bloom in all colors amidst the lush, green grass fed by winter's snow. A bird feeder was placed outside each room's window, harkening the robins and finches chickadees and bluejays to come and receive their daily bread. When you walk inside teams of morning and afternoon volunteers are busy whipping up made-to-order pancakes or baking from-scratch cookies. Walk through the kitchen turn the corner down one of the hallways and the sound of a harp is heard at the foot of coming from one of the resident's rooms, it's celestial sound bringing peace and healing to one whose body is dying but whose spirit is alive. Walk further down the hall and a family is gathered together around the room as a priest kneels in quiet prayer before administering the sacrament of communion to his parishioner and friend for the last time. Soon the parishioner and his family can be heard joining their voices with the priest's as they together recite the familiar words of the Our Father. A nurse hears and slips into the room to join in the prayer. Somehow the voices of the priest and the family and the nurse flow together perfectly with the soft rhythm of the harp down the hall.
It is an extraordinary place and an extraordinary moment. At times and places like this heaven and earth are not far from one another; that is always true when the dying are cared for with beauty and with love.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Today's Daily Lesson is from Matthew 25 verses 31 through 40:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Today's Lesson is what is known as the Parable of the Last Judgement and I will confess to you now that Given the turbulent times we are now having about strangers showing up at our border and all the politicization following I was tempted to just skip this. But I couldn't skip it because there are readers of these lessons who know I draw the texts from the Daily Office and who would note that I chickened out. So thanks for holding me accountable. As Will Willimon says, we preachers have to learn our job is not to try to protect the people from the piercing edge of what Jesus said.
Just a few thoughts on this text as it pertains to where we are today:
First of all, it is known as the Parable of the Last Judgement, and because judgement is involved there is indeed an edge to it. This story is meant to convict us - to summon us to deeper discipleship and a greater living out of our faith. In the end we might look back and says well Jesus was just speaking in hyperbole; then again we may not. Our job for today is to hear the word and let it pierce our hearts like a seed pierces the soil. If we do that - if we have ears to hear it - then the seed will enter in and do its work in us. In the end we will all be convicted to change our hearts.
Secondly - and this is challenging - in the Son of Man's eyes there really are no borders. All the nations are gathered before him in the story. This means the Son of Man does not see the same geographical demarcations we see, whether those be city precincts, the Rio Grande, or even the line between Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We have "Doctors Without Borders" and we have a God without borders also. Though borders are necessary and not in and of themselves bad; God's vision for humanity transcends those borders.
Thirdly - "When I was a stranger, you welcomed me." Imagine it. What does welcome look like? How does it feel to be welcomed? What happens in the human heart when one knows she has gone out of her way to be welcoming? It is in my soul the expansive gift of love. But the pictures I have seen online of people protesting buses of children with angry scowls and signs which say, "Go home illegals" makes me feel the opposite. Those pictures make me feel small and diminished.
Fourthly - "And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?" When was it? Was it not in those pictures? In those scowling faces? Pictures of people sick and tired themselves to the point of anger and protest. People living in the land of the free but they themselves in prisons. Prisons of fear that there will not be enough, of economic uncertainty, of national insecurity?
When was it? It was when He came to us in the least of these, which I take to mean when He came in every one of these. And that was the big surprise. When He came to us - in THAT one. Did we welcome him? Did we visit her? Did we dare to approach them? Or did we just pass them by? Write them off? Judge them the way the world judges them? Judge them the way they judge the world?
When I came to you as the least of these - whoever the least and last you might wish to have show up at your door, or on your border, or on your Facebook scroll.
See, I told you, in the end we will all be convicted to change our hearts. And I'm glad I didn't try to spare you that.