Friday, August 28, 2015

Daily Lesson for August 28, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Mark chapter 14 verses 27-30:

27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”

Those who read these daily lessons often will know what a an impact my friend Ted had on my life and what loss for me was his passing earlier this year. He came into my life at just the right time. As the old Asian proverb has it, "When the student is ready the teacher will come."  Ted came with his wisdom just when I was ready to receive it.

Today's lesson reminds me of a literally life-changing moment I had with Ted. We were sharing together in a group and I was talking about a struggle I was having with trying to keep peace at church while at the same time trying to be faithful to Christ's teachings about things like poverty, wealth, and the sword.  Another person in the group asked how I would know whether or not I was selling out. I said I felt confident I wasn't going to sell out and compromise the principles of Jesus for the sake of keeping things pacific at church. Ted looked at me with a soul-piercing gaze and prophetic word, "Ryon, you will sell out.  You will compromise. You are not going to live up to the high calling of the Gospel."  Then he closed with the words -- a question -- which changed my life:

"So what?"

Those with ears to hear let them hear.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Daily Lesson for August 27, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Psalm 18 verses 25-26:

 With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
 with the purified you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

It has been said that in the beginning God created humankind in His own image and likeness, and ever since humankind has been trying to return the favor.

That's a joke; but seriously, how is it that God can seem to become all things to all people?  Is God not the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow?  How can it be then that, as the psalmist says, God can be merciful to some and yet seem torturous to others?

My sense is that perhaps we don't so much make God in our likeness as we do receive Him according to our character.

I am thinking here of what Augustine said about Pharaoh.  How is it that, Augustine asked, that God could harden the heart of Pharaoh?  He answered by drawing a parallel to the sun. The sun melts wax and ice cream but it also dries mud and hardens clay.  How is this possible?  The answer lies in the character and makeup of that which feels the heat.

For some God is a warm and purifying comfort -- full of mercy.  But for others the very thought of God hardens the heart into rock hard bitterness and resentment.  When that happens it may say a lot more about their character and makeup than it does about God's.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Daily Lesson for August 26, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Mark chapter 14 verses 3 through 10:

3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.

Yesterday I got into a discussion with some friends about the differences between charity and justice, prompted by a book one of us was reading that called into question whether much of the work the church does is of any real use or whether it's just a sort of pablum that makes do-gooders feel even gooder, but doesn't really do anything to solve the actual issues.

As we were talking I remembered some of the criticism that was levied against Mother Teresa for her having cared much for the dying poor in the streets of Calcutta, but not having done much to change the actual situation. It was a criticism with some truth in it I knew, yet still it didn't quite sit right.

Now Jesus' words, spoken about another woman who was criticized for what she did for him just before his own death, come with moral clarity and force: "She has done what she could."

Mother Teresa herself said, "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."  The woman who anointed Jesus did not change the fact that Jesus was going to die, but she did what she could; she brought dignity to his death with her small act of great love.

And for that, Jesus said, she was to be remembered -- and not criticized.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Daily Lesson for August 25, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Mark chapter 13 verses 32-37:

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

No one knows the day or the time, not the angels, nor even the Son, but only the Father -- and also people trying to sell books.

Okay, that was a little snarky; but it is exasperating that books keep being written about the imminence of the end of the world and the anti-Christ being some possibly identifiable oil magnate in Russia.

This is not what Jesus meant when he said, "Stay awake."

Yes, we are to be awake, and vigilantly watching  for the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds -- in other words, Jesus' metaphorical description for the end of this age and the beginning of the next.  But we are not to be out speculating as to some date or time or precipitating event. That is a waste of time at best and at worst can lead millions astray.  Jesus said, when you see the fig tree get tender and the leaves bloom you know summer is present -- but until then there's no use trying to wish it any closer. Summer is going happen when it happens and no sooner; that's what 5 years of living in Vermont taught me anyway.

Until the final day comes, we need to keep short accounts, say, "I love you," a lot, and don't say or do things or not say or not do things we'll regret. We're to try to live like each day may be our last -- because nobody knows; I mean nobody.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Daily Lesson for Momday, August 24, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Acts chapter 26 verses 12-15:

12 "In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting."

When we think of Paul's Damascus Road experience we usually think of it only in relation to his conversion to being a follower of Christ; what we often miss, however, is that incredible moment was also the changing of his mind.  It was the day that the "Jew of Jew" Paul, intent on shutting down "the Way" for its purported apostasy, would soon be bringing its good news to the Gentiles.

Of course this was unfathomable to Paul before it happened.  There was no way in the world this could ever be the case. He would resist it with all his might.  But then Jesus spoke: "It is hard for you to kick against the goads."  A stubborn mule will resist prodding (goading) by kicking back.  This was an old farm saying, but even a city boy like Paul knew what it meant. Resistance was going to only bring about more pain.

There are things we accept. There are things we kick against. And there are things we have to have a Damascus Road experience to change our minds about.

But in the end, God gets us to where He wants us to go.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Daily Lesson for August 21, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Mark chapter 12 verses 41 through 44:

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Sometime back a very wealthy man wrote an additional $10,000 check at the end of the year over and above his already substantial pledge.

When I thanked him he told me that has he not given that additional $10,000 he would have ended up in a higher tax bracket and owed Uncle Sam at least that much more. 

"The LORD knows I didn't really give another $10,000 to the church and I want you to know it also."

That's what I call a rich man with integrity.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Daily Lesson for August 20, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Mark chapter 12 verses 28 through 31:

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

When asked for the single greatest commandment Jesus gave two. Paraphrasing the law and combining two separate commands Jesus said, "Love God and love your neighbor."  In other words, we cannot do the former without doing the latter.  Love must be extended horizontally as well as vertically.

But let us not miss something else very important here. Quoting the book of Leviticus, Jesus said we are to love our neighbor -- as ourselves.  Implied here is a third commandment -- that we love ourselves, that we truly and deeply fall in love with ourselves, and that we learn to do so rightly.

But isn't the love of self our whole problem?  Don't we need to quit loving ourselves and our own selfish ways?  The medieval monk St Bernard of Clairvaux is helpful here. He talked about there being Four Loves. And a good question to end on is which of his Four Loves are you loving with:

1.  The love of self for self sake
2.  The love of God for self sake
3. The love of God for God's sake
4. The love of self for God's sake

Far be it from me to presume to add to the saints, but according to the lesson today perhaps there ought also have been a fifth love:

5. The love of neighbor for neighbor's sake, for God's sake, and for self sake.

That is indeed the greatest commandment - what I would call the summa bonum of Love.

It's good to be back home friends.