Matthew 27:15-25

July 17, 2019

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Matthew 27:15-25

Spirituality – at its best – brings a sense of deep connection, love, and gratitude toward God, others, and self. Religion – at its best – provides structure to our spirituality. It plants us deeply in human history and helps us grow to be both fully human and humane.

But if our spirituality gets twisted into idolatry – or if our religion gets reduced to a club for insiders – it can unleash a darkness within us that is both divisive and destructive.

Pilate served as the governor of Judea from 26-37 BCE. He served at the behest of Emperor Tiberius, a reclusive, paranoid, reluctant emperor. Pilate’s duties in Judea ended in 37 BCE, the same year that Tiberius died. Historians are unsure of how Tiberius was murdered – some stories say poisoning or by being smothered with his own bedclothes. But the consensus is that Caligula, Tiberius’s grand-nephew, who would succeed him, had a hand in the murder. Caligula would prove to be one of Rome’s most cruel and perverted emperors. He would reign less than four years before also being assassinated.

So much for a brief glimpse into the foxes who ruled the hen house. But all of this was much more than politics. For, in those days, the Roman cult of emperor worship was planted deeply into all of the areas where the Roman army kept the peace. Emperors were not just the heads of state, they were also “Pontifex Maximus”, the high priest of the Roman religion. Some emperors went so far as to proclaim themselves divine. The Son of God. Pilate was little more than a well-placed bureaucrat, but his authority was both political and, as far as the Romans were concerned, religious.

Matthew portrays Pilate even acting like a god in his little sphere of influence. “Releasing prisoners” and “sitting on the judgment seat” are ultimately God’s business. But Pilate takes it upon himself. From his “grand gesture” of releasing a prisoner during Passover to his abdication of his responsibility toward justice, “washing his hands” even as he handed Jesus over, Matthew is very careful not to lay blame exclusively on the Roman government for the death of Jesus even as he paints an unflattering portrait of Pilate’s role.

Jesus’ fate is finally in the hands of the crowds. I believe we hear this story best when we see ourselves – in every age – standing among those crowds. People who twist and distort spirituality/religion have used this story to justify centuries of antagonism toward Jews. That is absolutely wrong. If we say that “Jesus died for the sins of the world” then those crowds represent each and every one of us. Together, this story combines religion, government, and short-sighted crowds into one unholy trinity of injustice. The crowd chooses Jesus Barabbas.

Jesus chooses the crowds.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, sometimes during Lent we sing “beneath the cross of Jesus, I long to take my stand…” Today, and every day, help us see ourselves in those crowds. Help us see, in ourselves, the darkness of idolatry and twisted spirituality which would reject you and the love that you have for us. In that, we will also see the love and mercy which refuses to reject us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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Matthew 27:11-14

July 16, 2019

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer.

Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Matthew 27:11-14

“You have the right to remain silent.” I learned those words watching an old TV show called “Dragnet.” It seems to me that it was often followed by a show about the FBI starring a guy named Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Even as a kid, that name fascinated me. It was a mouthful. And the stars of both shows were always straight shooters. They were honorable. They served and they protected. They were the authorities.

But they were TV shows. They weren’t real. Even today’s reality shows are not real. Real life is far more complicated. Crimes don’t get solved in 30 minutes. The majority of crimes aren’t even solved. Here in Houston, nearly half of all murderers “get away with it.” Of the 997 murders from January 2015 through June 2018 only 39% resulted in arrests and charges.

Most child abusers are family members or family friends. Most theft is from family. Many murders are criminals killing criminals.

And then there are the class and race issues. A higher percentage of people of color are in jail, often for less serious crimes, than white people. Jeffrey Epstein is in the news today. He sexually molested dozens, if not hundreds, of underage girls. How was it that his initial prison sentence was 13 months of “custody with work release” in a private wing of a Palm Beach county jail? He was rich and he knew the right people. His work release allowed him to go home for 12 hours a day, six days a week. That’s ju$tice?

Jesus was innocent. He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t break any Roman laws. Yet he was brought before Pilate. Pilate, the only name that appears in the Apostles’ Creed. Pilate knew full well that he was innocent. He could see clearly what was going on. He knew the players. And Jesus remained silent.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, as we remember the scene of you standing before Pilate, we can hear the discordant voices of your accusers. Our hearts tell us how important justice is, yet you were so unjustly taken and unjustly treated. You stood before Pilate and in that you identify not only with all of those who suffer injustice but all of those who stand aside and let it happen. All those who stand aside while making it happen. The brokenness of our lives will soon break you yet you suffered it all in silence. Silence. Amen.

Matthew 27:1-10

July 15, 2019

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” Matthew 27:1-10

One person in this passage repents. One person demonstrates the willingness to reflect on their behaviors in light of what they believe about God and God’s will for life. One person changes his mind about Jesus.

There are powerful people in this passage. The chief priests and elders are religious authorities. They are experts regarding the scriptures. They “know their Bible through and through.” They don’t repent. They don’t change their minds about Jesus. All they do is hatch the plan to get rid of him.

Pilate is the local political authority. He only answers to Rome. God? Who cares about God? Rome is where the power lies and Pilate knows full well that all Rome really cares about is skimming all they can off the backs of the people they dominate. Pilate’s goal is control. “Justice” is whatever it takes to keep things “just as” Pilate wants them.

Only Judas repents. Only Judas changes his mind. Only Judas comes to see things differently. “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” Tragically, he recognizes Jesus’ innocence but he is incapable of seeing Jesus’ mercy extending even toward him.

The result? Jesus is on his way to the cross and even his betrayal proves redemptive as it provides a potter’s field, a place to bury foreigners. Matthew doesn’t want us to miss this point. Jesus is what God has been up to all along. Those most likely to miss the point are the powerful.

Let us pray: Jesus, you know the pain of betrayal. You know the pain of being cut off and cast aside. Yet, in your love, even this makes a place for those who would also be cast aside. Like Judas, we too have often realized the mistakes we have made along the way. Be merciful to us, that we might be merciful to ourselves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Good Friday

April 19, 2019

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:32-43

Today we stand, together, under the cross.

Today we remember how our sin – our missing the mark, our real or imagined mistakes, what we have done or what we have left undone – has damaged every relationship in our lives. Has torn the fabric of creation. Has made life just a little more difficult than it already is.

We remember how our stomachs revolted when we made fun of other people, or bullied them, knowing it was wrong but doing it anyway. Just to get a laugh. Or to elevate ourselves. Or so we thought.

We remember our dishonesty. Our white lies. Our blatant, self protective, lies. The lies we told so often we began to believe them ourselves. Or so we thought. Greed. Lust. All that we deny and pretend and stuff.

We remember when people made fun of us. When people abandoned us. When people disappointed us. When people betrayed us.

We remember the self pride and the self loathing we connect to winning and losing. The social hierarchies that followed us from family to school to daily work to neighborhood. All of it, dust. All of it, distraction.

Jesus fell victim to both a political system based on power and domination and a religious system based on the very same things. “Love of country” is a dangerous cliche if it is not directly underscored with “love of people.” Jesus loved people. The powers of the people killed him. But still Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus is giving us the benefit of the doubt on that one. Often we know exactly what we’re doing but we do it anyway.

Jesus didn’t die alone. Two criminals were crucified beside him. One came to faith. One is honest about his own brokenness, his own guilt. He is the one who asks that Jesus remember him in his kingdom. But the other rejects Jesus to the end.

So often we are reminded of all the changes of our lives, that nothing stays the same. But some things seem to never change. Here’s one: Some people cast Jesus aside. Today is just another day. Some people cast their hopes on Jesus. Today is the first day of their eternal lives.

This tension is what it feels like to stand with the crowds and the criminals at the foot of the cross.

Let us pray: Suffering, dying, loving, serving, creating, redeeming, sustaining God, take us today to the foot of the cross. Take us to a place where we recognize our own brokenness reflected in the broken body of a rejected Savior. Remember us, when you come into your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, the name above every name, Amen.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

March 29, 2019

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.

Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

This section of 2 Corinthians is like the broccoli or spinach of what Paul has to say about the place of financial generosity in the life of a follower of Jesus. It is chockful (a word I seldom say or use) of wisdom, encourage, and challenge – the spiritual nutrients of a balanced and fruitful Christian life.

But that’s not to say that we all love to eat our vegetables.

Like Paul said of himself in Romans 7, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We know the difference between greed and generosity. We know the difference between selfishness, selflessness, and self-care. We might even trust that God will take care of us. That God will “provide you with every blessing in abundance.” But that still might not be enough to guide us into a healthy life marked by balanced stewardship of our time, talents, and treasures.

But the biblical principles remain. They aren’t going anywhere. And they are true.

“The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” I have a friend who left a high paying sales job to follow his heart. He enrolled in an auto body program at a vocational technical school. Today he runs a garage restoring and rebuilding classic cars. He took a risk. He paid the joyful and sacrificial costs of his choice. He sowed bountifully and now reaps bountifully.

Where do we sow sparingly? What do we sow bountifully? Where to we invest our time, our skills, our passions, our hearts? Where and Who do we look to for security, for status, for power?

Notice the double blessing in Paul’s words. The generosity of the Corinthians will result in thanksgiving to God, and gratitude from those blessed by their generosity. Knowing we are a part of that is the “what’s in it for me?” side of Christian stewardship.

And finally, notice that Paul ends with his reminders that generosity is also an act of obedience. It is doing what we are supposed to do. Always with the realization that God always gives first.

Let us pray: Unleash generosity in our lives, that we might be obedient to you and a blessing to others. Keep us mindful of where and how we invest in the common good of the world and the personal good of our lives. Thank you for all the gifts you continue to give to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Corinthians 9:1-5

March 28, 2019

Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking.

So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion. 2 Corinthians 9:1-5

Now we continue to follow Paul into the next chapter of his letter. Again he refers to the “brothers” who are working with him, it looks like they are his advance men.

That is particularly interesting to me because our congregation is in the midst of a capital finance campaign (which is why I’m writing so much about money), and capital campaigns usually begin with a quiet stage in which some people are invited into conversations about the goals of the campaign before the big kick off date. That stage makes sense because those people with the means to make large gifts might have some work to do ahead of time – sell real property, meet with their financial advisors, etc. But I think something deeper is going on.

As I do my work I find myself saying “Christianity is a team sport” so often that I sometimes think that I should create a macro on my computer so I can type the phrase with one key. The reason I say that so often is simple. Because Christianity really is a team sport. It is odd that we can forget that, but we do.

I remember back in the day when I used to be an athlete. Thinking back to any season of playing basketball reminds me of the life lessons of team sports. I never waited until the preseason to work on getting better. I did that almost every day. Once the team came together, from the first day, the coaches would remind us of our goals for the year. Knowing the goals helped make sense of all the little steps and drills and challenges it would take to get there.

The voices of the coaches mattered. But what really made a difference were the voices of my teammates. Communication was central to keeping everyone on the same page. We constantly encouraged each other, prodded each other to do our best. We consoled each other if we made a mistake or lost a game.

And when the season or the career ended – you hear ex-pro athletes say this all the time – what people really miss is the locker room, the comradery, the sense of “we’re all in this together” as we all tried to do our best every day.

When the first thing that Jesus did was to reach out to a few people to join him in his work I immediately remember “making the team” and that excitement and nervousness that came along with it. When I read about Paul sending the “brothers” out ahead, I can see them talking over a fire at night, deciding together what the best strategy will be for encouraging the Corinthians – and then following through and doing their best.

No one should be surprised to hear that teammates expect one another to produce! As wonderful as it might be to be ON a team, that isn’t the point. That is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The point of being ON a team is playing hard and smart FOR the team.

But being ON the team does participate in its own “end” because it takes a team to produce. No one can win by themselves. One season in Los Angeles has taught that to LeBron James. The win for the Christian faith is growing and healing and experiencing the spiritual power of community, of relationships with God and others, toward making the world a better, safer, more honest, more just, more humane world for all.

We need one another. And we need to encourage one another to do our best so that, together, we do our best. That’s why Christianity is a team sport.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you have called us by name. You have marked us with the cross forever. We are yours and we belong to one another, for the sake of the world. Keep us eager to do our best. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

March 27, 2019

But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same eagerness for you that I myself have. For he not only accepted our appeal, but since he is more eager than ever, he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news; and not only that, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us while we are administering this generous undertaking for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our goodwill.

We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found eager in many matters, but who is now more eager than ever because of his great confidence in you.

As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker in your service; as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you. 2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Every once in awhile I stumble into a great line that I didn’t see coming. I hear something that I will never forget. It happened to me yesterday.

I was talking to a person that I deeply respect when he told me a story about something an old veteran in politics told him. In effect, he shared one of those life defining moments in his own life with me, and thus continued the cycle through me. Offering encouragement to a young man who was seeking to serve in a public position, the older man said, “Be good stewards with the peoples’ money.”

It was a line that he would never forget and now has become a line I won’t forget either.

People often speak of the miraculous growth of the Christian movement. They take the hyperbole of the book of Acts literally. They just accept that Peter could convince thousands of people at a time to walk away from the life they had known to a new life in Jesus. But that isn’t how Paul tells the story.

For Paul, the Christian movement grows one person at a time. Paul never portrays himself as Spiritual Superman, slaying the powers of evil with his own individual gifts as an evangelist. Read his letters. Christianity, from day one, was a team sport. It was one person exemplifying a quality of life that delivered belonging, healing, and meaningfulness. And in each letter, like in these closing verses of 2 Corinthians 8, he thanks and lifts up his teammates.

And as he does, Paul reassures the Corinthians – even as he is inviting them to be generous with their financial resources – that they will be good stewards of the peoples’ money. That is how the Christian faith grows and gains influence in transforming the world into a common good.

Let us pray: Thank you, Lord, for the people, the places, the little coincidences of life, that have gifted us with faith and encouraged us to keep the faith. Help us be good stewards with your gifts even as we pray that those in authority likewise be good stewards of the peoples’ money. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

March 26, 2019

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.

I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

How do you hear the word “test”? Whether we’re talking about earning a passing grade on a test at school, or testing the internal structural integrity of steel (a very complicated business), isn’t there something about the word “test” that makes our stomachs churn? Why is that?

Maybe it is about accountability. I like how Rick Warren plays with that word. He says that accountability means that others “have the ability to count on me.” Accountability means keeping promises. Delivering the goods. Aligning our words and our actions. Paul challenges the Corinthians to do what they have said they were going to do. To follow through in following Jesus.

Paul tells the Corinthians that his invitation for them to give cheerfully, sacrificially, and proportionately to the cause of the church in Jerusalem is a test. He isn’t testing their generosity, he is “testing the genuineness of your love.”

On the one hand, being generous with our money isn’t necessarily an outgrowth of our love. We could be courting the favor of others. We could be buying ourselves a seat at the head table. We could be covering up our guilt over how we acquired our money.

On the other hand, our generosity is a visible action that results in gratitude on behalf of both the receiver and the giver. One is grateful for the support, the other is grateful to be in the position of offering their support. Giving and receiving lies at the heart of love.

We love, because God first loved us. We give, because God first gave to us. This is the way it is supposed to work.

When our love compels us to give, Paul reminds us that the measure of our gift isn’t how much we give, it is how much we have left. This is why Christians cannot be legalist about tithing, about giving a flat 10% of our income. It might be equal but it isn’t equitable. It might be simple but it isn’t fair. Tithing takes food out of the mouth of someone living in poverty. Those few on the other hand could give 90% of their income and still have plenty left for very upscale necessities of life.

Paul’s invitation to the Corinthians – and to us – isn’t about the balance of our bank accounts, it is about balance within the life of a Christian community.

Let us pray: Loving God, we want to be accountable to the promises of our identity as your children. To show up with what we have, doing our part as we are able, to further your work in the world. In all things, keep us mindful that we follow Jesus. That his way of being in the world is the model for how we are to be in the world. Let all things in our lives flow from love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

2 Corinthians 8:1-6

March 25, 2019

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 2 Corinthians 8:1-6

I decided to be a church visitor yesterday. We have an experiment in congregational life going on in Houston called Kindred. The core of their community life revolves around Dinner Church on Sundays at 5:30 PM. They do several creative things during worship, including a note to download the Tithe.ly app to my phone so that I could give to the ministry. That was a new one for me.

I can’t remember the last time I took a quick break from worship to download, install, and sign up for an app on my phone – in the midst of a worship experience. But it worked. Since I’m in that uncomfortable week before pay day I’m not rolling in the dough. So I decided that I would feel good about giving $50. Actually a little more because I clicked “Cover the service charge” so, in the end, it cost me $51.46 so that Kindred would get $50. (Quick break to do the math. That is a 2.92% markup. Normal, I guess, for credit cards and certainly a sweet deal for Tithe.ly.)

At the end of the day, and from the very beginning of the Christian movement, it costs money to be a Christian community. Because it costs money to do everything we do. As I have said previously, the money that flows through our hands is a means of exchange, not an end in itself. Giving money last night during worship wasn’t about buying anything, not even about paying for the privilege of gathering in a comfortable room. It was an act of worship.

Who knows what the Apostle Paul would say about spur of the moment high tech electronic giving to support ministry? My guess is that he would think it a sweet deal. He could raise money without worrying about shipwrecks. Personally, I was grateful. Because I don’t carry cash anymore and it allowed me to give anyway. (It also, immediately, gave me the opportunity to give automatically in the future. Good for Kindred. GREAT for Tithe.ly)

Here are the high points of these first verses from 2 Corinthians. The Macedonian Jesus followers were extremely poor. Their lives were brutally hard. They were dedicated to following Jesus. They were more than willing to share what little they had with the struggling church in Jerusalem. Their faith, and their generosity, were far more impactful on Paul than the amount of their gift. The Macedonians recognized that it was a privilege to support another ministry. Yes, it is.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, help us be good stewards of all your gifts to us. Give us generous hearts to share what we have to keep your ministry of love active and alive in our world today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:16-19

March 22, 2019

This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul.

Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him.

Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised. Deuteronomy 26:16-19

How did we get to here from there?

As we finish up the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy, we reach the end of this description of the covenantal relationship between God and the people whom God has chosen to carry God’s name and message into the world. Such covenantal relationships were a common feature in the ancient world. What made this one distinctive is how it is rooted in love, not in power. God took the initiative in the relationship. Unlike the other gods out there in the world who expected to be fed first, God gave first.

This peculiar covenantal relationship reached back to the promise given to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

I will bless you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. That’s the heart of the relationship. That is the purpose of God’s gifts to us – that we bless the world. That promise is NOT about “we’re so special because we’re God’s people” (although the tension is always there, hence “for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor…) It IS about modeling, sharing, and living in a way that will always be countercultural to a sinful “it’s all about me”, “I’m going to get, and keep, mine so you can’t get it from me” way of doing life.

So how did we get from there to here?

How is it that the public face, the loudest voices, of the Christian movement are about demonizing people who are different, stereotyping and scapegoating other religions, seeking safety in guns, scaring the hell out of people to get them to heaven? How did we get to a place where churches get in the news because pastors abuse children or buy their own planes so they can “pray in peace” while they travel?

How did we get to a place where Christianity is less known for righteousness and more known for self-righteousness?

How did we get to a place where the average Christian gives less than 2% of their income to the work of the church? Where the highest percentage of income is given by the poorest people? Where less than 20% of a congregation’s members are in worship each weekend and some just never bother?

I don’t know. But that’s where we are. But that is not the whole church.

For there are millions of quiet Christians who continue to see the faith as one of living in life-giving relationships with God and others, for the good of all. Millions of Christians who remain willing to pay the price of time, money, and passion to obey God and love the world. Our hope remains in God and it is in such people that we continue to see God at work.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, this morning we recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptisms and the shape of a life rooted in following you. Take our hearts, our minds, our souls, our strength, and use them as you will, always for your glory, and the welfare of the world you love. Let us never surrender to discouragement. In all things, our trust rests in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.