Archive for February, 2014

Proverbs 3:27-30

February 25, 2014

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.

Do not plan harm against your neighbor who lives trustingly beside you.

Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, when no harm has been done to you.  Proverbs 3:27-30

 

I can remember a time in my life when the idea of Christianity basically boiled down to a long laundry list of stuff that I wasn’t supposed to do.  The only sense of “Trinity” connected to Christianity was “Thou Shalt Not.”

 

The trouble was…lots of that stuff was fun.  I didn’t like the idea of God or anyone else telling me what I wasn’t supposed to do.  The Ten Commandments were, for me at least, ten suggestions or ten pretty good ideas.

 

Obviously I came around to a new way of thinking.  And then one day I found myself sitting in a class at the seminary and listening to Jim Nestigen lead us through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.  He pointed out to us how Luther saw both a “no” and a “yes” in each commandment.  It wasn’t simply that God was telling us what not to do, God was also opening us to the new world that would come about when we acted on the positive impulses of the law.

 

Not just “Thou shalt not kill” but also “we are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbor in any way, but help him in all his physical needs.”  And a whole new world opened up for me.

 

The old Christian faith of rules and regulations died and a new vision of faith as a means of preserving, protecting, and celebrating the giftedness of life rose up out of the ashes.  I saw then with new eyes how the rules and regulations had their place, not as ends in themselves but as means to an end, as participating in the very ends to which they would lead and guide us.

 

So it is that I hear these words from Proverbs this morning and I am reminded of how simple – and hard – it is to walk by faith.  I’ll have opportunity today to do good for someone else and I’ll be free to do it.  I’ll be given a chance to love my neighbor.  It will happen today and I’ll be available today to do it.  There are people in my life who trust me and today I will prove myself worthy of their trust by acting in a trustworthy manner. 

 

Things will happen today that will tempt me to anger and resentment – it is going to happen because it does every day – but I will recall these verses.  I will see others in my life through the eyes of faith.  I will see others as just as limited and self absorbed and scared as I am.  And my resentment will give way to compassion, my anger will be replaced by curiosity and willingness to seek to understand.

 

All of this will happen today.  Because all of this happens everyday.   And today I will see it for what it is because the Christian faith is not only real for me today but it finally allows me to see reality for what it is.  God is at work in, around, and through me – and through you – and through all of those around us – today and every day.

 

Let us pray:  Open the eyes of our hearts, O Lord, that we might see you at work in each moment of our lives.  Give us opportunity today to let your love become enfleshed anew through us again today in how we treat and respond to our neighbors.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Exodus 22:21-27

February 24, 2014

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.

 

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.  Exodus 22:21-27

 

Yesterday was a busy day at Faith Lutheran Church.  Between the two morning worship services our congregation put together 500 personal care kits which were delivered to homeless people on the streets of Houston.  The Faith Chinese Fellowship met in the afternoon.  Our middle school confirmation kids and their parents spent three hours at the Holocaust Museum.  The day ended with hospital visits to a 4th grader battling leukemia and one of our senior saints who continues his struggles with some chronic health problems.

 

It was, I think, the church at its finest.

 

Also someone told me yesterday that the pope had sold his Harley.  In their telling of the story, they said that the pope had been criticized for owning such an expensive motorcycle when he calls the church to be mindful of the poor.  That wasn’t really what happened.

 

What happened was that Willie Davidson gave the bike to the pope as a gift in honor of the 110th anniversary of Harley Davidson.  His intention all along was that the bike be given away for charity.  The bike and a motorcycle jacket, both autographed by the pope, sold for $404,485 with the proceeds going to benefit a hostel and soup kitchen at the Termini train station in Rome.  Willie, the pope, and the buyers did a good thing.

 

I don’t know the pope.  I don’t have his phone number and I doubt he would take my call if I tried.  But here is what I know for sure – if you asked him who the most important people in the world are, he wouldn’t hesitate to answer, “The next person who shows up to eat at the Termini train station soup kitchen.”

 

It is that way of thinking.  And that way of being.  That is the hope of the world.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, this morning we resolve to put first things first.  We pray for the eyes to see the hurting, the alien, the poor, the widow, the orphan, and to respond with compassion and care.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Jeremiah 22:1-5

February 5, 2014

Thus says the Lord: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, 2and say: Hear the word of the Lord, O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David—you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. 3Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. 4For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their servants, and their people. 5But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.  Jeremiah 22:1-5

The book of Jeremiah describes how the people of Israel slipped into one of their darkest chapters.  The not always so subtle slide that began with the excesses of Solomon, the fall of the north to Assyria, finally gave way to the Babylonian army camped outside of Jerusalem, demanding pay off money for years, and finally crushing the city and its inhabitants.

Jeremiah’s job, as God’s prophetic spokesperson, was to name reality for what it was.  The city was in dire straights, not because of the strength of the Babylonian army, but because of its own decadence, its own oppression and neglect of the powerless among them, and its own pursuit of worldly comfort rather than spiritual centeredness.

In today’s verses, Jeremiah lays out the issues very clearly – if the king of Judah would return to God’s will of justice for the poor, and care for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, then God would rescue them.  If not, they were doomed.  They chose not.

Any time we choose to serve an idol, a god of our imagination, seeking to preserve our lives, we are doomed.  God doesn’t have to push any punishments buttons to take us there.  The consequences come built in to the choices.  Idols kill; God gives life.  That is the foundational bedrock of reality.

Many of us have been reading and hearing various comments regarding the death of the actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  He died of an overdose of heroin, a needle still in his arm, with 30 bags of heroin and a dozen fresh needles in his apartment.  His was a tragic death, a great loss, but it wasn’t his fate, or his destiny, nor was it the inevitable end for him.

Addicts who seek help are quickly told that the inevitable end of a life of addiction is death, insanity, or prison.  But they are also told that there is a way out – the possibility of a new life, freedom from the obsession to use, a new way of being that depends on the support of God and other addicts, provided they take certain steps.  That provision – the taking of certain steps – grounds the spirituality of recovery in real life, with real people, seeking a real solution for a real problem.  It isn’t pie-in-the-sky empty spiritual mumbo jumbo.

Hoffman knew all about that.  He had been privileged to spend time in rehab, a privilege available only to a small percentage of addicts.  None of us can climb into his brain but, from the outside looking in, his addiction erased the memory of his own powerlessness.  Forgetting that, he neglected to reach out to another addict, to get to a meeting, to do what he knew he could do to get the help he needed.  Forgetting his powerlessness, he acted it out with tragic consequences.

God didn’t kill him.  God wasn’t even punishing him.  God loved him right to and through the end.  The deadly consequences were built into the drug and the lies that addiction tells.

Jeremiah was right.  Israel was soon to be decimated.  A generation would grow up in the refugee camps in Babylon.  The holy city would be destroyed, the temple demolished.  But God would still be with them, even in the darkest moments.  And God would enable them to return, to rebuild, to get on with their lives.

The message for today is simple – God will always hold open the door to life, and will love us enough to give us the freedom to take certain steps to find it.

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we pray today for all those who live their lives on the edge, suffering from the indecision, unwillingness, or blindness that denies God’s presence or claim upon their lives.  Work in, through and among us, that we might surrender to your will and turn our lives over to your care and protection.  May we find life in honesty, openmindedness, willingness, and humble service to others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Isaiah 57:14-19

February 4, 2014

It shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not continually accuse, nor will I always be angry; for then the spirits would grow faint before me, even the souls that I have made.

 

Because of their wicked covetousness I was angry; I struck them, I hid and was angry; but they kept turning back to their own ways. I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will lead them and repay them with comfort, creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them.  Isaiah 57:14-19

 

“Build up, build up, prepare the way…”

 

Someone is building a new house across the street from our church.  There used to be a tiny little house there which was built back in the late 1940’s.  It was a perfectly fine house.  Children were raised there.  Eventually renters came and went.  Then it was put up for sale on last time and now it is no longer there.

 

I noticed the day it disappeared.  One morning it was the house that it had always been.  Then came a bulldozer and a tractor with a bucket.  By the afternoon, it was a pile of rubble.  By the evening, it was a vacant lot.  Now they have spent weeks building a new, much larger, house on the property.

 

Tearing things down is easy, quick.  Building things takes a lot more time.

 

Are you a builder or do you prefer to tear things down?

 

I watched Richard Sherman’s interview after the Seahawks beat the 49’s.  He was excited after knocking down a potential touchdown pass.  In the heat of the moment he gave a little rant instead of the normal cliché ridden post-game speech.  The next thing you know, people who don’t know the first thing about Sherman, let alone know him personally, are going off on how bad of a person he is.  It is easy to tear things down.

 

It is easy to tear people down, to criticize the government, to point out what we aren’t doing that we ought to.  It is easy to tear ourselves down, to look with critical eyes into every mirror, including the inner eyes that see what no one else can see.

 

Building is harder.  It takes more time, more care, more thought, more love.

 

This morning, God calls us to build up, not to tear down.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, it is so easy, so tempting, to tear down, to be negative, to spot flaws, to criticize others.  It is so hard to build up, to watch our tongues, to see things from the other’s point of view.  Today, use us to build.  And build us as well, from the inside out.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Matthew 5:1-12

February 3, 2014

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12

 

What are we to make of these upside down teachings of Jesus?

 

We are tempted to point out to him how naïve he is about how the world really works.  In the real world, the “blessed” are those who have it all together, who are happy, who have it all together.  The “blessed” are those who make lots of money, live in nice houses, and live easy lives.

 

Those who are merciful and pure in heart are the simple-minded, the people who just don’t understand how the world really works.

 

We could say a lot about people who are persecuted or reviled – but we would likely not say they are “blessed.”

 

So what is the problem with Jesus?  How can he not see that?  How can he not clearly see what is so obvious to us?

 

And that is often where we stop.  We stop at wondering what the problem is with Jesus.  But not today.  Not this morning.  This morning we are going to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt.  THIS morning we are going to be open to the possibility that there is nothing at all wrong with Jesus.  In fact, we are going to be open to the idea that Jesus knows exactly what he is talking about. 

 

WE are the ones with the upside down ways of thinking.  This changes everything.

 

Those who mourn will see in death the gate to eternal life.  The meek, the pure in heart, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be able to fend off the tempting voices of idolatry that promise freedom but deliver only bondage.  And those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake will find themselves on the cutting edge of truth and life.

 

Oh the freedom that is ours when we know the One who holds our lives in the palm of his hand.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, fill us this morning with the vision of life that is truly life, with the life that is only found in surrendering ourselves to you.  Hold us close as we cling to you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.