Archive for October, 2014

Titus 3:3-7

October 31, 2014

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7

What is it about “before” and “after” pictures that we find so fascinating?

Whether about weight loss, plastic surgery, the newest fitness craze, This Old House, or presidential gray hair, we can’t seem to get enough of it. I can’t resist such pictures. Even though I know that the “before” pictures seldom present anything in its best light, and the “after” pictures do, they still get me.

Of course, they also go the other way. Think about the before/after scenes people print after hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods.

What is the appeal of these images? Is it our cultish devotion to constant improvement, eternal progress? Is it some kind of pie-in-the-sky hopes pinned to “if they can do it, maybe I can too?”

I still remember the little side trip to the fundamentalist church of my middle school years. Youth retreats and Bible camp where people stood in the front and told us about how horrible their lives used to be, how they lost themselves in drugs, alcohol, and sex (and at that point they also lost me for a minute or two because that part of their lives always seemed more interesting to me) but then they FOUND Jesus and everything in their lives got SO much BETTER, PRAISE GOD!

(I always get just a little suspicious about people who suddenly find Jesus given that I have never for a moment ever considered the idea that Jesus might be lost…not to mention that scaring a group of kids with visions of hell if they don’t buy what you’re selling didn’t seem to be to be SO much BETTER to me.)

But, of course, that isn’t what they meant. And I never really got to see the person behind the story over the long haul.

Because what I would have seen is a person who can still be mighty foolish and disobedient, even after discovering the love of God in their lives. Slavish passion to various self destructive pursuits might not be rid off as easily as “once and for all and you’re good.” And love and hate might even remain rather liquid.

But none of that takes anything away from the goodness, loving-kindness, or mercy of God. Because that love is something we get whether or not we ever get it. That love is a given because that love is a gift.

As for improvement? I’m all for it. I want it. I’ve seen it. I still want it. I do want life to get better for people…but often, I’ve come to learn that “better” is really just a temporary experience of “different” and that the ultimate “better”, the one that lasts forever, still awaits us beyond the grave.

Let us pray: Thank you, loving and merciful God, that you have made known to us the depth and riches of your love in Jesus. Today we pray that your love flow freely and deeply into us, that it be a river that reshapes the landscape of our lives with hope, compassion, gratitude, and love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Advertisements

October 30, 2014

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10

I really struggle with people who are quick to say that “God has a plan” in the face of everything that happens in life.

On the one hand, it seems to me that such a phrase – dare we call it a cliché? – can be something like a spiritual vitamin. A little booster shot of encouragement that helps us to let go of the stress and anxiety of our lives in the face of the unknowns that face us every day. If we fall back on to this idea that God is always at work in, around, and through us, then we know we aren’t alone and that our lives aren’t meaningless.

But, on the other hand, such thinking skirts the edge of fatalism, of determinism, and that is as spiritually dangerous as driving down the freeway with our eyes closed, trusting that God will supernaturally move all of the other cars out of our way. (Kids, don’t try this at home.)

I once heard a pastor put it another way. He said that to say “God has a plan” is to say that he believes God has an infinite number of contingency plans. What we do matters. What happens to us matters. Our choices, even our blind “I can’t believe I did that! What was I thinking???” kinds of choices, have consequences that change the shape of the universe. Then the contingency planning, the work of redemption, kicks into high gear. That makes more sense to me.

If God has a plan at all it is love. Freely given love. Pure, unadulterated, divine love. Pure gift. Grace. That’s God’s plan.

We call accidents “accidents” because that is what they are. They are something that always had the potential to happen but it takes a whole chain of little disconnected events before they occur. They are accidents. We can plan for them, plan our response to them, but no one plans an accident. They just pick up the pieces and move on.

We call tragedies “tragedies” because that is what they are. There isn’t a fiber of my being, not a molecule in my body, that agrees with the idea that God carefully plans tragedies because there is some higher purpose going on. That is, to me, not only crazy, it is cruel. It is abusing the reality of God by allowing us to twist the darkness and brokenness of our lives into something manageable and understandable when really the only loving response is to hold each other and pray that it gets better.

To do such, to live in grace, sometimes means just holding each other up in prayer, and sometimes holding each other up in person. Those are our good works. The plan is love.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we trust in the good news that you are reconciling the brokenness of the universe, and the broken places in our lives, through the power of love. We trust that life, and your love for us, is pure gift. May the good works of our lives bear witness to your never-ending love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Galatians 2:15-21

October 29, 2014

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:15-21

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

This is a serious question. And it is probably a question that you need to re-read a few times in order to hear what is really being asked of you. WHO do you see when you look in the mirror is a very different question than WHAT do you see when you look in the mirror.

Honestly, I seldom if ever ask the “who do I see” question. I look in the mirror and I see nothing but my physical flawed self. I see gray hair that never lays down the way I want it to. The big old belly that snuck up on me a few years ago. Teeth that aren’t as white as the commercials say they should be. I seldom look any deeper than the skin that is increasingly wrinkled and blotchy and sagging.

God, when I look in the mirror, invites me to see Jesus.

Not to see myself as savior but as saved. Not to see myself as sinner alone but as sinner forgiven and set free. Not to see myself as someone who struggles to be loving but to see only the One who loves me freely and fully and completely and eternally.

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

Lutherans understand the “law” as both an instructive and protective curb on our behaviors and as a mirror that reflects back to us the reality of our lives. Luther taught that the law convicts us of sin and drives us to Christ. The trouble is, feeling convicted of sin, ashamed of our thoughts and behaviors, in touch with the brokenness of our lives, is easy. It is automatic. And it can be overwhelming.

But to be driven back to Christ? To hear the Gospel afresh in our ears? To be claimed anew by love, washed clean again by forgiveness, restored to a new place of hope? That is hard. It isn’t a mind game and it isn’t magic. It isn’t something we can do on our own but it is something that needs to happen to us if it is to happen at all.

For Christ to happen to us we need the Body of Christ. We need Jesus with skin. We need our neighbors. We need to see in the mirror not just ourselves but the Body of Christ standing with us and backing us up. We need to see the faces of those through whom God loves us. We need to let them love us.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we carry measuring sticks everywhere we go. We measure ourselves and others against standards that keep moving back. We can never catch up. The mirrors of this world accuse and condemn us. Give us just a glimpse today of the depth of your love for us and the power of your forgiveness. Just a glimpse is often all we need, just as a little candle’s light cannot be overwhelmed by the darkest of nights. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Romans 3:19-28

October 28, 2014

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.

He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Romans 3:19-28

Paul writes, “There is no distinction…”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Last night I sat down on my chair, ready to flip the channel over to watch Monday Night Football, when I noticed the show that was already on. I guess the show was called “Botched” or something like that. It was about people who had received extensive plastic surgery, each seeking a particular “look”. One wanted to look like Justin Bieber, another had implanted muscles seeking to look like Superman, and a third had already received breast enhancements of comic proportions and wanted more. I couldn’t watch it.

This isn’t a knock against plastic surgery. There are many good reasons why that medical specialty exists. But what saddened me last night wasn’t the exterior looks that people were trying to achieve, but the inner brokenness that they were trying to escape.

There is no distinction.

Paul tells us that before God – the ultimate judge, authority, with the first and last word on creation – there is no distinction. All have sinned. All are loved. All of our brokenness has been caught up in the death and resurrection of Jesus. To know Jesus, to trust Jesus, to believe Jesus, is to be set free from the never ending death spiral of seeking our own justification, our own salvation, our own vision of ourselves.

There is no distinction.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, why isn’t it enough to know that we are loved and set free to love? Why do we search for love in the wrong places, search for salvation in the trivialities of life? Why do we reject the healing you would bring into our lives? Because of sin, our age-old rebellion. Our stubborn refusal to surrender. Our quixotic desire to go our own way. Have mercy on us. Give us anew the gift of faith that puts our eyes firmly on Jesus and sets us free to be who we are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

October 27, 2014

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34

My buddy Kenny and I took a little road trip this past weekend. I love road trips. Just seeing the sights, covering the miles, one or two destinations in mind that justify the trip. I find those trips renewing, refreshing, and challenging in a good way. Sometimes along the way I’ll remember the road trips of my childhood.

My mom behind the wheel of her Chevy. Chain-smoking us half to death. My sisters and I either fighting or recovering from whatever Mom just threatened us with to stop us from fighting. Finally tearing into the magic bag with the peanut butter and jelly, or maybe bologna and butter, sandwiches. And every few minutes either asking or longing to ask, “Are we there yet?”

God has taken the people of Israel on a long road trip – and one day picked the rest of us up as we stood helplessly along the side of the road.

We’ve fought along the way. We have all known better but, be it boredom or just bad manners, we continue our bickering and complaining and hitting and yelling. Whether manna in the wilderness or bread and wine at the altar, God has continued to feed us, even though we bring our arguments to the table with us.

“Are we there yet?” we ask in so many unasked ways.

“The days are surely coming” says the Lord.

How do we hear those words? Are they a promise of a destination off in the distance or are they merely the reassurance of the one behind the wheel that he really knows where he is going? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is knowing that we’re not lost because he’s not lost.

As a child, it never occurred to me what those road trips cost my mother. Gas, car maintenance, food, and those marvelous surprises when we got to stop at a Dairy Queen and mom amazed us with the words, “Get whatever you want.”

God has invited us on a long road trip. It cost God everything but, out of infinite love and divine mercy, God decided we are worth it. Enjoy the ride.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we get so impatient. We get antsy, anxious, and far too often we behave like children. Yet you have planted your Word in our hearts, your Spirit draws us close to you, and sometimes closer to one another. May we trust your promises and practice forgiveness, remembering the journey with love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Daniel 1:8-16

October 22, 2014

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself.

Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.”

Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days.

At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. Daniel 1:8-16

As I said last week, I don’t choose the Bible verses to think about each morning. I use the daily readings assigned via “Taking Faith Home” (www.vibrantfaithathome.org) And I also said that our congregation is currently in the midst of a 40 Days of Health stewardship program called “The Daniel Plan.” The idea for that plan came from today’s verses from Daniel.

That I began writing devotions again is the fruit of my desire to be more focused on my daily Bible reading. Sharing what comes out of that with others is what started me writing daily devotions. It is about both accountability and the power of community.

Eating more vegetables and drinking more water has become a daily focus for me. The challenge of drinking a gallon of water a day is balanced by the promise that drinking water is good for my body on many different levels. From flushing out toxins to staying hydrated to alleviating hunger to increasing my daily fitness regimen via frequent walks down the hallway to the restroom, water is nothing but good for me.

And vegetables? What could possibly be easier than “wash and eat?”

Daniel did very well on a diet of water and vegetables. But he didn’t do it alone. He did it in a small group with three other friends. And they didn’t do it to look better at the class reunion just around the corner or to look better in the wedding pictures – they did it as a statement of their faith in God, their trust that God would take care of them, and the sense that God had given them that this was the right plan for their lives.

Thus my thought for today – if we think health is only about diet and exercise we are kidding ourselves. Spiritual health, connecting with God, and emotional health, connecting with other people on the same journey, is every bit as important to our overall health.

My day will end today with a small group of people meeting together to support and encourage each other on our journey to better health. Tomorrow morning I will leave for a couple of days with my friend Kenny to ride around Arkansas. Using my vacation days is also part of the plan.

So this will be the last devotion for this week…and here’s hoping and renewing my commitment to better health for the rest of my life, rather than just for 40 days.

Let us pray: Thank you, Lord, for the story of Daniel and the lessons that his life teaches us about physical health and spiritual centeredness. Thank you that he isn’t a lone hero but one in a group, all useful to you, and models for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Jeremiah 29:1-7

October 21, 2014

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

It said: Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:1-7

When I was in the seminary, I studied the book of Jeremiah in a class that met at 8:00 AM, taught by a very kind hearted, slow talking, soon to be retired professor, who had written his doctoral dissertation on “Sacred Rocks in the Old Testament.” Need I mention that staying awake in class was more difficult than the required readings and research paper?

It turned out to be one of my favorite classes. I came away with a much better understanding of the prophetic tradition, the centrality of the Babylonian Exile, and a sense of connection to Jeremiah as a person.

After spending his life warning the powers that be of impending doom, bringing bad news upon bad news, personally suffering, witnessing the brutality of the Babylonian army, then escaping to Egypt, he writes a letter to the exiles. It is a surprising letter.

You could file his letter under “Making the Best of a Bad Situation” or maybe “Exile for the Long Haul” but there is more going on in the letter than that. The key is certainly the last sentence: But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

No call for revenge or retaliation. No prayers for the destruction of Babylon – although Babylon was responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem. Instead, God (through Jeremiah) invites Israel to love its enemy, pray for its persecutors, and in that, Israel will discover its own salvation.

What would the world look like if we truly waged peace with prayer rather than war with bullets? Would we really be so worse off?

Let us pray: Lord, you are our teacher, our guide. Our lives are our schoolhouse, our experiences our lessons. May we continue to be open to what you would have us learn. What it means to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to seek the welfare of our cities, and to trust you even in the darkest times in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 17:24-27

October 20, 2014

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” Matthew 17:24-27

On more than one occasion, my mom told me that money doesn’t grow on trees. On slightly fewer occasions, I would argue with her and say, “Yes it does. Money is made of paper and paper comes from trees.” Evidently she didn’t know the difference because she never came back with “Actually money is made from cotton fiber rather than wood fiber so no, money does NOT grow on trees.”

Her point, of course, was that money was scarce and hard to come by. And it didn’t really stretch. It was what it was. Finding herself short on money meant deciding which Peter to rob to pay Paul, which fiddler would wait to be paid later. Paying taxes was the least of her worries because the government saw fit to get those before she ever saw a dime of her paycheck.

I know it is quite common to complain about government wastefulness and inefficiency, to complain about all the taxes we pay, to complain about how progressively regressive our tax codes have gotten over the years. What we don’t know is how incredibly brutal the taxation system was in Jesus’ day.

The temple tax was a voluntary annual payment made by all adult Jewish males. It represented about two days of wages. But it came on top of all of the taxes that the Roman government demanded – backed up by the force of the Roman army. And Rome taxed absolutely everything. Tax policy was used to effectively reduce people to slavery, to steal land, and to consolidate wealth into the hands of the few.

Money has always been about power. But notice that Jesus doesn’t play power politics with money. He sees that his taxes are paid. He wants to win hearts and minds, not buy them. He doesn’t seek to overthrow an unjust government structure – he knows full well that its own greed and hubris will eventually self destruct. It always does.

Now I suppose some wise guy pastor will use this story in a stewardship sermon. He will point out that Jesus – who called his disciples to become fishers of people – gets the money he needs out of the mouth of the fish that they catch. But that’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you give us all we need, including the gifts and the opportunities to earn the money that sustains our lives. Guide us in using our money well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Isaiah 25:6-8

October 16, 2014

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:6-8

It gets frustrating to live in a media saturated world with the collective attention span of a two year old. THE BIG BIG BIG STORY OF THE DAY dominates our lives….for a week or two…and then we move on to the next BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG even BIGGER!!!! STORY OF THE DAY.

I really feel sorry for the victims in this “let’s sell lots of advertising” way of being. I can’t imagine a quiet neighborhood suddenly over-run with network vans lined up for blocks, electric generators galore, wires running across everyone’s lawn, and the gauntlet of cameras and WE’RE HERE ON THE SCENE reporters asking some poor woman how she feels knowing her child was brutalized.

Today the big story is EBOLA!!! Not to make light of a scary and very dangerous virus that has killed thousands of people in Africa, but really? News reports on what happens to a nurse’s dog?

I’m thinking about this because I just read these verses from Isaiah 25. They too were written in an age where human deprivation and human devastation were daily fears. A time when some people went hungry and others exploited them. When disease ran rampant and everyone felt powerless to do anything about it.

Into this world came a promise – a new day will come.

And that new day will not come riding on the back of whoever ends up on the throne of whichever country is next in line to be a “super power”. It won’t come behind the delivery van stuffed with well-aged wines and rich food. (Or the politician who promises the same if we just elect them and throw those other bums out.)

The new day comes only by the power of the one who can swallow up death and wipe away the tears from all faces. Only God can usher in that new day and that, only in God’s power and God’s timing. I could be wrong but I’m thinking that God will be able to pull that off without Democrats or Republicans or Fox or CNN or the CDC,

I believe that new day will come. I read of those promises in the Bible and I hear them repeated every Sunday when we gather for worship. Everything else that blasts us with INFO-MATION every day is just background noise.

My sense is that if we worshipped and prayed as frequently and fervently as we sit glued to the talking heads on the radio, the TV, our computers, and our smartphones, we would all be better off. But that’s just me.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, cut through the noise of our lives so we can hear you speak. Bless those who deliver real help to real people in our broken world. Protect them and guide them in their work. Hasten the day when death is no more, when tears fall no more. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Esther 7:1-6

October 15, 2014

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. Esther 7:1-6

Every middle school kid needs to know the story of Esther. It’s got it all – political intrigue, good guys vs. bad guys, romance, and revenge. Esther is one of the great heroes of the Bible. Smart, beautiful, and cagey. And the good guys win in the end.

I have a friend who regularly tells me that one of the things that he despises about the church is all the “politics” in it. Each time he says it, I come back with something along the lines of “politics is what you get when people try to figure out how to do life together”. We’re both right.

The story of Esther is really a study of power. The king has institutional power and coercive power. The king can pretty much do – and he does – anything he wants. Haman, an evil-minded advisor to the king, has positional power. He is an insider and he uses his access to the king to manipulate the king into doing unnecessary evil. Mordecai, Esther’s relative, exercises the power of civil disobedience. He stands up for what he believes when he refuses to stand up in respect to Mordecai.   And Esther has the kind of power we confer on to others because of their personal attributes. She is handpicked by the king because of her beauty and grace.

Watching the story play out, we see how these various kinds of power get played out. In the end, the king is merely a pawn, Haman is hung on his own gallows, and Esther lives on as a hero of the faith. Every year (this year it was on March 15-16), Jews celebrate the Feast of Purim to remember her story.

One interesting tidbit about Esther is that this is one book (like Ecclesiastes) which people have said doesn’t belong in the Bible. There isn’t much mention of God in it. Give this one to the Holy Spirit for Esther certainly belongs in the Bible. My friend is right, there are politics all over the work of the church just as there is politics everywhere in life. Esther reminds us that power, of all kinds, can be used for good or evil.

May we use our power for good.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, the story of Esther has so much to teach us about our dark sides, about how we use and abuse power, about the evil that people do to one another. And yet it also teaches us about how the ends participate in the means, encouraging us with the hope that good triumphs in the end. May we stand on the side of the good, or refuse to stand when to do so would justify evil. In Jesus’ name. Amen.