From Spiritual To Material


S (Scripture): Romans 15:23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26 for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28 So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain…

O (Observation): Paul is always on the move.  He is graced with the blessing of being an apostle – always out on the frontier.   And loving it, since this is his calling for the most part.  

In his travels amongst places where he was establishing churches, he found that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia were eager to offer their resources to the churches in Rome. Paul was carrying this offering and wishing to go to Spain, but to visit the church in Rome and drop off this offering as part of what he hoped to be an epic journey to Spain. 

The spiritual impact in the faith communities started and helped by Paul has led to material offerings and support to other churches.   

A (Application):  As a pastor, I have the blessing of sharing God’s generous spirit with the congregation I serve and with the wider community.  Our spiritual blessing leads us to material generosity.   

We have found that money follows ministry.  We like to get caught up in scarcity, but our God is always surprising us in ways unimaginable.   Where will the money come from?  I don’t know.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t and we have to shift plans.   But we are always discerning our way forward…always wondering what God is saying to us, and wondering what God wants us to do.   

As we continue to wonder, we see fruit coming from our times of discernment.  We have a Cub Scout group and a home school co-op using our building during the week.  We host a quilting ministry, Bible study, worship, a Zumba class, a free exchange program, called Weecycle, which meets in our parking lot twice a month.  We give to the wider church, at a rate of 8% of regular offerings, and we donate to various local ministries.  We partner with other organizations to show love to our neighbor (as I wrote about in yesterday’s post).   

We are blessed, and we want to share this blessing with others.   We are not worthy, but for what we have, we give thanks.   And in our discernment, we sense God calling us to pay forward the blessings we have received so that others might experience the same blessings.   Sometimes that blessing is money, sometimes it is time, sometimes it is sharing a promotion of an event or such.  

We move from spiritual to material.   How about you?

P (Prayer):  Lord, you are generous.  Help us to be generous, too.  Amen.  

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Go in Shalom


S (Scripture): 2 Kings 5:15 Namaan and his entire entourage returned to the prophet (Elisha). Naaman came and stood before him. He said, “For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel! Now, please accept a gift from your servant.” 16 But Elisha replied, “As certainly as the Lord lives (whom I serve), I will take nothing from you.” Naaman insisted that he take it, but he refused. 17 Naaman said, “If not, then please give your servant a load of dirt, enough for a pair of mules to carry, for your servant will never again offer a burnt offering or sacrifice to a god other than the Lord. 18 May the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to worship, and he leans on my arm and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” 19 Elisha said to him, “Go in peace.”

O (Observation):  Namaan is a commander in the Syrian army.   Syria is an enemy of Israel.   And yet, as Elisha is asked, he heals Namaan.  Namaan is enamored with Elisha, and wishes to give gifts to Elisha, who declines.  

At the end of this scene, Namaan basically claims that the God of Israel is the one true God of all.  And yet…even after all he’s been through, Namaan still feels the need to appease his people and Rimmon (the Syrian storm God), by bowing down to honor Rimmon.  

And does Elisha remove the healing?  No.  does he or God inflict a new wound?  No.  Does Namaan get struck down for this?  No.   

Instead of retribution, Elisha says: “Go in peace (shalom).”   

A (Application):  When was the last time you did something nice for someone, and either they didn’t thank you or they were downright disrespectful in their actions following?   That’s basically what Namaan did with Elisha!

Elisha healed Namaan, and praised God, but still held back (ready to bow to his Syrian storm god).  

Shalom.   That kind of peace is what Eden and heaven look like.  Shalom is a peace that surpasses our understanding, yet we speak of it…that we might one day know its fullness.  

This peace is the end of the discussion for Namaan.  He doesn’t fuss.  He simply let’s Namaan walk away with a blessing, despite Namaan’s insistence that he will recognize his Syrian god, still.  

When is the last time you walked away from a disagreement with a blessing?   Perhaps I can learn from this moment and remember to bless those with whom I disagree…

Something to think about.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, you bless me richly.  May I feel compelled to bless others so…amen. 

We Don’t Give to Get

S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 9:6 Understand, therefore, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is about to give you this good land as a possession, for you are a stubborn people!

O (Observation):  God is preparing the people for entrance into the promised land.  The text today gives us some theological background for Israel inheriting the Promised Land…and it has nothing to do with them.   God goes on to describe the wickedness of the people currently inhabiting the Promised Land.   But God reminds Israel, lest they get too arrogant, that this conquest is not due to Israel’s uprightness…but is something God is doing for God’s people.  

A (Application):  We don’t give in order to get.   When we mess this up, we mess up our attitude.  God reminded Israel that their faithfulness did not result in them getting the Promised  Land; that was all God’s doing.  The same principle applies to us.  What blessings we receive, we receive from God, even in spite of our messed up attitudes. 

This boils down to correlation, not causation.  God’s people receive blessing because God is good…not because we deserve it.  

We don’t deserve the forgiveness and salvation we receive.  The moment we think we OUGHT to be forgiven and saved, we’ve missed the point.  The moment we think we can achieve salvation, we’ve missed the point. 

Instead, let us live lives of gratitude: for creation, for salvation, for forgiveness and reconciliation.  Let us rejoice in God our Savior.  

P (Prayer): Lord, bless us now and forever.  Amen.  

Fruit…or not?

S (Scripture): Mark 11:12  Now the next day, as they went out from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 After noticing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it. When he came to it he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

O (Observation):  Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” by His followers.    They have lined the roads with palm branches, giving praises to Jesus.   

Now, as he becomes hungry, he goes to a fig tree to get a snack.  Yet the fig tree has not produced any fruit.  Jesus then curses the fig tree, so that it will never produce again. 

Scholars look at this little section of scripture as follows:

It appears that Mark records the incident as a portent of what is going to happen to the leadership in Jerusalem who were supposed to have borne spiritual fruit but have been found by Messiah at his coming to be barren. The fact that the nation as a whole is indicted is made explicit in chapter 13:1-37 where Jesus speaks of Jerusalem’s destruction and his second coming. (Net.Bible.org, Note for Mark 11:14.)

A (Application):  Yikes!   What fruit will I bare?  What fruit am I bearing today?   I’ll be honest: my biggest fear is that Jesus will come strolling along and will find my tree devoid of all fruit.   

Now…that is not reality…but that is the fear.   I believe that God does help me to bear fruit, but the devil convinces me that my tree is bare.  And because I fear that there is no fruit, I work harder or fall to despair.  

The word of grace for me today, and perhaps for yourself, is that fruit will come.   My job is not to directly bear fruit – rather, that is the outcome.  My job is to look and listen for the Spirit’s calling and to follow it.  (That’s called “processing a kairos”…)

How are we able to see God’s deeds of power, God’s work in the world?  Through the gift of the promised Holy Spirit, which comes to us at Pentecost. Our congregation, along with the majority of Christians in the world, celebrated the Day of Pentecost yesterday, May 15, 2016.  

How do you see your tree today?  Is your view through the eyes of the Spirit, or of the event? May your tree bear fruit…as I pray mine does.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep our hearts and minds focused on you and bearing fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.  

What God Has Joined Together 

S (Scripture): Mark 10:1 Then Jesus left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan River. Again crowds gathered to him, and again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 Then some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your hard hearts. 6 But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female. 7 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, 8 and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 In the house once again, the disciples asked him about this. 11 So he told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

O (Observation): While many may use this text as a prohibition against same-sex marriage, I see this through the eyes of v. 9 above: “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus refers to the creation stories in Genesis, and the idea of procreation and the physical coming together to make procreation possible.  Yet Jesus focuses on divorce and the brokenness of humanity that makes divorce a reality.  

If two have come together, with God’s blessing, nothing should separate them.   Moses created a certificate of divorce because human relationships can be fractured, and people need grace and protection.  Divorce was never part of the picture…it came because relationships can end up broken.  

A (Application):  So…this is a complex issue and I’m only giving a simple response today.   

I know folks in same-sex relationships who have married, or plan to marry.  Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all states in our country, we need to come to some clarity on the issue in our respective denominations, churches, and homes.  

The question of legality is settled. The question of blessing by churches is still in the air for some.  

My hope is that as couples come together to commit to one another, before God and the gathered people, that God would bless those who seek that blessing…and that what God has joined together…no one would separate.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, your mercy, we seek this day.  Your wholeness, we crave.  In our faults, we seek your mercy.   We seek your blessings on our relationships.  Amen.  

To Receive a Blessing

  S (Scripture): Genesis 27:5 Now Rebekah had been listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau went out to the open fields to hunt down some wild game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father tell your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me some wild game and prepare for me some tasty food. Then I will eat it and bless you in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now then, my son, do exactly what I tell you! 9 Go to the flock and get me two of the best young goats. I’ll prepare them in a tasty way for your father, just the way he loves them. 10 Then you will take it to your father. Thus he will eat it and bless you before he dies.”

O (Observation): Jacob follows through. He tricks his father, Isaac, into blessing him. The firstborn son, if alive, was the one who was supposed to receive the father’s blessing.  And even though Jacob and Esau were twins, Esau was birthed first.  Esau was to receive the blessing.  

For whatever reason, Jacob’s trickery takes place.  Jacob is the first person we come across who pulls any kind of stunt like this.  (And Jacob’s kids play a trick on  Jacob later on, when they bring back Joseph’s bloody coat, suggesting that Joseph was dead, though he really wasn’t.)

What is even more odd than Jacob’s trickery?  God stays with Jacob!  God allows the blessing to really take root.  Jacob’s descendants are blessed.  Jacob sees the angels in a dream – asecending and descending.   Jacob wrestles with God (or God’s angel) and is given the name “Israel.”

This turn of events – Jacob stealing the blessing – has shown a creativity unparalleled to that point.  And what comes into focus, perhaps, is the importance of the blessing.   The one blessed receives the blessing, no matter what.   

A (Application): What norms have you encountered that have held back a blessing?   Have you ever been so creative as to find a way to maneuver around traditions and customs to seek the greater good?

Being creative is sometimes a prerequisite to receiving a blessing.  A blessing may be a sense of peace, a senses of having done the right thing (without harming someone else).   

That might seem an odd thing to say, but many customs have been maneuvered around for the right reasons. 

Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., are two folks who come to mind.  

The ELCA, in allowing room for those who are in the LGBTQ community to serve as pastors and to receive a marriage blessing, have perhaps taken a lesson from Jacob.   They have shifted the traditional idea of who can receive a blessing. And God sustains those who receive blessing, as we see in the case of Jacob.  

In what ways is Jacob wrong for what he has done?  In what ways is Jacob blessed?  In what ways has the ELCA moved in ways many consider wrong?  In what ways have we in theELCA been blessed in the meantime?

P (Prayer): Lord, sometimes we follow all the rules, and sometimes we bend them.  In all cases, we seek your blessing.  Please consider us – redeemed sinners – as your chosen people, nonetheless.   Take our actions and inactions and transform them for the good of all.  Call us to just actions.   Amen. 

Will the Blessing be Returned?

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S (Scripture): 2 Kings 5:15 Namaan (the Syrian general healed of his leprosy, through Elisha) and his entire entourage returned to the prophet. Naaman came and stood before Elisha. He said, “For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel! Now, please accept a gift from your servant….5:18 May the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to worship, and he leans on my arm and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” 5:19 Elisha said to him, “Go in peace.”

O (Observation): Namaan is a Commander in the Syrian army. He is a foreigner to Elisha. Yet, he is called to heal this person anyway. This is a big deal, because this act of healing was a sign of grace and mercy to those outside of the Jewish people. That’s not really kosher.

Elisha risked a lot, including not knowing how the soldier would believe going forward. Would he become a God-follower? Would he thank God this one time and forget about God?

We catch a glimpse: Namaan promises no more burnt offerings to the other gods, but he does ask permission to bow to the other gods when his boss is around.

Now, after all Elisha has done, sticking his neck out for grace and mercy, you would think he’d demand more allegiance for God! Yet, here is Elisha’s response: “Peace be with you.” [drop mic; exit stage left]

A (Application): Holy cleansing, Batman!

Wow! All of the build up in this story leads to the key moment for me: Blessing those who might not fully bless you back.

God has always been about loving the world (all of creation, actually). God chose a people to love (Hebrew people) and used that nation as an example of what steadfast love and faithfulness means, even to a people who don’t necessarily return the blessing!

In this story of Elisha and Namaan, we have a microcosm of the whole. Namaan is healed, but only gives partial allegiance to God (through Elisha). The Hebrew people, rescued from slavery and given judges and prophets, respond through partial allegiance to the Lord, and partial allegiance to other gods.

Sounds like our story, too, doesn’t it? Salvation…a gift that is free and undeserved…comes to us. We receive it…but what do we do with it? We may go to church, but we also focus a lot on other gods: money, prestige, careers, etc.

Better yet, when we lack a healthy response to The Lord…The Lord still doesn’t demand our allegiance. God sets us free…but never coerces us. Instead, God forgives us, heals us, and says, “Peace be with you.” For a faith or love that is coerced is neither true faith nor true love.

How has God blessed you this week? What has been your response? Where have you failed to show appreciation?
Where have you succeeded in showing appreciation?

P (Prayer): Lord, heal me, and give me a generous heart, so I can joyfully pass on to others the blessings you’ve passed on to me. Amen.