Christ in the Chaos

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S (Scripture): Luke 21:29 Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near. 32 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

34 “Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life. Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap.”

O (Observation): Jesus is near the end of his time on earth. He has been diligent and graceful in his teachings. And now, he ups the sense of urgency. He wants folks to be clear-headed, to take this time seriously.

Jesus leads his people with grace. What is that grace? A reminder to pay attention to what is coming; to be prepared in heart, mind, and soul. That grace also exists in Jesus’ words of reassurance prior to v. 29. Chaos is coming, but stand with heads raised high. You are loved and cared for.

A (Application): 2020 needs these verses. Not because I think the end is near; rather, we are called to stand with confidence amidst the chaos. The grace that Jesus calls us into is that even though life may be crumbling around us, we stand knowing that Jesus is with us…

…in the midst of a pandemic…

…in the midst of the death of the iconic actor, Chadwick Boseman…

…in the midst of people struggling with cancer…

…in the midst of a hurricane…well, hurricanes…

…in the midst of black men being shot at a disproportionate rate…

May we be of a clear sense of God’s presence, in the midst of – and beyond – the chaos.

P (Prayer): Gracious Lord, for those whose lives are cut short by the chaos of cancer or bigotry…we cry our to you! Give us grace, give us hope! Amen.

Service with a Smile

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S (Scripture): Isaiah 42

42 

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;

    he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,

    or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,

    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;

    he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed

    until he has established justice in the earth;

    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,

    who created the heavens and stretched them out,

    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it

    and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,

    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,[a]

    a light to the nations,

    to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

    from the prison those who sit in darkness.

O (Observation): The Servant of God. A strange combination of quiet, strength, hopefulness, and compassion.

The Servant is an agent of God. An agent in this sense will bring God’s hope and joy to others.

Those who need God’s hope and joy the most are those who are imprisoned or blind or more simply, those in search of justice.

A (Application): This Servant is considered a foretelling of Jesus by many Christians. I tend to agree. These verses are indeed quoted in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 12) in response to the questioning of who Jesus is. This Servant is the one who is proclaimed as the one to bring justice. For Jesus to be this Servant ties together the history of God’s people throughout the ages.

Jesus was always to come. After all, Jesus is the Christ in the flesh, in a particular time and place in our history.

The concept of the Servant gives us hope that we don’t always have to be the strongest or the bravest or the brightest on our own. In fact, we have one who exemplifies peace and justice and hope. And when we need strength, God is the one who will provide it.

What we seek these days is justice. What we hope for is strength to act for our neighbors in need. What we are reminded of is humility along the way.

Let us be bold in seeking justice, but let us do this in a way that honors God and and bring dignity to all people.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to serve as your Servant serves you. Amen.

Submit To One Another

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S (Scripture): Ephesians 5:21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. 23 A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. 24 So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. 25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. 26 He did this to make her holy by washing her in a bath of water with the word. 27 He did this to present himself with a splendid church, one without any sort of stain or wrinkle on her clothes, but rather one that is holy and blameless. 28 That’s how husbands ought to love their wives—in the same way as they do their own bodies. Anyone who loves his wife loves himself. 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it just like Christ does for the church 30 because we are parts of his body. 31 This is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two of them will be one body.32 Marriage is a significant allegory, and I’m applying it to Christ and the church. 33 In any case, as for you individually, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands.

O (Observation) & A (Application): Paul, Paul, Paul… I love you, bro… but sometimes you make my life difficult.

I love the allegory. The patriarchal language? Not so much.

Some people like to point to this kind of language and use it to make women subservient to their husbands.

Some people like to point to marriage being male and female, due to texts like these.

Here’s the deal: in Christ, spouses submit to each other. This is true for ALL relationships, but especially for those who commit to spending their lives with one another.

The Church submits to Christ, and Christ does not abuse that submission. When someone submits to you, you don’t abuse that person. Submission takes trust and faith. We don’t take advantage of that trust and faith.

So, whoever you’re married to, respect that person, like Christ respects us. We can still correct and challenge one another, but we will always respect them.

And, unfortunately, when we fail to respect the other…or we see that the joy of loving one another cannot be brought back, then separation may be called for. And if that’s the best course of action…if a damaged relationship is beyond repair, know that you are doing the right thing.

Love ya, Paul, and I get what you’re saying. So yes, let us respect one another.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see that you are the norm for what relationship looks like. Amen.

What are Your Values?

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S (Scripture): Ephesians 4:29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. 30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.

5:1 Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. 2 Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.

O (Observation): Paul instructs the Christian community he established to honor God with their lips and lives. They have been forgiven and set free from the standards of the world – pride, envy, anger – and have been given something else to live for: love, kindness, compassion.

A (Application): I wonder if we as a Christian community can find ways to speak in support of our refugee brothers and sisters AND find ways to do it without assuming other people share our values. This is the crux of Christian engagement in the world.

How do we show Christian love when others don’t share our values? What do we do about other Christians who don’t share our values?

I have a hard time dealing with people who don’t share values of love, kindness, and compassion. They say they are being compassionate, but typically that means being compassionate towards their own self / community.

We are good at looking at others and saying that THOSE people have something screwed up internally, but when WE are at fault, it is usually something beyond our control. Or we just deny fault of any kind.

May we find that all of us receive forgiveness from the faults we possess. May we find grace and compassion are the ways forward.

P (Prayer): Lord, helps us to see that you are our source of grace, and that all of us need it to be sustained. Amen.

Holy Work

Photo credit here. By the way, this is a video describing the ELCA’s program, Young Adults in Global Mission.

S (Scripture): Ephesians 2:8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith (or, through his faithfulness.). This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

O (Observation): Debate continues on the emphasis of the faith. Is it God’s faithfulness to us, or our faith that saves us? Either way, we have reconciled this by stating that “our” faith only comes to us as a gift of the Spirit. So, in the end, the onus is on God. God stirs up faith in us.

Is our level of faith in direct correlation to our kind acts (or perverse / sinful acts)? Certainly not!

God’s Grace is a gift – a gift we have in abundance!

We are created in Christ Jesus to do good! This is our purpose.

A (Application): How often do we cut ourselves short when it comes to our ability to serve others in the name of God? We have a perceived inability to do miracles and wonders in Christ!

Faith turns us from our selfish desires towards looking for the ultimate good in ourselves and others. Faith calls on us to look for the Christ in the other: the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the refugee, the immigrant. In doing so, we cannot help but to serve and to love our neighbor in need.

Where are you feeling called to serve? Whether in Christ’s name or just from the goodness of your heart. Do that work, and see a miracle!

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of your presence in our lives! Stir our hearts towards the holy work to which you call us. Amen.

The Indwelling of Christ

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S (Scripture): Ephesians 1:20 God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, 21 far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future. 22 God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, 23 which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.

O (Observation): The Church is the BODY OF CHRIST! Has that sunken in???!!!

We are not just sinful ole me and sinful ole you! We are ALSO THE INCARNATION OF THE CHRIST!!!

Saint and Sinner.

Slave and Free.

A (Application): And we have power and authority from God! We are no longer bound by the status quo of Christianity.

We are no longer bound by what people might say about us if we push for human rights for all people.

We are no longer bound by what people might say about us if we sponsor and have a booth at the BoroPride event in September.

We are no longer bound by what people might say about us if we feed the homeless without wondering why they might be “taking advantage” of us.

We are the fullness of Christ. As we reset our minds to believe this, miracles happen. Not of our own doing, but of God working through us.

The immigrant realizes that someone cares about them.

The gay couple realizes that God loves them unconditionally.

The homeless person is fed and realizes they are loved.

It’s very basic, but deeply profound. We are the body of Christ. We are Christ.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, help us to see that you do indeed dwell within us. Amen.

P.s. If you are interested in how Lutherans are involved with the resettlement of refugees and immigrants, check out the website for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services: LIRS.org.

Christ in Us All

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God.

Proverbs 20:27 The breath of a person is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inmost parts.

O (Observation): These two verses from very different times and situations bring forth the image of God dwelling in our very being. God is with us. God is in us. All have the ability to receive the Christ, who is already in us. The revealing of the Christ from within us makes sense as our very breath is like the lamp of the Lord. The lamp guides our way, from the inside out.

As Christ dwells within us, we cannot help but see the Christ in one another. As such, we start to treat one another as if we were interacting with the Divine Trinity itself.

A (Application): So what does all of this mean? It means that we get to see the Christ in one another. Seeing Christ in one another means seeing the hope of forgiveness in one another. The evil ones and the good ones. All are imbued with the Christ nature, for we are all one in Christ. We are all cut of the same cloth (as some like to say).

This means forgiveness is possible. This means that the chance of forgiveness and reconciliation is very high. This means that when we look on one another, we have hope to be forgiven or to forgive.

And when we cannot forgive, perhaps we hold on to the hope that the Christ dwelling in the other is still holding on strong. Even if we must let a relationship go.

Christ in us. Christ guiding us. This is my hope.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us always…from the inside out. Amen.

One in Christ

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 1:21 God is the one who establishes us with you in Christ and who anointed us. 22 God also sealed us and gave the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts.

O (Observation): Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. He is reminding them – once again – of their being “in Christ” together.

Paul really taps into the sense of oneness. He picks up on Jesus’ notion that as the Christ freely dwells in each believer, they act as if they are one! Living in different cities? Still one! Former Greek or former Jew? Still one, in Christ!

This means that they can be free to share with one another and welcome one another should they travel. Or share financial obligations.

A (Application): How many of us sense the Oneness? I fear many of us are so individually minded that we have a hard time sensing the oneness.

I have to look out for me and mine. That is a survival instinct that all of us have. But we are also imbued with a sense of oneness through being in Christ together.

Jesus is the foremost example of what it means to be in Christ. He shows forth the full expression of Christ: chosen, gifted, servant, loving, beloved.

We are all given these same gifts. Or we can stifle these gifts.

When we share, when we love, when we allow ourselves to be cared for…we are showing how we are in Christ with one another.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of our oneness in you…amen.

Women in Leadership

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 14:32 The spirits of prophets are under the control of the prophets. 33 God isn’t a God of disorder but of peace. Like in all the churches of God’s people, 34 the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control, just as the Law says. 35 If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during the meeting.

O (Observation): My first reaction to this text is that somewhere in Paul’s setting, a group of women that were following some other deity were disrupting what was going on at the local gathering of Jesus-followers. He resorted to a general call for women to be quiet. Probably responding to a particular situation in a particular time in a particular place.

Perhaps the worship setting was becoming disorderly and folks had a hard time focusing on worship or hearing the teachings for the day. Perhaps this was a call for orderliness to a particular community. For Paul himself lifts up females in church leadership in other parts of his writings.

Not only does Paul lift up female leadership in the church, I seem to remember Paul writing something else about men and women…

Galatians 3 – “27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

A (Application): What are we looking for when we approach scripture? Tradition? New life? Forgiveness? Hope?

We can look for all of these and more.

Yet when it comes to female leadership in the church, we are stuck. And if we are okay with female leaders, we are not okay with paying them fair and equal wages.

God is revealed bit by bit for us. In our leaders – both female and male…and those who are still discovering their identity.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us towards your perfect light. Amen.

Suffering With One Another

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:22 …the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.

O (Observation): As I have been sharing recently, Paul is talking to a church community he established, in which different members of the body of Christ are lifting themselves up over one another. Some are being given raised or lower status…which is NOT what Paul (or Jesus) stood for. Paul reminds his folks that if we compare the people who follow Jesus to a body, the lesser known parts are given raised status, not because they are better, but because they are unknown and hidden. Thus, we do elevate certain parts that need to be elevated. Not because they are better, but because we cannot tell their story without aiding them in their status.

The goal is that all would be recognized as important and of worth to God.

I see a parallel here to the Prodigal Son story. The elder son thought it unfair to have a feast for the prodigal son upon his return. But the feast wasn’t about the prodigal son deserving anything. Rather, that story is a story of God’s abundant grace. Paul also focuses on the grace for those who need it most. For the parts of the body that are visible and recognized, much like the elder son, are given recognition and a bountiful gift.

A (Application): Our society – in some parts – seems it more responsible to give aid to those who already have it and to ignore the plight of those who “don’t.” When it come to providing care for the downtrodden in our society, we would rather stand by the belief that our hard work and efforts are what should get us by. We don’t like “entitlements.”

Of course that word is a loaded word. It ends a conversation before it can get started.

I believe hard work is good for the soul : )

I also believe that every story matters. The stories of the downtrodden are hardly the same between any two people.

One person is a young adult, in college, who is gay. That person’s parents kick them out, but that person doesn’t have health coverage.

One person became gravely ill and had to use their retirement savings to pay medical bills. He is only 65 years old, but is now healthy and is expected to live another 20 years now.

One person is born with a physical disability, and needs continual care for the whole life long. Her parents do everything for her, but it drains them financially.

Who do you know that needs lifting up? Who do you know that could use the care that our society – as a whole – can help provide?

These folks don’t “deserve” the lack they have.

If we extend the care we give to one another as the body of Christ – lifting up the soft-spoken and hidden folks – should we not also help those who love all around us? That is our witness.

Let us lift up one another. Out of love and care of our neighbor.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you lift me up, so I can help others to be lifted up. Let me be your hands and feet. Amen.