Relationship, relationships

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S (Scripture): Matthew 25:14 Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. 15 To one he gave five valuable coins, and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey.

16 “After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

19 “Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

22 “The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

24 “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. 25 So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? 27 In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest. 28 Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. 29 Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. 30 Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’

“People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.

O (Observation): Is this about threatening the disciples to use their gifts? Or is something more subversive going on here?

What if Jesus isn’t the owner / man leaving on a trip in this parable, but is the slave who is given 1 talent?

Jesus is being depicted the person in power as a harsh person (like locking out 1/2 of the bridesmaids in the verses just before these) and now, if Jesus is Lord, then he is treating the one with one talent very poorly.

Is this what we are to expect from Jesus?

Or is this interpretation a way for Jesus to be subversive and flip the parable upside-down.

What if the owner was a scoundrel and was unjust? What if this was Jesus’ point: Jesus will NOT rule as the person in power in this parable.

A (Application): So instead of wondering how many gifts we have, perhaps we dwell on the point that Jesus is NOT a harsh judge and will not keep us locked out. Rather, perhaps we dispel the notion that Jesus will rule in these ways. Knowing this, maybe we can be free to serve others fairly and with mercy.

Relationships are important. How we treat folks matters…here and now. Jesus will come again. In the meantime, let us treasure what relationships we haves and seek God to help us to build more bridges.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us full of mercy and grace. Amen.

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Retribution or Reconciliation?

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S (Scripture): Genesis 50:15 When Joseph’s brothers realized that their father was now dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us, and wants to pay us back seriously for all of the terrible things we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph and said, “Your father gave orders before he died, telling us, 17 ‘This is what you should say to Joseph. “Please, forgive your brothers’ sins and misdeeds, for they did terrible things to you. Now, please forgive the sins of the servants of your father’s God.”’” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

18 His brothers wept too, fell down in front of him, and said, “We’re here as your slaves.”

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? 20 You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today. 21 Now, don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” So he put them at ease and spoke reassuringly to them.

O (Observation): Hmm? If I’m not mistaken Joseph’s dad said nothing about Joseph need by to forgive his brothers. Could this be another case of Joseph’s brothers trying to cover their own backsides? I think so.

The most interesting part is the result: Joseph forgives them in an emotional display.

Is this justice? Not hardly…not an earthly justice. But as Jospeh says, he is not God…and indeed, God has turned to good something meant to harm. Joseph – left for dead by his brothers – was taken to Egypt and rose to power there and saved his father and brothers (and many of God’s people) by storing up food, based on God’s revelation to Joseph.

And so…in a position to strike back at his brothers and in their attempt to deceive Joseph (yet again), Joseph leads with grace. And grace sets people free…it sets Joseph free…it sets free Joseph’s brothers and their families…it breaks the cycle of violence.

A (Application): Loving our neighbor. Will this help us to break the cycles of violence and deception all around us? We are a violent and cynical people, quicker to react than to think.

Joseph had justification for denying forgiveness and mercy to his brothers. In fact, you may have had a negative reaction towards Joseph…like he was weak or soft. Well…depends on the perspective. What is the end game? Retribution? And end to violence?Reconciliation?

I’ll take reconciliation any time…apology, forgiveness, moving forward together. We catch a glimpse of this in Joseph’s story.

How has this worked itself out in your life? Did you need to apologize? Did you need to forgive? If both have applied to you, have you moved forward together?

P (Prayer): Forgiving Lord, you call us to be reconciled to one another, just as we have been reconciled to you. Aid us in this effort. Amen.

God…how about…NOW!

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S (Scripture): Matthew 17:24 When Jesus and the disciples came to Capernaum, the people who collected the half-shekel temple tax came to Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes,” he said.

But when they came into the house, Jesus spoke to Peter first.“What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect taxes, from their children or from strangers?”

26 “From strangers,” he said.

Jesus said to him, “Then the children don’t have to pay. 27 But just so we don’t offend them, go to the lake, throw out a fishing line and hook, and take the first fish you catch. When you open its mouth, you will find a shekel coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”

O (Observation): The idea is confusing: a temple tax…but for the king. Some confusion remains over whether this was indeed a temple tax or a national tax.

In either case, we can extrapolate that Jesus’ belief over whether or not to pay the tax differs slightly from his action. He drills Peter about the taxes, and Peter answers rightly, they don’t need to pay the tax. And yet, for the sake of peace, Jesus pays the tax. But he does this in the most extraordinary way: the payment appears in the mouth of a fish that Peter catches.

The point is made: Jesus and the people of God need not pay the tax, but they will at this time…and God will provide for it.

A (Application): Sometimes we go along with things until the time is right. Sometimes we bite our tongues…vehemently disagreeing…and yet going through the motions…biding our time.

I hope you find the right time to take action for what concerns you. Our youth of this nation are about to take action regarding gun violence. Our women are marching towards justice. Our hopes find ways of becoming actions.

I’m listening to a podcast today by RadioLab, called “More Perfect.” This podcast discusses Supreme Court cases, telling the stories behind the cases, drawing you into the narratives surrounding the cases.

This episode – “American Pendulum II” (found here) – tells the story of the case regarding Dred Scott (a slave from the 1830’s) and The Tawney Family (who owned Dred Scott as a slave) coming together, 3 and 4 generations later! In this gathering of descendants is forgiveness and reconciliation. Powerful stuff.

They had to bide their time and like money showing up in the fish’s mouth, God provided this coming together of descendants that they may be reconciled to one another.

Where do you need forgiveness and reconciliation? How is God providing for you in the meantime?

P (Prayer): Lord, you being us hope in the midst of challenge and despair. Provide for us as you provided for Peter and Jesus in today’s Gospel text. Amen.

Liberty and Justice for All

Martin Luther King Jr speaks at a 1961 Luther League rally. Click here for photo credit and to hear the audio of his address to this group.

S (Scripture): Psalm 10:17 Lord, you listen to the desires of those who suffer.
You steady their hearts;
you listen closely to them,
18 to establish justice
for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that people of the land
will never again be terrified.

O (Observation): Many of the Psalms are examples of God’s people crying out for help as foreign powers overtook Israel, God’s people overtaken and oppressed. Many of the psalms are examples of God’s people showing full dependence on God to help them through their current predicament, in order to be brought to safety. God’s people seek justice. God’s people seek to be made whole again.

A (Application): How appropriate for a text like this to come up on a day when we recognize a national leader who sought justice for all people, especially for equal rights for African-Americans in our nation.

A lot of people think we are a post-racial society. That we are beyond racism. That many folks fought for equal rights for blacks and that all is well now. Yet that is simply not the case.

Bryan Stevenson – author and lawyer – has spent years seeking justice for black men and women wrongly accused of crimes. He shared that truth and reconciliation are the two components necessary to bring about healing and health. Stevenson says that in America we have sought reconciliation without truth. That is an empty reconciliation.

As in the psalm for today, we seek out God to establish justice for the orphaned and the oppressed. Martin Luther King Jr, Bryan Stevenson, and so many others call upon their fellow Americans to seek out justice for all people. Without knowing the truth of our ugly history, how can we truly reconcile?

Here is some homework for you…some things for you to look up:

  • The 14 Words
  • Black Wall Street
  • National Lynching Memorial

This research you are about to do is part of the truth-telling that is needed to seek true reconciliation with those we have hurt in our own backyard.

Whether anecdotal or systemic, many truths must be reconciled for us to come together in harmony.

So take that first step. If you’re the praying type, pray. Then take the time to research these items I listed above. Then, get involved with MLK activities today. Learn more today. Participate in conversations (or host a conversation) on race relations. Find someone with whom you disagree (but love dearly) and try to figure this out together.

Whatever you do will be worthwhile. This endeavor will bring joy and frustration, hope and helplessness…my hope is that this process will break you down, but build you back up with a sense of purpose to seek liberty and justice for all.

P (Prayer): Lord, you guide us in the way of truth and justice. Don’t fail us now. Amen.

Are You In Balance?

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S (Scripture): Amos 5:21 I hate, I reject your festivals; I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
22 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
I won’t be pleased;
I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
23 Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
25 Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
during the forty years in the wilderness, house of Israel?

O (Observation): God – through the prophet Amos – speaks words of correction to God’s people. They thought if they fulfilled their obligations of giving up offerings to the Lord that they would be in the clear with God. Yet God seeks more than just offerings and sweet songs. God wants justice to roll down, not just burnt offerings at an altar for God. What good is a burnt offering to God to someone without food to eat or a roof over their heads?

Amos 5:11 lays out a clear accusation against God’s people: “you crush the weak…you tax their grain.” God’s people have ignored the pleas of the weak and powerless. God will then show correction to God’s followers. God will also call forth justice to flow.

A (Application): I’m always feeling a bit guilty about not doing enough of the right stuff. I’ve got it so good. And the more I read Scripture and write out these devotions, the more I sense that God is pulling me in the right direction.

I’m one who very much “senses” God’s presence. That needs to well up inside of me, before I start taking action. That’s a good thing. That activity of the Spirit, stirring my heart, motivates me to take action and to bring others with me.

Yet I also must recognize that sometimes the actions are what will stir me. Sometimes the Spirit will simply be in the actions: serving the homeless, giving to a charity, getting to know others in my neighborhood.

In all, what I find is best for the Christian journey is to spend time with God, with fellow followers of Jesus, and with those not in my regular circles. Doing these 3 things (think: triangle) helps me to see a bit more clearly when I am lacking in one area (or more) and maybe I’m spending too much time in one area (while neglecting other areas).

May this be a helpful tool for you to discern where you are being called to spend your time and may justice flow from this exercise.

P (Prayer): Gracious Lord, you call us to spend time with you, with fellow Jesus-followers, and with those we do not know. Help us also to follow your call to be a part of the justice that flows down like streams. Amen.

Proactive or Reactive? Lord, Help Us

candlelight_t580

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

156 Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your justice.
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, yet I do not swerve from your decrees.

O (Observation):  The psalmist is looking to God to bring favor while he is being persecuted by those who choose not to follow God’s plans.   The justice the psalmist seeks is God’s justice, not the justice of the world.  When the world gets enough voices going in the same direction, the powers that be move justice towards the loudest voices.  If the just have no voice, they can seek only God’s justice.   Such may have been the case for the psalmist…very little voice…a lot of noise coming from the unjust.

A (Application):  I’m proud to have been (and continue to be) a part of the #MurfreesboroLoves movement, based in Murfreesboro, TN.  We called together people from all walks of life a few weeks ago to demonstrate that love will define our community, not white supremacists, who planned to hold a rally on our public square recently.    We had literally 100’s of folks come out to stand up against hate and for love of neighbor.

The Murfreesboro Loves movement gave the voiceless a voice, a rallying point around which many would gather to show mutual care and love for one another.

Instead of being only “against” a group of people, we also tried to convey a message of being “for” one another.

The truly hard work comes in trying to also show love towards those we rallied against.  We chose a particularly non-violent, separate stance.   We stayed away from their rally, and instead chose to greet them with messages of love and that hate was not welcome in our town.  We did this with demonstrations, posters, marches, and banners along Old Fort Parkway and Church Street – the 2 main thoroughfares through which the rally folks would have to drive through to get to the rally site.

They ended up cancelling the rally, but our message was heard loud and clear.   We did our best to stand for God’s decrees – decrees that call for us to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  A diverse group of people upheld God’s decrees:  atheists, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of other faiths, as well.

God works in many ways, through many people.  Today, I thank God for choosing me to be an instrument of peace.

And yet…no matter how hard we work to show love for neighbor…we still see random acts of violence, the devastating violence of mass shootings.  We wish to be proactive in our movement towards peace and love…and yet sometimes, all we can do is be reactive.  Such is the case in this shooting in Texas.  We see yet another mass shooting, this time in Sutherland Springs, TX, on November 5, 2017.

We react with mourning and grieving and questions…lots of questions…and anger…and hatred.  In God, we hope…  May we take this time to mourn and allow God to enter our suffering.

P (Prayer):  Lord, you guide us in many ways, sharing your message through many types of people.  Continue to show us your love and grace this day, and continue to surprise us by working in ways we have not foreseen.  We need you now, as always, to love us through these days ahead.  Amen.

 

God Is Our Protection


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S (Scripture): Psalm 119: 89 Your word, Lord,
stands firm in heaven forever!
90 Your faithfulness extends from one generation to the next!
You set the earth firmly in place, and it is still there.
91 Your rules endure to this day
because everything serves you.
92 If your Instruction hadn’t been my delight,
I would have died because of my suffering.
93 I will never forget your precepts
because through them you gave me life again.
94 I’m yours—save me
because I’ve pursued your precepts!
95 The wicked wait for me,
wanting to kill me, but I’m studying your laws.
96 I’ve seen that everything,
no matter how perfect, has a limit,
but your commandment is boundless.

O (Observation) & A (Application): A precept is a rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.  The rules given to God’s people do have a limit.   That limit is that some will embrace and follow the precepts, and others won’t.  And even when those who like to follow the precepts will not follow them perfectly.  

But adopting these precepts is life-giving.   When a people embrace the same set of social parameters, folks can relax a little and see that embracing the precepts makes for longer, more fruitful life.  Survival is no longer the only goal.  In an agreed-upon set of parameters, life can thrive!!!   And trusting in God and one another builds community. 

God’s people start to realize this as they live with these precepts and rules.  

And yet when enemies don’t follow the rules, threats remain.  But our fate lies not with threats or enemies.  Our fate is secure in God’s mercy and justice.   Our lives are frail, but we are in God’s care.   In this, I have hope. 

P (Prayer): Lord, protect us through this weekend. Amen.