One Nation, Underwood

S (Scripture): Proverbs 29

25 The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.
26 Many seek the favor of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
27 The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

O (Observation): Peace and security comes from the Lord, not from any earthly ruler or authority.   Trusting in God brings one justice and hope.  

And who is an abomination?   Depends on the viewpoint.   The unjust acquire wealth and status in ways that make the righteous jealous – though it shouldn’t.  The upright are an abomination to the wicked, because the upright are genuine and receive eternal favor without working lies or deceit.  

A (Application): The freakiest line from the latest House of Cards series is the title of this blog post.  President Francis Underwood pontificates on the future…and he says, “One nation.  Underwood.”  How creepy.  

How often does the “bad guy” win?   How do we allow this?   We do allow it, by the way, either because we stick our heads in the sand or because we are complicit with the system.  

…until we lift our heads…until we are no longer complicit…

We reach a true freedom when we begin to believe in and trust the Lord.   We can walk upright (repenting as we go) fearing no ruler.  We will do no battle.   Instead, our upright nature will drive the wicked ones crazy.   

Our trust will be in the Lord, and as we trust the Lord, we will see that our spirit is not captured.   Our will is set free in order that we live upright lives in the midst of an unjust world.  

Francis Underwood rules through wicked means.   Will you?  Or will you let genuine love for your neighbor guide your ways and your will?

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift up our heads to you!  Amen.  

Overcome Evil with Good

S (Scripture): Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

O (Observation):  Paul so often gives us words as difficult to swallow as the words of Jesus himself.   

In the midst of a violent regime in Rome, rather than fight, Paul calls upon the people of God to stand united in a peaceable front.  Their relationship with the rulers in Rome was tenuous, but peaceable…most of the time.  Rome was violent towards Christians, yet if they kept to themselves, the government would leave God’s people alone, for the most part.     

And so, through acts of random kindness, God’s people would survive and eventually thrive.  Not by their own direct action, but by confusing the people in charge by showing them love…letting God take on the big stuff.  

A (Application):  So hard…with the divisive nature of society these days, how do we move forward united?   Maybe one act of random kindness at a time?   Maybe less talk, and more action…action out of love for our neighbor.  

Perhaps we simply be polite to those who dislike us.  But how?  That can be so damn difficult.  

But ours is to do good.  Ours is not to believe in the falsity of “redemptive violence” (nod to Rob Bell for that phrase in his recent podcast).   Real life is not Hollywood.  The cycle of redemptive violence tries to bring an end – I win, you lose.   But the truth is that cycle never ends.  Instead, we always try to one-up each other.  So…Paul steers us away from this.  

The cycle of redemptive violence drives entertainment (like in tv shows like The a Walking Dead, or movies like The Avengers).   There is no end.  We adapt this violence to our way of thinking, rather than subject ourselves to Paul’s (and really Christ’s) words.   

This is my struggle today.  How is it for you?

P (Prayer): Lord, you call us to bring words of peace and hope, where there is despair.   Help us in this monumental task. Amen.  

Lord, Rise Up through Us

S (Scripture): Psalm 21:13 Rise up, O Lord, in strength! We will sing and praise your power!

O (Observation):  Admittedly, this verse is meant for king and country.   That is, the political and military leader who serves the Lord (and that nation) gives thanks to God for God’s mighty acts.

A (Application):  Sometimes, we try to assign positive movement forward with God’s will.  Sometimes progress, though, isn’t helpful.  Depends on what’s being accomplished.   Are the poor, the marginalized, being served an injustice?   If so, we speak up, we speak out. 

Why get involved?   Because justice cries out for action.   To be idle in times of injustice is to be complicit with the injustice.  

We rely on the Lord to Rise Up and take action.  Yet we must realize that we may be the ones through whom God wishes to act.  So we move into a state of readiness.  As bridegrooms awaiting the bride.   We remain vigilant and seek the Lord’s wisdom on what to say and when to say it.  

P (Prayer): Lord, give us strength…give us wisdom.  Amen.  

Called and Equipped!  Baptized and Sent!

S (Scripture): Joshua 1:1  After Moses the Lord’s servant died, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Get ready! Cross the Jordan River! Lead these people into the land which I am ready to hand over to them. 3 I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. 6 Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. 7 Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do.

O (Observation):  Joshua assumes leadership of God’s people, ordained by God.   In the midst of this “transfer” some expectations are set.   

Be strong and brave!  Do not swerve from the Law.  Obey the Law, like Moses!  You must lead this people in the conquest of this land. 

That’s a tall order…but Joshua is not left to his own devices to see that he is obedient.  

Instead, we also see God’s actions in these word today:

  • God promises to hand the land over to God’s people
  • “As I was with Moses, so I’ll be with you.”
  • “I will not abandon you or leave you.”

God remains a constant in Joshua’s life.  Joshua knows that God is with him.  Joshua can only be obedient in as much as God is with him, reminding Joshua of who and whose he is.  Joshua is God’s. 

A (Application):  Believe it or not, we are all called into the challenge of Joshua.  We are not called to claim land promsied by God; rather, we are all called, in baptism, to live out God’s peace and justice in all the earth. 

That means that in some cases, we stand with the marginalized, which can be unpopular.  That means that in some cases, we take actions or say words (for the cause of peace and justice) that will surely bring criticism or fear into our sphere.   

Should those challenges cause us to change our courses of action?  Certainly not!

But how will we be sustained?!?  The same thing that causes us to move forward for the sake of peace and justice is also that which unites us with God: our baptism.  

God called Moses and Joshua to lead, to step forward.  God calls us, as well, through baptism.   And while our baptism urges us to stand for peace and justice, we are also sustained by the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with us as we step forward.  

We are urged onward, but with the help and guidance of the Spirit.  We are called and we are equipped.  Fear not.  God is with you! 

P (Prayer):  Lord, we are unsure and uncertain.    Remind us of our baptism.  Guide us.  Love us. Protect us.   Amen.  

Love & Justice

  S (Scripture): Psalm 36:5 O Lord, your loyal love reaches to the sky; your faithfulness to the clouds.

6 Your justice is like the highest mountains, your fairness like the deepest sea; you preserve mankind and the animal kingdom.

7 How precious is your loyal love, O God!  The human race finds shelter under your wings.

8 They are filled with food from your house, and you allow them to drink from the river of your delicacies.

9 For you are the one who gives and sustains life.

O (Observation): The psalmist gives thanks for God’s justice and gift of life.   God’s love and faithfulness are practically endless: to the sky and clouds above.   God’s justice covers the heights of the mountains and the vast depths of the ocean!

God gives the gift of life and sustenance!

A (Application):  Sometimes simple adoration is enough.    God provides.    Thank you, God!!!

P (Prayer):  God, I give you thanks today for providing me with my needs and bringing love and justice to the earth.  Amen. 

Jesus, Justice, and Muslims

  S (Scripture): Matthew 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against [Jesus], as to how they could assassinate him.  15Now when Jesus learned of this, he went away from there. Great crowds followed him, and he healed them all. 16 But he sternly warned them not to make him known. 17 This fulfilled what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I take great delight.

I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

19 He will not quarrel or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

20 He will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a smoldering wick, until he brings justice to victory.

21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

O (Observation):  Jesus is feeling more pressure now.  The Pharisees (the religious rule-makers) are plotting to corner Jesus and kill him (theologically and physically).   They are becoming violent as Jesus starts to mess with their identity as God’s people.  

And to double-down, the author of Matthew connects Isaiah’s prophecy to Jesus.  Jesus is the one to bring hope to all nations. 

Over the centuries, the Pharisees seemed most concerned with establishing their identity as God’s people TO THE EXCLUSION of all other people and nations.  This went on for so long that God’s people forgot their purpose: to be a light to the nations.  

Jesus brought back to center God’s purpose for God’s people: to proclaim that God brings hope and justice for ALL people. 

A (Application):  We (church people) can have a tendency to feel so strongly about our theology and self-righteousness, we can often be blinded to the need for justice and hope for the world.   We are not the hope, but we bear the word of hope and can take steps toward justice…just like acknowledging that we are not the Good News, but we bring that Good News to others through word and deed.  

Yesterday I spoke with the imam of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM), Sheikh Ossama Bahloul.   He and I have become friends and I wish him well in his new endeavors into academia, away from his role as imam (pastor) to the ICM.  He leaves this position on good terms with his people of faith and wishes to continue his journey towards hope and justice for all people. 

My hope for peace and justice extends to the Muslim community here in Murfreesboro.  Why?  Because Muslims are people, too : )

It’s that simple.  

I’ve been “warned” so many times to be careful…that I’m being misled by them…that their agenda is to infiltrate our communities and “take over.”   I cannot disagree more with this mindset. 

I think people are afraid of losing the illusion of a “Christian nation.”  That we are somehow weakened by not being in control.  If we take a look at what Jesus does, he is not concerned with control.  He focuses on hope and justice, instead.  

I’m not wanting people to change religions.  I just want people to engage in healthy open dialogue, so we can get to know one another more.   Osama wants the same thing.    The Pharisees saw their role as securing their identity as God’s people to the exclusion of all others.  Jesus has a different way.  I want the Jesus way.  

P (Prayer): Lord, please take off our blinders and open our hearts and minds that we might be bearers of your hope and justice. Amen. 

The Pope and Hope : )

  S (Scripture): Psalm 109:1b God whom I praise, do not ignore me!

2 For they say cruel and deceptive things to me; they lie to me.

3 They surround me and say hateful things; they attack me for no reason.

4 They repay my love with accusations, but I continue to pray.

5 They repay me evil for good, and hate for love.

6 Appoint an evil man to testify against him! May an accuser stand at his right side!

O (Observation): A time of distress has come upon the author of this psalm.  Justice seems to be absent from this person’s strife. 

So the author calls upon God to bring that justice. A comfort in her time of need.  A relief that someone is protecting him.  

A (Application):  One of the amazing literary moves in the psalms is the concept of the collective “I.” The idea that when you see “I,” the reader has to judge whether this refers to an individual, or is it as if ALL of God’s people are being referred to in that single pronoun “I.” As if Israel – God’s people – is that singular “I.”

As a nation and as individuals, we cry out against injustice.  We cry out against racism and bigotry and all kinds of evil.  We know that we will not be able to exact revenge, nor should we try.   But like our psalmist today, we cry out in the midst of injustices. 

Yesterday, Pope Francis set foot on American soil for the first time.  I’m delighted to see this.  The pope brings with him a moral authority and calls our attention to God’s presence in our country (certainly not to the exclusion of other countries : )

My hope is that when people see the pope, they are reminded of the promises of God…that God will never abandon God’s people who cry out against injustice…that God is alive and at work in our hearts.  

May God bring you comfort in your time of need.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us hope and guidance in the midst of our distress.  Bring justice in your way. Amen.