Not Sure What to Do? Do Justice NOW

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 22:1 The Lord proclaims: Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and declare this message: 2 Listen to the Lord’s word, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your attendants, and all those who go through these gates. 3 The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place. 4 If you obey this command, then through the gates of this palace will come kings who occupy the throne of David, riding on chariots and horses along with their entourage and subjects. 5 But if you ignore these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this palace will become a ruin. 6 The Lord proclaims concerning the palace of the king of Judah:

Though you are like Gilead to me,

    like the summit of Lebanon,

    I will turn you into a desert—uninhabited cities.

I will summon destroyers against you,

    who will use their weapons

        to cut down your finest cedars

        and hurl them into the fire.

O (Observation): The Lord seems to speaking in odd ways, here. God is threatening to destroy the Temple of the people STAY? Wouldn’t God wish for the people to stay?!?!

Well, God is more than disappointed in the people for worshipping other gods. God has allowed the Babylonians to come in and in a sense, God is inviting the people to trust in God again…this time by telling the people to leave the land God promised them and to trust that God would one day bring them back again.

The really challenging point is that some who will leave the Promised Land won’t survive to see it again…but their offspring will!!!

A (Application): Nothing in life is more difficult than saying goodbye to the old and waiting for the next thing (or taking the step towards that next thing). God’s people are called to trust God, once again, in the Scripture above.

As a person of faith experiencing major life changes (new jobs for me and spouse, moving, selling a house, new schools for kids), we are looking forward to getting settled soon.

We trust God. We have faith. But the stress exists all the same.

So – in the mean time – what to do? Well, do justice! Treat all people fairly. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Hmmm??

Well, let’s trust that God will lead us into the way of justice. Let’s trust that God will work through us to be kind to the most vulnerable in our society, instead of treating them like scum or the deplorable. Let us show mercy, that mercy might rule the day.

P (Prayer): Lord, soften the hearts of all of us towards compassion, that we might all benefit from your grace. Amen.

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Justice Served…But When?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 17

I cry out to you because you answer me.

    So tilt your ears toward me now—

    listen to what I’m saying!

Manifest your faithful love in amazing ways

    because you are the one

    who saves those who take refuge in you,

    saving them from their attackers

    by your strong hand.

O (Observation): The psalmist recognizes salvation comes from God alone…not through defending one’s self, not through being smarter, not through being stronger.

The hope is that God will make manifest God’s wisdom and might and justice.

A (Application): We don’t always see God’s justice. Sometimes is takes days or weeks. Sometimes it takes months or years. Sometimes it takes generations.

…but God hears our plea…

That is enough to give us hope.

That is enough to sustain us in our search for justice.

P (Prayer): Lord, Listen to our cries. Bring justice. Amen.

Theology of the Cross (Part 2)

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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): God’s presence in the midst of suffering is never in doubt. God hears the cries of those who suffer…of those who have no one else to listen.

God’s concern will be to bring justice…at least, that is the hope of those who follow God.

Jesus would one day find himself suffering, too. With no powerful people on earth to defend him. He would rely fully on God, and no one else. And God would see him through. And the Spirit would burst forth!

A (Application): Our hope rests not in commanding God to come to our aid or by outsmarting or out-resourcing our enemies. Rather, we will lean solely upon God’s version of justice.

For if we seek justice on our terms, and we get it wrong…then what? We can still act, but we do so humbly and with prayer. We submit to God getting things right. We submit to listening to God’s voice. We submit to taking action based on what God speaks to us. We submit to the Spirit’s guidance.

May our response be God’s will and not our own.

P (Prayer): Lord, hear us. You will. Amen.

Giving is More Than Just About Giving

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S (Scripture): Luke 11:42 “How terrible for you Pharisees! You give a tenth of your mint, rue, and garden herbs of all kinds, while neglecting justice and love for God. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.”

O (Observation): If I we’re one of those Pharisees Jesus was talking to, I’d take great offense! Here I am, having worked my way all the way up to Pharisee level…and now Jesus comes down on me?!

Jesus even points out part of my obligation: donations of 1/10 of my mint, rue, and more! That’s expensive! That’s my donation we’re talking about.

So Jesus says that donation is right and necessary, yet there’s more? That’s not what they taught me in my training to become a Pharisee.

Jesus wants ALL OF ME? I have to work at “justice and love for God” AND keep up with my donations? How? That’s not in my manual.

A (Application): I’ve enjoyed transitioning my approach to the Observation section in these devotions to a first-person perspective, because it helps me get into the story a bit more. Helps me enter the joys and challenges of the Gospel.

Today, we see Jesus criticizing the Pharisees for their lack of empathy for those in need. They satisfy their own “requirements list,” but care not for the people in need. And they ignore their devotion to God.

I wonder how many times I’ve focused more on getting to the 10% level of giving, but have ignored homeless folks around me. How often have I contributed to a special need at church, but have not helped with stuffing backpacks for kids in need in our neighborhood?

A word that cuts deep into me today. I will pay attention to this.

Giving is more than just about giving. Giving is a true and necessary action of a disciple, and it is also an entry point into discerning one’s part in justice-seeking and love for God.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to get unwrapped from my piety and more open to serving those around me. I’m sure I have a lot to learn from those you seek for me to walk alongside. Amen.

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.

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.