Stewardship: Faith and Science

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 65

You visit the earth and make it abundant,

    enriching it greatly

        by God’s stream, full of water.

You provide people with grain

    because that is what you’ve decided.

10 

Drenching the earth’s furrows,

        leveling its ridges,

    you soften it with rain showers;

        you bless its growth.

11 

You crown the year with your goodness;

    your paths overflow with rich food.

12 

Even the desert pastures drip with it,

    and the hills are dressed in pure joy.

13 

The meadowlands are covered with flocks,

    the valleys decked out in grain—

        they shout for joy;

        they break out in song!

O (Observation): The psalmist sees God as the one responsible for watering the earth and bringing forth vegetation and life itself. And not just life, but ABUNDANT life!

God’s stream brings sustenance to the earth!

Waters flow – strong or gentle – as needed.

Result? Desert and hills get what they need. Meadows and valleys rejoice.

This is legend AND this is science to the ancient ones who wrote these psalms. Perhaps science and legend are one and the same for this author.

A (Application): We are truly children of the Enlightenment. I’m all for science, but I believe the pendulum has swung too far. We are forgetful of the stories that brought us this far along the way. We fail to see our interconnectedness with other cultures and races. We fail to see how we are one with people who look and speak different from “us.”

Now that we “know better,” we don’t tell stories of the earth crying out or the animals having stories to share.

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis have both been influential for me and my family as they bring stories that don’t make sense : ). Odd creatures exist in their stories – both good and evil. Trees walk and talk. Portals to other worlds!

Now, it’s the Marvel Comic Universe that brings stories of far off worlds and odd creatures to light. (And yes, I’m a HUGE fan 🔷.)

But when it comes to our faith, we have very little imagination. We disconnect faith from the earth or the very things we use on a daily basis: soap, water, transportation, air, mountains, and so on.

God is revealed to us in more than just the person of Jesus. And we rejoice in this fact. And we rejoice in the abundant forms of life all around us.

One area I have found to be extremely challenging and equally rewarding: MONEY.

Science and logic tell us one thing. Faith, another. What if we joined these two together? What if we saw paying our bills and giving money away as equally important? What if we let loose of our desire to make it all work out for us, only? What if we gave our money a voice? What story would it tell us?

Would it tell us how we buy more of the same stuff for ourselves, while others go hungry? Would our money tell us we have plenty, but ignore that sentiment and use it more for ourselves?

Or would our money explain how it sustains our faith communities and homeless shelters and food pantries???

Let science and faith work together for the good of all.

P (Prayer): Lord, the stories of what we give to you are distant from our hearts and minds. Wake us up to the joy of giving once again. Amen.

Advertisements

Jesus – the Great “I Am”

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): John 8:56 (Jesus said to the Jewish leaders) “Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see my day. He saw it and was happy.”

57 “You aren’t even 50 years old!” the Jewish opposition replied. “How can you say that you have seen Abraham?”

58 “I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple.

O (Observation): The Jewish leaders were quite upset that Jesus would dare to equate himself with the great “I AM”! They were so indignant they wished to throw stones at Jesus! A visceral response to such a bold statement. They didn’t even try to think it through or pray about it. Just a knee-jerk reaction.

Jesus was right, but the Jewish leaders couldn’t let go of their systemic religious priorities: God is one! No other God comes before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God’s people were wrong.

A (Application): Feels nice to have 2,000 years of the Christian Church to look back and say to these Jewish leaders: “Fools!” Don’t you know?!?! This is Jesus, the one promised of old to Abraham, David, and the prophets. Jesus is the ONE to make all things new!”

But wait…we have had 2,000 years to decipher this truth.

And to this day, we still struggle with believing. In fact even Jesus’ disciples struggled.

So, what do we make of all this? Should we throw faith and belief away? Certainly not!

Perhaps knowing that God’s people got God wrong leads us to remember that we can also get God wring from time to time. Maybe we can be so wrong about how God works.

But we hold on to faith that Jesus is the I AM. Jesus is God in the flesh. He heals. He makes us one with God.

Perhaps that is enough. To know that I was baptized into a death like his, that I might walk around today as one forgiven and set free to love God and neighbor.

P (Prayer): Lord, may we receive your Spirit to help guide and direct us this day. Amen.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Stride

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): John 6:47 Jesus responds to the Jewish opposition: “I assure you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

O (Observation): The Bread of Life. Living Bread. What vivid images are brought to mind. The bread is “living” insofar as it brings life to those who partake of it. Eternal life!

Jesus was surely disturbing those of the faith with this new teaching. Jesus was trying to help them see that the Law (doing what is righteous) drives one to the Gospel (salvation, forgiveness). Eating bread sustains for a time. Eating the Bread of Life lasts forever. And this is a free gift!

A (Application): So why do we – as Christians – make such a fuss over how we understand the Bread of Life to work? Why does one style of Communion distribution work better than another?

Or, why does one type of baptism “count” while others don’t? Is that not a stumbling block?

Why does one group of Christians – doing God’s work – feel it necessary to condemn another group of Christ-followers who are also doing God’s work?

Perhaps our call as Christians is to focus a bit more outward, instead of inward.

This outward focus is embedded in our vision statement at the congregation I serve: “We are called to walk closely with God, discover the gifts God has given us, and welcome and accept all people.” As that last part states, we strive to welcome and accept all people. That’s a wide range of folks, so we narrow it down to make real from time to time. Whether this be LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities, the homeless, etc. we find ways to live out our vision in our community.

We may receive condemnation, but as long as we receive the Bread of Life, nothing stands in our way of doing God’s work here in this place.

P (Prayer): Lord, sustain us for you are the Bread of Life. Amen.

You Can Do It!

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 30:6 Then the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants so that you love the Lord your God with all your mind and with all your being in order that you may live… 11 This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn’t unreachable. 12 It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 13 Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 14 Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.

O (Observation): Moses speaks to the crowd. They wonder at the command God gives: Love God! Yet they and their ancestors have not obeyed God for quite some time (hence, the 40 years of wandering).

Now, though, God’s mercy comes back into view. The physical circumcision that was required is now a circumcision of the heart. (A helpful move, so that both male and female would now both fully enter the covenant.)

Loving God with heart and mind and being is a commandment that is not too far off. God will take the step to make this faith possible with the cardiac circumcision.

A (Application): My faith originates in what God has done and still does. After wandering for forty years in the wilderness, I would have a tough time thinking that God wanted to reach out to me. And yet that is exactly what is promised and still promises. The Hebrew people have had lives filled with devastation and disaster. I want to how this promise works for them.

I’ve had a pretty easy life. No discrimination. No catastrophes. My faith is what it is because somehow the Spirit moved (and still moves) me.

And the challenge of faith is very simple: loving God is as near to you as your heart and your mouth. Living out the commandment to love God starts and ends with God coming close to us. Regardless of our past or current status. All are welcome to receive God’s grace.

P (Prayer): God, you are amazingly full of grace. For that, we thank you! Amen.

P.s. Any fans of the Christian band, “Lost and Found”? They wrote a song called “Cardiac Circumcision.” I remember singing this song in my living room on a cassette tape after a camp called AFFIRM. I had no idea what it meant technically…but I had an idea that it meant something about changing my heart : )

Guessing these verses inspired their song.

Called to Serve!

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Luke 3:7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”

14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”

He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”

O (Observation): John speaks for God – he is a prophet. Many come come to be baptized by John to show that they wish to receive forgiveness of sins and wish to change their lives. No longer does John think it sufficient to be a Jew – from the lineage of Abraham and Sarah. That “status” is of little significance should one not change one’s life.

John says that God expects a changed life in response to the grace given to each.

Life in Christ gives ALL people a chance – even a pile of rocks : )

Jesus forms a new way of life with God, one that is open to all.

A (Application): Complacency is our biggest threat as Christians in the world. “I’ve done enough. I’ve done my part. There’s nothing I can do about it.” These words are our excuses.

Instead of relying on our baptism as our “ticket home,” let’s also think about our baptism as our call to serve and our being equipped for mission in the world!

Rest not only on what God has done FOR you…through prayer and community discern how God is working THROUGH you!

P (Prayer): Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Amen.

Scaffolding of our Faith

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Exodus 25:10 Have them make an acacia-wood chest. It should be forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. 11 Cover it with pure gold, inside and out, and make a gold molding all around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Make acacia-wood poles and cover them with gold. 14 Then put the poles into the rings on the chest’s sides and use them to carry the chest. 15 The poles should stay in the chest’s rings. They shouldn’t be taken out of them. 16 Put the covenant document that I will give you into the chest.

O (Observation): As God’s people are learning to make their way through the wilderness and to the Promise Land, they are given explicit instructions on how to build this ark – this location for God’s presence in their midst.

These instructions for the ark are extremely precise. Why such a big deal?

Well, God’s people are literally wandering in the desert / wilderness. They have spent generations as servants in a foreign country. Even though they kept their stories and traditions alive while enslaved, they were not prepared to worship God in a corporate way. Building this ark was a way to prepare for what God was going to give them: the 10 Commandments.

This guidance was important, because God’s people needed some direction and stability. They have been wandering and needed explicit instructions to follow, in order that they might be given a clear sense of purpose.

Build this. To these specifications. “Trust me,” says God.

A (Application): Yesterday, I preached a sermon about how we build “scaffolding” around the things we do as a church: customs, traditions, theology, etc. I mentioned that the scaffolding, while helpful at times, can be restrictive. We can start to focus more on the scaffolding and less on the gift of grace around which this scaffolding resides.

Yet, in times of great unrest, guidance and scaffolding are EXACTLY what we need. This scaffolding helped God’s people in their days following their emancipation from Egyptian rule.

After the death of a loved one, you need your family and work and structure around you to allow you some healthy paths forward, that you might be able to grieve without falling apart.

When adding a member of the family – through birth or adoption – you start living into new norms, and any structure you have around your time of growing together can be very reassuring and a relief.

The direction and scaffolding around you or your faith life can be helpful, indeed. I simply ask that you discern whether that structure is bringing new life or inhibiting new life.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us guidance and wisdom to know when to follow the script and when to improvise. Amen.

Be Near Me, Lord Jesus

S (Scripture): Micah 4:1 But in the days to come,
the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of the mountains;
it will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will go and say:
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of Jacob’s God,
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths!”
Instruction will come from Zion
and the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
3 God will judge between the nations
and settle disputes of mighty nations,
which are far away.
They will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
4 All will sit underneath their own grapevines,
under their own fig trees.
There will be no one to terrify them;
for the mouth of the Lord of heavenly forces has spoken.

O (Observation): In the times of the prophets, God’s people experienced great turmoil – being taken over by foreign nations, being threatened because of their choice of religion, being enslaved. In these terrible times of upheaval, God’s prophets would not only give a word of correction to God’s people, but also – in some manner – a word of great comfort, too. That comforting word would usually come in the form of some future hope promised by God.

In Micah 4, we have a future hope, one in which weapons are re-purposed as farming instruments…instruments of peace and life.

A (Application): God finds a way to lift up correction and yet mercy, time and time again. In almost the same breath we hear words of correction and yet words of mercy. God is both!

Jesus exudes the same stance of correction and mercy: he tells the man who is brought on a mat that his sins are forgiven (correction), and that he is healed (mercy); he tells the woman at the well that she has several husbands, yet offers her water which will quench her thirst forever; he tells the story of a boy who hit rock bottom, but is also welcomed home by his father.

The story of hope is the story of the Scriptures. Even the challenging texts from Revelation point to Jesus as victor over the hideous beasts this broken world has to offer.

The season of Advent calls us to be a hopeful people. We will be so, but we will need constant reminding. So we gather for worship and with one another for mutual uplifting. We gather in the community to meet people and to serve people.

May this Advent waiting fill you with hope, even if the signs around you point out what you lack.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us hopeful his season. Just “BE” with us. Amen.

If you’re going through a difficult season of life, we invite you to come and worship with us on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at 3pm, for “The Longest Night” worship service, a worship time of Longing, Hope, and Healing.

Click here for our Facebook event for more details regarding “The Longest Night.”