The Poor, The Downtrodden

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S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Brothers and sisters, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life that is not in line with the traditions that you received from us. 7 You yourselves know how you need to imitate us because we were not undisciplined when we were with you. 8 We didn’t eat anyone’s food without paying for it. Instead, we worked night and day with effort and hard work so that we would not impose on you. 9 We did this to give you an example to imitate, not because we didn’t have a right to insist on financial support. 10 Even when we were with you we were giving you this command: “If anyone doesn’t want to work, they shouldn’t eat.”

O (Observation): Paul (and those who wrote using Paul’s name) was big on using the Law to guide and direct behavior in Jesus’ followers. He was a Pharisee at one point, critiquing God followers when they broke from the Jewish teachings and customs.

Paul was always good at challenging folks. Having been transformed by an encounter with Jesus, he understood, anew, that grace puts one in a stance that requires a person to love God and neighbor…even in the most dire of circumstances. And since Paul was a person of great challenge – to himself and to others – he also fought hard to make sure no one took the Gospel for granted.

So, if you can work, then work. If you can put food on your table, then the right thing to do is to work so you can put food on your table. Don’t take advantage of other folks’ generosity.

We are subject to no one; yet we are subject to all. If you need help, ask for it. If you can help yourself or others, do it. Both are valid ways of living.

A (Application): Some like to use these words of Paul today to make an excuse for not contributing to the needs of the homeless. They think: why can’t these people work for themselves? Earn their own way? Paul says this is the way!

I say we should challenge folks to find a way to use their God-given gifts to make the world a better place and to put food on their own table. Yet, the judgment does not belong to you or to me as to another’s abilities (or lack thereof). Each one must judge for themselves.

How do we teach this in a way that encourages all to work for their own sake, without using this as a judgment against others?

The easy thing to do is to say, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!” Didn’t Jesus go around healing people, loving all people, and reminding us to sell what we have and give alms?

Surely we can use our gifts for good in this world. Surely we can have compassion for those who cannot mentally or emotionally hold themselves accountable. Surely we can use our gifts to walk alongside those who have trouble figuring out how to make a new life in this country.

Perhaps in showing compassion to those who have trouble figuring out life, those who received help will one day have the means to help someone else. Perhaps being the example of uncoerced generosity will lead to others being generous, as well.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us generous hearts. Amen.

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America, America

Photo credit here – and a great article that addresses the win-win scenario of citizenship in America.

S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us so that the Lord’s message will spread quickly and be honored, just like it happened with you. 2 Pray too that we will be rescued from inappropriate and evil people since everyone that we meet won’t respond with faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful and will give you strength and protect you from the evil one. 4 We are confident about you in the Lord—that you are doing and will keep doing what we tell you to do. 5 May the Lord lead your hearts to express God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

O (Observation): Paul and crew are encouraging the people of God in Thessalonica to continue to seek God’s will and to do God’s will. Even though evil still abounds, Paul prays for protection from evil ones. Seems to be that even though God is present, that doesn’t stop evil ones from working against the people of God.

Paul’s message is clear: keep up the good work, people of God, for the Lord leads your heart and gives you Christ’s endurance. That endurance does not demand retribution nor fairness. That endurance is based on faith in God alone.

A (Application): So an article has come up recently regarding White House reps saying that the poem adorning the Statue of Liberty was for Europeans, originally. And a movement is afoot to vet folks so that only those who can “stand on their own two feet” should be allowed to seek citizenship in this country.

America was a place where people could go when people were oppressed or simply wanted freedom. The times change and I get that. But one thing that is a constant guiding light to this world is that we are a country that is full of promise.

That promise is eroding. We are becoming more and more selfish. We are looking to our own needs first, instead of helping others to succeed…like it’s a zero-sum game. Win-win scenarios exist! We just get lazy and think, “If you win, I’m gonna lose. So instead of helping anyone else, I’m gonna get mine.” How selfish is that?

Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ looks not to one’s self , first, but last. Being nourished at the table in worship, confessing and receiving forgiveness, sharing the peace in worship…these rituals remind me that Christ is our center and sets us free from selfish desires in order to help us look to our neighbors in need.

May God help us to fight the evil that is around us and seeks to change our hearts for the worse. Help us to look outwards, that we might see that God already is taking care of our hearts and minds.

P (Prayer): Lord, help make Americans care again. 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.

Giving and Receiving

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 8:12 A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly. 13 It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. 14 At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. 15 As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little. (Ex 16:18)

O (Observation): Paul was great about getting the churches to support one another in his time. He reminded them that giving was to be done joyfully, and not out of obligation alone.

The outward focus is key here. Giving finances away to a place where you actually couldn’t really oversee the expenses was a challenge for sure.

Also note that Paul is not wanting folks to live in poverty so that others can live a plush lifestyle. He does all of this for the sake of equality. That when they are in need the others might give to them and support them.

A (Application): Over the last two decades the trend has been for congregations to retain more money within our individual churches, but less to larger missions work or to the larger denominational bodies. Paul focuses on the outward giving as important!

The ELCA has experienced this trend to be true. More money staying at the local level of the congregation and the congregation doing more local mission work, too. The trend is a struggle, since money given to our synod (our four-state region of GA, AL, MS, and TN) supports our staff who then support our congregations (think redevelopments, congregational vitality training, mission starts, etc). And in our region, half of all monies that go to our synod passes through to the ELCA, which then supports our candidates for ministry and seminaries, our teaching and worship resources, our global missions, etc.

All of this occurs not so that some might be more poor and others might be more rich. We do this so that we can share and come close to attaining equality.

A good example is this: The 2019 entering class at my alma later (Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) will have all tuition paid for!!!! (They still need to cover housing and food and such, but what a great blessing!). I didn’t have that luxury, but perhaps you can start to see what Paul saw. You give now, so that you can receive later.

The church that receives a candidate for pastor with little debt load might have an easier time calling that pastor. If that pastor had a huge debt load, that pastor might need to seek a larger church that has more margin for pay, or a church that could work out short-term loan assistance. You can see how the challenge perpetuates.

In all, Paul encourages us to give, with no restraint. Except this: be joyful in giving, and know that this is for equality…you will receive.

P (Prayer): Lord, you make us joyful givers. Help us to celebrate this. Amen.

Redemption and Renewal

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S (Scripture): Psalm 69

34 

Let heaven and earth praise God,

    the oceans too, and all that moves within them!

35 

God will most certainly save Zion

    and will rebuild Judah’s cities

    so that God’s servants can live there and possess it.

36 

The offspring of God’s servants will inherit Zion,

    and those who love God’s name will dwell there.


2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12 So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

O (Observation): In the Old Testament and in the New…God is at the center of redemption and renewal. Life for the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity was full of despair and despondency. No one had hope of ever getting back to a state in which God was present and active. But the psalmist was that voice of hope for God’s people. A prophetic voice amidst the challenge. God’s people – the descendants of God’s people of the day – would know God’s power. This is the eternal promise of hope for every generation.

Paul also speaks specifically of a personal and yet collective hope. We are each experiencing the indwelling of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Even though our bodies and brains can only withstand so much in this world, our hope lies in what the body and brain cannot destroy: Christ’s dwelling within us.

A (Application): Though our bodies and brains may fail, our faith lives on. This gives us hope to carry on, no matter the challenges ahead.

As a pastor, I know I need this word today. I almost skipped the devotion today, because I had more of “God’s Work” to do this morning. But stopping and intentionally sitting today, digging into God’s word…this is precisely where I needed to be. (Yes, this is God’s Work, too ?And I hope this word inspires you today to figure out: What in me is dying? What is being reborn?

My confidence and effort were lacking of late. That is dying so that Christ might give me strength this day to do what is necessary to do the hard work of discipleship this day for me.

Happy digging!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our efforts and sustain as we die a little each day, that Jesus might be born in us more this day and every day. Amen.

Missional Communities

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, together with the church that meets in their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters greet you. You in turn should greet each other with a holy kiss. 21 Here is my greeting in my own handwriting—Paul.

O (Observation): Paul’s letters – making up a large portion of the New Testament – are a treasure for us. These letters help us to catch a glimpse of the goodness of God. God’s Spirit flows through Paul, who goes on mission. God’s Spirit flows through Prisca and Aquila (and their whole household).

The household was the setting for the early church. Followers of Jesus were not worshipping in cathedrals or pews or temples. Instead, God was with them on their journeys and in their homes. The home would host 30-50 people. They would read what Scriptures they had. They would all share food and eat together…including bread and a cup of wine.

A (Application): More congregations are extending the Sunday conversations by having people meet in one another’s homes. There, they share personal stories, read Scripture, and rally around a mission (volunteer at a local school, work with a homeless shelter, connect with Muslim folks in our community).

The mission is the core identity marker, as God’s people serve in the community. Having the mission as the identity marker allows us to ensure that the group does NOT become just a club. Instead, the mission drives the community and the worship this community does.

And it can all be done from someone’s home.

Where relationships can be built, and hopefully, thrive.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into mission work we can be proud of. Amen.

Stewardship is FAITH FORMING

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:1 Concerning the collection of money for God’s people: You should do what I have directed the churches in Galatia to do. 2 On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside whatever you can afford from what you earn so that the collection won’t be delayed until I come. 3 Then when I get there, I’ll send whomever you approve to Jerusalem with letters of recommendation to bring your gift. 4 If it seems right for me to go too, they’ll travel with me.

O (Observation): As Paul continues to make his missionary travels, he is sure to help the churches care for one another. This looked practically like collecting the offering in Corinth to financially support the church in Jerusalem. So he told the church in Corinth to do what he told the church in Galatia to do: gather a weekly collection of financial gifts so that Paul might share those gifts with the other churches he serves.

But why? Shouldn’t they fund their own ministries? Well, ideally, yes. But sometimes the act of letting go of money to help another cause is a great reward…for it lays the ground work to increase one’s faith.

A (Application): What do we do with our offering? Good question! In a congregation, most of the money covers the staff salaries. After that, it depends.

Utilities and maintenance usually get the next biggest chunk.

But don’t let that be discouraging.

For what are the staff doing? Preaching, teaching, leading youth, leading music in worship, leading faith formation events, reaching out to neighbors and building relationships, visiting the sick, coordinating staff duties, overseeing stewardship practices, making more disciples, and much, much more, all in the name of Jesus Christ!

Where does this happen? Much of it happens in the facility owned by the congregation. Worship, youth group, bible study, communications, Sunday School.

Outside groups may also make use of the church’s building.

The rest of the budget supports the ministries we provide. Materials for faith formation, mostly.

But then another chunk is designated for what some churches call “missions.” Since the congregation I serve is part of the ELCA (ELCA.org), we give to “Mission Support.” That money (8% of our regular offering, in our case), is sent to the ELCA. The ELCA uses these funds to organize worship and learning resources, leadership development, missionaries around the globe and in the U.S., and much more.

Letting go is the hardest part. As individuals, we consume SO MUCH! And we typically give at the end of the month, instead of at the beginning! If we always wait, we will NEVER have enough to give. Yet if we give on the front end, we will be amazed at the fact that we will have enough at the end.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us peace in regards to our finances. Amen.