Save Me, Lord

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Romans 3:9 So what are we saying? Are we better off? Not at all. We have already stated the charge: both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written,

There is no righteous person, not even one.

11 

There is no one who understands.

    There is no one who looks for God.

12 

They all turned away.

    They have become worthless together.

There is no one who shows kindness.

    There is not even one.

O (Observation): Here, when Paul says “we,” he is referring to the Jews who follow Christ. He wants to ask if the Jews have an advantage over the Gentile Christians, since the Jews had the Scriptures from which to study and learn about God. But even with the Scriptures, they have to realize that even they – as first recipients of God’s covenants – are sinful, too!

Paul uses Scripture to support the notion that no one people are immune from the power of sin, not even the Jews.

The words above in italics are Psalm 14:1-3. From the Scriptures, Paul reminds the Jewish Christians that none are without sin.

A (Application): While this all seems hopeless, we also keep in mind that God’s grace saves us all. The reminder of sin affecting us all is simply a tool for humility. We (however defined) are not by default better than anyone else. We all sin. And so therefore any good we do comes because we are forgiven – forgiven sinners, but still forgiven.

So the ground upon which we stand as forgiven people is established God, by Jesus suffering, dying, and being resurrected.

Therefore, we ALL can receive grace. We ALL can receive mercy. Not by our own doing, but by what God has done for us, for me.

P (Prayer): Lord, save me, a sinner. Amen.

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Our Benevolent God

Photo credit here (along with a great sermon that dives deeper into this text).

S (Scripture): Matthew 9:9 As Jesus continued on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. 10 As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.

11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”

O (Observation): Jesus associates with outsiders here in this text. Faith in God – for the likes of the Pharisees (and many others) – became about how closely one could follow the rules, and less and less about showing love and mercy to one’s neighbor. If you were a faithful follower of God, you would avoid becoming unclean (by eating with the group Jesus was eating with). If you are with the likes of “sinners and tax collectors” you would certainly become unclean. That would be a big no-no.

Jesus, however, flips things around. He says he has come to these outsiders to show them mercy. Jesus quotes the Old Testament book of Hosea, conveying a message of mercy. Jesus seems to be narrowing his focus on showing mercy, rather than just showing how good he can be at keeping the rules. The harder choice seems to be dealing with the people, rather than avoiding them.

And even though Jesus calls them “sick” I don’t think we need to think of them as less than others. Perhaps their “sickness” comes from the fact that they are pushed aside by society. Perhaps being “sick” meant that they were not followers of the same rules / laws as the Jews. In a faithful (yet misguided) attempt to follow God, many Jews pushed sinners and tax collectors away, rather than find a way to share the joys of following a merciful God…for they, surely, have been shown mercy, too.

A (Application): I have crossed several boundary markers these past few years. And each time has felt very much in line with God’s call for me and my family. I have associated with many groups that might be considered “sick” or “outsiders,” though I don’t see them as such.

Muslims, folks from the LGBTQIA community, prisoners, DACA recipients. In each of these communities, I see people. Perfect? No. (But who is?) I see people with whom I share something in common: a need for mercy. I need mercy just like these folks need mercy.

Our God throughout the Old Testament brings mercy to the Israelites time and time again, in order that God’s covenants / promises would be upheld.

We all need equal access to God’s Word…to God’s mercy. When the Church spouts hateful rhetoric, people get the idea that God is hateful…which is very unfortunate and pushes people away. The world needs to see the face of the benevolent God that I have encountered and who has embraced me.

May you encounter this benevolent God today!

P (Prayer): Lord, may you see the faces of all people and inspire all people to receive your love this day. Amen.

May I See Some ID, Please 

Photo credit here. 

S (Scripture): Psalm 103

6 The Lord works righteousness;
does justice for all who are oppressed.
7 God made his ways known to Moses;
made his deeds known to the Israelites.
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
very patient, and full of faithful love.
9 God won’t always play the judge;
he won’t be angry forever.
10 He doesn’t deal with us according to our sin
or repay us according to our wrongdoing,
11 because as high as heaven is above the earth,
that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honor him.

O (Observation):  God’s promise of justice and mercy is not empty.  Moses is proof that God’s people will not be abandoned.  Jesus Christ crucified and risen is proof that God’s people will not be abandoned.  

A (Application): God’s justice and mercy are dealt with compassion. God’s desire is not to punish us. Our identity is not in our sinfulness, but rather in God who is holy and who redeems us.  We are God’s forgiven sinners.   That is our identity. 

P (Prayer):  God, remind us that we are yours!  Amen. 

Saint and Sinner


A little different post today…

I’ve been really struggling with how to engage in conversations on social media, where we seem to be dividing more than uniting.  I’m okay with differences of opinion, but I’m sensing something shifting in the sands of how to converse with one another online. 

Lack of humility seems to be a key challenge with online conversations, but I don’t think that’s totally it.  

Here’s what bothers me most: cynicism.   When we make cynical remarks or react cynically to a post or person with whom we disagree, we fail to allow room for growth.   I don’t think we need to give up our opinions, research, or desires…I just think that cynicism cripples our opportunity to find a way forward together.  

I was thinking about all of this as I read Richard Rohr’s daily devotion from today, Monday, December 5, 2016.  I’m working through how this applies to my comments on cynicism.  What are your thoughts?

(And here is my favorite quote from his devotion today)

“We are all a mixture of weeds and wheat and we always will be. As Martin Luther put it, we are simul justus et peccator. We are simultaneously saint and sinner. That’s the mystery of holding weeds and wheat together in our one field of life. It takes a lot more patience, compassion, forgiveness, and love than aiming for some illusory perfection that is usually blind to its own faults. Acknowledging both the wheat and weeds in us keeps us from thinking too highly of ourselves and also from dismissing ourselves as terrible. ” – Richard Rohr, Monday, Dec 5, 2016

The full devotion can be found here.  
For more information about Richard Rohr (and to subscribe to his daily email devotions) and for more about the Center for Action and Contemplation, visit: https://cac.org/

Saint and Sinner

mk12_02S (Scripture): Mark 12:1 Then he began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his portion of the crop. 3 But those tenants seized his slave, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 So he sent another slave to them again. This one they struck on the head and treated outrageously. 5 He sent another, and that one they killed. This happened to many others, some of whom were beaten, others killed. 6 He had one left, his one dear son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours!’ 8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw his body out of the vineyard. 9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this scripture:

‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.'”

O (Observation): Israel itself was once the rejected people, yet God stood by them and protected them…whether they were faithful or not.  God sent Moses and the prophets, who were sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected.   But now, Jesus is the one being rejected…and not by foreign powers…but by God’s own people!   The irony should not be lost on us that God’s people were once the rejected ones before being led to the land of milk and honey.

The Pharisees are listening to Jesus’ story and I wonder if they realize that Jesus is challenging them and all people who have missed God’s grace along the way?   Are they missing the fact that God is in their very presence in the person of Jesus?  Can they be that blind?

A (Application):  I have to admit that I’ve been blind to God’s presence a time or two : )  Typically, that comes at a time when I’m down on things, or if I’m having a bad day.  I start playing the pity party with myself and fail to see the bigger picture or the fact that God might be using this difficult situation for an ultimate good.  Not that God wants me or others to suffer…but that God can transform the suckage of my life…and make something fantastic out of it.

When I’m down in the Pit, I try to remain calm, and spend time in contemplation…seeking the Spirit’s presence and guidance.  From that, the hope is that I can sense God moving me into a place where I can forgive others or myself.

This is my way of understanding that I can be both the Pharisees (and the workers in the vineyard) and also the one who learns from this lesson.   Both sinner and saint.

P (Prayer):  Lord, clear my heart and mind of worry and let me know of your presence.  Here.  Now.  Amen.

Confession and Forgiveness 

  

S (Scripture): 1 John 1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

O (Observation): John writes about the fact that part of being a believer is to recognize our shortcomings.  We sin.  Plain and simple.  We are to walk in the light, but we cannot let that walk blind us to the fact that we still have this flesh that hangs around our neck.  

A (Application): Our walk is one of sainthood and peccator-hood. (Peccator = Sinner, in Latin) 

These words from 1 John 1 are extremely familiar to Lutherans.  These were the standard words spoken between the worship leader and the congregation during the portion of worship we call “Confession & Forgiveness.”

As I was growing up, acknowledging our sinfulness and receiving absolution of those sins as God’s people together was extremely formative for me.  We opened every worship service with the recognition from 1 John, that we are sinners and cannot free ourselves.  Then, typically the pastor would acknowledge our repentance in a corporate way and declare God’s forgiveness of our sins as a corporate act.  

One body.  Repentant.  Forgiven.  An act that has shaped me for almost 4 decades now.   I hope that never goes away. 

Have you ever had someone declare you forgiven of all your sins?   Did that feel true to you?  Did it feel like empty words?  Why?

For a film that deals with the real-life struggles with confession and forgiveness, check out the movie Get Low, starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek.   A friend of mine, Scott Seeke, co-wrote the screenplay, and wrote the follow-up book, Uncle Bush’s Live Funeral.

Click here to join me and Advent Lutheran Church for the book club event with author Scott Seeke, as we discuss “Uncle Bush’s Live Funeral” on Dec. 14, 2015.  

P (Prayer):  Forgiving God, keep our hearts pure and repentant.  Give us a posture of humility. Amen. 

Truth?  We Are Sinners, All

  

S (Scripture): 2 Peter 2: 19 Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the filthy things of the world through the rich knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they again get entangled in them and succumb to them, their last state has become worse for them than their first. 

O (Observation):  Peter continues to rail against false teachers some more.   This time, he works on the immorality of these false teachers, how they will return to their immoral behavior time and again.  

A (Application): The truth of these words to me are not about how I can differentiate between myself and other people…but about the fact everyone one of us – Christian or not – struggles with these issues.  We all desire to do that which pleases us, and we return to that sinful behavior time and again.  

What do we do with this?  We repent and believe that the Kingdom of God has come near.   We pause and reflect on our own sinfulness and seek God’s mercy. 

I could us this text to put myself on the opposite side of those that Peter talks about here, but I just can’t go there.   Too much of my sinfulness is on “repeat” for me to put myself above another. 

And yet, I feel that Jesus is the one that keeps me going.  Jesus is the one that catches me when I fail.  Jesus is the one to guide my steps.  He lets me fail, but he always picks me up.   He always calls me.   Sometimes I listen; sometimes I don’t. I’m not proud of that, but that is truth.  

I just hope that my God is bigger than my failures. 

How about for you?   In which camp are you?  Christ-follower?  Sinner?  Both???

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me in your care, sinful being that I am.  Amen.