Monthly Archives: August, 2013

Rule Followers Beware

crippled woman

Luke 13:10-17

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

As a school principal, I have to confess I love some rules!  I crave order in my crazy, mixed-up world.  Rules make things more predictable and help keep us safe from the more crazy things that can happen when chaos erupts. Rules help me navigate life and keep away from those things which stand in the way of progress .

Jesus had a different view of rules in this passage and in many other stories from his time teaching the people.  His healing of the crippled woman seems at the surface to be a glorious miracle that should have been celebrated and used to reinforce the power of Christ to do things that humans just can’t do.  But instead, the synagogue leader gets caught up in the fact that the miracle occurred on a day not sanctioned for any work – even the miracle kind of work, apparently.

I think it is possible to love rules and structure and still think the synagogue leaders who tried to shame Jesus to the crowd after the woman was healed is a stick in the mud.  That is one of the things I love the most about the New Testament stories – the highlighting of hypocrisy embedded in the rules.  The rules that I love only work well in our society when they offer structure and safety.  The rules that just seem to stand in the way of progress are just maddening – and Jesus not being able to heal on the Sabbath is one of those ridiculous “rule for the sake of a rule” situation.

So, fellow rule followers – the lesson for me is to be a critical participant in my life.  What rules are helping me be all that God needs me to be and which ones are standing in my way?  How can I be within the rules and also help to evolve the rules to better support our kingdom work?

Dear God, thank you for giving structure to the world where there would be chaos.  Help us discern the best way to live in you and for you, while creating structures that keep your creation safe.  Your kingdom is glorious and we praise your name forever.  AMEN.

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Challenging the Status Quo

jesus-fire-of-the-earth2

Luke 12:49-56

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus the Cause of Division

49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Interpreting the Time

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Every time our high school daughter leaves our house to go to a new setting, I try to remind her that she represents our family out in the world.  If she meets someone, they learn about our family and the things we value through her words and actions.  As a teenager, I can assure you she has an eyeroll and a sigh for every time she has heard that speech, but hopefully she has learned that she teaches others about our family with her every interaction.

I think all of us parents want our children to represent our beliefs and make us proud as they make their way in the world.  I can only imagine how God must feel about how we represent our faith in the world as well.  Today’s Gospel reading is a tough one and seems to contradict the Jesus who we all look to as a model of unconditional love.  What do you mean, “No peace on earth?”  Jesus as a uniter, not a divider – that is our usual thinking about Christianity and loving our neighbors as ourselves, right?

Although this passage throws a ringer in the non-messy version of Christianity that we like to believe is the outcome of our love for God, if we really are reflective, we have all experienced exactly what Jesus may mean about division.  I have a very distinct memory from high school that stands out.  Three of us – my two best buds and me – were like a joke that starts with “three girls walk into a bar; a Baptist, a Catholic and an Episcopalian.” We didn’t yet go to bars, but we did have many deep debates about our Christian beliefs through the lens of our family traditions of worship and teaching.  We didn’t agree on many things, and even faced a hard conversation about the fact that our Baptist friend believed our Catholic friend wouldn’t make it to heaven because of her faith (awkward!!!).  We were inseparable – but divided on many fundamental issues.

As an adult, especially as a school leader, I spend a lot of time talking to our staff about building strong relationships with our students.  Every relationship starts with love, but sometimes there are students who sure make it hard to love them.  And they need it more than anyone – but it’s hard for teachers to not take their gruff exterior and problem behaviors personally.  We all fail to truly love others at times and this passage shines a light on our failings.  We judge others – not our job to do.  We ignore injustices, neglect our faith, covet our friends’ possessions and give permission for others to speak gossip and untruths by standing by and doing nothing; or worse still – joining in.  We just try to get along in the world without being the ‘squeaky wheel.’  Jesus knows this about is and calls us out in this inflammatory passage.  As I read it through several times, I realized that my response to the words was one of guilt.  I think I know everything and am busy trying to live the life I think I should be living, while Jesus himself points out the stress he was under to get the words of faith spread throughout the land in the limited time he had here on earth.  I’m pretty self-righteous when it gets right down to it – I think I have things figured out while I drive right past a homeless family on the road without much of a thought at all.

But it’s so hard to be that person God wants us to be, and I can think of many examples in our church and within my family and friends where we allow wrongs to stay wrongs because it just easier.  I believe Jesus is saying that it is okay if it’s hard – in fact, that is the very divisiveness that he EXPECTS to have happen when we wrestle with the truth.  Polite conversation is what we are all taught to have, but what if Jesus really wants us to be assertive about his will for the world?  What if the bad things that happen all around us were confronted by us and the world was a changed place?  I think we might make some enemies in the process, and it sounds to me if God is okay with that.

I’ve learned something about myself as an adult – that change only happens when I am uncomfortable enough to start adjusting my behaviors.  This passage makes me uncomfortable on so many levels – hopefully enough to challenge the status quo.

God of love, help me to reflect on my place in your world and your will for me to be the change you desire.  Give me courage and strength to stand for the right things and confront the wrongs I see.  With your love and never ending grace, I know that I can spread your word in all I say and do.  Thank you for your many gifts, even the ones that make me uncomfortable.  AMEN.

 

Am I Ready?

treasure

Luke 12:32-40

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Watchful Slaves

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

When I was little, back in the days before cell phones, internet and scheduled playdates, the front window of the living room was my view of the world.  I watched my parents leave us with a babysitter to go to a party from the yellow rocking chair by the front door and sat there waiting very impatiently for my first date to arrive to pick me up a few years later.  My 9th birthday party was my first slumber party and I waited at that window for the first of my 9 friends to arrive.  My sister fell over the handlebars of her bike and opened up a nice gash on her chin and we waited there on the porch for Mom to come home with a washcloth covering the wound.  As a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up because I knew that being adult had to be so much better than the limits of being a kid (!!!!!!!) and I waited for the phone to ring when I got my first teaching job.  We hurry to arrive at the airport in time to wait for the plane to board and we wait until winter or summer or whatever season for the weather to change from the current unbearable state.  We wait a lot.

In the reading for this week from Luke, there are two messages that really stick out to me.  The first message is about where we put our treasures.  This is a theme from the last few weeks that continues to niggle right into my brain and shake a finger at me.  We must stop collecting THINGS and start collecting our faith and trust in Jesus.  Move out the stuff that is standing in the way of that perfect relationship with Christ and invest our time, talent and treasure in Kingdom work with God.  Ok, ok….I think I am starting to get the picture!

The second message that I take from today’s reading is that waiting by the window for the time to be with Jesus isn’t really helpful.  There is no way to be fully ready by just sitting and doing nothing as we wait for our entrance to the Kingdom of God.  We must continually discern God’s will for us and be ready at any time.  The other day, I had some friends coming over and needed to run to the restroom before they arrived.  Wouldn’t you know that they picked that exact time to knock on the door – and I wasn’t ready!  In thinking about being ready for Jesus, I don’t want to be caught unavailable, not matter the time of day/night or the circumstances.  My heart needs to be ready to come face to face with that very real future.  My sinful desires, my gossipy snippets, my anger and frustration with others – will those be the very moments where God is revealed to me and I miss it entirely?

Waiting for Jesus…means actively getting ready.  Preparing through our thoughts, words and actions; discerning his will for us and getting back on track when we veer away.  I want to be ready.

Gracious Father, help me to discern your will and serve you in all I think, say and do.  May I honor your name and be alert and ready when you need me the most.  I pledge to you the treasure that is in my heart.  In your name I pray.  AMEN.

More than I Need

Luke12v13to21_2007

Luke 12:13-21

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Rich Fool

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

We moved into our home in 2001.  It was the third move in our then 9 year marriage, so I didn’t look much beyond a few years.  So now as we start our thirteenth year in the same home, I am struck by how much stuff we have.  When you move frequently, and if you are like me and just detest the chores of packing and unpacking, you tend to purge.  When you can tuck stuff in a closet for 13 years and forget about it, you realize at some point that you are one cool whip container short of being invited to film an episode of “Hoarders!’

So how do we find ourselves with too much stuff? I think our American society is rife with messages of excess and enticements of the next best thing.  My drawer full of awesome hair products is evidence of that (and I’m not even having a good hair day as I type this).  In addition to our visual and audio bombardment of reminders of how incomplete our life is now without (fill in the blank here), we measure our life’s successes through the eyes of currency.  As our daughter is ending her high school career, everyone has advice about what she should choose as her college major so she can graduate and make $xx,xxx salary right away.  We look with envy on those who have “more” than we have – more money, more square footage in their home, more vacations, more fun = better life!  Heck, we are even envious about people’s faith!

Greed is not a nice word – it just doesn’t invoke a warm and fuzzy feeling when we think about the concept.  But Jesus is pretty clear in his parable in this passage of Luke’s Gospel.  What are we doing with all this stuff in our lives????  If we spent a third of the energy/money/time on our relationship with and service to our Lord, we would have lives that were richer in ways that “things” cannot make us.  Oh, and don’t we already know that, yet still fall in the stuff trap anyway?

And we always seem to feel like what we have is just never enough.  Americans in particular have terms like “rainy day fund” and “back up plan” in our everyday vocabulary, making us feel like we need more than we have, even though we may have all that we need.  Last week’s post discussed the Lord’s Prayer as our format for communicating with God (https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/07/) and Jesus teaches us specifically to say, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” as if we should live for what God provides us today, knowing that he will provide for us again tomorrow and the next day after that.  Since we are such control freaks (ok, maybe it’s just me here) we think we better have a contingency plan just in case.

Although I am not a collector of any one thing, I do find that my stuff can pile up around me.  It can interfere with my ability to think clearly and focus on the task at hand when I am at work and my desk is cluttered with papers.  When things are organized and every item is in its place, I find a sense of calm and ability to focus.  Having what we need and not more than we can ever want or use is not what God calls us to do.  As Christians, we are commanded to serve others, feed the hungry, take care of the sick and meek among us, and our stuff usually prevents us from doing that in any systematic way.

I find that I can give when I see a need, but mostly just up to the point where I think that giving more may hurt me.  That is hard to say outloud and type in this space, as I am ashamed and embarassed to think that at all.  I am sure I could give away my time, talent and treasure far more than I do today and I wouldn’t even notice a difference in my own needs – that is my insecurity talking, not my reality. So this week’s Gospel from Luke is just what I needed.  I am reminded that I have really greedy tendencies and I want what is mine – I want my fair share.  In my mind, my actual fair share is far smaller than the piles and piles of my fair share that I actually have, whether it’s money, space or stuff.  And all that excess interferes with my true calling as a child of God.  If I am to love and serve God with all my heart, mind, body, soul and will, then I need to get down to the nitty gritty with my stuff.  It will be a process with ups and downs I’m sure, but I don’t want my time left in life to be spent hoarding more than I need of anything.  If today were the day for perfect healing through death and eternal life, I wouldn’t need a thing I have now besides my uncluttered faith in my Lord and Savior.

Generous Father, you are worthy of all the glory and honor.  Help me clear my heart, mind, body and soul and let my will be your will in all I do and say.  I commit to loving and serving you through generosity of spirit and with a heart to serve, sharing your many gifts with all I meet.  Thank you for loving me enough to give me enough, even though I never deserve it at all.  To you be praised.  AMEN.