Monthly Archives: September, 2013

What Will it Take?

live-with-no-regrets

Luke 16:19-31

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

I serve as an elementary principal in a school where the majority of the students qualify for free or reduced meals.  They eat breakfast and lunch at school and for many of them, those meals are their only meals during the week.  Our students are homeless, come from broken families, worry  about their safety and have disadvantages which make their times tables, reading on grade level and concepts in science and social studies very, very challenging to learn.  For the most part, their families are doing all they can to support their children in school and none of them would ever purposely choose this life of extreme poverty for themselves or their children.  Many people in our society look at these families and make judgements about their lack of worth ethic (they should just get a job like the rest of us and stop taking from society) while driving by on the way to their safe homes and warm dinners with their families.  I’m not opening the door to debate about social justice issues, but I can’t help but think about those students I serve who didn’t choose to be born into their very challenging circumstances.

Lazarus lived one heck of a hard life in his day as well.  His name literally means “God has helped,” and this story tells how great was his reward as compared to the man who lived a “wealthy” life separated from a relationship with Christ.  There isn’t anything in this parable or the verses leading up to it about the relationship Lazarus may have had with Christ (this is not the same Lazarus as the brother of Mary and Martha who Jesus describes as his friend), but I think the name has some real significance.  The rich man in this story is described as a person who didn’t want for much in the way of material goods.  Lazarus begged outside his house and it is implied that he received nothing in the way of help from this wealthy man.  But our God takes mercy on the least of us (Matthew 5 spells this out in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”) and Lazarus is given his gift of eternal life.  His suffering is now over.  But the rich man whom we can assume did not help the least among us when he was alive is not offered the same rewards in death.  He realizes quickly how the comfort of his earthly life, without regard for the rest of humanity, has left him with regrets.  He begs for some interventions for his family still living, even suggesting a “raised from the dead” experience for them to get their attention.

This story isn’t about rich people going to hell for being rich and poor people going to heaven because they were poor during their lifetime.  Don’t apologize if you are able to live a life with luxuries.  Don’t choose poverty to get eternal life.  It’s not that simple, friends.  Instead, this is a “knock on the head,” parable and learning opportunity.  Jesus is clear – we need to be ready to serve when service is required.  We need to love on another as he loves us.  We must draw near to Christ rather than allow sin to drive us away.  And let’s be honest; there isn’t much ambiguity in the directives.  When we sit in our nice houses and ignore suffering, or miss out on showing Christ in all we do, we are CHOOSING to ignore the truth.  The truth is uncomfortable and off-putting, but that doesn’t make it less truthful.

The students I serve deserve to have the same needs met that I do.  They deserve the freedom to choose a life outside of poverty because they were given options through education, outreach and love.  They also will receive the gift of grace and everlasting life through Jesus Christ.  What will it take for the rest of us to reach out to them and others in need?

Merciful Father, there is no greater love than the love you have for your children, sending your son to die for our sins.  We want to serve you in all we say and do.  Help us to love the least of those among us, especially those who cannot help themselves.  We want to live our lives with you and have no regrets when we are united perfectly with you.  It is in your gracious name we pray.  AMEN.

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Lost and Found

found

Luke 15:1-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Through the wonders of social media and its ability to make miles seem insignificant, I have had the pleasure of keeping up with friends from high school I haven’t seen in almost 30 years.  Through FaceBook, I have been able to see pictures of family events, pray for friends in trouble, celebrate new life and laugh at Throwback Thursday posts.  I have been able to keep in touch in a way that didn’t even seem possible when we graduated, even with my friends of friends or folks who have the same shared memories of homeroom or after school activities.  I also share myself with them, and we have learned more about each other as we have grown into our closer to middle age years than we did in the three years of high school for sure.

One of those folks is a gal whose mom was one of my favorite teachers in high school, my 10th grade English teacher.  She was a year behind me in school, so we didn’t run in the same circles (why is that such a big divider in high school and non-existent as a barrier in adulthood???), but I have enjoyed seeing her kids as adults and hearing about her life, especially her life of faith.  She married her high school sweetheart, but as those things sometimes do, it didn’t work out for the long run.  She remarried a man and through the wonders of electronic media, anyone could see how close they were and she spoke of him with respect and love, sounding grateful to have found her life partner.

A few months ago, tragedy struck this family and her dear husband of not enough years long passed away unexpectedly.  As these things happen, I found out from our mutual friends who were posting condolence messages which prompted me to investigate this mystery loss from across the country.  I learned he died and was very sad for her, a tragedy and loss that is inexplicable to those of us standing by on the sidelines.  But in true form, she began posting status updates that read like chapters in a “Surviving Grief through Faith” book, baring open her soul about her love for her husband and the devastating loss. She told of her husband’s life of finding and living in Christ, alluding to pretty rocky places before giving his life to God.  It is touching to read her posts – they are raw, painful to read and yet always filled with the faith that has kept her afloat during this incredibly difficult time.

When I read today’s Gospel reading from Luke about the lost sheep and the lost coin, I immediately thought of her stories about her husband’s journey to faith.  A constant thread in her posts has been about how grateful she is that she is able to be confident in her husband’s presence fully with Christ now.  She has actually been able to write about that as a celebration, which has been remarkable when you consider how incredibly sad she must be every day without her best friend.  But he has been united with God, was lost and then found, and she finds strength in that because his destiny has been fulfilled. She has shared this story with her friends and neighbors (virtual and in the vicinity) to give all the Glory to God.  God wants nothing more from us than to walk with him in our lives as a constant companion.  These parables make the same point in two different ways.  The first is to celebrate the repentance of a sinner – in the presence of some previously identified sinners in the Pharisees.  The second is to celebrate the loss of something less important than a human, but something that we ourselves can find.  I see these two parables as showing us that God mourns for each lost soul and we should do the same, as if each person is as precious as our belongings and “stuff.”  God charges us to go do everything we can, sweep all the hidden corners, shine light into their darkness and keep searching until we find the ones who need to be found.  God values us more than any amount of money, but the second parable hits home because we don’t always have the same value of human life as our Lord does, and Jesus’ story brings it to our simple level of human trappings.

My high school friend is celebrating the joyful reunion of her husband with Christ.  Can we all do the same under her circumstances? Can we celebrate when we ourselves repent and return to him, knowing that we are bringing joy to our Lord by fulfilling our end of the covenant?  How hard are we looking for ways to bring others to Christ?

Forgiving Lord, thank you for celebrating our return to you when we are found and repent.  Help us as your followers to bring more people to Christ and to not stop looking until all are found.  Help us tell out the Good News in your world.  AMEN.

Involvement vs. Commitment

pig-and-chicken-alone

Luke 14:25-33

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Cost of Discipleship

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: In The Chicken and the Pig riddle… The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!

– See more at: http://michaelhamburger.com/the-chicken-and-the-pig/#sthash.ej6C61vt.dpuf

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf

This passage starts off with some tough to read language.  Jesus is speaking to his followers and is quoted in this reading from Luke as saying,Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  When I read this the first few times it came across my devotionals or in my Bible in One Year program, I just skimmed over it because it was just too hard to process.  Maybe you feel the same way – there are passages and verses in the Bible that make me so uncomfortable or are just too contradictory to process!  But if I plan to blog about the weekly Lectionary and the Gospel reading in particular, then I can’t ignore this one.  So I’ve been thinking about the Chicken and the Pig comparison:

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed

The commentaries I read are all over the place in interpreting Jesus’ words, but for me, this passage speaks to the heart of commitment.  How many times have we served on a committee with other committed folks, only to have them drop out along the way?  What about all those New Year’s resolutions we promise to follow and then February rolls around and….done.  Jesus’ message seems to call us out as believers.  I read in this passage that he is basically saying that following me is not for the faint of heart or for those who just want to be involved.  It’s all or nothing according to Jesus, and that means there will be hardship in our commitment to follow him.
I’ve been blessed to be brought up in a family of believers.  Our marriage is based on being God-centered and we have worked hard to raise our daughter this way as well.  We haven’t had family members turn away from us because of our beliefs; we haven’t lost jobs because of our faith.  We can live where we want and experience the freedom that comes from living in the United States as a Christian.  I haven’t had to face the ugly side of following Jesus (read about Christians in Syria today here: http://supportsyrianchristians.wordpress.com/) but Jesus’ words hit home for me in my safe community, for now.
Jesus then goes on to talk about weighing out the consequences of being unprepared to make the full commitment to being his follower.  He uses the planning of a construction project and the planning of the King before battle as his scaffold for comparison to choosing to believe and follow him.  It’s not just a decision to be involved in our faith; it’s a decision to play the role of the pig at breakfast and be all in with nothing left behind, considering the planning as well as the consequences.
It’s a great goal. I strive for it every day and many times during the day.  And I fail.  A lot.  But I then have to decide again to run back onto the field with all the right equipment and knowledge of the game plan (can you tell we’ve been watching some College football today?).  I can’t go into this unprepared.  I have to pray, study, and commit to Christian action (also known as “regular” action but putting Jesus at the center of it all) to be more than just involved.
And when I find myself practicing my commitment to Christ, I love my family more deeply, I laugh with my friends with reckless abandon, I have more energy and time somehow in my job and my personal life, and I feel the love of Christ very closely.  When I dabble at the involvement level…well, I bet you can guess how that turns out for me as I rely on myself for my strength.  To quote a random teenager, it’s “epic fail.”
Forgiving Lord, your grace is enough for me to give you my full commitment.  When I fail, thank you for loving me enough to welcome me back.  Give me strength in adversity to stand faithfully with you in all I think, say and do.  For in you, I am fulfilled.  AMEN.

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf

Mostly About Me

Mostly Me

Luke 14:1

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Heals the Man with Dropsy

14 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

Luke 14:7-14

Humility and Hospitality

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

*Warning:  This blog post will reference a Broadway musical called “The Book of Mormon.”  The play is not the topic of discussion but will be used as a reference point for today’s post.

We saw the “Book of Mormon” yesterday as a family – it was our daughter’s birthday present from June and she has been begging to see this play since about a month after its Broadway debut.  We tried to get tickets to see the show in NYC, but then as luck would have it, the traveling version came to Dallas for a two-week run.  My very wonderful husband spent almost three hours in the queue online the day the box office opened and scored the tickets.  I knew a little about the play, and knew it was irreverent and a bit naughty, but I was just blown away by the brilliant writing and the talent on that stage.  GO SEE THIS IF YOU WANT TO LAUGH UNTIL YOUR HEAD HURTS!!!!

One of the great songs – there are many – is a track titled, “Mostly Me.” Here is a link so you can enjoy this song too, although you will not have the hilarious context unless you GO SEE THIS PLAY!

Today’s Gospel reading ties in perfectly with this song!  Jesus gives the wedding guests some great advice.  His parable is one of both grace and humility.  Grace – because we really never deserve the honor of being a child of God.  We get this as a free gift in spite of ourselves.  And humility – one of my favorite traits to find in others and one I constantly work on having myself – the ability to be humble; or as I like to think, putting others ahead of yourself.  Jesus’ advice to the guests who are trying to decide how important they are at the wedding feast as compared to the other guests is to assume that all are important and you are no more special than the rest. 

One of the things I loved about the song “Mostly Me,” is that it speaks to that ugly monster that can live inside us when we get too big for our britches.  It’s a well written song to which many of us can relate.  We may have felt as if our presence saved the day at one point or another, and conversely, we all have been in the presence of someone who really embodied the lyrics of this song to our annoyance as well.  God calls us to love one another, just as he loves us (John 13:34), which I interpret to include that we don’t put ourselves before others in order of importance (among other things that very complex yet simple Bible verse is telling us!).  The presence of humility in our beliefs about ourselves gives us a schema for lifting up others rather than judging them, living a life of service in our community, helps us show love in the way we interact with others and gives us the chance to really enjoy when we receive grace and forgiveness.

The Book of Mormon as a play is best enjoyed with a great dose of humility for all who are called to spread God’s word.  In teaching others about Christ and the gift of everlasting life, Christians will do well to laugh at ourselves and reflect on our place at the feast.  Let’s let others sit in the place of honor, for God will surely call us to be with him though we will never really deserve it.

God of grace and mercy, we give thanks that you invite us to join you in the feast of the resurrection.  Help us to put others before you and to continually serve you in all we do and say.  We look forward to our perfect life with you when our work here is done.  We ask this in your Holy Name.  AMEN.