Monthly Archives: October, 2013

Approach with Caution

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Luke 18:9-14

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

“At least I’m not like THOSE people.” I’ve said it.  I’ve thought it.  I’ve meant it.

I can be pretty proud of myself at times.  I believe it when I read a news article about my most recent professional accomplishment. When people tell me I’m a great principal, I love that feeling.  After meeting our family and chatting with our almost graduated from high school daughter, and compliments about her are given to us as parents, we can get pretty puffed up with pride.  When I do something kind for someone else and hear how I have helped them, I can feel pretty darn good about myself.  Let’s just go with this…I don’t suffer from a self-image problem or deal with debilitating insecurities.

But today’s lesson from Luke is all about the humility with which we are to approach our life in Christ.  The Pharisee does one heck of a job of pumping up and list his accomplishments to an all-knowing and all-seeing God.  It’s like he is looking for God to thank him with a big “Atta Boy!” for living a righteous life.  And in comparison, the tax-collector, that lowest of the lows in society at the time comes before God with a humble heart and asks for mercy without even raising his eyes toward heaven.   Jesus then shares that little nugget at the end about the humbled being exalted, essentially admonishing the bragger and do-gooder for forgetting that God’s gifts come without any strings attached.

To be exalted is to be elevated in status and that is exactly what Jesus tells us to will happen when we live our life in deference to the gifts of grace and mercy.  The Pharisee approaches God as if to collect what he deserves…but let’s face the truth here.  We can never do enough good and follow enough rules to ever deserve God’s mercy.  That’s the coolest and most humbling part of all – all we have to do is ask. And it is done.  That’s it.

But make sure you want the elevated status in God’s eyes, rather than search for it in the eyes of others.  With a somewhat high profile job in my community which provides a service, people tend to tell me things about myself that I could easily believe if I allowed what others’ think about me to influence my status.  I could believe that I have almost magical leadership powers if their interpretations of my leadership are correct.  I could also believe the opposite on my worst day as a principal if I let the feelings of others determine my worth.  So I try to find a balance – I am my worst critic for sure – but in God’s eyes, I am his creation and therefore must turn to him to be given the gift of grace and mercy.

Today’s parable is a cautionary tale to be wary of puffing up oneself to others and especially to God.  He knows all that we are and all that we are not without our need to list off the accomplishments and/or failures.  No matter how we are feeling about our worth to ourselves or our family/friends/community, approach God with an open heart to the gift of justification through our humility.  And we will be exalted through him.

Lord, we are not worthy to accept your gift of your one and only Son.  Yet we know that you intended that gift just for us.  Help us to stay humble in our good works and remind ourselves we are deserving of your grace and mercy.  For our exaltation is for you and for your alone.  AMEN.

Persistent Prayer

persistent prayer

Luke 18:1-8

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge

18 Then Jesustold them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Big themes in our Gospel for this week!  Here are the ones I teased out during my reflection:

  1. Jesus needs us to pray.
  2. Persistence works.
  3. Justice from humans = flawed/imperfect.  Justice from God? Perfect.
  4. Keep working on faith.

The use of parables in Luke’s Gospel is a successful way to get me to think.  I love to tell stories myself as well as hear others’ stories too – and parables make it easier for me to relate to God’s teachings.  And this parable starts off strongly with, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.”  It’s not written in the form of a question either – not we “should” pray, or “ought to” pray…but rather that we NEED to pray.  And then the implication of patience is stated when Jesus tells them not to “lose heart.” That reminds me of the story of how long and how hard St. Augustine’s mother prayed for him to find a relationship with God.  I bet she was frustrated with the seemingly lack of answer to that prayer, but she kept praying without ceasing.  A great life lesson as she must have wrestled with faithfulness as she begged God to be able to reach in her son’s heart and see him turn to the Lord.

Persistence is easy to have when we want it.  I have been known to shop for hours looking for the perfect shoes.  THAT is persistence!  When I want someone to change their minds about something, I can be pretty persistent in making the case for change.  Toddlers have persistence down pat at quite an early age, don’t they? So why do we give up so easily when it comes to prayer and building our relationship with Christ? Why do we walk away from the chance to have the intimacy of a relationship with God through our conversation and quiet listening time?  Why don’t we make the time for this important part of our walk with Christ?

The judge in this story is a self-proclaimed jerk and non-believer who basically rules in favor of the widow to get her off his back.  Whether that justice was deserved or not seemed to be a non-issue in the story (although widows in this day had very little influence at all).  We do that too – make decisions like this judge to mollify others whether they are right decisions or not. Maybe if the judge had been faithful to God the story could have been a different one because he would have relied upon discernment that comes from faith in God to help him with this and his many other cases.  But he held out as long as he could while she kept coming back for her justice.  Our God is much more generous and merciful than that.  He sent his Son to die for our sins; that is the kind of justice we can never deserve. And though it may feel as if the world is unfair and God isn’t listening to us, when we think about his gracious gifts to us it explains how we can find the strength in our times of greatest challenge.  In fact, without his grace, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful as we are now! And PS…his timing is perfect and way better than what we think it should be in the long run, right?

But the last line of this week’s passage is the real question, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Gosh, I sure hope so.  And that starts with me.  Will he find faith in me if he comes tomorrow?  Will he see evidence of our love in the world we live in, building communities of faithfulness that are pleasing to him? Are we doing enough to spread God’s love in all we do and say?  Are we leaving the judging up to him and him alone? Is our praying persistent enough to keep our hearts and minds on his true love?

Lord, you are the great Judge.  You are merciful and full of grace and compassion.  Look generously on us as we strive for faith and justice and give us a heart that yearns for you.  For you are the one who knows what we need before we know for ourselves and your timing and answers to prayers is perfect.  Help us to be relentless in turning back to you each and every day.  Your saving grace is ours.  AMEN.

Growing in Gratitude

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Luke 17:11-19

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Our daughter had the most awesome caretaker when she was a year old.  Her name was NeeCee and she was loved by each member of our family.  She did really creative activities with the three little girls that came to her house every day – like field trips in the stroller to the library and our family’s favorite – baking day!  She loved the girls like they were her own, but the very best thing she did was teach the foundation of gratitude.  At 14 months old, our little girl said “thank you” for every little thing she received because it was NeeCee’s expectation 100% of the time from the each of her kids, even the ones that belonged to the rest of us!

But saying thank you the way a toddler does is not what this story in Luke is referencing. First, let’s start with the 10 lepers.  10 lepers hanging out together and walking down the road – what a sight that must have been!  Lepers lived at the lowest rung of society during Jesus’ time, so they were most likely very desperate for relief from their probably painful and definitely disabling condition.  We don’t know from this story whether they were people of faith, or just people willing to ask for healing from any Tom, Dick or Harry.  But their display of belief becomes apparent as they do exactly as Jesus says when they ask him for healing (“Have mercy on us.”).

But why did only one of the healed lepers stop to show his appreciation to Jesus?  I mean, come on, they were HEALED and headed back up the social status ladder! I remember doing something really nice for a “close friend” when I was much younger and being shocked at the lack of gratitude showed to me for my sincere effort and sacrifice I made for this friend.  It ended our friendship because I was so downright bitter about the lack of gratitude, so I can only imagine how Jesus may have felt when only one took the time to say thanks.  It’s easy to look at this story and say that 1 out of 10 lepers had the decency to say thanks for the mercy, Lord.

I’m thinking that is not the best message to take away.  For me, I know that showing gratitude for my gifts can get lost in the excitement of receiving them.  I am often guilty of taking my gifts of grace and mercy for granted.  Jesus isn’t going around Samaria and Galilee and healing in order to get appreciation and we shouldn’t do our good works for others to fish for compliments either.  But there is a tangible effort in our relationship with others when we do take the time to appreciate them for what they do for us.  Our thanks is a great relationship builder with one another and most certainly, that holds true in our relationship with Christ as well.  Doing things for others is what we are called to do.  Showing our appreciation is the least we can do and one of the most powerful tools in relationship development.  And that holds true for our relationship as followers.  The appreciation can do much in the work of our relationship, showing our intimacy and closeness to keep mindful of our gifts of grace.

I choose to focus on the one healed person who turned back and recognized his gift of healing.  The other lepers probably partied all night long celebrating their good fortune in healing.  They may have thanked God for that gift as well.  But I bet the one who took the time to appreciate Jesus had the deepest blessing of a relationship with Christ – which in the end, is better than any physical healing anyway.  His gratitude did much in the way of working in faith with God.  Our challenge is to find ways to show appreciation to our friends, families and strangers, as well as to our Lord and Savior.  It seems to be the very minimum expectation and goes the longest way to having that deep relationship we want with God.

Healing God, you give us the grace mercy we never deserve through the loving gift of your son our Savior.  Help us to find the time and the strength to be grateful for our many gifts.  We want to deepen our relationship with you and know that our gratitude will help us grow closer to you every day.  AMEN.

How Much is Enough?

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Luke 17:5-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Have you ever looked around you and seen people who clearly have more faith than you? You know, those people who just radiate peace and that all knowing look of “No worries, God’s got this!”  We have all been a witness to our friends or family who have handled a significant health crisis who made it seem easy and reported all the miracles God had worked in their lives along with the way?  Their faith waves in my face as if to mock me and make me sometimes say, “If only my faith was as big as hers!”  If only….

So reading this passage not only brings me back to the question of how much faith is enough faith, but also makes me feel a bit bad about the obvious jealousy which can be my default.  The last line of this passage really spoke to me today, and I read it as faith enough is all the faith I need to do what I know to do as a follower of Christ. This was a good wrap up to this reading, as the first line was a hook that made me want to read more….as if there is a recipe to follow or a heavenly flowchart of “if this, then that” steps to get me to enough.  It’s also a pretty passive statement, as if Jesus’ job was to do faith TO us.

So first, I say that it is no one’s job to deepen my faith….no one but me.  I can’t complain that the sermon isn’t reaching me, the Bible was too far from my reach, the poor live too far away for me to really reach out to them or that it’s inconvenient to spend time in study, piety and action as a Christian.  I have been a passive person of faith for too long – and I have no one to blame it on.  All I can do now is re-commit every day to living a life of faith, a deep commitment to following God’s will.  I think of it like a carrot growing in the garden vs a bush with a crazy root ball; the carrot doesn’t spread out and get all tangled up as it grows.  It is singularly focused in its genetic make up.  I want my faith to be my genetic makeup too, keeping me from all distractions that put a roadblock between me and God’s plan for me.

The second lesson for me from this reading is that the faith I have is enough faith for me.  If I follow my walk with Christ and believe his word, then I have enough faith. It’s what I am supposed to do. I have found in the trials and tribulations of life that the faith I have is enough when I need it and under whatever circumstances.  And here is another note about that…we must (ok, I must!) stop comparing our faith to others.  When we see those giants of faith cross our paths, remember that each of those “giants” has the same insecurities that we all do.  And who knows what doubts they wrestle with too? My faith must be my very own.  I must cultivate my relationship with Christ and my faith will be enough.

God of grace, I draw near to you. May my faith in you and your love and mercy be a comfort to me in time of trouble and a gift in abundance as you bless me. I pray my faith will continue to be enough.  In your name I pray.  AMEN.