Tag Archives: Gospel

Building Your Faith

Week03CycleA-10x10_apparel - Week 3

Matthew 11:2-11

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Messengers from John the Baptist

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus Praises John the Baptist

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

This week has been filled with stories on the news about Nelson Mandela.  I graduated from college in 1990, the same year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison.  As stories about his life were explored at this time, I realized then what an incredible man he was.  I became hungry to learn more about his struggles for freedom from oppression for the majority of the people of South Africa. As I learned then and and has been reinforced this week as his life is reflected for all to see, Nelson Mandela rose from the humblest of beginnings, experienced some of the most extreme hardships that people can face and came from all that to change an entire nation and impact people far beyond the borders of his country.  I’m sure he had days, weeks and even years of doubt that his work would have meaning or make any difference at all. And the leaders of South Africa surely hoped that this felon would never make a ripple in the ocean of discrimination. But the legacy of his humble life continues to this day and well beyond his life here on earth.

Today’s Gospel reading highlights a portion of the humble life of John – no razzle dazzle at all.  As he spends time in prison for his work paving the way for the Messiah, he himself has doubts about Jesus being the Messiah – the very reason he is living life as a prisoner. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question with a definitive “Yes,” (no surprise there!) but rather he proves it by sending John’s followers back to him with tales of miracles.  The kind of acts that can only come from the Messiah. But he takes it a step further by teaching his followers about John himself.

Jesus teaches his followers that the job of John the Baptist is a tough one.  No “soft robes” or well dressed man would do for this important job – to go out in the world John needed to “be of the world.” Jesus pays, quite possible, the biggest compliment of all as he wraps up his lesson about John’s important work by telling the listeners and us as readers, that no one was more important among the people.  This, right after John voiced his doubts about Jesus and his role in the world. I’ll be that when word got back to John about this, he felt more than a little like a jerk for wondering whether it was all going to be worth it.

There is only one John the Baptist, but the doubt he articulates is real for us all, right? Who hasn’t had those doubts? Even in the face of the evidence of God working directly in our lives and the lives of those we love and live with?  Each of us as Christians is called to do our work in the Kingdom of God here on earth – much less substantial than what was required of John for sure, but look how far we can take it when we act on faith in the example of Nelson Mandela!  I’m certainly no potential world leader destined to change the face of my country, but every day, I am tasked with waking up grateful, loving the hardest to love along with myself as a child of God, praying for guidance and studying the Word. If each of us committed to these seemingly small thoughts and actions, imagine the way the world would change right in front of our eyes?  And the bonus?  The building of our faith and the squashing down of our doubts.

As we spend these last weeks in Advent preparation, remember that preparing the way for the birth and coming again of our Savior is not passive in nature.  Building our faith to prepare the way – now that is action that will bring about the best gifts of all!

All of our gifts come from you dear Lord, and we stand before you not worthy to receive them. Help us to remember we are worthy of your miracles and tasked with spreading your love in your Kingdom.  Our faith in you is stronger than we think and we commit to building it in preparation for your coming.  AMEN.

The Time is Near

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Luke 21:5-19

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Destruction of the Temple Foretold

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Signs and Persecutions

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Being a faithful Christian is something I strive for, but know that I fall short of every single day.

With that said, what does being a faithful Christian really mean? This week’s Gospel from Luke seems to be a doomsday prediction on the surface.  Jesus teaches that our temples will fall, false prophets will lead us astray, our families will turn against ourselves and there will be some really bad stuff happening in the world.  Followers of Christ will be treated as criminals and be hated; all while wars and natural disasters are happening around us. Pretty heavy stuff, but not too far fetched if you just watch a little television in the evenings. Jesus then says the most calming things: don’t worry about preparing to defend yourself, as he will give us the tools we need to be protected and we will not be harmed in the process of all this doom and gloom.

There are a lot of preachers teaching this “end of time” preparation stuff and tons of books that attempt to explain how it all will end for us here on earth.  There are classes you can take to prepare you and your family for the end of the world by hoarding canned goods, toilet paper and gallons of water and how to live off the grid if needed.  The news is full of stories that can align tightly with the scary parts of the reading for this week as well – it’s not a huge leap to think that the end is near.

The title of this blog entry isn’t “The End is Near,” but rather focuses on the time is now.  Reading this Gospel through the first time might elevate your heart rate a little, but go back and read it again. This is a lesson on peace – peace in the here and now. Jesus tells us about all the bad stuff while at the very same time reassuring us of our safety and security in his arms.

I’m a pretty positive person who tends toward the optimistic slant in my views of the world.  So I’m drawn to the part of today’s Gospel that focuses on faith.  I hear today’s interpretation of Jesus’ words in Luke as this; “Draw near to me in faith and I will give you all the tools you need to stay on the path in the face of the world of distractions and conflict.” The folks who say that we need to be ready for the end of times are focused on their own skills and tools – I choose to let my faith give me the tools I will need that I cannot even muster from within myself on my own. It’s way easier to get discouraged and sad by the news around us than it is to remain faithful to Christ. Yet that is exactly what we are called to do.  “By your endurance you will gain your souls” is the last line of today’s reading.  Endurance is about getting back on track as we follow our Lord and Savior through this world that we humans do a great job of destroying.  And gaining my soul sounds a lot better than having enough canned goods when all is said and done. So the time is near alright – the time to get right and stay right in our faith.  There really is no better time than now to join with God in his plans for us.

In this scary world, we give thanks to you Lord, for being our protector and provider of more than we even knew we needed.  Thank you for giving us the wisdom to choose to follow you in the face of adversity.  We love you and look ahead to our perfect relationship with you through Christ our Lord.  AMEN.

Involvement vs. Commitment

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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.

Challenging the Status Quo

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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.