Tag Archives: Luke

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.

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.

Lost and Found

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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

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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

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.

 

Am I Ready?

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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.

Knowing How to Pray

Luke 1

Luke 11:1-13

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Lord’s Prayer

11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Give us each day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Perseverance in Prayer

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Two of my favorite memories from my personal faith journey converge today in this Gospel reading – the giving to God’s people the Lord’s Prayer and a reminder of my favorite hymn “Seek Ye First.”

I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but as a camper at Camp Weed in Live Oak, FL (check it out and send your kids there! http://www.campweed.org/), I remember one of our spiritual advisors (read: clergy) giving us instruction on the Lord’s Prayer.  I don’t remember ever “learning” to say this prayer; it has always been the foundation of my prayer life.  But I just went through the motions of saying it because – let’s face it – the word “trespass” isn’t really in a child’s daily vocabulary.  I wish I could give credit to that priest, because that day of learning changed the way I have prayed that prayer for the rest of my life.  We broke the prayer down into parts:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

This opening line is about adoration, honor and a reminder to give praise to God.  We were encouraged to think about every single word and its meaning, and I began to emphasize the word “THY.”  Thy is not a word kids use either, but to give it extra value helped me focus on my true north of following God.

Give us this day our daily bread.

The next part asks God to provide for our needs.  I remember a great discussion about the difference between needs and wants – the first time I really ever thought about that as a kid.  A reminder that God provides us our needs – and we should be much more grateful than we usually are.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

This forgiveness line was easy at first – I knew how to say I was sorry and I really meant it!  But there was another new concept for the kid version of myself – I had to forgive others????  Whoa…and if I don’t do that, then I may not be able to get forgiveness myself?  I think this is a very complex issue and because of God’s grace we get far more forgiveness than we could ever deserve.  I am a work in progress on forgiving others…two steps forward and one step back on my good days.  Still working hard on this one.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

I can get to temptation all by myself, but this part of the prayer is where I really ask God to save me from myself.  I am always my own worst impediment to success, but with help from God, I can turn away with a greater success rate than when I just rely on myself.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. AMEN

Again – “thine” isn’t in my every day vocabulary, but putting an emphasis (picture the word in bold and underlined!) on thine puts the focus where it should be; on living in God’s kingdom and giving him all the power and glory.  This prayer Jesus gives to his followers is so comprehensive that it can truly be a “square meal” when praying.  It has all the parts that God needs from us in our conversation with him.

Then the bonus part of today’s reading comes as the final punch when discussing the value and importance of our prayers and conversations with God – a reminder of that awesome song, “Seek Ye First.”  Ask and it shall be given, seek and we will find, knock and the door will open.  Matthew’s Gospel also has a similar phrase, which I interpret as the not so scholarly phrase, “Keep it simple.”  Ask for our needs, look for God and how we can serve him and take the steps we need to go out in the world.  I see this as God emphasizing our need to be relentless in prayer and service.  He gives us the words to use – a roadmap for our prayer life.  Then tells us to be singularly focused as we pray…ask, seek and go.  Simple for sure, but not easy with all life’s distractions.  Stay focused on the prayers and the service, and the rest will come with our faith in God.

Lord, thank you for teaching us how to pray.  You are full of mercy and deserving of our glory.  We praise you, we have faith in your love and care for us and we know you will lead us through all adversity we encounter.  Our faith is in you and you alone.  Your will is ours to follow.  In your glorious name we pray, AMEN.

Living and Sharing the Good News

jesus is lord

Luke 8:26-39

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

In today’s world, we use the word “crazy” to describe lots of things that fall outside the ordinary expections:  crazy weather, crazy ending to a ballgame, crazy drivers on the highway, etc.  But the man in this story more likely meets the legal definition of “crazy.”  I think we all know folks who are mentally ill to the point of debilitating them in their life activities, so to make light of the pain that someone has who has no control over their behaviors or to their family and friends would be unwise and we may want to rethink the way we throw that word “crazy” around.  Just my two cents…

But aren’t we all “possessed” by something?  Are you focused on your money, your stuff, your weight, your clothes, your toys, gossip?  Each of these things are just that…THINGS.  These things drive the way we spend our time, talent and treasure for whatever simple reason.  Either they bring us pleasure to have them or we think that we will have all we need once we get them.  But they are never enough…we keep collecting the stuff or ideas and use them to fill our holes in ourselves.  The man that Jesus heals in this story is certainly suffering from mental illness/demon possession or whatever.  Jesus is able to remove the problem and the man is left at peace and healed from suffering with the words and touch from Jesus.  He is a powerful witness to the healing of Jesus and I’m sure was a very effective evangelist in his day!

We all have our demons that get in the way of our true and deep relationship with God.  What I love about the healed man in this story is that he stepped forward to Jesus.  This was a man who lived his life away from society and in restraints because of his demons and he took the very brave step to walk up to Jesus and believe.  We don’t live our lives physically restrained necessarily, but our own sins and distractors from our relationship with Jesus stand in our way of the greatest relationship opportunity of all. We just need to trust that Jesus can lead us closer to him with just a request from us.

What Jesus said after the demons were cast out of the man when he begged to go with Jesus is the advice we should all be following if we truly claim our gift of grace – go out and tell everyone what God has done for us.  Why should we keep his love for us a secret?  And dare I say that you and I may have more credibility in our communities than someone previously living in a cemetery who was the town outcast?

So make a decision to put aside the things standing in our way of our true relationship with God.  Ask for help from the Father when you need it and tell the world the Good News.  It’s the least we can do.

Forgiving and healing Lord, we intentionally accept your invitation to follow You and tell the world about your grace and mercy.  Help us to put aside those things which stand in our way and to walk with You every day in every way.  In Christ Jesus we pray.  AMEN.