Be Open to Receive – Sunday, August 25, 2019

Be open to Christ today.

Luke 13:10-17 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

Reflection: This passage in gospel of Luke tells of a woman afflicted by a crippling condition that had crippled her for eighteen years. She attends the synagogue as probably was her custom to continue building upon her faith formation through the worship and praise God. Jesus is also present in the synagogue that particular Sabbath. He is scheduled to teach the gathered. Jesus then sees her, has compassion on her, lays his hands on her, and heals her. She immediately stood up straight and began praising God. She leaves the worship service, freed of her affliction, to live in her community as a witness of God’s grace through Christ.

Have you ever had such an experience?

Worship is powerful because all the means of God’s grace are available to the gathered; be they 10 or 10,000. We really never know how Christian hospitality and fellowship, songs of praise and worship, prayers, silence, meditation, the reading of Scripture, opportunities to give, liturgies, the sacraments of baptism of Holy Communion, even church architecture and art, will proclaim and make near and accessible to us the glory, grace, and power of our triune God. Such a multi-dimensional spiritual presence of God’s grace is a gift of God to the people of God. Through these spiritual means, or conduits of God’s glory and care, the spirit of God mysteriously opens and penetrates our inner life to save, free, liberate, and fill us with God’s presence and power for living. In turn, we live in the world as an open channel of God’s glory and grace, led and used by God, to illuminate the hearts of those we meet.

Regular worship is vital to our spiritual formation and our daily living. The progress of our faith formation is often subtle, barely noticeable on a day to day or week to week basis. We cannot appreciate just how profound our formation has become through years of openly practicing and partaking of God’s means of grace until we face a crisis. It is in the difficult seasons of our lives, when we are weighed down with life’s problems, worries, and cares that we find ourselves deeply grounded and strong in our trust of God’s goodness and promises to be our very present help in our time of trouble (Ps. 46:1). Then there are those expected but rare moments when we are in worship and we experience an abrupt and powerful breakthrough or transformation in our lives that opens and frees us of whatever is bending our spirit, just like the woman today’s gospel.

The woman in today’s gospel attended the synagogue that Sabbath expecting to make her prayers known to God, to hear sound teaching about God’s nature and ways, and to be with her friends. She not only gave her worship to God, she was open to receive whatever God had for her in return. On that seemingly ordinary Sabbath, she received more than what she expected when she powerfully encountered God’s indescribable gift (2 Cor. 9:15), the one the prophets declared, the one spoken of in all Hebrew scripture, her deliverer, her peace, her healer, Jesus Christ.

As we worship this Sunday to strengthen and form our faith, may we be open to encountering Christ’s saving, healing, and liberating power through God’s means of grace.    

Prayer: Powerfully encounter us, blessed and compassionate Lord, in our times of worship through your abundant means of grace. Open our hearts and minds to receive what you have for us today so may declare your glory and praise you with our lives in the world.

In Which Direction Are We Walking? Sunday, August 18, 2019

Fire at Night by Francisco Goya, 1794

Luke 12:49-56 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 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.” 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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 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?

Reflection: I succeeded Rev. Francisco Gaytan as pastor of El Buen Pastor (The Good Shepherd) United Methodist Church in Edinburg, TX. He served the congregation for 19 years and a total of 52 years as a Methodist pastor prior to retiring in 2010. Rev. Gaytan was a mentor, friend, and an active ministerial assistant to me during my ten years at El Buen Pastor. He was always willing to preach, officiate at weddings and funerals, and help with visitation. He continues to serve Christ as needed to this day.

One day, he shared his story of how he came to be a Methodist pastor. He attended Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas and there he strengthened his faith in Christ and experienced a call to ordained ministry. He discerned, while still a high school student, that the present time had come for him to believe the good news and follow Christ as a disciple and ambassador of the gospel. The problem was that he did not know how his father would react to the news.

Francisco decided to break the news to his father one afternoon as they walked down a street in downtown El Paso. He said that his father stopped walking and stood still after Francisco told him he was going to be a Methodist minister. He turned to Francisco and said, “Hasta aqui tuviste padre,” translated in English to mean, “Up to now, you had a father.” His father, said Francisco, with a far-away look in his eye, then turned around and walked the other way. Francisco rarely spoke to his father afterward. He paid a high cost for his faith and for answering the call to ministry. He heard and followed a different rhythm that charted a new life path and caused a division between himself and his family.

Those of us who come from Hispanic culture and contexts understand this reality personally. Often, Hispanics and Latin Americans become estranged from their kin and community because their Protestant faith and ethics put them at odds with their family’s generational religious tradition and culture. Christians in other parts of the world such as North Korea, India, China, Indonesia, and parts of Africa also experience opposition and estrangement because of their Christian faith. That is why passionate worship, small discipleship groups where people find belonging, and authentic Christian fellowship are vital for sustaining, retaining, and equipping new disciples in their walk of faith.

The words of Jesus, “I came to bring division,” are uncharacteristic and hard to hear. But these words and reality are part of the whole of his saving message. It is not that Christ divides, but that people take offense at his teachings, claims, and promises, thereby separating their lives and wills from him and others who follow him. Those who receive Christ as Savior and Lord, follow and believe his teachings, claims, and promises are at times shunned from family and community because they come to see life, their purpose in life, and their values differently in the light of God.

The story of Francisco’s stand for Christ and obedience to Christ’s calling upon his life despite the division and estrangement it caused between him and his family is painful to hear. For God’s ultimate purpose in Christ for all human families is peace and unity in all things, especially in matters of faith. On the other hand, his story is inspirational to those who walk the same costly path of discipleship and experience hardships because of it. Its inspirational because whom Christ calls to follow Christ enables – by his own example as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (12:2) – to “run the race set before them with perseverance” (Hebrews 12:1). Even though Francisco’s faith and walk in Christ estranged him from family, friends, and community, he found belonging in the family God creates through Christ’s life, death and resurrection; the church.

Prayer: Christ, you are the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before you endured the cross and disregarded its shame. We thank you for all the faithful cloud of witnesses whose life and memory inspires us to trust in your promises despite hardships as we run the race you have set before us. Today we remember and bring before you all your faithful disciples in our world today – young and old, people from every nation, race, and language – that are experiencing estrangement, suffering, and violence because they walk in your ways and toward the abundant and eternal life you promise. Enable them with your Spirit to be strong and courageous, not afraid, not discouraged, and let them know that you are always with them wherever they go. Amen.

“Unafraid” – August 11, 2019

“Do not be afraid, little flock”

Scripture (Luke 12.32-40): ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 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. 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. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. ‘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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

Reflection: “Fear,” writes Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, “is like a climate closing in; it is like the fog in San Francisco or in London. It is nowhere in particular yet everywhere. It is a mood which one carries around with himself, distilled from the acrid conflict with which his days are surrounded. It has its roots deep in the heart of the relations between the weak and the strong, between the controllers of environment and those who are controlled by it (pp. 26-27).”

Reflection: This Sunday’s lectionary reading from the gospel of Luke is set within the context of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem and the cross. By this time in the gospel of Luke, Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). Along the way, he sends out messengers to announce the nearness of the kingdom of God (10:9). In chapter 12, a crowd of thousands gather, trampling each other to see and hear him. He speaks to the anxious crowds and his disciples and comforts them with a promise, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

The disciples and the crowds are anxious and afraid. They struggle daily to survive. They live surrounded with the experience of utter disregard and contempt from the Romans who control their environment and they are always on alert against the perpetual threat of one-sided violence and extermination.

Jesus’ comforting words to the anxious and fear-ridden crowds and disciples served to help them create a confidence, hope, and faith about the future by assuring and reminding them of God’s saving acts and God’s love and care for them. Jesus does not describe how or when they would inherit the kingdom. But, the knowledge of its coming and their inheritance of it is a treasure they can claim deep within their souls that gives them the courage to live as if it was already a reality they possessed. This in turn empowered them to push back the innumerable fogs of fear, to spiritually and psychologically overcome their inward sense of dehumanization, and live their lives with human dignity, eager expectation, and hope in their hate-filled, cruel, and violent world.

Prayer based on Psalm 33:18-22: Your eye, O LORD, is on those who fear you, on those who hope in your steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Sustain in your mercy, the souls of those hearts are glad in you, who trust in your holy name, who wait for your help, and are in need of your protective shield. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. Amen

The Testimony of our Wills – August 4, 2019

Approximately 55 percent of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place, according to LexisNexis. 

Luke 12:13-21 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 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.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 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?’ So, it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Reflection: At least two brothers are in a quarrel over their inheritance. The blessing of an abundant estate now becomes a curse that drives a wedge of contention, separation, and anger between them. One brother claims his rights and wants his fair share of the inheritance. The other brother, in sole possession of the estate, has apparently disregarded his brother’s right to the legacy.

The complainant brother asks Jesus to rule in his favor and to direct his brother to divide the inheritance of his deceased father, justly.

Jesus does not judge the case. Instead, he creates a teaching moment. The parable Jesus tells can be read as a direct allusion to the deceased father of the quarreling sons. Read in this way, the parable sheds light on the hidden will of the deceased father with regard to his spirit (attitude) and use of the abundance he possessed.

Persons and families of abundance and wealth are well-known in their local and surrounding communities. People in communities take note of where the wealthy live, what they drive, how they live, what they wear, where they vacation, what they possess, who their children are, the measure of their generosity, and how they treat people; especially their employees, those they regularly relate to, and how they relate to others outside of their socio-economic class. The sudden death of a person of wealth and abundance is instant news in a community because all know about them.

If the parable alludes to the deceased father of the sons, then Jesus is using the deceased man’s own and well-known grandiose “I” statements that were overheard and familiar to the people in the community such as: What should “I” do? “I” have no storage space. “I’ll” build larger barns. I’ll store all “my” grain and all “my” goods. “I” will relax, eat, drink, and be merry.  Then, without warning, his life was demanded of him, and his estate comes into a dispute between his sons.

Children learn from their parents or guardians about how to manage and use possessions. The complaining son learned about the management and use of abundance by observing his now-deceased father. His other brother, reluctant to share the inheritance, also learned some lessons about the use of wealth and abundance from the father; that is, to keep everything for himself.

I think that Jesus was indirectly yet gently teaching the complaining son of the deceased father – and all others in the crowd within earshot – about the right spirit toward wealth and abundance. That is, wealth and abundance are a blessing, but they are ultimately a gift from God that carry responsibilities to be used for unselfish good in the world in ways that are rich toward God by being rich toward neighbor.

Prayer: God of unmerited abundance and goodness, make us mindful of the brevity of our lives and make us urgent to use the gifts you have given us to be rich toward you and our neighbor. Enable us by your Holy Spirit to seek the things that are above, where Christ is and where our life is hidden in him. Enable us with your Holy Spirit with the inward desires to do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can. (John Wesley)