Help Wanted! 1st Sunday of Advent December 1, 2019

One will be left … to join Christ in doing God’s
will on earth as it is in heaven.

Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Reflection: I am in Cambridge, UK for a training on reflective supervision sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry as I write this reflection for the first Sunday of this beautiful season of Advent. We celebrate and remember every Advent season that into a world filled with despair and darkness, Jesus Christ, God’s gift of salvation, came to save us and enjoin us to his mission of doing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven (Mt. 6:10). 

The story Jesus tells in the gospel of Matthew is one of many stories Jesus told about the end of times and his second coming to establish God’s kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace. In the story, people are going about their daily activities. They are eating, drinking, marrying, working, and sleeping when all of a sudden and without warning, their routines are interrupted by Christ’s coming. In Matthew’s vision of the second coming, Jesus does not remove the faithful from the earth, he leaves them to do God’s will, just like Noah was left by God after the flood to do God’s will. In Matthew’s vision, Christ leaves the faithful ones on earth to do the will of God on earth like it is in heaven. This added responsibility is not a burden, it is an honor and privilege to be handed more missional responsibility by Christ because ‘those who are faithful with a few things will be put in charge of many things and share in Christ’s joy!’ (Mt. 25:21). Our response is not to reject Christ’s invitation to added missional responsibility, but to receive Christ’s call and discharge the mission with confidence and joy. The mission we are called to is not burdensome, it is made light because we are yoked with Christ (Mt.11:29).

To do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven means that we join Christ to alleviate suffering caused by hunger, violence, injustice, abuse of power, joblessness, eradicable diseases, and bottomless grief. Stories about the second coming of Christ do not have to be embarrassing or frightening. They are compelling and hopeful. They call us to be watchful for the way Christ’s out of love for the world, interrupts the routines of our lives, calls out to us, and invites us to join him in seeking God’s righteous kingdom where nations live in peace, and where people are taught the ways of God and walk in the paths of God.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

 

Thy Word – October 20, 2019

Photo by Gelgas

Scripture: Then Jesus told 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?” (Luke 18:1-8).

Reflection: Today’s lectionary readings point out that God’s people know God’s word and act on it with faith and hope because it acts in and through them.

The prophet Jeremiah proclaims the Lord will ‘put in writing God’s law on people’s hearts’ so that they will sin no more (Jeremiah 31:33). The Psalmist says that the Lord’s words are “sweeter than honey in his mouth” because they make him wise, give him understanding, and hold him back from every evil way (Psalm 119:97-104). Paul instructs his young apprentice Timothy to continue in what he has learned and firmly believed because God’s inspired word will equip him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17). The persistent widow in Jesus’ parable continues to seek justice from the mulish judge because she knows the law of God, she knows her rights, and she courageously perseveres until the judge grants her justice from her opponent. 

When we read God’s word, study it, meditate upon it, and memorize it, it acts in us through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables us to courageously enter and more fully live into the meaning of the God’s Word dwelling in us for ourselves and for others even when confronted by fear in the face of pain, danger, uncertainty, intimidation, and suffering. This is the kind of active faith Jesus is seeking to find when he returns (Luke 18:8). In your moments of prayer, speak to God about what God’s word is calling you to be or do. Perhaps you can pray for a desire to fall in love again or for the first time with God’s word.

Prayer: Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way (Psalm 119:97-104).

Table Fellowship – The Starting Point for Discipleship – Sunday, September 15, 2019

Table Fellowship by Sieger Köder (1925–2015) 

Luke 15:1-10 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.”

Reflection: The religious leaders consider themselves favored by God in their own rights. They despise “sinners” in the name of God. They grumble and express disdain, a low opinion, and a disrespectful attitude toward Jesus when they see him approaching and partaking of table fellowship with sinners; those considered lawless, lost, cursed, and separated from God’s love and care. Jesus’ acts of presence and table fellowship with sinners, signals to those that would exclude them that no one is worthless and beyond God’s mercy, love, and care.

As Christians and United Methodists, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self (Article 4 – the Inclusiveness of the Church and ¶161.G) Human Sexuality, The Book of Discipline).

Jesus’ table fellowship action in this morning’s gospel reading proclaims the sacred worth of both the “righteous” and the “sinners” to God. His table fellowship actions are a starting point for our faith and discipleship. They are instructive, inviting us by his example to intentionally seek to do the same. Through his acts of mercy, love and care to the lost, he corrects and counters our self-righteous impulse to despise others and separate ourselves from them in the name of God because such hatred and exclusion does not reflect the value of the other and contradicts Christ’s redemptive work in the world. His table fellowship actions hold a mirror up to us, inviting us to examine and repent of our tendency to so easily and willfully draw dividing lines that isolate and fracture rather than restore the human family and community.

Prayer of Praise: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, I was blind but now I see. Amen.

More about the painting Table Fellowship by Sieger köder (1925–2015) –

Sieger was a German soldier in World War II who was captured while fighting on the front lines in France. Upon his release, he first trained as a silversmith, then enrolled in Stuttgart’s State Academy of Art and Design.

Köder painted and taught art for twelve years before beginning a new course of study in Tübingen: Catholic theology. Ordained as a priest in 1971, he pastored until his retirement in 1995, but he never stopped painting.

Drawing from both vocations, Köder’s art flourished during his years of ministry. His altarpieces, paintings, frescoes, and stained glass windows can be found throughout Germany and beyond. His interpretations of the crucifixion, of innocent suffering, have a clarity born of his own history of war and captivity. Some have called him a “preacher with pictures.”

But as his work gained worldwide recognition, he refused to take credit himself. In one interview, he said, “People come to Ellwangen asking to see the painter. If they’re that interested in the painter, then they haven’t understood the paintings.”

The Calculus of Discipleship – Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sit down first and consider

Luke 14:25-33 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 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? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Reflection: I use the calculator app on my cell phone to add up, multiply, subtract, or to divide costs, materials, payments, discounts, or reconcile accounts that require accurate numbers. I use a different, much more sophisticated type of calculator for discerning my response to difficult decisions that factors in my values, my theology, my faith, scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prayer, the wisdom of friends, my personal and social ethics, laws, my relationships, the probabilities of gain or loss, the impact my decisions will have on others, and so on. This type of discernment calculus is patient, complicated, and often risky because it depends on numerous interdependent and independent, known and unknown variables, many of them beyond my direct and indirect control.

The builder in today’s gospel sits down to estimate the cost of building a tower. The calculus is rather simple. The problem to solve is whether she could cover the cost of a building project with the needed resources of labor, materials, money, and time. If the answer is yes, she can begin building with confidence that the project will complete. If the answer is no, then her options are to wait until the resources for the completion of the project are secure, she could scale down the project to make it more affordable, or she could scrap the build altogether to avoid bankruptcy, the negative impact a large-scale failed project will have on others, and public ridicule.

The king in today’s gospel has to calculate the probability of victory or the risk of defeat in a war with his enemy. He factors into his discernment calculus his advantages and disadvantages, the conditions of the battlefield, and the superiority or inferiority of his army’s weapons and training in comparison to his opponent. He discerns whether he can fulfill his national interests by winning the battle with resources and the right battle strategy. He asks his officers if they have the right tactics to attain the objectives of the battle plan. He ponders whether diplomacy and peace talks are his best option to procure the safety of his people. If the king thinks he can win, he fights. If he determines he will lose, he seeks peace with his enemy through diplomacy so to not endanger the people that depend on him for safety.

Jesus must have discerned that many in the crowd following him were calculating the cost and considering whether or not to become his disciples. Jesus cuts to the chase. He turns to them and tells them that discipleship is not a fair-weather venture; it is not something that can be set aside when things or life gets tough (Luke 9:23-25). Discipleship of Christ requires our surrender because it demands loyalty and allegiance to him over all competing loyalties, including family, self-interest, and possessions.

For many, discipleship requires a lot of figuring out and long consideration. Some people need to have all the answers beforehand as to how their life will be or turn out if they follow Christ. Discipleship is not like that. It is based on a trusting relationship with Christ and trust in his promise to walk with us throughout our lives, especially when life gets tough. As St. Patrick prays, when we surrender to Christ, we can arise with strength every day and carry our cross because Christ will be with us against every cruel and merciless power that oppose our body and soul. Christ promises to be with us, go before us, behind us, in us, beneath us, above us, on our right and on our left, when we lie down, sit down, when we arise, in the hearts of everyone who thinks of us, speaks of us, in every eye that sees us, and every ear that hears us. If we put the pencil to discipleship we’ll soon figure out that it is indeed a demand but is also a priceless gift.

Prayer:  I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me, from snares of devils, from the temptation of vices, from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near. I arise today as a disciple of Jesus Christ through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.*

* From an excerpt of the Lorica of St. Patrick, also known as the St. Patrick Breastplate Prayer.

The Absent, Matter – September 1, 2019

Who do we need to invite?

Luke 14:1, 7-14: 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. 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. 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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Reflection: Jesus observantly watches the invited guests take their places at a sabbath meal hosted by a leader of the Pharisees. A dinner with distinguished guests functioned as more than sharing in a common meal. Sabbath dinners gave opportunity for a guest of honor, in this case Jesus, to discuss a topic of interest followed by dialogue about the presentation. Those nearest to the speaker were seated in honored positions which allowed them to better see and hear the speaker than those seated or standing behind them.

Jesus notices the guests settling into their seating arrangements. It is likely that those with a higher opinion of their social status challenged and elbowed away from the best seats others they viewed as socially inferior. Jesus notices something is amiss. Before he begins teaching, he tells the gathered a parable, a story that illustrates a spiritual lesson. In the story, people who seat themselves in places of honor are humiliated in public when re-assigned by the host to lower places and people at the lower places are honored by the invitation to take the higher places. The spiritual lesson is that those that seek to live in harmony and right relation with God will concern themselves with those who are absent from the liberating, Passover table of God.

When we are invited to partake of the elements of Holy Communion at a United Methodist Church, the presiding celebrant invites those gathered to receive the bread and cup by proclaiming, “This is not the table of the United Methodist Church. This is the table of our Lord Jesus Christ and you are welcome.” Christ is the guest of honor, inviting all that repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with God and one another to come and partake of God’s spiritual food and love without regard to age, ethnicity, gender, or language.

Through the partaking of the Holy Mystery of Communion, Christ calls us to live in peace with God and one another through acts of evangelism, justice, and unity. First, we are called to be hospitable guides consciously identifying and seeking out the absent who feel unworthy, the poor, those who are not yet Christ followers, the victims of prejudice, and others who are oppressed or neglected, and invite them to become part of the body of Christ. Secondly, as we gratefully receive God’s abundant grace, we are called to accept fully our responsibility and accountability for renewal of our broken and contentious world and the coming of the realm of God. And third, as the sacrament of Holy Communion expresses our oneness in the body of Christ, we are called to anticipate Jesus’ invitation to feast at the heavenly banquet and strive for the visible unity of the church through the work of the Holy Spirit in response to Jesus’ prayer that “they may all be one” (John 17:21).

As we partake of Holy Communion on this first Sunday of the month, may Christ’s Spirit send us out into the world to live lovingly and justly as his servants by conscientiously seeking the absent, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel” (BOD, ¶ 122).

Prayer: Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery of Communion and Table Fellowship in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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)

Living Boldly for Others

“Keep asking, seeking, knocking” (Luke 11:9)

Luke 11:1-13 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.” 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. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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!”

Reflection: St. Mother Teresa said of prayer, “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.”

In today’s gospel text, Jesus provides his disciples with a framework for effective prayer after a disciple asked him to teach them how to pray (11:1). The framework Jesus offered is known as the Lord’s Prayer (11:2-4). The prayer contains five foundational elements that guide every disciple’s worldview and life. They are: (1) praise of God as divine, caring, relational, and holy; (2) an unwavering hope that the world is headed toward a peaceable and just future; (3) a vision for the wellbeing of the whole human family (“give us”); (4) a vision for freedom from guilt and resentment through the grace of forgiveness; and, (5) an acknowledgment of the need for strength to live life with a God-centered spiritual morality and virtue. 

It would have been enough if Jesus would have stopped after sharing the framework for effective prayer, but he continues the teaching in a way that seems to take an unsettling turn. He continues his teaching by telling his disciples a parable about a man who received a friend that unexpectedly arrived at his home (11:5-8). Not having the food to meet the basic needs for his guest, the morally obligated and resourceful host in turn boldly goes out at midnight to one of his neighbors in town to ask for bread so that he can feed his hungry friend and guest. After some reluctance, the host’s neighbor gets up from his slumber and gives him some bread for his hungry friend waiting back at home. The teaching would be confounding if Jesus is implying through the parable that God is like the slumbering and reluctant man that eventually and reluctantly fulfills a petitioner’s request, but only after continued knocking on the doors of heaven, harassment, and shaming. This is certainly not a proper way to think about nature of God in relationship to our prayer life.

Through his overall teaching on prayer, Jesus makes a connection between God’s care for humanity (especially the vulnerable), a disciple’s moral and social responsibility to the vulnerable, and God’s divine activity in the world through the the life of a disciple. Jesus’ teaching on prayer enjoins his disciples to the plight of the vulnerable. Jesus teaches that effective prayer is human action on behalf of others guided by God’s good gift of the Holy Spirit (11:13). The beautiful work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, beckons and empowers us to go boldly into the nights of unknowns on behalf of others in unceasing efforts – continually asking, seeking, and knocking – to meet their needs. It is the Holy Spirit who inspires our imagination to envision new life-giving possibilities for others. The Holy Spirit leads us to identify resources to meet the basics needs of others such as food, clothing, shelter, safety, community, and the peace of knowing that God loves and cares for them (11:6). It is the Holy Spirit who imbues us with the spiritual boldness to keep asking, seeking, and knocking in ways that enable us to fulfill our discipleship obligations and demonstrate God’s care and love to the vulnerable among us. It is the Holy Spirit who that gives us the ability to actively entrust ourselves and the needs of others with faith, hope, and love into the hands of God who cares for and leads us toward the fulfillment of human wholeness.

Prayer: God of life and love, may the prayers and lives of your disciples throughout your creation help shape the world in ways that usher in hope, peace, and life for all peoples in all places.