The Virtual Presence of Love

First Week of Advent

Scripture:

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13:  How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and ourLord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Reflection:

After my first annual conference with the Great Plains, I decided to send a prayer note to each of the clergy that serves one of our 1007 congregations and to our clergy who serve in appointments beyond the local church as a way to be prayerfully and virtually present in love, when not able to be physically present.

I do this as my daily spiritual discipline setting aside some time each morning to open the Great Plains daily devotional email sent out each day by our conference communications team. TheDaily Devotional emails contain the picture, email addresses, and appointments of three to four of our clergy. It also features the lectionary scripture readings for the week, a daily devotional and prayer, and a list of prayer requests.

I spend some time reading and praying the lectionary text followed by praying for persons on and situations mentioned in the prayer request list then turn my attention to the clergy featured for the day. I spend some time looking at the faces of the clergy and reading the names of the churches where they are appointed. I try to remember if there have been times during my two years serving the conference when I have met and spoken to them. Often, I’ll open a map on my computer and locate the site of the congregations mentioned in the daily devotional and imagine what it is like ministering in their rural, urban, suburban, contexts. I see that some clergy pastor two, three, and even a four-point charge and I thank God for their lives and the sacrifices made by their families. Others pastor mid-sized churches, others pastors large churches and others pastor mega-churches. I try to imagine the faithful people who worship at the church, the life of their congregations, and all the good they do in the world for Christ by serving others and advocating for the vulnerable in their communities. Sometimes, I’ll search for the church’s website and click on the links to know more about the church, their people through pictures, and their ministries. If I have extra time, I’ll read an online newsletter or listen/view to a portion of an online sermon.

It is physically impossible to be with the 700 clergy, the 220 thousand United Methodists, or the 1007 congregations of the GreatPlains Conference simultaneously. But, like the apostle Paul who prayed for the church at Thessalonica, I can be present in my mind and heart with my grand community of faith as I remember the clergy and congregations in prayer each day. I can offer up to God prayers for blessings upon our clergy and congregations, praying that the Lord would empower them to increase and abound in love for another and all, just as I abound in love for them(1 Thessalonians 3:12-13). I can pray for their holiness of heart and life in all they do as they serve the Lord with joy. I do not claim to know how prayer works but I trust and experience that it does. I experience a spiritual connection in Christ through the Holy Spirit with all people throughout our Great Plains Conference. In prayer, I share in God’s character of outgoing love, and I can think beyond myself and grow in compassion for others even though I may be hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

This Advent we remember God’s ever-present love for us in Christ. Even though we cannot experience God’s physical presence, we can experience God’s ever-present and abiding love through the promised Holy Spirit and through the kindness, goodness, and love of others. 

Prayer:

Eternal and ever-present God, in your loving mercy, hear our prayers for those we lift before you. Complete their faith. Empower them to increase and abound in love for one another and all. And, strengthen their hearts in holiness and blamelessness before you. Amen. 

Faith’s Posture

Stand up, raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28)

Scripture: Luke 21:25-36 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness, and the worries of this life and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and stand before the Son of Man.”

Reflection: We begin this Advent season as a Christian community celebrating the first coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago while at the same time expectantly preparing for and awaiting the second coming of Christ in great glory. We are a people who look back to God’s mighty acts of salvation with thanksgiving and look forward to God’s mighty acts of redemption with faith.

As Christians, we are to distinguish ourselves as people of expectant faith in God’s promises. While many are bent over and weighed down with an oppressive spirit of foreboding, dissipation, and worries over reduced expectations and limiting conditions, Christians are called to a posture of faith. We stand up straight, with raised heads, and walk with faith into God’s good unfolding future. We walk with faith aware, watchful, and attentive to God’s faithfulness toward us and all creation. We see with eyes of faith beyond the brokenness, and tumult that shake our world and discover how God is revealing his salvation, mercy, love, and goodness in our midst.

In the meantime, we are not idle. We express our faith and expectations of God’s good unfolding future in actions that advance what will be the kingdom, which has begun with the coming of the Christ Child. O Come, O Come, Emanuel.

Prayer: Pray for the grace to be aware of God’s steadfast love and goodness in your life and in the world.

Total Trust

widow

Lectionary Scriptures for this Sunday

Ruth 3:1 – Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.

1 Kings 17:10 – When Elijah came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks.

Psalm 146:9: The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Mark: 12:41-44 -He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Reflection: 

The lectionary passages from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the Gospel for this Sunday all mention widows; Naomi, Ruth, the widow from Zarephath, the widows God watches over and upholds, and the poor widow who gave all she had to the temple treasury.

We do not know how the husbands of the widows died. We can assume that some died because of natural causes, others because of disease, others by accident, others by violence, others by war. The widows mentioned are economically, emotionally, and socially vulnerable. But, God watches over them and upholds them. Ruth gets remarried to Boaz and her mother-in-law Naomi receives a household and protection, the widow from Zarephath and her son survive the drought and famine, and the nameless widows are watched over and upheld by God and Jesus.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus takes a seat near the temple treasury to watch people put their money into the treasury. He recognizes a widow from among the crowd and is struck by the extravagance of her sacrificial offering. Jesus is so moved with sympathy by her action that he draws attention to it for the sake of his disciples who were maybe paying more attention to the large sums of offerings given by the rich donors.

One of the churches from my two-point charge in El Paso, Texas had the practice of posting the amount of tithes and offerings given by the church members on the bulletin board by the entrance of the sanctuary. The donors were listed according to the amount of their giving with those who gave the most each month at the top of the list and those who gave the least each month at the bottom of the list. The treasurer told me that the list was posted to teach and motivate people to give more. At the bottom of the donor list was the name, Albina Garcia –        $ 28.50.

I came to know Albina very well during my four years in El Paso. She widowed early and never remarried. She was formerly from the Pentecostal tradition but became a United Methodist in 1954. Albina taught Sunday School at La Trinidad United Methodist Church for over 50 years. She raised three sons on her Social Security benefit, which by the time I got to El Paso in 1997 had grown to $ 285.00 a month. She cared for her brother for 50 years, a Korean War Veteran who lived with her but never came home from the war. Albina was a woman of prayer. She taught and mentored me more about the life and practice of prayer and discernment than seminary ever could. I gathered from my visits to her home that Albina was financially distressed. Three months into my appointment in El Paso, I thought it would be pastoral to let her know that God would not mind if she kept her $ 28.50 and used it for her needs. Big mistake, huge!

Albina listened to my pastoral counsel then said to me in Spanish, “Brother, with all due respect, who are you to take away the blessing of my giving for the Lord’s work?” She continued, “I’ve always tithed, and God has always watched over me. For now, I give $ 25.50 on the first Sunday of the month, then $ 1 a week at Sunday School for the remaining three weeks of the month.  On months with five weeks, I hold the .50 cents from the first Sunday and give it on the fifth Sunday so that I have something to give to the Lord every week. I’ve been widowed for 50 years, and I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve seen miracles too numerous to mention over the years and experience the unspeakable blessing of daily and intimate communion with God. God has made a way when I thought there was no way. It was not easy, but I have raised my boys in the Lord. I do not give to get anything from God, I give because God has never left me and because God has provided.”

I left Albina’s home that afternoon, drove to the church and went straight to the bulletin board where the donor declension sheet was posted and took it down. The treasurer asked if I knew what had happened to the list when he saw me on Sunday. I told him the list was not necessary because while financially accurate, it was misleading. I said, if the list is intended to teach and motivate people to give, they could learn a thing or two by starting from the bottom of the list, with Albina, the extravagantly generous widow and her monthly tithe of $ 28.50 a month. I know I did.

Prayer: 

Most loving God defender of the widows and the orphans, we pray for the widows this day in all our world. May the precious moments and memories of their loved ones be held forever in their hearts.  Comfort them with your abiding presence in their moments of loneliness and sorrow. Care and provide for them as you have promised. Renew them with the joy of life and sustain them in faith, hope, and love. Amen.

 

Memory and Faith

Reading the Torah
Torah: Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light unto my path (Ps. 119:105)

Scripture: Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Reflection:

The history of Israel and the law of Moses were received, preserved, and transmitted orally from one generation to another through memorized folktales, ballads, poetry, prose, and songs. The Israelites were instructed to transmit the Lord’s teachings to their children, God’s next generation,  on a daily basis and throughout the day in a number of ways. The children memorized their history and laws in their heart as children and in turn, taught their children, who in turn taught their children. And so, the teachings of the Lord were transmitted from one generation to the next.

I remember that part of our Sunday School education required the memorization of Scripture. We would memorize a verse in the Bible, then repeat it as a Sunday School class or individually during children’s time in worship. I’ve come to appreciate the memorization of Scripture over the years, especially when a biblical story or verse comes to mind I can hold on to during a difficult situation or season of life. At those times, Scripture keeps me anchored in faith that God is with me and hopeful about the future that God is leading me to.

Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs.

This week, commit this Scripture to mind, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is
one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:29-31)

Like the scribe, you’ll find that when you keep the Word of the Lord in your heart, you’re not far from the kingdom of God. It’s not that you are drawing near to it, but that the kingdom is drawing near to you giving you access to the grace, wisdom, courage, faith, hope, and love you need to live life in a manner that is pleasing to God.

Prayer: 

O Lord, you have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Enable me by your Spirit to be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Do not let me be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. Amen.

My Rabbi

 

Lord that I Might See
“Lord, That I Might See Again.” Unidentified artist (1970). Matyas Church, Budapest, Hungary

Scripture: Mark 10:46-52 – They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing
off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My Rabbi, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed
him on the way.

Reflection:  Bartimaeus is described as a blind beggar. He occupies a low status on the socio-economic rung of his community and can only sustain himself by depending on the charity of others. His begging is annoying to some. His physical presence in public spaces is an eyesore. Strangers dare to order him around with stern voices expectant of Bartimaeus’ compliance.

While others tried to suppress Bartimaeus and his cries, Jesus heard him, stood still and stopped to attend to him; or as we refer to it, Jesus stops to “serve” Bartimaeus.

The challenging aspect for us in positions of power is that Jesus dignifies and humanizes lowly and devalued Bartimaeus as a person of integral and sacred worth, a child made in the image of God, and a vital member of the community. By asking him what he wants, Jesus does not presuppose that he knows what is best for Bartimaeus. Instead, Jesus recognizes Bartimaeus’ individual autonomy and dignity and affords him the opportunity to decide for himself. Jesus thereby hands over to Bartimaeus not only the power to decide for himself but the accessibility to the abundant resources Jesus can provide for Bartimaeus. Jesus subordinates himself to the full disposal and service to Bartimaeus. Jesus is no longer controlling the outcome of the encounter, Bartimaeus is.

Even in his physical blindness, Bartimaeus recognizes (sees) not only the power granted to him by Jesus to decide for himself and request resources, but he also acknowledges a new teaching by Jesus. He calls Jesus “my Teacher” or “my Rabbi” signifying that he acknowledged the new teaching.  Bartimaeus recognizes that Jesus is teaching how human relationships in the Kingdom of God should look like when those in power subordinate themselves and their resources in service that seeks the welfare and empowerment of the vulnerable, marginalized, and the voiceless. Indeed, this is new teaching!

Bartimaeus makes a wise request and asks to see again. Jesus grants his request. Bartimaeus physical vision is restored. Then Jesus instructs Bartimaeus to Go! But instead, Bartimaeus follows Jesus, his Healer, his Savior, his Teacher on the way. Bartimaeus regains not only his physical sight but a new Kingdom vision that calls him to a new way of living out Jesus’s teaching. That way is the way to the cross, a cross-formed life of service to humanity that sees and stops to serve others in the lower rungs of society in a way that affirms their dignity and worth as a child of God, that seeks their wellbeing and empowers them to see the beauty of Jesus and live with hope again.

Prayer:

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. O
magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all. He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken. Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life
of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be
condemned.

The Scent of Life

Ash TreeScripture 

“For there is hope for a tree if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.” (Job 14:7-9)

Reflection

The young wind-beaten Ash tree planted in our front lawn lay on its side after it was pushed over and uprooted by hurricane force winds in the early 70’s.  I saw it and could only imagine all the work it would take to cut the tree into manageable pieces so that we could either burn it or haul it off and dispose of it in the city dump. Dad, however, saw possibility in the overturned tree. The next day, he called for a caterpillar tractor to help pull and reset the tree back into place. We sawed off the splintered branches and several snapped roots. We filled the cavity left by the uprooted tree with water, set the tree back in its place, and covered the base of the tree with fresh soil. For the first couple of weeks, the bruised and broken tree struggled to survive. The trauma of the violent uprooting and the sawing of branches and roots caused the tree to go into shock and shed its leaves. At one point, we thought it wouldn’t survive, but we just kept watering it. Eventually, the roots found new life and strength in the soil because of the nourishment of the water. Then new branches and leaves started to sprout from the cutoff stumps. The ash tree grandly stands today. It is over 60 years old and its canopy provides a cool shade over mom and dad’s lawn and home during the 100-degree plus South Texas summer weather.

Job had experienced severe trauma and setbacks in his life. He lost his children, his possessions, his health, and his social dignity. He is the depths of despair. Now he struggles with the inevitability of his own mortality. He reflects on how traumatized trees can come back to life at the scent of water. “But,” he resigns himself to the fact that, “mortals die, and are laid low, humans expire, they lie down and do not rise again, the will not awake or be roused out of their sleep.” (Job 14:10, 12) Job’s mind and spirit, as William Cowper wrote, is “buried above ground, encompassed with a thousand dangers, weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors.”

Still, the life of God in him draws him to the scent of life, Jesus Christ, his living water and redeemer. He has a budding intuitive assurance that there must be life, even in the grimmest of human circumstances, and that death will not have the final word over his life. He has the emerging assurance that his life will be redeemed by Christ his Redeemer. He later says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives and after my skin has been destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Sometimes our lives are overturned by overwhelming and unexpected conditions and events. We can easily fall into despair as we count the losses and remember and long for how things used to be. Moments like these will try our faith and our hope in a better future. But, we are a people that by the Holy Spirit in us can scent hope in new life and possibility in Christ our living water. Our scent for new life and possibility is grounded in the assurance that God knows our situation, God hears us when we speak, and that God will ultimately answer, redeem, and restore us.

 

A Prayer for Hope

Heavenly father, I am your humble servant, I come before you today in need of hope. There are times when I feel helpless, there are times when I feel weak. I pray for hope.
I need hope for a better future. I need hope for a better life. I need hope for love and kindness. Some say that the sky is at it is darkest just before the light.
I pray that this is true, for all seems dark. I need your light, Lord, in every way.
I pray to be filled with your light from head to toe. To bask in your glory.
To know that all is right in the world, as you have planned, and as you want
it to be. Help me to walk in your light and live my life in faith and glory.
In your name, I pray, Amen.

From: catholic.org/prayers

Why Are You Here?

elijah-cave

 “Why are you here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:9b and 13b (Common English Bible)

Reflection:

I sometimes hear this from people I speak with, “I’m working harder than ever before with fewer results.” In that statement, I hear an undertone of discouragement, frustration, resignation, despair, regret for not having chosen a different life path or a hint of nostalgia that yearns for the good ole’ days. If the conversation goes a little further along those lines, I hear things such as, “Maybe this is not my calling.” “I just don’t know what else to do.” “I’m burned out.” Or, “I’m tired of pushing a lethargic ‘wet noodle.'”

In 1 Kings 19, we find the prophet Elijah is weary, burned out, angry, and bemoaning his lack of success at leading the Israelites to be faithful to God. His single-minded faithfulness to God has brought troubles upon him. He is on the run and fearful for his life. His life and ministry have been for too long steeping in the boiling waters of social tensions, withering opposition, interpersonal clashes, and constant threats. He has had enough of it all and is fleeing from his ministry. He is holed up in a cave and ready to give up, but God will not let him quit.

God encounters Elijah at the cave and twice asks him, “Why are you here, Elijah?” Elijah responds with snarky pessimism and an exaggerated claim of self-importance. He blames God for the predicament he’s in and in essence says, “I am the only one in all of Israel that is faithful to your divine cause in the world! I’m here because of you!” Elijah need not be so discouraged or take himself so seriously because he is far from being the only person committed to the divine cause. There are 7,000 more faithful Israelites that are also carrying on God’s divine purpose.

After upheaving winds, earthquakes, and fire, God speaks to Elijah, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel interprets,  in a voice without sound. No birds sing. No trees rustle in the wind. No insects buzz. No crickets chirp. No creeks gurgle. No coyote howls. Nothing. No audible noise. Nature stands still and silent. It’s just Elijah and God’s quiet presence.

God reminds Elijah that a prophet does not belong out in the desert atop a mountain, hiding in a cave, separated from the troubles of life but in the world, carrying out God’s work, no matter how difficult it may be. Elijah is renewed through his encounter with God and returns back into the world’s arena as an agent of God’s divine purposes.

Like Elijah, we can find ourselves in some lonely caves during life from time to time, fleeing from life’s pressures, wallowing in self-pity, and self-righteousness. Sometimes we even come to blame God for our predicaments. But God meets us where we are at, in the stillness of crucial moments. God asks us the same question asked of Elijah, “Why are you here?” We realize it’s not a question asking about the circumstances that led us to retreat into the lonely deserts and caves of our own making. Instead, it is a question of life purpose accompanied by God’s affirmation. That is, “Why are you here when there is so much left to do in the world? You’re needed in the world to carry out my divine cause. And, I’m with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

Prayer: Merciful God, overflowing with a redemptive purpose for our fractured world, enable us by your Spirit to have one foot on the ground, and the other raised to proceed on the journey your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, leads us in.  Prayer adapted from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s reflections, in Thoughts of St. Ignatius. 

No Place to Hide

syrophoenician-woman

Mark 7: 24  From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice.

Reflection:

Maye, Isaac, and I walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in July during our summer vacation. We sat on a pew and admired the architecture of the sanctuary, observed the tourists taking pictures while trying to pay attention to the evening Mass for young people occurring at the same time.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to look back. The man asked if my last name was Saenz to which I responded, “Yes.” He went on to tell me that he recognized me because I look like my younger brother Ricky. He added that he was from a city 15 miles from my hometown of Rio Grande City and that he played golf on occasion with my dad. We chatted a while, took a group picture I texted to my brother and parted ways.

I never thought I’d be noticed in a city with millions of people, but I was.

Jesus was trying to escape notice but he could not escape notice. In the ensuing story, a Syro-phoenician Greek woman finds out Jesus is in the region of Tyre, north of the Israeli border, and goes out to him to ask for her daughter’s healing. Jesus proclaims her daughter is well and the woman returns home and finds her daughter healed and lying peacefully in bed.

The Unconcealable Christ cannot be hidden to a world that is hurting and searching. As disciples, we can’t be secret Christians who follow an unconcealable Christ that seeks to know others and be known by others.

Prayer: Reveal yourself through me today, Lord, through the words of my mouth and witness of life. Amen.

 

A Good Name

 

29POVERTY-jumbo.jpgScripture

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.”               Proverbs 22:1-2

Reflection: This instructional or wisdom saying is directed at the rich and powerful, not the poor. It is a reminder to the rich and powerful to treat the poor and powerless with dignity, justice, generosity, and compassion because God cares and advocates for them.

Poverty is real in our Great Plains Kansas/Nebraska area. In 2016, Kansas ranked 20th and Nebraska 15th in the U.S. in the percentage of people who fell below the 2016 poverty line – $24,340 for a family of four. Also, Kansas ranked 36th and Nebraska 39th in the rate of households that at some point during the year experienced difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of money or resources (talkpoverty.org).

There is a tendency to blame the poor for their poverty. Behaviors such as poor life choices, a lazy work ethic, having too many children, a lack of education, and so on are often cited. While we find passages in scripture where laziness is mentioned as a root cause of poverty (Prov. 6:6, 10:4-5, 13:4, etc.), more often, the prophets cite social structures at the macro-level as the root cause of poverty.  The prophets denounced social structures built upon greed, injustice, inequality, and segregation that caused disparities and poverty.

Congregations receive a “good name” before the Lord when they alleviate the acute and chronic pangs of hunger and poverty with immediate assistance ministries such as food banks and clothing closets. And, they receive a “good name” before the Lord that is better than silver or gold when they implement initiatives and advocate for policies and just structures that eliminate barriers the poor and powerless confront so that all can access and enjoy the fullness of life.  As individuals, we also receive a “good name” before the Lord when we treat the poor with human dignity and honor because in so doing, we align ourselves with God’s love and care for them who rises to argue their case (Isaiah 3:13).

Prayer:  Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

 

 

 

Hope for the Human Family

human family 2

Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all
we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Reflection: 

Maye, Isaac, and I saw the exhibit film “Dark Universe” at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, last week. It features exquisite renderings and visualizations of the cosmic phenomena of the universe and the breakthroughs that give astronomers an increasingly detailed and precise picture of how our universe formed and evolved. I walked away from the film overwhelmed by both the vastness of our expanding universe and the smallness of our planet against the whole of the universe.

I left wondering if we are the only civilization in the whole vast universe? Even if we are not the only civilization in the universe, there would be millions of light years between us and other civilizations. If we are the only human civilization within millions of light years from other civilizations, and this precious little, fragile planet is our home, then why so much human struggle, so much hatred, so much strife, violence, and warring in the world? Should we not work together to find the way of love, peace, and justice in our families, our congregations, our communities, in our nation, and our world?

In his prayer, Paul positions himself atop a cosmic vantage point overlooking the whole human family which includes all ethnic groups and peoples. His prayer embraces the whole human family as he prays for the unity of the world’s peoples under the Lordship of Christ. He prays that all people would know the love of Christ and be filled with the fullness of God.

Through prayer, Paul is able to see a vision of the glorious splendor of God’s everlasting kingdom that endures throughout all generations. He was able to understand that the Lord is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his deeds, just, kind, and near to all who call on him no matter where they may find themselves on this small,  beloved little planet situated in a small cosmic corner of the Milky Way Galaxy within our vast and ever-expanding universe. To God be the glory!

Prayer for Peace

Gentle Spirit, Breathe in us the wind of truth, wisdom, and righteousness. May your Presence inspire us to create labyrinths of peace. Compassionate One, Make our hearts burn with love, honoring all peoples and creation. Bless all nations, every family, and community while we seek to work for justice and unity. Prince of Peace, Lead us to ways of healing and reconciliation we pray with those who suffer and struggle. Bless us with your reconciling love that knows no boundaries as we seek to live in community, justice, and peace. So be it. 

By Rev. Elizabeth Tapia from the Philippines, director of Mission Theology for Global Ministries