Stop the Flogging

Lectio: Mark 15:15 – Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.

Contemplation: “He had Jesus flogged …”

Meditation: The Romans maintained order over the populations they conquered through acts of state terror. Strangling, stoning, burning, burning with oil, flogging, and crucifixion was common and randomly practiced to instill fear in and deter rebellion by their subjects.

Flogging was part of the crucifixion process meant to publically humiliate and dehumanize a person in addition to extending their torturous pain and suffering. The instrument used to flog Jesus would have been a whip of leather strips, fastened with hooks, and iron balls very capable of tearing the skin off the ribs. The brutality imposed on Jesus through flogging and crucifixion would show the power of the Roman Empire to dispatch of threats to any person or group thinking about or acting to disrupt society.

Today I meditate on how Jesus shares in the dehumanizing and brutal experience of all people throughout the world living in fear, flogged by never-ending and vicious cycles of violence, intimidation, and repression.

Prayer: I pray for the grace to help stop violent, intimidating, and repressive floggings against humanity, near and far.

Whistle-blowers: Frumps, Foes, or Friends?

Lectio: Matthew 27:19-25  (NRSV) 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

Contemplation: “his wife sent word to him”

Meditation: The name of Pilate’s wife is not mentioned; she is anonymous. But she plays a significant role as the events unfold in the Praetorium. She has not slept much the night before the day of Jesus’ trial because a dream about the injustice and suffering to come for Jesus stirred up her pathos. She sorrows and sympathizes with Jesus in his suffering in both her dream and now in his actual presence. The lucidity of her dream and the emotional pathos it evoked in her was not just a dream, she now sees it playing out in real life in the judgment hall, or Praetorium. She is one with Jesus, sharing in the intensity of his suffering and sorrows. Her moral conscious leads her to intervene and say something to Pontius Pilate, her husband, who can rectify the wrong by stopping the injustice taking place.

I can imagine that she hears a commotion outside her window in the early morning of Jesus’ trial. She goes out to see what the disturbance in the judgment hall is all about and takes notice of the agitated crowd, Barabbas, her husband, and Jesus, the one she dreamt about, standing by Pilate. She perceives the direction the mass is pushing her husband to judge, and she understands what the consequences of his decision will mean for Jesus. She decides to intervene to stop Pilate from condemning Jesus and sends a messenger to him with a warning: “Let there be nothing between you and the innocent man Jesus, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 

Pilate heeds no attention to his wife’s plea. The frenzied crowd has believed the false accusations against Jesus. They distance themselves from him to signal that they are not supporting Jesus or his seditious teachings and intentions. Their cries for Jesus’ “Crucifixion” are a show of loyalty to the Empire. Pilate succumbs to the pressure from the crowd, dissembling their allegiance to the Empire, and gives them what they want, a judgment against Jesus for subversive teachings against the Empire punishable by death by crucifixion.  

Today I meditate on all the people with the moral courage to act on conscious, risk their reputations and careers while intervening to stop the miscarriage of justice and suffering. I meditate on how people with the courage to stand up to social pressure to say something is wrong are often considered alarmists and disloyal. Those that speak up against something that is unacceptable pay a high price. They are often ignored, dismissed, threatened, retaliated against, disparaged, denigrated, shunned, seen as a frump, and even vilified. I meditate on all the people who are standing up for Christ, sharing in his sufferings, defending his life and message, but who are ignored.

Prayer: Today I pray for the grace to have the moral courage of Pilate’s wife to resist social pressure and speak up for Christ and when something is wrong and the humility to listen to and act upon the warnings of those that send messages to notify me that things are heading in the wrong direction.  

Release or Crucifixion?

Lectio: Luke 23:13-23  (NRSV) 13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” 18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.

Contemplation: “Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” (23:20,21)

Meditation: The accusations against Jesus that were brought before Pilate alleged that Jesus was forbidding Israel to pay taxes to the emporer Tiberias and the he was claiming to be the Messiah, the true King (23:1). Tax assessments and collections fell under the jurisdiction of Provincial governers and various local magistrates. The allegations against Jesus were that his teachings on non-payment of taxes to the Emporer undermined Pilate’s emperial mandate and authority to collect taxes from the people in the province on behalf of the Roman republic. 

After investigating the allegations, Pilate does not find enough evidence to convict Jesus of the charges (23:14). On the charges of “Perversion of the people with seditionist teachings that insurrect the established order,” both Pilate and Herod find Jesus, the defendant, “Not guilty!”

Pilate’s declaration of the innocence of Jesus and his ruling of acquittal is immediately met with crowd disapproval and hostility. A dispute ensues between Pilate and the crowd about the penalty that Jesus should pay. The threatened leaders want Jesus dead. They are savvy to target and isolate Pilate. They ramp up the pressure on Pilate to live up the rules of the Empire. Pilate’s decision adversely activates the people. They loudly protest to signal to Pilate the strength of their opinion and to clarify more precisely what they want. They want Pilate to change his decision from “flogging” to the death penalty for Jesus by crucifixion. Their voices prevail and Pilate succumbs to their demands (23:23).

Today I meditate on the depths of the sorrow and grief Jesus experiences as the value of his good and innocent life becomes the object of the heated debate for the fate of his life. I meditate on what he observes about the inward corruption of the goodness of human nature as expressed through the clash and amping up of the political tactics of Pilate versus the political tactics of chief priests, the leaders and the people. I meditate on how the debate about Jesus was at some point not about Jesus, it was about which side would win to accomplish their personal and political objectives. I meditate on how Jesus identifies with so many vulnerable people in our world that stand in anxious wait and are ultimately crucified by debate outcomes and decisions.

Prayer: Today I pray for the grace to remember that Jesus stands with the vulnerable people that leaders debate and decide for resulting in either life or death, release or crucifixion. 

The Power of Public Opinion

Note: The Lectio Divina based devotion below follows a Lenten journey called “By His Side.”  The order for daily scriptures throughout Lent comes from “Praying with Passion,” by Ken Taylor. The daily scriptures chronologically follow the passion of Christ from the Last Supper to the crucifixion. I focus on a particular word or phrase from the day’s reading and meditate on what the passage says about Christ, what it says about human nature, what it says about our relationship with Christ and others, and what I sense God is calling me to do, refrain from doing, or be mindful of as I seek to follow Christ “by his side.” 

Lectio: Matthew 27:15-18  (NRSV)15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called JesusBarabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, JesusBarabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.

Contemplation: “anyone they wanted”

Meditation: Reinhold Niebuhr in his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, wrote: “All social cooperation on a larger scale than the most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion.” By that he meant that moral people are more likely to act immorally as members of a group than as individuals.

Individuals in the crowd that requested the release of Barabbas over Jesus must have personally and morally disagreed with the choice, but they could not escape the powerful influence of the crowd herd moving in favor of releasing Barabbas instead of Jesus. Like a brushfire buffeted by strong winds, the public opinion of Jesus that just a few short days ago during Palm Sunday was exuberant, now quickly turns against him. His favorability dramatically drops in general popularity overnight. The leaders that wanted Jesus killed must have had a good messaging strategy to turn the crowd against him in such a short time. 

Today, I meditate on the powerful influence of popular public opinion on an individual and society. Influencers and analysts are always presenting public opinion, brushfire, tracking, quota-sampling, and straw polling results that measure the public’s perceptions, attitudes, and opinions of public figures and issues. Polling results are analyzed by pollsters that interpret their implication. The pollsters develop messaging strategies to affect people’s understandings of the issues. Authorative experts are strategically brought in to push people toward favoring the desired political, economic, and social outcome of a party or organization. Public opinion polls and the way they are interpreted and messaged weild a great influence on the direction of a community, a nation, and the world. Sometimes, societies are coerced by public opinion polls and strategic messaging that lead to immoral actions and disasterous consequences. 

Prayer: Today I pray for the grace to self-differentiate.

The Anatomy of Collusion

Note: The Lectio Divina based devotion below follows a Lenten journey called “By His Side.” The order for daily scriptures throughout Lent comes from “Praying with Passion,” by Ken Taylor. The daily scriptures chronologically follow the passion of Christ from the Last Supper to the crucifixion. I focus on a particular word or phrase from the day’s reading and meditate on what the passage says about Christ, what it says about human nature, what it says about our relationship with Christ and others, and what I sense God is calling me to do, refrain from doing, or be mindful of as I seek to follow Christ “by his side.”

Lectio: Luke 23:1212 “That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.”

Contemplation: “Herod and Pilate became friends …”

Meditation: Pilate and Herod, once enemies, are now brought together in a common cause. That is, to dispense with Jesus and the threat he poses by his growing popularity with the people they both seek to suppress. 

Luke, the gospel writer, mentions Pilate earlier in his account, describing him as a brutal and ruthless man that had massacred Galileans to instill fear in and suppress the people of Judea which he goverened (13:1). 

Herod Antipas, is mentioned several times in Luke’s account. Herod is first introduced in the gospel after he shut John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, in prison, eventually executing him. Herod executed John because John rebuked him for taking Herodias, his brother’s wife. Luke then gives the detail about Herod’s perplexion and paranoia about Jesus’ rising popularity in the region of Galilee, Herod’s territory. Herod calls for Jesus to see him, but Jesus insultingly shuns his invitation (9:9). From that point on, Herod’s perplexion turns into the desire to kill Jesus (13:31). 

Luke does not mention why Pilate and Herod were enemies. Perhaps their emnification stemmed from the fact that Pilate executed Galileans from Herod’s territory without permission. Maybe when Herod sent Jesus, a Galilean, to Herod Antipas the King over the region of Galilee, Pilate acknowledged Herod’s authority and stoked his hurt ego.  When Luke writes, “Herod was exceedingly pleased to see Jesus.” Perhaps Herod was pleased because he felt his authority over the Galileans was respected by Pilate, and because he finally had Jesus in his grips. Whatever the case, the two brutal leaders both now have Jesus, the populist leader of the people they both seek to suppress, bound and served up to them by his own people. It could not have been easier for Herod and Pilate had they tried. Their broken relationship is repaired by their gestures of mutual respect for each other, Herod satisfies his personal vendetta against Jesus, and Pilate achieves his political agenda to sustain his power with intimidation and suppression of the Judeans he governs by quelling Jesus’, their leader and their hope. 

Today I meditate on how people in power easily and reprehensibly conspire and collude together to achieve their own personal and political gains and goals even when their abusive actions bring about harm and tragedy to others.   

Prayer: Today I pray for the grace to ensure that my collaborative alliances seek the greater good and do no harm, especially to the vulnerable and the weak.

Royal Laws on Trial

Lectio: Luke 12:8-12 (NRSV) 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Contemplatio: “Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him.”

Meditatio: The full authorative force of the whole justice system is unified against Jesus of Nazarath from Galilee. Pilate the governor of Judea, Herod the King of Galilee, the local judges, and the military soldiers are now aligned, in growing agreement, and marshalled to eradicate Jesus along with his infectous ideas and teachings. By treating Jesus with contempt and mockery, they are in effect attacking not only Jesus the human, but Jesus’ royal laws, divine ideas, and teachings which they fear because they threaten their worlds. It’s only a matter of time before their hateful thoughts founded upon their deep-seated fears, turn into deadly action that drives Jesus to his death by crucifixion.

Today I meditate on how the royal teachings and ideas of Jesus are both threatening and threatened, how they are held in contempt and mocked, but never eradicated. According to Jesus, as portrayed in Luke’s gospel, it’s always right to care for and lift up the poor. Its always right to set free those that are oppressed. It’s always right to share our bread with the hungry. It’s always right to resist the unclean spirits of evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves. It’s always right to do to others what we would have them do to us. It’s always right to lend of what we have to others. It’s always right to extend forgiveness when we have been offended. It’s always right to first be self-aware of our faults before pointing out the faults of others. It’s always right to be an agent of healing, reconciliation, and inclusion. It’s always right to persist in seeking and attaining provision for the dispossessed. It’s always right to hold that every life is sacred and worthy of God’s love and redemption. It’s always right to put the welfare of people above laws. It’s always right to start thinking about the kind of world we are creating and leaving behind from the vantage point of the children that will receive it. It’s always right to care for the well-being of people that are left half-dead by life, even when their own decisions led them down the dangerous road that led them there. It’s always right to live our lives oriented toward a vision of a world Jesus lived for and invites us to partake in.

Oratio: Today I pray for the grace to live more fully into the threatening yet beautiful royal laws and vision of a world Jesus Christ lived and invites us to live with him, in him, and for him.

Do It Yourself ???

Lectio: When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. 3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. Matthew 27:1-5 (NRSV)

Contemplation: “See to it yourself.”

Meditation: Judas Iscariot desperately sought absolution and forgiveness from his guilt and remorse brought about by the horrifying and irreversible consequences of his premeditated and wrongful betrayal of Jesus, an innocent man. He goes to the only place he can acquire absolution and forgiveness, the Temple. There, he pleads for absolution from the spiritual and judicial merchants of pardon – the chief priests and judges of the city. He is turned away by them and told, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 

No sacrificial act for pardon from guilt and remorse is prescribed by a priest for him to fulfill. No judgment of acquittal from the elders of the city is issued to him. He is given no human means of mercy or grace that could remove his guilt and remorse and give him the forgiveness and peace his anguishing and grieving soul sought. No amount of silver in the world could release him from his guilt and remorse. He is shunned and left in his miserable state of self-condemnation, left to himself to find his own freedom from guilt, from sin, and his overwhelming remorse. The guilt and remorse is too much for Judas to bear. His mind and soul are tenebrous, abandoned of hope. He can’t find it within himself to forgive himself or to go on with life.  

I’m spiritually burdened by today’s Lectio Divina.

  • I’m burdened for all the people inwardly burdened by hidden emotional and spiritual pain.
  • I’m burdened for all the people living with wrenching, unresolved guilt, endlessly carrying profound emotional pain because they have either not done something they should have done or they failed to do something they should have.
  • I’m burdened for all the people living with ceaseless and tormenting sorrowful remorse for the harm they have caused to someone and to others.
  • I’m burdened for all the people that believe God has given up on them.
  • I’m burdened and pray today for God’s grace to shine upon all the people who believe their lives are not worth living.
  • I’m burdened for all the people, that will not or cannot turn to God for forgiveness, and who believe they “can see to it themselves” to find the peace for which they desperately search for but cannot find apart from God’s mercy and forgiveness. 

Prayer: I pray for the grace to be a humble conduit for God’s powerful and transformative means of grace offered to a burdened world in desparate need of God’s forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, and freedom from condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Ash Wednesday – Beware!

Notes: Lenten devotional for the Great Plains Cabinet and Conference Staff

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Theater Style Masks

We begin our Lenten season with an admonition from Jesus, “BEWARE!”

The word BEWARE alerts us to be “wary, cautious, or careful of something.”

BEWARE sign we have all seen at some time or another is, “Beware of Dog.” I’ve seen a sign that says, “Forget the Dog. Beware of Owner!” 

We have also seen many “CAUTION” signs alerting us to Slippery Floors, X-Ray Radiation, Hot Surfaces or Liquids, Restricted Areas, Low Overhead Clearances, Hazardous Materials, Student Drivers, Children at Play, Venomous Snakes in the Area, No Trespassing, Work Areas, and in our part of the world, Icy Roads. 

Today’s gospel reading in Matthew starts out with the admonishment to BEWARE, not of animals, or people, or conditions, but to BEWARE of our own inward motivations for the practice of our piety.  

Jesus points out in today’s reading that we can practice our piety hypocritically or authentically. He borrows a term “hypocrite” from Greek theater to make his warning to beware of ourselves.  

I have taken two groups from the Great Plains Conference to the Holy Land in the past two years. One site we visited was the city of Sepphoris. I never heard of the city of Sepphoris until my trips to Israel, but the city is very important to the life of Jesus. Some biblical scholars believe Sepphoris to be the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

Sepphoris was one of the Galilean centers in the region of Galilee. The city is perched like a bird on a 400-foot hill that overlooks a valley, hence, the city’s perched location explains its Hebrew name, Zippori (bird). 

Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, selected Sepphoris as the provincial capital for his government in Galilee and had it rebuilt after the original city was burned.  

Our tour guide said that Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth was a poor community with little to no sustainable work opportunities. Because of the scarcity of work in Nazareth, Joseph and Jesus would travel four miles from Nazareth to Sepphoris to work as stone masons and builders for Herod Antipas’ city rebuilding project. 

A notable structure in Sepphoris still stands. It is a Roman theatre that held over 4,000 people.

As a boy and young man growing up working and visiting Sepphoris, Jesus no doubt was able to see some theatre while in town. Theater actors wore masks. Their masks allowed them to take on pseudo-identities, or fake identities. Behind a mask, actors could take on the persona of characters very different from their true selves. 

The Greek word for outwardly contradicting one’s true self is hypokritai, from which the English the word “hypocrite” is derived. The actor’s masked performances were meant to win the acclaim, admiration, and favor of their audiences. 

Jesus teaches that authentic spirituality is not meant to win the acclaim, admiration, or favor of the people by pretending to be pious. True piety acts in secret because it is addressed to God and participates in God’s saving action in the world which is always visible and public. 

Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting were the three most common practices of piety within Judaism. Jesus does not create and suggest these as new practices, instead he redirects them to their true meaning and frees them from hypocritical motives, leading the practices back to their intentions as authentic expressions of love, commitment, and worship to God. Jesus says, “when,” not “if” you give, pray, and fast.” The expectation is that his audience gave alms, prayed, and fasted as a deeply ingrained part of their normal life. 

Giving alms refers to a long tradition and practice of giving money to help the poor. 

Prayer was a common practice at all levels of Hebrew society.

And fasting is presented in the Old Testament as a spiritual practice of penance and seeking God. There are many people in the bible that practiced fasting, including Jesus himself. The stories of Nehemiah and Ester combine prayer and fasting to seek God’s favor and deliverance. The prophet Isaiah connects fasting with the practice of justice.

Contemporary history remembers two leaders that also practiced fasting as an act of justice like Mohandas Ghandi[1] and Ceasar Chavez.[2]

The practices of giving, prayer, and fasting are acts of love and total surrender to God. They are secret, hidden, not visible, and enclosed. Jesus instructs his hearers to not seek public reward for their piety, but the reward that comes from God. 

Their secret practices of piety plant seeds of the kingdom in the lives of others that will one day take root and give birth to a peaceable and just world envisioned by God for creation. The secrets acts of giving alms, praying, and fasting imperceptible by the people but activate God’s saving power which becomes visible and public. 

As a public figure, I always have to be mindful of my inward motivations behind my Facebook posts, my blogs, my sermons, and my words. Maybe you struggle with the same issue. 

As Christ followers there are many things we do in secret because we love and are committed to God and God’s vision of a world. 

We give, pray and fast because we seek the God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. A world described by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 58, where workers earn livable wages, where fighting and warring ceases, where the bonds of injustice are loosened, where the yoke of oppression is shattered, where the hungry have bread, where the homeless have homes, where the naked have clothes, and where the afflicted have their needs met.  

This is the vision of God’s coming kingdom that has been initiated by Christ and is on the way toward fulfillment that captures our lives and imagination and that drives and inspires our giving, our prayers, and our fasting. 

In a world, where we are constantly goaded to beware of imminent and external dangers on the other side of our politics, our religion, our borders, our oceans, our theologies, our economics, and our ethnicities and race, Jesus reminds us again this Lent that a good place to start BEWARING is with what is truly going on within our hearts and minds in our relationship with God.  

[1] Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (The Great Soul) resorted to hunger strikes beginning in 1932 as a method of non-violent resistance against the British government’s decision to separate India’s electoral system by caste and in 1948 to persuade Hindus and Muslims living in New Delhi to work toward peace. On January 30, less than two weeks after breaking the fast for peace between Hindu’s and Muslims, Ghandi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist on his way to an evening prayer meeting.

[2] Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union – “La Raza Unida” – non-violently sought worker rights and dignity for all farm workers. Learning from and applying Ghandi’s non-violent resistance methods, Chavez went on a 25-day water only fast in 1968, repeated the fast in 1972 for 24 days, and again in 1988, this time for 36 days to protest the use of agricultural pesticides that endangered farm workers, consumers, and the environment. He broke the fast when Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, and her children, Kerry, 27, Christopher, 25, and Rory, 20, and presented Chavez with a piece of Mexican semita (sesame) bread. 

Servants of God’s Nurture – 6th Sunday of Epiphany

God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7

Scripture: What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.  1 Cor. 3:5-9

Reflection: Reading the lectionary scripture from Corinthians on this 6th Sunday of Epiphany brings me to give thanks today for Floyd Patterson. Floyd and I played football for the Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjacks. We were assigned as roommates for a season whenever we traveled to play an away game. I was not exactly fervent in my faith during the season that Floyd and I roomed together. God knew I needed someone at that time in my life to help light the path that would lead me back into a living faith. Floyd was the person God assigned and sent to me. 

Floyd and I were teammates but not friends off the field. When we roomed together, we never talked about our faith, but we did not have to. Floyd simply read his bible every night in our hotel room during our away trips. He would then kneel by his bed to pray for several minutes. I haven’t seen or heard from Floyd in 40 years. Floyd probably does not even remember me. Nevertheless, Floyd was one of God’s many servants sent to me to nurture and water my parched soul, to remind me of God’s presence, and to light my way back to Christ.

Prayer: Thank you God of saving mercies and patience for all the people you assign and send to help us grow in our faith. Your servants are not always aware of how you are using them to shed your light upon a lost and searching world. Enable them with your Spirit to never give up shining their faith even when it is not appreciated or welcomed.  Amen.

Action: Remember and give thanks today for all the people God assigned and sent to help you grow in faith, hope, and love. Send a note to someone that has been assigned by God to help you grow in faith, hope, and love. 

Not so fast! 4th Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2019

Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife (Mt. 1:20)

Matthew 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Reflection: Joseph is confronted with a pressing and perplexing situation that frightens him and calls for a rapid decision. Mary, his fiancée is pregnant and not by him. He enters into a period of anguishing discernment, relying on his spiritual and social resources to make the best possible decision for himself, Mary and her parents, and his community. Joseph is a righteous man (1:18) and seeks in the end to please and give the most glory to God with his actions. 

As a righteous man, we can assuredly imagine that Joseph slows down to diligently searches Scripture for guidance. He searches the law. He searches his heart. He searches for wise counsel. He speaks with people that will be affected by his decision. He prays. He meditates. He fasts. He searches his motives and values. He considers his future and his options as he seeks to arrive at a decision that most glorifies God. He may have even made a list of the pros and cons of staying with Mary. Mary, meanwhile, anxiously, powerlessly, and prayerfully awaits his decision. 

Joseph, the gospel of Matthew says, concludes that it is ultimately in both his and Mary’s best interest to separate. After all, in Joseph’s way of thinking, Mary would avoid public disgrace through a quiet separation; or would she? It would be impossible for a young unmarried Mary to hide a rapidly enlarging abdomen on the way to full term with child. It would be impossible for Mary to offer satisfactory answers to the spoken and unspoken questions of nosy people, or to avoid harsh and harmful present and future social judgement and consequences. Although separating himself from Mary seems like a noble resolution to Joseph’s dilemma, the truth is that such a decision would be devastating for a single young mother of a fatherless son in a patriarchal society. 

Our decisions, if we are honest, are normally biased in our favor. Seldom are we comfortable or even willing to make decisions that go against or subordinates our own self-interest. When we make decisions, the operative goal is to have things turn out the best possible way for ourselves. 

Joseph’s hasty decision to separate from Mary, while seemingly benefitting to himself, would not bring honor and glory to God. God intervenes and sends an angel to Joseph to redirect Joseph’s decision to separate from Mary. The angel appears to Joseph in a dream and sheds light on what is really happening, stopping and diverting Joseph from his intended course of action. Joseph is first admonished to stop being afraid. He is then directed to take Mary as his wife and raise the child she carries as his own. Joseph wakes up from his sleep and did as the angel commanded him; he took Mary as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. 

As Christ-followers, we seek to bring the most glory to God in all we do. That means that our difficult decisions are deliberately entered into with a dependence on the Holy Spirit for guidance. Our discernment and decision-making are filtered through a deep love for God and for the people being affected by our decision. While we discern, we pray that the Holy Spirit will avert us from a self-centeredness that will side-track us from what God is pointing us to do. In time, the Holy Spirit will lead us to make decisions that please us, sometimes our decisions will not bring us pleasure. Some of our decisions will enrich us, some will not. Some of our decisions will bring us comfort, some will bring us suffering. The personal outcome of our decisions made with the end of glorifying God do not really matter because we do not belong to ourselves, we belong to God and our chief purpose in life is to glorify God with our lives and enjoy God forever.

Are you struggling with a pressing and aguishing decision this Advent season? Pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Pray for a deeper love for God and the people that are affected by your decision. Ask the Holy Spirit to avert you from self-centeredness. Wait for God to point you to what you need to do. Perhaps someone in your life will be like an angel of the Lord to you that comes to you in your darkest hours and sheds new light on your situation – who is that person for you? In time, you’ll know God is leading you when you experience joy, enthusiasm, deeper faith, greater hope and trust, greater love, confidence, and courage even if you decide against your own self-interest. 

A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition (Contemporary Version) 

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.