Daily Office, Mark, Musings, Prayer

“Render unto Caesar…” is Not About Your Taxes: Daily Office Reflection

February 16, 2017

Epiphany VI (Psalm 105:1-22; Isaiah 65:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1-16; Mark 12:13-27)

Mark 12:13-17

13Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ 16And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ 17Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.

 

This is a passage that is often used to talk about taxes and civic duty. The argument generally goes something like this: “Be sure to give the government it’s fair share and give God his fair share.” It argues for and reinforces a view of the world in which their are two spheres: the civil and the religious, the church and the state, or the city of man and the city of God.

There may be some value to viewing the world in this way, and indeed, many have and do. But I contend that this is not what Jesus is arguing for in this passage.  This is another classic example of Jesus being asked a binary question (do we pay taxes or not) and providing a paradigm shifting answer.

This was no simple question. To answer ‘yes’ would be to grant legitimacy to the oppressive and occupying government of Rome. To answer ‘no’ would be to effectively be seen as a religious zealot and a blatant act of treason.

Jesus chooses a third way. He asks the questioners for a coin, a denarius. This is a significant act. The imperial denarius of Tiberius includes not only the likeness of the Emperor but also an inscription which read “Tiberius, Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” The image on one side of the coin represented Tiberius sitting on his throne as one who ruled over the known world. The inscription reads “PONTIF(ex) MAXIM(us) or “High Priest.” Tiberius Caesar claims to rule the whole world–both politically and religiously.

No good, faithful Jew would be caught dead carrying this coin. It was idolatrous! They actually minted other coins to use for day to day expenses so they wouldn’t break any commandments. On top of that, it was unlikely that the average Jew would have that much on them. Most Jewish people were quite poor, living day to day. And Jesus was popular with the poor.

So Jesus asks them for a denarius and, uh-oh, they have one! Mark says that Jesus knew the hypocrisy of the accusers. This is not really in reference to their disposition in asking the question. It was in reference to the question itself. The emphasis could read, “why are you trying to trap ME?” You are the one with the coin! And inside the temple courts! With all of these poor/oppressed people around you! Why are you asking ME if I buy into this system or not. You are the religious and political leaders and YOU obviously do!

The denarius bore the “image” of Caesar. In the world of currency, this was a statement as to whose authority gave the coin value and to whom it ultimately belonged. Jesus uses the word “image” to allude to something else that bears the image of its maker: you and me. Genesis 1:26-27 says that we are made in and bear the image of God.

So Jesus looks at this coin with the image of Caesar’s and says, “That’s cute. It has his face on it so give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; i.e. the coin. But there is a greater at work here. Are you giving to God what has God’s image? I can imagine Jesus lifting up his hands to all the people gathered there in the Temple courts and gesturing to all that was around him as he spoke: these people are God’s. (put perhaps you are giving them to Caesar instead for political power…after all, he had just maligned them for abdicating the responsibility of caring for God’s vineyard)

So Jesus makes the question not about a division of loyalties, but of a primacy of loyalties. The Jews had a saying during this time, “No King but the LORD.” To which we would give a hearty “amen” because it is true and sounds true and feels good to say. Because it is easy for us to look back two millennium and point our fingers at these religious/political leaders and judge them for their shortsightedness.

Jesus exposed the fact that the men who asked the very question about participating in the system were, in fact, participating within it themselves (and benefitting!) This is not about taxes, it is about loyalty and about thoughtful participation in the world around us. It is about recognizing our own role in the “system” before asking others about their own. And it is about the responsibility that we have as followers of Jesus to proclaim and embody the deeply political and cultural statement that “Jesus is Lord (and Caesar is not).”

This does beg the question: “When laws or acts of the modern day Caesars effectively disregard the image of God in others, what then is the responsibility of those who bear God’s image in the world?”

Collect of the Day: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Daily Office, Musings, Neighborhood, Prayer, restored, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “The restorer of streets to live in”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day. (It looks like the site was down earlier this morning, but should be up now)

February 6, 2017

Epiphany V (Psalm 80; Isaiah 58:1-12; Galatians 6:11-18; Mark 9:30-41 )

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Wow. It was hard to decide which passage to reflect upon today. And this one from Isaiah is so rich.

I had the chance to participate in a prayer vigil/information session yesterday afternoon at a church in our neighborhood. It was organized in response to some recent events of violence against our Latino brothers and sisters and the growing distrust and fear from many within immigrant communities of law enforcement. It was a beautiful and educational time for all of us as we heard from police, city agencies, and organizations who all seemed to be saying one thing: your livelihood is important to all of us–here are the tools and resources for you to navigate life here and thrive. We are fighting for you. We see you and we want you to flourish in our city. You matter.

As we walked from the church to the place where the most recent violence took place for a candlelight prayer vigil, I began to speak with one of the other clergy. We discussed the overall state of the church in their particular denomination in our area, and the word “burdened” kept coming up. But the churches were not burdened as much by the realities of their neighborhoods as they were with buildings and budgets and inactive/apathetic members. And, I would add, also burdened by political debate and theological hair-splitting and arguments. (this is true for too many churches/denominations, so I level no judgment at all against this particular tribe)

We both discussed how we are grateful for those churches and leaders who are finding themselves burdened by the plights of their neighbors, of the prevalence of injustice and its consequences, and the daily bread of every one of us. We had mutual friends who are in the trenches, doing the work of ministry in, of, and for the neighborhood.

In reading today’s texts, I am wondering what modern-day “fasting” looks like (the fasting Isaiah condemns). When Isaiah spoke against the fasting which does not please God, I wonder if today he would bemoan our aging church buildings which sit empty most of the week but have pristine sanctuaries. I wonder if he would speak up at the budget meetings or church council and ask where the money is going to feed the hungry and to work against injustice, as they vote to start yet another capital campaign. I wonder…

What if we believed that, when we care for those whom God cares, that God will rebuild and restore all of us? Is there a freedom awaiting us as we move from “institutional survival mode” into risky and radial hospitality? Is there provision for us as we shift from finger-pointing and fist clenched in anger to open hands offered in service? What could this look like?

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Finally, I think the Collect prayer for this week is apt for today:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

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Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “A house of prayer for all peoples”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

February 3, 2017

Epiphany IV (Psalm 69:1-23(24-30)31-38; Isaiah 56:1-8; Galatians 5:16-24; Mark 9:2-13 )

Isaiah 56:1-8

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
The Lord will surely separate me from his people;
and do not let the eunuch say,
I am just a dry tree.
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

First, I’m sorry for the gap in posts this week. I got a pretty serious cold that knocked me out for a few days. So…to the both of you who read this (one of whom is my mom!), my apologies! 🙂

This has more recently become a favorite passage of mine, as I continue to see how much Isaiah had a huge influence on Jesus’ conception of his own ministry (and how some NT writers picked up on other themes in Isaiah). It is clear that Jesus has a heart for the outcast. And even though he spends much of his ministry amongst the Jewish people, he has a strong disposition toward those who are excluded.

I’ve often heard this passage as a reference to a world mission impulse and perspective. Jesus quotes part of this passage as he overturns the money changing tables in the court of the Gentiles. The idea is that such activity was keeping the nations (ta ethne-Gentiles) from worshiping in the Temple. God’s intent is that all people groups from all over the world should worship him. And this is true.

However, Isaiah mentions two groups of people specifically: eunuchs and foreigners. These are the people who Yahweh wants to be in “in my house” and “in my walls” and on “my mountain.” The salvation of the Jewish people, the ingathering of the exiles, is directly tied to the inclusion of the “others”, both within their tribe and from other tribes. The presence of the eunuchs and the foreigners during the worshiping activity of the Temple is meant to be a sign that points to the future reality of the kingdom.

And the call for the people of God is to maintain justice and do what is right, which seems to at least mean inclusion of these groups of people. Those who are most disadvantaged and outcast and those who don’t belong. And we would agree with this…in principle. But what about in practice?

You see, the thing about the money changers is that they were actually providing a service. Or at least they thought they were. But the service had become oppressive and encroached upon the place created for the “others”. Commerce and transaction had replaced welcome.

Are there places where we have pushed out the other? Are there institutions (religious or otherwise) which may actually alienate and exclude in the name of proper order? Have we replaced doing what is right with doing what seems proper or efficient?

And then there’s this whole emphasis on the sabbath…but we will have to save that for another time.

 

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Daily Office, Musings, Neighborhood, Prayer, psalms, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 30th, 2017

Epiphany IV (Ps. 56, 57; Isa 51:17-23; Gal 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37 )

Psalm 56

1Have mercy on me, O God,
for my enemies are hounding me; *
all day long they assault and oppress me.

2They hound me all the day long; *
truly there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

3Whenever I am afraid, *
I will put my trust in you.

4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can flesh do to me?

5All day long they damage my cause; *
their only thought is to do me evil.

6They band together; they lie in wait; *
they spy upon my footsteps;
because they seek my life.

7Shall they escape despite their wickedness? *
O God, in your anger, cast down the peoples.

8You have noted my lamentation;
put my tears into your bottle; *
are they not recorded in your book?

9Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight; *
this I know, for God is on my side.

10In God the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can mortals do to me?

11I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God; *
I will present to you thank-offerings;

12For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet
from stumbling, *
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

 

Fear is such a powerful emotion and force. I think this is why God has to tell people to not be afraid so often (well over 100 times, by many accounts).

But sometimes I have an issue with the command, “Do not be afraid.” It reminds me of the Bob Newhart sketch where he is a psychiatrist. As he listens to someone pour out one of their deepest fears, his solution is simple: STOP IT! Stop being afraid of that! Just stop!

Is that what God is inviting us to do? Just to stop being afraid? I don’t think so. And, if that’s what you are doing, I would ask…how is that working out for you?

Fear is not something we simply stop. It is not something we dismiss or ignore. It is something we admit and explore. Why are we so afraid? What are we so afraid of?

For the psalmist, I would say there are some legitimate fears. Enemies attacking. People conspiring against him. Oppression and bullying. These are very real things of which to be afraid. For me, this brings my mind and prayers to the many refugees who have been leaving their homes in search of safety, and are being denied access to safety.

But, I’d argue that others of us may have different fears. We do not have literal enemies who are hunting us down. But we do live afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of loss. Afraid of being found out. And many, right now, are afraid of people coming into the United States to commit acts of terrorism. Many of my neighbors live in constant fear of being separated from their families because of their undocumented status. Many of my neighbors live in fear of people of a certain skin color or economic status. Others of my neighbors fear they are “losing the neighborhood” to those who are different from them. Fear is alive and well in my neighborhood.

And as the great Yoda once said: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Read this in your best Yoda voice, I hope you did. Mhmmm….)

As I said, fear is a powerful emotion and force. But the answer is not just to stop being afraid. No, the good news is that we can, instead, trust God. Whenever we are afraid, we have the opportunity to trust in God. And this is not some simple spiritual answer. Trusting in God gives us an imagination for ways in which we no longer have to live in fear. We can trust that God is at work. We can trust that, when we afraid no one cares about our pain, God holds our tears in a bottle.

So, if we are free to trust God in place of our fear (and even in the midst of it), what could our life look like today? What is the “fear story” you are living from today? What does God want you to know about him or who you are, in the midst of this fear? How could we respond to the good news that God is speaking to our fear?

For me, God is saying: “Derek, I see you and I see the suffering of the people in the world I have made. I see and I hear and I grieve. You are free to join me in my grief; a grief that grieves in hope and does not leader to anger or hate. You are free to weep and act from a place of love, not hate or bitterness.” So today, I will simply notice where I sense anger/hate/bitterness in my own heart or words.

Today, own your fear, and ask…what could it look like to trust in my fears?

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Daily Office, Discipleship, Musings, Prayer, psalms, Relationships, Scripture

Psalm 37: One of My Favorite (and Most Challenging) Psalms-Part 2

I wanted to share one more reflection on Psalm 37. When reading it as a part of the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 37 is split into two parts. I want to focus on the second part today. You can read part one here.

Here is the full text below:

9 The LORD cares for the lives of the godly, *

and their inheritance shall last for ever.

20 They shall not be ashamed in bad times, *

and in days of famine they shall have enough.

21 As for the wicked, they shall perish, *

and the enemies of the LORD, like the glory of the meadows, shall vanish;

they shall vanish like smoke.

22 The wicked borrow and do not repay, *

but the righteous are generous in giving.

23 Those who are blessed by God shall possess the land, *

but those who are cursed by him shall be destroyed.

24 Our steps are directed by the LORD; *

he strengthens those in whose way he delights.

25 If they stumble, they shall not fall headlong, *

for the LORD holds them by the hand.

26 I have been young and now I am old, *

but never have I seen the righteous forsaken,

or their children begging bread.

27 The righteous are always generous in their lending, *

and their children shall be a blessing.

28 Turn from evil, and do good, *

and dwell in the land for ever.

29 For the LORD loves justice; *

he does not forsake his faithful ones.

30 They shall be kept safe for ever, *

but the offspring of the wicked shall be destroyed.

31 The righteous shall possess the land *

and dwell in it for ever.

32 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, *

and their tongue speaks what is right.

33 The law of their God is in their heart, *

and their footsteps shall not falter.

34 The wicked spy on the righteous *

and seek occasion to kill them.

35 The LORD will not abandon them to their hand, *

nor let them be found guilty when brought to trial.

36 Wait upon the LORD and keep his way; *

he will raise you up to possess the land,

and when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

37 I have seen the wicked in their arrogance, *

flourishing like a tree in full leaf.

38 I went by, and behold, they were not there; *

I searched for them, but they could not be found.

39 Mark those who are honest;

observe the upright; *

for there is a future for the peaceable.

40 Transgressors shall be destroyed, one and all; *

the future of the wicked is cut off.

41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD; *

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them; *

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.

 

The main trust of this psalm is this: God cares for those whom God loves, so God will care for them, protect them, provide for them, and deliver them. One of the large ways God does this is by being just and dealing accordingly with the wicked. The righteous, then, can live in such a way that shows they truly believe this to be true about God, by way of generosity, living peaceably, dwelling wherever they are, and entrusting themselves to the  strength and power of God.

I wonder, though, how many of our decisions in life are motivated by a deep, unspoken belief that God is not working for our good, that God doesn’t really care for us, God won’t provide for us, and that God has left things up to us to take from here.

Yes, I realize this is a blunt statement and certainly doesn’t jive with our stated professions of faith. I can already hear the cries of “Deism!” and “Heresy!”, with which I certainly agree. Be that as it may, I think this psalm speaks to our struggle to truly believe (at a core level) what we confess or profess to believe (at a surface level). And we can see this in our fears and actions. We are not really believing what we confess to believe.

When there is injustice around us (and it certainly abounds!) I know my first impulse is to get angry and wonder,”What are we going to do about this?” This is not a bad question at all. But, if it is not tempered with, “What is God doing about it and what will God do about it?” then we may need to step back and ask ourselves, “How can I actively trust God’s presence and work in the world to right this injustice?” Notice, this is very different from “letting go and letting God” (I have a whole rant on that phrase I will spare you from, for now!). Nor is this just pure activism. It is active and faithful presence, rooted in the beautiful reality of God’s greater care for justice than my own.

Quite simply put, God cares more about justice than we ever could, and God can bring about justice in ways we never can. So, this can free us to live generously, compassionately, peacefully, and faithfully; knowing we are participating with God in this powerful and restorative work in the world. God will help. God will rescue. God will deliver. And God invites us to join in this work! What a privilege!

 

My question today is: When I see the wicked prospering and evil abounding, even amongst those who claim to follow Jesus, how can I engage from a place of deep trust in God’s work and desires, not simply from my own anger or fear?

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Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Sunday

Daily Office Reflection: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 27th, 2017

Epiphany III (Ps. 40, 54; Isa 50:1-11; Gal 3:15- 22; Mark 6:47- 56 )

Mark 6:47- 56

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

 

In the midst of adversity, we often assume the worst about any new development in our situation. I call it the “Oh, come ON!” reflex and have found this to be true in my own life. When things are not going well, that is the same day that I lose my keys, stub my toe, miss the bus, and imagine many more things going from bad to worse. Think “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”In fact, it’s all I can usually think about.

What is so telling about this story is that it follows Jesus’ miraculous provision in the loaves and fish. This story was so amazing and did not match with anyone’s expectations. I mean, how could it? So then, the disciples get caught up in a storm. This is bad, but it was fairly common. This was worse than normal. But then they see Jesus walking on the sea. But they don’t see Jesus, they think it’s a ghost. Oh, come ON! First we were going to die and now we are haunted? REALLY?!?

Jesus speaks, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

This speaks to imagination and to our hearts. When we see a terrible situation going from bad to worse, could it be that Jesus is present right in the middle of it? Instead of letting our imaginations run wild with all the possible bad things that could happen (a ghost is pretty imaginative!) could we imagine instead how Jesus might be strolling right in the middle of it all?

As many have said, we are either in a storm, coming out of one, or about to enter one. Where are you? And, more to the point, where is Jesus? Where do you need to hear him speak the beautiful and good news of his presence? And how can you even imagine his presence in the midst of whatever it is you are facing? Jesus is not just with you, he is powerfully at work as well, to help you move from fear to encouragement.

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Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Sunday

Psalm 37: One of My Favorite (and Most Challenging) Psalms-Part 1

I’m not sure if choosing favorite parts of the Bible is like choosing which child you like more, in that it is sort of taboo. As I don’t yet have children, parents will have to fill me in on this as it relates to their kids, but I do know I certainly have favorite passages in the Scriptures.

Psalm 37 continues to be at the top of the list, and it continues to speak afresh to me in different seasons of life. I thought I’d share a few reflections and see if they resonate with you as well.
Here is how it begins:

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.

In light of our new President’s first few days and actions in office, this is incredibly timely for me. I will not mince words: there are several of his actions or words that are not simply controversial or divisive, they are wrong. Torture is wrong and evil, regardless of its “effectiveness”. Denying help to the refugee is wrong, especially upon the basis of religious affiliation. Ignoring environmental concerns for the sake of “expediting development” is wrong. And this is just in the last few days.

For me, it becomes incredibly disturbing and frustrating. And I have been fretting…a lot. The psalm will speak more to those who do evil, but it offers an important positive alternative, and no–it is not, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness*.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.

Instead of fretting, we are offered the alternatives of trust, dwell, cultivate, delight, and commit.

This verse has been printed out and framed in our house, becoming a sort of mission statement for Kara and I. We see it each time we walk out our front door.

Trust God. Dwell in the neighborhood. Cultivate faithfulness. Delight in God. Commit our lives to God.

When I fret, I am reminded that my calling has not changed. I am still invited to actively trust God by continuing to root myself in the place I live, to be faithful in loving my neighbors, and to take delight in all that God is. This, of course, is not simply a way of ignoring the reality of wrong-doing (there was just a violent incident in our neighborhood last night). This is also not being silent when speaking out becomes necessary. But worrying can keep me from being active from a posture of trust. Worrying fuels my work in a stressing and dangerous way. Fretting can make me very cynical and angry and bitter. Instead, I feel that God is inviting us to use our imagination more positively.

My question today is: How is God inviting me to cultivate faithfulness and to be fully present in the world around me, while also actively trusting him along the way?

*Note: I chose this translation because of this phrasing, though some translations say something more like “feed on faithfulness” or “befriend faithfulness” or even “find safe pasture”; all of which bring up interesting concepts.

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Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Sunday

Daily Office Reflection: The Conversion of St. Paul

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 25th, 2017

Epiphany III-Commemoration of the Conversion of St. Paul

(Ps. 19; Isa 45:18-25; Phil 3:4-11-2:10)
The readings are a bit different today as we focus on the dramatic conversion of Saul of Tarsus to become Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Philippians 3:4-11

even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul has a certain intensity, doesn’t he? I mean, I find myself reading this passage and thinking, “Woah, Paul…I mean…it’s ALL ‘rubbish’?” He was super credentialed. He not only knew the Law, he was zealous for it. Paul was passionate.

I am helping to lead a training with HopeSprings about how we can do “wholistic” (i.e. concerned about the wholeness of people) ministry, and we talked about passion the other night. We tend to equate passion with zeal and drive, and this is certainly true. However, the original use of the word passion was in reference to suffering (think, the Passion of the Christ).

In Acts 9:16, when the Lord is speaking to Ananias, he says of Saul (about to be Paul) that he will show him how much Paul “must suffer for my name.” Paul’s passion (zeal) was transformed into a suffering for the sake of Christ and others.

When we choose to follow Jesus today, we embrace passion, our passion (suffering) of holding loosely to things which often define us (education, social status, bank account, denominational affiliation, family heritage, etc.) even, by comparision, considering them “rubbish” (a G-rated translation, to be sure) to the value of being in relationship with Christ. When we want to be what JEsus is about, the other things just don’t matter like they once did.

What is God inviting you to reconsider in your own life? In what ways does your own identity inhere within the things many would value? What is God saying to you about who you are, right now?

Imagine what our own callings could look like were we to value connection and relationship to Jesus more than these things.

 

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Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Sunday

Daily Office Reflection: Galatians 1:18-2:10

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 24th, 2017

Epiphany III

(Ps. 45; Isaiah 48:12-21; Galatians 1:18-2:10;  Mark 6:1-13)

Galatians 1:18-2:10

Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me. Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us- we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) -those leaders contributed nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

So, this account of Paul’s calling and ministry and how he worked through being received into the community of Jesus, especially considering his past. This seems like a key moment in the movement of Jesus, as they acknowledge that the same God who entrusted a calling and mission to Peter to one group of people (Jews and God-fearing, law-keeping Gentiles) was the same God who was sending Paul to the Gentiles (aka: everyone else!).

Different callings are key to seeing God’s one, great mission unfold.

But notice the one commonality: remember the poor.

 

As my grandfather (a Southern Baptist preacher)  likes to put it, “We all have our rows to work in the vineyard.” Yes, and amen. But let’s remember the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan. Perhaps we need to confess that much of our time is spent forgetting, not remembering the poor. What would it look like for us to be eager to remember the poor? Let’s not get so caught up in our callings today that we forget the poor, the one thing all of our ministries should have in common. 

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 23:22)

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Daily Office, John, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Sunday

Daily Office Reflection: Psalm 41 & 52

Today continues this practice of praying and reflecting on the Daily Office readings.

January 23rd, 2017
Epiphany III

(Ps. 41, 52; Isaiah 48:1-11; Galatians 1:1-17;  Mark 5:21-23)

Psalm 41 &52

Psalm 41
Happy are those who consider the poor;
the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.
The Lord protects them and keeps them alive;
they are called happy in the land.
You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;
in their illness you heal all their infirmities.

As for me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to me;
heal me, for I have sinned against you.’
My enemies wonder in malice
when I will die, and my name perish.
And when they come to see me, they utter empty words,
while their hearts gather mischief;
when they go out, they tell it abroad.
All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me.

They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me,
that I will not rise again from where I lie.
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
But you, O Lord, be gracious to me,
and raise me up, that I may repay them.

By this I know that you are pleased with me;
because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence for ever.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.Amen and Amen.

Psalm 52

Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking the truth.
Selah
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down for ever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
Selah
The righteous will see, and fear,
and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
‘See the one who would not take
refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
and sought refuge in wealth!’

But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
for ever and ever.
I will thank you for ever,
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

The parallels to currents events are too large to ignore. Before offering a few thoughts, I believe that these two Psalms speak to something of fundamental importance: the formational power of consistent liturgical prayer. What do you think the impact could be upon the Church (and the world!), were she to mindfully pray the words we read above:
“Happy are those who consider the poor;
the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.”
and
“Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking the truth.”

In a world which values the rich, the powerful, the boastful, and the extravagant, these words speak prophetically to the Church and to the world. In a time where we have phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts”, how can we continue to turn to those who do not have the power of political voice, news spin, or material wealth and consider their health and well-being, even more than our own?

Could it be that we have come to believe a different gospel, particularly in North America/United States? Does this relate at all to St. Paul’s words in Galatians about gospel? What would the truly “good news” be based on these readings?

Speak, Lord…your servants are listening…

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