Sunday, July 26, 2015
Luke 13:15-16 (NRSV): The Humility and Compassion of Jesus
15But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?’
Legalism draws us into a vortex of superstition and anti-grace; it is what dominated the worldview of first-century Judaism. As twenty-first century Christians, we must avoid a legalistic view of serving God and neighbor. When it comes to mercy and love, the rules of a faith tradition stand aside. God matters above all things, and our neighbor matters, too. We must first express love, forgiveness, and compassion toward each other as Jesus does here. The religious establishment’s legalistic approach to religion gets in the way of love. We are not called to the Kingdom of God through legalistic rule adherence. Rather, we are called to Christ through humility, love, self giving, and mercy, all attributes the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes lack but Jesus exemplifies. Can we love with the unlimited love of Christ, or do we find ourselves stuck in a world of doctrinal rules and limitations?
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Luke 9:43-45 (NLT): Faith Hindsight
While everyone was marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies.” But they didn’t know what he meant. Its significance was hidden from them, so they couldn't understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.
Looking back at our experiences can sometimes lead to epiphanous moments. As adults, we remember formative experiences that made little sense at the time, but with grown eyes and a better sense of our world, those early experiences make sense and fit into the picture of who we have become. Maturity gives us a sharper sense of perspective.
This was the same truth Christ’s inner-circle, Peter, James, and John, experienced. When they witnessed the great theophany of the Transfiguration, “they couldn't understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.” Peter, James, and John, three of Jesus’ closest friends, did not understand that he had to suffer, die, and rise in order to redeem us. Peter was too caught up in the spiritual significance of Moses and Elijah to think about and coalesce Jesus's important words, not even to mention the voice of the Father coming from the cloud. The disciples, moreover, did not understand the Transfiguration until after the Resurrection. At that point, the experience made total sense, and they were able to preach about the Kingdom of God and Christ resurrected.
Life provides trials and experiences that momentarily puzzle us. But we must, as Peter, James, and John did, chalk-up the experience to faith, trusting that God is in charge and will reveal all truth in His time.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Colossians 4:2-6 (NLT): Pray and Bear Witness
Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should.
Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
In this section of his letter to the Colossians, Paul encourages the faithful to deepen their knowledge of God. This, moreover, is a message that applies to us twenty-first century Christians as well. Through our relationship with Jesus, we are equipped by the Holy Spirit to witness among everyone we meet, for “God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ.” We should, however, develop our devotion to reading Scripture and studying our faith. This not only gives us the grace necessary to find answers about what and why we believe, but it draws us, as well as those to whom we witness, closer to Christ.
Paul also emphasizes prayer: “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” We must be consistent in offering thanks to God and praying for others. Prayer is conversation with God, and in order to know and love the Trinity more, we must spend time together in conversation. Genuine conversation requires listening and speaking. When we read Scripture, we are listening to God. Through prayer, God listens to us. All relationships require time and commitment; it is no different in our relationship with God.
Finally, our formation in and devotion to Scripture, faith, and prayer, make us more informed ambassadors for Christ, ready to reflect his light to others, sometimes when we don’t even realize we are. Let us, as St. Paul puts it, “make the most of every opportunity. Let [our witness to Christ] be gracious and attractive.”
May you all be blessed and encouraged in the love and peace of Christ.
Sunday, July 5, 2015
Colossians 3:22-25 (MSG): Servants of Christ
Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.
Slavery was a cruel reality rampant in the first century world of Paul, so that he wrote about it merely reflects the truth of his context. But what Paul says about slavery directly applies to our role as servants of Christ.
Slaves, as Paul writes, are to serve their masters as if they are serving Christ: “The ultimate master you're serving is Christ.” The statement that slaves, no matter what their work, are to do it with sincerity or “work from the heart” is the exact attitude that we as servants of Christ must take. In every moment and station of life, our daily tasks should be done in Christ’s service. We should do our work, as Paul demands, to the best of our ability and from the depths of our heart. Why should we be so serious about the mundane tasks of our work and home life? We are not, as it may seem, merely serving our bosses and families; we are serving Christ. Our vocation, no matter if we are a parent, teacher, businessperson, retail worker, or physician, is a vocation of service to God. When we face this reality, every task becomes an opportunity of service, love, and devotion to Christ. Every smile, every word of encouragement, every room cleaned, every meal prepared, every lesson taught, and every assessment graded is a moment of service.
The slavery of Paul’s time was harsh, cruel, and inhuman, and we must frame Paul’s words in that bleak context. Paul, as a result, addresses a demographic of Christian converts that need direction on how to live in the light of Christ while under the yoke of slavery. Although our slavery is not dehumanizing or oppressive, it is a servant/master relationship, one that Paul wants everyone who hears the letter to envision.
My vocation as a husband, father, and teacher is one done in the service and love of Jesus Christ. I am his slave, and he is my master. Although I repeatedly fail, I try to live as if each moment and task are opportunities to love to God more. Jesus is my boss, administrator, supervisor, the master I serve.
Paul’s statement to slaves, therefore, is one that applies to our servant role of love to Jesus Christ in all we do. After all, Jesus himself took on the role of servant in order to exemplify the kind of divine love we should imitate:
For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. John 13:15-16 (RSV)