Sunday, February 26, 2017
Matthew 6: 24, 33 (TEV): Resting in God
24 [Jesus said], “You cannot be a slave of two masters; you will hate one and love the other; you will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
33 “Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.”
The only surviving son of a get-rich-quick-focused father, Milton Hershey was brought up from difficult financial circumstances. With a limited education (Hershey attended seven different schools and never progressed past the fourth grade), and after a failed attempt at becoming a printer, Milton took a job in a small candy shop where he humbly worked as an apprentice and discovered his true vocation. As years passed, Milton built a candy-making empire and even had a town named after him, Hershey, Pennsylvania. Milton met, fell in love with, and married Catherine Sweeney, and they lived a loving life together. But Catherine and Milton were sadly unable to conceive. As a result, Catherine suggested they build a school for orphaned boys. The Milton Hershey School opened in 1909 and still operates today. Throughout his life, and after Catherine’s tragic death in 1915, Milton Hershey continued to amass a fortune and generously gave it away: He grew his school for disadvantaged children, donated money to all area churches and charities, and treated his workers with dignity, justice, and love. Milton Hershey had it all, but he never lost focus on what really mattered, building up the kingdom of God.
Jesus, addressing his disciples in the above passage, teaches the importance of serving God and neighbor above all else. Jesus says, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Adopting a money-centered life is an easy and distracting temptation in our world. We are a society of social ladder climbers. Through effort, education, and dedication to our work, we can achieve a better life. The temptation, however, (and it is about this that Jesus warns his disciples) is to focus on our success and forget about loving God and neighbor. As an antidote to the modern-day siren’s song of financial success and social status seeking, Jesus gives us the same message he does to his first-century audience: “. . . [B]e concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Matthew 6:33). When we instead focus on the kingdom of “me,” the kingdom of “want,” and the kingdom of “self service,” we live to serve our own ambitions and appetites and forget the needs and necessities of others. Jesus’ entire ministry was others focused. And if we hope to follow Jesus’ “way, truth, and life” (John 14:6), we are to abandon our self-interest and focus on serving others in the small spaces of our lives.
Milton Hershey was raised a Mennonite and married a Roman Catholic. His chronicler writes:
In 1935, [Milton Hershey] gave each of the five churches in Hershey a gift of $20,000 [estimated at $400,000 in 2017]. [This gift] helped many of the churches to pay off debts they had incurred during the [Great Depression]. Milton Hershey told those who strived to convert him [to a specific denomination] that he simply followed the Golden Rule all of his life. (Coyle)
Hershey was a true Christian at heart. And although he did not adhere to one Christian denomination, he followed Christ’s call. In every dollar he made, he was generous and loving to those in need. His life’s witness encompassed “[concern] above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires” (Matthew 6:33).
We can ask ourselves the following question: How can we take the gifts God has given us and make a better world for those around us? Although the answer varies each day and in each situation, God’s grace is always abundant and steadfast. And it is by God’s grace that we can say “yes” to serving others and making our world a better place.
I pray that our lives become a living song of devotion to God, so that we sing as David sings in Psalm 62: “My soul be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope” (6).
Have a blessed week!
Coyle, Millie Landis. "Hershey Derry Township Historical Society." Milton Snavely
Hershey. Hershey-Derry Township Historical Society, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Matthew 5:38-39, 43-44 (NRSV): The Humanly Impossible
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
One evening, two young men were at a party when, in the midst of an argument, one of the young men shot the other four times, killing him. The murder victim, Laramiun Byrd, was the only son of a single mother. That mother, later on, did something miraculous. People magazine reports her story as follows:
On Feb. 12, 1993, Oshea Israel, then 16, shot Mary Johnson’s only son, Laramiun Byrd, 20, four times at a party in Minneapolis. While Israel was serving a 25-year sentence for the murder, Johnson, 59, contacted her son’s killer after 10 years in hopes that she could move past her anger and forgive him. In time, she embraced [Oshea Israel] as her son. (Birkenhouse, Benet)
The last line is not a misprint: Mary Johnson, the mother of the deceased, embraced her son’s murderer as her own son. Their story illustrates Jesus’ command to not only love our neighbor but to love and pray for our enemy (Matthew 5:44). Mary’s desire to heal rather than be consumed by hate exemplifies Jesus’ teaching to eschew revenge and embrace forgiveness, even forgiving the most wretched evildoer (Matthew 5:39).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers two teachings about forsaking revenge and offering love to all people. Jesus, remember, said that he came to fulfill the Law of Moses, not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). And being the original author of that Law, Jesus not only fulfills it, but he “ups the ante,” so to speak. There is no more exacting revenge or loving only those who love back. Not only does Jesus teach this in his words, but he lives this out through his example of self-giving love on Calvary. Jesus -- stripped naked (the loin cloth around Jesus is not historically accurate), scourged, spat upon, crowned with thorns, nailed to the cross, forced to look at his grieving mother’s anguish, abandoned by his close friends, jeered at and mocked by onlookers -- offers a prayer of petition for his enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The Lord himself offers his sacred flesh for the sins of the world and prays for the people who crucify him, for the sinners who do him the most evil. Jesus combats hate with self-giving love, a love that is above anything we could ever imagine. And as I write these words, I am moved to tears, knowing that in the face of my sins Christ, pure and innocent in every way, willingly died the most scandalous, painful death for me.
I want to end this meditation here, in tears and with Jesus loving us from the cross. For the next time I am tempted to hate, gossip, complain, get back at someone, or decry something I find annoying, I want to remember Jesus’ desperate love for everyone and the words he offered his disciples on Holy Thursday: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
I pray that we all do our best to love the person in front of us with the love of Christ, even when that love seems humanly impossible. For Jesus said that with “God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:27).
Have a blessed week!Stan
Sunday, February 12, 2017
1 Corinthians 2:7-8, 12 (NIV): Trust the Holy Spirit
7 [W]e declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it . . . .12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
We all experience the occasional spiritual dry spell, moments when we feel like God is absent. Periods of spiritual aridity can be tough to endure but are necessary trials of our faith. Our struggles are more often the fallout of worldly thinking, leaning too much on our pride and society’s empty promises. During one of my own spiritual struggles, someone reminded me to “trust the Holy Spirit.” His simple words forced me to “snap out of it,” to see the Spirit of Christ at work in and around me, and to be strengthened against the malaise of the world.
Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, expresses the same idea. He reminds them that the Gospel message is of “God’s wisdom” (7), not the popular wisdom espoused by “the rulers of this age” (8). In first-century Corinth, many egocentric Greeks could not see beyond the mirage of worldly wisdom. And Paul clearly knew this. In the letter, Paul reminds his readers, for instance, that “[w]hat we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us” (12).
In “Two Ways of Seeing a River,” Mark Twain speaks of a similar spiritual duality:
Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!
The world robbed Twain of a majestic vision and instead replaced it with an empty, utilitarian one. In his “master[ing] the language of this water,” he lost touch with its mystery, beauty, and grace. Like many of the Corinthians, Twain became snared by the spirit of the world. Paul reminds us to avoid this trap and to trust the Holy Spirit.
There are two ways to navigate our struggles -- the way of the world and the way of the God. When we choose to trust the Holy Spirit, we find Christ’s peace. And I pray that we all find, follow, and trust in the way of God, especially in our moments of trial.
Let us pray:
Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling
of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened
for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now
and for ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer 1979)
Have a blessed week!Stan
Sunday, February 5, 2017
Isaiah 58:9b-10 (NRSV): Getting Christianity Right
9b 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.
Getting Christianity wrong can be catastrophic. It is too easy to be a tyrannical judge, finger-pointer, condemning inquisitor, or modern-day Pharisee. Unfortunately, this is the negative type of “Christian” behavior on display throughout some popular Christian internet sites. Fr. Thomas Rosica, in his acceptance speech for the 2016 Distinguished Communicator Award, says:
Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that [Christians of all denominations] have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!
Some time ago, for instance, I posted a positive comment on another person’s vetted YouTube video. My comment, moreover, both agreed with the content of the video and advocated for a loving acceptance of all those who seek Christ in the church. The onslaught of internet “flaming” from staunch “Christians,” however, condemned my comment with pseudo-name calling and a denunciation of my view. The commenters advocated for a more “pure” church rather than an inclusive one. This is one of the many examples I have seen reflected in Christian internet groups. The online world can be brutal and, as Fr. Rosica states above, “a cesspool of hatred.”
But what about getting Christianity right? The good in the world, if we look for it, certainly outshines the bad. People all over the world bring positive witness to their faith wherever we turn. On Monday, for instance, I saw a student hand her friend money to buy lunch and say, “Don’t worry about it, just help someone else out when they need it.” Wednesday brought the example of a utility worker who was repairing a cable line in my house. He was not satisfied with the simple fix. Instead, his kindness and tenacious troubleshooting led him, through a much longer time than he expected to spend, to uncover a bigger problem that was the root of many issues we had. When I thanked him, he responded, “I’m glad I could help.” Although I cannot confirm that the student or utility worker were Christians, their sense of charity and goodwill were certainly not self created. And their goodness shines brightly in our world.
Relatedly, the above passage from Isaiah 58 reflects a time when God brought the Israelites back from the Babylonian exile. The Israelites expected a perfect world but instead found despair and struggle. And God, through the prophet, communicates how the Israelites must rectify the problem: Remove the yoke from the oppressed, stop pointing the finger at and condemning others, give to the needy, house the homeless, and feed the hungry (58:9-10). A false fast, God communicates, is worthless (58:4-5). When the Israelites offer lawful sacrifices accompanied by hate and oppressing their neighbor, these sacrifices are worthless and self condemning. God is love, and he desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6), offerings of love and self giving to others. After all, God gave us the ultimate offer of love through his son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As we go out to serve others this week, let us shine the light of Christ upon the world with acts love and self giving (Matthew 5:16). By allowing the love of Jesus to live in and resonate through us, we can do Christianity right. We can give genuine love to others by doing our best to build up and not point the finger, to compliment and not condemn, to offer and not deny, and to welcome and not shut out.
I pray that each of us invite Jesus Christ into our hearts. And that through his light we become a beacon of hope for others. Amen.