Sunday, August 27, 2017
Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV): The Light we Shine
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
We are all equals in Christ. I am drawn to books that depict inspirational lives who bear glaring witness to Jesus, people who sacrifice everything for the sake of their faith. St. Teresa of Calcutta, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Francis of Assisi, Corrie ten Boom, David Wilkerson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and St. Thérèse of Lisieux are a few of Christ’s witnesses who offered their lives for the love of the Gospel. And their stories are inspiring to read.
Meditating upon such greatness, however, can sometimes be discouraging. There is no way that my life can compare to such devoted sacrifice and witness. Their brilliant light can make my life look dim. But St. Paul’s words reassure us that, in faith, our lives are equal in the eyes of Jesus. For St. Paul states that “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” Additionally, St. Paul reminds us that “not all the members have the same function.” Our expression of faith and role in Christ’s church varies in degree and purpose. But it is all according to God’s plan for each of us building up the one body of Christ. Our witness may be to persevere in the Sunday morning struggle to get our kids ready for church; to be a faithful, devoted partner to our spouse; to be a loving parent to our children; to be a good friend; to be honest and kind to the people we encounter, especially our families; to smile at and welcome the stranger; to say please and thank you; to avoid gossip and instead offer a positive word; and to be a loving witness in many small ways throughout our day.
We all have a brilliant light to shine for Jesus Christ, and the light we shine is neither brighter nor dimmer than anyone else's. It is the light that God gives each of us according to His grace and our abilities. “Not all of us can do great things,” St. Teresa of Calcutta says, “but we can do small things with great love.”
I pray that we use the gifts and graces God gives us to change the world through our doing “small things with great love.” Amen.
Have a blessed week!
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Genesis 45:4-8 (NRSV): Our Struggles and God’s Plan
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
We often suffer setbacks and disappointments. And when our lives take a turn for the worse, it is hard to gain perspective. Faith is key, however. If we recall the many moments in Scripture, like this one with Joseph, we can see that God has a clear plan for all creation. Even when our lives are at their lowest, when we are feeling the deepest difficulty and cannot see past the pain, God has a plan for us.
Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob. Due to jealousy and mean-spiritedness, Joseph's brothers first plan to murder him, only later agreeing to sell him into slavery. After being bought, Joseph flourishes in the Egyptian Potiphar’s house. Soon, however, Joseph suffers hardship again through the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife. Imprisonment, human trafficking, false accusations, humiliation, separation from family, and betrayal are all pains that Joseph suffers at the hands of his brothers. And Joseph could have fallen into anger and rage, taking revenge on his brothers. His brothers, moreover, even expect it. Joseph, instead, sees that God has a greater plan for his suffering. Joseph says to his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Our lives are no different. Not one of us can say that life has been perfect. We have all suffered at one point. And if we can predict anything about life, suffering and setback will be part of our future. How do we handle hardships when they come? Scripture poses this question. Joseph has the right answer. He sees God’s hand in the good and bad moments of his life. St. Paul, furthermore, writes in his letter to the Romans that “... all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (8:28). The greatest example of sacrifice for God's purpose is seen in Jesus offering His life on the cross. Christ’s suffering and sacrifice liberates the world from perishing in sin.
Through God’s grace, we, like Joseph, can turn away from the bitterness of our life’s breakdowns and toward the light of God’s purpose. So let’s reflect on the difficult spots in our lives -- past or present -- and see with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and in the context of faith, that those difficulties have purpose and serve a greater good for others and ourselves in Christ.
Loving God, let us see our struggles in the greater light of Your purpose. Let our lives preserve those around us in Your love. In Jesus Christ we pray, amen.
Have a blessed week!
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Matthew 22:19-21 (NIV): Giving ourselves to God
19[The religious leaders] brought [Jesus] a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
While my family and I were driving the other day, my daughter was curious about a song that was playing, “Love Bug” by Raffi. Her question stemmed from the following lyrics:
Everybody’s got a love bug, deep inside.
Everybody’s got a love bug for their own.
Love bug — where the hugs come from.
She asked, “What is a ‘love bug,’ Daddy?”
And I formulated an imperfect answer about God’s presence in each of us. “A ‘love bug,’ sweetie, is God’s spirit working in us. God’s spirit lives in our hearts and gives us the ability to love others,” I said.
We are made in God’s image and likeness. And it is no mystery that we were created to be vessels of God’s love. But there is a choice we must all make, and Jesus reminds us of that crucial choice in the above passage. Like the Roman denarius that bore Caesar’s image, Jesus likens us to coins of great value. The image that we bear, however, is that of God. And although it is our free choice, we are called to be ambassadors of God’s love.
In a very real way we all contain God’s “love bug” inside of us. We bear his image, and as Christians, we are privileged by grace to offer ourselves to God through the love, hope, and mercy we offer to others.
I pray that God’s holy “love bug” branches out of us to everyone with whom we come in contact. Let our lives reflect the loving image of God in all we do. Amen.
Have a blessed week!
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Matthew 19: 21-22 (NRSV): Our Need to Detach
21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The story of the rich young man is one so familiar that we often pass it by without much thought. The man is rich and wants to inherit the kingdom of heaven. He asks Jesus what, besides following the ten commandments, he needs to do. Jesus hits him where it matters, his wealth. The man is told to sell what he owns and give it away to those who have nothing. But the man, as the sacred writer points out, owns much and, grieving, refuses to give up his wealth. This parable is not only for the rich; it is a parable that points to all of us who have unnatural attachments. We should ask ourselves the following question: Do the people, possessions, and habits in our lives thwart our walk with Christ? If so, we need to detach.
Many readers take this passage to mean that we must be like the disciples and give up all of our possessions to truly follow Jesus. And that might be true for some people, but it is not the universal here. For example, one biblical scholar states the following:
Actual renunciation of riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the rich Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (Mt 27:57). But only the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3) can enter the kingdom and, as here, such poverty may entail the sacrifice of one’s possessions.
Poverty of spirit, therefore, is the matter. And this rich man lacks the spiritual emptying necessary to be fully devoted to God. His money and possessions get in the way.
In applying Jesus’ teaching to our lives, we may not see money as the false god that gets in our way. Instead, there may be something else in our lives that forms that barrier to Christ. It might be that our habits, the people with whom we associate, or the places we like to frequent form the hurdle to our own poverty of spirit. The spiritual struggle, moreover, might be our own lack of faith.
My own spiritual barriers, for instance, relate to my lack of trust and over reliance on self. People who are close to me know that I am intense when it comes to subjects that occupy my interests. This intensity quickly becomes a hurdle for me, breaking down my trust and faith in God for the things I both cannot understand or control. As he does to the rich man, Jesus poses the same maxim to me: Detach from those things that get in the way and trust in God.
We should inventory our own lives and look for the “many possessions” that thwart our spiritual poverty. Once we identify them, let’s pray that God gives us the grace to detach from them and draw more closely to him.
Have a blessed week!