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Saturday, June 7

Today’s Readings: Psalm 144; Genesis 9:18-29; Matthew 21:12-22; Romans 4:1-12; Psalm 32

Everyone once in a while I run across a story in the Bible that gets me upset and makes my blood boil. Today’s story from Genesis contains one of those stories. Let me tell you why it pushes every last one of my buttons. In the story, Noah goes out and gets hammered. He then proceeds to pass out naked in his tent. His son, Ham, innocently enters Noah’s tent and sees his father in his delicate condition. Ham leaves and tells his brothers who then proceed to back into Noah’s tent and drop a covering over Noah so no one else will see him exposed. Now if you were to objectively read the story – as if for the very first time - who would you say screwed up? I personally would say Noah. After all, he was the person who went out and overindulged. But in today’s story, who is the one who actually gets into trouble? Ham. Who cares that Ham’s viewing was totally accidental! To makes things worse, not only does Ham get in trouble, but Noah (the overindulgent oaf) has the nerve to go one step further and lay a curse on Ham and his descendants, the Canaanites. That curse seems more than a little hypocritical to me. I guess Noah never heard the saying, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”. So given the fact that the story pushes all of my buttons, with what can I walk away from the story? Well, many would classify the story as an etymology story – a story that explains a piece of the world. In this case, it was used by the Israelites to explain the lot of the Canaanites. Unfortunately etymology stories go one step further: they moralize the reason for the outcome – the people did good so they were rewarded with [fill in the blank here]; or the people did bad so they were punished with [fill in the blank here]. Today’s story serves as a lesson to remind me of the dangers of doing that. Do you ever find yourself doing that? Find yourself, say, at a family reunion when someone asks about frumpy old Uncle Al and you say, “Well, poor old Al has had a rough old go of it. If he would have quit his drinking years ago, he wouldn’t have brought this on himself.” Or someone else asks where cousin Suzy is, and you find yourself saying, “Suzy would have loved to be here but she’s at home taking care of her three little ones. She might have been here if she would have stayed in school and not gotten mixed up with that good-for-nothing Bob.” Next find you find yourself creating an etymology story of your own designed not simply to explain something but moralize the outcome as well, stop and challenge yourself to see if you can re-write the story line and this time include a little room for God’s love and grace in it. Til next time…

Friday, June 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 118; Genesis 9:1-17; Matthew 21:1-11; Romans 3:19-31

A few weeks ago, many mainline churches participated in what was called “A Sacred Conversation On Race”. The faith community I served was one of those churches that participated. To help move the conversation along on the Sunday we had the sacred conversation, I used Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from 44 years ago that pointed out the hour people spend in church is one of the most segregated hours in the life of the United States. It’s difficult for many people to face this reality because we usually think of participating in a sin like racism in only one way; we think of it as something we intentionally do to cause harm to another or to ourselves. Not all sin (or broken relationship with God, others, or self) works this way. Sometimes we participate on a different level. Paul’s words to Romans reminded us of this. In Romans 3:20 Paul wrote: “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin” (The Message). Let’s return to the example of racism for a moment to explore this notion of complicity in sin. Ten years ago when I was participating in a conversation about affirmative action, a colleague of mine explained why it was dangerous to simply trust people’s behavior to naturally correct serious social problems such as racism. My colleague said, “Imagine, for a moment, that an opening occurs suddenly in your office. The position is very important and needs to be filled quickly. How would you fill it? Would you put an ad in the newspaper (this was in the day’s before the Internet was as popular as it is) and wait for responses to come in? No, you would probably pull out your personal address book, start calling friends, and find someone that way. Now stop and think for a moment about the people in your address book. Are those individuals in your address book people from the same social location as you (i.e. same race, same class, same part of town)? If you are like most Americans, the answer would be “Yes”. So if things were left to our natural devices, we would continue to perpetuate the sin of racism by unintentionally (or complicity) boxing those from other racial/ethnic backgrounds out of the process.” Her powerful example of complicit sin has stayed with me for 15 years now. Today, during your time of prayer/meditation, I would invite you to explore your own life. Are there areas where you are complicit in your participation of sin – areas in which you are complicit in the environmental destruction of the planet, the systemic abuse of animals, the denial of people’s basic human rights, etc? If you find an area, spend some time inviting the Spirit’s guidance into your life as you seek new and creative ways of withdrawing your complicit participation in the sin. Til next time…

Thursday, June 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 10; Genesis 7:11-24; Matthew 20:29-34; Romans 2:27-3:18; Psalm 14

We live in a time when it’s easy to experience a general feeling of malaise. That’s because we have so many pressures crushing up against us. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to discern what the true source of our problems is; hence, our malaise. Is it the adjustable rate on our home mortgage that will be adjusting soon that’s stressing us out? Is it the astronomic gas prices that are literally taking food off our tables that’s causing us to lose focus? Is it the economic crisis that’s making it impossible to find a job that is truly fulfilling? Our sense of malaise could be driven by any one (or all) of a thousand things! So how do we even begin to know what to ask for to help us get out of it? Well, having a sense of clarity about our situation is a good place to start. In today’s passage from Matthew, for instance, Jesus encountered two individuals along the side of the road who themselves were in a difficult situation. As Jesus approached, the individuals cried out for help. They didn’t beat around the bush; they ask for exactly what they needed: their eyesight. And guess what? They got it. Of course in their case it was easy to discern what they needed, for their blindness represented an obvious starting point. For those of us suffering from a general feeling of malaise, our experience is different. Here’s my suggestion about where to begin in your case. Instead of starting by asking God for the so-called stuff (i.e. more money, a new fuel-efficient car, or a new job), think about the core issue(s) that perhaps tie all of those concerns together: things like a lack of peace, a lack of purpose, or a lack of hope in your life. Then begin by asking God for one (or all) of those things. Once you gain a sense of peace, purpose, and hope in your life, you just might be surprised how some of the other things begin to fall into place. Til next time…

Wednesday, June 4

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 97; Genesis 7:11-24; Matthew 20:17-28; Romans 2:25-26; Psalm 114

We live in a society where folks like to display their association with winners. For the past 20 years, for instance, Boston Celtics jerseys were a rare sight on the West Coast. That’s because the Celtics were a bad basketball team for many of those years. Now that they’ve made the NBA Finals, however, you see Celtics jackets or jerseys everywhere. Same thing goes with politics. Fifteen months ago it was rare to see a McCain or Obama bumper sticker on a car. That’s because Romney and Clinton were perceived of as the frontrunners of their prospective parties. Now that McCain and Obama have wrapped up their nominations, however, you’re bound to spot several of McCain or Obama bumper stickers on a simple trip to the corner grocery store. Today’s passage from Romans reminds us that this behavior isn’t a recent phenomenon; people have been eager to associate themselves with what they perceive as winners for centuries. In speaking of the men’s preferred way to show their allegiance to one of the dominate faiths of their time (i.e. circumcision), Paul wrote: “Don’t you see: It’s not the cut of a knife that makes you a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes you a Jew” (Romans 2:26 – The Message). Paul’s words remind us that when it comes to living out our faith, there is no such thing as jumping on a bandwagon. For embracing one’s faith requires more than wearing a cross or sporting a trendy fish bumper sticker on your car. Truly embracing your faith means you to live it: 24/7. May God’s grace empower us to do just that. Til next time…

Tuesday, June 3

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 119:97-152; Genesis 7:1-10; Matthew 20:1-16; Romans 2:17-24

Seven years ago, I participated in a Lenten study on the parables. In that study series, the pastor made a fascinating point about parables. He said: “The tricky thing about parables is that Jesus regularly sets us up by giving us details that have nothing to do with the parable’s outcome.” He said the details are tricky because they often push you to expect a particular outcome that is contrary to the underlying spiritual point Jesus is trying to make. Today’s parable from Matthew is a great example of this. In the parable, Jesus goes to great lengths to set us up by giving us the name of the players (an estate manager of a vineyard and several workers), the agreed upon wage (a dollar a day), and the times the group of workers began working (early in the morning, 9:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 3:00 PM & 5:00 PM). Those details draw us in and make us assume that we can predict what’s going to happen. Those who work longer will make more money than those who started later, right? Wrong! For while details such as the time a worker began working is important by human standards, those same details are unimportant by God’s standards. That’s a tough lesson to remember – whether you are reading Jesus’ parables or living your life. Many times, for instance, using our human perspective we’ll bemoan the good fortunes of a troublemaker – all the while forgetting God’s perspective (“… God gives God’s best – the sun to warm and the rain to nourish – to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty” – Matthew 5:45 from The Message). Maybe there’s an area of your life where the details have pulled you off track and separated you from God. Maybe a circumstance, for instance, where you are crying out, “Why did this (and you can fill in the blank here with your own crisis) happening to me after I had been good and done X, Y and Z?” Those details might then fan the flames of anger or resentment toward God. If that’s where you are today, use the guiding wisdom found in the parables to remind us that the details WE think are so important from a human perspective aren’t the most defining details from another perspective: God’s. Til next time…

Monday, June 2

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 50; Genesis 9:4-22; Matthew 19:23-30; Romans 2:12-16; Psalm 62

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a friend. My friend was raised in a faith tradition that was much more traditional and structured than the faith community in which she now worships. Recently she had a conversation with one of her long time friends who had decided to remain within the faith tradition in which they both had been raised. Her friend remarked that it was interesting that she had become part of a progressive faith community because her impression was that progressive faith communities were simply places where anything goes. My friend responded by asking her if she believed everything that she was taught in her faith community. She replied, “No.” That conversation brought up an interesting point for me. There is such a tendency for many of us to think our faith is primarily about those things that we profess to believe – to others, or perhaps even to ourselves. That emphasis on beliefs is often referred to as orthodoxy. As long as we are associated with a tradition that says what others have told us are “the right things”, then we’re in good spiritual standing. I wonder if that’s really the way things work. Is our faith really only about what we say we believe? Today’s passage from Romans offers us a different take on what faith should be. A portion of that passage reads: “Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of time if you don’t do what God commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God” (Romans 2:13 – The Message). This emphasis on right action - rather than right belief - is known as orthopraxis. While many of the Western first world countries have developed spiritualities bases on orthodoxy (right belief), many developing countries have developed spiritualities based on orthopraxis (right action). It’s very easy for those of us in the western world whose expression of their spirituality is based upon orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy to feel a little inferior to our orthodox sisters and brothers since perhaps it isn’t always easy for those of us who are orthopraxis oriented to reduce the expression of our faith into neatly wrapped packages that fit society’s expectations. However, we can take heart knowing that we have the blessing of being able to practice our faith. Til next time…

Sunday, June 1

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 46; Genesis 6:11-22, 7:24, 8:14-19; Matthew 7:21-29; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-28

There are so many details contained in today’s Genesis passage that someone looking to engage the material could go in one of a thousand directions. What caught my eye today was one of those details that often gets overlooked in the telling of the story. It’s a detail that is usually treated as a prop and not a theological piece of the story. And what is that detail? The ark. I appreciate the ark on at least two theological fronts. First, I appreciate the purpose of the ark; it’s purpose was to preserve life in the face of difficult, life-threatening circumstances. And second, I appreciate the ark because it played a bridge-building role between Noah’s past and future. I see the ark in this bridge-building role because it was created from materials that existed in Noah’s pre-flood world and those very materials were the things that brought Noah and his family into their future. As people of faith, most of us have something in our lives that played a role similar to that of the ark: something that brought us from a troubled past into a brighter present and future. That something can be one of a million different things. For one of my friends, her ark was the song “Jesus Loves Me”. She had learned the song very early in life. Sadly, my friend was brought up in a very abusive household. Whenever she was in the midst of her abuse, my friend would turn to her ark by singing “Jesus Loves Me” in her head. With this simple affirmation in mind, my friend was able to get through the floodwaters that raged all around her. Eventually, she got out of her house and stepped onto the dry (and safe) land of her new world. My friend’s experience got me to wondering this: what is that aspect of your life that has been your ark? Is it a song, a friendship, or something else? I would encourage you to take a moment and give thanks for the presence of “the ark” and the various ways it has seen you through to the expression of your own new world. Til next time…