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Sunday, September 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 78; Exodus 17:1-7; Matthew 21:23-32; Philippians 2:1-13

Every person has a personal pet peeve. For some, it’s when a loved one walks into the room, grabs the remote, and changes the channel on the television without asking. For others, it’s when a family member forgets to do something like put the cap back on the toothpaste or put the toilet seat down. Ask anyone you bump into if they have a pet peeve, and I’m sure you’ll get an immediately answer. I have a couple of pet peeves myself. I hate it when someone in the household uses the last of something and doesn’t throw away the container when it’s empty. Just ask my partner Mike, and he’ll back me up on this. I have another pet peeve that’s a little more specific. It has to do with the way we live together as a faith community. My pet peeve is when people put up with intentionally unhealthy/destructive behaviors in a church, shrug their shoulders, and say, “What else can we do – after all churches are simply made up of people so we have to expect those kinds of behaviors.” I have no problem putting up with unhealthy behavior in other forms of community (i.e. sports or civic groups) that don’t aspire to be anything else than what they are – a collection of people brought together by common interests. I do have a problem putting up hurtful/harmful behaviors when we come together in hopes of becoming more than the sum of ourselves – when we come together to live as the body of Christ. Apparently I’m not the only one with this pet peeve - for in this morning’s passage from Philippians you can hear the author’s frustration with those who would settle for unhealthy behaviors in spiritual community. The author wrote: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me a favor: agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends” (Philippians 2:1-2 from The Message). The next time you come together as spiritual community, remember today’s words from Philippians and aspire to be something more than just a collection of people – aspire to live together as the body of Christ and then see what happens. You may become something more than just a sum of your parts. Til next time…

Saturday, September 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 50; Leviticus 16:20-34; Luke 20:19-26; Philippians 3:1-7; Psalm 31

Like many folks in their twenties, I went through a stage where I had totally had it with organized religion. This was at the height of the constant scandals involving televangelists and at the rise of the denominational rancor over homosexuality and abortion. I decided it was time to explore other ways of being outside of Western Christianity so a friend turned me on to the writings of an Eastern philosopher by the name of J. Krishnamurti. There were many things that Krishnamurti said that have stayed with me over the years, but one of the most influential things was his saying about the role choice plays in our lives. Krishnamurti said that choice is basically an illusion. If you are truly living a centered life, a person doesn’t have to stop and ponder what to do in a situation; a spiritually grounded person will simply know what to do. Because of that clarify, choice becomes an illusion. Moving toward such a spiritual state of enlightenment has long since been my goal. I thought of my exploration of Krishnamurti’s words when I read today’s Gospel passage from Luke. In that passage, the religious authorities try to publically embarrass Jesus by asking him to make a difficult choice: do we pay taxes to the government or not. They knew that if Jesus was like others who lacked clarity, he would be stumped by their question. Would he say “No” and risk offending the government officials who might have heard about his treasonous response, or would he saw “Yes” and lose his credibility among those religious folks disgruntled with the government who were present? Jesus was so centered that he was able to immediately see through the apparent “choices” the religious authorities presented and arrive at a centered answer. So where do you find yourself most days? Do you find yourself constantly agonizing over choices that appear in your life – wondering what to do; or do you find yourself frequently centered and able to move through the challenges (and choices) that appear before you? If you’re anything like me, it probably depends on the day and the circumstance(s) you are facing. My hope and prayer for us is that each of us will grow in our ability to spiritually center so the longer we live, the easier our apparent choices become. Til next time…

Friday, September 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 51; Leviticus 16:1-19; Luke 20:9-18; Philippians 2:19-30; Psalm 79

Lots of folks who don’t attend church look at the lives of those who do attend and think to themselves, “Well, of course those people are spiritual. Their lives are perfect and they have a lot to be thankful for. I would be a spiritual person too if I lived such a charmed life!” I can understand how folks outside the church might get that impression since things often look pretty serene from the outside. What they forget to factor in when they jump to such a conclusion, however, are the life-stories of the folks inside the church. What I’ve discovered over the years is that some of the most faithful folks in a faith community are individuals who have had VERY, VERY difficult lives. I think of the mothers and fathers inside those churches who have lost children; I think of the church people who were disowned or discriminated against when they were honest about the fact that they fell in love with someone of the same gender; I think of the people of faith who are battling life-threatening diseases; I think of those Christians who struggle to bring health and wholeness to the broken relationships in which they live each day. Some might hear this and wonder, “If that’s the case, then why would anyone in their right mind take time to worship God if their lives have been so difficult!?” The psalmist in today’s first Psalm provides an answer of sorts to that question when he wrote: “I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice” (Psalm 51:17 from The Message). Those words reminded me of how the hard times in life can pave the way for a deeper and more meaningful relationship with one’s Creator. Prior to the hard times, we human beings have a tendency to want to claim credit for – or maintain control over – our lives. In other words, we engage in self-worship. The hard times in life, however, shatter any illusions we might have about our independence. They prevent us from doing what we would normally do – take things for granted. They can even spur on feelings of gratitude for those things that we do have. In other words, it’s often those hard times that help make God-worship possible. I would invite you to find some time today to reflect on a difficult period in your life and consider the ways in which that tough time help deepen and enrich your spiritual life. Til next time…

Thursday, September 25

Today’s Readings: Psalm 133; Leviticus 8:1-13,30-36; Luke 20:1-8; Philippians 2:14-18; Psalm 110

There’s a common theme that runs through a couple of today’s readings; that theme is harmony. Psalm 133 opens by saying “How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!” while today’s passage from Philippians advises us to “do everything readily and cheerfully – no bickering, no second-guessing allowed!” If the message that runs through both the Old and New Testaments is so consistent, then why do we have such a difficult time living into the spirit of those words? I suppose a part of the reason has to do with the larger cultural values that exist around us. In our modern American culture, the individual is seen as THE most important unit within society. Anyone that inhibits the rights of the individual in any way, shape, or form is instantly seen as the enemy and is therefore open to attack. It’s easy for us modern folks to forget that as Christians the individual does not come first. As members of the body of Christ, we should be intimately connected to God and to one another. That’s why today’s theme of harmony is so important. So how do you get along with others? Do you get along with your sisters and brothers and exhibit a cheerful willingness to help others out; or are your personal relationships strained and your life full of bickering and second-guessing? How you answer that question will be helpful in revealing whose values are shaping your life: society’s or God’s. Til next time…

Wednesday, September 24

Today’s Readings: Psalm 87; Exodus 40:18-38; Luke 19:41-48; Philippians 2:6-13; Psalm 48

I’ll never forget a conversation I had a while ago with someone who had publically displayed their anger in a public setting. The person later came to me to talk about the incident. I could tell the person felt as if others expected the person to apologize but that the person personally felt no need to do so. This made our conversation a little awkward. As we talked about what had happened, the person said, “You know, what I did wasn’t really all that bad. After all, Jesus went off against the money changers in the temple. That means it was okay for me to get angry as well.” The words of the person were a great awareness raiser for me for they forced me to revisit the incident in the Temple and explore it on a deeper level – the same incident included in today’s reading from Luke. “Did Jesus’ outburst in the Temple serve as vindication for all angry outbursts,” I asked myself, “or was their something different about Jesus’ outburst that set if apart from the outbursts you and I are prone to?” Here is the answer I came up with. The thing that made Jesus’ outburst different than most of our own was the motivation that lie behind Jesus’ outburst. If you’re anything like me, my outbursts are most frequently triggered by the fact that I am not getting my way. These angry outbursts are often expression of self-righteous anger. Jesus’ outburst in the Temple, however, was triggered by something else. The outburst wasn’t about Jesus getting his way; the outburst was triggered by people dishonoring God. This outburst was an expression of righteous anger. The question then becomes, “How do we tell if our anger is self-righteous or righteous?” This is a tricky question simply because our minds have an amazing capacity to rationalize our behaviors so we can try to pass self-righteous anger off as righteous anger. My answer to that question is the annoying age old answer, “It depends.” Only the person him or herself can answer the question “Who is one’s anger serving?” That’s why we have to be so careful with the emotion of anger – because some of us (myself included) lack this sense of humility. So what role does anger play in your life? Is it something that appears to further you and your agenda, or is it something that is used to defend something larger than yourself? Something to think about in the days ahead. Til next time…

Tuesday, September 23

Today’s Readings: Psalm 24; Exodus 34:18-35; Luke 19:28-40; Philippians 2:1-5; Psalm 18

Whenever I read portions of the law contained in the Pentateuch such as today’s passage from Exodus, a portion of me gets worked up. Why is that? It’s because such passages often reveal the hypocrisy of some folks who call themselves biblical literalists. I say that because lots of folks who call themselves biblical literalists will point to other passages in the Pentateuch such as Leviticus 20:13 (“if there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death”) and use it as their basis for their condemnation of homosexuality. And yet these same folks would never think of turn to parts of today’s Exodus passage and suggest that we incorporate them into our modern day lives (i.e. “every firstborn from the womb is mine”, “if you don’t redeem [your firstborn donkey] then you must break its neck” – Exodus 34:19-20 from The Message). So what is it that compels some folks to insist on a literal interpretation of scripture in one place and then argue for a metaphorical interpretation of scripture in another? I suppose it’s the personal agenda of the reader. Most of us are more prone to argue for a literal interpretation of a passage when we agree with its message than we are if a passage violates our personal views. So what lesson do we draw from all of this? I can’t speak for you, but the lesson I draw from this is to ask myself a simple question when I’m reading scripture: “What is my motive in reading scripture? Am I reading it simply to support a position at which I’ve already arrived; or am I reading scripture with an open heart and mind so that I can discern the leading of the Spirit?” Over the years, I’ve found that that is not a question I can ask myself once and then move on. I need to continue to ask myself that question each time I encounter it. I would invite you to ask yourself the same question as you continue to delve deeper and deeper into the sacred writings of our faith. Til next time…

Monday, September 22

Today’s Readings: Psalm 16; Exodus 34:1-17; Luke 19:11-27; Philippians 1:27-30; Psalm 85

I’ve noticed a small but important shift in terms of people’s approach toward religion over the past 10-15 years. During the late 1980’s and much of the 1990’s, it seemed as if people were much more likely to form their faith by borrowing from a variety of religious traditions and putting them together piecemeal to form a religious view that worked for them. They would take the notion of a monotheistic God, for instance, from Judaism, Islam, and Christianity; they would take meditative practices from Buddhism; they would take the ecological views from Native American traditions; they would incorporate the use of religious icons from the Eastern Orthodox communities; and they would incorporate take a respect for all religious views that came from Unitarianism and the Baha’i traditions and make a faith that they could call their own. The guiding principle for this process was this: “I’ll create God in an image that works for me.” My biggest concern about this process was that folks were creating a God that simply looked like them and their interests. Over the past 10-15 years, however, I’ve seen a gradual shift to the point where folks are more likely to locate themselves within one particular religious tradition and wrestle to live into that faith. Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not suggesting that it’s spiritually healthy to simply accept a pre-packaged bill of goods that is presented to you by a Sunday school teacher, a pastor, or any other religious figure. What I do find encouraging about the development, however, is that it suggests people have largely moved beyond the place where their understanding of God is only as large as their own awarenesses and commitments and are open to thinking about a God bigger than themselves – a God shaped by insights and experiences of generations of adherents. So why am I thinking about all of this today? Today’s first Psalm (Psalm 16). In that Psalm, the Psalmist wrote: “Don’t just go shopping for a god. Gods are not for sale. I swear I’ll never treat god-names like brand-names… Day and night I’ll stick with God; I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go” (Psalm 16:4,8 from The Message). I know it can be difficult to stick with one’s understanding of God as life presents challenges that don’t neatly fit your prior understandings and experiences of God. But just like in any relationship, there is tremendous value in hanging in there through the rough times and making things work. For those challenging times don’t just reveal new dimension of God to you – they reveal new dimensions of yourself to you as well. Til next time…

Sunday, September 21

Today’s Readings: Psalm 105; Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16; Philippians 1:21-30

If I’ve learned one thing over the course of my first 41 years, I’ve learned that human beings (including myself!) are fickle creatures. Let me give you a couple examples of what I mean. Those who are single might find ourselves lonely and hoping and praying that we meet Mr./Ms. Right. Time passes and we meet that special someone and settle down. Then what happens? We find ourselves resenting the constraints put upon our previously footloose and fancy free lifestyle and wish we were single again. Or we learn there is a possibility for a promotion at work for a cushy new position that pays twice what we currently earn. We put in our application and hope and pray that we get the new position. Time passes and we get the promotion. Then what happens? We find ourselves feeling overworked and underpaid and wish that we had never gotten the promotion in the first place. I could give you literally dozens of examples of our fickleness, but I think you get the point. Of course we aren’t the first human beings to be fickle. The Israelites in today’s passage from Exodus were pretty fickle human beings as well – for they spent much of their time when they were in bondage in Egypt hoping and praying for their freedom. Time passed and they got their freedom. Then what happened? They started complaining about their quality of life in their newfound freedom. Our fickleness sure can get exhausting to even think about. Thank goodness God is patient with us!! The story of the Israelites’ complaining got me to thinking about how difficult it is for us human beings to stop and truly appreciate what we have at any given moment. Are minds are always churning and thinking about not what we currently have - but what might have at some point in the future. Today, I would invite you to join me in taking a moment to stop and give thanks for the life that we have today. If we learn to live in a spirit of thanksgiving for where we are and what we have at this moment, we might grow in our ability to do one of the most difficult challenges known to humanity: recognize the many blessings that have already been showered upon us. Til next time…