Mediation for October 26, 2014, the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12; 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8; Matthew 22: 34 – 46
The problem with following the lectionary is that sometimes you don’t know the “whole” story. Of course, that implies that 1) you only follow the lectionary on Sundays and don’t do any reading during the week or 2) you have never studied the Bible.
There is something in my mind’s files that says that there is a lectionary reading for each day of the week to fill in the gaps between the readings on Sundays. And I know that there are parallel readings that are often covered in Sunday School so that the stories that we remember growing up are taught (since many of the Old Testament stories seem to be missing in the Sunday lectionary readings). And I would hope that there are supplemental or additional readings during the week, especially in the New Testament so that we get to cover the writings of Jude (which never show on Sunday).
But if you have never studied the Bible or done any regular reading, then the line in Deuteronomy where God tells Moses that he can look at the Promised Land but that he will never enter it has to be quite a shock. Especially when a few lines later, it is noted that there were no prophets like Moses in Israel after his death.
What was it that prevented Moses from entering the Promised Land? What had he done that was so wrong that he could see the object of the Exodus but would never be allowed to reach? Let’s put it this way. My guess is that the answer is not what you think it is.
Earlier in the Exodus, the people wanted water to drink and Moses provided it. But he did not provide in the manner that God had prescribed and what he, along with his brother Aaron did, was sufficient for God to be really, really angry. So while Moses did the right thing in providing a fresh water supply for the people, he did not do in the manner that reflected God’s work in the process.
The Pharisees come to Jesus and seek to trap him, trying to find some way that they can show the people that Jesus is not who He says He is but some charlatan out to deceive the people and gain all the power for Himself. Of course, we all know by now that the Pharisees and others in the religious/political power structure of the time are more interested in keeping the power for themselves (or at least we should know that by now).
So when Jesus is asked what is the most important commandment, Jesus says to love your God with all your heart and mind and spirit. This question from the Pharisees, like all the other questions they have been asking, always seeks to determine the priorities in life one has. Where are your priorities? How will you reach the goals you have in life?
Some years ago, when I was working on my Masters degree at the University of Missouri, an assignment required that I review a book. The book that I picked dealt with a topic related to statistical quality control. Now, it was a short book so it was easy to read (or I thought it was easy to read) and I thought that it covered the topic pretty well. Now, on the day that I was to give the review in class, I happened to be at one of the local low-cost mega-stores that had sales in aisles for a few moments. As it happened, the book that I was reviewing was being sold at a ridiculously low price. So my review that night was that it was a good book and covered the topic pretty well but it was on sale at that store for $2.00 which should give you some idea of its value. The professor leading this course agreed with my review and noted that he knew the author and that the author had written the book as part of the tenure process. The value of the book wasn’t in what I got out of it but what the writer got.
Are we doing what we do because we get something out of it or are we doing it because it furthers the work of God’s Kingdom? Now, this isn’t one of those things where we succeed and we proudly announce to all that it was for God’s Glory. I think that is a round-about way of saying that we are doing whatever it is we are doing for ourselves.
Paul warns the Thessalonians about doing something that has mixed motives or hidden agendas. Perhaps it is the Methodist in me but we don’t do something because of what we might get out of it but because it is what we are supposed to be doing. Do we shop at a Christian store because it is a Christian store or because it is a good store to buy what we need?
We are reminded that when John Wesley first began what came to be known as the Methodist Revival, he did it in a legal and mechanical way, a way with absolutely no feeling. And at the beginning, it was an abysmal failure. Now, when you look at what he and the other early Methodists were doing, one might get the idea that it should have worked. But it was being done for the individual and not for God, nor was God anywhere in the process.
But when the Holy Spirit became a part of the process, in that night that we have come to called Aldersgate, things changed.
Where are you in this process? Is what you do for you or for God? Are you doing what God wants you to do or are you trying to do what you think God wants? This is perhaps the hardest question one has to answer because we are so tempted to do something our way and then say that it was for God.
How do you reach your goals? Do you start with God? Do you consider God in the process? Now is the time to make a decision, not unlike the one John Wesley made many years ago, to trust in God and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the process.
Now is the time to decide how you will reach your goals.
Mediation for October 19, 2014, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
Exodus 33: 13 – 23; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 10; Matthew 22: 15 – 22
I wrote some notes about these three passages a couple of months ago with the thought that I would be in the pulpit somewhere this Sunday. But in re-opening this file I noticed that what I wrote back then does not match what I am thinking today, which is often the nature and case.
I don’t know why this particular Sunday was picked to be Laity Sunday. I suspect that if one were to go back into the history of the denomination and examine old copies of The Discipline I think one might find a legal paragraph or two that mandates that lay speakers do one service a year in their own church.
I have a sense that such a rule/paragraph existed at one time and I know that it doesn’t exist today. In one sense, if it did exist, it would be a little impractical, especially in those churches with more than one active lay speaker. Of course, there really isn’t such a thing as a lay speaker anymore, having shifted to the title of lay servant and preaching or presenting the message is no longer the primary task of the lay servant.
But in one sense, having changed the focus from speaking to service makes every Sunday a Laity Sunday.
I was in a discussion with a friend the other day about the nature of the sermon and whether it served primarily as a call to respond to Christ or to provide information to the assembled people or some other purpose. I hope that we concluded with the idea that a particular sermon serves a particular purpose based on the situation and needs of those in attendance. But it also served as a call for each member of the church, the laity, to respond in some way.
Now, hold onto that thought for a moment. I will come back to it shortly.
In addition to time being set aside to recognize the laity of the church, this is also the time that many churches begin their stewardship campaign. And unfortunately most of these campaigns are simply pleas for money to operate the church and its functions for another year (see “Creative Stewardship” and “What Does Stewardship Mean To Me?” as my response to that approach).
Stewardship has to be more than simply giving money for the operation of the church. When everything is expressed in terms of operating the church, then I fear that we have elevated the building to a status similar to a false idol. This is not to say that the building is not important but then again, how many successful churches today are operating outside the framework of a permanent structure?
Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees, again looking for a way to entrap him. This time, the issue is taxation, an extremely sore point with the religious establishment who could not stand that money taken by the Romans was money that could have been given to them. And Jesus replies that one gives to the government what should be given to the government and one gives to God what should be given to God.
Let’s not get into a discussion on the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of citizenship (of course, back then the Israelites were not necessarily considered Roman citizens). But too many people, I think, use Jesus’ thought of giving to the government and giving to God as an excuse to not give to God because they have to give so much to the government.
But that can only occur when God is not the priority in your life, when His presence is a slot of time on Sundays and sometimes during the week. In the Old Testament reading for today, Moses challenges God to make His presence known to the people so that they will know and understand the special relationship they have with Him.
I think the problem is that, while God is among us today, we are blind to His presence. We speak of the unique relationship that we have but we don’t acknowledge it. And if we do not acknowledge it, we can’t be aware of it.
I wrote a prayer a few years ago that hung in our feeding ministry’s kitchen. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy of it on my hard drive. But I remember that one line I wrote acknowledged that Jesus Christ would be one of those who we feed that morning. How can we give to God what is God if we do not treat everyone as if he or she was a representative of Christ?
Second point, how can we see God if our lives are lived in such a way that it doesn’t reflect what we believe? When you read Paul’s words to the Thessalonians for today, note how he commends them for leading a life that shows the presence of Christ and what that means to others. Others see in the Thessalonians the way to live and the openness in which that live works.
And now I go back to the idea that every Sunday is Laity Sunday and that we, the laity, take with us at the end of the service is the knowledge that we serve Christ with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.
You cannot split your life into parts as far as Christ is concerned. You either live it fully in and with Christ or you do not. And if you do not live it fully in and with Christ, then you had best do what Jesus Himself first called upon the people to do, repent of your ways and begin anew.
You cannot expect people to accept you as a Christian if your life does not show the love of Christ. What was it that cause the people to notice the behavior of the Thessalonians if it was not a change in their life?
In response to such a challenge last week, I wrote that “generosity requires a change in thinking.” Anyone can be generous with their money but how many people are generous with their lives?
On this Sunday, we need to understand that it is not a recognition of what we have done but rather what we are going to do. It is a recognition that the life we lead is one that leads to Christ and helps others find Christ in a troubled and disturbed world. It is a life that does truly lead to peace and justice for all.
I would be remiss if I did not make note of National Chemistry Week occurring next week — 19 October to 25 October. And let us not forget Mole Day, which, as always, occurs on October 23rd (10 – 23 for those who remember).
If you remember nothing else, know that everything you use in life is a chemical and that while there are toxic chemicals, not all chemicals are toxic.
Second point, all food is organic! I do not know of any food that does not contain the carbon atom and the inclusion of the carbon atom as the main atom means that it is an organic compound. When you buy foods that are labeled organic, you are buying foods made with a limited amount of pesticides, insecticides, and probably fertilizer.
What I have observed in the many years since I received my B. S. in Chemistry is that we really don’t understand chemistry; in fact, we have a hard time with science in general. As we celebrate National Chemistry Week, let’s make a concerted effort to push for an increase in funding for science and mathematics education in particular and in education in general. It will make this a better world and is a lot easier to do when compared to the alternatives.
Meditation for 12 October 2014, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
Exodus 32: 1 – 14; Philippians 4: 1 – 9; Matthew 22: 1 – 14
The challenge in today’s society is no different than it was in yesterday’s society or even in society three thousand years ago. The challenge is and will always be to do what it right and not necessarily what society ask of us.
There are those times when what society asks of us is the right thing to do but only when individuals have stood up and called the people to act in the appropriate manner. For the most part, what society has asked people to do seems to be the logical thing but not necessarily the right thing.
Right now, society seems to be careening and bouncing its way into a world of never-ending wars that will never be decided. Society seems to decided that there will only be one view of the way things are and the existence of two different ideas is the basis for conflict.
I realize that certain ideas, which place the thoughts and values of one individual over those of another and do not allow for a discussion of the differences, are not appropriate. But that only means that we need to be aware of what is happening and prepared to meet the challenge before it gets to the point where violence is the only alternative.
This can be a difficult task. Consider what the Israelites were going through in the Old Testament reading for today. Their journey, guided by a mysterious fire and a strange cloud, had lead them to the base of Mount Sinai and now their leader, Moses, had seemingly disappeared. And there was no tangible evidence of this God they had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and given them bread to eat and water to drink while they wandered in the desert.
It is no wonder that they reverted to old habits and demanded the existence of a physical idol. The golden calf gave them the focus that they needed to survive. I think that is part of the problem in today’s society. We find it easier to focus on something tangible and physical; we have difficulty focusing on the abstract and invisible.
Even Paul warns against focusing on the negative things in life. I don’t think he wants us to ignore them but put them in the proper perspective. The problem today is that too many pastors have opted for a view of life that sees only the good but offers no plan for dealing with the bad part of life.
We have been given a great opportunity (as declared in the parable of the wedding banquet in today’s Gospel reading) but it is only there if our focus is on God. Those who were invited had their focus elsewhere and they missed the invitation. But unless your focus is totally on God then you will probably miss the invitation as well, as noted by the individual who was kicked out because he wasn’t properly dressed.
Now, there are some who will glory in these words. But they might miss the point. We live in this world and we have to work in this world. If we try to make this world God’s world or what we think might be God’s world, we will miss the point. We will have our focus on the rules and the means of enforcing the rules and not on God Himself. But if our focus is on God and what God means to us and we exhibit His love in our work, our words, our deeds and actions, then our focus will be where it needs to be.
So, what is your focus? Is it on society and how society see you or is it on God and what God would have you to do to show His love in this world?
Back in 2011, I posted a piece on my blog entitled “A Question Related To Academic Publishing” (http://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/a-question-related-to-academic-publishing/ if it doesn’t show up as a link). In this piece I asked about the viability of listing blog posts as publications on one’s vita. There was only one response to the post (and I want to thank that person for making the comment).
I bring up the idea of alternative publication processes because 1) I think the presence of electronic journals is more prevalent and the use of the Internet suggests we think about such alternatives and 2) an article published in Science entitled “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review” (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full). In this article, the author describes an experiment to determine the viability of publishing in “open access journals”. The conclusion is not very good. It would seem that the majority of such journals are only interested in scamming money from the authors and will publish anything if the check clears (sarcasm is mine).
I suppose we should not be surprised by all of this. The academic world is a distinct part of the information age and we should expect individuals seeking to take advantage of the opportunity before them. The next question is, “What do we do next?”
The following was the morning devotional for the New York Conference Board of Laity for Tuesday, October 7, 2014.
Good morning, my name is Tony Mitchell and I am a certified lay servant from the Fishkill United Methodist Church. A copy of this devotional can be found on my blog “Thoughts From The Heart On The Left.”
I choose Hebrews 11: 1 – 31 as the scriptural basis for this morning’s devotional but, for time purposes, not going to read it this morning. But I suggest that when you get the opportunity, you read it one more time. Perhaps, as is often the case, a second reading of a familiar passage provides a new understanding.
This passage begins with the idea that faith is a belief in things unseen and then goes on to list all those incidents where our spiritual ancestors acted on faith.
Now, when Clarence Jordan wrote his Cotton Patch version (which he called a “colloquial translation with a Southern accent), he noted that he saw the Letter to the Hebrews as a convention sermon at an annual conference of early Christians. The delegates may have been so impressed and inspired that they insisted that it be included in the convention minutes.
Jordan wrote as verse 1 of chapter 11, “faith is the turning of dreams into deeds, it is betting your life on unseen realities.” I think of all those listed in this chapter of Hebrews and the trials and difficulties they endured, all based on the proposition that the Kingdom of God and the promises it held were real and not some sort of myth or superstition.
In today’s world, faith is often treated as just that, a myth or superstition. The critic and the cynic will tell you that any belief in God is something that one cannot prove and thus is meaningless in a life that demands proof.
Over the past few weeks and even months, I have felt that my own faith has been tested, perhaps to the point of breaking. But I keep holding on, with my faith sustaining me when nothing else seems to work. And as I look back at history, those 2000 or so years since Jesus began His ministry on the dusty roads of the Galilee, I have to say to the cynic and the critic, if this is all a myth or superstition, why does it still exist? Shouldn’t faith have disappeared a long time ago.
In the end, the proof that faith is real is found when we show God’s love to others, when we show the existence of God in our own lives and help others when they are tested. The proof of God’s love comes when we answer the cries of the people who are hungry, the cries of the people who are sick, the cries of the people who are naked or homeless and the cries of the oppressed. Faith is truly the turning of dreams, those of others into deeds, that which we do.