Archive for the ‘Twenty-Fifth Bundle’ Category

Matthew 6:24-34

24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

We have all come across people who are intent on singing nothing but affirmations, insisting that every problem has a solution – or even that there really aren’t any problems in reality, only in our minds. Cheer up and look on the bright side! It’s all going to be all right; even better than you can imagine.

Then there are the opposite types, who see the cloud under every silver lining. Life is hard and the payoff is meager – usually less than you need or expect. It’s best not to get your hopes up because tomorrow everything could come crashing down. What’s the point in wishing for something better, if day after day it’s just more of the same?

Optimists and pessimists disagree as to whose view on reality is more realistic. Either everything is the sweet fragrance of roses or the sharp stab of thorns, but it can’t be both. Enter Jesus.

Truth is, life can be turned either way depending on the story you want to tell. In the end, however, neither optimists nor pessimists get out alive. This fact can pull your nose down into the muck or inspire you to pin your dreams on pie in the sky. For his part, Jesus counseled his followers to relax into life and have faith in the providence of God, as they also meet the troubles of each day with wisdom and responsibility.

His metaphor of the “kingdom of God” carried the priorities of mindfulness, compassion, outreach, and forgiveness – practical commitments that help to keep the most important things in perspective. When you are fully engaged in this way, there is no time for regret or worry; yesterday is gone and tomorrow is still to come – or it may not come at all. Now is where you find your invitation to life in its fullness.

Advertisements

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

We are already acquainted with the situation in Corinth where certain factions were forming within the Christian congregation there, tending to pull the larger group into divisions around Paul (the evangelicals), Peter (the traditionalists), Apollos (the intellectuals), or Christ (the charismatics). Each party represented a distinct perspective on what it meant to be a Christian – missionary outreach, a strong tradition, Bible knowledge, or spiritual gifts. Then as now, it was easy for “insiders” (of one of these persuasions) to regard the others as missing the real point.

In this situation, though Paul might well have been flattered by the fact that some church members were championing him and his priority on outreach, the apostle reminded his readers of something Jesus reportedly had taught during his ministry a generation earlier: Don’t judge.

When we judge another person, we take something about that individual – their background, reputation, appearance, socio-economic status, lifestyle, voting preference, sexual orientation, current beliefs, or just about anything else you can imagine – and draw a conclusion concerning their dignity, virtue, and worthiness as a human being. This kind of judgment helps us deal swiftly with people we don’t really know, or care to know. With a strong judgment in place, we now have the justification we need to dismiss them, exclude them, exploit them, violate them, or even destroy them if need be.

Jesus had taught that none of us has the right to judge another person in this way. His entire ministry had been dedicated to reaching out and touching people in their humanity, their brokenness, and their need. Roles and labels and stereotypes are all part of that inhumane way in the world we call prejudice (and all that follows) – pre-judging someone and thereby sinning against their nature as a human being created in the image and likeness of God.

Living by this rule (“Don’t judge!”) gave Jesus the necessary courage to renounce prejudice, along with the freedom to carry on as one beyond the judgment of others. In his time, the apostle Paul found a fresh application for this important rule of the spiritual life.

PSALM 131

Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.

It is easy in life to let your focus slip from the moment at hand and drift away like a loosed balloon into abstractions, reveries, and daydreams. This ability, in fact, is one of the distinguishing talents of the human mind, making possible the countless achievements of culture. If we were not able to detach our focus from the urgencies of animal survival, our species would never have advanced to the point we are today.

Along with this wonderful talent of ours comes a terrible liability, of removing our conscious engagement from where we are and ending up lost and disoriented. We get so caught up in our high hopes and big ideas that our tether to the present moment is forgotten.

For example, the idea of God in religion is a very “high” thought – so high, in fact, that our minds put God up in heaven and far above where we are in this moment. Once we get lost in this idea of God “up there” we proceed to invent ways (prayers, rituals, sacrificial offerings) of getting him to pay attention to us and condescend to our need. Religion thus becomes a complex (and many would be quick to add complicated) system of utilities for keeping God interested and favorably disposed toward us.

But take another look. Who put God up and away in heaven? Who kept qualifying the divine nature in theological terms and supernatural categories that he ended up so far away? We did. The truth is, God is just a name for the present mystery of life, grace, and provident support that is always right here – within us, alongside us, and all around us.

The psalmist knows how his heart (the Hebrew word for our deep center of longing) can quickly look to heaven or over the horizon for the assurance it seeks. Like a nursing lamb that anxiously scurries after its mother and is always vigilant to her whereabouts, we can busy ourselves looking for God – and in the process overlook his presence! A weaned lamb is by contrast calm and quiet, set free from urgency and able to fully rest in God’s care.

ISAIAH 49:8-16a

Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
    on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
    as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
    to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
They shall feed along the ways,
    on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Lo, these shall come from far away,
    and lo, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
    and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.

The writer known as Second (Deutero-) Isaiah flourished in ministry during the Babylonian exile (587-538 BCE) and lived among the community of those who had been taken from their homes in Jerusalem. Defeat by the Babylonian army and deportation to a foreign land induced an identity crisis of the first order. When your monotheistic beliefs trace the causality of what befalls you to the will of God, every upset and loss begs the question: Why?

Especially when a respectable reputation and your honest efforts at living right still land you in a dark and painful place, this question of the relation of your suffering to God’s will can cut deep into your faith. There were many contemporaries left behind in Jerusalem (Zion, the mount on which the temple was built had become a synonym for Jerusalem itself) who felt compelled to conclude that God had simply forgotten his covenant with Israel. Divine amnesia was at least more theologically sustainable than the idea that God had deliberately abandoned them.

Away in Babylon, Isaiah was hearing similar cries among the exiles. God had promised a long and prosperous future to his people. What happened? Were they being punished for some unbeknownst sin – perhaps for the sins of their ancestors? This was one answer. But Second Isaiah (along with a fellow exile who adapted the story of Job) insisted on the innocence of his generation, and outright rejected the popular idea that God punishes children for the sins of their parents.

Following an insight that would later have revolutionary implications in the Christian era, Isaiah turned the crisis of exile into redemptive suffering on behalf of the entire nation. His generation, a collective taken as an individual, had served as the ratifying sacrifice of God’s renewed covenant of blessing. Their affliction and loss had opened a new future of hope and salvation for everyone.