Weekly Devotional: Children, Inequality, You and Me

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs belongs.”                                                                         Matthew 19:14 (NRSV)

I have just today finished reading a Washington Post article that a friend sent to me. The article by Emily Badger is entitled, “The Terrible Loneliness of growing up poor in Robert Putnam’s America.”

no-inequality-mdThe article tells the story about political scientist Robert Putnam, a recipient of the 2012 National Humanities Award presented by President Obama.

As it turns out, Putnam grew up in Port Clinton, Ohio, a working-class neighborhood, and in his years since leaving Port Clinton for college, he has, as we like to say in the South, “a craw stuck in his throat.” Badger explains, “The Harvard political scientist, famous for his book Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2001) that warned of the decline of American community, has returned to his alma mater, Swarthmore College, to talk, this time, about inequality. Not between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, but between two groups that have also fallen further apart: children born to educated parents who are more likely to read to them as babies, to drive them to dance class, to nudge them into college themselves — and children whose parents live at the edge of economic survival.”

For the last three years Putnam has been seeking to make “the inequality in opportunity for kids to the central issue in the 2016 presidential election. Not how big government should be or what the “fair share” is for the wealthy, but what’s happening to children boxed out of the American dream.” (Badger)

So, what about that? Didn’t Jesus tell us that we should let the children come to him because to such belongs the very realm of heaven? If that is so, shouldn’t one of our top priorities be to make a difference in the inequality between those families who at increasing rates have the ability to give their children opportunities and those who do not? What if those of us who have enough decided to make a difference in the life of one child in a working-poor family or a single-parent household? What would that look like? How might it change our world?

I am convinced that if we really want to be the people of God that Jesus called us to be, we will have to make some dramatic efforts to make a difference in our world today for those children who do not have someone to read to them every night. Several years ago, I saw a program on some of the poorest places in Texas where families scrape by on little to nothing and children have to ride the bus for hours just to get to school. When one little elementary aged girl was asked what she wanted she didn’t say new clothes or toys she simply said, “I would like a little more to eat.”

In some translations the words of Jesus are, “Suffer the children to come unto me.” Maybe it is time we suffered just a little so that the children can be fed and can have what they need.

Holy One, it must break your heart that we live in the wealthiest country in the world and yet some of your children go to bed hungry. Help me, I pray, to do one thing today and everyday to make a difference in the great divide between those who have and those who do not. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: We Need the Power of Resurrection All Year Long

Claim-Your-Resurrection-PowerWhen Peter saw the beloved disciple, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to Peter, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”                                   -John 21:21-22 (NRSV)

 

 

(My friends, this is my 50th blog post. It’s hard to believe! Thank you for your continued love and support. As I always, I welcome your comments!)

Following a wonderful Easter worship service and day, it felt to me as if God’s goodness had surely come upon the face of the earth and that this year things would be different. This time, we would love one another. This time, we would care for our neighbor. This time, we would make peace with our enemies.

And then came Monday, and the news was the same—wars raging in far away places, violence in our own mean streets, vitriol coursing across the airways and internet, and then came the news of the shooting death of Walter Scott, unarmed and running away and shot in the back by a police officer. Scott was killed by someone sworn to “keep the peace.” And now more than one mother weeps, and all of us feel a little less safe, a little less sure.

I keep wondering if Easter actually means anything any more. It seems to me that if we truly believe in God, if we truly believe in the power of the resurrection, then our lives would be different, our world would be different. Of course, that is how evil works in the world. It convinces us that there is nothing we can do; there is nothing that will change the downward cycle of judgment, prejudice, fear and hate.

Perhaps that is really what Easter is about. Maybe the true power of Easter is to keep us faithful, to give us courage to live in the mean-time, the time between the resurrection of Christ and ours. Maybe the real purpose of the resurrection is to remind us that God is not through with our world yet, and if the resurrection of hope, the resurrection of peace, the resurrection of love is going to become a reality, then it is going to depend on us.

And I only know one way for that to happen. As Peter sat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the resurrected Jesus told him not to worry about what people said about the beloved disciple or for that matter anyone. Instead, Jesus repeated the call that began his ministry, he said to Peter, “Follow me.” In the Greek that phrase is an imperative statement as if Jesus is saying, “You, follow me!”

That is, I believe, what will change our world and bring resurrection, the change in each of us as we follow faithfully in the way of Jesus, which means that we will live fully, love wastefully and be all that God created us to be. May it be, so that peace will come upon the face of the earth and all will have what they need.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0aAkOe87mo

 

Weekly Devotional: This Easter, Hope Lives Eternal!

1easterIt was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him;                                                    Mark 14. 1 (NRSV)

But the young man said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.                         Mark 16. 6 (NRSV)

During this Holy Week of 2015, I have been reading through the Gospel According to Mark, as well as reading The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. It is interesting to me that the entirety of the Gospel of Mark clearly portrays Jesus as someone who is determined to shift the domination culture of his day to a Kingdom of God culture. Borg and Crossan point out, and rightly so, I believe, that Jesus’ true “passion” was not the journey to the cross, but his “passion” for bringing out the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. It is this confrontation with the powers and principalities of his day that set in motion the decision of the chief priests and scribes to arrest him and have him executed.

Those same powers and principalities, the domination system, are still in play today. Those with wealth, power and position continue to hold in place a system that marginalizes “the other.” Those who have worked for peace and spoken out against injustice have themselves been killed: John F. Kennedy, who determined that he should end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and Marin Luther King, Jr,. who worked for the civil rights of all and who also spoke out against the Vietnam War, are just two of the obvious examples.

Still, the story of our faith tells us that even when it seems that evil is winning God’s power to bring light in the darkness, hope to the hopeless and life in the midst of death will not be defeated.

That is what this Sunday is all about. Easter Sunday is the day when we remember that we are called to be people of peace and justice who follow in the way of Jesus. Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate God’s victory over death, literal death and what we think are the deaths of our hopes and dreams for a just world. Easter Sunday is the day when we remember that God is with us, we are not alone. Easter Sunday is the day when we celebrate that God’s will on earth as it is in heaven will ultimately prevail. And to that we can proclaim with millions of people across the face of the earth, Thanks be to God! Amen! So, don’t miss it.

Holy One, remind me again this Easter that you are ever with us and that your steadfast love endures forever and your faithfulness to all generations. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: Praying Until We Have No Words Left

Keep prayingTherefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.                         2 Corinthians 4. 1 (NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but as I watch the news on television and read the news on the Internet I grow weary. I grow weary of all the violence. I grow weary of all the hatred. I grow weary of the lack of civility in public discourse. I grow weary of all the posturing of powerful people. I grow weary of the lack of viable solutions to the problems in our country and across the globe. I grow weary. Do you?

Then it dawned on me. This is exactly the way evil works in us and in our world. Evil manifest itself best by a gradual eating away at goodness. It distracts us from the good that we might do by causing us to grow weary of doing good. Evil, though found in the midst of violence and hatred, may well do its best work by convincing good people that there is nothing they can do to change things. And so we grow weary and so we lose heart and so we grow complacent and apathetic and stay silent and do nothing.

As the great Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The Apostle Paul had something to say in response to this weariness of heart and soul. In writing his second letter to the church at Corinth, as well as across time and space to you and me, Paul said, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Still, listen to what Paul went on to say. “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4. 1 & 2)

Do you hear that? Paul calls us to keep sound of heart and mind by committing our lives to speaking truth, and to do so without cunning, without falsifying God’s truth, which surely has to be about God’s love for all creation and all people, a desire that all should have enough and that wars and violence and hatred of each other should cease.

Of course, this kind of turning has to be grounded in prayer and relationship with God. In fact, I know of no other way to remove this weariness of heart and mind and soul.

So, won’t you commit to pray with me? Pray for all the hurt and heartache, for the least and the lost, for the hate and horrors, for the posturing and power plays. Pray until you have no words left. Then, let us stop the work of evil in our world by speaking and working for truth and faith by becoming beacons of justice, peace and love in the world. It will change your life and will, by God’s mercy, change our world.

Change my heart, O God, so that I may change our world, one act of love at a time. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Let’s Do Our Part to Bring Peace to a Violent World

peaceJesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”                                                                                                    -John 16.33 (NRSV)

I have just finished listening to two books of a trilogy by Ken Follett. The books are entitled, Edge of Eternity and Winter of the World. The stories trace the lives of several families in Russia, Germany, England and the United States during the Great War (World War I) and World War II. As I listened to the books, I was deeply troubled by the atrocities forced on the people of so many countries across Europe and in Southeast Asia, as well as the attempt to annihilate an entire people, the Jews. The sacrifice of thousands upon thousands of lives in the fight for freedom as told by Follett was overwhelming.

I think about all of this as I ponder the violence being wrought by ISIS in the Middle East and the response of Jordan in return. I ponder what is happening to the people of Ukraine and Russia. I am certain that the poorest of the poor, the elderly, the children, the disabled and the women are experiencing the worst of it all.

So, what are we to say about these things? It seems impossible that in today’s culture that people of differing opinions and political views cannot find a way to peaceably co-exists. Yet, that seems a far off dream.

Years ago, a mentor pastor gave me a book entitled, The Will of God, written by Leslie Weatherhead, an English Christian theologian in the liberal Protestant tradition who was noted for his preaching ministry at City Temple in London. Weatherhead’s book was based on five sermons given to his congregation near the end of World War II. I commend to you this book, as I believe Weatherhead does a great service to people of faith in offering several ideas of how we can continue to believe in God in the face of human evil seen in human violence and atrocities as well as with natural disasters.

Briefly, Weatherhead posited that God has set forth God’s intentional will in creation both then and now. He goes on to say that God’s intentional will is sometimes thwarted by natural disaster and most especially by human violence. This he calls God’s circumstantial will in which God’s love and grace, healing and hope can be seen even in the midst of atrocities and disasters. Weatherhead concludes by proclaiming that whether or not we see it come into existence in our lifetime, God’s will of a peaceful creation for all God’s people and for all of creation will ultimately come. He, of course, says much more than what I offer here.

I take hope from Weatherhead’s writing. I also know that as those who takes the name Christian, those who have chosen to follow in the way of Jesus, we are called, set apart, to be part and parcel of helping to bring God’s vision of a peaceful creation into reality. That doesn’t mean that we don’t cringe at the violence being done in God’s name around the world and across our own country. It doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve the lost lives and lost hopes of so many people.

So then, what are we do say about all of this? Perhaps, we can faithfully affirm that we will live our lives doing our part to bring peace to our corner of the world and beyond. Perhaps, we can faithfully affirm that we are not alone in this, that God’s ultimately will can and will be done on earth as it is in heaven. How do we know? Well, I think Jesus spoke to that truth saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

I can live into that kind of hope. Perhaps, you can, too.

Holy One, in the darkest moment of our lives and our culture, help me ever to remember that you are with us, we are not alone. Amen.

 

 

Weekly Devotional: ‘A Catastrophic Uncovering’ Awaits Us If We’ll Avail Ourselves to Truth

truthGod saw everything that had been made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.                                          Genesis 1. 31 – NRSV

I recently received a copy of the Winter 2014 issue of Geez Magazine, which had as its tag line, “Contemplative Cultural Resistance.” The issue is entitled, “The End.” As you may suspect, “the end” to which the magazine referred is the Apocalypse or, “the end of time, as we know it.” While you may think that an odd and difficult topic, I believe the editors are raising an issue that is essential for all of us to grasp.

The articles are both catastrophic and hopeful. Most of the writers believe that “the end” is already upon us and that marginalized people have been experiencing “the end of the world, as we know it” for quite some time. It is only now, as the ice caps are melting and the weather patterns changing, that people of means, of wealth and power, are even beginning to take notice.

I remind you that the word “apocalypse” actually means “uncovering” and consequently is not as frightening a word and concept as some Christians might believe. There is, after all, within the idea of “uncovering” an element of hope.

But let me share with you the powerful words of the opening article, “A Catastrophic Uncovering,” by guest editors Time Runtz and James Wilt. They write, in part, “With protests, rallies, and bans on absurdities like cosmetic pesticides and plastic bags, we’re starting to see hints of a move in the right direction. But, as long as the thrust of popular environmentalism remains ‘what will it take to sustain our way of life’ rather than ‘what sacrifices must we make to enter into a symbiotic relationship with our biosphere,’ we’ll continue our sociopathic spiraling.

And yet there is reason for hope. As the Dark Mountain Project Uncivilisation project puts it, ‘the end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop.’”

Yes, surely we have done destruction to creation, which is not God’s plan for us or for the earth. Still, we can, if we are willing, change this trajectory of destruction. Runtz and Wilt invite us to, “start living now as if the end as has already come, because in many ways it has.”

So what does that mean for you? Yes, we can get rid of plastic shopping bags, buy cleaner fuel, drive cleaner cars as all of that helps. But what if we also became involved in our neighborhoods, learned about the watershed and drought issues in our areas and began to buy local foods? What if we determined to own fewer things? What if we spent less time in front of the screens of our televisions and computers and instead spent more time outside with our families and our neighbors? If we did, it seems to me that we might come to have greater appreciation for this creation that God has given us, we might begin to take more responsibility for it, and then perhaps we might with God be able to call it “good.” May it be so.

Holy One, remind me again that the earth is Yours. Give me the courage and the strength to do all I can to be a faithful caretaker of this good earth and in so doing to discover You present within it. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Let the Bible Speak in all of its Natural Glory

BibleThey said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” John 4. 42 (NRSV)

During the Season of Epiphany, I am gathering weekly with a small group to discuss a book written by Marcus J. Borg entitled, Speaking Christian. The central point of Borg’s book is that many people, even those who are quite familiar with the Bible, actually misuse key Christian words as they speak about scripture. Consequently, he believes that Christian words have lost their power. His book is an effort to reclaim and restore some of the most important words of scripture.

Just last week in the first chapter of the book, he pointed out the words he would cover and how they are being misused or misinterpreted. The first three were the words salvation, saved and savior. It was astonishing to me how, over time, so many of us who claim the name Christian have distorted these words and changed them from their original meaning in scripture.

For example, in today’s Christian-speak the word salvation is often used in reference to life after death and about going to Heaven. But, in fact, in the Bible it is seldom about an afterlife and, rather, is about transformation on this side of death.

The word saved is similar. We often use it to refer to being “saved from our sins.” But in the Bible, it is about much more than this and often is not about sin at all.

And for many Christians today, when we use the word savior we are referring to Jesus as the one who “saves us from our sins.” But in the Bible, there are 54 uses of the word, many of which were used long before the birth of Jesus and most often have nothing at all to do with being saved from sin.

This is evident in the scripture passage above, which are the words the people of Samaria spoke about Jesus after he met the woman at the well and after Jesus had stayed with them for two days. Their explanation that they now understand Jesus as the “Savior of the world,” doesn’t have to do with being “saved from their sins,” but has to do with them being transformed, given new life, as was the woman at the well.

So, I wonder what our world would look like if you and I resolved to truly know what the Bible teaches instead of letting others tell us their version. What if we decided to think and speak differently about the scriptures? Do you think our words just might make for more love, more hope, more peace, more grace, more mercy let loose in the world? Maybe it’s at least worth a try.

Holy One, break open the scriptures. Help me to hear them with a new heart, a new mind, a new soul so that I may grow in your grace and be a vessel of your grace in the world. Amen.