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Posted 10.28.19

Lectionary Readings

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4  •  Psalm 119:137-144  •  Isaiah 1:10-18  •  2 Thessalonians 1:1-12  •  Luke 19:1-10

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Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 – Little is known about Habakkuk except that he was a prophet in a time of troubles and trials for the Israelites. Many scholars are unsure of the time period, some feel that it took place just before the exile to Babylon.  Regardless of the period, the questions and message of Habakkuk are timeless – they reach forward even to us and our times.  Habakkuk asked legitimate questions and expected honest answers from God.  He is a perfect demonstration of the struggle between our faith and our reality. He asks ‘why does God allow injustice?’ and ‘how can God justify using the unrighteous to correct the Israelites?’  Habakkuk makes it permissible, and advisable, to struggle with questions, even questions directed at God. If possible – take the time to read all of Habakkuk.

Psalm 119:137-144 – The reality of the Israelites is that they are a suffering people.  They are consistently under attack, scorned, mistreated and usually hated. Their very existence is a struggle with, against, and for, God – it is the meaning of the name ‘Israel’.  In the midst of that struggle, however, is a constant return to ‘Who God Is’ looking at his faithfulness looking for truth.  Let these eight verses remind you ‘Who God Is” in the midst of your life. This will be our Responsive Reading passage.

Isaiah 1:10-18 – We return to the beginning of the ministry of Isaiah as he begins to call the people of Jerusalem and Judah back to God.  This is the first of a long time call to repentance that will be proclaimed by Isaiah and then Jeremiah, as well as others, and ultimately unheeded by the Israelites.  This centuries long prophesy will not be heeded until after the Israelites have spent over seven decades as slaves in Babylon.  Isaiah begins it all by confronting the hypocrisy in their religious practices and spiritual conversations.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 – Though often used as an attack on those who do not believe, or practice differently,, the letter to the Thessalonians is actually a love letter.  The author is telling the Thessalonians that their growing faith is an example for all.  The harsh sections of the letter must be viewed with the audience and attitude of the author in mind.  The letter is an acclamation of their faith and an affirmation of the unjust nature of the attacks on them.  The letter is a reminder to persevere.

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the Cross, on his way to Death. Jesus has taught about prayer, equality, love, mercy, riches, and more, all while being judged and condemned by the religious leaders.  The familiar story of Zaccheus is about a rich man with a questionable vocation, a vocation that puts him in the spot of being hated and scorned by all.  It is also a story of Jesus noticing the unnoticeable again, once again, and a story of grumblers and haters. We will be looking at the familiar story of Zaccheus in an unfamiliar fashion.unfamiliar fashion.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-12  •  2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111  •  2 Timothy 2:8-15  •  Luke 17:11-19

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Psalm 66:1-12 Our responsive reading comes from Psalm 66 – a praise to God for the deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt. The first twelve verses focus on remembering and praising God for their deliverance.  In the remainder of Psalm 66 the Psalmist turns from a remembering praise that is internal to a remembering praise that is external, a physical response –  a demonstrative transformation.

2 Kings 5:1-15 The common thread in the books of Kings is the rulers’ abuse of power and God’s provision of the prophets to provide accountability.  Elisha, who followed Elijah as the prophet of the Northern Kingdom – Israel, is in the beginning stages of his ministry.  The successful captain of the army of Aram (an adjacent country – current day Syria – and frequent enemy to Israel), a man named Naaman, is sent to see Elisha to be healed of leprosy (a situation which terrifies the King of Israel). The entire story is an interesting tale of the unexpected avenues of rescue and transformation.  A slave girl from Israel tells Naaman’s wife about the miraculous acts of Elisha and then the healing is almost sidetracked by Naaman’s own arrogance.

Jeremiah 29:1-7 A familiar text to us as we see Jeremiah addressing those who have already been, and those who are about to be, exiled from Judah.  He tells them that they are to continue on with life in the midst of their slavery for the decades to come.  They are to build homes, have children and give their children in marriage….and to work to make their captors successful.  An ironic instruction as Jeremiah himself was forbidden, by God, from marriage and having children due to the fact that they would be part of the coming exile and slavery.

2 Timothy 2:8-15 Last week we saw Paul reminding Timothy to remember his faith.  Now, Paul is calling Timothy to a security and confidence in that faith and of truth itself.  The reason for this urgency of faith is that Timothy is about to come face to face with false teachers who are set on misleading the church.

Luke 17:11-19 Our gospel reading takes place after the parables we have seen in the past weeks the teaching about faith from last week.  Jesus, as he is during most of the gospel of Luke, is one his way to Jerusalem, to the cross.  His encounter with the group of lepers gives us an enhanced understanding of personhood, redemption, cleansing and even salvation.  It is an undeniable demonstration of God’s love and the transformative act of recognition, gratitude, and praise.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26  •  Psalm 137; 37:1-4  •  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4  •  2 Timothy 1:1-14  •  Luke 17:5-10

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Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26  •  Psalm 137  •  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Our primary Old Testament passages have a common thread running through them – they all are written about, and probably during, the exile to Babylon.  As witnessed in the prophetic warnings of Isaiah and Jeremiah, both men warned of the coming catastrophe, the writings for this week take place during the actual exile.  These books give witness to the very real horror of lives turned upside down.  Just as Jeremiah warned the people against listening to the false prophets who primarily sought to tickle the ears of the politicians, religious leaders, and general population, these authors continue to seek and proclaim truth to a populous who continue to reject the reality of their situations.  They ignore the truth of their role in the devastation of the exile.

Lamentations is a series of five poems which document the tragedy of the exile on Judah as well as on those who have been left behind.  While the two chapters seem to depict a funeral asking difficult questions of ‘why’, the third chapter brings the reader to a hope – ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end…..’.  The book closes by begging for God’s mercy and restoration.

Psalm 137 is considered the most depressing and hopeless of all the Psalms.  Written from the perspective of those exiled from their homes to bondage in Babylon, the Psalm is a description of the despair and hopeless of the people.

Habakkuk is considered a minor and greatly unknown prophet.  Probably written in Jerusalem after most of the others had been exiled, Habakkuk seems to deeply love God and, at the same time, feels free to question God and the exile.  Understanding the nature of God to discipline the people and, at the same time, love them, is an agonizing conundrum for Habakkuk.  He is able to identify the selfishness of the people as a reason for the present discipline while still questioning God and diligently watching for God’s mercy.  Many are drawn to the writings of Habakkuk as they demonstrate the redemptive nature of asking difficult questions.

Psalm 37

Our Sunday responsive reading comes from Psalm 37 which was written during the Kingdom of David over four hundred years before the exile to Babylon.  Written to remind the people to trust God, the Psalm is an encouragement of faith to a people in times where questions and fear are a constant reality.

2 Timothy 1:1-14 and Luke 17:5-10

Both of our New Testament readings take us to the presence and reality of faith.  The apostles ask Jesus to ‘increase their faith’ while Paul writes a second, more personal, letter explaining the importance of faith to the young church leader Timothy.  While the apostles are asking the wrong question about faith, Paul is making sure that Timothy does not forget the women and men who have been instrumental in the faith he has and needs. Jesus explains that faith is given while Paul describes faith as being a ‘good treasure entrusted to you’.  As you read the Luke passage, take a moment to look earlier in the chapter and question ‘why did the apostles ask the wrong question?’.

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

 

Lectionary Readings

Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26  •  Psalm 37:1-9  •  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

2 Timothy 1:1-14  • Luke 17:5-10

 

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Jeremiah 32:1-15

The prophet Jeremiah is now in prison for not being nice and affirming to King Zedekiah and the leaders.  These men have quit listening to Jeremiah, the true prophet of God, and instead, begun to pay homage to the false prophets who are speaking a message in line with the deceptive words of the King and leaders.  King Zedekiah has continually postponed the execution of Jeremiah in hopes that he will ‘come around’ and be more ‘agreeable’.  Jeremiah, however, continues to line up with the prophesies of Isaiah telling the people that they need to turn back to God in order to avoid disaster.  The people are acting religious while rejecting God and all that he has instructed them.  They have destroyed their environment, as well as their protection and sustenance. The irony is that while Jeremiah is in prison for speaking truth, and the King and leaders continue to ignore his message, the prophecies are actually coming true.  The armies of Nebuchadnezzar are besieging Jerusalem, and Judah is on the brink of disaster.  Now, from the restraints of imprisonment, Jeremiah gives the people a glimpse of truth and hope through a ‘skin in the game’ illustration.

I Timothy 6:1-19

The books of First and Second Timothy are letters written to a young man named Timothy who was being mentored by the Apostle Paul.  Timothy was a ‘skin in the game’ person….in a literal and figurative sense.  Being born of a Jewish (now Christian) mother and a Greek father, Timothy was not raised Jewish and therefore not circumcised.  Since he was a leader in the church at Lystra, Timothy agreed to be circumcised in order to be more acceptable to the Jewish believers, even though it was not required.  Paul’s letters to Timothy led him to confront false beliefs and teach the church how to be the Christians and, collectively, the Church. Paul tells Timothy to not let his age get in the way of his position and message.  The letters to Timothy still cause tension and confusion in the church today as they speak to issues of women, slavery, and deep theological issues that can be confusing and alarming.  In this passage, the issue of choosing God over self is the primary focus but alarmingly begins by targeting a population of people – slaves who seem to have little choice in their own lives once they leave the church gatherings.

Psalm 146

Our responsive reading is the first of five ‘joyous’ songs each proclaiming praise as well as calling for followers to keep God at the core of their life.

Our Call to the Marathon

bostonrunner2On Tuesday morning of this week, at 12:18 am, Mary Shertenlieb finished the Boston Marathon over thirteen hours after she began.  Mary had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia five years before and had endured intense treatment suffering two relapses.  Around mile fifteen of the marathon, health concerns required that she return home with her husband.  There, she recouped, took a shower and returned to the marathon to finish miles later. At the finish line on Boston’s Boylston Street stood fans cheering for this, the final runner of the marathon, who had shown them how to run and how to finish.  It was not the way she imagined the marathon to go, or even the day she expected to finish, but she did run and she did finish.

A Marathon for the Kids

As I dropped Andrea off at school on Monday, it was weird.  She was back after two weeks away due to the teacher walk out.  She was ready to be back with, and for, her kids but with a new disillusioned attitude and no remaining hints of political naivety.

teacher walkout 2It was easy for Andrea, and her professional peers, to feel like the previous weeks had been a complete waste.  Ten days gathering in the sun, standing in the Capitol and sitting in legislators’ offices often being treated disrespectfully and unimportant.  They stood on the Capitol grounds as our governor seemed to find every reason to be elsewhere and the Secretary of Education managed to belittle and diminish the entire effort from the isolation of her D.C. office.

It had also been a hopeful ten days, teachers bonding, receiving unforgettable support from parents and our communities, even witnessing an amazing outpouring of encouragement from outside of the state.

Then it seemed to be over; over with basically no progress to be seen.

pablo (57)The teachers had received a pay raise prior to the walkout but felt they could not settle on a note, even though warranted, of self interest.  They stayed out of the classrooms because they knew that their students deserved better. They deserved to have enough educated and certified teachers – not classes of thirty-four kids packed in an inadequately sized room; they deserved a space where there were enough chairs and desks and to not have to sit in folding chairs borrowed from a local church; they deserved up-to-date textbooks and basic supplies not purchased from their teacher’s limited personal income.  They deserved so much more.

Decades ago, Oklahoma decided that public education was not important.  Evangelicals talked about God being ‘taken out of the schools’ while, at the same time, the very hard working and caring teachers hid in the pews praying, and hurting, for their students.  Politicians realized that reducing taxes was a reelection coup and that the ‘unGodly’ schools were an easy target of budgetary reduction.  ProLife became the holy label while the birthed children, along with their education, healthcare, mental health, shelter and food, carelessly became the casualty.

The truth was, and is, that God remained in the schools because the most vulnerable of those created in his image had been abandoned.  Abandoned by those tasked with being a light to the world.

On Monday, as their one success, their raises, was being targeted, the teachers returned to the classrooms anyway.  They returned to prepare their students for required exams and to the very real future that is tough, if not impossible, without adequate knowledge.  A truth that even Christ himself addressed. The teachers returned thinking that they had failed those very students.

They had not failed.

Author Anne Lamott writes that Change is not a sprint but a marathon. Our teachers began a marathon. They, battered and abused, passed the baton on to others so that they could get back to their beloved kids.

On the Sunday in the middle of the walkout I shared with my congregation that I had truly experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit while on the capitol grounds the previous week.  Even though we doubtfully feel it, it is still there and all over the state.  The Spirit is in classrooms, it is in the homes, it will be with the voters prompting them in the upcoming elections.  The Spirit will be everywhere that children are clamoring to climb up on the lap of Jesus. Everywhere that Jesus is saying, “let the little children come unto me!”

The Spirit will continue to be in our state.  In our churches, in our homes, and in our classrooms. Anywhere we are willing to accept, listen and follow, the Spirit will be there.

It’s not over, it is a marathon.  We still have a ways to go.

My Marathon Experience

child backpackAlmost twenty years ago I dropped my oldest child off at Monroe Elementary for a typical day of first grade. I did not know that day would set me off on a marathon.  As he shut the door of the van, I could not help but notice, as my tiny first grader ran in, there were may unrecognized adults exiting the doors of the school.  He had to squeeze through them to get to the building and to his classroom. 

I soon saw the “Vote Here” signs which brought clarity. Our school was a polling station and that these unknown adults were wandering throughout the school after having voted.  While I loved the idea of my kids witnessing democracy in action, I also knew that we live in a world which is not always so idealistic and sometimes very bad persons take advantage of very positive idealistic situations.

This unexpected morning experience set me on personal marathon that would take twenty years. I spoke to the principal about this influx of unknown adults venturing throughout the building, she sent me to the School Administration who sent me to the County Election Board.  The Election Board sent me on a mission to find a better place for the voting.  I ended up at a Mormon Church who agreed to host the voting.  I victoriously returned to the Election Board who informed me that this would be an unacceptable location since the election workers could not drink coffee or smoke at the church building. Not yet willing to give up I went to the election workers who unanimously agreed to abstain from any forbidden vices for voting days.  A return visit to the Election Board led to the revelation that my solution was an unacceptable and would not be implemented.  My final journey was to my mailbox where I found a letter from the Election Board telling me to leave them alone.

I had failed. I quit the marathon. Kind of….

As a result of my efforts, the principal asked me to begin a program for dads at our school called WatchDogs. It was the first WatchDog program in the city and the state. An amazing group of dads in our school took a day off of work each month to patrol the halls and help where needed. Dads that had never regularly been in the school before were now integral parts of the day to day operations.  Their children were proud to have them there and the dads were engaging with their own children in a manner they had never done before. Dads provided security, but more importantly became acquainted with the peers of their children, the teachers and staff of the school, and found that they could be a part of this all important essential element of their community.  The program is now all over our city and state.

Sometimes our marathon take us to places, and makes things happen, that were never in our planned running route.

I also continued my call for more school security and a plethora of areas of concerns.  One of these areas was to campaign to have the school playground off limits during school hours.  It alarmed me to watch as complete strangers were permitted to walk across the campus, through the middle of children, during recess.  I was told that the school was not allowed to restrict such access to members of the community.

Voter IDA couple of months ago, twenty years after I began my marathon, I received a new voter ID card, it was for a new location.  Our public schools have reconfigured all buildings for increased security and voting does not fit into the increased security plan.School sign

On an evening walk, I then cut through the playground of Monroe Elementary.  There I saw a sign that restricted access to the playground during school hours.  I took a picture, stood and stared, and realized that I had crossed a finish line.

As I thought about all it took to get that sign I began to think of all the others who were part of my marathon, a list that included my own mother.  I attended this same elementary school and would pablo (55) walk to school each day.  One year, homeowners of a house on a busy street which was part of my walk, planted new grass and restricted pedestrians from walking on their lawn. This meant children like me, on our way to school, would be walking on the heavily traveled street.  My mom, possibly the original safety marathon runner, went and had a very frustrating talk with the homeowners.  They refused to budge on their restrictions and she refused to quit the marathon. She called the city and did anything else that might lead to an acceptable solution.  Facing defeat at every turn, she revisited the owners of the house several times, who eventually worked with my mom to come up with a safe solution.  She raised her arms in victory and ran under the finish banner and then passed the baton on to someone else which eventually came to me.

marathonA Call to the Marathon

Teachers, your time has not been wasted.  You have run the toughest part of the marathon.  Raise your arms out to pass on the baton.  Pass it to the parents who are now at the capitol, to the voters who will soon cast their ballots for change, to all the other Oklahomans who care about the children, and to those who echo the words of Christ as he said, “Let them come to me!”

It is not about quitting but rather about enlarging the marathon, including others to run with the baton.

To the rest of us, look for the marathon that God has waiting for you. I can’t say what your marathon will be but I can say that it will be about God’s created and His creation. It will be about those created in His image which widens the possibilities to everyone everywhere. It will be about being a demonstration of the actions and life of Christ much more than the words of a preacher.  It will be about love.

Our marathon is what John talks about as Walking in the Light and then later in I John refers to it as Abiding.  The Apostle Paul call it a race.  It is about life, led to reveal God’s love and to live smack dab in the middle of the life Christ has called us to.

It’s a life long marathon.

Let’s run.

Rick

What Do You Have?

oilShe was frustrated and somewhat angry, she was miserable and hopeless, she was at the end of her rope and there, in front of her, was her dead husband’s former boss.  She approached him and said, “My husband gave his all for you, he was your servant, and now he is gone. And, in return for his faithfulness to you, his widow and children, are now penniless and sliding deeper into a pit of despair.”


The boss queried, “What do you need?”

This was an easy yet difficult answer for the woman.  It was easy because the needs were all she had thought about since the loss of her husband.  The question was difficult because she was not sure where to begin.  It didn’t take long, however, for her to respond, “I’m about to lose my children.”

The boss followed with another question, “What do you have?”

This was also an easy yet difficult answer.  Easy because she didn’t have much, difficult because what she did have seemed insignificant and not worthy of being mentioned.

It was also difficult because relinquishing the little that she did have, regardless of how insignificant, was scary.

This is the story of Elisha and the widow documented in II Kings 4.  It is a story of the wife of a servant of Elisha following the death of her husband.  She was being hounded by creditors who were now about to take her children and sell them into slavery.

It is the story of each of us.

The widow was desperate.  She was hopeless.  She was mad.

Just like us.

When Elisha asked “What do you have?”, she replied “nothing, except a jar of oil”.

Oil was a forgettable possession since it seemed so meaningless.  At the same time, it was an essential possession, as was seen in the story of Elijah and a diffent widow. 

It was also forgettable, at least verbally, because giving over control of the only thing we think we have is difficult.  It is our basic humanity to hold on to it with all our might, not trusting anyone to take it away.  It was, and is, difficult because trusting often means things will not go as we hoped or planned.  It means we will give up control.

Ultimately, she handed over the oil.  In return, Elisha pointed out that she had so much more.  She had her children, she had other vessels and she had neighbors who also had vessels. In the end she saved her children, gave the neighbors back their vessels, and gained a security that permitted her to live, work, and survive.

All because she realized what she had and trusted it to one who could meet her need.

What do you have?