A Prayer of Grace

09.20.20

God, you are the giver of grace

You are grace.

Your grace is too deep for us to fathom.

Your grace is too wide for us to grasp.

Your grace is too offensive to our human nature.

Your grace is too sufficient to meet our needs.

Father, you compared your grace to a Master.

A master who employed all who needed work.

A master who paid not on an earthly scale.

A master who did not use a time clock.

The master’s method was to pay those who came to the field.

His employees were those that had the need to work.

We seldom can see our work, and pay, in that manner.

We are more prone to measure by our time, sweat, and achievement.

We count the worth of our work by comparing and judging.

We work in the field for gain, not for need.

Our view of fairness is all about us.

Our view of justice is centered on ourselves.

Our understanding of mercy is for those we choose.

Our valuable time is for spent on that we value.

We are much more like Jonah than the master.

We know that you are full of grace.

We know that you are the God of mercy.

We know that you are compassionate and kind.

We know that you are love.

We want to choose who receives grace.

We want to restrict who experiences mercy.

We want to limit who feels your compassion and kindness.

We want to withhold your love for our own.

Lord, you have relented from destruction.

You have repented from anger.

You have worked around our limitations.

You have persevered with us through our humanness.

God, your grace is constant, even when we do not feel it.

Your grace is consistent, even when we do not reflect it

Your grace is unwavering, even when we attempt to run from it.

Your grace is not limited to grace.

You give grace upon grace.

While we are still stuck at happiness,

You are progressing with Mercy.

While we are sitting in the belly of the fish,

You are preparing people and their Kings to hear of our God.

While we are bitter under the shade, 

You are loving those in the sweltering sun.

Father, we thank you for your grace that we do not understand.

May we allow your grace to visible to our eyes.

May we permit your grace to be obvious through our speech.

May we intentionally give out your grace in our daily journey.

God, may we let your grace flow from our lives.

God, may we let your grace flow in our lives.

Amen.

The Principle of Provision

On the evening of February 19, 1982, CBS Evening News correspondent, Bob Schieffer, reported many important stories of the day including President Reagan’s budget, the Polish Solidarity movement, human atrocities in El Salvador, and a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island.  However, a different story seemed to attract as much attention as any of these other stories.

“After a lot of hoopla and millions of tax dollars spent on commercials and other things to tell us why we needed to go metric, it is the metric system that’s about to go,” 

Schieffer said the dismantling of the Metric Board, a board set up to guide America to changing their form of measurement to match the accepted system of most other nations..

You may remember that attempt to change the way we measure things in the early 1980s, or you may remember it from another attempt in the early 1960s, as well as many other moments in our nation’s history.  The switch from a measurement of halves and quarters, and even thirds, is so engrained in our thinking that switching to a measurement system that uses tens to measure is just a too big of leap to make.  The United States, along with Liberia and Myanmar are the only three nations in the world that still do not use the metric system of measurement.

Despite many business that have made the addition of the metric system to assist in their global trade and some remaining traces of our attempts to switch systems – such as the section of Interstate 19 connecting Tucson to Mexico – the only highway in the US to have distance signs in kilometers – we remain a nation that measures differently than most of the world. 

While there was surely a measure of nationalistic pride at stake in the public’s refusal to make the switch, it was mainly because it is next to impossible, as human beings, to switch our ways of thinking.  I admit, I am one of those humans, while I could adapt to seeing Coca Cola measured in liters, I found it impossible to make the switch to metrics when helping my kids with their third grade math. There could not be enough cheat sheets for me to be able to figure out the number of kilometers Joe was going to have to travel if his trip from Denver to Albuquerque was 449 miles. 

As the close of Jesus earthly ministry was coming to a crescendo, and he was beginning to recognize the shadow of the cross looming a short distance ahead, he began to urgently focus on the things his disciples needed to fully understand.  They were going to be the ones to lead the believers and there were certain things they needed grasp. Things like forgiveness and trust, things that would be essential elements of their teaching and leading, but even more, things that they would need to persevere and survive as leaders.

Grace was at the top of that list.  

You may remember singing ‘Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within.  Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.’ Even as we would sing it, a full understanding of Grace was, and is, a difficult concept to fully grasp.  It is even a greater trait for us to absorb and practice.

The precipitating moment that led Jesus to share the parable about grace in our gospel passage for today, was a discussion with his disciples who inquired ‘What are we going to get for giving up everything to follow you?’

It was an extraordinarily blunt, and, I would think, inappropriate, question, yet it was met with no resistance from Jesus, he seemed to understand the measurement system these men automatically defaulted to.  He understood it was difficult to change the measurement systems of our expectations.

He began, and ended, his response with a very odd and difficult to swallow, statement:

‘The first shall be last and the last shall be first.’

A statement that I am sure solicited the same response it would receive today, 

‘Well, that’s not fair!’

If we are the first in line, we expect to be the first to enter.

If we are the first to work, we expect to be the first to be noticed.

If we are the first to raise our hand, we expect to be the first to receive praise.

If we are the first to be born, we expect to be the first to be blessed.

If we are the first, we do not expect to be last.

Even more, if we are last, we are not expecting to be first.

Let’s face it, it is a crazy system of measurement. It may work in heaven but it is preposterous here on earth. But still, it is the measurement system that God uses because it is the driving characteristic of God, it is his undeniable nature.

Grace.

Jesus explained Grace by telling his disciple a parable.  A parable of a system of measurement that was totally foreign to any system on earth.  It was a system designed in heaven, for heaven.

The fact that this alien system was now being used on earth only made sense if you remember that Jesus told his disciples to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is the standard in heaven.

This is why it was essential that these men, who would be the leaders of Jesus’ followers, understood, it was their calling – they were to switch their system of measurement.  They had to understand!

In this parable there was a farmer that had a field that was ready for workers.  The farmer went to the community market square where workers who needed a field were waiting.  The farmer found out the need of the workers, agreed on the measurement of addressing their need and took them to his field.  Later that morning, the farmer recognized that his field had room for more workers so he returned to the market square where he loaded more workers needing a field, in the afternoon, he once again did the same. At five o clock in the afternoon, basically almost quitting time, as we was in the marketplace again, he noticed more workers standing in the square.

‘Why are you not working?’ He asked them.

“Because no one will hire us,’ they said.

He looked at them, this was not an uncommon collection of people to still be looking for work. They were seldom taken to a field.  For all sorts of reasons, these people could never get to a field. Some talked to much while some didn’t talk at all, some didn’t understand, some couldn’t be understood, some looked weird, some were not from around there, some smelled bad, some were just plain odd, some were the wrong gender, while the gender of some was not identifiable, some didn’t fit in, some were trying too hard to fit in, none of these workers met the measurements of the hiring system for being taken to the fields.

This farmer used a different system. These people wanted to go to a field, that was his measurement criteria, so this farmer loaded them up and took them to his field.

At the end of the day, the farmer paid the workers.  As the original workers watched the system of payment, they were liking this system, it surely meant that they were going to be paid more than they had been promised.  They saw that these undesirable workers were paid what they had expected to be paid.  These all day, original workers were shocked, then, at the injustice when they discovered that they were being paid the same as the five pm workers.

“That is not fair, that is not just!’ They loudly complained.

“Are you upset because I am generous?’ The farmer asked, ‘Have I not paid you exactly what I promised?’

Quite honestly, the workers were correct, according to our earthy forms of measurement, the system of this farmer was unjust, it was unfair.

This was Jesus’ explanation of grace. This was the heavenly measurement that was demanded by grace.  A measurement that was not dependent on an amount, a numerical figure, it was about entry into the field.  It was about the need to be in the field.

Much like when Peter wanted to know a number for forgiveness, numbers are our system of measurement.  Now, once again, Jesus is teaching a system that does not depend on numbers, it cannot even be calculated through addition or subtraction.

When the Hebrews were liberated from slavery, they were heading to their field – the field they had been promised through Abraham.  They had been enslaved subtly over generations until the ever increasing brutality of their existence had become their normal.  They did not recognize life outside of Egypt, they didn’t expect freedom to be so difficult, they never imagined that they would think fondly on their lives in slavery, they had not realized that they didn’t really know their God, the God of Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.  

Outside of Egypt, however, they were getting a crash course in ‘God’.  They saw his power as he parted the waters for them to escape Pharoah and his armies.  They began to see God, to really know God, not in his power, but in his grace.  It was in God’s grace that he became personal – he began to be known. 

This is the principle of provision, it is not in God’s power that we know & trust him, it is in his grace.

Oddly, it was because of their complaining that they became acutely aware of God’s presence daily. It was in his response to their complaining about him that he revealed himself to them.

God met them where they had to be met, where they were able to see their need.  Only there would they be able to begin to receive. Only then, could they be able to begin their journey of knowing him.

Grace is a singular trait that governs from within. Grace and pride cannot mutually exist.  Grace fuels God’s pursuit of us as long as we are pursuable. 

‘We are hungry, at least in Egypt we had food. We are tired, at least in Egypt we had rest.  We don’t know what to expect, at least in Egypt we knew what was happening. We are afraid the unknown ahead, at least in Egypt we knew what we had to fear.”

Moses was frustrated, Aaron was tired of dealing with their complaining, God, however, showed his grace through his patience and provision.  He provided them what they needed while giving them a lesson in who he is. Everyday, their food would be there for them, enough for that day. It would be there again the next day, and on weekends, he would give them enough on Friday for two days, to cover the Sabbath, on that day he would give them rest.

This was God’s way of measuring out his provision. God didn’t have a set template of how to respond to needs, nor did he have a set pattern of how to deal with those who were ungrateful.  He didn’t respond with a earthly system of screaming, “I delivered you, I gave you freedom, I welcomed you into the field, I protected you…and still, you are complaining. I am washing my hands of you ingrates!”

Instead, he recognized their cognitive, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual level of development and began there.  He did not say ‘quit complaining’, instead he said, ‘I am going to help you know me, everyday when your food is there, remember, I gave it to you. That is what I do, that is who I am. I see your needs and will meet them.  Trust me, for you will need to know me in the fields where I am placing you.’

Grace takes a lot of unlearning, and then re-learning, and it takes open eyes to understand.  The disciples were not the only ones that need to understand grace.  It is only when we understand grace that we can then begin to grasp God’s presence in our lives. Understanding life in God’s field is dependent on understanding the grace character and grace nature of God.

Jonah missed the full immersion into God’s grace and therefore missed God while he was measuring who should not be benefactors of grace.  His judgement, born out of hatred of a people, replaced the grace of God in his own life. He missed the joy of being in the field.

God is grace, to not know that grace, to not fully ascribe to that grace, to not seek to live in that grace, to not approve of the moments of that grace, to judge who should be in the field of grace, restricts our own immersion in God’s grace.  

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. I can be received gladly or grudgingly, in big gulps or in tiny tastes, like a deer at the salt.”

Ann Lamont

Imagine the world if we were to see with the grace vision of God.

Don’t miss grace all around you.

A Prayer of Forgiveness

Prayer Together for 09.13.20

God, you took chaos and created order. You took nothingness and created harmony. You took, darkness and made it light. You took love and created life. You took death and made it life. You created and gave it to us.

Lord, we have taken the order and turned it into anarchy. We have taken the harmony and turned it into conflict. We have taken the light and returned to darkness. We have taken the life and dismissed, devalued, and oppressed it. We have taken this creation for granted it and missed you in the middle of it.

We have taken your gift and thrown it to the swine.

Father, we have lied and slander others, just as we have experienced the same from others. We have experienced hurt and we have caused hurt. We have felt the sting of pain, just as we have created pain We have been led astray and we have led others down the same paths. We have known the agony of disappointment and have felt the guilt of disappointing others. We have been humiliated and we have humiliated. We have chosen evil and ignored good. We have turned from right and destroyed trust.

God, we are in need of forgiveness. God, we need to grant forgiveness. God, we know the pain of unforgiveness. God, we know the uncertainty of withheld forgiveness. God we need forgiveness. God we need to grant forgiveness.

God may we experience the freeing power of giving and receiving forgiveness. May we know the joy of letting go of those things that accompany forgiveness. May we recognize the power in the release of hurt, resentment, and vengeance. May we replace those things with love, may we do so in love.

Lord, help us to accept forgiveness.

Father, help us to give forgiveness.

Amen.

The Forgiveness that Precedes Forgiveness

A slave owed his master almost $500,000.00 dollars in todays equivalent.  Since the man could not pay at the requested time, the master did not take what he could from the man to settle a portion of the debt, but the master actually forgave the debt. That same slave, the one who was forgiven his almost half a million dollar debt, went to a fellow slave who owed him less that $50.00.  When this debtor could not repay, the forgiven debtor refused to offer forgiveness and had him thrown into prison.  Now, when the master of these slaves heard about this, he had the first slave thrown into prison until he his original debt was paid, which was an impossibility.

Forgiveness is an ambiguous practice which, as a concept, has a variety of different forms and interpretations.  There are many different, and often opposing, definitions and uses of the word Forgiveness.  As believers in Christ, it has been exampled and explained to us, it has been given to and, in some traditions, it has been taken away, it is an emotional act, an ‘I’ll deal with it later, or I’ll forget or ignore it’ offering, a long awaited gift, and a difficult and overwhelming barrier. 

As a practice, forgiveness is a shot in the dark, seldom do we even understand our own words when we ask for it or give it to another. On some occasions we assume the power to forgive when the option is not ours.  It is, often, the most difficult to give to ourselves and to receive from another.  We may not feel a need to be forgiven yet we, consciously and subconsciously, we are relieved when it has been granted.

Along with prayer, forgiveness may be one of the two most misdefined, misused, abused, and sincerely abandoned concept and practice in our faith.

One of the most bizarre misuses of ‘forgiveness’ took place during the 2016 presidential elections.  The rumors of infidelities that dogged Donald Trump had been quickly dismissed by his supporters until an audio tape presented him boasting of his own sexual prowess. Evangelical supporters were in a quandary to justify their continued support, soon, the celebrity religious leaders, and others, took up the mantra of ‘we have forgiven him.’ This was not a applicable use of the concept of forgiveness.  Trump did not need their ‘forgiveness’, he never asked for it, truth be told his offense had not been against them – any action on their part was judgment, not forgiveness.  Their dilemma was not a problem forgiveness would solve, however, instead of struggling through their decision of support, they chose to hide behind a failed use of forgiveness. Forgiveness was not theirs’ to give.

Basic Truths about Forgiveness

1. Forgiveness is a concept and it is an action, it is difficult, but it is worth the struggle, and essential to harmony and unity.  

2. Forgiveness was not a part of God’s creative process, nor did it need to be, there was no offense, there was no sin. 

3. Forgiveness is a noun and a verb, it is not fully either until it is both. 

4. Forgiveness was born out of human need and perfected by God. 

5. God had no obligation to create anything else.  Love propelled him. God returned to the creator’s bench.

6. Love does that.

Let me briefly explain:

After turning from God humans found themself in a struggle – it was a struggle with their own human offenses. They had been removed from the garden to engage in this struggle.  This struggle would bring them to a realization of their need for God. This is why everything, and almost everyone, in the book of Genesis, is such a mess – it all takes place at the beginning of this human struggle.  As humans attempted to fix their need through might and power, the solution was elusive, they didn’t know where to begin because they were not clear on what they needed – there was no way they could devise a strategy to create it forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is a holy creation, holy creations cannot be created by fallen humans.  We see early attempts at forgiveness, Esau accepts and embraces Jacob, Joseph forgives his brothers – otherwise humans met conflict and offense with a ‘let’s just move on mentality’ which never lasted, or, more often, they just created more offense. Humans cried out to God, they cried out from Babble, they cried out from Ninevah, they cried out from Sodom, they cried out from the home of Jacob, they cried out from deep pit.  There was a need, but the cries of humans were only a shell of their actual need – they needed forgiveness. God still heard their cries – the Father perfected their shell of forgiveness from their need, the son manifested it through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, the Spirit ran with it and made lives whole through forgiveness.  

When mankind chose to turn away from God they, then, turned on each other – the human need for forgiveness was presented. Humans found themselves mentally and physically unable to live with themself and with each other when wrongs done to them, and wrongs done by them, were left to fester inside of them. They also found that this same festering messed, muddled, and mangled their relationships and coexistence with God. Life was difficult at best, and impossible in most situations.

Without forgiveness there cannot be love, without love there cannot be forgiveness – without both of these, there will be no respect. Without respect there cannot not be unity, without unity there cannot be community.

When the early believers began to feel the strain of unforgiveness on their communities of faith, Christ addressed the practice of forgiveness. Peter approached Jesus and asked,

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Matthew 18:21

Peter was attempting to quantify forgiveness, ‘How many times…..?’ Whether this was a low number for Peter, or, if Peter felt that this was a fully appropriate number – no number would have been correct. 

It is not a question that can be given a number, 

it is incalculable.  

‘Without forgiveness, there is no future.’

Desmond Tutu

As Jesus was speaking to community, how to have, and how to maintain, true community. The type of community where members work together to sustain and grow.  

Community is formed on a common center, a town or city is formed on a geographical commonality, a club or organization is formed on a common interest or belief, a church is a community of those with a common faith.

Jesus was preparing the coming church leaders to lead out with this most essential element of their earthly existence.  It would prove to be the most essential building block of the local communities of faith. It was the blueprint for the church.

Peter knew himself, more importantly, he knew people.  Seven times may not have been a low number, it may not have been a holy number, it is quite possible that, in Peter’s assertion, it was going to be a truly arduous number.

At Peter’s question, Jesus answered with the parable of the two unforgiven slaves, both of whom, in the end, suffered. One suffered because he did not receive forgiveness, the other suffered, because he would not give forgiveness.

As I said in the beginning, Forgiveness is an ambiguous concept and an even more ambiguous intentional action.

The absence of forgiveness is blatantly apparent in the first fifty chapters, or 1,533 verses of the bible. Most of the actions of forgiveness we see in the book of Genesis are centered on just two men.  One is the man Esau, who without petition, forgives his brother Jacob of the horrible transgressions acted out in the destruction of their relationship.  The second is the man Joseph, who faced every brutality up to death from his older brothers. It is in the forgiveness given by Joseph, we see visual of how God takes on this essential concept and practice of the human journey.

It is doubtful that you need a reminder of the sins committed by brothers against Joesph.  Their countless, often quickly calculated acts, culminated with the selling of their brother Joseph into slavery. We do not see much of the brothers following their betrayal of Joseph, nor do we truly know any of the mental and emotional suffering that this memory possibly created in them.  We do, however, see the torment surface when they, along with their people, face true physical crisis that requires they travel to a different nation for their own survival.


‘This is because of what we did to our brother, Joesph,’ they began to whisper to each other. ‘We are being punished for our sin.’

We have read of the life and existence of Joseph up to the point, however.  We have not heard of a dwelling on the pain caused by his brothers, rather we see a man who has carried on, in a tradition of doing right, trough very rough, and some surprisingly good times.  When these journey of these bothers, once again, intersects with the life of Joseph we begin to see his forgiveness journey.

The fact that there is not a documented struggle with forgiveness by Joesph towards his brothers, in the midst of a story that details all the other significant aspects of his story – brings us to a conclusion that he had not carried unforgiveness, hatred, or even resentment.

In our Tuesday bible project a couple of months ago, Mitch said (I paraphrase), ‘Joseph was so focused on God’s leading, and his own calling by God, that unforgiveness was not even a factor, there was no room for that to be given a thought.’ His decision had been made – withholding forgiveness, and instead, holding onto resentment and hatred, would have only held him back from God’s call.

As Joseph observed his bothers during the tests he set up, Joseph was not deciding forgiveness, that had already been given, he was, instead, determining the potential of their relationship from this point forward. ‘Could they be trusted?’ ‘Would it work for him to bring them to Egypt to live out out the drought?’, ‘How were the others in his family, especially his younger brother Benjamin, had they been treated properly?’

He was determining the ‘what’ of his future with his family, during his time of non-disclosure.

Eventually, his love would not permit him to hold back his expression of forgiveness.  He could hold it in no longer, it had to come out, he had to embrace each of these that had treated him so poorly.

When he revealed himself to his brothers and acted by proclaiming his forgiveness to them, this did not happen in that moment.  The forgiveness by Joesph of these undeserving bothers preceded this action.  He had already released the forgiveness and now he was acting in a way that released it in them.  But, the forgiveness was not yet complete.

It is in the final chapter of the story of Joesph that we see a human reality, and full circle of forgiveness.  Joseph’s brothers realize, at the death of their father, that Joseph’s forgiveness of them was surely a deceitful display for their father – probably just to reinforce his position of favorite.  

In their own humanness, they expressed the thoughts they had been suppressing since Joseph revealed himself,  ‘Everything that Joesph had done, all that he had forgiven, was not real, it had been an act, there was no way he could have forgiven……we could’t have done that,’ they were thinking.

They had not fully received the forgiveness of Joseph, not because he had withheld it, but because they were unable to receive it.  They were unable to fully accept the forgiveness from Joseph because they were not able to give forgiveness to others, that is the way it works. When we hold on to unforgiveness, when we cannot release our grasp, our hand is closed tight and therefore unable to open up to receive the forgiveness.

Joseph wept because the forgiveness had abruptly halted without his knowledge.  He wept because his brothers had been living in the unforgiven state of their relationship.  Joseph wept for the unforgiven state his brothers had made their home.

This brings us to a full picture of all the realities of forgiveness.

  1. Forgiveness is our own organic choice to let go or hold on. Holding on takes a lot of work, we have to remember, we have to go through the offense over and over again.  In doing this we permit the offense to ferment and grow, negatively impacting every other area of our life. The resentment, hatred, and vengeance that is a biproduct of unforgiveness is a torture and suffering that it, in a very real sense, a self imposed punishment of imprisonment.
  1. Forgiveness frees us to live, unforgiveness reckons us to death in our life.  Much like Ishmael reports of Captain Ahab’s unforgiving grudge towards the whale Moby Dick, climaxing with the death of Ahab in the vengeful pursuit, unforgiveness wraps its rope around our neck and takes us down. 
  1. Forgiveness is not a naive and dangerous forgetfulness. Joseph, who did not withhold forgiveness from his brothers, also did not set him self up to be thrown, once again, into a pit by his brothers.
  1. Forgiveness is seldom easy to receive.  Although the brothers lived ‘in’ the forgiveness of Joseph for several years, at the father’s death it was obvious they had not been able to fully accept it.  We can only fully accept forgiveness when we have freely given forgiveness.
  1. Forgiveness, when fully received, is a blessing to the giver. Only then can a relationship be fully restored and recognized.
  1. Forgiveness is only complete when we are able to see through and past the offending actions.  Joseph says to his brother, each time he presents them with the forgiveness, ‘You intended evil, but God used [your actions] for good.’

In regard to Forgiveness, what is God saying to you?

A Prayer About Love

Sunday Prayer Together 09.06.20

God, you have defined love as being patient, kind; not envious, not boastful, and not arrogant or rude. You have said that love does not insist on its own way, that it is not irritable or resentful, that it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but instead it rejoices in the truth. You have beautifully painted a portrait of love as bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things.

Lord, it it not our natural tendency to be patient or kind.  Often times we are envious, boastful, rude and arrogant.  Sadly, we do frequently insist on our own way, and, in all honesty, we can be irritable and rude, not to mention that we occasionally side with lies instead of favoring truth. And, full disclosure, we are not really fluent in hanging in there through all things, expecting the best in all all things, trusting beyond our vision in all things or in persevering through all things.

Father you have said that if we do not have love, we do not have anything.  You have assured us that if we have love we have everything, yet, if we do not have love, all that we have it of no value.  

Our human nature is to give love out sparingly, giving it only to those, and in those situations, where we are given back more than we give, refusing to give to those we do not agree with, those who follow our expectations, those we understand, those we tolerate, those we approve of, those we cannot see.  

Spectacularly, you have promised that Love Never Ends.

Sadly, here on earth, we can allow Hate to have an even more powerful and lasting impact.

We define love in selfish ways.  Love is a feeling, love can be withheld as an act of control and abuse, love is without cost or sacrifice, love is free.  The truth is, love is given freely, but it fully costs the giver everything.  Love requires sacrifice, selflessness, vulnerability, compromise, risk, and honesty.

God, remind us that Love is always a choice. Lord, may our lives be motivated by your call to love. Father, please nudge us in the direction of love in every moment of our lives.

God, may we always hold on to the fact that your Love has already been given freely to each of us.

Amen.

An Odd Debt To Owe

 ’Passover is a wartime liturgy.’

Dr. Michael J. Chan, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary

If we think of it, the Passover observance truly is designed for times of war, times of adversity, times or oppression, times of hatred and abuse, times of pandemics. It is any time when we need to remember that we are not alone, and that we have not been forgotten. A time when we celebrate a renewed trust and faithfulness by remembering the trust worthiness and faithfulness of God.

Passover, Pesach, the first of the  three annual Jewish festivals celebrated yearly.  They are celebrations yet holy and solemn moments of remembrance of God and the fact that he has redeemed his people. Passover is not only a remembrance of the faithfulness of God in the Egyptian exodus, but the history of the passover celebration is a building block of faith and community. Meaning, that the celebration itself is as much a part of the remembrance as is the reason for the celebration. 

Imagine a football game where the championship title was handed out amongst the exuberant cheers of the crowd before either team had taken the field.  Or a spelling bee where a young person is handed the trophy before a single letter had been uttered.  An academy award announced prior to a camera being turned on or a stage actor taking a bow before ever entering the theater.  And…what if this recognition of award was scheduled to be faithfully remembered annually, before there was ever a ball hiked, a word spelled, a camera loaded, a curtain opened?

As Moses, and his helper Aaron, left the palace of Pharoah, after their tenth time of speaking God’s words to ‘Let my people go,’ and being rejected –  God began to give these two men instructions for celebration of  the peoples’ release.  They were to organize a party to celebrate the deliverance of their first born male children during the tenth plagued, and, at the same time, to prepare the community to be ready to leave on a minutes moment.

They were about to a joyful event before they even understood what they were celebrating because the focus of the celebration had not yet happened.

So, Get this – The actual act of preparing, and then taking part in, the celebration was the first step in their trust of God, the first act of faith in their pursuit of God, and the first grasp of their coming liberation.

See, the Passover event, the deliverance of the first born sons, was the sounding call for the coming act of God – an act of liberation.  The passover celebration is a yearly time of remembrance of God’s act of liberation. A reminder that God is the God of liberation for all people, the God of freedom for all of humanity. 

‘The Passover meal,’ according to Michael Chan, ‘assures that the people are regularly attentive to the memory of liberation.  The time when God began teaching Israel to live, no longer as citizens within a system of domination, but rather recipients of the fierce benevolence of God.’

Passover is a reminder of how the ruler, the Pharoah was fighting against the freedom the liberating God demanded, the ruler was fighting against the lifegiving freedom of God, Moses, however was fighting for all of creation.

It was the time that the people were ready to make the transformation from slaves to freed men and women.  It is a time, much like our current times, when God is calling us to a very similar transition.

God called the people to trust that he was the God of deliverance and that they were to be ready for his calling of them out of slavery at any minute.  They were to have their eyes open and ears listening to the call to liberation.

He was calling the people to trust him with the what without understanding or comprehend the how.  God was calling the people to prepare for a transition from slavery to freedom, a change of mind as well as a change of status, a change of the way they talk to themself, the way they see themself, the way the consider others.  God was calling them to an individual transformation and a community transformation.

A Transformation that began with Trust, and landed on a power as a people. A people called to the the hands and feet of God. God was calling them to live out of the Love that was going to deliver them.

They made their bread without yeast to reduce the needed time.  They painted their doorposts in an act of trust and freed obedience.  They look to God for the transformation on earth.

Let’s take a leap forward, about 1,600 years, past the birth, life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, past the conversion of Paul, to the time when Paul is addressing the believers living in Rome. A time when he is carrying on this mission of liberation.  Delivering a people, not from a diabolical ruler who keeps the people in a physical slavery, to a time when the slavery and oppression is much more subtle, a much more civilized oppressive time, a time when the message is targeted to a problem within each person, a time when the issue of slavery and the need for deliverance is an internal matter for the community of faith, a time much like our time.

Let’s look at one of the most abused, most misused, more perverted passage in the Bible, a passage used to enslave and oppress since the beginning of time.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority[a] does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. 

Romans 13:1-7

In there early years of our own country, this passage was used by slave owners to keep the black slaves in submission, it was used during the American Revolution to keep the rebellion down, it was used as part of the physical and emotional propaganda forcing native Americans off their ancestoral land to a death march across the United States to the land many of us now call home, It was used recently in June of 2018 when our then US attorney General, Jeff Sessions, supporting the action of separating families at the border, said: 

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes, orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.” 

It was used in In July 1933, during Hitler’s first summer in power, a young German pastor named Joachim Hossenfelder preached a sermon in the towering Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin’s most important church. He used the words of Romans 13 to remind worshippers of the importance of obedience to those in authority. The church was festooned with Nazi banners and … flags, its pews packed with the Nazi Party faithful — including men in the brown shirts of the [Stormtroopers], the Nazis’ paramilitary movement.

Ironically, as Paul wrote to the church at Rome, his message was in direct opposition to these misuses of the passage.  If we go back to his previous writings in chapter 12, we see that he is not talking about blind loyalty to oppressive states, but, instead he was speaking to a life lived in opposition that is still founded on God’s law.  A love that is not motivated by hate and oppression, a love that let’s us live in a deliverance that then enables us to speak that love through our lives regardless of the oppression or freedom we live in.

Paul is calling the believers, in the midst of a very subtle oppression unseen to the outsiders, calling them to live without uncalled for risk, instead, he is, calling them to live in the same way that the Hebrews were led to live prior to their deliverance, a call to celebrate deliverance even before the deliverance, a call to live always ready, in haste, to receive the message from God to pick up and go, a call to love, care for, see to, a call to trust and look to God, even while we are following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.

It is a calling of an individual walk, a calling of a community looking ahead in unity, a calling of love.  And, in this calling, Paul makes the powerful statement, the statement that was as profound, yet controversial, then as it is now. 

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.’

Romans 13:8

Imagine, summing up everything that a religious faith had called for, everything that a faithful person had adhered to, everything that had been used, and  abused, by religious institutions and political powers to control and oppress,  to sum it up in these three simple words,

‘Love one another.’

It was as outrageous as Moses and Aaron telling the people to celebrate deliverance before it had taken place. Paul was telling the people that very code  they had been governed by, the law and it’s man made additional restrictions, could be summed up in a single word, that word being Love.

Love your neighbor, clearly it was not that easy, Jesus has complicated it when he made sure that they understood that the ‘everyone’ applied also to the Samaritans, those we are most ingrained to hate. Now Paul is telling the believers that love is also to those that oppress, to those that speak hate and division, to rulers that abuse, to religious leaders who manipulate. I am sure that the listeners to the words of Paul couldn’t help but think ‘this guy has now taken LOVE pretty much as far as it will it will spread.’

And, now, Paul is reminding them of the furthest stretches of love that had already been given by Jesus, the stretch to ‘love each other.’

The full covering of God’s Love, as well as our order to love, surely spreads to all, there is now not one outside of God compassionate and merciful love.

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another’

Now, here is the thing, God’s love is so full, and overflowing, that when the believers fail to live is, fail to answer the call, fail to make our own sacrifices – his love is forced to find another path.  God chose Moses, who was not an accepted member of the Hebrew community by the Hebrew community to show the Love of God through their deliverance, God chose a man named Paul, who was not a Christian, but, instead was a devout persecutor of Christians, to tell the Romans this message of Love, because it was overflowing and had to find a new path. 

God is calling us to Love, to recognize our own deliverance that has taken place, to step out of the bonds that we allow to restrict and control us, to love all people.  It is interesting how the phrase ‘Love all others’ is showing up on shirts and signs, in places totally unfaith related, the message of love has failed to be revealed to the world through the followers of Christ, so it is overflowing.  It is accompanied by outflows of the Love of God, statements like, ‘Listen to the Oppressed.’  You can walk into a store downtown, a store that does not carry the  label of ‘Christian’ yet you will find shirts with statements like these hanging on the racks, you can enter a Christian labeled store and find t-shirts with labels such as ‘I put the stud into Bible Study.’  We have failed to love, and we live in a world that is screaming out, ‘Love Me.”  A world where Jesus told us to live and go teaching and showing the world everything that he has taught and shown us.

It is time for the church to celebrate our deliverance through our love.

Let’s pray.  Pray.

Knowing Names

Prayer Together 08.30.20

God, we are thankful that you know our name

Lord, we are grateful, that you know our name better than we know it ourself

Father, we are amazed that our name never leaves your mind.

God, you know the names Aubrey Dameron, Ida Beard, Emily Morgan, Selena Not Afraid, Aubrey Dameron, Savanna Greywind, Angela McConnell, and the countless of other native American women and girls who remain missing or have been murdered. Father, while our system has dismissed, or forgotten, far more of these names than it has remembered, we know that you do not forget, nor will you ever forget these names.

Lord, long before we ever heard, or paid attention to, these, you already knew the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Bettie Jones, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Dominique White. We fail your call to us as we forget our fellow humans beings created by you, these who have died because of color – senselessly and unjustly killed. After our outrage, or sympathy, dissipates and our entitled excuses do their job of removing our guilt and refocusing the blame on these victims, we forget these names.  You, O God, never forget these you lovingly created; these you know by name, and even more by heart. You share in the tears of those that loved them and, are now, facing an earthly eternity of grief in their absence.

Father, we ignore the daily barrage of numbers, each representing other loved humans created by you. We hear numbers like the 43,000 persons locked up in across the State of Oklahoma; or the numbers, 1,310 out of every 100,000, numbers statisically bypassing the names that you know of those in our state locked up and imprisoned, numbers surpass the numbers in all other states as well as the numbers in all other NATO nations.  We seldom know these names, or remember these numbers.

God, you know the names of each of the 16,289 students in the Norman Public Schools, as well as the names of each of the 1,962 employees that make or public school system.  You know the name of each of the 22,152 University of Oklahoma students that have recently returned to our city.

Lord, you know the names of each of the 34 deaths in our city in the past six months due to the Covid 19 illness, you know the name of everyone of the 149 currently active Covid cases in our city, you know the name of every one of the 1,522  city residents the have fully recovered from covid.  God, you know the names of those scientists currently working feverishly on a vaccine for the virus, you also know the names of those who have sought to speak false information and outright lies into the minds of our fellow American citizens.

God, we are thankful that you knew the names of every inhabitant in Ninevah crying out for any kind of deliverance, and you knew the name of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, of the sons of Jacob, including Joseph, and of Shiphrah, Puah, Jochebed, Miriam, and of Bithiah.

God we are thankful that you have told us your name. Father, we are thankful that you know our name.

Amen.

A Name To Never Be Named

Things were different, you couldn’t really name it, but there was a change in the overall atmosphere, it was indescribable. For starters, they were going in a different direction, a very intentional direction. You only had to look were the sun was in the morning to recognize that they were heading south. Jerusalem was south, the paranoid politicians were in the Jerusalem, the south, the power of the religious leaders was in Jerusalem, in the south.  It wasn’t a good direction to be heading.

None of the of disciples had said anything, even though they knew that Jesus was purposely going to Jerusalem.   Still, no one said anything to Jesus, and there was no need to say anything to each other.  They were all thinking the same thing, ‘don’t go to Jerusalem, don’t go to Jerusalem’ – everyday, at the break of dawn they would, once again, find themself heading south, towards Jerusalem.

A lot had happened in a very brief amount of time, it was unusual, and it was the same. Jesus was acting the same towards the crowds, he still had an overriding passion – healing the sick, curing disease, and you couldn’t not see his continual focus on how oppressed they were.  There was always a crowd, and Jesus was always healing and curing, and all of the disciples were beginning to feel the weight of this oppression as everything seemed to be resting on how they were being abused by the politicians and the religious leader.  

The crowd of 5-10 thousand at Bethsaida, up north near the Sea of Galilee, had also been physically hungry, stomach growling hungry.  The disciples were the first to verbally address the hunger, suggesting that it was time they send the people home.  It really wasn’t a heartless plan, this enormous crowd had all been there all day, the line of people needing Jesus’ healing touch seemed to growing rather than shrinking, and, what was most concerning was that Jesus was visibly fatigued, he needed some rest.  Jesus didn’t even entertain the idea of sending the people home, there were too many of them, too many that were sick, and, all of them were suffering, too many that were dying under the oppression.

Oppression.  The political leaders needed to keep the people in line and quiet, in order to could keep their positions of power.  The religious leaders needed to keep the people in line and quiet, to keep the local political leaders happy. The political and religious leaders hated each other, but now, they were pretty chummy, it was a tense yet helpful relationship for both sides.  If the religious leaders kept the people in line, the political leaders were more much more cooperative.  Politicians set up a temple tax which primarily went into the pockets of the religious leaders. The religious leaders knew the arrangement was expedient to their agenda, and that it permitted the religious institution to have an influence in the appointment of powerful persons.  It was a win for everyone, except for the average Hebrew, the Jews.  They had to periodically go to the temple to make their offerings and sacrifices.  This was expensive, they had the travel, the lodging, the food, they had to take off work, once they got to the temple they had to pay the temple tax, then, they had to pay for the sacrificial animal. The people were oppressed, and their faith leaders, and institution, were responsible for the suffering.

There was a lot of hurting, and Jesus, was incapable of not noticing and addressing hurting, pain, and oppression. The hunger of the people had not escaped Jesus notice, his response to the disciples suggestion of sending the people home was to say, ‘you feed them.’  All twelve of the men were dumbfounded at this demand, 

‘With what?’ They asked with a hint of indignation.

Jesus didn’t seem offended by the tone of their questions, he didn’t even really seem to notice the blatant sarcasm, he just asked, ‘What do we have?’

‘We, what do WE, have….’ They were all thinking, however, again, no one said it, ‘WE don’t have anything, WE didn’t bring anything!’

Instead of speaking, all the men just stared expressionless, sometimes no expression communicates more than any form of expression. Eventually, Jesus said, ‘Are you sure that we don’t have anything to feed them?’  

It was Andrew who finally spoke up about a boy who had offered his five loaves and two fish his mom had packed for him. It was a sweet offer on part of the little boy, it would be a  touching sentimental story to tell folks back home, but really , five loaves and two fish for this crowd?  That was probably not even enough to keep the little boy going for the rest of the day.  

It was one of those moments when you expected Jesus to say, ‘That’s nice, now, seriously, what else do we have?’

But Jesus didn’t said that, he didn’t dismiss the sacrifice of the little boy, he didn’t even hint that Andrew was wasting everyone’s time. Jesus thanked the boy, took the food, and sure enough, he fed the crowd.  But, even after their stomachs were full, they the crowd stuck around, it was getting late.  The people still needed Jesus to heal them and they needed his peace to survive the  oppression they lived under. So, that was then Jesus sent the disciples ahead while he stayed with the crowds until all went home.

That was typical Jesus.  Everyone mattered, everyone had a name, everyone deserved health, freedom, respect, – everyone deserved to be known by their name. Jesus knew all their name, he knew every person because every person deserved to be known.

Later, Jesus asked the disciples what names the people were giving to him, his disciples were quick to answer, ‘John the Baptizer’, ‘Elijah’, ‘Jeremiah’, were all offered as answers.  Jesus listened to these and all the other names the they had heard.  With every answer Jesus would nod, a signal that he had heard the answer, he didn’t seem disturbed or bothered by any of the answers, afterall, it hadn’t been very long since the religious leader had called him ‘Satan’.  Once you are given that name, no name is going to be more offensive.  Jesus looked down at the ground, he was thinking, it was obvious that this discussion was not over.  After a short time of silence, he rose his head up again, he had a look of love and embrace on his face and in his posture, which was now accompanied by a something much deeper yet unhurried, there seemed to be a new urgency in his tone.  Jesus looked around, locking eyes with each of the men, still communicating love and respect, then after connecting with all twelve men, then he looked back down at the ground.

‘Who do YOU say that I am?’ He asked as his head moved up to the point where, once again, he was looking each of the men in the eye. The question was met with silence.  This was a dangerous question to answer, it was dangerous for the disciples, and all answers would be dangerous for Jesus. There were always curious ears; there were always profiteering eavesdroppers.  Some of those present were not sure that they thought, some would still be doubters and unsure all the way to the ascension.  Many had a good idea of what they believed, they were hesitant to put it into words however.  Everyone knew certain words, words like ‘God’ and ‘Messiah’ would be the final straw for the religious leaders – A rabbi convincing his disciples that he was the Messiah, or worse, that he was God would be an undeniable call to action, very bad actions.

So, the awkward silence persisted, Jesus continued to look at them.  His look didn’t seem to be condescending, but, instead, concerned. His expression completely changed when Peter couldn’t keep quiet any long, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  This seemed to be a huge relief to Jesus, his expression changed from concern to hope.  Peter, standing on this truth of understanding of who Jesus is, that he was going to be able to grab hold of the faith God gave to him, was the affirmation that Jesus needed..

Jesus even changed Peter’s name to ‘Rock’.

This made the next name Jesus gave to Peter all the more shocking. Jesus called Peter ‘Satan’.  Peter had finally spoken out, saying to Jesus what everyone had been thinking. 

‘You can’t go to Jerusalem, we have to turn back towards Galillee! You can’t let this death happen to you!’ This all came after Jesus had told the men about his death and resurrection.

Peter was now called ‘Satan’ by Jesus.  The name you never want to be called, the most horrid name that Peter could ever hear.  ‘Satan.’

Peter didn’t want Jesus to die, none of the men did – however, they would understand later, Jesus had to die – in order to be resurrected, he had to first die.

Peter despised this ‘dying’ plan, it was painful, for Peter , for the others, and especially for Jesus.  Peter may have been sincere, he may have thought he had pure motive, but, he was trying to get Jesus to step onto a different path.

Early on, when Satan tried to finish Jesus off early but was met with failure, he had vowed to return to Jesus, he had promised to show up at another ‘opportune’ time to tempt Jesus again, an ‘opportune’ time had arrived.  This time, however, he used Peter.  Peter, with good intentions, was trying to protect his friend Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.  Now, even the best intentions were not enough to keep Peter’s name from being changed to ‘Satan.’

Names are wonderful and names can be a nightmare.  Just ask Peter. Just ask Moses. 

1,500  years earlier, another man dealt with a troublesome name, this man was Moses.  Mosheh, in the hebrew, or Moishe, in yiddish, or Moses (or Mes) to the  Egyptians.  The Etymology of these three forms of the same name are still a struggle for linguists today. For the man named Moses, during the time of the Hebrew slavery in Egypt, it was a unavoidable metaphor for the personal struggle of his own life.  A struggle he was never able to escape.  Moses, a Hebrew child who was placed in a basket into the Nile River, by his mother and sister in order to save him from the edict of the brutal Pharoah to kill the Hebrew children in the Nile river, was rescued by the daughter of Pharoah, and then raised in the Pharoah’s palace as an Egyptian male, a family member in the family of Pharoah, raised as a man of great privilege and authority.   

Here is the problem with this name Moses carried.  Pharoah’s daughter, Bithiah, basically created the name Moses, by putting two word roots together, the first was ‘son of…’ and the second part was ‘I drew  out of the water.’ Basically, she intended the name to say, ‘this is my son, and, I drew him out of the water,’ However, she made a grammar error, basically in spelling and the ‘I drew him out of water’ basically became ‘he will draw them out.’  The Hebrew, or Yiddish understanding of the name is similar, a one word explanation is our word ‘deliver’, with the added meaning of the word ‘water’.  The meaning of the name was also, in Hebrew traditions, ‘those who are saved.’ 

This Hebrew and Egyptian name etymology tells the story of the battle that went on in Moses himself.  He was considered a son of an Egyptian, living in the home of the very ruler that wanted him to be put to death as a child, and, was rejected by his own people, the Hebrews. Add to this, his attempt to deliver another Hebrew, further alienated him from the Egyptians and the Hebrews. He was a slave and a master, an oppressed person as well as an oppressor, a protector and a murderer, he was a man on the outside of everything, a man now accepted by no one, a man who no longer belonged, a man who could no longer go home, a man  who was known but who’s greatest desire was to not be known. He was a man on the run.

Soon, he found out that not only was he known, but, that he was know by God, who knew his name.

‘Moses, Moses.’ God called out, ‘Take your shoes off, you are on holy ground.’ 

God then introduced himself to Moses.  It seems ironic that an iconic religious deliverer like Moses had to be introduced to God, but he did.  As the discussion continues, we realize that even the Hebrews needed an introduction to God.  It has been four hundred years since Joseph, 400 years since the talk of, and dependence on, the God of Joseph.  This God, the God of Joesph, the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of the Hebrews, the God who knew Moses name, the God who knew each of the names of the Hebrews, the God who had not forgotten them.  The God who had heard their cries, cries sent out into the unknown and to the unknown – God was now sending a deliverer.  That God was sending a deliverer who’s name was  Moses.

‘They are going to ask who your are,’ a surprised, hesitant, and fearful, Moses said, ‘What is your name, how do I identify you to them?’

‘I am God,’ God responded in the same way any one responds when their title is their name, s name that is truly, and only, owned by no other being, ‘tell them my name is ‘I AM’.

So, God, was sending Moses to the place he never wanted to return to, in the same manner, God was sending Jesus to the very place that his disciples knew he should never, ever, go near.  Both men were given the same mission, a mission to deliver the oppressed.  

The oppressed, it is a very strange word.  If you have not ever been truly oppressed, which is probably true for everyone hearing this message, then you cannot identify, you can not sympathize, and you definitely are incapable of empathizing – seldom do even even acknowledge a need to understand the impact of oppression on another.  For the Hebrews who were now slaves in Egypt, the path to becoming oppressed had been so gradual that they didn’t even recognize it until it was too late, until they could do nothing except send a cry out into the universe.  

For the Jews that held the attention and compassion of Christ, oppression had come at the hands of their rulers in cooperation with their religious leaders, the authorities had paved the road to this state of their lives, the people had accepted this because they had blindly trusted, and accepted, the lies of their leaders.

Oppressors are good, they know how to manipulate and divide, they know how to make those they are going to oppress nameless, they call them liberals, radicals, thugs, rapists, drug dealers, murderers, killers, worthless, anything that is quickly interpreted as ‘bad’ even though the intentional meaning is never questioned, and their attacks are seldom critiqued.  Oppressors that are good have eliminating those that will questions their lies, it is all part of a well oiled campaign to subtly accelerate the oppressive process.

The one most effective way to counter oppression is to know the names of those being attacked and oppressed.  The Egyptians did not know the Hebrews names, they accepted the labels expressed by Pharoah, the Politicians did not know Jesus, they accepted the labels of the religious leaders.  Fear mongering, lies, conspiracies, slander, are all proven techniques of effective oppressors.  Keeping people from knowing each other’s name is usually the most effective path.

This was the final straw that pushed the Chinese Communist party leaders to take forceful action in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.  They were fine waiting the student protestors out, however, when all the other groups began to enter the square, groups the leaders had worked diligently to keep divided though the use lies and hateful labels. As these previously divided groups of people began to interact, as they began to know each other’s name, as they began to reject the hateful labels they had received from their leaders, the party officials realized their power was threatened. They took action.

When Peter was given the name ‘Satan’ a truth about himself was revealed, he realized that he was putting himself above all else, he recognized how he was allowing the true Satan to use him at an opportune moment.  This horrible name opened his eyes.

A name, tells us a lot about ourselves and tells us a truth about others. 

Ever since they constructed the new road connecting West Lindsey and 36th Avenue, I have seen, almost daily, large damaged areas of the fence.  Sometimes it was obvious that a car had done the damage but most of the time I struggled to understand.  One day I walking the path and I witnessed a man taking the slats out of the fence. I recognized the man, I realized I knew his name, this was ‘Ray’. I knew Ray, I knew his name, I had met Ray while I volunteered at Food and Shelter.  Ray was one of the many clients we served that lived at the river. Ray and I had many discussions, during which he freely shared that he had been given, and chosen, the names ‘unhoused’, ‘homeless’, ‘unemployed’, ‘unemployable’, and sometimes the name ‘bum’  because he ‘didn’t follow rules very well, or at all’, and that, sometimes he had a ‘temper’ which was why every six months he would be fired from the University’s landscaping crews.  As I approached Ray, he immediately recognized me, he even knew my name. 

‘Rick! Can you give me a hand with this?’ He shouted.

He needed my help taking the fence apart.  I had always thought of these ‘fence destroyers’ in less than pleasant terms, now I was one of them.  As I joined Ray in the legions of being a ‘Felon’, which is what I assumed would be the name posted in the Norman Transcript below my mug shot, I asked him why we were destroying the fence.  

Ray explained that, although he considered most of the folks at the river, to be friends, he still didn’t trust them.  ‘No one trusts each other down here,’ he explained.  ‘So, everyday we have to take all of our important stuff with us on our bikes.’ All this important stuff made it impossible to get the bikes through, or over, the fence, so they had to disassemble it to get to their day.

‘I’ve wondered why it is always like this,’ I said.  

‘Yes, it is us,’ he shrugged.

The the eyesore of a fence was now, to me, a sign that a people, a people with names not just labels, had not been considered when the fence was originally placed designed.  Whereas, before I assumed the worst about the broken fence.  I would regularly see the city workers fixing the fence, I would imagine the hateful things they had to be saying about the fence destoryers.  Now, I knew, it was Ray. Now I didn’t hate, it was Ray. Actually, now it was Ray and me.

A couple of months ago, as I was driving by, I saw a city  vehicle with a city worker standing and looking at the fence.  He was walking along the fence and you could tell he was studying the fence.  As I returned, I saw this same man on the other side of the fence, walking down into the woods toward the river.

The next time I drove by, a city crew out working on the fence yet again.  This time was different, this time, instead of just reconstructing the fence, they were building an opening.  Now, I seldom see Ray, or his community breaking the fence, now, for the most part, they are going to the opening.  I think the man I saw earlier, the city worker studying the fence, eventually went down to the river to learn the names of the people previously known only by the level of ‘fence destroyer,’ he find the most used path, and the best place for an opening. 

I think this city worker met Ray, who introduced him to the others, including one lady who had the name JoAnn. JoAnn always, somehow, had an extra pound of ground beef or an array of chicken parts, which, on most good days, she would share with all the others who also had names. Now, these people ceased to be known by hostile labels and now had names.  Now, that they had names, is was much easier to address their need, now, they were a little less oppressed.

Jesus was insistent that his disciples understood the oppression that the Jews were living under.  Jesus sent his disciples out to these oppressed people because that was the calling that the Father gave Jesus, ‘a calling to give them a full life,’  Jesus sent them out so that they could know their names. 

Knowing names is what always brings us to accept God’s call, it always leads us trust the God who calls.

God said to Moses, ’I know you by name.’ God said to the Hebrews, through Moses, ‘I know you by name,’ God says to us ‘I know you by name.’

What names do you know”

Let’s pray.

The Measure of Faith

08.23.20

It took five women to change the course of history.  These five women did what had never been done.  Five women who, as far as we know, did not receive direct instruction from God, still, followed God in the midst of their day to day survival.  Five women took extreme personal risks that they didn’t really have to take.  Five women risked their lives, and, along the way, unknowingly changed the world.  Five women did what their gut told them to do even if it was dangerous, not just for them, but dangerous for those closest to them. Five woman saved the Israelites. Five women saved a group of humans, humans that were a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, a promise of a people, a people we, today, know as the Jews. 

These five women did this extraordinary feat without any fanfare, without any substantial assistance, without any visible concern for their own safety, without support from, or even knowledge by, their community. Five women who simply stepped out and did what needed to be done.  Five women who acted in historic ways, doing so merely out of their daily existence, their daily survival. Five women who were the sounding pistol declaring that the deliverance of the Israelites had begun.  Five women who saved the lineage of Jesus.

Five women in a story that begins with two men. The first, was a newly enthroned ruler, Pharaoh.

This new Pharaoh was on the throne, a ruler who had an Israelite problem, there were simply too many of them, they were like wild animals in the street, and they were multiplying like feral dogs.  This Pharaoh was brutal and had no appreciation for the Israelites.  His ignorance of the history of his own people was staggering, his focus was himself, he was his own god – this was the god that instructed him how to secure his power, how to eliminate threats to his power, how to eliminate ‘problems’ immediately.  His paranoid ‘god syndrome’ fueled existence mandated that he have all the answers needing no assistance, no one could be trusted, no one – anyone could be fired, eliminated, at the drop of a hat, at the hint of unloyalty, at the need of a scapgoat, the only characteristic of a worthy employee was blind acceptance of Pharaoh as ‘god’. His unwillingness to grasp even the most basic aspects of the history of his people led him to act with blatant disregard and reckless abandon.  In a turn from wiser and the more stable rulers before him, he had no appreciation for, or even knowledge of, the Hebrew deliverer Joseph, nor did he have any respect for the God of Joesph and his people the Hebrews, the Israelites. He had no fear of this God who had shown himself in such a mighty way in the history of his people – his fear was of men, not God, a fear of what men could take from him.

The other male, a three month old Hebrew infant, was named Moses.

But, it was five women who were the heroes of this story, they were the first to be called by God, they were the first to take the deliberate and risky actions, they were the first, in this story, and the case could be made that they were the first in all of the Bible stories up to this point, to step out based on a faith conviction that this was actually not really a choice at all – it was life guided by faith. It was their daily life.

Let’s meet these heroes.

We begin with Shiphrah and Puah, two Israelite women, midwives who served their own people, the Hebrews.  They were summoned out of their day to day existence to appear before this Hebrew hating ruler.  Being summoned is seldom a positive for an oppressed person, it is devastating when it come from a brutal powerful ruler.  Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all of the male children born of Hebrew women.  These two women who had dedicated themselves to God’s calling to bring life into the world, now were given the order to take that life instead.  However, these women were dedicated to their calling, to life, and more than that, they feared God. They disobeyed, and when summoned again, Pharaoh asked why he is still seeing Hebrew newborn boys. These two women in the work of life were now facing their own death, still, they stood their ground, standing on their faith, blaming the quick labor of the Hebrew women, as the reason for their inability to stop these forbidden births.

Two more Hebrew women, Jochebed, and her daughter Miriam, are the next audacious heroes of this story.  Jochebed had nursed and hidden her son, Moses,  for three months after hearing of Pharoah’s edict to put to these Hebrew boys to death by being thrown into the vicious Nile river.  Ironically, the newborn female infants were allowed to live, they were not a threat – Pharaoh had no clue of the threat of his own misogynistic ingrained prejudices were to his power. Jochebed and Miriam hatched a bizarre plan that would only work if God was a part of the action. Jochebed and Miriam, as ordered by Pharaoh, ‘threw’ their beloved Moses, into the Nile River – however, before ‘throwing’ him into the river, they placed him inside a basket that had been retrofitted to float.  They prepared the basket, they put the infant Moses into the basket, and they let go of it into the river, releasing their control, surrendering it into the hands of a God they didn’t really know a lot about.

Our fifth heroic woman now enters the picture, a woman named Bithiah – an Egyptian, non Israelite, non Hebrew woman who was also the daughter of the brutal and paranoid Pharoah.  She was bathing in the river when she saw a basket floating in the water. Ordering one of her attendants to retrieve the basket she was surprised to find a child neatly tucked into the basket. Bithiah immediately recognized that this was a child of a Hebrew woman, and, presumed that this child had been released into the unpredictable waters of the Nile in order to save the life of this little boy.

It boggles the brain to think of the journey of this outrageous faith engineered plan which called for a mother to save her son by placing him into a basket, then placing the basket into the very river where he was ordered to die, a plan which ended with the child being rescued by the daughter of the very man who ordered the death of this infant, and, ultimately having this child raised in the very palace where this same brutal ruler lived, his own home…..and, all of this, is still decades before this same child, raised in the home of the ruler who sought his death, would deliver the Israelites from the brutally of the following Pharaoh.

We cannot leave this story of these five heroic women without looking at one final act of bravery.  Jochebed, and her daughter Miriam, allowed themselves to be noticed – again, it is best to go under the radar, unnoticed, when you are an oppressed person.  It would be nearly impossible to consider the possibility that Bithiah naively accepted the appearance of Miriam as serendipitous.  In doing this, both of these Hebrews put their own lives, as well as their families and the life of this beloved infant, in jeopardy.  They had allowed themselves to be noticed – this plan of faith required not only risk and release, it required that they place themselves in the crosshairs of a powerful, brutal, and paranoid, ruler.

Five women against a powerful man who was was dismissive and assuredly misogynistic.  Five women who were considered powerless and weak by a ruler that set out to destroy an entire people. Five women who began a movement that resulted in the deliverance of that people. Five women who were guided by faith, five women given the faith to answer the call, five women empowered with the grace to act on the call, five women who changed the world.

Five women whose faith that set the bar for a grown Moses, who, on ten specific occasions would be called upon by God to speak on behalf of God, to confront a man who consider himself to be a god.

So, what is faith? How do we obtain faith? 

We had a family living next to us who had a daughter with a disability from birth.  She was, confined to a wheel chair and, every two years would have to enter the hospital for an extended stay during which she would go through a harrowing physical treatment to attempt to restore her health, as much as possible.  A treatment much like the worst chemotherapy experience that you can imagine.  It was traumatizing for her and her family just to go through this.  She, along with her family, attended a church, where the pastor would often speak of our level of faith being our responsibility, ie. ‘If you are poor it is because you do not have enough faith, if your marriage is failing it is because you do not have enough faith, if your house is too small or you hate your job or your kids are a mess it is because you do not have enough faith,’ and frequently, he would preach in the direct eyesight of this little girl, ‘If you are sick it is because you do not have enough faith’. One Sunday as he began going down the path of this heretical teaching about faith, the siblings of this girl stood up from their seats, and non apologetically moved to the center aisle, turned their sister’s chair around, and pushed her to the exit door.  At the point, the parents, as they shared later, finally realized that they should have done this years before.

When this little girl completed the fifth grade, approaching the summer when it was time for another hospital extended treatment, she explained to her parents that she was ‘done’. She had made the decision to do no more treatments.  When I say ‘ready’ this little girl had a clearer understanding of life and death, of eternity, than probably most adults.  She was truly ‘ready’. The family grieved but understood and honored her decision. By the start of the next school year she had passed away.

This was knowing God enough in life that she was able to trust God in death.  This was having enough faith.

‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.’

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NRSV)

Five problematic words made this statement difficult for us to fully grasp in our English language state of mind, and our own tendency toward a selfish theology when interpreting scripture:

Assurance, Things, Hoped, Conviction, Received Approval

While a greek word study of these two verses written to the early Christians who had a Jewish background would give us a clearer understanding of the meaning of this passage – Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, does a superb job of explaining these words through his translation:

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2

Take a moment to look at, and consider, these words again.

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2 (the Message)

It was this firm foundation that allowed the five women to save the life of Moses. It was the fundamental trust they had in the known but unseen God (actually for one of the women, God was unseen and unknown) that permitted them to accept the risk of saving this life.

It was this fundamental faith that had consistently allowed this little girl to trust God with her life, now leading her to trust God with her death.

As the apostle Paul is teaching the believers in Rome how to be ready to live like the five women who saved Moses, and, how to be community at the same time, he says, 

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3

This brings us to the issue of ‘Enoughness’.

We are not the master, or developers, of our faith.  We do not grow our faith, we do not strengthen our faith, we do not own our faith, we do not determine our faith. 

Faith is what permits us to answer ‘yes’ to God’s call – whether it is to respond with disobedience to a brutal Pharaoh with a god complex, or to let go of a basket into the Nile River in order to save the life of your child, or to painfully accept your Father’s plan to save the world.  


When God calls, or leads, or intentionally places us on the path where he needs us to be, then it is not a question of ‘Enoughness’, it is not ‘do we have enough faith to answer, or to follow, or to trust’ – it is a question of ‘do we trust the God that we know, to give us the exact needed measure of faith to do what he calls us to do?’.

We end up at Jesus question that Jesus poses to his disciples – ‘Who Do You Say That I Am?’

Jesus was not asking this as a test to see if his disciples had been paying attention in class, nor was it reprimand them for their ‘lack of faith.’ He was asking because he was now heading to Jerusalem, he was at a fork in the road where the direction of his physical journey was lining up with his journey to the cross. While this would ultimately be a solitarily journey that Jesus would have to travel alone, he was fully aware, though, that on the way, his disciples would be at his side.  They would be going as far as they were able to go.  To travel with him the distance they were equipped to travel, they would have to be ready to grab ahold of the measure of faith that God was giving them.  To face the pain and struggles ahead, this faith was going to be essential.

To grasp this faith, they needed to be standing on an unshakable foundation, a foundation of truly knowing God.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter

Jesus smiled the smile of the Father, knowing that Peter was ready to face the horror that lie ahead, he would make mistakes, but in the end he would realize that he was standing on a Rock.  Jesus proclaims to Peter, “God has revealed this to you! The father has given you enough faith.”

Our question today is – “Who do you say that Jesus is?”