The Day After

On Monday, Christmas Day, we recognized the birth of Jesus. We call this the Incarnation; God became flesh.

Now it’s Wednesday. So what has changed. For those who do not believe probably nothing. For those who are Christian, much has changed. As Christians, we are called to trust a new narrative that this birth announces. The truth of God has been revealed in a historical person of flesh and bone and Spirit. If we trust this as the truth and the reality of our life, our lives should be new and fresh today.

What follows in the life of this child is the unfolding of the fullness of that reality, lived out in plain sight.

Morning Reflections

Many say we, Christians in the church, are the hands and feet of God. But, I think too often we fail to realize that we are also the ears and mouth of God. We fail to listen. And we fail to speak into the world, the Word that is Jesus Christ. We also fail to be the body incarnate, where God’s will is actualized in us through the Spirit of Christ.

The Lies We Tell

Since the Las Vegas tragic shooting, I have frequently heard pro-gun people say, “Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation. Look at the number of gun deaths they suffer from every year.” Reading it, I wondered to myself, since common sense told me that even if Chicago had the toughest gun laws, it was close enough to other areas, like Indiana and Ohio, for those wishing to have a gun could go and acquire a gun with not restrictions.

In my search, I found this article from the The Chicago Times. I think it is far closer to the truth about guns and Chicago than those of the pro-gun lobbies.

The truth is that once Chicago had tough gun restrictions. But the federal government has forced the city and state to gut it’s laws to the point, it is as easy to acquire a gun in the Chicago area as anywhere else. Besides that, Indiana has such weak laws, within an hour, a person can drive to Indiana, buy a gun with no background check, return to Chicago and commit a crime with that gun.

Something to think about.

Lectionary Reflection Matthew 18:15-20

Sometimes, Jesus does not leave us much wiggle room for interpretation. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus speaks to the contentious of the faith, in first-century Palestine, in just about any century that followed, and certainly today. Church, if one wrongs you, then speak directly to them alone, if you are unable to reconcile, then bring one or two with you as witnesses, and if there continues to be no reconciliation, then bring it before the entire body of faith community. If the offender refuses to reconcile, then consider him or her outside the body. Only remember how Jesus treated the Gentile and tax-collectors!

I think John Wesley knocks this one out of the ball park in his sermon “The Cure of Evil-Speaking“:

“Avoid everything in look, gesture, word, and tone of voice, that savors of pride or self-sufficiency. Studiously avoid everything magisterial or dogmatical, everything that looks like arrogance or assuming. Beware of the most distant approach to disdain, overbearing, or contempt. With equal care avoid all appearance of anger; and though you use great plainness of speech, yet let there be no reproach, no railing accusation, no token of any warmth but that of love. Above all, let there be no shadow of hate or ill-will, no bitterness or sourness of expression; but use the air and language of sweetness, as well as gentleness, that all may appear to flow from love in the heart. And yet this sweetness need not hinder your speaking in the most serious and solemn manner; as far as may be, in the very words of the oracles of God (for there are none like them,) and as under the eye of Him who is coming to judge the quick and dead.”

Lectionary Reflections – Romans 12:9-21

I suppose it was as frustrating for Paul, as for us today. Paul had the task of not only bringing the word of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, or the pagans; he also had the call of helping them to grow into their new faith. We must never forget when reading Paul, that he wrote his letters to newly-minted Christians. They had not yet developed the character of Christ. They probably did not understand what it was like to have the nature of Christ, or even know how to obtain that character for themselves.

After all, none of them had ever met this Jesus in the flesh. They had not walked with him on the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea. They had not personally witnessed any of the great deeds that the gospel story recorded. And they certainly did not witness the fateful day when Jesus was brutally nailed to the cross. Our witness to the living, resurrected body of Jesus three days later.

They, of course, had experienced the Spirit of Christ released by Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of God, the Father. And they knew that the Spirit having rested on them, had convicted their heart to the separation they had between their Creator due to the sin of selfishness and idol worship that was in their hearts. And they came to know that Jesus died for their forgiveness. That Jesus had died that they would be grafted on to the vine that was Jesus. And that the Spirit that was Jesus would become their Spirit and guide them in their faith, which was not a noun, but was verb. Faith meant that they lived out their daily lives in the character of Christ – that is in faith in the Spirit of Jesus in them. The question was how to obtain that character. As it is today.

So is it a matter of spiritual discipline – or a matter of focusing on the person of Jesus. Or may it be that they are one and the same, or one as the means of achieving the other.

Lectionary Reflection – Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.  Romans 11:29-3

I think, what a beautiful word, “irrevocable”. When it comes to understanding God it might be one of the most beautiful descriptions of His grace and calling. We should love irrevocable, and its synonyms: irreversible, unalterable, unchangeable, immutable, final, binding, permanent, carved in stone. Both gift and call, Paul says to the small house churches of Rome, can not be changed once given by God.

But it also might be challenging. We are people who are entitled, so we expect to receive the generous gift of grace from God, but we are not so crazy about the calling part. That requires sacrifice, maybe even suffering. But Paul warns that it is irrevocable. It can not be changed. It is final, binding written stone. Grace and call, not one or the other. What are we to do?

All are Welcome. Really?

I now can claim I have been a regular church goer for two decades. 13 years as a lay member, and 8 years as clergy. This even though I came back into faith late in life. In that time, I have seen members, and guests, and others come and go. I have read much about inviting others into a local faith community. The following blog post by Benjamin Corey states some of the truest words describing my own experience in those two decades. I highly recommend all read this article: “Some Things You Should Know About that Couple You Unwelcomed”.

You are never too old

I believe and stake my life on “you are never too old”! So my interest is always piqued by stories of senior citizens around the world who achieve goals and strive late into their so-called “sunset years”.

Just today, on my news feed, I discovered such a story that proves you are never too old, one more time. The heading read: “Thai granny completes university degree at 91“. The story is about Kimlan Jinakul, who after seeing most of her children go to college, even one earning a PhD, spent 10 years to obtain her own bachelor degree.

God bless you Kimlan for not giving up living, and submitting yourself to that grueling process of education. And bless you for offering all of us senior citizens, and younger, the example we need to keep to keep on going with God’s help.

Lectionary Reflection – Romans 10:5-15

Sometimes Paul is hard to understand. He is like a child so excited about some new idea his words seem to run together and doesn’t take a breath to explain it all. When I encountered, the text for this week, I exhaled with a loud, “Wow.” I said to myself, how am going to get cut through this dense theological text that we might see what God is doing?

But let’s try anyway. To understand where Paul is coming from, we need to know he is a Jew. We also should remember that Paul is a Pharisee. Thus, he was a devout Jew that spent considerable time every day in the Hebrew Scriptures, or what we call the Old Testament.

To Paul, and the other Jews of his day, and even today, everything about being Jewish and of the people of God lies in the Pentateuch. So, we should not be surprised that the foundation of what Paul proclaims lies there. Specifically, Paul is calling upon Deuteronomy, and Moses farewell address to the people he leads from bondage in Egypt and the 40 years of formation in the desert.

Moses at the end warns the people of Israel that God has called them to be a particular people. They are a particular people in covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That covenant declares that they would be blessed so that through them all the nations would be blessed. Unfortunately, Israel failed to live up to God’s concepts of the covenant and attempted to make their own rules, or own righteousness – or life apart from God.

Moses, knowing them also to be a stiff-necked people who are prone to rebel, also offered them some words of being freed from their idolatry and rebellious way, to repent and return to God.

Last week, Paul was worried about those who were going in the wrong direction. They denied Jesus as the Messiah. Part of Paul’s purpose is to connect the dots for Israel. The salvation of Deuteronomy 30 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And, a very big and, even Gentiles are welcome to this fount of blessings, as promised in the covenant made to Abraham, he was to be blessed to be a blessing to the nations.