Saturday, July 31, 2010

Greedy Guts: The Readings This Week, August 1, 2010

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. (Colossians 3:1-11, NLT)

Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”
Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said,“Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

The Life & Times Of Scrooge McDuck Volume 1 (Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Com)
When we read this, we tend to think of a modern understanding of greed. Webster’s includes phrases like: selfish desire; avarice; grasping; excessive appetite; gluttonous; insatiable; etc. We have come to think of it as a victimless crime.

The Greek word here that the NLT is translating as greed is “pleonexia” - to have more. In a Greek-English lexicon by Louw and Nidas, pleonexia is described as: “a strong desire to acquire more and more material possessions or to possess more things than other people have, all irrespective of need”; and “taking advantage of someone, usually as the result of a motivation of greed.” Vine’s dictionary calls it covetousness. Rather than a personal issue, this understanding of greed has a social justice aspect to it.

Are the readings this week warning us against wanting things, or wanting other people’s things? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul warns that greed is idolatry because it is the worship of things over God. To the man asking for his “fair share”, Jesus warns that greed leads to false priorities that lead us away from God.

The primacy of scripture inclines me to believe that the danger of the greed described in these verses is that we place other “gods” before our God. The drive for stuff is an addiction that displaces God from our hearts, minds and souls; the Spirit is squeezed out. Greed then is a sin against God, not against man. The consequence of this sin however, is social injustice due to the absence of the Spirit working through us; in a world of finite resources, others pay the price for our avarice.

Wesley did not warn people away from financial success, he encouraged people to make all the money they could, save all the money they could, and give away all the money they could. By sacrificing the fruit of our labor, we show that we control money instead of being controlled by it. We reveal to ourselves, to the world and to God, that we see money as just a tool we use to be God’s hands. We sacrifice our old idols on the altar of faith.

What makes me rich? Do I use money as a measure of my success; as a way of keeping score? Does money mean comfort and security to me? Do I trust my investments more than my God? When I give money, do I try to use it to control others? An increasingly common question to ask today is whether I live in a spirit of abundance or a spirit of scarcity? This is a good question for churches, but when we ask it of ourselves it could be interpreted as meaning: do I have enough for myself that I can afford to share? Where is the sacrifice in such thinking? I think a better approach may be giving from a spirit of scarcity. The power of the widow’s mite is not that she deluded herself that she was rich, but that she loved God more than self and sacrificed what little she had.

Is God worth my all or my remainder?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Communicable Communion?

“Ye that do truly and honestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking henceforth in His holy ways. Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort, and make your humble confession to almighty God.” (A Service of Word and Table IV, United Methodist Book of Worship)

We call this The Invitation. An event is only as inclusive as its invitation. Gilded hand-calligraphied invitations mailed to high society will welcome different people than the hand written note I put on the bulletin board at my laundromat. Some see the various invitations to God’s table as conditions for who may partake of the Lord’s meal: repentant; loving; and faithful. To repent is more than saying sorry or feeling bad, it means to turn around and return to a relationship with God where we do not demand to do it our way; how many of us are truly repentant? This invitation calls us to love our neighbor; but do we truly agree with and embody Jesus’ definition of neighbor? Do we love in grace or in merit? Lastly, we are to be walking in God’s footprints. We all start the trip with good intentions… 

If these are requirements for eligibility, the Lord’s Supper is by reservation only!

Others see such invitations as a BYOF note at the bottom (bring your own faith):
“Holy Communion is the feast of the kingdom. Unless we are consciously seeking God’s rule in all things, this is empty and void.”  “To long to live in the new life is a preparation for communion.” (The Cup of Wonder; Rev. Lloyd John Ogilvie)
But this seems to me to ignore God’s prevening grace. He calls to us subliminally and we seek we know not what. If as John Wesley believed Communion is a means of grace, how can we deny it to seekers or tell them that what they just experienced was meaningless to them and to God?

Another way to look at these invitations is as a matter of reflection and centering to help us be truly present at the meal just as Christ is truly present in the bread and wine. Reflecting on my past, where have I strayed. Considering my present, do I love and do for others in grace? Envisioning my future, which path will I follow?

Others see it as a reminder for kingdom living. Bishop Rueben Job in Three Simple Rules paraphrases Wesley’s General Rules for Methodist Societies as: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”  To repent is more than regretting past sins against God and neighbor, it is committing to not sin in the future. We are reminded that we are to do good by being loving, charitable and merciful. If we love God, we will emulate His Way and follow His Word.

Who do you think is called to the table?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Undocumented

You shall not deprive those who can not vote because of their youth or citizenship status of justice; nor profit from the powerless. Remember when you were undocumented workers in Egypt and illegally emigrated to Canaan? God brought you out of a land of deprivation and abuse to a promised land by grace alone, even though you did not deserve such a gift; therefore you are commanded to do good for those who are as you were. Share the fruits of your labor with those in need; let them partake of your abundance as you partake of God’s. It was not “fair” when God brought you here, but it was just and merciful; therefore I command that you be just and loving too.  

(Adapted from Deuteronomy 24:17-22)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Magic Moments

I met a Groundhog on the trail. We waddled towards each other and rendezvoused on a bridge. Within a yard from me, we stopped and stared at each other in wonder.

Finally, the Woodchuck turned to walk away - but seemingly paused. Waiting for me to follow? Side by side we waddled on; a hundred feet os so it seemed.

All too soon, Chuck ducked into the woods. But not before saying goodbye to me, and so I could express my honor at the companionship.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Abraham Negotiates; Genesis 18:20-32

The Readings This Week; July 25, 2010 – Story Two

Masters of the icon of the Trinity (Visit of the three angels to Abraham, whose hospitality) Art Poster Print - 11x17
God in Three Persons is sitting in the shade of a tent along the road enjoying Abraham’s heart-felt hospitality. As they look over the valley where the Dead Sea cities of Sodom and Gomorrah lay, God muses. “I’ve been hearing a lot of bad reports about the inhospitality of the people in these towns. I’ve got to go down there and check it out in person!” Two of the men then get up and head down the road to Lot’s hometown of Sodom

Abraham leans closer to God. He must have seen something in God’s eyes or heard something in His voice: “Would you really destroy all the righteous just to punish the wicked? Suppose there were fifty good people there, wouldn’t you forgive the city to save them from destruction?”

“Sure.” God says. “If I find fifty, I’ll forgive all for their sake.”

Surprised at his success, Abraham continues: “I know I’m just dirt before you, but… What if there are just a mere five people short of the fifty? Would you destroy all the people just because of those five?”

“I will not destroy it if I find only forty-five righteous people.” responds God with a smile. He really does like this guy’s chutzpah!

“Make it forty?”







“Ten.”  And God goes on His way.
I’ve always wondered why the negotiations broke off here. Did Abraham stop because he thought he had won? Surely Lot’s large household had at least ten faithful people! Did he lose courage before this God of intimate humanness and infinite power and compassion; afraid to press his luck any further? Are we missing the part that Abraham didn’t tell anyone because it didn’t go his way?



The story leaves us wondering how far God would have been willing to go. Much later in human time we learn the answer.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Hosea Weds a Ho; Hosea 1:2-10

The Readings This Week; July 25, 2010 – Story One

The first thing the Lord tells Hosea to do when he becomes His prophet is to go and marry a temple prostitute. “Go and marry a prostitute and have children – you shall be Israel which has prostituted itself to Baal and idols of comfort and prosperity.”  So Hosea weds Gomer. Although an arranged marriage, to Hosea her name reflects how he feels about their relationship – Completion.

The Lord names their first-born Jezreel (God will disperse) because He will soon end the Kingdom of Israel and the House of Jehu which rose to power by ending Ahab’s line in the Valley of Jezreel. Israel’s mighty bow will be broken in that valley.

Their second child God names Lo-Ruhamah (Not Pitied), because He will no longer forgive Israel. He will save Judah, but not by the armies and weapons that neighboring Israel has put all its faith in.

The third child He names Lo-Ammi (Not My People), because Israel has broken His covenant and He no longer will honor it – Israel is an un-chosen people.

And yet… Like the word “but”, “yet” contradicts all that came before. Instead of a negative erasure though, “yet” is a word of hope. “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sands of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ it shall be said of them, “Children of the living God.” (Hosea 1:10)

Chapter two restores the covenant and removes the “Lo” (Not) from the kids’ names; I’m sure that’s a relief to them – I bet the other kids picked on them! It tells a story of an unfaithful spouse, who together with the children of the broken marriage will be cursed, but then are sought and reclaimed by the constant love of the one who was jilted. The wedding vows are renewed and the covenant reaffirmed, Israel will again be pitied, again be His people. In chapter three, God directs Hosea to have an adulterous relationship with an adulteress…

  • If I take this literally, am I mad at God for His manipulation of lives? Or do I consider it a parable?
  • How are children punished for the sins of their fathers?
  • Do I give up without waiting for the “yet”?
  • Do I view my relationship with God as a marriage? How do changing secular attitudes towards divorce and faithfulness impact this analogy?
  • What do I think of this statement: God speaks out against adulteries of flesh and spirit throughout the Bible, and yet is willing to be an adulterer by loving us even while we love another?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Words Once

Words once were
Child’s toys for me
Free-range things
Like sticks and boxes
Trying new shapes
Popping bright sounds
Shiny joy collections
Columbus and Edison

Words once were
Grown-up tools
Pontificatory posing
Jargonation imposing
Weighty wordification
See my voluminous brain?
“In situ” “stratigraphy”

Words once were
Sharp weapons to me
Not homicidally so
Not premeditated
Yet soul-slaughter
Standing taller by
Cutting others down

Words once were
Bridges of hope
Shared humanity
Grace deeply inhaled
Love laboriously exhaled
Husband and father
Speaker and preacher
Heart words soundless

Words are now
Silvery fish to me
Moonlit schools
Harder now to grasp
Slippery and elusive
Word-salad days
Eyes rolled back
In my aquarium skull

Where do all the words go?
The words shared too seldom
To imprint themselves?
The words learned after
The hard-drive is full?
The reflex breath words
That now need thought
Who am I when words die?