Hebrews 9:11-15 – Monday of Holy Week

Wood Cross

When the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s “tent”—the true Holy Place—once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God. (The Message)

The Christian Holy Week is an opportunity to embrace the value and practice of journeying with Jesus.  Just as birthday and anniversary celebrations allows us a different rhythm of life for a time, or as holidays provide us with certain family traditions, so Holy Week can be a special and unique time of contemplation and reflection on the last week of Christ’s earthly life.  As we journey with Jesus, consider the days of this week:

Palm Sunday is a focus on the entry of Christ into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Monday of Holy Week looks ahead to Christ’s sacrifice with Mary’s anticipatory grief through a heartfelt and beautiful anointing of Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears.

Tuesday of Holy Week depicts the difficulty of the disciples in wrapping their hearts and minds around what Jesus is telling them about his impending death.

Wednesday of Holy Week is known in some Christian traditions as “Spy Wednesday” because we remember that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, a clandestine spy among the disciples.

Maundy Thursday marks three significant events in Christ’s last week:  his washing of the disciples’ feet; his institution of the Lord’s Supper; and, his new commandment to love one another.

Good Friday marks the death of Jesus Christ.  It is “good” because his death means redemption for the world.  We especially remember why the cross is so very important, that it is the once-for-all sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  There is now eternal forgiveness.

Holy Saturday remembers the death of Jesus and his body in the grave with the Romans securing and keeping guard over it.

Easter Sunday is the culmination of all the expectations of God’s people, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises to them in Christ.  We rejoice, celebrate, and renew our love and commitment to God for raising Jesus from death.  His resurrection means new life for us.  He is risen, indeed!

Observing Holy Week is rather different this year.  Whereas this week typically takes the form of attending special church services, we are presently reliant on virtual community and spiritual presence.  It seems to me that, more than ever, we are reminded of our wonderful privilege in a worldwide community of redeemed persons who together are focusing on the life and death of Jesus.  If ever there was a time to realize our incredible connection with believers across the earth in contemplation and celebration together as Christ’s own Church, now is such a time.

Together with Christ’s Church throughout the globe we have opportunity to read treasured Christian Scriptures over the course of the week and to focus on the passion narratives in the Gospels.  For the follower of Jesus Christ, these are the fundamentals of our faith, the base upon which our eternal lives are constructed.  We return to the redemptive events of Jesus again and again so that for the entirety of the year we can live in careful devotion to the Savior who has brought us salvation from sin and offers new life.

Holy Week is here.  So, we choose to remember and give thanks with both quiet gratitude and loud shouts of praise, with solemn reflection and expressive response.  There is no time like it in the year.

Grant to us, Almighty God, that in our weakness we might be revived and renewed through the Passion of your one and only Son Jesus, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Job 13:13-19 – Contending with God

Mother Teresa suffering quote

“Keep silent and let me speak;
then let come to me what may.
Why do I put myself in jeopardy
and take my life in my hands?
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face.
 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
for no godless person would dare come before him!
Listen carefully to what I say;
let my words ring in your ears.
Now that I have prepared my case,
I know I will be vindicated.
Can anyone bring charges against me?
If so, I will be silent and die. (NIV)

The story of the biblical character, Job, is both famous and infamous.  It’s famous among most bible readers because we are privy to why Job endured such terrible suffering and how the story ends.  Conversely, the story is infamous because Job’s “friends” and most everyone else in his day believed that the extremely hard circumstances were proof positive of sin.  Job had the misfortune of being misunderstood and misinterpreted with an evil, infamous, reputation.

Job was understandably desperate.  He hadn’t a clue why he lost his every earthly possession and relationship, not to mention his health.  Job was hurt, angry, and lonely.  In today’s Old Testament text, we observe Job getting ready to have-it-out with God.  It is interesting to me that in such grinding physical, emotional, and spiritual pain as Job experienced, he held to both his own integrity and of confidence in God.

If this story strikes a familiar chord, it may be because this was also Christ’s experience.  Jesus did nothing unethical or immoral to deserve being whipped, beaten, and tortured.  Our Lord, like Job, felt the awful sting of silence stating, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).  As we fast approach Holy Week, the Lectionary reminds us that there must be suffering before glory, crucifixion before resurrection, agony before victory.

Christ on the Cross
Painting by Hans Mertens

I wonder what humanity would be like if we stopped fighting so hard against suffering and instead leaned into it as a teacher and a means of awareness.  For the Christian, I am curious what the Church everywhere would be like if she embraced suffering as the path of solidarity with Jesus. I wonder what human interactions on the personal, corporate, and global level would look like if people throughout the earth would stare this current pandemic through their spiritual eyes and imagine as Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann does:

“We may imagine God doing a new thing among us. Perhaps we are arriving at a new neighborly normal:

  • Imagine, we are treating prisoners differently, even releasing some who constitute no threat
  • Imagine, we are mobilizing generous financing for needy neighbors who must have resources in order to survive.
  • Imagine, we are finding generous provisions for students and their debts.

The new thing God is making possible is a world of generous, neighborly compassion.”

When we are stripped of wealth, cut-off from others, and do not know how to make sense of the suffering around us and in our own lives – it is in such a time that we are invited to consider a few observations from the story of Job:

  1. Much, if not most, of life is a mystery – including God. We are neither all-knowing nor all powerful.  Our nation’s perceived power and intellectual savvy expose deep fissures of pride and hubris.  Events like pandemics reveal that there is so much we don’t know and must learn.  We will likely never get all the answers we want when tragedy hits and lives are turned upside-down.
  2. Confronting and contending with God is okay, perhaps even encouraged. Unlike the human creature, the Creator God is big enough to take and absorb whatever anger, rage, disappointment, discouragement, depression, fist-shaking, and expletives we throw at him.
  3. Suffering does not mean that God has forgotten us. We may not understand why or even what we go through.  We will, however, never go through it alone.  God is often silent; yet, never aloof.  God maintains both his transcendence high above us and his immanence close to us at the same time, all the time.  In the Christian tradition, this is why the Holy Spirit was given – to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth.

My prayer for you today is that your suffering will not be wasted – that God will bend each adverse situation toward your good and the good of others.

Soli Deo Gloria

Click How Deep the Father’s Love for Us sung and mixed by David Wesley as we anticipate the suffering of Christ on our behalf in this next Holy Week.

You Are What You Eat

O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
    for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
    and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
    seek peace, and pursue it.

(Psalm 34:9-14, New Revised Standard Version)

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You’ve likely heard the phrase “you are what you eat.”  Of course, this doesn’t mean that when you look at me you see a delicious strip of bacon.  Rather, it’s meant to convey that the kind of food we ingest, whether it is physical groceries or spiritual sustenance, is of great importance and significance.  Eating unhealthy stuff makes you unhealthy.  Conversely, ingesting healthy things helps one to maintain proper health and vitality for functioning and thriving in life.

The psalmist encourages us to seek the LORD because in going after God we will be filled with goodness.  Using our tongues for good and not evil; our words for encouragement and not for forming lies; our constant verbiage for uplift and support and not with the poison phrases of evil; and, our voices for pursuing peaceful relations and not for disharmony; are all beautiful buffet foods of health and goodness to fortify our souls.

Back when I was in seminary (in a galaxy far, far away) it was difficult to keep up with the bills.  Finances were tight in our young family.  Despite working sometimes up to three jobs at a time, our budget had no budge to it.  In one unusually and particularly hard month, we were down to our last groceries.  In fact, on one summer evening we all had a bowl of Wheaties for supper.  The refrigerator was empty.  In our bedtime prayers with our girls, my wife and I voiced and expressed our need to God.

As Mary and I readied ourselves for bed, it was raining cats and dogs outside.  At 10pm, we heard a knock on our back patio door.  We looked at each other as if the other would know that we’re expecting someone.  We weren’t.  As I pulled back the curtain, there stood a sweet little Puerto Rican neighbor holding two large bags.  I quickly ushered her into our little apartment.  Her next words to us I will never forget:

“I went to bed at 9:00 and quickly fell fast asleep.  At 9:30 the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me to fill two bags with as many groceries as I could get in them; then, go and give them to the Ehrhardt’s.  So, here I am.”

All my wife and I could do was look at her and each other slack-jawed and simply say, “Thank you.”  No one knew our need.  We told no one about it; only God.

My family learned an invaluable lesson that stormy night, one you can’t learn any other way but being in a place of desperation.  The spiritual food that we eat is so important that Jesus put it this way:

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Many years later after that rich spiritual feast, I told this same story in a congregation on a Sunday morning.  Afterwards, a middle-aged man came up to me and said something that initially took me aback: “So, how do you justify being in such a state of deprivation and not taking care of your family?”  After gathering my thoughts, I gave him this retort:

“You have asked me an honest question.  I will ask you one before I answer yours: Have your teenage kids, you, and your wife ever been in a situation where you needed God and cried out to him for something?”  Long pause…. “Well, no, not really.”  “Then, sir,” I replied, “I like the lessons my encounter with want and privation taught my kids better than the lessons your kids have never learned.”

You see, my friends, you are what you eat.  This obsession we have with being independent, self-sufficient, and our compulsions about money has spawned an entire generation of folks who just don’t know they need God.  Then, parents wonder why their kids abandon God.  God is simply irrelevant to them.  After all, why serve a God who has never touched my life in any significant way?  If we eat from a table of our own making, then the Table of the Lord becomes only a dusty piece of furniture in an empty church.

When we come and eat the bread which the Lord offers us we find satisfaction and fulfillment.  When we allow God to serve up a delicious spiritual meal we discover hospitality and joy.  When we accept the invitation to seek the Lord we find that little is much when God is in it.  In God’s upside-down kingdom, the poor are rich, and the rich are poor.

Good days of plenty don’t come because we ingeniously orchestrate it all.  Yes, of course, planning is both necessary and important.  Yet, all of our best laid plans are just that.  The outcomes belong to God, not us.  We have because God gives, and not because we figured out how to work harder, or smarter, or better.

you are what you eat

The one who truly fears the Lord has learned to first receive from Him.  Open-handed reception can only result from a heart posture of humility and need.  Close-fisted folks only know how to figure things out on their own and are not in the position to receive anything.

Whichever way you slice the Old Testament bread of poverty and the New Testament teaching on being poor in spirit, the rich are typically not in the best place – the poor are.  Being a spiritual beggar who recognizes his/her need for God, and who is desperate for Jesus is the one who has found the narrow entrance to where the Lord dwells.  And, upon entering, finds a lavish spread that is worthy of the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Psalm 99 – The Holy Helper

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Our ideas of God take shape in the many ways in which we live our lives.  A God who is always right, fair, just, and loving in everything he says and does is a God we can place our complete trust.  A cranky god who is aloof and indifferent doesn’t help anyone.  Yet, with the true God of all creation we can be assured of a strong spiritual support for any and every situation.  When we have as our ally a robust theology which informs how we think and gives shape to how we act, then we can step forward with confidence knowing that God has our backs.

Sound theology doesn’t simply happen; it needs to be identified, nurtured, and expressed in daily life.  Remember, the Old Testament psalms are the church’s prayer book.  Each individual psalm is meant to be an inspiration to prayer, as well as serving as the actual prayers themselves which we can utter to God.  To use the psalms as boots-on-the-ground prayer is essential to providing a firm foundation from which to know and serve God.

As I often do, I’ve provided my own translation of today’s psalm which captures the spirit of the text.  I encourage you to pray it over slowly, several times, and with proper emotional flavor behind the words.

The LORD rules; let all people everywhere who live unjustly, shake in their boots!

            God sits enthroned above all creation; let the earth quake on its foundation!

The LORD is great among his people;

            In fact, He is far above all people.

Let everyone, no matter who they are or where they’re from, praise Your great and awesome name.

            He is holy!

Mighty Ruler, the lover of everything that is just and right,

            You are the One who established what is fair and equitable;

You labored behind the scenes for causes which are just and right,

            and brought harmonious relations to folks at odds with each other.

Magnify the LORD, our God!

            Approach Him with great and mindful humility!

            He is holy!

Godly people of old such as Moses and Aaron were among his devout followers;

            Those like Samuel were among the humble who called on His Name.

People from times long ago have cried out to the LORD, and He has answered them.

            He spoke to the ancient Israelites in a great pillar of cloud.

They sought to keep and entrust His gracious rules given to them.

O LORD our God, you answered them;

            You were a forgiving God to them,

            Yet, you also were the One who held them accountable when they slid off the rails.

Magnify the LORD our God!

            Humble yourselves and worship at His holy mountain,

            because no one is like the LORD our God, a holy Helper!

Amen.

Leviticus 23:1-8 – There’s More to Life Than Work

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“The Lord said to Moses:  Speak to the Israelites and say to them: These are my appointed times, the Lord’s appointed times, which you will declare to be holy occasions:  Work can be done for six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of special rest, a holy occasion. You must not do any work on it; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord.” (Common English Bible)

When I was kid, watching the cartoon The Jetsons was a Saturday morning ritual.  The futuristic family featured George the husband and father, an employee of Spacely Sprockets.  In one episode, George comes home and is met by his dog, Astro, and wife, Jane, looking tired and haggard from a day’s work.  George’s comment when he entered on the treadmill through the door was, “Jane, these 3 hour work days are killing me!”

Indeed, the technological progress of post-war America had led to the common belief among many that with so many advancements, workdays would become smaller, with leisure time growing.  In the 1960’s, it seemed a foregone conclusion that technology would provide the masses with unprecedented amounts of discretionary time for whatever they would want to do.

the jetsons

Fifty years removed from The Jetsons we now know what Americans and people across the world would do with time-saving devices: We simply work a lot more.  Just the opposite has occurred from having loads of leisure time.  People discovered that greater efficiency with technology has brought an equal competition for business and making more money.  Time saved has translated into accomplishing more work, and not in taking vacations and indulging in new hobbies and ventures.

The 4th command of God’s Ten Commandments is needed today more than ever.  It is time to come back to this basic instruction of the Lord, and engraft its wise counsel into our lives.

“Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded:  Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Common English Bible)

The point of God’s command to his people is neither to squash commerce, nor to be a curmudgeon about fencing one day a week of doing nothing; instead, the command for Sabbath is designed to be a life-giving day where we discover that:

There is more to life than work.

The word “Sabbath” literally means “to rest.”  God built into his creation a rhythm of rest and work.  God Himself rested, not because he was tired, but because he ceased working long enough to enjoy the earth and everything in it.  Everything in life is done in rhythm.  We walk in rhythm, talk in rhythm, and our hearts beat in a rhythm.  The earth cycles in rhythmic seasons of the year, and the animal kingdom mates and lives in annual rhythms.  All creation is rhythmic.

Whenever we keep going and do not live according to the rhythm laid out for all of God’s creatures, we break.  Even machinery needs a break.  Sometimes I find it more than ironic that we treat our cars and vehicles with the regular maintenance and care that we don’t even extend to ourselves.  We care for our cars because we don’t want to experience a breakdown on the highway.  Yet, much more important is the care of our souls and our bodies.  Without regular intervals of work and rest in a consistent rhythmic pattern, we breakdown, burnout, and, like little children who have missed a nap, we have epic meltdowns of anger, frustration, and passive-aggressive behavior because we simply ignored God’s 4th command.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me at this point.  Some of you may have had a background filled with legalistic embraces of Sabbath.  No this, and no that, no nothing on Sundays, as if God were some divine curmudgeon who frowns at anything happy on the Sabbath.  To rest means to have a change of pace from regular weekday activity of work.  To rest and enjoy the difference of a Sabbath’s day is avoided by so many people because it brings this question to the forefront of our minds:

Who am I if I’m not working?

Our identities can be so tied to our jobs that we compulsively check our multiple e-mail accounts on a day off; tie ourselves to our smart phones and iPhones on vacation; and, allow work to bleed into our time away from the job.  God wisely placed loving boundaries around us.  But like Adam and Eve who could not be content with enjoying the entire garden, we obsessively pluck the forbidden fruit from the one tree that is off limits.

Work brings money, influence, power, relationships, industry, and a host of good things.  The problem is not work; the problem is that we humans can create an idol of it.  When work and all that comes with it consumes our attention, we are on a one-way road to nowhere.  I’ve heard more than one deathbed confession from dying persons, and I’ve yet to hear anyone wish they had worked more.  Nope, it’s usually something out of rhythm and out of whack – that they let their jobs and their ambitions surrounding work call the shots in life, without stopping to enjoy the vast creation, the gifts of God, and the emotional wealth that can come from relationships.

Because we aren’t sure who we are if we’re not working, we just keep working.  If we feel bad, we work harder.  If things are tough at home, we just put more hours in at work.  If we need more money, we pick up a part-time job.  When work becomes the catch-all answer to our many problems, it has become our god and we will worship at the altar of money and activity… until we can learn to stop and rest.

It’s just one day out of seven.  Just 1/7th of your life is needed to change the pace and allow a divine rhythm into your existence.  The temptation, however, is to take a day off from work so that you can do other work at home.  So, the challenge, for many people, is to allow the weekend to be one day where you get stuff done, and another day to truly rest.

This is not easy.  Right now I work six days a week.  And, sometimes, I work a few hours on my “day off.”  I’m speaking to myself as much as I’m speaking to you.  Yet, no one bats an eye at my constant working (well, except maybe my wife!).  In fact, people seem impressed when we work all the time.  We don’t want others thinking us lazy.  We want others to think well of us, and give us accolades for our hard work.  What gets lost in it all is God’s grace to us through rest.

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God desires us to enjoy Him, and not avoid Him.  He wants us to be still and know that He is God.  He longs for us to connect with Him.  This will only happen if we plan and prepare for it.  Sabbath doesn’t just happen; we must engage it.  Maybe we need to put God on our calendars.  Make an appointment with Him like we would anyone else.  Put the same kind of effort into making a date with God that you would with the people you care most about.  Perhaps the best thing you could do is go play a round of golf (if golf isn’t your idol!); go to the beach; or, take a nap.

The thing about Sabbath is that, when we get down to actually practicing it, we find that the world didn’t stop.  When we return to work, the earth is still spinning on its axis.  The company didn’t burn down in our absence.  Life doesn’t cease when we submit to a Sabbath rest; it’s just that we cease from participating in it for a short time.  Our delusions of grandeur dissipate and disappear when we finally come around to consistently obeying a Sabbath rest.

Work is noble.  But there is nothing noble about working without rest.  We are still human beings when we aren’t making money, and still valuable when we don’t have jobs.  Folks in healthcare facilities aren’t any less important because they aren’t holding down a job.  Work doesn’t define us – God’s image within us does.

It isn’t likely that we’ll ever see a George Jetson 3-hour workday, and that’s probably a good thing.  Work’s inherent goodness can only be truly appreciated when we plan and prepare to live and enjoy a Sabbath’s day rest.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – The Same Spirit

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“The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does.  Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit.” (Contemporary English Version)

As you well know, it’s easy to take things for granted.  For instance, we don’t typically think too much about our toes… until we stub them, drop something on them, break them, or need a podiatrist to operate on them.  Then, we not only know they’re still there, but our entire body (along with the mind and emotions!) feels the need to give a lot of attention to lowest end of our body that enables us to stand and walk without thinking much about it.

The body is an apt metaphor for how to think about humanity and its various systems and institutions.  We might see the face of any church or organization, but there are scads of people behind the scenes doing all kinds of good work.  For example, the golfing profession understands the importance of caddies; lawyers know the need of paralegal persons; healthcare facilities and organizations rely not only on nurses and social workers, but also on cooks and housekeepers; schools need the coordination of teachers, parents, students, volunteers, and the entire community to effectively realize the education of children.

Also, as you well know, it’s easy to take for granted services we receive… until we don’t receive them, or in a way to our liking.  Then, we pay attention.  We want action and resolution.  We want our food now and to our exact specifications.  Sometimes we might even forget that we are dealing with people, not cogs in a machine or parts in a system.  Millions of people labor every single day, sometimes even seven days a week, just to make ends meet and provide for their families.  When we neglect to understand this, or see it right in front of our eyes, we have done our fellow human beings a disservice.

It’s also awfully easy to forget how extremely radical the Apostle Paul’s words were for 1st century folks, especially in religious circles.  Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew community was God’s people.  If you wanted to worship the one true God, you came to Jerusalem and learned from Jews.  But Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit changed things in such a profound and organic way that the world would never be the same again.

It was firmly established by the early church, and preached with fervor and flavor by Paul, that there would not be a separate Jewish church and Gentile church.  They have become one Body of Christ through the redemptive events of Jesus.  Both Jews and Gentiles have the same Spirit – not different Spirits for each group.  Jesus Christ did not die so that people could be fragmented from each other; He was crucified to end once for all the segregation, discrimination, and ostentation of one group of people above another.

The cross was the ultimate radical act of justice against the powers of this dark world that seek to rank people according to their relative importance and worth.

The power of the resurrection is the energy of God raising Christ from death to triumph over the realm and system of evil throughout the earth.  All kinds of people everywhere are to rise with Christ in a great demonstration of God’s power to subvert the status quo of discriminatory racism, extreme individualism, gender inequality, social and economic class-ism, and any kind of “ism” which places one group of people in subjection to another in misguided notions of superiority.

The church is to be a community of redeemed people that reflects the diversity of God’s big world.  No two groups of people could have been more different than Middle-Eastern Jews and Greek Gentiles.  Yet, Paul insisted that they together, not separate, make up the one Body of Christ.  It isn’t easy listening to another group of people who think and act differently than you and me.  But listen we must.  And respond we must.  It is our responsibility as believers in the way of Christ.

“God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.” (Contemporary English Version)

There is no ability to look down your nose on another person if you are already kneeling on the ground in humble prayer at the foot of the cross.  There is only the chance to look up.  There is even the opportunity to allow someone less privileged and fortunate to assist you.  Yes, we all need one another – even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.  It isn’t our job to colonize other people’s culture and society to make it more like our own.  It is our duty to share the Gospel, make room at the Table, extend love in the Name of Jesus, and work together as the one people of God, formed by the Spirit.

Almighty God of all creation, I understand that we don’t struggle merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep separations alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of the family are inferior and others superior.  Create in us a new mind and heart that will enable us to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by human constructed categories of power disparities.  Give us the grace and strength to rid ourselves of stereotypes that oppress some of us while providing entitlements to others.  Help us to create a Church and nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed people everywhere we live, as well as those around the world.  Heal your family, God, and make us one with you, in union with our Lord Jesus, and empowered by your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 – For the Common Good

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“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (New Revised Standard Version)

A gift is meant to be unpacked.  No one is graciously given a gift, then lets it set unopened.  We dive into the gift and express gratitude for it.  Then, we use it.

It is really no different with the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has been marvelously given to God’s people.  Each and every individual Christian is given a special gift to be opened, unpacked, activated, and used.  The kinds of gifts we are talking about are for the common good.  And this is where the gift is different than Christmas or birthday presents.

Spiritual gifts provided to us are designed by God to be used and dispersed for the benefit of others.  They are not solely meant for personal satisfaction.  In other words, if a person’s spiritual gift is teaching, he/she doesn’t stand in a mirror and talk at themselves.  Rather, they jump into the fray of learning and explaining, and do it in such a gracious and loving way that the enablement of the Spirit is evident.

If a person’s gift is faith, that person doesn’t merely step out and act with unusual courage for the purpose of personal betterment in a holy belief from God.  Instead, that person shows and demonstrates godly faithfulness to God’s people and to God’s world.  The gift is used for the common good of all persons.

The accumulation of wisdom and knowledge is meant for the strengthening of faith in others.  Spiritual gifts are intended by God to be shared freely for the common good of all people so that souls are buttressed and supported for the rigors of daily life in the world.

Therefore, we are to take the initiative in identifying our gift(s), unpacking them, and indiscriminately using them.  Spiritual health and wholeness can only be truly realized through everyone actively participating in the distribution of their God-given abilities.  Spiritual gifts are neither to be hoarded, nor miserly dealt to only people I like or my own little world of groupies and friends.  Any and every ability comes from God, and is, therefore given for the common good of all persons.  Underprivileged groups need the giftedness of others, as well as discovering their own resources to be used so that everyone is built up in a society of redeemed persons.

Whatever it is you do well, do it well through allowing God to activate it for his glory and for the prevailing needs of a church and a world which is desperately in want of seeing the manifestation of the Holy Spirit among them.

O Lord, you have taught us that without love, whatever we do is worth nothing.  Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.  Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.