Bread – Hardness

July 27, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, July 27, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 3:22-39; Acts 16:16-24; Mark 6:47-56; Psalms 72, 119:73-96

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What causes us to be or become hardened?

In today’s readings we have three examples from Scripture of hardened hearts, resulting in behavior which is opposite the virtue which is desired.

In 2 Samuel, we read about David, Joab, and Abner. Abner was David’s enemy and supported the forces of Saul against David. However, recognizing that God had appointed David, Abner offered to come before David. Instead of killing Abner, David set out a feast for Abner and his men, David released Abner and “he went in peace.” 2 Sam. 3:21-23. David forgave Abner and there was peace between them. Joab, however, hated Abner and arranged to kill him. Even though David told Joab that Abner was released to go in peace, Joab held onto his anger, did not forgive him, and arranged to kill him, which he did. Joab’s heart was hardened against Abner and it was hardened against his king David. As a result of his hardness of heart, he could not forgive Abner and instead committed murder. Here, hardness comes from anger, hate, and a spirit of unforgiveness; the virtue lost is peace.

In Acts, we read about the possessed servant girl who so bothered Paul (by shouting out the truth – “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Acts 16:17) that he ordered the demon to leave her, leaving her free but bereft of her ability to predict the future (fortune-telling). Her masters, “realizing that their hope of making money was gone (Acts 16:19),” stirred up the city and had Paul and Silas thrown in jail. Instead of focusing on Paul and Silas, let’s focus on the masters of the demon-possessed fortune-teller. Why would they keep her in bondage and resent the fact that she was set free by God? In this case, the masters’ hearts were hardened by economics. They made money from the girl’s unfortunate state; she was different and they made money from that difference, so why change it? Their greed hardened their hearts against their neighbor’s best interest. They would have the girl imprisoned (by Satan) for life, but failing that they were content to have Paul and Silas imprisoned. Here, hardness comes from greed; the virtue lost is freedom.

In Mark, the disciples are on the boat in the stormy waters. We are all familiar with this event. Jesus passes by walking on the water and the disciples forgot he was a ghost. Mark explains their confusion by saying this – “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Mk. 6:52. What caused their hearts to be hardened against Jesus? What caused their hearts to be hardened against the possibility and reality of miracles, when they had just witnessed one and were in the middle of another? I daresay it was their prior training, their prior education, their existing prejudices, their “scientific” personality that it is not real unless you can describe it and reproduce it, their predisposition. Here, hardness comes from predisposition; the virtue lost is amazement, wonder, excitement, and recognition of who God is and who we are in comparison to Him. The virtue lost is the right view of ourselves and the clear view of God’s power, glory, holiness, and love.

So, you probably can guess the question. What hardens your heart today from the realization of all that God has in store for you? What blinders are you wearing? What predisposition have you succumbed to?

And having a hardened heart, a heart of stone, what have you lost? Love? Freedom? Amazement? Beauty? Peace?

Come, Holy Spirit, help us.

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Bread – Position

July 18, 2011


Readings for Monday, July 18, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 24:1-22; Acts 13:44-52; Mark 4:1-20; Psalms 41, 44, 52

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From Acts we read today “But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.” Acts 13:50

This reading begins “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the Word of the Lord.” Acts 13:44. In six short verses, Paul and Barnabas went from attracting “the whole city” to hear God’s Word to being thrown out.

What was the intervening factor? One might say the Jews because they were the protagonists; however, it is the “women of high standing and the leading men” who were “God-fearing” who actually “stirred up persecution” and “expelled them [the men of God].” These were likely not just civic or secular leaders, but also the religious lay leadership of the churches (remember, they were “God-fearing”). In other words, using modern terminology, they were probably the “elders.”

The question of the day is “why would the elders behave this way?”

To answer this question, I think we need to begin with the concept of positional power. There are essentially three positions from which power is exercised – inferiority, equality, and superiority. Our earthly thinking says that when we are in a superior position, we win (all things being equal). When we are in an inferior position, we lose. Our view of economics, our view of politics, our view of life in general is often portrayed as a struggle between the haves (people in a superior position) and the have-nots (people in inferior position), with the haves trying to keep what they have and the have-nots trying to get it. Knowing this, we can predict how people in a superior position will act – they will always act to preserve the status quo and their power unless, of course, position no longer matters to them.

I think we can assume that the “women of high standing and the leading men” were in a superior position. Paul and Barnabas represented a fundamental change to the system – how can the Levite priests maintain their position of superiority when the curtain to the temple, separating the Holy of Holies, has been torn down at the crucifixion? What happens to the old when the new has come? From this perspective, from the perspective of the position of those who “threw out” Jesus’ disciples, it makes sense to throw them out? These disciples, this truth, was a threat to their position. Even though they were “God-fearing,” protection of their position mattered more than protection of the truth or protection of God’s messengers in their midst. They acted first to protect their position rather than sacrifice their superiority to the truth they were hearing from Paul and Barnabas.

The exact opposite is shown today in our Old Testament reading. David has been ordained by Samuel as the next king of Israel. Saul, the current king, is on the rampage to kill him. David finds himself in position to kill Saul, but instead just cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe. David feels badly about doing even that because it shows disrespect to the king appointed by God. David presents himself to Saul and they then have a discussion, the net effect of which is that Saul goes home and David remains alive. The point here is that David was in a superior position – religiously, David was anointed king by Samuel, the “best” prophet in the land; politically, more and more volunteers were coming to David’s side – he had momentum going for him; militarily, Saul was exposed and David had the element of surprise and invisibility. However, David gave up his superior position to engage with Saul and to try to reestablish a healthy relationship. Rather than exercise his superior position to win the day, he sacrificed his superior position to protect the truth and to demonstrate love.

Two sets of “God-fearing” people – one who exercise their superior position to “evict” truth and to refuse to engage with God’s appointed men in their lives and the other who sets aside his superior position so that he can fully apprehend truth and fully engage with those persons God has appointed to be in his life. Same position and same “religious” label – different use of their position and different results.

Today or sometime this week you may be confronted with the man, the “truth,” which God has placed in your life for His reasons. Maybe the person is a sworn enemy (like Saul) or maybe he is just trying to give you a better way (Paul, Barnabas). The question is how you will use your superior position. Will you use it to get rid of them or will you set your position aside and engage them without fear of the consequences to your position. Which one do you think God prefers?

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Bread – Details

July 13, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, July 13, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 20:1-23; Acts 12:18-25; Mark 2:13-22; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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How do we know whether someone has actually seen something, or participated in something, or heard something? I suggest to you that one of the primary ways that we know someone has actually witnessed something and is reporting it truthfully is the amount of detail – not the amount of consistent detail, but the amount of detail whether consistent or not. In fact, we really sort of know that if detail is totally consistent, we are probably listening to a “story” and not the witnessed truth.

The Bible is full of genealogies, lists of people and relationships. One day as I was reading one of these lists, with my eyes crossed in absolute boredom, I asked “why is this in God’s Word – surely there are more important things!” One answer that could have come to me is that chronologies are important because they show us who we are related to and where we get our genetic inheritance from. However, the answer that came to me was “detail.” God was showing me that detail about people and tribes and nations mattered to Him. He was giving me, in those seemingly ridiculous lists, an object lesson of the truth that Jesus repeats in Matthew 10:30 – “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

So detail is not only proof of truth and actual knowledge, it is proof of love. And we know this to be true as well. When we love our spouse, we can describe him or her in “intimate” detail, whether or not the description is flattering. When we love art, we can describe it in “exquisite” detail, including the blemishes. When we are paying attention to our neighbors, we can describe their needs in detail even though some of that detail may be harsh. When we care enough to listen, we can repeat what is said in detail, whether or not it makes any sense.

Why this discussion about detail? Because that is what is seen throughout our readings today. In 1 Samuel, we see the detail of the discussion between David and Jonathan about how to communicate with each other about whether Saul is trying to kill David. If you read this carefully, you will note that the conversation is a mishmash of topics and, as a result, sounds very much like a real conversation between two real people at a real time and place. Even the communication plan is highly detailed (3 arrows, shot to the side of a named monument Ezel) but almost nonsensical (the plan is to instruct the boy looking for the arrows in such a way to communicate a message to David, but there is no account of what would happen if the boy ran up to the arrows and found them immediately; why couldn’t the placement of the arrows be their own communication?). For those who would call the Old Testament old wives’ tails, this passage (among many, many others) would disprove this by virtue of the nature of the detail reported.

Similarly, in our reading from Acts today, Peter has walked out of prison with the help of angels, Herod has ordered the guards killed, and Herod then takes up shop in Caesarea where he dies because he fails to correct someone who calls him god and fails to acknowledge the true God. In between this “religious” history, we have a reported detail about the “people of Tyre.” The detail reported is that they needed peace with Herod, they obtained an ally in the king’s court called Blastus, and that the reason they asked for peace was so they could get the food they needed from the king’s country. This detail has nothing to do with anything in the “religious” history and so has no “purpose” if the New Testament was merely a propaganda tool. However, it is detail that mattered to the writer and to God, even though there is no evidence in this passage that Tyre contained believers. It occurred in the actual history and it was therefore reported. We might consider it irrelevant detail, but again no detail is unimportant when it comes to truth and love, even if it is seemingly “out of place.”

Finally, in Mark we have reported an exchange between Jesus and “some people” about fasting. It was the season of fasting for the Jews and John the Baptist’s disciples, but not for Jesus’. The people asked Him why and He responds in two ways, one which appears to be an answer to the question and the other which appears to be unrelated and, in context, maybe even sort of random. The answer to the question was that “I am the bridegroom and we are having a party, so fasting is inappropriate” (not a quotation, seriously paraphrased). The non-sequitur was that new wine is poured into new wineskins. Now we are able through careful sermonizing to show how the question is related, but if we were to put ourselves into the position of “the people,” we would be looking at ourselves and saying “what?” The fact is that the conversation seems odd, but it is detailed. And being detailed it demonstrates that the reporter or someone he is repeating was there and witnessed the event and that it was reported accurately.

Much of our life is spent without attention to the detail around us – we do not notice what other people are doing or feeling, we do not notice how our actions or statements have affected others, we do not notice the beauty in little things (or, for that matter, the ugliness either), we do not hear the nuances in talk. But detail matters to truth and love, and it matters to God. Perhaps it should matter to us as well.

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Bread – Enabled

July 6, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, July 6, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 16:1-13; Acts 10:1-16; Luke 24:12-35; Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24

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We cannot do something until we are enabled to do it. Sometimes this enabling is natural; our ability to achieve something is related to the natural abilities of our bodies or our minds. Sometimes our enabling comes about through our acquisition of a tool or a resource – we are enabled to go on a long trip because we have a car and gasoline for the journey. Sometimes our enabling comes through education – we are enabled to understand the supply-demand curve in microeconomics through our taking of a course in economics. Sometimes our enabling comes through a change of position – we are enabled to see far distances by climbing a tall tower; we are enabled to supervise many people by our appointment as supervisor. We are often an active participant in the enabling process and, therefore, we often fall into a trap of believing that we enable ourselves, through work, acquisition of wealth, education, training, etc.

In today’s readings, we have three examples of people being enabled by God. The first enabling is so that man is able to accomplish the task which God has laid before him. The second enabling is so that man is willing to accomplish the task which God has laid before him. The third enabling is so that a man can see God and, in so seeing God, see the task which God has laid before him.

In 1 Samuel, Saul has been removed by God as king and Samuel, the prophet, is told by God to go and anoint the new king (David) whom God has appointed to be king. Like so many of us who are told by God to go and perform a task, Samuel’s first response is a whine – “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.” 1 Sam. 16:2 Rather than berate Samuel about his lack of faith in God’s provision, God provides Samuel an answer and a solution – go pretend that your purpose is to sacrifice to Me. In providing this answer and solution to Samuel’s question, God enables Samuel to complete the task He has set before him. By providing Samuel this solution, God has made Samuel able to finish the task and he does so.

In Acts, Peter is getting ready to be asked by believing Gentiles (Cornelius) to come and socialize with them. Peter, as a devout Jew, would never do this because to do so would mean than he would have to eat unclean food and be with unclean people. Had Peter just been presented with this task “out of the blue,” he would have said “no” because all of his worldly training, upbringing, and education would have told him that “no” was the correct answer. However, before being called upon by God to go to Cornelius’ house, God gives Peter a vision of both clean and unclean food and then commands him to eat of the unclean food. In response to Peter’s objection, God says to Peter “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Acts 10:15. Immediately following this vision, Cornelius’ men knock on the front door. Whereas before the vision Peter would have been unwilling to go, after the vision he is willing. God enabled Peter to undertake God’s task by so breaking the bounds of Peter’s social norms that Peter became willing to engage with the Gentile world around him. Through God’s enabling Peter became willing to go and perform God’s task.

Finally, in Luke we are shown that God enables us to both see Him and, in so seeing Him, see the task He has laid before us. In our reading today from Luke, Jesus has risen from the dead and has appeared to two people traveling to Emmaus. Jesus appears to them and engages in a conversation about current events (the crucifixion of Jesus). Even with this discussion about what just happened, they do not recognize Jesus. Jesus then gave them a Bible lesson about Himself – “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” Lk. 24:27. Even with this Bible lesson about the very person they were talking to, they do not recognize Jesus. Finally, Jesus enables their faith and their sight by having Eucharist with them, where He “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him…” Lk. 24:30-31.

God enables us to be His disciples. He does this first by opening our eyes to Him and enabling us to follow Him. He does this first by breaking Himself, thanking the Father, and giving Himself to us freely. It is not, however, until we are enabled by God to see Him and follow Him that we can. He does this second by making us willing participants in His kingdom work. To make us willing participants, He changes our hearts so that we can in fact love our neighbor as ourselves. He enables us to reach the world for Him by enabling us to be willing to do so, by enabling us to set aside our prejudices, and by enabling us to step out of our comfort zones into the places and people where He is needed. He does this third by giving us the tools to be His disciples, by opening opportunities, by training in His Word, and by giving us skills.

In each of our three readings from Scripture today, all of the characters were chosen by God for God’s work. Samuel was a prophet, Peter was an apostle, and the two people on the Emmaus road were disciples. However, the ability to do their assigned work was compromised by worry (Samuel), by social norms and prejudice (Peter), and by blindness (the disciples). However, in all three cases these problems were overcome by God, so that Samuel, Peter, and the two disciples were enabled to perform their God-directed tasks.

So, today you may feel that you lack the ability, the willingness, or the insight to do what God has called you to do. And as you can tell from our readings, you find yourselves in good company. Persevere in the task anyway, knowing that God is the One who enables and He knows what you need.

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