Bread — Mighty

March 30, 2012


Readings for Friday, March 30, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 9:13-35; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Mark 10:32-45; Psalms 22, 95, 141, 143:1-11

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I am always fascinated by what the Book of Common Prayer leaves out of the daily readings. You will note that the designated readings above for Psalm 143 go from verse 1 to verse 11. However, there is a verse 12 (left off) which ends the Psalm. It is “And in Your steadfast love You will cut off my enemies, and You will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am Your servant.” Ps. 143:12

In today’s world where we want to go along to get along and good and evil are thought to be relative things, almost approximating each other sometimes, it is easy to see why you would want to cut off verse 12 from Psalm 143. Who wants to urge our fellow Christians to have God “cut off” our enemies? Sort of bloodthirsty, don’t you think? “Cutting off” people is just not civilized. It is not something that “nice” people do. We don’t want our God to be mighty to “cut off” things, because that is just mean. Instead, we would prefer our God to be mighty to give us prosperity, or mighty to forgive and forget, or mighty to heal, or mighty to protect. But mighty to “cut off” our enemies? Not so sure.

However, if you have carefully read the passage, you realize that I have just fundamentally misquoted it. The enemies which the Psalmist talks about are not my enemies in business, in sports, in competition, in the family, in life. The enemies which the Psalmist talks about are not the enemies who would take my life, my security, my money, my power, my job, my home, or my other possessions. No, the enemies which are being referred to are “all the adversaries of my soul.”

God is mighty to destroy the enemies of my soul. That is what the Psalmist says. God will “cut off” and destroy the enemies, the adversaries, of my soul. It is a statement of fact, not a request and not an opinion.

In our readings today we are reminded that we face two sets of enemies, the adversaries of our soul and the adversaries of everything else. In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us today that, because we bear the gospel of Christ and His word of life and light into a dark world, we have real enemies who will, if they can, take our life, our position, our worldly “honor,” our money, our time, and everything else the world holds dear. This is the lot of Christians – “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed.” 2 Cor. 4:8 The Psalmist does not ask God to strike down these enemies because these are the enemies of things that don’t matter.

But there is a real adversary, a real enemy, of our soul. It is the enemy who would bring despair to hard circumstances, hopelessness, depression, self-doubt, skepticism toward faith. It is the enemy who brings death for eternity. It is this enemy which the Psalmist says our mighty God will “cut off.”

And indeed He has. Next week is Easter week, culminating in the celebration of Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead and with a mighty hand struck down for all eternity the enemy of our souls. “And in Your steadfast love, You will…”

And You have. Thank You, Jesus.

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Bread – Enabled

March 26, 2012


Readings for Monday, March 26, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 4:10-31; 1 Cor. 14:1-19; Mark 9:30-41; Psalms 31, 35

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The definition of “enable” is to “make able.” Today’s readings abound in examples of God “making able” servants to do His work on earth.

In Exodus, Moses has been given the job by God of leading Israel out of Egypt. First, he has to talk to them and get them organized. In the classic “I am not able” speech a human can give to God, Moses says “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Exod. 4:10 In this one line is every excuse we can make to not do the Lord’s will in our lives. You want me to stop eating so much, but “Oh, my Lord, I do not have the discipline to stop eating.” You want me to pray more, but “Oh, my Lord, I do not have time and, besides, I don’t know how.” You want me to obey You, but “Oh, my Lord, I cannot because …..”

Moses’ complaint to God about not being able to do what God wants him to do has two pieces. One piece predates God – “I am not eloquent, either in the past…” The other piece follows Moses’ engagement with God – “I am not eloquent, either … or since You have spoken to Your servant…” Moses uses both periods of time (before and after God) to make a statement about how permanent his disability is – “I have never been able to speak. You haven’t made me able to speak. Therefore, I can’t speak.”

How many times have we raised this issue with God. “God, I’ve known you for a long time and I still don’t have the ability to do ….; therefore, I have no ability to do …. and You need to go find someone else.” Both before I knew God and after I knew God, I could not hear; therefore, I can’t do anything which involves hearing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wrap up what we can and can’t do for God based upon our own observation of what we have and have not been able to do our entire lives? Moses certainly thought he had wrapped it up. But God had a different idea.

God responds to Moses very simply, but they are words we need to hear and think about – “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now, therefore, go….” Exod. 4:11-12

Translation: The God of the universe who created it empowers us as He pleases to do the work He has given us to do. If we have been made silent, it is because silence is the ability we have been given by God to use for His purpose and His glory. If we need to speak, then God will give us the tongue to speak. If we need to hear, God will give us the ability to hear.

Translation: “I, God, have enabled you, Moses, to do My work. Go, therefore, and do it.”

Moses has a speech impediment; God has enabled him. Moses can speak eloquently; God has enabled him.

You see, by virtue of being plucked by the grace of God from being slave to sin and resulting death to being an adopted son with eternity before us, we are enabled. We are made able. Do we not feel it – so what? Do we not see it – so what? Do we not know it – so what? We are enabled to do the work which God has ordained for us to do, period.

There is an old children’s book about the “Little Train Which Could.” It found that it could get up the hill by saying over and over again “I think I can, I think I can.” The problem with this is that the same mind which says “I think I can” can also say “I think I can’t.” And we say the latter all the time in our own strength. In fact many of us go through life saying over and over again “Even though I know God, I think I can’t, I think I can’t, I think I can’t.”

God told Moses to get his thinking straight. God picked Moses and therefore enables him to do those works which God has commanded him to do.

We don’t need to be saying “I think I can” or “I think I can’t.” We need to be saying “I know God can through me” and then we need to be doing the work God has set out before use. After all, we have the ability to do what God tells us to do. God says so.

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Bread–Stability

March 19, 2012


Readings for Monday, March 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 49:1-28; 1 Cor. 10:14-11:1; Mark 7:24-37; Psalm 89

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There are “classic” images. One of them was a demonstration on an old Ed Sullivan television show, where a person attempted to keep a variety of plates spinning on their poles. The first few went fine, but he kept adding poles and plates and started running around like a mad man keeping the plates spinning so they would stay up on the poles. We watched in fascination as a plate would slow down and begin to wobble, wondering if the person could work fast enough to come back and start it spinning. Slowly but surely too many of them started slowing down and wobbling at the same time, the man couldn’t keep up, and finally one and then all of them crashed to the floor. (At least this is what I remember of the show; your memory and in fact the show itself may have a different ending).

There are several great lessons in this demonstration. One is that we can so overload our life with spinning plates that we lose track of them and they all fall down. Another is that there are limits; spinning plates slow down (there is no such thing as a machine which, once started, runs forever). Another is that one cannot be stable on a stick unless you are (a) glued to it or (b) doing something. Another is that, if you are a plate and want to be stable without spinning, you are best off resting on a larger, broader, stronger foundation than just a stick (like a table). Another is that order and stability descend into chaos if left alone or if left to human intervention.

Psalm 89 from today’s readings deserves attention. In it we are reminded that God controls chaos; He brings order from chaos – “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them.” Ps. 89:9 In it we are reminded that there is a stability in God’s love and faithfulness to us which does not slow down, does not collapse, does not disappear – “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord forever; with my mouth I will make known Your faithfulness to all generations. For I said, ‘Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness.’” Ps. 89:1-2 In it we are reminded of the covenant God has established with David and his heirs, including Jesus – “My steadfast love I will keep for him [David] forever, and My covenant with him will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of heaven.” Ps. 89:28-29

The context of Psalm 89 is that God seems to have removed His blessing from the line of David and crushed His people. God has let Israel’s plates slow down, wobble, and crash. Order has collapsed into chaos. That is the context of Psalm 89.

And yet Psalm 89 begins with God’s sovereignty over chaos, His establishment of order, His creation of the firm foundation for us, the plates. We cannot keep the plates from falling; God created them so He does not need to. And yet they (we) appear to become unstable, wobble, fall down, and crash. How can we reconcile this?

The key is in the middle of Psalm 89, where God says “If his [David’s] children forsake My law and do not walk according to My rules, if they violate My statutes and do not keep My commandments, the I will punish their transgressions with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him My steadfast love or be false to My faithfulness. I will not violate My covenant or alter the word that went forth from My lips.” Ps. 89:30-34

Gravity, friction, time, our own lack of coordination, time, energy, ability, desire, small sticks acting like foundations – all these cause us and our plates to crash to the floor. The elements of nature and our own shortcomings conspire together to bring down the house.

Then what stabilizes it? What establishes it? Us?

We know we can’t do it but we try anyway. We take the flimsiest of foundations and stack life on top of it, expecting the plates to stay in the air and then marvel when they all fall down.

Why bother? Why not put the plates, ourselves, on the strongest foundation possible, the Word of God, His control over chaos, His steadfast love, His faithfulness to all generations? Then they won’t slow down, they won’t wobble, they won’t crash. And even when it seems like they are (just like what was happening when Psalm 89 was written), we can end the same way the Psalmist did with these words – “Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen.” Ps. 89:52

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Bread – Faith

March 12, 2012


Readings for Monday, March 12, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 44:18-34; 1 Cor. 7:25-31; Mark 5:21-43; Psalms 77, 79, 80

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Part of me hates definitions. They are necessary, but how often do we hear a definition and say, after we heard it, “now what does that mean?”

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as follows: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…” Now what does that mean? Luckily for us, today’s lessons are miniature descriptions of faith.

The lessons break into three categories of the objects of faith – (1) faith in the practical, (2) faith in the impractical, and (3) faith in the supernatural. All of these point to faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ.

The lessons in Genesis and the first letter to the Corinthians give us examples of faith in the practical.

In Genesis 44, Joseph has decided to keep Benjamin. If Joseph keeps Benjamin, it will break their father’s heart. Judah has pledged to his father that he will protect Benjamin, and so our reading picks up with Judah engaging Joseph in a conversation with one purpose, to convince Joseph to release Benjamin and to keep Judah instead. For our purposes, the question is why bother? The reason to bother is that Judah has faith in the outcome of the conversation – he has faith in himself that he can make the argument, he has faith in the compelling truth of his argument (that his father will suffer if Benjamin does not return home), and he has faith in Joseph’s essential goodness, that he will do right by Judah and the family if only he understands. Judah speaks because he has assurance of the things hoped for (that Benjamin will be released) and the conviction of things not seen (his ability to argue, the truth of the story, the essential goodness of Joseph). It is faith in action. It is faith in the practical because Judah is relying upon his own observations and his knowledge about how people think and how things work.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is speaking in the lesson today about marriage and how we should treat marriage in the “end times.” Where is the faith here? It is in the existence of the end times themselves. Paul (and his listeners) know that the hoped for passing of the world from obedience to Satan to obedience to Christ is assured, and they are convinced that Christ will come again and that they are living in the time between two realities – the death and resurrection of Christ and His return. This is a practical faith, which then works its way out in how we live our lives, always ready but still paying attention to our daily tasks. Being married, living in marriage, being single, living in singlehood – all these are practical day-to-day matters. How we live them, the intensity with which we live them – all are applications of our faith in our position in time, of our faith in the ever-present immediacy of Christ’s return. It is practical because our faith here is linked to a real, historical, event, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The second kind of “object” of faith is faith in the impractical. My concept of the “impractical” is that our common sense, our training, our education, our reason tell us that something “should” not work but that it might work because of mechanisms we do not (yet) understand. We have faith in the impractical sometimes because our faith in the practical has failed us and that other thing, whatever it is, “might work.” We hope for a good result, so we build up our assurance (our faith) that it will work. We can’t see how it would work, but we can perceive enough of a glimmer of possibility that we become convinced that it will work.

The faith in the impractical is the lesson today in the gospel of Mark and the bleeding woman who touched Jesus’ robes. The woman had been to a bunch of doctors for her non-stop bleedings, but no-one was able to heal her. In her desperation, she was looking for something beyond the practical to believe in, to rely upon. “She had heard the reports about Jesus.” Mk. 5:27. From these reports, she began to have faith that if she touched Him, “If I touch even His garments, I will be made well.” Mk. 5:28. She knew that this was impractical (remember, she started by visiting doctors), but she heard the reports, she began to have assurance of what she hoped for (healing), and she became convinced in what she could not see (the healing power of Jesus’ clothing). The object of her faith was impractical, but she had it anyway. She touched Jesus’ robe and, when confronted by her actions, Jesus said to her “Daughter, your faith was made you well…” Mk. 5:34

Then, there is faith in the supernatural. Science would say that this translates to faith in the impossible. However, my response is that, if it is impossible, then how does it occur? It is better that we understand this to be faith in the supernatural, that is faith in results which are beyond any human reasoning, knowledge, ability, training. If faith in the practical is faith in what we know or can easily deduce and faith in the impractical is faith in what we can sort of figure out or maybe understand with some projection from what we do know, then faith in the supernatural is faith in what we cannot know, we cannot deduce, we cannot sort of figure out, and we cannot project from what we do know. It is assurance of things hoped for which are well beyond anything which the human mind can grasp; it is conviction of things which we cannot see because they are beyond us.

We see that faith, faith in the supernatural, present in the second half of today’s reading from Mark. In that reading, a Jewish ruler has come to Jesus to ask Him for help with his sick daughter. While in transit, the daughter dies. This represents the end of human knowledge and human projection. Recovery from death is impossible; it is supernatural. In this instance, Jesus says to the ruler “Do not fear, only believe.” Mk. 5:36, Jesus takes the ruler and his wife, goes into where the dead body is, and raises the little girl from the dead.

There is a progression of faith here. In the first instance, there is practical faith arising from knowledge of men of God (Joseph). If the second instance, there is impractical faith arising from knowledge about Christ (the bleeding woman). In the third instance, there is supernatural faith arising from knowledge of Christ and having Him speak directly into one’s life (the dead girl).

So you say you have no faith. I am sure you have practical faith (else why bother to turn your key in your car’s ignition and expect it to start). I am almost sure you have impractical faith (else why bother to try something for the tenth time even though it hasn’t worked the first nine times). But supernatural faith? Why not?

Maybe because it is supernatural. It is not something to be obtained by our knowledge, effort, strength, or wisdom, but is something given and to be received. And we can receive it this way by joining in the prayer of the father who wanted to see his child live – “I believe; help my unbelief.” Mk. 9:24.

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Bread – Order

March 7, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, March 7, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Gen. 42:18-28; 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8; Mark 4:1-20; Psalms 72, 119:73-96

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There is a difference between the divine order and our order, the order of the world. The readings today emphasize this in different ways.

In Genesis, the brothers of Joseph have come from Israel to Joseph in Egypt for food. They pay for this food with silver. Joseph lets them have it but insists that they leave one of their (and his) brothers behind, Simeon, as pledge for their truthfulness regarding the famine. While Joseph is having their donkeys loaded with the food, he surreptitiously gives them back their silver. Later, on the journey home, they find the silver in the sacks and their response is that “Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said ‘What is this that God has done to us?’” Gen. 42:28b

In God’s order of the world, He has returned the silver as a blessing, plus the food. In man’s order of the world, God (represented by Joseph) has appeared to have rejected payment for the goods. In man’s order of the world, you pay something (the silver) to get something (the food). In God’s order of the world, you freely give something (the silver, your trust, your faith) and God freely bestows His blessings, all out of proportion to any anything we do. In man’s order of the world, there are mutual obligations which I can impose – if I pay you, you must do something for me. In God’s order of the world, if there is a mutual covenant it is one established by God and not by us. In God’s order of the world there is mutual love – if I give you silver, there is no return obligation. If someone does respond, the response arises from a heart of thankfulness and not one of obligation. In man’s order of the world, we do things because we have to do them. In God’s order of the world, we do things because we want to do them, because it is our nature to do them.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is speaking to the actions of believers regarding disputes and sins. In the world’s order, we judge Christians and non-Christians alike. In God’s order, we judge those who would claim to be Christian according to God’s standards of behavior and we judge the remaining world by a lesser standard, knowing that they do not know Christ. As Paul writes, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave the world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother, but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.” 1 Cor. 5:9-11 In man’s order, we tell each other that we must not judge; in God’s order we “must” judge those who claim to be part of the family. The order of God and the order of man are even different when it comes to how judging should occur. While it is fine to seek the law courts to obtain judgment involving non-Christians, the order of God is that, among those within the church, disputes should be handled within the church. “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?” 1 Cor. 6:1

In Mark’s gospel today, Jesus has given us the parable of the sower, the seed, and the believer. Christ sets out four types of listeners. The first is the listener who hears the Word, Satan takes it away from them and there is never an opportunity for the seed to take any kind of root. The second is the listener who receives the Word with joy, but the seed has been planted in a rocky place where it does not take root, and the listener quickly falls away from belief in times of trouble. The third type of listener hears the Word, but the seed is among thorns, and because of deceitfulness of wealth, worries, and lusts, the listener falls away over time. The fourth type of listener hears the Word, it is planted deep in good soil, and the listener responds in joy and perseverance, resulting in an abundance of good fruit. In the order of the world according to man, we might read this parable and conclude that man must prepare in himself good soil and make sure that the seeds are planted where they need to be, so that man might reap the full measure of his investment. In the order of the world according to God, we might read this parable and understand that God is the Word, He formed the soil, He has placed us where He wants us (whether it be out in the open, on the rocks, in the thorns, or growing in the good soil), and the outcome is in His hands. In the order of man, we understand salvation to be dependent upon how good our soil is. In the order of God, we understand salvation to be dependent upon how good God is.

From the perspective of the order of man, we understand our blessings to be based upon how good we are, to be based upon what we have bargained or earned. From the perspective of the order of God, we understand our blessings to be based upon how good God is, based upon nothing we have bargained or earned.

From the perspective of the order of man, we understand how we are to do things is according to the structures created by man. From the perspective of the order of God, we understand how we are to do things is according to the structures created by God.

From the perspective of the order of man, we are in charge of our salvation. From the perspective of the order of God, there is only one Person in charge and that Person is not us.

Man’s order leads to death, now and forever. God’s order leads to life, now and forever.

Joshua said “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” Josh. 24:15. In the context of today’s readings, Joshua could have said “Choose this day which order you will follow, man’s or God’s.”

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Bread – Ingratitude

March 2, 2012


Readings for Friday, March 2, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 40:1-23; 1 Cor. 3:16-23; Mark 2:13-22; Psalms 40, 51, 54, 95

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In our reading from Genesis today, we have the familiar history lesson of the king’s cupbearer and baker thrown into prison by an irritated king, only to meet Joseph who is assigned to their care and who interprets their dreams for them. He interprets the cupbearer’s dream to mean that in the three days the cupbearer will be free; therefore, Joseph asks the cupbearer, when he is free, to speak kindly of Joseph to the king so that the king will remember Joseph and let him, Joseph, out of jail too. Our reading concludes “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” Gen. 40:23

There are at least three instances of ingratitude in this lesson. The first is that the king was ungrateful for the service his cupbearer and baker had given him. We don’t know why, but somehow they “offended their master” and were whisked off to prison for the offense. The second is that both the cupbearer and the baker were ungrateful to Joseph for the care they were going to receive from him. Sort of lost in the shuffle of the story is this line – “The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.” Gen. 40:4. Joseph acted as their servant in prison, taking care of them. Nowhere in the rendition is there a “thank you” for this service. It may have just been left out, but given the history of these people, chances are it never occurred so there was nothing to report. The third instance, of course, is that the cupbearer ignored Joseph once the cupbearer had achieved his freedom.

The only person who appears to not be ungrateful (or, to state it more positively, the only person who appears to be grateful) is Joseph, and he was on the bottom of the stack. He was neither the king nor the king’s officers (the cupbearer and the baker) nor the jailer, but from the bottom of life, from the role of the imprisoned servant, he served them all. And yet he was grateful, and everyone else (except maybe the jailer, we don’t know anything about him from this reading today) is ungrateful. Just from this observation alone, it would appear that gratitude is associated with imprisonment and poverty and ingratitude is associated with wealth and power.

This observation actually lines up with our own. We who are among the wealthiest and most powerful in the world are the most ungrateful and demanding. Anyone who has been anywhere there is abject poverty experiences unvarnished gratitude for the littlest things. In a moment I will never forget, I saw a Peruvian eight year old child take a single cookie given to him by the bishop and break it up into pieces to share with four other children and me, before he ate anything. You and I both know that the average American child of the same age would swallow the cookie whole and then ask where the other ones were.

Folks, we are in the season of preparation for the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Some of us call that season “Lent.” We need every day of that season to even begin to strip away our shell of superiority, of self-reliance, of selfishness, of pride, of ingratitude. We have been given the greatest gift of all, the give of life forever, and we are ungrateful.

We are all the cupbearer in this story. We have had our ups and downs. Sometimes we have been the king’s officer and sometimes we have been banished. Sometimes we have been in the prison of bad health, bad economics, bad thinking, or bad something else and we have found our way out of that prison back to health, back to wealth, back to power, back to life as we want it. Wherever we are, do we forget what got us there, do we forget what service or grace was given us by those who have helped us, by those who have saved us? Are we ungrateful?

So where do we begin? How do we learn to give thanks for what we have been given?

Well, in today’s other lesson from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we may have a starting point. The first sentence of that reading is “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16

Are we grateful for the body God has given us, which His Spirit now occupies? How do we show it in what we take through our eyes, our ears, and our mouth? By the radio station I listen to, am I showing gratitude to God or not? By the books I read, am I showing gratitude to God or not? By the quality of food that I eat, am I showing gratitude or not?

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