Bread – Commandments

April 30, 2012


Readings for Monday, April 30, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 32:1-20; Col. 3:18-4:18; Matt. 5:1-10; Psalms 41, 44, 52

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We are commanded to love God first. In our reading today from Exodus, while Moses is receiving the Testimony (Commandments) written by God, the people in the valley have gone to the priests (represented by Aaron) and together they have corrupted the commandment before it has even been delivered, building for themselves their own god, fashioned from their own wealth, a golden calf. Moses, seeing the rank disobedience, casts down the tablets, destroying them.

We are commanded to love our neighbors. In Colossians, Paul teaches us to honor our relationships and to build them up, for wives, husbands, and children to act properly within their roles. For slaves and masters, to treat each other as is befitting their position in the world and in Christ. For everyone to work as if for the Lord and not for themselves or to simply please others. For us to walk in wisdom toward all, being gracious and truthful (salty).

We are commanded to take on the attitudes of the Kingdom to which we declare membership. In our reading from Matthew, Jesus tells us that we are blessed who have certain attitudes – poor in spirit, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, makes of peace, suffering for being Christ’s witnesses in the world.

What is the common element of all of these commandments? We don’t do them. And our disobedience begins in the most obvious place possible, in our construction of our own idols to replace God, our construction of our own golden calves. And our disobedience flows through our relationships by disturbing them, by destroying families, by turning upside down our job of doing everything as if for Christ and instead doing everything as if for ourselves. And our disobedience ends in the most subtle ways possible, by corrupting our attitudes so that we are rich in our spirit, avoiding righteousness, warmongers, benefitting ourselves from the world’s table.

There is part of the general confession from the 1928 Prayer Book which says “and there is no health in us.” Reading these passages today and understanding how far apart we are from the standards described in these readings, even though we are Christians, reminds us clearly the truth of this statement.

There is no health in us but there is health in God. “The steadfast love of God endures all the day.” Psalm 51:1b

God stayed His hand against Israel and the church represented by Aaron. God stayed His hand against the Colossians, even though their behaviors prompted Paul’s lessons on relationships and obedience. God stayed His hand against those people who do not act with the right attitude in the Kingdom, who do not take on the whole blessings promised.

Why? Because we are obedient to God’s commandments? No. Because God has chosen us to be His people, because He has chosen us to be in relationship with Him.

What have we done this week to keep the relationship going, to make the relationship stronger, to build the relationship, to strengthen the relationship? Have we listened? Have we talked together? Have we walked together? Have we recognized that there is “no health in us.” Have we recognized that God knows that there is no health in us, no innate ability to obey the commandments in us, no nothing in us which deserves God’s attention, His love, and His mercy? Have we recognized that God’s love toward us has not been earned by us, but is there anyway? Have we rested in Him?

The commandments are not things to be grasped by us and obeyed in fear; they are descriptions of the way we will be when we are in relationship to God, when we have given up our right to call the shots, when we have accepted God’s gift, and when we abide in Him. They are not standards to be met; they are who we are with God’s grace in God’s power by God’s intent in God’s purpose in God’s time and place. Thanks be to God.

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Bread – Connections

April 25, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, April 25, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 19:16-25; Col. 1:15-23; Matt. 3:13-17; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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The readings this morning presented to me a challenge, because they seemed very disconnected. In Exodus, we have God calling the people of Israel to stand at the holy mountain, without touching it, and God coming down in His glory to speak to Moses. In Colossians, we have Paul describing Jesus as pre-eminent, the Creator, the head of the church, in which there dwells the fullness of God. In Matthew, we have Jesus being baptized so that all righteousness would be fulfilled. These history lessons appear very disconnected.

Sometimes we get into the weeds because that is where God would speak to us; other times we look down with a “10,000 foot” perspective, where only the highlights, the overall pattern, comes into focus. I soon understood that if I was ever going to have any chance to see any pattern in these three readings, I would have to start from a very high place.

And what higher place than where God puts us when we ask? From that perspective, the pattern is clear. The reading from Exodus is focused on who God is and what He does; the reading from Colossians is focused on who God is and what He does; the reading from Matthew is focused on who God is on what He does. God, God, God. Oh, there are bit roles played by people – Moses in Exodus, John the Baptist in Matthew, the Colossae church in Colossians, but these roles are not the focus – God’s character and His actions are the focus.

I realized when I saw the pattern that I had fallen into a trap, the trap of self. This trap causes us to always look at ourselves, or maybe our neighbor if he or she is affecting our lives. This trap causes us to focus on Moses in the Exodus, to focus on John the Baptist in the baptism of Jesus, and to focus on Paul or the church in Colossae in Colossians. This trap causes us to put every question into what this means to us.

But Scripture is not about man first; it is about God first. In Exodus, God’s holiness is to be observed. In Matthew, God’s righteousness is to be observed. In Colossians, God’s pre-eminence in all things is to be observed.

After re-reading this passages from a perspective that did not involve me, I felt lifted up, refreshed, and ready for a new day. Not because of any promise that God gave me, but because in these passages God reveals who He is. And indirectly, in the process, He reveals who I am. Who am I? Someone whom God has chosen in His Word and through His Holy Spirit to communicate with. Someone whom God has permitted to approach Him. Someone whom God has made worthy through Jesus by His act and mercy.

Do you feel disconnected from God, from His Word, from His care, from His life? Maybe it is because you are also caught today in the trap of self. Read what God says about Himself. Read it and enjoy. Read it and marvel that He has acted to rescue you and me from ourselves. Read it and have joy. Read it and weep, knowing that God Himself paid the price we could not pay on His cross, for the sins He did not commit, all so that we could be His “treasured possession among all peoples.” Exod. 19:5

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Bread – Balance

April 23, 2012


Readings for Monday, April 23, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 18:13-27; 1 Pet. 5:1-14; Matt. 1:1-17, 3:1-6; Psalms 9, 15, 25

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Every time I read the Bible I pick up something new. Today it is this from Matthew 1:17 – “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” 14-14-14 – balance.

[Taking an aside from the main topic today, isn’t this proof that God is in control?]

Exodus today speaks to the characteristics of “able men.” Peter speaks today to the characteristics of “elders.” Neither are descriptions of extremes; both are descriptions of balanced living when the center is God. In Exodus, the description of able men includes those who are wise (see Deut. 1:13), understanding (Deut. 1:13), experienced (Deut. 1:13), trustworthy and will not be bribed (Exod. 18:21), and who fear God (Exod. 18:21). In 1 Peter, the description of elders include those who exercise leadership willingly (1 Pet. 5:2), do not take “shameful gain” (1 Pet. 5:2), and who lead by example and not by dominating (1 Pet. 5:3).

Is there anything in these descriptions which suggests extreme forms of behavior? [from Satan’s (or the world’s) side of the ledger, he might consider the failure to take shameful gain to be extreme behavior, but we are looking at this from the Christian side].

Balance and order are characteristics of God and they are characteristic of the able men of God.

Is your life unbalanced today? Does the busyness overwhelm time for relationship? Does the need to get things done force us to dominate those who depend on us rather than let us take the time to shepherd them? Does our lifestyle require us to continually reap gain, or does it permit us to distribute that gain wisely instead of consuming it?

There are many possible questions cutting across our personal, business, economic, professional, family, and other lives, but they all amount to the same question. Are we living a balanced and orderly life? Are we acting like who we are supposed to be – able men and elders?

Now there may be a tendency here to equate balance with “lukewarmness.” Jesus warns us against being lukewarm, of being neither fish nor fowl. This is why it is important to see where the description of able men begins – “men who fear God.” “Men who fear God” are not lukewarm; they know whose they are and why they are. They know the importance of being centered in the right place, on solid rock. But they are balanced, at least to the extent they don’t try to control it themselves.

When God is first, balance and order follow. Lukewarmness does not follow.

So, like I asked, are we unbalanced today? If so, we need only to ask ourselves who do we fear, God or our spouse, God or our boss, God or our customer, God or ourselves?

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Bread – Dependent

April 18, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, April 18, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 15:22-16:10; 1 Pet. 2:1-10; John 15:1-11; Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24

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I am going to use an ugly word today for Americans – “dependent.” Our image of the “true man” or the “true woman” is tied up with independence, of being the kind of person who relies upon nobody and nothing, who is dependent upon nobody and nothing, who stands on an island tall and free.

That is not the image of our relationship with God described in our readings from Exodus and John today. In Exodus, the people are in the wilderness with no water and no bread. God gives them both. With respect to the manna, there is an express lesson in dependence. Each person is to go out every morning and take the manna which they need for the day. There is to be no storing and no hoarding. There is to be radical daily dependence upon God’s provision in the time of want.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus reminds us that He is the vine and we are the branches, dependent upon Him. We cannot grow without Him. In fact, Jesus tells us that “apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5. The Christian walk is a walk toward dependence upon God. It is a walk which we naturally resist because dependency is something to avoid and not something to embrace.

Isn’t this one of our primary stumbling blocks to growth? The world tells us to grow up into independence. God tells us to grow up into dependence. The world tells us to trust ourselves. God tells us to trust Him. The world’s mantra of self-esteem is “believe in yourself.” God’s mantra of esteem in ourselves is to “believe in Him.”

The classic complaint against Christians is that there is no difference in their behavior than the world’s. The divorce rate is almost the same. The crime rate is almost the same. The sexual promiscuity is almost the same. And why not? After all, we say we believe but we do not depend.

Dependence. This is not a word I write easily nor is it a word I live easily.

When was the last time we prayed “Come Holy Spirit, make me dependent upon You.” I don’t think I ever have and I bet many of you haven’t either.

Maybe we should. Maybe it is time to change the concept of dependence into the fact of dependence.

Maybe it is time to abide in the Vine.

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Bread – Purpose

April 11, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, April 11, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 12:40-51; 1 Cor. 15:29-41; Matt. 28:1-16; Psalms 97, 99, 115

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There is an interesting factoid in today’s readings. “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years.” Exod. 12:40 430 years; that is a long time, longer than the United States has been around. The entirety of Israel was a slave workforce for Egypt for 430 years. And the entirety of Israel was a bunch of people – “…about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” Exod. 12:37.

Imagine a million and a half people walking across Texas to get to New Mexico. When we talk about the Exodus, we tend to think small, like “some” manna, “some” water, “some” quail, “some” people, but these numbers are massive and almost unimaginable. God did do a mighty work.

Why did they leave? The knee-jerk reaction is to answer this question from our experience – “to escape slavery,” “to escape the cruel hand of bondage,” “to follow their charismatic leader,” “to go to a better place, the promised land.” Another reaction might be that they left because Pharaoh got tired of the plagues and threw them out.

But they really left for a different purpose. Moses said to Pharaoh, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness.” Exod. 7:16. When Pharaoh released the Israelites and cast them out of Egypt, Pharaoh said “…go, serve the Lord, as you have said.” Exod. 12:31.

Why did they leave? To serve the Lord.

When discussing the “whys” of something, we often look toward cause and effect (Egypt got tired of the plagues; therefore, Israel was tossed out) or we look to the end “results” or, in the case of Israel, the blessings from God as they wandered the wilderness and possessed the promised land. When focusing on these things, our answer to “Why did they leave” focuses on either the pragmatic sequence of events, the cause and effect, or upon the blessings.

However, standing behind these “reasons” is a reality. Israel was chosen by God and released from Egypt “to serve Me,” to serve Him, to serve God.

What are your reasons for doing what you are doing today? Are they to manipulate or avoid cause and effect, the practical side of life. Are they to reap the blessings? Or is your reason, your purpose, for doing what you are doing to serve God?

Had Israel locked onto its real purpose, one wonders whether there would have been a golden calf. One wonders if there would have been doubt cast by the spies who entered into Canaan in advance of Israel and came back with a message of defeat. One wonders if there would have been forty years of cleansing in the wilderness.

If you lock onto your real purpose today, what difficulties might you avoid today and what blessings might you reap? You might not be able to answer that question, but God can. Serve Him and see.

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Bread – Me

April 9, 2012


Readings for Monday, April 9, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 12:14-27; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8; Psalms 66, 93, 98

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“”But by the grace of God I am what I am…” 1 Cor. 15:10. So says Paul about himself.

The context of this statement is Paul’s recounting to the Corinthians his passage from persecutor of the Church to apostle for Jesus Christ, from radical disbelief in the person, position, and power of Jesus Christ to radical belief in Him, from hatred to love, from worldly power and position to spiritual power and position. After he notes that he has been made an apostle by the appearance of Jesus to him and was unworthy for the position, he notes, however, that “but for the grace of God I am what I am.”

I have called this Bread “Me” not because it is about me, the writer, but because it is about us as individual pilgrims. Each of us who would claim victory in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the “Me” today.

Can we say to ourselves in the mirror that “By the grace of God I am what I am…?” If so, why do we dwell so much on our worries, our self-doubts, our poor circumstances, our seeming ineffectiveness, our unattractiveness, etcetera?

If I am what I am by the grace of God, then who I am and am becoming, what I am and am becoming, and how I am and am becoming are a gift from God. My position in life is by the grace of God. My marriage or singleness, my children (if any), my job or joblessness, my situation no matter how pleasant or desperate is who I am, by the grace of God.

How can we say this in the face of misery, in the face of trouble, in the face of calamity, in the face of hatred, in the face of opposition, in the face of lovelessness, in the face of poverty? To say that I am what I am by the grace of God appears to sometimes be the height of foolishness. In our most trying moments we almost want to say that, if I am what I am by the grace of God, then God turn off the grace so I can be someone else.

We can say what Paul said in the worse of circumstances because when we have Jesus Christ as our Lord we have treasure far exceeding our misery, joy which knows no bounds, love which never ends, the power of God in all circumstances.

There is a second aspect to this, as well, however. By the grace of God I am what I am but also by the grace of God I am not who I am becoming. Immediately following Paul’s statement that he is what he is by the grace of God, he then says “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 1 Cor. 15:10b The grace of God makes me who I am, but the grace of God working hard within me makes me who I am becoming.

There are two tendencies on Monday morning. The first is to look in the mirror and be depressed. The second is to look in the mirror and smile.

Knowing that we are who we are by the grace of God, sustained by His power for good works, infused by God with the spirits of power, love, and self-discipline, which tendency do you think we will engage the Monday morning mirror with?

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Bread – Affliction

April 2, 2012


Readings for Monday, April 2, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lam. 1:1-12; 2 Cor. 1:1-7; Mark 11:12-25; Psalms 51, 69

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“Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.” Lam. 1:12

Affliction – pain, loss, distress caused by trial, difficulty, illness, adversity, etc. – is the kind of concept which causes itself. Talking about affliction causes affliction – distress and depression caused by having to think about distress and depression. Yuk! And yet we must talk about it.

We must talk about it for two reasons, all given in today’s Scripture reasons. The first is because affliction is brought upon us by God because we have been disobedient to God. In Lamentations, the author writes poems of lament, of sorrow, because of the affliction caused to Jerusalem by the invading hordes. Lest anyone be in doubt, the author is clear that, even though Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by invading armies, the affliction was “which the Lord inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.” Jerusalem had ignored the prophets. It had ignored God’s Word. It had ignored God. It had treated God’s forbearance in love as permission to sin. It had followed its own way. In so doing it had invited judgment and judgment it received.

God’s judgment for failure to follow Him is also reflected in today’s reading from the gospel of Mark, where Jesus first condemns the fig tree for not producing fruit (again judging Jerusalem, symbolized by the tree) and then upsets the moneychangers in the temple courts, because they have converted His place of worship and prayer into a commercial enterprise. Mk. 11:12-19.

The second reason we are afflicted is because we follow Christ. This is not an affliction which comes from God, but from Satan and his minions on earth as an attempt to dissuade us from perseverance in the faith. The first kind of affliction is essentially judgment on our disobedience. The second kind of affliction is essentially the world striking back because we are obedient. God permits the first to remind us that there are severe, eternal consequences for failure to follow Him. God permits the second for our strengthening and so that His glory will be revealed in our perseverance and His comfort that He gives us in return. As Paul says today in the second letter to the church in Corinth, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort that we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5

Whether, however, affliction comes to us from punishment or chastisement or comes from rejection by the world of Christ, to us it still feels the same. It is still affliction. It still hurts. It still depresses. We are still sick and tired.

The fact that affliction still looks the same and feels the same when you are on the receiving end of it makes the disciples’ question to Jesus in today’s reading from Mark very important. “As they [the disciples] passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered … And Peter remembered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi…The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God.’” Mk. 11:20-22

Indirectly, Peter was asking Jesus to explain the withered fig tree. Jesus answers him “Have faith in God” and then talks about the power of prayer. Most sermons address the power of prayer in causing the fig tree to wither; however, one wonders if what Jesus had in mind was the power of God to bring the fig tree back to life.

Isn’t that what Paul is talking about? Have faith in God to bring about comfort and healing in our lives and, through us in the power of Christ, to others in affliction? The very God who afflicts is the One who saves. The very God who punishes disobedience forgives us our sins through Christ’s payment on the cross. So whenever we are suffering affliction, for whatever reason, “Have faith in God.” He is merciful, He is powerful, He is mighty to save. “Have faith in God.”

Jesus answers the affliction of the withered fig tree with “Have faith in God.” Paul answers the affliction of believers with “Have faith in God.”

And so does the writer of Lamentations. In a familiar passage, the writer says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” Lam. 3:22-24

Jesus, Paul, the Old Testament writer – “In your affliction, regardless of the cause, have faith in God.”

Is there a pattern here? I think so. We are afflicted – have faith in God.

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