Readings for Monday, May 16 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 26:27-42; Eph. 1:1-10; Matt. 22:41-46; Psalm 119:97-120

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Included in our readings today is Ephesians, 1:1-10. A slow read and a moment of contemplation will reveal that there is enough truth there to make up an entire semester of sermons.

But today I want to focus on the first sentence – “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God.” Eph. 1:1a

In many networking groups today, there is an emphasis on developing what is known as the “one minute elevator speech.” The idea is that you can (should be able to) introduce yourself to a stranger and deliver in one minute or less a short description of who you are and what you do so that the person remembers and, in the best of circumstances, hires you on the spot.

This first line is Paul’s elevator speech. It only takes about a second, but it tells people who he is, what his job is, who he works for, and by what authority he does these things.

As a Christian, do you have an elevator speech so that, within a minute or less, the listener knows you are a Christian?

About the only elevator speeches I know among Christians who actually are Christians and want to show it go something like this – “Hi, my name is George. Are you saved?” Of course I have shortened it for effect, but you know what I am talking about. We are trained in our evangelism classes to reach out to others with the truth of the gospel by engaging them immediately in a salvation dialogue.

In the meantime, among our more worldly acquaintances in the elevator, our elevator speech sounds more like the following: “Hi, my name is George. I am a …..” In this elevator speech, the words “God,” “Christ,” “Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Jesus,” never cross our lips. In this elevator speech, we never mention that we work for someone else (unless, of course, it is a multinational business of instant positive name recognition).

Are either of these good elevator speeches for Christians? The first is confrontational and the second contains no information about Christ whatsoever.

What if we designed an introduction like Paul’s? What if we said to people: “Hi, my name is George, an ambassador for Jesus Christ, by the will of God.” What results would occur? I assert that the reaction would be amazing. First, an “ambassador” is cool and exotic (an international man of mystery). Second, you have already told people that you are from a foreign country and that you have the ability to explain to them what that foreign country is all about. Third, you have told them that you are diplomatic and will not be mean. Fourth, you have identified yourself as belong to a person, Jesus Christ, and not a position, a concept, or a philosophy.

But the primary amazing reaction would be the fifth reason, and it has nothing to do with the people we are talking to and everything to do with us. The fifth reason the reaction would be amazing is that it would drive home a simple point, but one we miss in our pride all the time – “by the will of God.” It would remind us that what we do and whatever effectiveness we have is “by the will of God” and not by our will. And what would happen if we repeated that so often that we came to really understand it, really believe it, really act like it was true. The results would be amazing.

So, why don’t today we work on our introductions?

Are you inclined to put that off? I am. And this resistance arises from the fear we all have of what the listener’s reaction will be. Which goes back to the main point – How can we say we are who we are in the kingdom of God, a royal priesthood, redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? “By the will of God.”

How can we say it? By the will of God. Why can we say it? By the will of God.

“Hi, my name is ____________, by the will of God.”

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Bread – Servants

May 14, 2012


Readings for Monday, May 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 25:35-55; Col. 1:9-14; Matt. 13:1-16; Psalms 77, 79, 80

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Among entrepreneurs there is a joke which goes something like this – “the benefit of being an entrepreneur is that I get to choose which 80 hours a week I have to work.” This sounds good until you realize that, if you are working 80 hours a week, there is very little choice as to when those hours are. The choice has an appearance of reality but the fact of non-existence. The entrepreneur is a servant to his or her customers or market or competitors, and it is they in reality who tell the entrepreneur what to do and when to do it. The perceived independence is a mirage.

But the Bible does not deal in jokes; it deals in reality. As a result, we have the reading today from Leviticus which concerns the problem of poor people and how they are treated. There are basically four ways this is done.

The first way is if there is a family and the brother “becomes” poor. This way seems to assume that the “poorness” has some kind of temporary feature to it. God through Leviticus says “If your brother becomes poor nd cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.” Lev. 25:35

The second way assumes there is a family and the brother “becomes” poor and, by implication, stays that way for an extended period of time. In this case, God through Leviticus says: “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave; he shall be to you as a hired servant and as a sojourner.” Lev. 25:39-40.

The third way assumes that the poor person has sold himself to a third party, even though he has a family. In that case, the sold person becomes more like a permanent servant to the purchasers, but can be redeemed (paid for) by the family. “If … your brother beside him [the stranger] becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed.” Lev. 25:47-48

The fourth way assumes that the poor person has no family but is so poor he has to sell himself. In that case, the poor person becomes a slave with no right to be repurchased or set free. “You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property … you may make slaves of them.: Lev. 25:45-46

With respect to those members of the family of God, they are set free from whatever bondage they have in the year of Jubilee. With respect to those persons who are not members of the family of God, they are not set free.

There are several observations from this Leviticus reading today. First, everyone who is poor is in a dependent, servant relationship to someone who is not. The poor person who is temporarily poor is dependent upon his family. The poor person whose state is such that he has had to sell himself to his family is a servant to that family. The poor person whose state is such that he has to sell himself to a third party, even though he has family, is a servant to that third person and, if he has no family within the family of God, is actually a slave to that third person.

Second, the family member who is rich is a servant to someone who is poor. The rich person with a poor relative who is temporarily poor “shall support him” and there is no mention of the recipient’s showing any gratitude by helping around the house. The rich person with a poor relative who is more permanently poor must release that person at Jubilee, whether or not the “debt” of assistance is every re-paid.

Third, the only person who is not set free at Jubilee is the stranger who is not part of the family of God.

Fourth, the rationale for this structure is contained in the words “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” Lev. 25:38. We are to be servants to our less fortunate brothers because we were poor and received mercy from God who delivered us. “…[T]hey are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt…” Lev. 25:42. Our brothers who have sold themselves to us are to be servants and not slaves to us, released on Jubilee, because they are first God’s servants and not ours. “For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants.” Lev. 25:55. Even those brothers who have sold themselves to third parties are to be redeemed or set free because they are ultimately God’s servants and no-one elses.

Fifth, the treatment of those poor persons who are outside the family of God is very different from those members of the family. Those within the family are all servants, subject to obedience but always with the expectation of release in the year of Jubilee, and those without the family are slaves, able to be transferred as such to the next generation, gaining no benefit from the kinsman-redeemer and receiving nothing at Jubilee.

There is something which strikes the Western mind as unfair or unequal about this, and so we are inclined to substitute the government for the family of God. Government in this case tries to act like a family, taking from the rich to give to the poor, but it is a “pseudo family” and not a real one. As a result, the schema of government support always ends up in slavery – both slavery of the rich (as they are compelled to “give”) and slavery of the poor, as there is no one to redeem them from their state, they have been sold to strangers who are not family, and there is no year of Jubilee.

The Bible, on the other hand, recognizes that there are those who are in the family of God and who receive the family’s blessings and those who are not. Before one jumps to conclusions, however, that this is somehow unfair, contemplate that in God’s economy there are four groups of poor people, three of who receive the benefits of servanthood, family support, and, ultimately, redemption and forgiveness (Jubilee). In man’s economy, there may be only one group of poor people, but they are all slaves with nothing ahead of them except to passed down from generation to generation in their same condition, neither free, redeemed, or forgiven.

Since, truly, we are all poor, the real question becomes then, are we “servants” or “slaves.” The answer to that is not in attitude or choice but in relationship. Are we truly a member of the family of God? If we are, we are servants with a destiny of release, redemption, and forgiveness. If we are not, we are slaves.

In this light, maybe our prayer should be today, “God, let me be a servant.” Because the alternative is not good.

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Bread – Leftovers

May 9, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, May 9, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 19:1-18; 1 Thess. 5:12-28; Matt. 6:19-24; Psalms 72, 119:73-96

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“Leave something on the table.” As a negotiator, that is my counsel to my clients. Never be so greedy for everything that nothing is left for the other person, because at the end of the day those people who want everything often end up with nothing but misery. Some people might call this “compromise” and give it a bad name. I prefer to think of it as gracious.

Today from our readings, I now know that it is something more than gracious – it is a Biblical command.

In Leviticus, we read today “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:9-10

There are a couple of things to note about this passage. First is that the land is “your” land. God is not claiming it in this passage (although we know that all things are God’s), and as the owner of private property, you would have the right to the complete harvest, from edge to edge, gleanings included. God is saying not to take everything which is rightfully yours, but to obey Him.

The second thing to notice is the last sentence. What separates the “You shall leave them for the poor…” and “I am the Lord your God” is not a period or semicolon, as if these were parallel but independent parts, and it is not a comma, as if an afterthought, but it is a colon (:). The thought here is that we leave something on the table because or for the reason that God is our Lord.

What is the intent behind this rule? Is it to teach us charity? Maybe, but I think not. I think it has to do with who is on first, God or us, God or things. Indeed, this is brought home today in our reading from Matthew, where Jesus points out that we should lay up our treasures in heaven and not on earth, concluding “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matt. 6:24.

But, some might be inclined to say that you are quoting from Leviticus and these laws were superseded by the New Testament. That might be true if this were simply a rule, but it is in fact a particularization of a larger command, a command which Jesus Himself stated. The reading from Leviticus today ends with this statement – “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:18. This command is repeated and extended by Jesus to enemies – “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matt. 5:43-44.

As we go through life today collecting what is “owed” us, let us recall the command that we deliberately leave “leftovers” for others. Maybe in so doing we will be reminded about the colon (:)** – We do what we do because He is the Lord. He is first and we are not. And we may not even be second, or third, or fourth. And that is OK, because at the end of the day it is us who are the poor and the sojourners; it is us who feast on what God gives us from His bounty, from His fields, and from His storehouses.

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** An observation. Every time I typed a colon (:), I got this Smile. Isn’t it amazing that God has so worked into our culture the translation of the colon into the happy face, reminding us, perhaps, that those of us whose “because” is the Lord are indeed happy and blessed. …”but you shall love your neighbor as yourselfSmileI am the Lord.” Makes you smile, doesn’t it.

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Bread – Repeat

May 2, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, May 2, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 34:1-17; 1 Thess. 2:1-12; Matt. 5:17-20; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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Moses has received the ten commandments from God, goes back to his people, finds that in the meantime they have become apostate, now worshiping the golden calf as their god, gets mad at them, and smashes the two tablets containing the ten commandments. The people are unworthy to receive God’s word, so Moses makes sure they can’t.

But God has a different plan. God calls Moses back to the mountain and we are confronted with a repeat of the same sequence. God says to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were written on the first tablets, which you broke.” Exod. 34:1

There is a lot going on here. First, the people leave God to follow their desires and corrupt the church leadership (Aaron) into following them, threatening Aaron with lack of relevancy if Aaron doesn’t help them fashion a new god, made from human hands. God is angry and is inclined to wipe everyone out and start over, but Moses reminds Him that the Hebrews are His chosen people. God then gives the Hebrews a second chance (repeat) and sends Moses with the Testimony to teach the people how they should behave as citizens of the Kingdom. It is then Moses who gets mad, who then destroys God’s word. God calls Moses back to the mountain and says, essentially, “No, you are going to deliver to the people My Word.” God reminds Moses that it was he (Moses) who broke the tablets, not the people (“…first tablets, which you broke.”). God then gives Moses (and by extension, the people) a second chance, repeats Himself, and re-writes the Ten Commandments.

God repeats Himself a lot. He gives us a lot of second chances. He gives us second chances when we fail to exercise our ministry, to speak the gospel in season and out of season (By destroying the tablets, Moses chose not to deliver or preach God’s Word to the people). He gives us second chances when we fall, either in our leadership roles (Aaron) or as disciples (the people). He repeats Himself although He does not have to and should not have to.

Why does He repeat Himself? Why does He give us second chances?

God answers that question Himself — “The Lord passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin….’” Exod. 34:6

We get second chances because God is merciful towards us, loves us in a steadfast way which exceeds all of our ability to understand, and therefore forgives us even when we would never forgive ourselves (or anyone else).

Now some people would read this and treat it as a license to all kinds of bad behavior, thinking that because I say that “I repent and believe” and because “I have been baptized,” I am saved for all time, no matter what I do. [**See footnote below]

However, I did not finish the quotation above; I cut short God’s statement about Himself – “’… forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” Exod. 34:7

God is also a God of judgment and that judgment for our iniquity is upon us and all of our descendants. God is a God of repetition and second chances, but He is also a God of finality and judgment.

There is a time when God will no longer repeat Himself, when second chances are over. When that time comes, will you be ready? What if it is tomorrow? What if it is today? Are you ready?

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** This Bread is not a discussion about the assurance of salvation, whether a person once saved is always saved. I for one believe that when God calls us, we are in fact called and when God saves us we are in fact saved, no matter what we do. However, I also believe that effective calling, saving faith, a circumcised heart, a transformed life, and good fruit go hand in hand and where one is missing, there may be a good argument that the others are missing as well. But that is not my concern; God will judge His own (and everyone else) in His time.

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