Bread – Gloating

June 14, 2017


Psalm 70

Make haste, O God, to deliver me!…Let them turn back because of their shame who say, “Aha, Aha!”  Ps. 70:1,3

“Gloating” is one of those words which is almost painful to say; saying it almost puts your teeth on edge.  It seems to form the mouth into an unnatural shape to utter the word “gloating.”

We may not say the word, but we do it all the time.  When someone has made a mistake and is paying the consequences of failure, aren’t we always ready with the “Didn’t I tell you that ….”  We are gloating in that instance, because we are standing in our superior position of knowledge, expertise, decision-making skill, wisdom, and just plain good sense.  And we are driving home the point just so the other person, who so desperately needs our help, will listen “next time.”

Or maybe we just won something, like a sports game.  We are all puffed up with pride at that very moment, gloating over our obvious superiority to the “also rans.”  Now you may not admit that you do this, because someone will call you “conceited,” so your public persona may be different, but in the silence of your bedroom or study you are saying to yourself…”Yes!”  That is gloating.

Now, in our reading today, the Psalmist David has obviously done something which is causing other people to stand around him and gloat, saying “Aha, Aha!”

And David does two things in response.  First, he calls those people shameful (“Let them turn back because of their shame.”).  Why is their behavior shameful?  I think the reason is captured in God’s command to us in Leviticus 19:18 (“…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”).  When we fail, do we gloat over ourselves?  No.  Then why should we gloat over the failings of other people?

But the second thing he does is call upon God’s help.

When we are dealing with the emotional baggage of someone else who is gloating over our failures or our bad choices, do we ask for God’s help in dealing with that person?  Before we respond to the gloater in anger or in retreat, do we listen to the Lord’s advice about loving them and about coming to Him first as the solution rather than last?

We will fail and, when we do, there will be some in the world who delight in our hurt, in our failure, and who say “Aha, look at him!”  The world tells us that there are two solutions to this, either respond in anger by telling them where they can go or respond in retreat, by accepting their criticism and slinking off to feel sorry for ourselves.  God tells us there is a third choice – come to Him.

Go to God for comfort.  Go to God for truth.  Go to God for healing.  Go to God for judgment.

When confronted with the laughter of the world, rather than retreat into ourselves or explode in reaction there is another place of safety, wisdom, and power.  Go to God.

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

Bread – Says

June 1, 2015


Readings for Monday, June 1, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 11:13-19; 2 Cor. 5:11-6:2; Luke 17:1-10; Psalms 41.44,52

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In today’s reading from Luke, Christ says “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3b-4

This is a familiar saying and so when I read it, I almost moved on, but then my eyes caught the word “saying.” To paraphrase, it appears that if my brothers says “I repent,” then I am commanded to forgive him (“you must forgive him”).

My grandson the other day tried to hit me in the head with a hard toy. His mother said to my grandson, “tell him [me] you are sorry.” He came over and gave me a big hug, but he would not say that he was sorry. At the second instruction from his mother to tell me that he was sorry for trying to hit me with a toy, he came over, gave me a big hug, and kissed me, but he still did not say he was sorry. On the third instruction, he came up to me and muttered ‘Sorry,’ quickly spun around, and ran off.

Now he said he was ‘sorry,’ but did he mean it? He hugged me because he loved me and he kissed me for the same reason. But he deliberately through the hard toy at my head to see if he could hit me and he was not in the least sorry that he had thrown it, although I suspect he was sorry he had missed. Did he “repent” of his “sin?” No, but he said “Sorry” (in religious terms he said “I repent”) and, because he said it (and not because he actually was sorry), I am commanded by Christ to forgive him.

We say things all the time we don’t mean. We say “I’m sorry” when we are not sorry. We say “I’m fine” when we are not fine at all. We smile at someone while saying the nicest things, while thinking the exact opposite.

Just because we say we repent of our offense does not mean that we have repented, intend to repent, or ever will repent. We know this and we can see it in actual tone of voice, body position, and by what is done later by the same person. When a person says “I repent” of doing a bad thing and then repeats that bad thing ten minutes later, it is probably fair to say that they have not repented (acknowledged sin and turned away from that sin) but have only said so.

But even if they are just “saying” “I repent,” we are commanded to forgive them. Jesus in this passage does not say to judge the truthfulness of the statement or inspect the fruit of repentance to see if the deeds line up with the statement. If he (or she) simply says “I repent,” we are to forgive him.

Why? One answer might be that we are not to judge the motives or reality of what is said, but merely to take it at face value. This objection against judging is the world speaking, but maybe God is saying that we should just take the truth of what we are told at face value. Another answer might be along the same lines, which is that we should leave judging the heart to God and, therefore, take everything at face value. In the first explanation, if a person says “I repent,” but does not, that is on him and not us – we are to forgive and forget because we are not to judge. In the second explanation, if a person says “I repent,” but does not, that is on him and not us – we are to forgive and forget because God is the judge. The first alternative absolves us of all responsibility for judging; the second alternative passes that responsibility to God.

But there is a third answer to the question which is contained in the passage quoted. Jesus begins this way – “If your brother sins, rebuke him …” Wait a minutes! Isn’t that judging? Yes, it is, but it is a particular kind of judging. It is not the kind of judging that judges and sits but the kind that judges and does. It is the kind of judging which requires engagement by us. We cannot just say “that is a bad person” and stop, but we must (a) identify what exact action or statement, behavior or character, that was “sinful” and (b) physically go to that person, talk to them, “rebuke” them (pointing out the sin and why it is a sin), and call them up into repentance.

The pattern which Jesus lays before us is one of constant engagement with others, where we are rebuking them and then accepting them immediately upon their mere statement of repentance. In this form of engagement, there is no room for hiding because in rebuking you for your sin I might well find myself rebuking myself for mine; there is no room for bitterness or anger because we are confronted immediately with the consequence of our rebuke (whether or not there is repentance); there is no room for loss of relationship because I am commanded to forgive immediately upon a statement of repentance. The pattern which Jesus lays out before us maximizes honesty in relationship, maximizes healthy relationships, maximizes healthy self-examination, and maximizes freedom from bondage to what each other think or what we think they may think.

We have another name for this kind of engagement – it is called “love.”

And we have an adjective for this kind of engagement – “rare.”

Why is it so rare? Maybe it is because we are afraid. We are afraid of what people will think of us when we confront, speak the truth in love, and rebuke. And we are afraid of what we will think of ourselves when we just accept people’s “I’m sorry” at face value, when we forgive them automatically upon their “saying” of repentance. Both of these are forms of hurt, and what Jesus tells us to do we will not do because we are afraid of getting hurt.

But there is really more here than just the avoidance of hurt. Why would we not confront people of their sin and rebuke them if we loved them – after all, isn’t it better for them they hear the truth when stated by someone with no agenda except the highest and best good for the hearer? Why would we not forgive someone automatically who has said that they are sorry – after all, isn’t it a true act of love that we say to them that we believe them, that we trust them, and that we accept them?

When we say that we do not judge what we are really saying is that we do not want to be engaged. When we say that we do not accept the “I’m sorry” at face value without accompanying deeds, what we are really saying is that we do not want to be exposed.

And yet Jesus commands us to be both engaged and exposed. So who will we rebuke and whose statement of repentance will we accept by forgiveness? Let’s begin with the guy or gal in the mirror and see where else it leads!

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Darkness

February 1, 2013


Readings for Friday, February 1, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 50:1-11; Gal. 3:15-22; Mk 6:47-56; Psalms 40,51,54

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There are many places where darkness dwells and many types of darkness which dwell there. Perhaps the place is the time of the loss of innocence, a time of sexual abuse, a time of loss of a loved one, a time of loss of a job, a time of depression, a time of loss of trust, a time of loss of love, or a time of addiction. Perhaps it appears in the form of anger, hatred, abuse of ourselves or others, depression, anxiety, worry, despair, hurt, melancholy, sadness, or fear. Wherever it is and whatever form it takes, it is fair to call that “darkness” or a “dark place” or a “dark time.” Light is missing – there is no path which is obvious, no clarity in view, no sense of belonging, no door to another place. It is dark and you cannot see. You cannot see what brought you to that place, you cannot see yourself, and you cannot see a way out. Why? Because it is dark.

When you are in the dark, there are two things, however, you can do. You can either rely on God or you can rely on yourself (the world). That is what today’s lesson from Isaiah addresses.

Isaiah 50:10b begins God’s pronouncement of these alternatives. First He says “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” Isa. 50:10b What happens when you do this? Good things. Our Psalm 40 reading today says “He [God] drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth … Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust.” Ps. 40:2-4. Some words have great images, and doesn’t the phrase “miry bog” just completely describe the place of darkness where many of us find ourselves all the time? Stuck, sinking, smelly, dark. And God brings us out into light, gives us a new song, and blesses us.

Isaiah keeps going to address the second alternative, reliance on man (the world) to bring us out of darkness into light. God says “Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from My hand: you shall lie down in torment.” Isa. 50:11 God through Isaiah says simply that you do have an alternative when you are in the dark – you can locate the light switch designed and built by man, flood the place with the light of man, and rely upon your science, your wisdom, your knowledge, your tools (your “fire”) to light up the place. And where does that ultimately take you? To hell (“you shall lie down in torment”).

When you find yourself in darkness, do you reach for man’s solutions or God’s solutions? Is your light the fake light of man or the real light of God?

But isn’t fake light real light? After all, light is light, right? Wrong. As I said earlier, there are many forms of darkness. Because the light which comes from man is its own form of darkness, it is possible to be “enlightened” and yet be sitting in the dark emotionally and spiritually. The Enlightenment was the beginning of a period where man woke up to the fact that he could create his own light and didn’t need God to create it for him. Tell me, is there more peace, love, integrity, or hope today because of that? I don’t think so. Man’s light is darkness, just in a different form.

So when you are in the dark, to whom will you turn? It makes all the difference.

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Slipping

February 3, 2012


Readings for Friday, February 3, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 24:1-27; Heb. 12:3-11; John 7:1-13; Psalms 69, 73

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Psalm 73, ascribed as a “Psalm of Asaph,” says: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Ps. 73:2-3

Who has not been in position of slipping? Sometimes it is because the way is treacherous, like with snow, ice, or “black ice.” Sometimes it is because we are so caught up with ourselves or our mission that we do not look where we are going. Sometimes it is because the way we have chosen to go is crooked, sloped, or just plain difficult. But more often than not, it is because we are paying attention to something or someone else – in the case of David (or Asaph) it was paying attention to the wealthy of the world, the “arrogant,” the prideful, the powerful people. In the case of a man or a woman, it might be a beautiful person. In the case of a worker, it might be a co-worker who seems to have it all together. In the case of the poor, it might be the wealthy.

What happens when we slip? The most obvious answer is that we fall or twist our ankle and hurt ourselves. A less obvious answer, but universally true, is that we lose our forward momentum. Wherever it was we were going, that journey has temporarily been suspended while we recover ourselves, tend to our wounds, and perhaps even focus more intently on the reason we slipped in the first place.

In fact, the last thing (increased focus), is what happened to David (or Asaph). Immediately, after saying that he had “almost slipped,” he describes the wealthy and prosperous in such detail that you know he remains focused on them: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace…Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.” Ps. 73:4-9 For all intents and purposes, he has slipped.

Now slipping in and of itself sounds like a bad thing and something to be avoided, but it appears like it may be inevitable for us who are human, who look at ourselves and others first rather than God, who are prideful, envious, and jealous. And so what is the effect? Are we lost, never to be recovered? Or are we merely distracted, temporarily disabled, still on the journey although waylayed?

There is great hope and assurance in today’s Psalm for those who are the Lord’s, who are God’s, who are followers of Christ, who are Christ-bearers.

While David (or Asaph) had slipped, and was focused on the wisdom and riches of the world, he realized two things. The first is important but the second is even more important. The first is that he recognizes that his heart is grieved and his spirit bitter, making him senseless and ignorant. The second is that he recognized that while he was in that state, he was a brute beast before God – “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You [God].” Ps. 73:21-22

A brute beast before God – stupid, mindless, ignorant, incapable of godly thought, focused on urges and wants, succumbed to the basest instincts.

That was his standing before God while he was slipping.

But it didn’t matter because … “Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory…My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Ps. 73:23-26

I may and will slip, but God will not. God will sustain me through everything, He will take my brutishness and through His correction, His wise and true counsel, lift me up “into glory.” Period, end of story.

So, there is something here for today and for the rest of our life. We may slip on the sidewalk of life and find ourselves down on the ground, hurt body and ego, unable to regain our balance and get up. We may be really hurt. We may be merely shaken up. We may just have bruised pride. But luckily for us, reaching our destination does not depend upon us because we are held by our right hand by the mighty God, we have God’s guidance through His Word and Holy Spirit, and we will be taken in God’s time into glory.

Thank you, Jesus.

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