Bread – Needy

June 30, 2017


Psalm 72

For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.”  Ps. 72:12-13

There are three actors in these verses, two apparent and one disguised.

The first apparent actor is described as both a noun and an adjective.  Man is both the “needy” (the noun) and the “needy (man)” (the adjective).

Who are these needy and what do they need so badly that they are needy.  When we answer the what, it will identify the who.  When we think of need, we most often think of physical issues have to do with money.  He or she needs a job, needs a shelter, and/or needs food and water.  We have a famous researcher who has described a ‘hierarchy of needs,” and these needs for shelter and food are first on the list.  At the top of the list is the need to be appreciated, to be wanted or desired, to have our pride stroked.  In between are the needs for safety and security (free from worry) and companionship.

We make a big mistake when we believe that the only needy people are the ones in the food lines.  The truth is that all of us are needy of these things, but also things like hope, safety, security, friendship, and dignity.

So the answer to the “who are the needy” question is “Everyone.”  You, me, them … everyone is needy.

So now that we have identified who the needy person is, who is the the second obvious actor.  It is the “he” in the sentence, which relates back to an earlier verse, the first verse, where the “he” is the king, which in the case of this specific Psalm could have been Solomon.

Since the “king” today is the government, perhaps these verses could be interpreted as a command that us, the needy, are to turn to the government (the king) for the fulfillment of our needs, to fulfill our need for food and health care, our need for safety and security, our need for dignity in the word, and our need for companionship.  And so, in the mad rush to fill our needs, our world would have us turn to the “obvious” king for deliverance, to the state.

And so the natural course of man is to give to the state the power to “help” them, and in so doing give up their individual rights to the collective.

Entire civilizations and philosophies are founded on this principal, that it is the “king” who protects, to delivers good things, who feeds, etc. his needy people.

But to do so ignores the silent actor in these verses, the disguised actor.  Who is this?  Well, I think it becomes obvious when we remove the written attempts to bring God to our level and change the verses so that they now read: “For He delivers the needy when he calls, and poor and him who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.”  What have I changed?  One letter in one word.  I changed “For he…” to “For He…

And now you know the rest of the story.  The “He” who delivers is the King of the Psalm, the Messiah, Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  It is not the man-king but the God-King.

Because we are needy, we will look to a king to deliver us from those needs, to save us.  If we are secular and have no faith in Christ, the king is the state and we will want the state to feed us, teach us, raise us, nurture us, build us into communities of the king’s making, and love us.  This is slavery unto death but it is the choice of needy people who only see the little “king.”

If we believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are still needy but the source of our deliverance is a different king, a King Jesus, Creator of the world.  Our King is King and we will look to Him, Father, and Holy Spirit to feed us, teach us, raise us, build us into communities of His making, and love us.  This is slavery unto life and is the choice of those who see the big “King.”

You are needy.  Which king will deliver you?

________

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Bread – Opposites

June 16, 2017


Psalm 70

“May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You!  May those who love Your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’  But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God!”  Ps. 70:4-5a

We have all heard the phrase, “two sides of the same coin.”  We know that “heads” and “tails” are opposites and, if we are betting, have different results, but we also recognize that they are bound together on and in the same coin.  This basic understanding has been extended to different philosophies, where there is proposed a balance in the universe, equally between good and evil, yin and yang, the good side and the dark side of the force, etc.

And one might be inclined to read the above quote from Psalm 70 and, given that David wrote the Psalm, he was expressing two opposites in his personality, one joyful and upbeat as he considered his salvation and the other “down in the mouth” as he considered his poor condition.  The question is, is joy the opposite of depression?

I think the answer to this question is “yes” from one perspective and “no” from another.

When is it “yes?”  When joy and depression are opposites is when man is in control of both.  If we are to look for the measurement solely to our feeling, what we think, how we behave, then clapping your hands in gladness is certainly the opposite of wringing your hands in despair.  In the first instance, we feel upbeat and ready to take on the world.  In the second instance, we feel downbeat and ready to retreat from the world.  Both are our feelings, and joy and depression cannot occupy the same feeling space.  One crowds out the other.  They are opposites.

When is it “no?”  When the Lord is involved.  When God is in our life, is possible to say “I am poor and needy” and “Praise be to God” in the same breath.  It is possible because, by saying we are poor and needy, we are accurately describing our situation.  When we say “Praise be to God” we are accurately describing the source of our overcoming power.

What is the combination of depression and joy in the Christian life?  It is hope.

When we acknowledge Christ as Savior and King, we become new.  And this newness is a transformation of opposites into wholeness.  Oh, it takes a while for the complete integration to occur, and for most of us will take our entire lives.  But when we become Jesus’ sheep, the sheep of His pasture, we no longer have to suffer the opposites of feeling good or feeling bad, because we now have hope.

So, was this juxtaposition of David between joy and being poor and needy an expression of opposites?  No, it was an expression of God’s involvement continuousy in all circumstances to bring about His purposes and His glory.  In these verses, God is present.  He is present in the praises and He is present in the delivery from David’s poor condition.

The expression of “Help me … Praise You!” is not an expression of opposites but an expression of unity of spirit and the ascendancy of hope, a gift from God.

“Help me … Praise You!” is merely an expression of a great truth … we are radically poor and radically saved, all at the same time with the grace and mercy of God.

In Christ, with the flip of the coin we have heads I win and tails I win too.  It is the same coin, but it is different than it was.  So are we, in Christ.

________

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

 

Bread – Responsibility

November 16, 2016


Psalm 41

“Blessed is the one who considers the poor!”  Ps. 41:1

In my political circles, liberty is quite often spoken about, as well as individual responsibility.  And, yet, how many of us who claim to be Christian actually considers the poor?

What I mean by this is not promotion of social programs which create so-called “safety nets” or which provide “sustenance” living to the poor, whether that living be by way of food, transportation, shelter, or cell phones.  It is very easy to be righteous with someone else’s money.  I can be gracious and spend tons of money through hundreds of “programs” designed to “take care of” the poor, if it is your money I am spending.  The fact is, our “Christian” endeavors often find their way to influencing our government to do for others (and therefore for us) what we should be doing ourselves.

When I vote for a government program to feed the poor, I can say with a straight face (at least to myself and others, but probably not to God) that I “considered the poor,” while not having spent either time or treasure in doing so.

What is the chicken and what is the egg?  Do we have government programs because Christians have not exercised their responsibility to consider the poor, even within their own congregations?  Or have Christians become weak in their consideration of the poor because it is so easy to say, “Oh, they’ll handle it,” or “Oh, we have a government program for that.”

Perhaps worse, I have focused this discussion so far on things, on money and financial support.  But what about love, the kind of love which causes us to depart from our agenda and listen to someone else?  What do we do to put ourselves in the place of the poor where we can engage them as brothers and sisters, either in Christ or needing Christ?

Well, we all sin and fall short and I definitely come within the category of “all” on this one.  If you do a self-assessment, you probably do too.

Why are those who consider the poor blessed?  Is it because they have obeyed and are therefore rewarded?  I think not.  I think it has more to do with baskets.  If I take what is in my basket and give it to someone else, I now have an empty basket for the Lord to fill – and we call that filling a blessing.  If my basket is already full with stuff which I claim is mine, then where is the room for the blessing?

We are coming upon times of the year when we are acutely aware of our blessings.  Let’s give them away to someone else so that we will become even more acutely aware of how truly dependent we are upon Him Who creates, Who reigns, Who saves, and Who supplies our every need.  Let us make room to receive our blessing by being a blessing to others who need it more.

Let us consider the poor.

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

Bread – Poverty

June 8, 2016


Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”  Ps. 23:1

In our Declaration of Independence, three things are stated that man should strive for without the interference of king government:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

At our deepest level, aren’t those the things we most strive for in life – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

What is the fullness of life?  Satisfaction of basic needs, like water, food, a dry place to sleep, a safe place to work and sleep, a way to get around (transportation)?  Or is it something more than that, the building of family and friends, good relationships with others, and perhaps doing something which leaves the world a little better than we found it?

What is the best evidence of liberty?  Freedom from fear, limitless opportunity for growth, power to act independently exercised in moderate ways, the ability to be in or out of community as best suits our temperament, the strength of mind and body to be able to say both yes and no as appropriate, courage to be alone and courage to be with others?

What evidence exists when we are able to pursue happiness?  Probably both life and liberty, because with both we are able then to chase after our dreams and grab hold of what builds us up and reject what tears us down.

“I shall not want.”  I shall not want for life, I shall not want for liberty, and I shall not want in my ability to pursue happiness.

When the Lord is my shepherd, my Lord who guides me, guards me, and guarantees my place in the flock, I shall not want for life, I shall not want for liberty, and I shall not want in my quest for happiness.  When He is not my shepherd, I will have wants in all these areas.  In Christ there are riches overflowing.  In the world there is poverty of life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness.

You notice that I have mentioned poverty in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but I have not mentioned poverty of things.

There is a reason for this.  If we follow the world’s ways, we will chase after gods of gold, power, and position, and we may be poor in these things or we may be rich in them.  But even if we have no poverty of things, we will want for the things that matter.  If we chase after the world, we will have poverty of life, of liberty, and of the pursuit of happiness.  The reason is simple … when we chase after things, after the ways of the world, we chase after slavery.  We cannot give of our wealth if we need our wealth to buy more things.  We cannot have relationships if we are bound up in business making more money.  We cannot have liberty if we must forever tend to the wheel of commerce to make sure that our things do not disappear.  We have no time to pursue happiness if we must instead use our time to gather more things.

When you are bound to Jesus, when He is your shepherd, you are subject to His authority, to His commands, to His guidance, to His way, to His rules, and, most importantly, to His love, protection, peace, mercy, and life.  And yet, as sheep, when we follow the Master we have the freedom to live, knowing that He will take us where we need to go to take care of our needs (“He leads beside still waters.”), knowing that we have the liberty to wander off because He knows where we are and will find us and will save us from ourselves, and knowing that pursuing Him first is pursuing happiness.

Do you suffer from poverty of spirit, of hope, of conviction, of life, of relationships, of growth, of love?   Then say (and mean it) that the Lord is my shepherd.  And when you do, the rest of the sentence will follow – “therefore, I shall not want.”

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

Bread – Atheists

March 7, 2016


Psalm 10

“Why, O Lord, do You stand far away?…In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor…In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’  His ways prosper at all times…He says in his heart, ‘I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.’  His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;…he lurks that he may seize the poor;…He says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, He has hidden His face, he will never see it.”  Ps. 10:1-2,4-7,9,11

Am I an atheist?  Are you?

You ask, how could I be an atheist?  I believe in God, I have been baptized, I have had the laying on of hands, I have read Scripture and studied some of it, I attend church from time to time, I participate in Bible studies, I even write this “Bread.”  How could I be an atheist when I have all these “marks” of a Christian?  And you are probably the same – you have a Bible (or several), you have read it (or probably substantial parts of it), you go to Sunday School and may even teach it, you give to the church and to various charities, you have said words of repentance and asked God into your heart, and you pray to Him.  How could you be an atheist when you have all these “marks” of a Christian?

This Psalm may very well be the most important Psalm you will ever read because it describes who an atheist really is.  It describes an atheist, not as a person who rejects God with his lips, but a person who rejects God with his actions.

There are five characteristics of a “doing” atheist presented in this Psalm.  These characteristics are (1) arrogance (boastfulness; pride), (2) prosperity, (3) apparent security, (4) abusive speech, and (5) aggression (violence).  The acting atheist may say there is a God by his lips, but he denies there is a God by his acts or he believes that God is absent from the world and therefore his life.

Before we are too quick to reject these as not applying to us, please take a moment and test each of these traits of an atheist against how we behave?

Do we boast in our position, our power, our wealth, where we live, how much education we have, what we know, who our family is, what we have achieved, how often we can play golf or go to the movies or the theater, what we drive?  Of course we do, and we do it every day to somebody.  We camouflage our arrogance by saying, instead, things like “the early bird gets the worm,” and “winning is not everything, but losing is nothing,” and “my business is successful because I built it,” and “I …..”  We camouflage our arrogance by saying that “the only way to win is to be sharp,” “be aggressive,” “be assertive,” “don’t let the other side get the upper hand,” “fight to the finish” “I am the best.”  Recognize these concepts?  I use them every day and so do you.  We justify it because we see it as necessary to get ahead in the world.  We see that getting ahead in the world requires us to adopt the ways and rules of the world, which is to ignore God.

Are we prosperous?  As individuals, the answer is “yes.”  As a group of people in the city, the answer is “yes.”  As a nation, the answer is “yes.”  We like to say that the reason we are wealthy is because God has blessed us, but if that is truly the case, then why hasn’t He blessed everyone?  Because I am special?  Because I have special favor in God’s eyes?  Does this sound prideful, boastful, or arrogant?  It should.  The people who are more wealthy than me have gotten there in substantial part because they have inherited it (see verse 6 – “…in all generations I shall not meet adversity”) or they have “earned” it… and for the most part they have earned it by being “better” at the game of life than other people.   In other words, we have figured out how to “win” and win we do with retirement accounts, land, one or more houses, beautiful furniture and accessories, clothes fit for king or queen, cars and trucks rivaling the most luxurious forms of transportation ever.

Do we have apparent security?  The answer is “yes,” in part because (a) we are prosperous and (b) we know how to play the game (here comes pride again).    In fact, much of our life is spent is doing things that guarantee our security, hence our pre-occupation with the stock market and the extensive use of financial planners (and, yes, lawyers like me too).

Is our speech abusive?  In the simplest form, abusive speech is a bunch of curse words (so-called four letter words), and many of us manage to stifle our urge to speak these, at least among people we don’t know.  However, isn’t abusive speech also slander against another person, a putdown of the other person, a slur about or against another person, and what we might call a “mental beating or beat down?”   When we are brought a request from our boss to recommend someone for a promotion, don’t we elevate the speech about the person we want to receive the promotion and use speech about the others which makes them less attractive for the promotion?  How much of that is true and how much of it is your “spin” on the situation to reach the ends you have in mind?  Have you ever thought of the “spin” you put on things as abusive speech?  Psalm 10, verse 7, describes abusive speech this way – “His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.”   How much of our daily speech is filled with “deceit,” “mischief,” “iniquity,” and “oppression?”  Probably a lot more than we care to admit.

Our final trait of a practicing atheist is violence or aggression.  Now, you say, this is where we show that we are not atheists but Christians because we are not violent or “overly” aggressive.  And perhaps many of us are not this way.  But I daresay most of us are.  As an attorney, I wait (lurk) in the shadows waiting for a fellow attorney to screw up so that I can take advantage for my client (we call this being a good lawyer).  As a supervisor or just a co-worker, you may wait (lurk) in the shadows waiting for someone at your same level to make a mistake so that you can promote yourself into the next higher position or get that raise or get rid of the guy you don’t like anyway (we call this corporate politics).  In politics, we have turned lurking in the shadows to take advantage an art form.  Isn’t the classic “gotcha” just another form of violence or aggression?

But you say, “we must be aggressive to get ahead.”  Bingo!  But you say, “we must lay up our stores of money so that we can retire in safety and have enough money until we are 100.”  Bingo!  But we say that “only poor people fail to plan, fail to act, fail to get educated, fail to win, fail to live well…and we do not want to be poor.”  Bingo!

God is a God of judgment but we act every day like He is not.  God is a God of presence, but we act every day like He isn’t.  God is a God of promises, but we act every day like He won’t deliver.

We may not say that there is no God but we act like there is no God.

If we want to see the living proof of the “paradigm,” of the “perfect image” of the daily atheist, one who says he believes in God but behaves as if he doesn’t, one has to go no further than many of our Presidential candidates.  One stands out in particular – he brags about how important and wealthy he is (he oozes arrogance), he brags about how much money he has, he brags about how secure he is in himself and his situation, his entire method of speaking is aggressive and abusive, and, if you are weak, he would be glad to step on you to do the deal.  He is the classic practicing atheist.  Why is he popular – because we see in him what we want to be.

We say we want to be like Christ but who we really want to be like is the winner, the arrogant, the wealthy, the secure, one with so much power that we can say what we want when we want to whom we want in any way we want about any topic we want – and get away with it.

Why are we weak at a church body?  Why is Christ not proclaimed from every rooftop, in our homes and businesses, and throughout our neighborhoods, our country, and the world?  Why do Christians have so little effect on how we behave in society?  Because in our daily working-out of our faith we have no fear of the Lord, we really don’t think He cares and if He does, we really don’t think He will do anything about it, and we really think He created the world and now is sitting back watching it operate.

We need to change.  How?  We can’t but God can.  And so we pray, “Come Holy Spirit and transform my life by the renewing of my mind, by your ever-present power.  Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.  Help me to fear God more than I fear man, and help me to persevere in the evil day.  And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – Poverty

June 19, 2015


Readings for Thursday, June 18, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 2:27-36; Acts 2:22-36; Luke 20:41-21:4; Psalms 34, 85, 86

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There was a boy, about seven or eight years old, who had nothing. He received a cookie as a gift and immediately proceeded to break it apart and give the pieces to other children around him who also had nothing until he had one small piece left for himself. Seeing me sitting on a rock close by, he came toward me, broke his little piece even further in half, and gave me the piece and smiled.

That, my friends and readers, is a true story and it happened to me on a mission trip in Peru. In that one instant I saw our Lord’s instruction regarding the widow and her gift to the Lord contained in our reading today from Luke in its full reality. Out of his poverty the boy gave generously to me, a person who has everything. In that place in Peru, my wealth, which is average in the United States, would be staggering … and I was proud to give chump change to God’s work in Peru.

In another reading which was in Bread earlier this year, Jesus says of people like me, with many possessions, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Mk. 10:23. In response to Jesus’ description of the almost impossibility of such, the disciples as Him “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus answers “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mk. 10:27

As I meditated on this today, it struck me that those who have wealth can certainly drive themselves to poverty, but is that what Jesus is really saying in today’s reading and from the reading in Mark? I don’t think so, but the widow giving out of poverty is more important to God than giving out of wealth.

So where does that leave us? Well, there is more than one kind of wealth and more than one kind of poverty. When Jesus talks about “poor in spirit,” isn’t he really talking about a poverty in spirit? And don’t we have wealth in spirit, called “self,” “selfish,” “self-reliant” and the like?

And we can achieve poverty in spirit. How? By recognizing that everything we have is from God, that all of our works which proceed from sin are filthy rags before God, that we have no power to save ourselves by choice or otherwise. Maybe driving us to poverty in spirit is what is meant in part by “repentance.”

And once we have reached the bottom of our spirit, when we have realized that strength in self is an illusion, at that point we can throw ourselves in the offering plate and say “Jesus, take me, poor though I am.” And at that point He will, because He honors the widow’s mite, He honors the poor in spirit who offer themselves as a living sacrifice.

How do we get to this point? With man it is impossible, but not with God – for all things are possible with God.

Come Holy Spirit and fill us with a spirit of poverty so that we may be ready and willing to receive the gifts of love, of power, of self-control, of life which You have ready for us when we are ready.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – First

April 23, 2013


Readings for Tuesday, April 23, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Col. 1:15-23; Luke 6:12-26; Psalms 45,47,48

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We love to be first. When we play games, we play to win (or at least I do). When we run the race, there is pleasure in having run at all, but there is great satisfaction in being first and winning the big trophy or the blue ribbon. When we make something for entry into a contest (quilts come to mind), our product, our creation is judged against others, and we have a celebratory feast (or a toast to ourselves) when we compare well. Someone has summarized the love of first this way – “Being first is not all there is, but being second is nothing.” (I remember this being attributed to Vince Lombardi, but a quick Internet search shows that the exact quote is from Bill Shankly: “First is everything. Second is nothing.”)

So we understand naturally when Paul says in Colossians about Jesus that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” Col. 1:15-18

In other words, He is first. Since Jesus is first, we must be second. Since Jesus is everything, we must be nothing….?

There is something missing about this logic, isn’t there? Does it seem right that we are nothing? We know we are something, right? I mean, look around, we have our houses or apartments and our cars and our food and our clothes – and we made all those things, right? Therefore we must be something.

And if we are something, then maybe, just maybe, we are first. Right?

This brain freeze lends to three outcomes. One outcome is that we reject Jesus as holding first place. One way to do this is to say that Jesus doesn’t exist at all or that He is a figment of our imagination, created because we need Him. Another way to do this is to say that Jesus is just one of many gods, many ways to heaven (there are many firsts among the gods).

Another outcome is to say that Jesus and we share first place (this is the modern way of thinking, that says that my thoughts are equal in quality and importance to Jesus’ thoughts). This position exists when we “wake up” to our importance.

A third outcome is that we accept that, because of our sin, our defects, we in fact are dead spiritually and are nothing.

This third outcome is of course the correct conclusion, because Jesus is first and we are not, He is holy and we are not, He is sinless and we are not, He is alive and we are dead.

But we need only hold this conclusion, this realization for a brief nano-second, because there is a greater realization, and a greater truth.

That truth is that Jesus Christ, first and pre-eminent above all things and all people, stepped out of His rightful place and came to earth as man to take upon Himself our sins so that through faith in Him we might be declared righteous before God. Jesus Christ stepped down from first and became an object of ridicule, suffering death on an instrument of torture, so that we might be elevated from our position of nothing to a position of something. Even in our state of death, God so loved us that He came to us, lowering Himself to our place, so that He could take us to His place.

And Jesus tells us as His followers, as His saved ones, as His disciples, to do likewise, to willingly abandon our position as head of the pack to be servant of others, to willingly become less so that others may become more.

So here is the miracle of Christianity and one of its deepest truths. In order for us to be first, we must recognize that we are second, but once we realize that we are nothing, we are dead in our sins, God snatches us from our position of second and makes us first. And once we are first in Jesus Christ, we now have the power of choice to leave first and go back to second, so that we can help a dying world to live. Once we know we are poor, God comes and makes us rich so that then we can choose in His name and with His power to become poor.

And in first recognizing our need, having then that need satisfied, and then receiving the power to recognize the need of the world, of others, we are able to read our reading from Luke today and understand it:

“[and Jesus said] Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and whey exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man.” Lk. 6:20b-22

Blessed are you when you know you are not first, because the One who is first shall lift you up to where He is.

Do you want to be first? Recognize that you aren’t, but He is.

____________________

© 2013 GBF

*The Book of Common Prayer reading marked by the asterisk today is from Wisdom, which is a book of the Apocrypha. Since not all Christians recognize this collection of books as appropriate Scriptural reading, it is omitted.

Bread – Blessed

February 25, 2013


Readings for Monday, February 25, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 1:1-14; 2 Cor. 1:12-22; Matt. 5:1-12; Psalm 106

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In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus begins his “Sermon on the Mount” with the Beatitudes. In one sermon a long time ago, these were referred to as the “Attitudes” you should “Be.” Every one of them is a description of who in the kingdom of God is “blessed” – those who are “poor in spirit,” who “mourn,” or “are meek,” who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” who are “merciful,” who are “pure in heart,” who are “peacemakers,” and “who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Matt. 5:1-12.

Blessedness has a common denominator – you, with God’s help, put pride in its place, subordinated to an “attitude of gratitude.” Blessed people are people who know where their bread really comes from, where their safety really comes from, where their life (both now and hereafter) really comes from, where their wealth, honor, power, and hope really comes from. They don’t necessary have answers to every problem, but they know that the answer does not lie in themselves. They are blessed because God blesses them and because they do not act in ways which block or interfere with receipt of the blessing. They take their blessings from God and not from themselves or their neighbors or the world, and they are therefore truly blessed.

This does not mean they live well according to worldly standards. In today’s reading from Ruth, a Moabite pagan (more than likely, because Naomi tells her to go home to her family and her “gods”) chooses to subordinate her life to that of Naomi, the Jewish mother-in-law, and to support her. This requires Ruth to “glean” the fields (a poor person’s way of permissible self-help) without expectation of any real thanks or benefit, other than having enough food to live another day. Yet in her “poverty of spirit,” Ruth is blessed with being redeemed by “type” of Christ, a kinsman-redeemer who runs the risk of sacrificing his good name to bring Ruth into the family of God, an integration so complete that Ruth is in the line of genealogy for King David and Christ Jesus.

But it does mean that they live well according to eternal standards.

It is very easy to read the story of Ruth and say that that is nice for her, but hard for me. It is very easy to read the list of Beatitudes and say that that is nice for them but hard for me. After all, it is hard to be “poor in spirit” when we are well-educated according to worldly standards, when we are wealthy according to worldly standards, when we are powerful according to worldly standards, when we are important according to worldly standards.

It is very hard, because we want so much to believe that we are it, that we are the stuff out of which the universe is made, that we are king. The world tells us that these things are important and then organizes our life so that slowly but surely, what we have is discovered to be a chimera, here today and gone tomorrow. Over time, what appears to be real power, real wealth, real importance, turns to dust. God tells us the exact opposite, that these things are not important. When we adopt the beatitudes, the way of blessing, and realize that these things are not important, God then so organizes our life so that slowly but surely, we get them – but this time for real. Instead of the “here today, gone tomorrow” promise of the world, we get the “gone today, here tomorrow” reality of God. Over time, what appears to be a life absent of wealth, power, and importance in God turns to a real life of real wealth, real power, and real, eternal importance. With God, we turn in the fake to obtain the real. With the world, we surrender the real to the fake.

The world knows that it is a shill selling lies, and therefore it attempts to ridicule those people of God who give the truth away for free. The theory goes that, if people are thought of as silly or stupid, then no-one will listen to them.

But there is a problem with this because when we repeat God’s words, it is God who speaks and not us. So we can be reviled all day long, but the truth will still poke through the smokescreen of insults. All we have to do is to remember that it is not our battle to win because it has already been won on the cross.

Are you feeling blessed today? No? Why not? Maybe it is because you are not “being” the right “attitude.” When we deserve the worse (which we do) but are given the best (because God wants to), then how can we be anything but blessed?

Are you feeling blessed today? No? Maybe you need to change positions by subordinating your will to God’s, by exchanging a spirit of “heart-richness” for a spirit of “heart-poorness,” by stepping down from your throne of self-actualization and handing it to God, who really is a better King than we are.

Are you feeling blessed today? No? Maybe it is time for this prayer – “Come Holy Spirit and take over….now!”

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© 2013 GBF

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