Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lenten Meditation XVIII

inspired by Psalms 103:1-4

Today's readings feature the parable of the Prodigal Son. It's one of my favorites. I draw my lesson not from the prodigal, who probably exists in all of us to some degree, but from the good son who stayed home and obeyed his father. He was incensed to have part of his  inheritance slaughtered to celebrate the return of his profligate brother, much the same way that my namesake prophet, Jonah,  was upset when the Lord repented of the punishment he had in store for the Ninevites. It's easy to be a little jealous of the seemingly undeserved good fortune of those you deem unworthy. The trick, of course, is not to judge the worthiness or unworthiness of others. Leave the judgment to the Lord and you'll be happier for it. It won't be easy, but Lent is a good time to work on stuff like that. I'll be praying for you.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lenten Meditation XVI

inspired by Psalms 1:1-4

My son once told me that if there is a fence around a playground, the children will roam the confined area to it's edges. However, if the fence is removed, the children will huddle in the center of the playground and not venture very far from there. A fence, in other words, is not a confinement, but something that sets the children free. It's there for their protection, and so it allows them to engage the world as they are - inquisitive and adventurous children. So it is with the Law of God. It is there, not to restrict our choices, but to set us free to become what God created us to be.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lenten Meditation XV

inspired by Matthew 20:17-28

Today's message: self-sacrifice, not self-preservation. If you're worried about what will become of you if you focus on the problems of others at the expense of your own, you're not getting it. The old saw, "God helps those that help themselves," is not the Christian ideal. God helps those who help others. That's where our minds and hearts need to be.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lenten Meditation XIV

inspired by Matthew 23:1-12

Whatever you do, do it to make yourself more pleasing to the Lord, not to make yourself seem more holy to your community.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lenten Meditation XIII

inspired by Luke 6:36-38

This refers not just to generosity in the giving of alms, but equally to generosity of spirit when it comes to judgment, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Lent is a good time to re-evaluate your stance on social justice issues. Just sayin'.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lenten Meditation XII

inspired by Genesis 2:15-17

Today's first reading is the famous story of Abraham taking his only son up on a mountain to offer him up as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Lord stays Abraham's hand, and instead offers up His own Son for the salvation of Abraham and all his descendants. There is a beautiful symmetry here, and the lesson is that if we withhold nothing from God, then He will withhold nothing from us.

This mirrors yesterday's exhortation from Matthew 5:48 to 'be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.' It would seem that God doesn't require anything of us that he hasn't also required of Himself. There is a kind of validation in that that is not available anywhere else in our human existence. Something to think about during Lent.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lenten Meditation XI

inspired by Matthew 5:43-48

This is a big one. It's beginning to look like the main focus of this year's Lenten readings. It is a call to perfection that turns everything that went before it upside down. "Love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you." Wait . . . What??

We humans love to hate. It's in our DNA. Even the Bible is full of callings upon the Lord to smite our enemies, lay them low, ravage their fields, knock down their cities, and so on almost infinitum. This is why it's so easy to use the Bible occasionally to beat up on the folks with whom we disagree. If we're going to support our positions with Scripture though, I think at a minimum we ought to use the Last Word in it - the final position uttered by the Jesus we proclaim as Lord and Savior. In the case of our enemies, that last word is right here in Matthew. I'll paste the whole verse here so you don't have to look it up.

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, 4so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

We all know that we can never be perfect because we are human. Knowing that we need to understand Christ's call to divine perfection as a call not to be but to become. The Father's perfection is the ideal we need to strive toward, to grow into, to embrace in a way that moves us ever closer to him until we are finally reconciled to the eternal in Him. We can't do this alone. We need Jesus to make it happen. But we do have to take the first steps. Lent is a good time to start.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lenten Meditation X

inspired by Matthew 5:20-26

I struggled with the best way to word this to convey Christ's meaning with clarity and brevity. You have to use words spairngly, after all, when they're being carved in stone. What Jesus actually said was "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Usually when I read that passage I think it is a condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. Given all the bad press they've gotten in sermons and commentary over the past 2000 years, it doesn't seem like Jesus set the bar very high. We have to consider though that the scribes and Pharisees were pillars of society in their time. They were models of propriety and pious behavior. They were counted holy by the culture in which they lived. And they were counted holy by themselves, which is why Jesus objected to their particular brand of self-righteousness, calling them at one point "whited sepulchers."

What Jesus is really telling us here is not that it's easy to exceed the righteousness of the self-proclaimed upright citizens of our time, but rather that it's not enough to merely observe all the laws and practices of our faith and stick to our moral precepts. If we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven, we need to go further, higher, longer, and deeper than that. We need to strive beyond the required and into the realm of the divine.

That's not easy. It's not supposed to be. If it were, scribes and Pharisees could do it. This is why we have Lent. Go for it. I'm praying for you.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lenten Meditation IX

inspired by Psalms 138:7-8

Today's readings are all about going to the Lord in prayer and getting what we ask for. We all know, if we have tried this, that it doesn't quite work that way. At least it seems not to most of the time. Jim Morrison proclaimed in the intro to The Soft Parade that "You cannot petition the Lord with prayer." Jim Morrison was a young man when he said this, and had not the time nor the wisdom to work out how he might have been wrong. 

We can petition the Lord with prayer, and the Lord always answers. It's just that most of the time the answer is "No." The reason for this is that the Lord has a better idea what we need than we do.

So, for instance, when I ask the Lord to give me $749 million so I can distribute it among the needy and accomplish much good work with it, he says to me, in effect, "If you want to do my work, you have to do it with humility. $749 million will not help you in this regard, so instead I am going to give you a huge dollop of poverty to get your mind and soul properly disposed. You're welcome."

And I say, prayerfully as I can manage, "Thank you, Lord." It's taken me a long time to learn this. I'm not very good at it yet, but I am improving. Lent is a good time to remember such things. Good luck with your observances. I'm praying for you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lenten Meditation VIII

inspired by Psalms 51:18-19

The first reading today is Jonah 3:1-10. I love Jonah. He's a funny guy - always slip slidin' away from the clear directions given him by God, right up until he has to spend a few days in the belly of a fish.

Even after that he's not that happy. He finally does what the Lord asks of him, but starts grousing about the unfairness of it all when the people of Nineveh repent and the Lord then repents of the destruction he had planned for them.

Jonah is a lot like me. You may already have surmised this since I have taken his name and I call this blog Letters to Nineveh. I'm trying to do what God wants me to do, but I have to confess that I'm not often very clear on what that is. Maybe I'll go fishing later. The belly of a great fish seems a good place to reflect and repent. Anyone care to loan me a boat?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lenten Meditation VII

inspired by Matthew 6:7-15
Another one of those easier said than done things. I struggle with this on a daily basis - partly because I have been ill-used by so many fools, charlatans, pirates and thieves, and partly because I am a stubborn and vengeful old cuss. I cringe every time  I say the Lord's Prayer and realize that I am asking God to forgive me in the same measure that I forgive the rat bastards of my acquaintance. My one hope is that He is more merciful than I, else I am pretty much screwed.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lenten Meditation VI

inspired by Matthew 25:31-46

These are easy concepts to grasp, rooted as they are in familiar Scripture often preached . . . much more difficult to put into practice. This is at the heart of my little Become the Answer campaign. Christ is the Answer, and to the extent that we are to 'put on Christ', to 'become Christ', we need to become the Answer. Christ in heaven is king and judge, but Christ on Earth - the Christ we must become - is mercy, compassion, and sacrifice. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lenten Meditation V

inspired by 1-Peter 2:18-22

Well, admittedly, you have to work at this a little. That's what Lent is all about. Prayer, fasting, and giving alms to clear our minds and hearts to receive the outpouring of God's love and grace.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lenten Meditation IV

inspired by Isaiah 58:9-14

One of my hot  button issues lately has been the drive to require drug testing for welfare recipients. A lot of otherwise well-meaning people - Christians included - seem to think this is a good idea. Why would we provide the wherewithal to drug users to purchase more drugs? It even seems logical . . . if you don't think about it overmuch.

I think it's a terrible idea. Here's why:

  • At the heart of this notion is the supposition that drug users are somehow rewarded by their drug use. They lay around in a substance induced state of euphoria and do nothing to lift themselves out of the morass they have created for themselves. They are somehow thus better off than the rest of us who have to work and struggle to provide for our families. I submit that drug users are not better off than the rest of us, and that drug use, while it may be viewed as a problem, is also the symptom of a larger problem - one that is not cured by the removal of drugs from the formula.
  • Drug users support - not very well I'll agree, but support nonetheless - children who are not drug users and who did not ask to live with or depend on drug users for their sustenance. Denying assistance to families based on the drug use of the parents punishes innocent children. This is the kind of policy position that only perpetuates the problems and indeed makes them worse than they were. 
  • In states where laws have already been passed to require drug testing to qualify for public assistance, the costs of administering the programs have thus far outweighed the savings afforded by withholding welfare. The reason? The actual incidence of drug abuse among welfare recipients is very low. In my own state of Florida the chief beneficiaries of the drug testing program has been the companies who get paid to provide the testing. One of these is owned by the wife of our governor. This is pretty much the exact opposite of 'removing the yoke from our midst and pouring ourselves out for the hungry.' 
As always, Lent is a good opportunity to reassess our thinking.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lenten Meditation III

question inspired by Isaiah 58:1-9

The text from Isaiah reminds me of a similar passage from Matthew 7:21-23

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The gist is that not everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ actually understands what Jesus is all about. I'm thinking specifically of those conservative, self-righteous wags who use their faith and the Bible to justify withholding rights, dignity and even sustenance from the needy, the sick, the alien, and the oppressed in the misguided belief that those pitiful souls somehow brought their plight upon themselves. Lent seems like a good time to reassess, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015