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Showing posts from January, 2018

To Be a Servant - Genesis 18:1-8, 16

Hospitality was understood in the ancient world as a basic test of justice. How one treated those who did not belong to society was often viewed as a test of character and an opportunity to judge one's personal worth. For the Greeks, there were stories of Zeus disguising himself while requesting shelter and food from the unsuspecting. For the Babylonians, this was no less a standard to which the high and mighty were to be held. Ugarit had its own myths in this regard, as Job presents a defense of his own character in regard to how he dealt with the poor and foreigners who approached his table.
The world over, people like to pat themselves on the back in defining themselves as being very hospitable. While we rarely measure up to the standards we set for ourselves, there is something in being hospitable to strangers that simply strikes a chord with our sense of character and morality. In the case of Abraham in Genesis 18, however, there is more to this passage than simply a sense of …

Personal and Social Gospel

We live in an individualistic society. We are taught to believe in a rugged individualism in which each individual is responsible for his or her own welfare, success, and failure. We like to believe that the American Dream means that all individuals here have the same access to opportunity, education, and the needed resources to make something special of themselves simply with enough hard work. There are other societies in which the social structure is given much more importance than what we tend to access as normative.
When it comes to the gospel, we have the same issues and concerns. As a society, we tend to just take for granted that the gospel is an individual and personal issue between one person and God with little or no bearing on any social aspects to that same gospel message. The problem is that Jesus did not teach such a gospel. He spoke of a social commitment to the welfare of others as intrinsic to a life pleasing to God. The United Methodist Church has addressed this most …

Called to the Light - John 3:11-21

Sometimes we pay attention to the wrong thing. We get used to a certain way of addressing an issue and fail to look beyond where we have been led to look in the past. It may take an outside influence to shock us into a new perspective. That could have been the script for Jesus' and Nicodemus' conversation. Nicodemus came asking questions believing he understood the basic realities of spiritual life and relationship with God. Jesus shocked Nicodemus with several of his responses.
This was rather pro forma for Jesus. He was always calling people into new understandings of life, of God, and the realities of life. In conversing with Nicodemus Jesus kept him disoriented along the whole course of their conversation. Nicodemus came seeking answers in regard to Jesus' message from God, but Jesus' responses did not follow the line of reasoning he expected. Symbols of new birth and a distinction between the spiritual and material were difficult for him to process. Eventually, Jes…

Apportioning God's Breath - Numbers 11:22-32

It is hard for us to focus on things spiritual, especially when we are consumed with baser issues like food. Comfort, warmth, hunger, thirst, and other immediate concerns often interfere with our grappling with those issues we consider more spiritual. In the Bible, however, these issues are all bound up together, even if we often cannot quite understand them as related. God, however, calls us to see both the spiritual and mundane as part of a whole. We make the distinction between economic concerns, dietary issues, workplace demands, and leisure activities, keeping them separate from the spiritual or religious aspects of our lives. We even make a distinction between those called to full-time ministry as somehow different from those whose jobs are not in a church or other non-profit institution. We somehow entrust our official ministers with greater responsibility for living in God's presence than what we expect of others. Moses struggled with these issues in relating to the people u…

Joined with Christ - Romans 6:3-14

Many generations ago, Confucius spoke to the need to define our terms. He was a Chinese ruler and philosopher to whom many sayings have been attributed across the centuries. This saying, was of great importance if for nothing else that the Chinese language and people as we know them were in effect a conglomeration of a thousand languages and peoples. Across the cultural and social milieu, words were ripe with disparate meanings from one culture to the next. Communication across social and cultural divides called for close scrutiny of what one meant by the words one chose. Confucius was wise enough to recognize that we do not always mean the same thing with the same word, and therefore we need to take the time to define our meanings in order to communicate effectively.
We sometimes get hung up on terminology in a way that abuses the use of those terms. When it comes to the Bible, the problem is greater, as we give special ritual or sacramental value to certain terms, even or especially …