Five Minute Friday — Risk

Welcome to Five Minute Friday. The task is to write for five minutes on a specific prompt word from your mind and heart. Then, post and encourage others who have braved the exercise by joining the community and linking up at Kate’s spot on Facebook, fiveminutefriday.com. That’s the fun part!

To entice you to check us out, I’ve also been sharing some of the experiences my fellow writers have shared as chronicled in Five Minute Friday: A Collection of Stories Written in Five Minutes Flat. This week, I hope Gaby’s words inspire you to join our writing club.

“What I loved the most about FMF is that, even when my week was so crazy that I could not take time to write, I knew that on Friday I could devote just five minutes to put something out that would allow me to connect with other women {and men} who may have lives just as crazy as mine. It was something to look forward to each week and I could not wait for the prompt. It was amazing how often the prompt would be exactly what  I needed to write about that week to give me perspective and to center me. And reading other women’s {and men’s} takes on the same prompt helped me to see how God was working differently yet just as faithfully in other people’s lives.”

So, the timer is set for five minutes . The word for the week this week is RISK … so here goes. {clock starts now}

Risk and reward.

It’s a mainstay in the business world as executives ponder the risks versus the potential return on investment. It’s a principle in our personal and financial life as we consider the risks against the possible rewards.

Risk takers tend to get a greater reward. Look at finances. A riskier proposition — an aggressive tact — generally delivers a higher reward — not always, of course, but generally speaking.

Those pale when we consider  some real risk takers from the past. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Noah, Job, Elijah, John (the Baptist}, Mary, Peter and the other apostles, Paul, Constantine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Mother Theresa, you, me … Wait, you? Me?

Yes, definitely. When we decided to follow this guy called Jesus we took a great risk, just like our forefathers and foremothers. Often following Jesus results in separation from the norms of the world of the day. We’re looked  upon, well, a little different, marching to a non-conforming beat. Often we’re criticized for our beliefs. We’re metaphorically beaten … STOP

and battered. We may not be martyred for our faith {as many before us did} but the risk of being faithful is real, very real. And the reward? It’s beyond our imagination!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: If you want to be happy, be. — Leo Tolstoy

 

 

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I Shouldn’t Poke Fun at Massachusetts … But I Will

In my close to three score years of driving in 33 states plus the District of Columbia, I can confidently say the most stressful of my million-plus miles has been on the roads in Massachusetts. Hands down. Without equivocation. And that’s saying something since I first got behind the wheel in New Jersey where speed limits are suggestions, interstate traffic speeds up as you approach an urban zone, narrow roads lead to slalom runs around double parked cars, and it’s quite common to see a Mercedes passing you on the left while a  beater with pieces parts missing passing on the right. Even New York City traffic is less stressful than maneuvering the highways and back roads in the Bay State.

The difference, I think, is anticipation. Every where I drove, I could figure out pretty quickly traffic patterns, traffic signage, drivers’ reactions, etc. You know, all the idiosyncrasies of the region.

Not so in Massachusetts. There are approximately 2,357,610 licensed drivers in the state, which means there are approximately 2,357,610 driving styles. True, some  of them are borrowed from other states, but Massachusetts drivers seem to have a penchant for putting their own individual spin on the driving experience.

For the most part, they have no concept of lanes on the interstate — right is for entrance and exit, middle for travel, left for passing. Drivers tend to drive at their own pace — fast, slow, or in between — in whatever lane they happened to be parked in. That, of course, leads to a lot — A LOT — of weaving in and out for the 90ish driver to get by the 45ish drive in the left lane on a 65 mph road. Yes, it happens all over, but Massachusetts drivers have it down to an art.

Even on local roads, it’s anybody’s guess what the medium speed will be. It’s sort of a speed du jour, not at all dependent on road conditions, weather, or traffic. What makes it trickier is there is no such thing as a straight road. A tenth of a mile as the crow flies is about a quarter mile.

Signage is another issue. You can figure them out, but as an out of state driver, you really have to think about what the signs say which puts you at a distinct disadvantage wile traveling. What is commonly referred to as a U-turn turns into “to reverse direction”. Forget about painted exit road lanes. They just abruptly end … or point you to the right lane when you really want the second right exit or the left lane {which goes to a “reverse direction”} when they mean the second left. My favorite sign was “Densely Settled”, of course referring to a residential area.

I also noticed a lot of Massachusetts drivers backing into parking spaces. I never understood why since you generally have to back up to leave anyway. I can understand backing out of a parking space at a mall, grocery store, or WalMart can sometimes be a challenge when parked next to an SUV or fancy, dancy pick up truck with people and cars intentionally meandering by you as soon as the white light goes on, but, for the most part, these drivers don’t know how to back up. They don’t know what mirrors are. They don’t know what white lines mean. They rationalize sideways is close enough.

The other day in a parking lot, I was stopped while a guy tried to back into a space. He backed up … pulled forward to straighten out … backed up … pulled forward to straighten out some more … backed up about a quarter of the way in … pulled forward for some unknown reason … backed up about halfway in … pulled forward apparently because the last two tries were so much fun … then backed about three quarters of the way in — just enough to let me get by. I zipped into a vacant spot about three or four cars up, got out, locked the car, almost got run over by the same guy who suddenly pulled  forward again. I just had to pick up some dog food, so it was a quick trip. As I approached my car, I noticed my parking buddy. He was backed in — crooked with the front right tire resting on the white line.

As I was shaking my head in disbelief, the Hyundai Sonata Smaht Pahk Super Bowl commercial flooded my mind. Boston. How appropriate.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s your choice whether you let it affect you or not. –Valerie Bertinelli

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Midweek Mirth

One of the misconceptions about being a Christian is non-Christians think we don’t know how to have fun or have a sense of humor. Trust me, if the Big Guy can have a sense of humor when it comes to dealing with us mere mortals, so can we.

The difference for Christians is we don’t have to debase ourselves or others to generate a smile. Laughter at life or ourselves is a gift from God.

It’s time for some Midweek Mirth so let’s smile a little!

What Is Love?

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4-8 year olds, What does love mean?” The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think:

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore so my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.” Rebecca – age 8.

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy – age 4

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Karl – age 5

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy – age 6

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri – age 4

“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is okay.” Danny – age 7

“Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that.” Emily – age 8

“Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day.” Noelle – age 7

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” Tommy – age 6

“During my piano recital I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy – age 8

“My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.” Clare – age 6

“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine – age 5

“Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Brad Pitt.” Chris – age 7

“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren – age 5

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Karen – age 7

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica – age 7

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby – age 7

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.” Nikka – age 6

“There are two kinds of love, our love and God’s love. But God makes both kinds of them.” Jenny – age 8

 And now for the bonus …

Quite A Show

To close each day’s activities in summer and on holidays in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, a huge fireworks display lights up the sky. One night a small boy about three years old was perched on his father’s shoulder. The child sat mesmerized, aware only of what was exploding above him in the heavens. When the fireworks were over, the little boy looked up into the sky again and said, “Thank you, God.”

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return. — Maya Angelou

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It’s Your Camino

I am not a hiker. I have little interest in going on a pilgrimage. I have even less interest in going to Europe. So what attracted me to It’s Your Camino by Kenneth R. Strange Jr.?

Well, I promised Ken I would read it. And I was pleasantly surprised. It is a travelogue — and then some — of one couple’s 31-day journey along the Camino Trail from the  snow-capped Pyrenees in France to Galicia, a region in the northwestern corner of Spain in the Celtic region, filled with incredible ups and downs. You can feel the pain of walking almost 500 miles, experience the majesty of snow capped mountain vistas, share the camaraderie with fellow travelers, enjoy the humor and pathos of the trip, visit with shepherds with their flocks, see storks in church belfries, and finally feel the awe of little country churches to majestic cathedrals. It started with their first steps through the clocktower arch in the Basque village of Saint-Jean-Piedde-Port and was capped with a visit to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

But it’s more than a travelogue. It is a once-in-a-lifetime, five star adventure made even more attractive because it included his wife and best friend, Aurora. It was their journey, not only in steps, but in self-awareness as well.

In his acknowledgments, Ken noted, “She’s [Aurora] had to listen to my half-baked plans about hiking the Camino for years until she finally threw up her arms and said, ‘Let’s just do it!'”

Ken is no stranger to hiking. As a kid, he often ventured to the edge of the beach, the end of the road, or to an opening in the forest. So it was natural his wanderlust included hiking the Adirondacks of New York, Sierra Nevada of California, volcanoes of Mexico, Rub Al Khali desert in Saudi Arabia, or the hill behind his house. During his life, these places have become his  refuge — places where he could reflect and listen to his heart. And what better place on earth to seek freedom and spiritual meaning than on the Camino.

Aurora, with her deep faith and love for the outdoors, was a perfect companion for the adventure. Ken readily admits it was not that easy to wake up every day and walk mile after mile with your spouse for 31 straight days. “It can test even the best relationship. But she is, above all, my best friend, and that is a solid foundation.”

The stories and interactions with their fellow pilgrims is worth the price of the book. Finding out what they were thinking, what motivated them to overcome the physical and mental challenges, to walk day in and day out, in the sun and in the rain, are part of the story within a story — compelling, inspiring, genuine. It was the people along the way — the pilgrims and non-pilgrims — who were “Their Camino” and inspired them every day: Russell and Lori, the blind couple from Minnesota; Frank, the 89 year old Basque cyclist, broken and battered but not defeated; and Karla, the Dutch woman who dreamed about the Camino and found the courage to strike out alone, an experience she found liberating. These were just a few. Each had a unique story to share, a deeply personal reason, or not, for walking to Compostela, something which compelled them either spiritually or for some other reason to endure the blisters, aches, rain, and fatigue.

Without them, the Camino is just another road meandering through Europe. It is their story too.

The reader will also vicariously share in the experience of visiting the many historic towns, villages, and cities along the Camino; tour medieval churches, castles, and cathedrals; and ponder Spanish history — El Cid, the Knights Templar, the haunting Spanish Civil War, and modern-day Spain.

Ken came to the Camino hoping to accomplish several goals: travel and discover the allure of Pamplona, lose weight, come up with enough material for a book, take a break from life, and perhaps, just maybe, learn something about himself. As he notes, “these goals revolved around me.”

But it ended differently. The Camino was greater than any one person’s personal goals or cutting another notch in a belt full of achievements. It was about putting oneself out there for other people — for one’s fellow pilgrims. It was no longer about me; it was about them.

He noted, “If I could translate something in Spanish for a fellow pilgrim, or put my arm around a young man to console him, or rescue a young Chinese girl on a mountain top, I did so willingly. When my wife tended to a Japanese woman’s blisters or gave advice on how to care for a college student’s injured knee, she did so with genuine love and concern. In telling this story about my brother and sister pilgrims, I learned more about humanity. And in learning more about humanity, I could better understand that my reason for living was to serve others.”

Ken never did find divine inspiration or discover the inner him. They didn’t lose weight (the contrary, thanks to a never-ending supply of custard flan from the Pilgrim’s Menu) or find love (I already had that). Instead, their journey on the Camino involved both the physical and the symbolic paths — the latter one of introspection and renewal so upon completion, they might be reborn with a newfound sense of inner peace.

Or as Ken sums it up, “If we learned anything, it was the Camino, like life, was a personal journey, a journey which was meant to help the traveler reflect upon the other world, breathe in the air, and wait in joyous expectation for what might be around the corner. It all seemed so simple.”

I still have no desire to hike or go on a pilgrimage, especially to Europe. But I know what Ken is talking about. Being on the road … traveling the back roads … stopping at off beat sites … taking in the mountain, valley, or ocean vistas … reflecting on life … breathing fresh air … waiting in joyous expectation for what might be around the corner. It really is that simple.

It’s Your Camino. Paperback: 192 pages; $14.95; Independently published (July 27, 2019); Language: English;ISBN-10: 1098837886;ISBN-13: 978-1098837884

Kindle: $6.99 before credits;File Size: 24806 KB; Sold by: Amazon.com Services;  Language: English; ASIN: B07VLTGM1H; Text-to-Speech: Enabled; Word Wise: Enabled; Lending: Enabled; Screen Reader: Supported; Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. — Marcus Aurelius

 

 

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Fishing for People

Dale Carnegie in his How to Win Friends and Influence People., shared this  thought. I felt it would  make an appropriate Words for the Week segment … with a slight addendum.

“I often went fishing up in Maine during the summer. Personally, I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?'”

Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The only thing that will make you happy is being happy with who you are, and not who people think you are. — Goldie Hawn

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On the Road of Life

Here are my thoughts from today on the slanty side of the pulpit at Howland (ME) United Methodist Church

Lord, open our lips and our mouth will proclaim Your praise. Blessed are You, Creator of all, to You be praise and glory forever. As Your dawn renews the face of the earth bringing light and life to all creation, may we rejoice in this day You have made; as we wake refreshed from the depths of sleep, open our eyes to behold Your presence and strengthen our hands to do Your will, that the world may rejoice and give You praise. Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Blessed be God forever.

The night has passed, and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind. As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of Your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for You; now and forever. Amen.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Alice Grayson was to bake a cake for the Methodist Church Ladies Group bake sale in Tuscaloosa, but she forgot to do it until the last minute. She remembered it the morning of the bake sale, and after rummaging through cabinets she found an angel food cake mix and quickly made it while drying her hair and dressing and helping her son pack up for Scout camp. But when Alice took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured. Oh dear, she said, there’s no time to bake another cake.

This cake was so important to Alice because she did so want to fit in at her new church and in her new community of new friends. So, being inventive, she looked around the house for something to build up the center of the cake. Alice found it in the bathroom: a roll of toilet paper. She plunked it in and then covered it with icing. Not only did the finished product look beautiful, it looked perfect!

Before she left the house to drop the cake by the church and head for work, Alice woke her daughter Amanda and gave her some money, specific instructions to be at the bake sale the minute it opened at 9:30, buy this cake, and bring it home. When the daughter arrived at the sale, she found the attractive, perfect cake had already been sold! Amanda grabbed her cell phone and called her mother.

Alice was horrified. She was beside herself. Everyone would know! What would they think of her? She would be ostracized, talked about, ridiculed.

That night Alice was lying awake in bed thinking about people pointing their fingers at her and talking about her behind her back. The next day Alice promised herself she would try not to think about the cake, attend the fancy luncheon/bridal shower at the home of a friend of a friend, and try to have a good time there. She did not really want to attend because the hostess was a real snob who more than once had looked down her nose at Alice because she was a single parent and not from one of the founding families of Tuscaloosa. Having already RSVPed, she could not think of a believable excuse to stay away.

The meal was elegant, the company was definitely upper crust Old South. To Alice’s horror, the cake in question was presented for dessert!

Alice felt the blood drain from her body when she saw it being brought in. She started out of her chair to rush to the hostess and tell her all about it, but before she could get to her feet, the mayor’s wife said, “What a beautiful cake!”

Alice, who was still stunned, sat back in her chair when she heard the hostess (who was a prominent church member) say, “Thank you, I baked it myself.”

Alice smiled and thought to herself, “God is good.”

 

Okay. Okay. That’s the smile for the day. It’s time to get serious.

One of the precepts in the United Methodist Church is for elders and pastors to submit to the itineracy system, moving from church to church throughout their ministry. I think both you and I can relate to that.

You have had your share of faces behind the slanty side of the pulpit, including this Reformed/Presbyterian teaching elder. I think we are both stronger in our faith because of it. You have been empowered by a diversity in style and substance. I have been empowered by a diversity of congregations, from relatively small groups to larger gatherings, each with specific needs, all seeking wisdom, guidance, and sustenance from the Word. And while in the pew, I have worshiped in a variety of churches, denominational and non-denominational, large and small. I witnessed a similar diversity of style and substance, each, hopefully, contributing to my style and substance.

The UMC practice – similar to practices in other denominations – follows a Pauline viewpoint. Today’s first lectionary reading from I Corinthians 3 gives us a visceral understanding of the idea of servants together in fields of the Lord. Paul argues our attachments are often to the wrong things: to a human pastor, to a position, to a building. No pastor works in a vacuum, but builds on ministry and mission others directed long before arriving on the scene. And, that will continue long after the pastor departs.

Sometimes, the key to overcoming short-term conflict is taking a longer view. And God’s viewpoint stretches into eternity. You don’t get much longer than that. Paul was the epitome of the itinerant preacher, visiting and shepherding churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonia, Ephesus, Colossae, and small groups led by his disciples Philemon, Timothy, and Titus.

In today’s reading, Paul directly addresses the Corinthians’ divisions — and the assessments of themselves and their leaders upon which those divisions are based.

Paul opens his letter by saying he could not speak to the Corinthians as mature, spiritual people (3:1). He is not only telling them to grow up, he is also undercutting their misplaced self assessment as being particularly mature, particularly wise, particularly spiritual — super Christians!

Paul brings the Corinthians, and us, back to the simple measure of our life together. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh? (3:3). Paul argues at the heart of our Christian identity is our oneness in Christ. It might be worth exploring if we are willing to hold ourselves and our leaders up to this standard of maturity. Are we demanding an end to jealousy and quarreling?

In 1:21 Paul had contrasted God’s wisdom with the world’s by saying God saves by means of the belief that comes when people hear the word of the cross. Now, he urges the Corinthians to see both he and Apollos are servants through whom the Corinthians have come to such belief (3:5).

Notice how Paul has undermined their efforts to flock to one leader over another. Although worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom are antithetical concepts, he places both himself and his purported competitor Apollos on the side of God’s wisdom and the gospel. Rather than villainize Apollos, Paul insists the only way to rightly interpret the work of God in Corinth is to see both men have been working together, under God, to build the church.

Derek Weber  tells us Paul makes a shift at the end of our text for this week. He’s all about growing things, babies and milk and solid food; and then fields and planting and watering. But then at the very end, he throws in a building. It seems odd, until you go on reading. Verse nine is a metaphor hinge, or pivot. He swings from one to the other. It’s a great technique; it keeps you from getting bogged down on one image that can’t carry the weight of the argument alone. But it works or works well only when there is at least one common element of both images. In this case, there are many, but the one Paul seemed to emphasize is they are both labor intensive.

Well, maybe that wasn’t his most important element. Maybe he was really more concerned about the progressive nature of the metaphors. They built or grew; they developed along the way. The starting place was not the ending place; the originating state was not the ending state. However you want to describe it, Paul was stressing there was more to come. And he wants you to grow. He wants the church in Corinth to grow, certainly. That’s why he is writing. Finally, a pastoral letter that says, “Stop acting like children!” How many pastors have wanted to write such a thing? Here it is.

Paul goes back to the beginnings in Corinth, remembers when he first arrived and there was so much he wanted to say, but couldn’t because they were infants in Christ. But he met them where they were, feeding them milk, the “abc’s” of the faith, knowing they would progress to more substantial matters. Even now, he argues, they are still not ready, because they are acting like, well, children, quarreling, being jealous.

Here is a good description of what Paul means when he speaks of being in the flesh. It isn’t necessarily a specific sin or types of sin. But it is doing that which hinders the growth of faith in the individual or the community. These selfish behaviors, even if done for good reasons, are of the flesh because they work against the common heart and mind of the body focused on the mission of the church.

So, then he turns back to the dividing issue as he sees it: this allegiance thing. Would it be fair to say his response is basically, we don’t have time for that? Maybe that’s a bit simplistic but given he then moves on to the mission field, it seems not too far off the mark.

There are those who argue Paul is all about grace; grace and not works. And certainly his theological center is on salvation by grace through faith. But there is work to be done, of that he seems clear. There is work not to earn our place but work because our place has been given. We serve because we’ve been served. We love because we’ve been loved. All that we do is in response to what Christ has done in us and for us.

The life we are called to live is an active life. We are workers in God’s field. We are laborers on God’s building. That’s what binds it all together. It is God’s. We are God’s. Dividing up, choosing sides, setting up opposing camps only hinders the mission, says Paul. There is no room for “us and them” in a church that is at work in the field of the God.

Of course, this is more easily said than done. The church in Corinth struggled with it. And we struggle with it today. Our church is divided, perhaps terminally. And the “can’t we all just get along” approach doesn’t even seem like a good bandage for the broken bones all around us. Paul argues our unity is in our shared mission – the mission given him by Jesus Christ, to love God and love neighbor. Our divisiveness handicaps our ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Maybe we’ve tried to do it ourselves, our way, according to our leaders long enough. Maybe we need to let God give the growth. Do what we can where we can as we can, but trust God will take what we have and what we can do and make it flourish.

Perhaps the most formidable call of 1 Corinthians is not simply to recognize our own divisions are not God’s best for God’s people, but to take up its insistence we make the gospel message of the one, crucified Christ our own canon for measuring the church.

What would letting God give the growth look like? What vision can you proclaim that allows us to step out of our different camps and tend God’s field?

Matthew – our gospel reading of the day, 5:21-37 – also addresses these issues, connecting the past with the present. In his way, Matthew’s words are addressed to a post-Resurrection audience. He presupposes the belief in a Risen Jesus that fuels Paul’s ministry.

In this text, following the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew gives concrete answers to vexing questions. Each of the units begin with a juxtaposition of what was said to those of ancient times and what is now being said by Jesus to His disciples after  the crowds dispersed. Each of these juxtapositions deal with relationships that affirm the law of the prophets.

  • You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,” you will be liable to the hell of fire.
  • Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
  • You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
  • It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
  • Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “’Yes, Yes” or “No, No”’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Matthew as a whole and specifically these verses are actually a reassurance Christians do not advocate the abolition of the Torah but a fulfillment of the Law. Jesus taught beyond the confines and legalism of the Law and deepens or broadens it by expressing its ultimate intent. Matthew shares this radicalization while at the same time providing counsel for day-to-day living by imperfect people who fall short of this call to live by the perfect will of God. These examples are not new laws, but models for the disciples to adapt to their varied post-Easter situations.

In 5:21-26, we can see the interplay between the vision of the kingdom of heaven and the practical ways this kingdom is to be lived out in the Christian community. The first half, 5:21-22, says, in effect, all anger and hostility are outside the bounds of God’s kingdom. The second half, 5:23-26, admits Christians get angry and suffer through broken relationships and tells us what to do when that reality occurs. The difference between the two halves, between the vision and the practice, is not a matter of hypocrisy but of promise and hope.

We need to teach God intends a man and woman to marry and to remain together until death separates them. We need to hold that up as the goal toward which we should all strive. Given the scope of the divorce problem in our culture, people should know divorce to be avoided, if at all possible. But we also recognize pople often divorce because marriage failed to meet their unreasonable expectations. Marriage should not be some sort of magical carpet ride where glamour and romance reign. It is normal to fall in and out of love — and it takes commitment and spiritual strength to weather difficult times. While Jesus created an exception for porneias — sexual immorality — He didn’t create an exception for alcoholism, drug addiction, spouse abuse, or child abuse. Many of us would consider these to be honest grounds for divorce as well.

It is dangerous to shift the distinctive element in Jesus’ ethic as a relocation of ethics to the heart using the external practices of Jewish legalism as the foil. This is not Matthew’s intent. It isn’t historically true. It slanders Judaism.

Instead, Matthew connects the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount with the teaching of rabbinic Judaism. It’s not the content, but the christological and eschatological perspective on life in light of the dawning kingdom of God.

As we transition out of the season of Epiphany and its proclamation of the good news of God’s presence with us, our response, our recognition of God’s life and work here and now, is more than going through the motions of church. Jesus calls us to a whole new life in God.

In this way, Jesus does not abolish but fulfill[s] the law (verse 17). No longer do the teachings on murder and adultery apply strictly to acts of murder and adultery. Instead, they become doorways into the examination of many internal dynamics as well as external behaviors of one’s life: anger, derision, slander, false generosity, litigiousness, arrogance, lust, temptation, alienation, divorce, and religious speech. Attitudes count. Jesus connects the dots for His listeners from outward acts to internal orientation, from murder to anger, from adultery to lust. It is one thing to behave rightly. It is another thing entirely for one’s heart to be oriented toward love.

We can pat ourselves on the back for not committing murder while we ruin the reputation of a coworker through our words — we even call it “stabbing someone in the back.” The notion we must reconcile with anyone who has something against us before we can give our gifts to God, stops us in our tracks. There is no easy, private relationship to God in these words. Resentment, alienation, and estrangement from others, prevent me from even giving my gifts to God.

We can pat ourselves on the back for not committing adultery, and yet create primary alternate relationships with work, sports, or even the Internet, rather than our spouse. Jesus shifts our attention from particular behaviors we must avoid to particular interior orientations we must cultivate. Kingdom righteousness saturates our whole lives, and promises much more, too. It is the way of blessedness.

During the Epiphany season, we claimed once again we have a living God, incarnate among us, not some far-off potentate who must be humored with occasional acts of obeisance. We proclaim the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14), the Word embedded in real, everyday life, in outward actions and inward attitudes. We proclaim a God present in the flesh and bone of our lives, not a keeper of check-lists.

This is good news! The God born in a manger enters the messiness of life in all its dimensions, seeking to heal and save. This God offers a life deep and wide, where light shines into every nook and cranny, not a puny, flat life, reduced to avoiding the “big sins.” Jesus gives the disciples – and through them, us — a new way of life, not rejecting the tradition, but building upon it. It is a way of life that demands more and promises more. It is life abundant.

Are we, in fact, a cross-shaped people?

And the people of God say … Amen!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be. — Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need to teach God intends a man and woman to marry and to remain together until death separates them. We need to hold that up as the goal toward which we should all strive. Given the scope of the divorce problem in our culture, people should know divorce is a sin to be avoided, if at all possible. People often divorce because marriage failed to meet their unreasonable expectations. Marriage should not be some sort of magical carpet ride where glamour and romance reign. It is normal to fall in and out of love — and it takes commitment and spiritual strength to weather difficult times. While Jesus created an exception for porneias — sexual immorality — He didn’t create an exception for alcoholism, drug addiction, spouse abuse, or child abuse. Many of us would consider these to be honest grounds for divorce as well.

 

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Prayer Requests …

As we build this community prayer platform, we ask the Lord to listen to our petitions with full confidence they not only are heard but acted upon by God according to His holy will. These requests are on my prayer list and I hope you consider putting them on yours as you place your petitions before the Lord Sunday.

Let’s remember to approach the throne room and respond with faith and not fear, knowing the promises of God and His mighty hand will hold us through any situation! Sometimes, all it takes is just one prayer to change everything. Something extraordinary happens when two or more agree together in prayer.

What is one of the most important things we should do as Christians? Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).

I will ask for prayers as I seek discernment. This weekend and next weekend I will be preaching in Howland, ME. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Sue is going through a particularly dark time and needs prayers of illumination to help her find the Light again.

Jake, too, has been having fairly severe recurring depression and is currently going through an unusually dark period, despite all medical efforts to the contrary. Prayers requested.

Dave was in a bad accident. He suffered a concussion, broken clavicle, and some cracked ribs. Car was totaled. He needs prayers.

Tara is seeking prayers for guidance. A parish made up of seven churches are voting Feb. 23 on a call for her.

Andrew continues to struggle. He is having a tough time breathing and has lost his voice.  Tough times for a tough guy. Prayers – and a sense of humor –are keeping him afloat. He is learning ASL on the fly … greeted Barb with “God is proud of you. Jesus loves you. You look like Keith Richards.”

Carol had a diverticulitis flare and ended up in the emergency last night because she thought she was having a heart attack. They did an ekg, chest x-ray, and gave her aspirin assuming it was stress related and a bad panic attack. Keep her in your prayers.

Neal Fuller, 50, has been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer .

Unborn baby Eloise is suffering ill health in utero. Her mother sent a new message saying medically, things are looking worse. They had another ultrasound today and her heart is working too hard and her fluid levels have increased.

There were a host of unspoken prayer requests and we heard of a number of deaths this week. Prayers for their families as they go through this earthly trial. We grieve … heaven rejoices.

We come to You, Lord, because prayer is the least yet the greatest thing we can do for each other. When two or more are gathered in Your name, we confidently know You are with us. What better company can we have? You reign and we trust You! We may be broken and battered but know You heal and quiet the soul. You are the source for all that happens in our lives. We thank You for the progress being made. We thank You for the many blessings we have received this week — some we unfortunately didn’t notice. Nonetheless, those blessings are ever-present in our lives. We thank You for healing. We thank You for slowing us down. We thank You for providing us our daily needs — no more and no less. We thank You for being with us, listening to us, walking with us on this journey. We thank You for the support of our family and friends … for seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary — sunrises, sunsets, flowers, kids laughing, adventures, good news amid the bad news. We know we can come to You with our concerns and they will be heard. Through Christ all things are possible. We lift up those family members and friends who are battling various physical, emotional, financial, career or spiritual issues and ask not for Your guidance and healing (although that would be welcomed) but to keep reminding us we are not alone in our battles. Specifically we lift up Joe, Sue, Jake, Dave, Tara, Andrew, Carol, Neal, Eloise, and all those needing Your healing and guiding touch. We pray for the families of all those You have called home.. We grieve … You celebrate. We pray for obedience to Your Will so Your “Son” Light shines through us through the power of the Spirit. And we come to You through the confidence of the words taught by Your Son Jesus. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Keep your joys and concerns coming. They have been and will be included during my prayer time and I trust they will be on your lips as well as you approach the altar. All it takes is a couple of keystrokes under the “Contact Me” button on the top bar {or to the right if you’re not a follower yet}. I hope it becomes your best friend as you navigate around the site so we can all be viable prayer warriors. You can also comment or reach me at wisdomfromafather@gmail.com.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: He who has learned to pray has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life. — William Law

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