Month: February 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016

Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42

Exodus 33:1-6

Romans 4:1-12

God said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You’re one hard-headed people. I couldn’t stand being with you for even a moment—I’d destroy you. So take off all your jewelry until I figure out what to do with you.’”

[Exodus 33:5 The Message]

Fame, fortune, power, success, security. All these are human motivations that are driven into us since birth.

But has it ever occurred to you that God calls us to be none of these things?

God calls us to be faithful, to be in relationship with God, to trust in God’s promises. That is a constant struggle for us, especially in this society that glorifies individual achievement and personal success. In our world of either-or, those who fall short of success are perceived as failures.

In order to enter into an understanding of today’s portion of the Scripture reading from Exodus, it is necessary to read the events that led up to God’s harsh criticism of the Israelites.

Golden Calf ImageIn the previous chapter [32] Moses goes up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. He took so long that the people became impatient and decided to create a God for themselves. They wanted a God who would be present with them, not one who seemed distant or unresponsive. So they took off their jewelry and made an image of a calf out of their gold rings and bracelets. And God was angered to the point of wanting to destroy Israel.

After all God had done for them, chiefly to free them from slavery in Egypt, they quickly forgot and went seeking a visible god, an idol in the image of the golden calf. The good news for the Israelites is that God did not destroy them.

The story of Israel’s relationship with God is a seemingly never-ending succession of episodes similar to this one. That relationship continues between us and God to this day. We long for God’s presence so we sin and create idols for ourselves.  Fame, fortune, power, success, security – all become our gods. But they are not God.

This time of Lent invites us to rethink our relationship with God, to focus our calling on living faithfully. Are we confident in the knowledge that God cares for us, that God is always present for us and with us, that God provides for all our needs?

That, I believe, is part of the reasoning behind fasting and giving up things at this time. We “take off all our jewelry,” as our reading puts it, to create a sense of faith and trust in the providence of God.

Despite God’s anger at Israel, God did not destroy them. We, too, have that assurance of God’s forgiveness through the life, death and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

[from the Book of Common Prayer]

Friday, February 19, 2016

Psalm 27

Genesis 14:17-24

Philippians 3:17-20

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

[Philippians 3:20 New Revised Standard Version]

In January I spent a week in Tucson, Arizona, with the Bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) at our annual Bishops’ Academy. As part of our week of continuing education, we made a side trip to Nogales, Arizona, a border city nearly 70 miles south of Tucson.

A wall separates Nogales, Arizona from an identically named city, Nogales, in the state of Sonora in Mexico. Erected in the mid-1990s, the wall was built from sheets of interlocking steel that were left over from what the military used to build temporary runways for aircraft.

DSC_2453The area is a gateway for commerce between Mexico and the United States. Many years before, people walked freely from one country to the other, considering themselves to be in the same city. So it is understandable why there is anger about a fence that discourages Mexican shoppers from coming to the Arizona side and hurts businesses that already have seen sales drop because of tighter border security. In addition, the wall has divided families, some that lived in one city but worked in the other.

On the other hand, there are those who are afraid. Afraid of terrorism, of escalating violence, a perceived lack of security. They desire increased protection which, they feel, comes from a sealed border. These are just a few aspects of the complicated issue that is immigration.

Pope Francis stands a platform near the U.S.-Mexico border fence along the Rio Grande, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Pope Francis stands a platform near the U.S.-Mexico border fence along the Rio Grande, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Just yesterday, Pope Francis became embroiled in the immigration controversy – nothing new – by making a stop at Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, within sight of the U. S. border, and praying for migrants who have died during their journeys to America.

Later, on board the plane returning him home after the six-day visit to Mexico, he was asked about Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign promise to fortify the wall between the two countries. Pope Francis replied, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Immigration is not about numbers and statistics, it is about people.  Men, women, and children—human beings created in God’s image—who, for whatever reasons, have found it necessary to leave their countries of birth, their families and their familiar surroundings, and go elsewhere. As already stated, many die in pursuit of the dream of a new life.

The Bible abounds with stories of immigration.  We could call it the ultimate immigration handbook.  From the very beginning we hear accounts of people moving from one place to the other, some with no known destination. Abram, the central character in the Old Testament reading from Genesis, wandered from country to country.

It is possible that questions raised about immigrant issues have a deeper source than we are willing to admit—not our needs, but our wants and desires, which lead us to be centered on self. These desires make us “enemies of the cross of Christ,” as Paul writes in the Philippians reading. This may have been what the Pope was alluding to in his remarks to reporters. “Their minds are set on earthly things,” Paul concludes.

Nations and borders do not, and should not, claim our ultimate allegiance. Our citizenship is in heaven. Thus the question that this reading from Philippians – in particular the final verse (see above) – forces us to ask ourselves is: Why are we here? Is there a divine purpose for us to be in America other than the economic and social opportunities?

I close with a portion of a well-known poem by Robert Frost titled Mending Wall,

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…

“Mending Wall”

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

And I include the video of a prayer that our ELCA Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, prayed at the conclusion of our visit to Nogales. Click HERE for the video.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Psalm 27

Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18

Philippians 3:2-12

Lot, who was traveling with Abram, was also rich in sheep and cattle and tents. But the land couldn’t support both of them; they had too many possessions.

[Genesis 13:5-6 The Message]

Family Feus

Family Feud

Whenever I feel a need for mindless entertainment, I watch television game shows. My favorite is Family Feud hosted by comedian Steve Harvey. Two families compete for a chance to win $20,000 and a brand new car. The questions are inane and the contestants’ answers are fodder for Harvey’s suggestive, often risqué jokes. As I said – it’s mindless entertainment.

But at its premise is the age-old truism that greed triggers strife among otherwise decent people. It’s as old a story as that of Abram and Lot; relatives with many possessions between them, but who couldn’t live together because of the quarrels that broke out among their hired hands.

Every family has experienced the same type of conflict at one time or another. It typically follows a death, when relatives fight over an inheritance. Siblings part ways without speaking to each other for years, if ever again.

Many of the controversies that are in dispute in the political arena over government spending, entitlement programs, health care and social services, are rooted in greed. Big business and labor are in constant combat over wages, benefits and working conditions; each side wanting more from the other.

Not even the church can escape it. A common occurrence takes place around this time of the year when the normally calm, faithful church folk, who for months have built up the war chest of their belligerence, ambush the annual congregational meeting to wage a bitter battle over the budget. It’s every pastor’s (and church council’s) nightmare.

Abraham and Lot divide their land.

Abraham and Lot divide their land.

Abram decides to give his nephew, Lot, the choice of land in order to avoid conflict. It appears at first as if Lot gets the better of the bargain. But if you read on to the subsequent chapters you know that Lot’s decision doesn’t turn out so well for him or his family.

The difference comes down to the fact that Abram trusts in God’s promises. That seems so difficult for many of us – dare I say, all of us – to do. Lot chose the immediate over the future. And we, like Lot, usually seek the short-term solutions, the quick fixes, based on the bottom line and motivated by selfishness and materialism, which often have negative consequences in the long run. Material wealth doesn’t guarantee a life of prosperity.

Due to our human sinful nature, family feuds will continue. But they don’t have to flourish.

 Everything you see, the whole land spread out before you, I will give to you and your children forever,” God says to Abram. Likewise, God’s abundant blessings are ours. They may not be immediately obvious; they may not even happen in our lifetime, but they will eventually come to pass.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage;

    wait for the Lord!

[Psalm 27:14 NRSV]

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