Archive | February, 2016

Strength is for service, not status

29 Feb

Good morning,

We are approaching the end of the letter to the church in Rome.  These last two chapter give us a recap of all that Paul believes is important in living our faith.  Basic, simple instruction:  be good and help people around you as lived by Jesus.

Paul makes clear, our lives are not meant to be easy, but full.  Full of caring, helping, engaging in the work that Jesus did during his life.  Sometimes we focus on the miracles so much that we forget how often he simple talk to people about God.

15 1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

So, Paul has given us our instruction for the day.  Live in understanding and love with those around us.  Simple, basic, and yet such a challenge.

Peace,

Mary

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Systematic Theology & Praxis

27 Feb

Good morning,

This title should breathe fear into any seminary student and just confuse everybody else.  When I was at Boston University School of Theology I was amazed at how many words (long, confusing words) were used to talk about God.  I must say that I did come to appreciate the words in the title.  Systematic theology meant having a theory about who God is that was consistent.

For example, God is in control, God is all good, God created everything. . . and so why is our world dipped in evil?  Well,. .  God let it happen. . .and if God is all good and created everything, how do we even imagine evil was created??  It was usually at this point that students got upset and might have resorted to something crazy like actually reading the books on theology.

Praxis might have seemed easier but it was really just as elusive in actuality.  Praxis is the living out of our theology.  So if we said that we are new creations in Christ and to love everyone, even [most especially] our enemies, then we do it. . .right?   We live our belief system that has been created through our systematic theology.

It takes a lot of work to be a Christian!

I think it might have been helpful in seminary if we had just read Romans 14.  Paul is so straightforward about living what we say we believe AND if we feel ourselves out of wack, then fix it.

19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

22-23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.

Here is to a great day of thinking about the Divine and what we say about God not with our words, but with our lives.

Peace,

Mary

 

What’s at the bottom

26 Feb

Good Morning,

My mother is full bloodied Sicilian, which I always think of as even more emotional than Italians.  That volatility was passed on to me.  Yet, some years ago I start to reflect on what was really upsetting me in a situation.  This has been a true gift of God’s grace.

You see, if I became angry, or sad, or frustrated, I would stop and breathe and talk with the Divine Presence; “OK, what’s at the bottom of this emotion?”  Usually it was that things were not going the way I wanted.  And, of course, it was always worse when I was rushed for time.  Sometimes, if a sadness overwhelmed me I would ask the same question.  Again, it usually was something I couldn’t control, or worst, it was something that had happened years ago, or worst, it was something that might never happen – just a future I was imagining.   Truly, taking time to breathe and ask what the real issue was has been freeing for my life.  And I can put whatever is upsetting me back in to God’s hands of grace and let it go.

All of this is to say, that Paul is also asking us to “let it go”.   For Paul the issue of the day was food; kosher, non-kosher, food that had been used in sacrifice, meat, veg.  – so many choices.  In our day I think one of our issues is sexuality and who we partner with to live out our lives.  Since reproducing of our species survives is no longer a concern, it seems as through we could just let our homophobia go.  Just saying.

Yet, if that statement really gets you angry, I invite you to consider what is underneath of it.  I know many loving, gracefilled people who are finding love with same people who are the same gender as themselves.  Do you?  Do you think that the Divine’s love does not extend that far – well it extended all the way to you AND to the grave and back.  Do you think we should spend energy telling loving people who to love? I just get to confused when different than me is the issue.

I am called to love, pray for, forgive, work with, bless, BUT NOT to judge.  I like this arrangement.  It makes my life simper and lighter.

15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

17-18 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

So, enjoy this day that has been given to you.  Thank you for letting me blather on.

Peace,

Mary

curiouser and curiouser

25 Feb

Good Morning,

I think Paul is known for being critical of women of faith.  Actually, according to the text he worked side by side with many women proclaiming Christ’s good news.  Also, I think that Paul is seen as judgmental, however, in this text he seems to be the complete opposite.

He says, within the body of Christ, no one has the right to criticize their brother or sister.

10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
    “every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
    that I and only I am God.”

So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

In these last two verses, Paul says everything as it is in itself is holy.  It reminds of C.S. Lewis’ writings in Mere Christianity.  Lewis says that all our natural instincts of hungry, and work, and sexual intimacy are good.  It is when they are exaggerated or we become obsessed by them the they become our downfall.  It is the Greeks phrase, all things in moderation.

We have wanted to make sexual intimacy evil, or our desire for food, or any other urges that we have; however, when we live in balance with our Divine Creator then it’s all good.

Enjoy the pleasure of this gracefilled day, courtesy of God.

Peace

Mary

Everyone should read Romans 14

24 Feb

Good Morning,

When you read the part of Paul’s letter that is called Romans 14, you have to wonder why the church has divided over and over and over again on details about belief or worship style.  For some reason people have focused on, “get thee out from among them”[for some reason I remember it in KJV], instead of “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do.”  Imagine our world if we took this verse seriously.

14 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

I wish the phrase “Remember, they have their own history to deal with.  Treat them gently.” could be over every door way.  Kind of like a mezuzah.  We could memorize it and touch the door frame before we enter any room, maybe we would start to treat each other with more kindness.

2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

God has invited all people to the table.  I know that Paul is talking about Christians, but he is also talking about Jews, and since Islam was founded on the teaching of Christ, I think Muslims would be included.  Mostly, I think the Divine Presence sees all of us as precious children.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

I also love the phrase, “free us from the petty tyrannies of each other”.  I think the current political climate [or is it craziness], wants to find more and more petty tyrannies.  What if those who are in opposition to President Obama naming a Supreme Court Justice said instead, “He was duly elected to lead our nation, of course we should support him doing his job.”

Yet, I go back to my mantra, “the only person I can change is ME.”  I work on that rather than Congress and hope I have some small success with the power of the Divine working in me.

Peace,

Mary

Keep it simple

23 Feb

Good morning,

As I read over Paul’s continued instruction of how to live, I am capture by the idea of how to live in peace and at peace.  I think about the people I have encounter and what makes them anxious.  I think if we follow this list from Paul it would go a long way to making our lives resemble the “holy leisure” that I have talked about before.

8-10 Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.

11-14 But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

Paul encourages us to make good use, to make God use, of the time we have left.  For this woman who lives with her 90 year old mother, I think I might have a while.  Yet, each moment is precious.  Don’t waste them on regrets, or jealousy, or past heart ache, or things you can’t control.  Enjoy this moment as a gift of God, say thanks for it, and try to return the gift as something pleasing to God.  We will bring honor to the Divine Presence AND have a gracious, peace filled life.  YEAH!!

Peace,

Mary

 

22 Feb

Good morning,IMG_20120704_093107

Paul is wrapping his letter to the church at Rome.   In these last three chapters he is putting in final admonishments.  ‘How to play well with others’ could be a title.  Or as someone recently paraphrased the concept of the 10 commandments; ‘don’t be a dick rules’.

Paul is a Jew who has become a Christian who has Roman citizenship.   He has been beaten, arrested, imprisoned, and tells his readers to be good citizens. Go figure!

13 1-3 Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

3-5 Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

6-7 That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.

I believe most people reading this blog are Christian who are American citizen.  We have no reason not to follow Paul’s advice.  Yet, I think we should also make whatever impact we can on a system that does not often care for the last and the least.  So, I would add to Paul’s list of things to do, Vote.  Vote every time you can and vote for people who will carry forward the gospel into our public lives.   And if you have the wherewithal to be involved in public life, use your gifts to let the Divine Presence bring its creative grace to our world.

Paul makes it clear that God’s concern is for all of the Divine creation.  That includes people, animals, water, other resources and the very planet we inhabit.  I think Paul’s instruction is not just keeping out of trouble, and not just doing what we should as good citizens, but also making a difference where our gifts and talents can be used for a better way of life for all of God’s precious creation.

Peace,

Mary