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Archive for October, 2013


For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:14b (NRSV)

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector shows a big contrast between arrogance and humility when praying.  While the Pharisee seems to actually be praying to himself as he proudly makes his list of accomplishments and pats himself on the back, the Tax Collector cries for mercy, recognizing that he is a sinner in need for forgiveness.

I suspect most of us might align ourselves with the tax collector in the sense that we probably think we don’t pray like the Pharisee did in this story.  Yet, Jesus’ point here is, I think, more about God than about us.  It’s more about the grace of God than it is about our own arrogance in praying for ourselves or giving thanks for all the good we do or the blessings we receive.  We often count our blessings in material goods:  a home, a car, a job, a good salary, health insurance, food on the table, and, oh yes – our families and friends.

Someone once sent an e-mail to me talking about thankfulness.  I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was something like this:  When I see someone who is homeless, I’m thankful I have a home.  When I see someone who is hungry, I’m thankful I have food on the table.  When I see someone who is collecting unemployment, I’m thankful I have a job.  When I see someone who is crippled, I’m thankful that I’m healthy.  And so forth.  It struck me then, as it does now, that there is a certain arrogance about this. 

It’s not that being thankful is wrong because I think we SHOULD give thanks every day of our lives – and often throughout the day.  What I find arrogant about it is the feeling that I get that the person is superior to others – is privileged – is better off than others and happy about it, but does nothing about it.  Of course, I know the person who sent it to me very well, and I have that impression of this person, so that probably doesn’t help my attitude about it!

However, even in the last statement I just wrote, there is an arrogance as I judge someone else’s mind-set and interpretation of being thankful.  It’s hard not to pass judgment and compare others to ourselves and our circumstances in life.  Maybe the point here is that human beings pass judgment all the time – maybe it’s necessary to our understanding of ourselves.  So the real question may be:  “Will we recognize that the grace of God is for ALL people, and that is the same grace we are asked to offer to others.” 

German concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel wrote:  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  (http://en.thinkexist.com/quotes/elie_wiesel/)

I would guess the result of arrogance, judgmental attitudes, and self-aggrandizement is also indifference.  We can put our best foot forward as followers of Jesus when we see others through his eyes and then act on it, when we offer care and compassion to those who are hungry, thirsty, poor, in need, sick, in prison, and hurting.  By actively living out our faith in the world, we put aside indifference and glorify God.  Maybe it be so.



Covenant of the Heart

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts’ and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  Jeremiah 31:33b (NRSV)

When my husband and I were married, we covenanted to love, honor, and respect one another for the rest of our lives.  We are approaching our eighth year of marriage, and so far we have done well in spite of a few bumps and some occasional crunchiness with each other.  Years ago, a friend of mine said that marriage wasn’t a 50/50 deal but 100/100.  Each person needs to invest 100% of themselves in the relationship to make it work.

God’s covenant with us is 100% on God’s part.  God is invested in our lives, in our relationships, in our reaching out to others.  It must give God great pain to see how lightly we take that covenant.  Those of us who have confessed our sins and promised to follow Christ in our lives, falter and fall regularly, and yet, God doesn’t give up on us. 

God didn’t give up on the nation of Israel, either.  Jeremiah lived in a time when the southern kingdom of Judah faltered and eventually fell to the Babylonian empire.  Families were divided, and the “best of the best” were taken to Babylon where they were trained and incorporated into that society, expected to help build the empire into an even better one.  The members of their families who were frail, ill, elderly, mentally challenged, physically challenged or seen as “useless” were left behind.

We can’t imagine being in such a situation.  Some of the worst things that have happened to us cannot compare to what these people went through.  For many, their homes were destroyed, their family torn apart, their means of making a livelihood gone, and they were literally left with the clothing on their backs.  Yet, in the midst of this destruction, devastation, and depressing circumstance, Jeremiah brings a promise:  God hasn’t forgotten about them.  God will bring redemption.

The covenant of the Ten Commandments that their ancestors continually broke, ignored, or rejected would no longer be written on stone but in their hearts, and they would know God more personally.  They would be eventually returned to their nation, their homeland.  God loved them and would not leave them in their circumstance.  This was a covenant that God kept from the beginning of God’s relationship with human beings; it’s the human beings who continued to ignore or force a rewriting of the covenant.

My husband and I don’t interact in the same way as we did when we were dating or first married.  The “stars and flowers” aren’t the same, and there is a wiser, deeper connection between us because we have worked through challenges together.  Our love has grown stronger as we lean on each other and trust each other to keep our covenant together.  That is what God wants from us too – at least to try to do our best to keep our covenant with God, to invest ourselves as close to 100% as we can.

The passage that I call my “life passage” is “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 22:37-40 NRSV). 

God’s love for us is a promise that will always be kept – that gives us hope and assurance.  Our love for God us always a work in progress, but it isn’t hopeless, either.  God sends companions on the journey to help us:  husbands, family, church family, friends in Christ who keep us accountable and love us despite our shortcomings.  May we treasure the gift of God’s covenant in Christ Jesus our Savior.   

Thanks and Praise

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”  Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)

The story of the ten lepers is familiar to man people, and what most people remember is that one of the lepers, a Samaritan and not necessarily a desirable person to have around for any self-respecting Jewish person, turned around and praised God loudly, thanking Jesus for the healing.  However, the story is a little more complicated than that

Leprosy in Jesus day could have been any sort of skin disorder:  psoriasis, eczema, a red rash, or Hansen’s disease (no relation to me!).  Whenever someone ended up with something like this, they were banished outside the city gates, considered unclean, unapproachable, and ostracized from their community, family, friends, neighbors, and their own city or town.  Whenever someone approached, they were required to shout, “unclean, unclean” so the people would be able to pass by them at a safe distance. 

In this case, Jesus was passing by, and they must have heard of his reputation, so their cry became “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  (v. 13).  Although Jesus didn’t go over to touch them (which was often his pattern when healing people), he told them to go show themselves to the priests, and as they went, they discovered that they were clean.  They did as they were told, and they knew that seeing the priests would certify that they had been healed and would be able to be restored to their communities.

The one exception was the outcast among the outcasts, a Samaritan.  Relations between the Samaritans and the Jerusalem and Galilean Jews wasn’t good.  They were seen as “half-breeds” and considered not truly Jewish.  Their worship center was in a different location, although they worshiped the same God.  So when the only one to return was a Samaritan, Jesus noticed that he was the only one who had returned to give thanks and to praise God.  He told the man that his faith had made him well.

Healing was one thing, wellness has a much larger connotation of wholeness and total well-being.  The other nine were healed and followed the correct protocol, but the Samaritan (who probably would not have been welcomed by the priests) put the pieces together and not only was healed but recognized the hand of God in his physical healing.  He was healed inside and out:  body, mind, spirit.

Isn’t that what we all would like?  I sometimes wonder if all the negatives in our world cause us to be sick in body, mind, and spirit.  Maybe we simply don’t see the hand of God in our lives.  Maybe we just don’t praise God enough for the blessings we have.  What would happen if we started a praise journal where we recorded at least one great thing that has blessed our lives each day?  It’s worth a try!  That’s my challenge to myself this week – and to anyone who might read this post.  May God bless your week!

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