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Archive for the ‘What I’m Reading These Days’ Category

[Scripture readings for the morning – I Samuel 3:1-20, John 1:43-51 – are reprinted at the end of this post.]

The longer I live, the more I think “change” should be a four-letter word. 

I never used to feel that way.  And in some ways I still don’t – I mean, variety IS the spice of life.  But… for example, I used to work in an office typing on a computer all day. And every now and then I’d come in, in the morning, and discover my computer had been changed! Overnight the tech guys snuck in and installed an upgrade, and left the employees a note saying why this change was a good thing. All it meant to us was, it was going to take us twice as long to get our work done! (At least until we learned the new software.) Change meant major frustration and missed deadlines.

And then years later when I ran for tax collector I went door to door talking to people and I campaigned on ‘change’ and why change was needed in our community – until I realized every time I said the word ‘change’ people’s eyes would glaze over. They’ve heard it too many times. Change is something politicians promise and then deliver badly, if at all.

And then there’s the change so many of us attempt at this time of year: the resolution to improve our diet and exercise. I don’t know about you but I enjoy food, and who wants be out walking in all this snow?  Diet and exercise take effort and time, and progress seems sooooo slooow. This kind of change is not pleasant.

So when Adam Hamilton writes in the foreword to The Wesley Challenge – our text for the next few weeks – on page one of the book, that the intention of the Wesley Challenge is “to shape the souls of the participants so that their everyday lives are changed…” – I wonder if he’s wise to say that!

But to say anything else would be less than honest.  Because the truth is, whenever human beings get involved with God, change happens… to us, not to God (because God doesn’t change).

Our scripture readings for today give us a couple of examples of that.  In our passage from John, we hear Nathanael say “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Which is kind of like somebody from Pittsburgh saying “can anything good come out of Cleveland?”) But after talking with Jesus for just a few moments, Nathanael finds himself saying, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Just a few words with Jesus and Nathanael’s opinion is changed!

Our scripture reading from I Samuel also is a story of change, though on a sadder note. At this point in Israel’s history, the prophet Samuel is a boy serving as an apprentice in the temple. God calls Samuel, and Samuel doesn’t even know enough about God to recognize God’s voice.  Finally Eli the priest explains what’s going on, and Samuel says, “speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

And God proceeds to tell Samuel that judgement is about to fall on the house of Eli, because Eli’s sons are blaspheming God, and Eli hasn’t stopped them. And the next morning Eli tells Samuel to tell him what God said – and he says “don’t leave anything out!”  So Samuel gives Eli the message.

Sadly, God’s words are not enough to inspire Eli (or his sons) to change. When human beings come in contact with God, change happens… usually.  But God never forces a person to change. God invites people into relationship, but every person has the right – the God-given right – to say ‘no’, to refuse a relationship with God. And that’s what happens with Eli and his sons.

Samuel, on the other hand, says ‘yes’ to God.  Samuel’s life changes in God’s direction, and scripture tells us his ministry was a blessing to all Israel, and God “let none of his words fall to the ground.”

So spending time with God brings change. And the kind of change God brings won’t let us down, and it doesn’t disappoint, and it isn’t a waste of time, and it isn’t a drudgery.

Scripture itself doesn’t say much about change directly. It tells us stories about change; but it talks more about God’s grace in offering forgiveness and salvation free of charge and without our asking. The one verse where the Bible actually uses the word ‘change’ in reference to people, is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul says that on the last day:

“The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (I Cor 15:52-53)

So the most important change you and I will ever experience is a gift from God and not something we can do for ourselves! While we wait for that change, in gratitude, we invest our lives – as Jesus said in the story of the talents – working to invest the gifts God has given us to turn a profit (so to speak) for the kingdom of God.  And even that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort because, as Paul says in Philippians:

“…it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)

So having said all of this about change by way of background, what kind of change is Wesley talking about in this book? What was his method, and how does it work? And what is our investment in the process?

When John Wesley began leading his first home group, the Church of England and the nation of England were at a low point, morally speaking.  Church attendance was down, serious spirituality was ridiculed, and the nation itself was leading the world in the slave trade, while at home people in prisons – many of whom were simply in debt or mentally ill – were suffering horribly.

Wesley believed that, as Paul said, faith without works is dead. So with that thought in mind, Wesley’s group met to read God’s word together, to pray together, to encourage each other in the Christian life, and to find ways of loving God and others.  And in the process they came up with a list of questions they would ask each other on a regular basis, which became the Wesleyan ‘method’, from which came the word ‘Method-ist’.

Wesley knew that meaningful change starts in the heart of individuals, when people’s hearts get close to God. Wesley also knew when people’s hearts are filled with God’s love, that love spills over into daily life. So Wesley’s goal was, basically, to change the nation – one person at a time – by bringing God’s love into everyday life and experience.  He wasn’t so much teaching people about God as he was helping people to share life with God.

And even though people in Wesley’s time made fun of the “Holy Club” (as they called it) they also began to see group members serving the poor, giving to the needy, visiting prisoners, and praying together… and the Christian faith began to look real to them. And attractive.  Wesley’s ‘Holy Club’ was one of the foundations of a nationwide revival in England in the 1700s.

So the goal of this book is to bring this into our own time.  Our country today, like England in Wesley’s day, is in moral crisis. Church attendance is down, and the nation is being rocked by one horrifying event after another, and people are angry and afraid.  How can we respond? We need a course of action.

I’m reminded of what the flight attendants tell us before a plane takes off:  If there’s trouble, and a mask drops down, put yours on first before you help someone else. Spiritually speaking, we need to put our masks on first before we can help somebody else.  The gospel of Jesus Christ, and a relationship with the living God, is the life-saving device. We need to make sure ours is secure before we help others.

That’s what the Wesley Challenge is about.  And as we head into the Wesley Challenge, I wanted to invite all of us to do a few things that will help us get the most out of Wesley’s teaching:

  • Try to be here for the next few weeks! We will be preaching on the Wesley Challenge for two more weeks, and you don’t want to miss a week.
  • If you can, get your hands on a copy of The Wesley Challenge.
  • Make the Wesley Covenant Prayer part of your daily prayer time for the next few weeks.
  • Attend a Wesley Challenge weeknight meeting of your choice. We have three that will be meeting:
    1. Monday nights – at 7:00PM at Hill Top UMC. Pastor Matt will be leading a group at the parsonage.
    2. Wednesday nights – 7:00PM at Carnegie UMC. I will be leading a group there.
    3. Thursday nights – at Spencer UMC at Beyond there will be a video series related to the book and to John Wesley’s teaching.
  • For those who can’t make it to a group meeting for whatever reason:
    1. Read the book at home
    2. Because the Wesley Challenge was meant to be done with others, in order to get the most out of Wesley’s teaching, share your thoughts with someone else in some other way.
      • Over the phone
      • On a Facebook page. There are other churches doing this at the same time we are: Carlisle UMC in PA and Grace UMC in Des Moines IA. Join one of these online groups, or if you prefer I could start a page for us, let me know.

However we approach this over the coming weeks, the change this course will bring will be mostly God’s work.  Our part is to be there and to share and to be open to what God has in store for us.

Let’s pray together. Lord, as we share your word, and as we read the words of your servant John Wesley over the next few weeks, open our hearts to yourself. Teach us to know you better. Help us understand what your Spirit is creating in us. Help us put away anything that comes between us, Lord. And help us to know how to reach out to others in your name. We give you all the glory and the praise, AMEN.

 

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Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, 1/14/18

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 1 Samuel 3:1-20  Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;  3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.  4 Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!”  5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.  6 The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”  7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.  8 The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy.  9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

 10 Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  11 Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.  12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.  13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.  14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

 15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.  16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.”  17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.”  18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.”

 19 As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.  20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.

John 1:43-51   The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”  51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

~

 

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Thanks to Facebook friend Ron Lusk for sharing this article from Wired.com:  “The Crisis of Attention Theft: Ads That Steal Your Time for Nothing In Return”

Pull-quote: “…in overstimulated lives, moments do matter, and indeed sometimes few things matter more than a few chosen minutes of silence. The important question is the aggregate effect of all of these various intrusions on both our health and that precious thing known as autonomy.”

I’m old enough to remember a time when ads were not everywhere, all the time. It’s amazing how quiet my childhood memories are: not silent, but filled with the sounds of nature and/or family and neighbors.  TV and radio commercials were limited to a one-or-two-sentence “sponsored by” acknowledgement (the kind of acknowledgement Public TV used to use — they’ve got full-fledged commercials now).

And the generation before mine grew up with nothing more obnoxious than roadside Burma-Shave ads.

Is it a coincidence that, in a time when we are being force-fed ads, and denied so much as an “off” button, we’re also being told what we must believe about politicians, religion, foreign countries, etc? Is it a coincidence that voices of dissent and change — like those found in the Green Party, the American Solidarity Party, or the Jesuits for that matter — are consistently marginalized or ignored?

If you doubt the power and pervasiveness of ads today, try this experiment: see if you can get through an entire day without seeing the words “Xfinity” or “Verizon”.  I tried every day for a month before I admitted failure.

Did you ever agree to give these corporations this much real estate in your mind? I know I didn’t.

The constant 24/7/365 over-stimulation of every person in the Western world can’t be healthy mentally, psychologically, or spiritually.

Awareness is a start.  Next steps?

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(Note: This letter was originally written for the newsletters of the South Hills Partnership of Methodist Churches but I wanted to make it available in its entirety to a wider audience.)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the near future our Partnership will be asking for food donations for newly-arrived refugees in our Partnership neighborhoods, in conjunction with the South Hills Interfaith Movement.

I know a number of people have questions about refugees: where they’re coming from, why they left home, why they’re here in the U.S., if their backgrounds have been properly checked. To give brief answers: refugees come from all over: South America, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. Here in Pittsburgh the majority have been from the Far East until 2016 when the Middle East began to take the lead. The refugees never wanted to leave home; they were forced to leave by war, natural disaster, persecution, or other life-threatening circumstances. That’s the legal definition of a refugee; as opposed to a ‘migrant’ (someone who travels across borders) or ‘illegal alien’ (someone who crosses our borders without permission). They wanted to come here because, like so many refugees before them, they’ve heard wonderful things about the United States.  The background checks before they can enter the U.S take an average of two years, plus more interviews and tests once they’re here.

Those are the facts. But like most things in life, facts don’t tell the whole story.

I have known a number of refugees, and without exception I am better for having known them. One is a classmate by  the name of Abraham. abrahamnhialAbraham was one of the “Lost Boys” of South Sudan. When he was a child during the Sudanese civil war, soldiers attacked his village, burned it to the ground, and killed the people. Abraham survived only because he was in the fields tending the cows. He saw his village burning and knew if he went home he would be killed, so he ran. As he traveled east – walking a distance of nearly 300 miles to refugee camps in Ethiopia – he met up with other ‘lost boys’ who also survived, and they helped each other. From Ethiopia they were brought to the United States, where they were able to finish their educations, and Abraham trained to become an Anglican priest. He said: “I am going to go back to Sudan and find the men who killed my family and tell them about the love of Jesus.” Abraham is now serving as a Bishop in the Anglican church of South Sudan.

menrefugeechildOne refugee family I met here in Pittsburgh – an extended family of two brothers, their two wives and many children – are from Aleppo, Syria. They became refugees when their home and city were bombed. They are anxious to learn about their new country, and eager to hear about Jesus, so they invited about a half-dozen people connected to the seminary to visit for dinner. What a spread! Tabbouleh, grape leaves, chicken, salads, naan bread… more than we could possibly eat… followed by tea and coffee.  Their elementary-school-age children know more English than their parents, so they carried the evening.  And though we couldn’t communicate much, I indicated my appreciation to the one mother who had done all this cooking while very pregnant. She smiled and pointed to her belly and said “American!” – so proud to be the mother of a future American! I haven’t been able to visit again but the family is now hosting an international Bible study in their home every other week, which friends of mine attend.

I could talk about facts and figures… point out that right now there are more than 65 million people in the world who are without a country… but numbers like these are too big to get our minds around.  Consider instead the words of one refugee: “you don’t put your children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

I believe this refugee crisis will be the defining moment of our generation. The repercussions of so many homeless people will change the course of world history for decades to come. How we respond to the crisis will determine not only the future of the refugees but our future as well – because care for the stranger is so important to God, and so central to what God requires of His people.

There’s little most of us can do, from where we live, to ease this crisis that’s happening so far away. But what little we can do, we need to do. At a time like this, every act of kindness makes a difference.

Thank you,

Rev. Peg Bowman

 

A few statistics to think on

Where refugees come from… (in millions)
(notice Colombia, South America, is in the Top Ten)  (source: Buzzfeed)

buzzfeed1

…and where they go (in millions) (source: Buzzfeed)

buzzfeed2

Refugee travel routes to Europe (source: Human Rights Watch)
Countries that were formerly “destination countries” — like Libya and Jordan — are now becoming source countries themselves.

buzzfeed3

Syrian refugees accepted into the U.S.
(actual numbers, not thousands or millions) (source: CDC)

buzzfeed4

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Scripture readings: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30

Last week we looked at a pair of scripture readings from I Thessalonians and Matthew that had to do with being prepared for the coming of Christ.

This week again we have a pair of readings from I Thessalonians and Matthew, and this time the focus is on not the coming of Christ but on what we need to do in the meantime… how to live our lives between now and the time we meet Jesus.

Both of today’s passages describe a contrast between (as Paul says) “children of darkness” and “children of light” or as Jesus says in Matthew, between good and wicked servants.

Words like these can make us uncomfortable because we don’t like to think of people as being ‘children of darkness’. But the fact is, when God gave human beings free will, he gave us the ability to say ‘no’ to what is right. God gave us the ability to dislike God, to rebel against God, or to damage God’s creation. And in these two readings that’s what we see happening.

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ parable in Matthew. This is a familiar story: a story of a man who has three servants. He entrusts them with his estate while he goes on a long journey. Two of the servants do well and make a profit and they are rewarded; but third servant does not and he is punished. Even though we don’t have servants in our day and age, the story makes sense. Employees, for example, are expected to look after the interests of their employers – anyone who’s ever held a job understands the scenario.

But there’s a huge question mark in this story. As employees (or as retired employees in some cases) we know that not all employers are equal. Some employers are generous, others are stingy. Some are fair, others play favorites. Some care about their employees, others don’t. If all employers were good, if all of them lived by God’s values, labor unions would never have been needed. Workers’ pensions would be secure instead of being unstable and in some cases, missing.

In Jesus’ parable, the question of whether this particular employer is worthy of his employees’ loyalty is not addressed directly. So we are left to ask: are the two loyal servants just playing along, getting their share of the pie? Is this employer worth working for? Or is the third servant right? Is this employer a harsh one, greedy, turning profits where he hasn’t invested?

This week as I was thinking over this passage I thought, what if this story took place today? What would it look like in our world? What if it was, let’s say, an episode of The Apprentice – the reality show where Donald Trump hires up-and-coming executives and pits them against each other to see which are the best and then fires the rest? This parable actually does remind me of that. On the show, Trump presents a business challenge, and the young people who come up winners are the ones who take his seed money and invest in a project, and bring all their skill and experience to bear to turn a profit. The ones who lose are the ones who waste time forming alliances, cooking up schemes to bring the others down, manipulating others into doing work they themselves should be doing. And they always have someone else to blame when their plans don’t work out. Some of them even mouth off at Donald Trump, blame him for creating an unfair competition. You can see it coming. Trump looks at them and says, “You’re fired!”

But the TV show never answers the question, ‘is this employer worth working for?’ Is he fair? Is he generous? Are the projects he invests in worth spending a piece of your life on? Where it comes to The Apprentice I’ll leave it to you all to answer those questions. But these are the questions being raised in Jesus’ parable. So what do we know about the ‘boss’ in this parable?

Since Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, the ‘boss’ in this story is God. The servants are all of us; and the talents are gifts and abilities and opportunities that we’re given in life: that little tiny part of the universe over which we have control, and for which we have responsibility. God gives each person a piece of his estate; a wee bit of God’s property; and God, as our master, has instructed us to care for it. Depending on what we’ve been given, some of us might be caring for the environment; or raising children and grandchildren; or teaching; or building – houses or businesses; or protecting the country; or protecting the community; or running an honest business that produces things people need and provides jobs; or visiting the sick or people in prison.

As a side note I’d like to suggest that one of the greatest pieces of celestial property God gives us in this life is time. I was reading some Jewish theology recently and the author, a rabbi, was explaining that in Jewish spirituality what happens in time is more important than what happens in space. In other words, how we spend our time is more important than what we physically do or make. That’s why parenting, for example, is such an important job – because it’s investing time in another person’s life.

At any rate there are so many ways to invest what God has entrusted to us! Those of us who love and honor God want to find ways we can use the gifts God has given us to invest in ourselves, our homes, our families, our communities, and our churches.

So in Jesus’ parable, the first two servants respect their master and invest their part of the estate wisely, taking well-calculated risks, and they turn a profit. The third servant tells a different story. He doesn’t squander God’s property, he doesn’t lose it – he hides it. Buries it. He doesn’t use it at all. Jesus doesn’t tell us what this third servant does do with the rest of the time his master is away. The master is away for a long time, so what is he doing with all this time? We don’t know. But again, if I re-cast the story into modern day, into our fictitious Donald Trump scenario, I can imagine what might have happened. Servant #3 would have taken Trump’s money – the ‘seed money’ he was given to build a business with – and hid it somewhere. Then he would start talking business deals, trading on Trump’s name rather than on the actual money, living the high life and producing nothing.

So the third servant then projects his own guilt and selfish motives onto the master! He says: “master, I knew you were a harsh man, reaping what you did not sow…” when the truth is it’s the third servant who has been reaping what he did not sow, living on the generosity and trusting natures of other people.

One more side note: the word “harsh” the third servant uses to describe the master struck me as an odd choice of words, so I looked it up in the Greek. The Greek word is “skleros” – which means “hardening”. Today we find the word in medical terminology: scleroderma – hardening of the skin; atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries; multiple sclerosis – hardening of the nerve cells in the brain. Skleros implies a hardening of something that should not be hard, and it’s a hardening that leads to suffering and ultimately death. Servant #3 is accusing God of the very hardness that is in his own heart… projecting his own pathology and mortal nature onto God.

Servant #3 goes on to say, “and I was afraid, and I went away and hid…” In this story he hid the treasure, but we’ve heard these words before: in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve ate the apple, they heard God coming and they hid. Genesis 3:10 – Adam says, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid.”

A wise old Christian once said there are two reasons a person might be afraid of God:

  1. God is so much greater than we are, and we are so small and powerless by comparison. A person who fears God for this reason IS in touch with reality! Because this is very true: God is great, and we are small by comparison. But people who feel this way haven’t yet taken to heart the words of today’s reading from I Thessalonians. Paul writes, “for God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.” That’s why Paul says “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation.” Faith, hope, and love are what protect our hearts and minds from fearing God in an unhealthy way. We believe in God, we have hope in God, we know that God loves us and we love God. Secure in the knowledge of these things we don’t need to ever be afraid of God’s greatness.
  2. The other reason a person might be afraid of God is because they’re ashamed of what they’re doing, or aren’t doing. They may have been squandering God’s property, refusing to invest in the people in their lives. Maybe they have mistreated God’s creation. Or maybe they’ve been lazy, living on the work or the wealth of others. Or maybe they’ve been harsh, abusive… all things servant #3 accuses God of being.

The amazing thing to me is God actually answers Servant #3’s accusations, and with real restraint. God does not set out to defend his own character; or assert his rights as master of both the servant and the assets. Instead God quotes back the servant’s own words and says, “if that’s really the way I am, you should have invested the money with the bankers so at least I’d have interest.” ‘If you knew I was so mean, why weren’t you wise enough to make just a little bit of profit to cover your own tail?’ Even self-serving motivations tell us it’s not wise to provoke God to anger! But Servant #3 lacks even that much wisdom, and ends up losing what little he has.

This parable makes me a little nervous sometimes. When I read it I sometimes wonder: how can I know if I’ve done enough? How can I know if I’ve managed to double God’s investment? I look around at other Christians and I see them going on mission trips, or bringing dozens of people to faith, or teaching Sunday School for thirty years….

Here’s the thing: when God gives us talents to use, our instructions are not to compare ourselves with others. The servant who has two talents is not expected to make five. The servant with two talents is honored by God when he makes another two. All this talk about talents isn’t a competition – it’s a challenge. God gives us what is appropriate to us: “to each according to his ability” as it says in verse 15. God’s expectations are realistic and fair and perfectly tailored to each person. As Jesus himself says, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This doesn’t mean life will always be easy, but it means the talents God gives us fit who we are perfectly.

A few weeks ago I read a book written by a man who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. I imagine if anyone ever had an excuse to give up and say “I have nothing left to give” it would be him. He was dying, his mind was going, and he couldn’t always remember what he had said or done a day before, or even a minute before. But he was a believer, and he wanted to keep on serving the Lord he loved as long as he could. So, with his wife’s help, he wrote – or dictated, as the disease progressed – a journal of his experience having Alzheimer’s disease. He wrote down what the symptoms were, what the doctors said, what treatments they tried, how friends and family were effected, what his emotions were, how he and his wife fought the depression that often comes with the disease, what parts of his mind still worked when other parts started to go, and how he and his wife learned that everyone is a valued child of God no matter what condition their body or mind is in. The book has become standard reading for people who train as chaplains in hospitals and hospices. What a gift! Each one of us has gifts to give, and a purpose in life… no matter where we are in life or what our circumstances are.

One more thing comes to mind when I look at this parable. All this talk about serving God, investing in the kingdom, raises an important question: aren’t we saved by faith? Believing in Jesus? Yes, we are. But if we love God, we say ‘thank you’ for what God has given us by putting it to good use. And we do this with joy, because discovering and using what God has created in us is the greatest joy life has to offer. “Enter into the joy of your master,” Jesus says. God has given us a piece of the heavenly homestead, and it’s good.

So the greatest goal in life is not “whoever dies with the most toys wins”. The goal is not to do more than the person next to us. The goal is to invest whatever gifts we’ve been given, working from hearts that trust in God’s love. And we look forward to the day when we will hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a little, I will put you in charge of much. Enter into the joy of your master.” AMEN.

 

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The more I learn about race, gender, and history, the more I discover the issues of racial equality and women’s rights are inextricably intertwined.

Chains

Inspired by friend and artist Betty Douglas, I’ve been reading a book written back in 1839 entitled American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.  The book is a collection of first-hand, eyewitness descriptions of slavery in the southern United States, compiled by the American Anti-Slavery Society, one of the early abolitionist groups in the US, founded by former southerners who fled the south rather than live with the horrors they saw.

The book is heartbreaking.  It rings true as only eyewitness accounts can.  I read slowly, a few pages at a time.

Today I came across something that never would have entered my mind in a million years.  An excerpt from page 25, from the section Testimony of the late Rev. John Graham:

        “I walked up to the Court House to day, where I heard one of the most interesting cases I ever heard. I say interesting, on account of its novelty to me, though it had no novelty for the people, as such cases are of frequent occurrence. The case was this: To know whether two ladies, present in court, were white or black. The ladies were dressed well, seemed modest, and were retiring and neat in their look, having blue eyes, black hair, and appeared to understand much of the etiquette of southern behaviour.

“A man, more avaricious than humane, as is the case with most of the rich planters, laid a remote claim to those two modest, unassuming, innocent and free young ladies as his property, with the design of putting them into the field, and thus increasing his STOCK! As well as the people of Concord are known to be of a peaceful disposition, and for their love of good order, I verily believe if a similar trial should be brought forward there and conducted as this was, the good people would drive the lawyers out of the house. Such would be their indignation at their language, and at the mean under-handed manner of trying to ruin those young ladies, as to their standing in society in this district, if they could not succeed in dooming them for life to the degraded condition of slavery, and all its intolerable cruelties. Oh slavery! if statues of marble could curse you, they would speak. If bricks could speak, they would all surely thunder out their anathemas against you, accursed thing! How many white sons and daughters, have bled and groaned under the lash in this sultry climate.”

These plantation owners made slaves out of their own race as well as the Africans.

It may seem obvious that it takes generosity of spirit, or at least openness of spirit, to accept different kinds of people.

What has taken me longer to see is that the opposite is equally true: it takes the same crookedness of spirit, the same evil intent, to refuse to do so: that someone who hates on racial grounds will hate just as quickly on the grounds of gender, or poverty, or any other reason; that someone who craves power or desires to be cruel doesn’t care what means they use or who their victims are.

As a teacher I know – not just believe, but KNOW – that students only excel if their teacher can see good in them and encourage the good to grow.

What will mystify me to my dying day is why some people insist on refusing the good in themselves, insist on living in darkness, insist on depriving others of liberty and well-being, as if cruelty will ever satisfy their longings.

The Civil War never really ends.

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