Archive | March, 2013

4th Sunday in Lent – Yr C (3/10/2013)

9 Mar

Joshua 5:9-12

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

 

 

Psalm 32

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

 

Opening Questions

  1. Why is forgiveness such an important element of our Christian Faith?
  2. If being able to forgive is a good thing, how do we get better at it?

Appointed Passages[1]

Joshua 5:9-12

9The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

10 While the Israelites were encamped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

{From the Montreal Commentary:  Perhaps “disgrace of Egypt” refers to the abject social status the Israelites had there: they were slaves. Perhaps God is saying: my rescue of you is complete.}

  • Have you ever made an error so significant or had someone deal with you so unfairly that the event might be called a “disgrace”?  If so, what did you do to move forward from it – and how did it reshape your self image?
  • What should God’s role be to help you deal with such issues?

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

{The definition of reconcile includes – to restore to friendship or harmony, to make consistent or congruous, to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant}

  • How does faith impact a person’s ability to grow character?  Does it inspire creative thought….unburden our guilt…or act as a catalyst for change….or perhaps all of these things?
  • How are forgiveness and reconciliation related?  If they are part of the same process, should they be pursued sequentially, or simultaneously?

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

15 Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable:

11 Then Jesus* said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

  • We can all certainly empathize with the elder son.  What was he missing?
  • How do we know when someone is truly contrite – and thus deserving of our forgiveness?
  • What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?  Can one be achieved without the other?

Comment

In 1995, I led a series of weekly Lenten study group sessions that focused on forgiveness and reconciliation.  They were life changing for me.  I read extensively on the subject of forgiveness by people who had both extensive experience and deep dive research on point.  I came away convinced that this particular aspect of our Christian faith is perhaps the most fundamental and meaningful element of our religion.  The following are a summary of the key points from those sessions.

{Note:  several good references for forgiveness used in the development of the study series were – Reconciliation of a Penitant, One of the Pastoral Offices of The Book of Common Prayer, The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Doubleday, 1992, Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson, by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., Warner Books, 1990, Forgiveness, by Dr. Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon, Warner Books, 1990, Forgive & Forget: Healing the hurts we don’t deserve, by Lewis B. Smedes, HarperOne, 1996}

Forgiveness is –

  • A by product of an ongoing (internal) healing process
  • A sign of positive self esteem
  • Recognizing that we no longer need our grudges and resentments, our hatred and self pity
  • No longer wanting to punish the people who hurt us
  • Accepting that nothing we do to punish them will heal us
  • Freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds
  • Moving on…..

Forgiveness is Not

  • Forgetting

“Believe in forgiveness only if justice is maintained and guilt is confirmed.”  Quote by Paul Tillich

  • Condoning
  • Absolution
  • A form of self-sacrifice
  • A clear-cut one-time decision

Forgiveness vs Reconciliation

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing…

Forgiveness is unilateral

It is something we can do all by ourselves, something we make happen by our own decision

Reconciliation requires participation by another person

We cannot individually “make it happen” no matter how hard we try

Forgiveness and reconciliation are independent processes.  We can have one without the other

Working through the process of forgiving is essential to our personal well-being and should always be pursued

Reconciliation is immensely valuable and should be pursued whenever possible, but it isn’t always possible

I pray that this Lenten season, we recognize the value of forgiveness and seek God’s active participation in helping us recognize when it is needed and support when we embrace it.

 

Quotes for Today:

Blaming other people for our problems doesn’t solve our problems, even if we’re right.

Dr. David Stoop

 

That which we can excuse, we need not forgive; only that which we cannot excuse is in need of forgiveness.

Dan Hamilton

 

If only there were vile people…committing evil deeds, and it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

Advertisements

Third Sunday in Lent – Yr C (3/3/2013)

4 Mar

Exodus 3:1-15

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

 

Psalm 63:1-8

for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

 

Opening Questions

  1. If repentance is the means, what is the end?
  2. What are the implications of thinking about repentance as a state of mind rather than an action/decision?

Appointed Passages[1]

Exodus 3:1-15

3Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

13 But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ 14God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ 15God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.

{According to Wikipedia, the Hebrew words for the phrase “I am who I am” are generally interpreted to mean I am that I am, though more literally translate to “I-shall-be that I-shall-be.”}

  • What do you think Moses’ intent was in asking God about his name?
  • What does the phrase I am who I am (or I am that I am, or I shall be that I shall be) mean to you?

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

10 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’ 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

  • What is the value of assessing the moral content of how you live your life?
  • Is it good to be confident and comfortable, or should we pursue the periodic tension of temptation (i.e., is it “healthy” to do so)?

Luke 13:1-9

13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’

6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” 8He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’

  • If the fig tree represents people, what does the fruit we can produce represent?
  • What is the value of repentance?  How does it shape the character of one who embraces it?
  • What are the catalysts that encourage us to live our lives in alignment with our faith?

Comment

We know that life sometimes brings great joys and sometimes tough times and mind numbing sorrow.  The question of value is what we do with them.  I think one of the key messages in today’s assigned scriptures is that we should be aware of how to continually improve our internal moral compasses to use these experiences as directional landmarks to guide us along the pathway toward righteousness.  It is also important that we feel a sense of urgency or somehow find a catalyst to get us moving.

One of the comments I read about the parable of the barren fig tree suggested that Jesus had been in his active ministry for three years when he told it.  If that is true, one interpretation is that Jesus could have been lamenting that the people he was aiming to inspire weren’t yet getting his message – or at least not acting on it.

I don’t know about you, but I can find a good bit of manure these days…and frankly, a lot of fig trees that could use a dose of it.  The question I suppose is how to “dig round it” in a way that enhances the digestion of the compost to distill the ingredients needed for a healthy tree to produce fruit; both for ourselves and those around us.

We might think of repentance as a method of softening the ground….becoming active in that we invite the messages that come wrapped in the manure of life.  As well, I suspect it would be helpful to spend time grappling with or exploring what fruit we are destined to produce – and, of course, given my background as a CPA, my need to suggest that you identify how to measure your success at producing it.

 

Quotes for Today:

It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.

Epictetus

 

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding about ourselves.

Carl Jung

 

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.

Elie Wiesel


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

Second Sunday in Lent – Yr C (2/24/2013)

4 Mar

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

Philippians 3:17–4:1

Luke 13:31-35

 

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold
* of my life;of whom shall I be afraid?

 

Opening Questions

  1. Could you be described as a person who lives their convictions?
  2. Would this description be a blessing, or a curse (or perhaps both)?

Appointed Passages[1]

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie’zer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”  4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”  5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chalde’ans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.  12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

  • When is it appropriate for us to bargain with God in similar fashion to Abram?
  • Does the Lord’s covenant with Abram apply to you?  If so, what is your obligation to it?  (Review the “Old Covenant” portion of the catechism – http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/catechism.pdf)

Philippians 3:17-4:1

17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

  • How would you describe an “enemy of the cross of Christ” (v. 18)?
  • What actions are required for an enemy of the cross of Christ to become a citizen of heaven?

Luke 13: (22-30) 31-35

22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

31 At that very hour some Phar’isees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Her’od wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

  • What does the use of the wording narrow door imply about how we grow as Christians?
  • How do we “strive to enter” in order to get a better reply than “I do not know where you come from”?
  • If you were Jesus and attempting to gather people, what would you do to make the narrow door more inviting?

Comment

Today’s passages strike me as lessons in faith and patience.  During this season of lent, I think it is helpful to think about experiences in life that challenge our faith and identify possible actions or impressions they provide with the intent to upgrade our convictions to do the right things.

In a world of uncertainty, it is natural to want heavenly confirmation that we are doing the right things – as Abram did.  Paul laments that people are not imitating him as “believers” should.  We all do some things that result in our gaining “earthly” pleasures with seemingly no adverse implications.  We favor ourselves over others in ways that are subtle, yet important to notice for what they say about who we are.

It might be nice to imagine a divine force that periodically smacks the back of our heads with a physical reminder when we do something wrong.  However, the truth is that we will have to build our own mental equivalent.

True faith calls us to do the right things, not because of others who might be watching, but because they are the right things.  This sort of faith is in fact eternal, and places us squarely in that community of believers who might be described as citizens of heaven.

I daresay we all know the sort of people Abram, Paul, and Jesus are describing.  I think of the way people who knew my late father, Sam, described their experiences with him.  Phrasing included “he was a straight shooter….he said what he meant, and meant what he said…if he didn’t know, he was strong enough to tell me.”  I recall him as a man of strength and humility who developed carefully his convictions – then lived them.  I pray that I have some success in following his lead – and listening to the voices of Abram, Paul, and Jesus who remind us of the value of that course of action when we do.

 

Quotes for Today:

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Frederick Douglass

 

The faith of a church or of a nation is an adequate faith only when it inspires and enables people to give of their time and energy to shape the various institutions — social, economic, and political — of the common life.

James Luther Adams

 

When you meet someone better than yourself, turn your thoughts to becoming his equal. When you meet someone not as good as you are, look within and examine your own self.

Confucious


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages