Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Season of Harvest: Don't Lose Heart!

Our gospel text this week, Luke 18:1-8, is another parable, which tells a story about an unjust judge and a persistent pray-er. In the end, the woman who is praying is heard by the judge, because she just didn't give up; didn't take "no" for an answer. Her persistence paid off! The possible moral of the story: God will definitely listen to you, because God is just, whereas the judge was unjust and, although it took a lot of energy and annoyance, listened to the woman.

Like with any passage from the Bible, we read and investigate it's meaning through our own situations and world-views. It is always helpful, in my view, to investigate the context in which the text is surrounded closely. I think we want to be able to relate to this woman, but can we, really? 
Hear what professor Bill Loader has to say; he offers us a chance to dive into the context of this passage, and our temptation to limit it's message to us. He uncovers a grace-filled message of hope:  

".. it is missing the mark if we treat the passage as a general teaching about intercessory prayer. It is primarily about the yearning for change. It was very appropriate that the story told of a poor widow. She represents a behaviour, but she also represents the poverty and vulnerability which is the point of the parable’s message. The story has been shaped in the cruelty of exploitation and the arbitrary abuse of power. It belongs in the world which Jesus is addressing. Jesus is reading the signs in the wounds of the people. The contours of their devastation shape the structures of his thought, because this is where he belongs and these are the people whose cries he hears.

Take some heart, even from the behaviour of a corrupt judge who has no respect for anyone!...We know such corrupt figures exist. Does God? Does a God exist who cares? The paralysis of hope can occur at many levels. For many it plummeted with the towers of the World Trade Centre. Faith then retreats into survival mode or fences itself within petty concerns, loses its political and social edge in a sweet jellied peace of mind, or surrenders to the demagogues and demigods of hate.

People do not need to avoid pain. It is our role to be there with them in it and not to collude with the alternatives. It means being in touch with the struggles, with the poverty, with all that makes people cry out in our world. It also means living with the affirmation of a God who cares, even though, unlike the promise of 18:8, the solution does not come speedily. In that sense we are to be building supportive communities where people can sustain the crying day and night and not lose heart, where we do not tune out, but live in hope and with a sense of trust that does not make us feel we have to carry the whole world on our shoulders. For facing the pain of the world is, indeed, a crushing experience which most of us cannot bear and which, without support and acceptance of our own limitations, we will inevitably either deny or ourselves become part of the hopelessness. Finding a glint of God in the grey of corruption is a way of affirming we do not have to be God; we are not alone; faith and hope are possible."

For many, our hope continues to plummet today. I see it everyday, especially during this election cycle here in the U.S. Many people cry out in despair. What we face now is the opportunity to join hands in this challenging time together. The cause of the loss of hope is not limited to the election, but is fed by corruption, illnesses, tragedy, and personal occasions of pain and suffering that can be caused by any number of things. Our opportunity is to listen, to care, and remain patient with other each other as we seek healing together. We must trust God, sometimes it's all we have. We have to trust that God is using us, and each other, for this sake. 

We yearn for change, and it begins by joining hands in a community of healing, companionship, and grace. This is hope in action.  

We meet You, O Christ, in many a guise:
Your image we see in simple and wise.
You live in a palace, exist in a shack.
We see You, the gardener, a tree on Your back.
In millions alive, away and abroad;
Involved in our life You live down the road.
Imprisoned in systems, You long to be free.
We see You, Lord Jesus, still bearing Your tree.
We hear You, O Christ, in agony cry.
For freedom You march, in riots You die.
Your face in the papers we read and we see.
The tree must be planted by human decree.
You choose to be made at one with the earth;
The dark of the grave prepares for Your birth.
Your death is Your rising, creative Your word:
The tree springs to life and our hope is restored.

*"We Meet You, O Christ," United Methodist Hymnal, 257.

In Christ, 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Season of Harvest: A Time for Gratitude

This week, we turn to Luke 17: 11-19, where there are 10 lepers that Jesus makes clean. "Your faith has made you well" is one of those verses from the Bible that may do as much harm as it does good. There are all kinds of people, even this day, praising God for being present in their lives, for healing, blessing, and making the presence of God real. But there as just many people, perhaps, who are praying to God for healing, and seemingly coming away empty-handed. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been sick, or had a loved one receive terrible news of an illness, and prayed to God for healing...only to remain in your current state? You may have felt that your prayers were inferior to those who were healed. I do not think that is the case. Many Christians understand faith to be all about cause and effect---you pray for something, and it either happens or it does not; the prayer is either answered with a yes or no from God.

Jesus points to a much deeper meaning of faith, here in this gospel lesson. Jesus heals here without much attention being drawn to it. It is almost as if this is only a subplot to the story. I have no idea where nine of the ten lepers go, but the Samaritan comes back to Jesus to bow at his feet to thank him. Jesus asks where the other nine went, and we can imagine his tone. How did Jesus feel? Sad? Angry? Confused? What Jesus is certain about, is that this "double outcast" (Kimberly Long, Feasting on the Word), this person was a leper and a Samaritan, has been embraced by the love of God. And Jesus tells them to "get up and go, your faith has made you well."

This grateful leper's healing "runs beyond the physical." The gospel tells us that all ten lepers were rid of their leprosy. This past Sunday, Bishop Ken Carter preached on the parable that precedes this passage to listen to his sermon, click here), about "the faith of a mustard seed." Jesus is teaching about what faith really is. We learned on Sunday that Jesus does not talk about faith as if his audience does not have it. He is speaking to them as if to say "you have the faith...what is lacking is action." Here, he doubles down on his message. It is not about the quantity of your faith, but the quality. For this leper, it drove them to their knees in gratitude and worship. Their healing went beyond the physical. To "have faith" is to live it, to act on it...to give thanks. "It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith---this is the grateful sort of faith that has made this man from Samaria truly and deeply well." Prayers of thanks are part of the healing of this leper. The physical outcome of our prayers don't matter as much when we live a life of gratitude. It is the thanking that truly saves this grateful person, and this life of gratitude is available to us all, no matter what we are facing. What can you be thankful for?


Thank you God for giving me another day, another chance to become a better individual, another chance to give and experience love. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving me so much, that you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, not only to die for me, but to live for me. Thank you for his example, his compassion, his love for all people. Help me to live a life of gratitude, to see You at work in this world and in my life. I love you, I praise you. Help me to have the faith that will heal me from all things, a faith that leads to thanks for who You are. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

In Christ,