Friday – February 21, 2020
“Then Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
John 20:22 (Contemporary English Version)
A Word of Hope
Today I am going to breathe. Not just the routine, autonomic breathing that my brain stem manages for me whether I am thinking about it or not. I’m going to consciously pause to take a deep, cleansing breath, let it out and then do it again. In breathing, I am reminded of several things:Air is precious, and through it I am connected to most every living being on the planet.
· To breathe is to participate in being human, and I am reminded of my connection to Jesus and his own humanity and divinity.
· The Spirit of God –the Divine presence or Holy Spirit—is as close as the air around me.
Today I have more things on my “to-do” list than I have hours today to do them, but I am going to pause and consciously breathe. In doing so, I am claiming both my humanity and my divinity and opening myself to the calming focus of God’s Spirit at work in me.
Today I am going to breathe. When I exhale, I am letting go of anxiety and turmoil that disquiets my mind and distracts my clarity. As I breathe out, I release worry, doubt and fear and leave room for the Divine Spirit to do good works through me.
Today I am going to breathe and realize what a precious, holy gift my breath is!
Holy God, whose grace sustains me like the air that surrounds me, remind me today of the precious gift of life and breath. Enter into my life and do something special through me this day. Amen.
Dr. Gary G. Kindley
Thursday – February 20, 2020
My privilege limits my perspective in many ways. While I didn’t choose to “have” while others “have not,” if I’m not actively working toward equity, even my passive participation enables systems of inequality and injustice. Richard Rohr
A Word of Hope
Saturday a friend and I joined others on a three-hour tour of “Hidden Dallas,” a journey to selected sites of African American history in the city. While the tour featured statues of iconic African Americans like Ernie Banks, stories of extraordinary women such as Juanita Kraft, and introduced us to historic neighborhoods, overall our guide unearthed a painful past. We toured an area grotesquely nicknamed “Bombingham” where in the early 50’s angry groups of whites tossed dynamite onto the porches of African American families who “dared” to move into the formerly white neighborhood. One tragic episode occurred in 1860. After a conflagration which destroyed downtown, some white men, purportedly to thwart a John Brown style slave revolt, formed vigilante groups which terrorized African Americans—killing at least 30 people. Near Dealey Plaza a plaque marks the spot where 3 slaves, suspected of instigating the fire, were lynched while a crowd of men, women, and children looked on. https://www.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2019/09/how-a-bus-tour-helps-illuminate-dallas-black-history-hidden-in-plain-sight/
Former SMU professor Dr. William Farmer said about Dallas’ relationship with its past, “It’s like a family going through a trauma but suppressing the memory. The past is forgotten, but essential to coming to health, essential to racial reconciliation, is recalling.”
Such painful knowledge, the continuing violence against people of color, and the intransigence of systemic racism can be a spur to action. Yet the problems seem so large that many people of conscience ask: how can my small efforts make a difference.
In a piece called “Justice Begins at Home,” Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC Associate Minister for Justice, reminds us that on February 1, 1960, “four North Carolina A&T University students who were deeply disturbed by the tortuous murder of Emmett Till sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, NC, challenging the restaurant’s “whites only” policy.” Within 5 days, that number had grown to 300 protesters, disrupting business. “By March, this movement had gathered massive media coverage and spread to 55 cities in 13 states to protest segregation in libraries, beaches, hotels and other establishments.”
And, as Rosa Parks’ bold action reminds us, it only takes one.
For those of us committed to being allies, let us continue to unearth hidden histories and become aware of subtler forms of discrimination and the toll daily microaggressions take. Let us continue to do our own work—layering down into an understanding of how white privilege operates. Let us confess before God our sins of commission and omission. Let us pray Psalms of lament for the wrongs of past and present. And may we step forward to do justice—even if it’s just one person, one act at a time.
Let us not turn away, O God, from what we need to see to become true agents of transformation in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon
Wednesday – February 19, 2020
Micah 6:8 ESV
“What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
A Word of Hope
Events of the last few weeks seem to have touched a nerve – or several.
The Iowa Caucus (do we know the results, yet?), the impeachment hearing, and a slew of resignations sent social media into a heated overdrive. A brief scan of the comments revealed just how brutal we can be as a species. Death threats and fiery vitriol were bandied about with little, if any, hesitation. A friend of mine asked an innocuous question on Facebook about the Oscars on the day of the ceremony, and it took all of eight minutes to devolve into a puzzlingly political e-brawl.
And while I appreciate much of the passion and dedication to Social Justice in our current era, the pursuit of justice seems to easily (and too easily) cross over to something more akin to vengeance. In those moments, my soul aches at how stridently we resist opportunities to respond with kindness and mercy.
The book of Micah tells us that what the Lord requires of us is to practice justice and to love mercy.
To love mercy.
The scriptures often link justice and mercy; they are sisters rather than opposites.
Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, describes mercy as “…an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice….”
Compassion and mercy toward those around us are, in fact, aspects of God and essential characteristics of the followers of Christ. Which is not to say that mercy is always the proper response. Only that we would do well to remember that justice and mercy are equally divine in nature.
Jesus demonstrated one of his many acts of mercy in the book of Matthew. Jesus is sought out by a Roman centurion (military leader). The centurion’s servant was paralyzed and suffering greatly. At this time, the Romans represented everything that marginalized the Jews. Rome was responsible for their oppression, injustice, and systemic disenfranchisement. Many of Jesus’ followers believed he had come to help overthrow the Roman government and set up a Jewish nation. In this moment when the centurion sought Jesus out to heal his servant, Jesus could easily have responded: “You have your own doctors. You’ve marginalized and oppressed us in our own land. Rome has made life difficult, even unbearable, for my people. So use your privilege to find answers for yourself. Why should I help you? But Jesus said “I will come and heal him.”
In Bryan Stevenson’s brilliant book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, he provides a moving summation of the power of acting mercifully:
“Mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.”
Let us seek such moments in our own lives.
Most Merciful God, we ask that you keep us mindful of those times when we would best reflect Your nature by extending kindness and mercy to those around us. Let us seek to be merciful with the same ardor with which we seek justice. In doing so, show us how we may be instruments of bringing to earth that which exists in heaven. And so it is. Amen.
Tuesday – February 18, 2020
James 3.17 (The Message)
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others.”
A Word of Hope
It’s texts like today’s assigned reading (James 3:13 – 18) that convince me that a book with writings dating as early as the 2nd millennium BCE (the book of Job) is still relevant. Sure there are myths and culturally-grounded references that don’t make sense today but there are plenty more insights and truths that have stood the test of time that are worth contemplating and living by.
The really good ones can be tough to take in, to examine, to apply to my life. They make me feel uncomfortable and challenge me. It is tempting to use Biblical precepts to judge others. But what about examining myself? How do I measure up to the expectations I am so willing to set for others?
So, let’s turn to James. A good place to start is the verse “Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom.” Citing examples of this behavior from today’s media headlines (a stable genius, anyone?) is too easy. But what about my behavior? Do I set myself up as the arbiter of knowledge and correctness? Do I assume I am always right and the other person is always wrong?
And to go a step further: while I might dislike and protest against a politician’s policies, that doesn’t give me permission to disparage the people who voted for him. And just because a preacher or church may espouse a doctrine I denounce, that doesn’t permit me to speak ill of those in the pew.
It is hard to live up to the standard James sets in verse 18: “You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
God of my being, may I be known for my gentleness, reasonableness, overflowing with mercy and blessings. Not my self-ascribed so-called wisdom.
Monday – February 17, 2020
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,
6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
A Word of Hope
The scripture passage that is appointed for today is The Decalogue or Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20: 3-17, the list of “thou shalt nots…” that define the character and behavior of a Godly person. I trust that I am not the only one who responds much for favorably to positive rules, to things I should do, rather than to those that I shouldn’t or can’t do. The Ten Commandments have always felt more like nagging to me. For this reason, I have chosen to focus on what, in my opinion, feels like the Cliff Notes version of the Ten Commandments, Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-39.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If I am doing as Jesus instructs and am loving the Lord my God with ALL my soul and ALL my mind then I think I have the first three commandments are covered. There will be no room in my heart or my mind for any other Gods or false idols. And when acting out of love, there is no means by which to misuse God’s name, or anyone else’s for that matter.
Stealing, committing adultery, coveting my neighbor’s things, false testimony against my neighbor, and murder can be bundled in Jesus’ command to love my neighbor as myself. Five more of the Ten Commandments addressed.
The other two commandments, Remember the Sabbath Day and honor your father and mother have always puzzled me a bit because they don’t follow the “thou shalt not” format of the other eight. In thinking about this, I wonder if the clarification that I am looking for rests in the placement of these two commandments within the list of ten. In Jesus’ words above, his first commandment to love your God with all your heart…summarizes the first three commandments as presented in the book of Exodus; his second commandment, love your neighbor…, encompasses the final five commandments. The two commandments whose form confuses me are numbers four and five, sitting right between the two groups that I find to be more easily understood. Are keeping the Sabbath as a holy day of rest and honoring our mothers and fathers the means by which we move from loving God to loving our neighbors? Are they the path that leads us to experience agape? Maybe? The possibility seems worthy of some thought and prayer.
What I do know is that many of those claiming to be Christians continually spew forth toxic theology rooted in division, injustice, ugliness, and hatred. They seem to have lost their way, not travelled the entire path which leads from loving their God to also loving their neighbor. If we are going to call ourselves followers of Christ, we do not have the luxury of choosing which words of Jesus we are going to follow and which ones we are not. Jesus is clear as to which commandments he sees as most important:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Loving God, show me the path that leads me to loving you with me whole heart and mind, reveals within me a healthy love of myself, and equips me to extend that love to every one of my neighbors. Amen.
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