United in a Meal

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 10:14-17 (NIV)

There is something almost unexplainable which happens when people sit down to eat a meal together. As they gather around a table there is a sense of togetherness which permeates the air. The divisions which may exist between them appear to break down. Language barriers are less of a concern. Strangers become connected. Conflicting views are tempered for at least a brief period of time. The sharing of a meal together can strengthen bonds which previously existed and create new bonds where ones did not exist. This is one reason that experts have lifted up the importance of family mealtimes at a table in the home. It is also why meals are incorporated into meetings of heads of state, corporations, and other diverse situations.

Today, we remember Jesus taking a traditional Jewish meal connected to the Passover celebration and using elements of it to create a meal to remember him. The Christian church used these elements from the meal in their love feasts when the church began. Even now, this is a vital part of the practices of the Church and have become a sacrament within the Church. Jesus knew that eating together was something more than just a nutritional activity.

The passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth speaks of the transforming power of the breaking of bread. He reminds the people that in sharing the cup and bread, they are all sharing the same cup and bread. By this act, they are remembering Christ. They also are acknowledging their unity in Christ. It is the body and blood of Christ which unites us as one people.

Next time you sit down for a meal, whether at home or as part of a worship service, think about how this act impacts the relationships of those around the table. If you are sharing in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, remember Christ and the oneness which this meal creates within those who partake.

Acceptance

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:7-13 (NIV)

Frequently in life there develops an “in” group and an “out” group. Those within the special group achieve their membership based upon a defined set of criteria. This criteria can be items such as athletic ability, physical attributes, wealth, or even who the person knows. Sometimes being included may even be based on ancestry. Being part of the “in” group affords a person special knowledge, privileges, and treatment. If a person is a member of the “out” group, animosity and resentment can arise towards the members of the other group. There can be emotional and psychological pain experienced by those on the out. Trying to build acceptance among the groups can be a true challenge.

Reading from the letter to the Roman believers, we can see that there has developed a division among them. This division is based on ancestry and history. The Jews had always been considered as God’s chosen people since the time of Abraham and Sarah. This delineation was due to the events regarding Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away and Isaac became the chosen one to carry forward God’s promises to Abraham. This would begin the lineage of the

Jews, the “in” group. Those who are not part of the lineage were referred to as Gentiles and were on the outside. Paul points out that God did not intend this to be a permanent separation. In Jesus Christ, this division has been eliminated. The believers in Rome are to understand this as part of their belief in Christ and accept one another. Belief in Jesus Christ unites those who used to be divided.

This type of division still exists today in a different way. Too often today the “in” group is considered to be members of the Church. The “out” group are those who are not a part of the fellowship. There is an attitude of being special among those who worship God together. A special set of words and ritual behaviors have been established among this group. A set of criteria has been adopted which must be met to be allowed in the group. There is even an us versus them mentality. 

Like the believers in Rome, we must learn to accept one another and break through the walls which divide us; no longer in/out or us/them but an attitude and behavior of we. Those who are believers must lead the way by reaching out to those who are not currently part of the fellowship. Going outside the walls of a building or the barriers we have constructed through rules and rituals. Accepting people where they are just as Christ accepted us where we were.

Quarreling

14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

22 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:14-26 (NIV)

Disagreements are a common element in human relationships. Different perspectives influenced by different experiences lead to a clashing of ideas and opinions. In most cases, calm discussions can resolve these disagreements. There are a variety of techniques and communication tools which may be employed to bring about a resolution. When people involved in a disagreement are unwilling or incapable of de-escalating the argument, they must seek outside assistance or the situation will have a negative impact on their relationship, their lives, or the lives of others. False information and/or false accusations can easily be the outcome of endless quarrelling.

In the passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul warns against engaging in quarrelsome discussions. He tells Timothy that nothing can be gained through endless arguments and chatter. This type of behavior will only increase the false information which is being spread. Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to try to gently lead those with a different view towards what is correct in God’s eyes.

Within the history of Christianity, there have been many times involving quarrelsome conversations. Splits among those who claim Christ as Lord have happened throughout the history of the Church and continue today. These disagreements and splits also occur among individual communities of faith. At times they are over theological understandings such as Paul lifts up. Other times they are over leadership, financial, and authority questions.

All of us would do well to heed Paul’s words shared with Timothy today. We are better if we avoid being engaged in quarrelsome conversation. This does not mean we do not participate in discussions involving different viewpoints. Paul is expressing the idea of not allowing these discussions to escalate into a quarrel. Gently share our viewpoints with one another and listen to the opposing views with honest sincerity. Be open to understanding why a person may view a situation or concept as they do. Share the reasons you have the viewpoints which you do without demeaning an opposing one. Often the truth exists somewhere in between.

Commonality

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:5-13 (NIV)

Over the years of my life, I have been fortunate to encounter individuals who are not a part of my tribe. For those who may not be familiar with the contemporary use of the word tribe, this word is now used to describe a group of individuals who hold things in common. What is held in common varies depending on the tribe; i.e., ethnic background, career, viewpoint on a subject, leisure activities, faith, etc. I have greatly enjoyed learning about tribes which are different from my own. Often I discover more similarities between my tribe and someone else’s than I ever find differences. There clearly are differences but not as many as the commonalities.

Paul writes to a group of Christ followers located in Rome. Some of these followers were Jews and some were Gentiles. All of them are also facing Jews who are not Christ followers. In the passage today, Paul is addressing the uneasiness the followers are having caused by the combining of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish tribe carries with them the history of being a persecuted group of God’s people, usually at the hands and mercy of Gentiles. In addition, the historical understanding of the Messiah was God would be sending the Messiah to save the Jews. The Gentile tribe carries with them the sense of constant rejection by the Jews and what they see as the arrogance of the Jews who declare they are God’s chosen ones. It is easy to see why there are significant differences between these two tribes of people that can lead to conflict. 

Paul has chosen to address this uneasy division among believers. He calls them all to have the mind and attitude of Christ. He challenges these followers to accept one another in the same manner Christ has accepted them. Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him display an embracing of both Jew and Gentile, continually breaking through the cultural norms to reach out to all. Then Paul uses words from Hebrew Scriptures to show that Jesus came to fulfill the promises God made to the Jews but also God’s plan to incorporate the Gentiles.

We live in a time when tribes of people are inclined to build walls to keep other tribes out. Instead of different views and experiences living in harmony, people would rather divide and conquer. Paul’s words speak loudly to us in the Christian faith. His words remind us that we have commonality in Christ. These words challenge us to adopt the mind and attitude of our Lord. A mind and attitude of acceptance without diminishing our differences. The church gives us a place to practice this so that we can learn to live it with tribes outside of the Christian tribe.

The Power of Music

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 (NIV)

Music is a very powerful communication tool in life. Through the notes, and in some cases the words, a message can be delivered which goes deeper into a person’s psyche than just by using words. Music brings all the senses to life and can trigger thoughts and emotions in powerful ways. A song can unlock feelings which may have been forgotten. Memories can flood a person’s mind when notes and lyrics are heard. There are many recorded instances of Alzheimer’s patients who are able to recall every note and word of a song when the rest of their memory is locked away. Songs and hymns have calmed many restless souls and minds. Music can provide comfort during a time of distress. Music has great power.

Today’s passage comes at the end of a collection of songs included in the Bible. The Book of Psalms is an ancient hymnal. Each psalm communicates the thoughts and feelings of the people of God at different times in their history. The psalm shared here is one of great praise. It calls the people to use loud instruments and dance along with their voices to offer praise to God for God’s acts of power and display of greatness. The song calls on all of creation to use every breath to praise the Lord. Imagery of praise in the throne room of God easily comes to mind from these words.

On this day when people traditionally gather in worship of God, this psalm communicates one way to worship. Through the psalmist’s words, we are called into energized and boisterous praise. Remembering the greatness of God excites us into heartfelt worship of the Lord. The psalmist tells us to use loud instruments and dancing to worship our God.

May you worship your Lord with the energy, enthusiasm, and celebration displayed in this psalm.

Saints Around Us

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Today in the Christian Church calendar is “All Saints Day.” It is the day of the year when we pause to remember all those believers who have preceded us and are now dead. In my faith tradition, we believe that all who have claimed Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and have accepted his forgiveness for their sins are redeemed from their sins by the grace and love of God exhibited by Jesus’s death on the cross. Since a person is redeemed, the person is covered by the righteousness of the Lod and therefore a saint. On this day we acknowledge the example provided through the lives of these saints.

The writer of the book of Hebrews is talking about the examples which we have been given. First, he lifts up the example of those who have preceded us. He reminds us that they surround us with their example and support. This should give us the strength and perseverance to go down life’s path remaining vigilant in our faith and throwing off anything which stops our faith growth. If that were not helpful enough, the writer highlights the example of Jesus who suffered and faced opposition but remained faithful to God and the path of service.

As you proceed through your day today, I encourage you to think of the saints who have been in your life. Think of the saints you have read about in the Bible or heard about from other believers. Ask yourself about the faith examples you have been privileged to witness. What might you learn from these people which may assist you in your faith and life journey? Never forget others have walked this path before and surround you now.  They cheer you along your path and your greatest cheerleader is Jesus Christ, your Lord.

Trust Needed

We live in a time when it seems very difficult to trust anyone. Over the years, trust has been eroded in some key institutions in our lives. People have lost trust in government officials and elected leaders. As we have recently become very aware, there is limited if no trust in our law enforcement and judicial systems. The trust which people used to have in the Church and religious leaders has broken down. Our neighborhoods are no longer considered safe, so we do not even have trust in our neighbors and this is not only in large cities but also small, rural communities. Trust is a very precious commodity which appears to have become extremely rare.

One reason that this is a major issue for society is that trust is at the foundation of relationships. No relationship can survive if trust is not present. Interaction between individuals at any level requires some amount of trust. If this does not exist, then exchanges will be only on the surface and not have any depth or true meaning. Once trust is destroyed, it takes twice as much work to re-establish it, and may not even occur.

The Church has a lot of trust building to do. The distrust began with the revelations of sexual abuse occurring too often at the hands of faith leaders. However, long before that, the Church had failed to live out God’s love to everyone. For individuals who grew up realizing they were part of an unnamed group now known as LGBTQ, they were shunned by the Church, told to repent their sinful ways, and excluded from active participation in the practices and fellowship of faith. If a person was of a different ethnicity than the majority within the congregation, they were often distrusted and marginalized at best. Asking questions was seen as a lack of faith. Instead of being a safe haven for all people, a place to grow and explore faith, and a demonstration of God’s love for ALL people, the Church became judgmental, ostracizing, and a place of abuse. The Church broke the trust of numerous people and only represented pain.

It is time within our society to openly acknowledge our active role in planting seeds of distrust. The Church has the opportunity to be a leader here. Through its own acknowledgment of actions and words leading to people no longer trusting the Church and its leadership, the Church can show the first step in trying to rebuild the trust. Some individual congregations are doing that and shifts are starting to slowly begin at a greater level. This is going to take time and require a much greater effort. Some will never reclaim a trust in the Church but others can be given an opportunity to share their heart and begin healing. Then if the Church becomes a light and example to the world (as it was created to be) we may see changes happen in other institutions and among groups of people.

We need trust because we need relationships and relationships are only possible if there is trust. Let us take the first step in building trust.

Is It In There

One of the areas of confusion among people which I encounter frequently is the number of items individuals accredit to the Bible but are not actually written in Scripture. An example is, “God helps those who help themselves.” This phrase is recorded nowhere in Scripture but instead is a popular statement based on the interpretation of various passages. Some Christians argue that it even stands against the concept of grace which is prominent in our understanding of God. As a line from Kermit the Frog’s song, Rainbow Connection, reminds us, “Somebody thought of it, and somebody believed it, and look what it has done so far.” Unfortunately, because this type of confusion prevails, too often people get a very inaccurate perception of God and God’s expectations.

The Church has unwittingly, or at least I hope it has been unwittingly, propagated this confusion. What I mean is that the Church has established rules which the leadership has determined are beneficial for the well-being of humanity. These rules are based upon the Church’s interpretation of Scripture at a specific time and place within its history. Some of these rules truly are beneficial and should be followed to the best of one’s ability. However, some rules over time have changed as the Church reexamines Scripture and determines a change in interpretation is in order. Since we understand that the Bible is the Living Word, and we know that the Spirit continues to reveal God’s truth in the world, this change of interpretation is in order. Just as science continues to discover new understandings of creation, the Church discovers new understandings of what God’s message was and is now.

The key here is that people take the time and make the effort to differentiate between what is in the Bible and what is a rule that the Church has established because of an interpretation of the Bible. It is also very important to understand the context in which the rule is adopted. The reason that all this is important is because we know that our interpretations of Scripture are not absolute. They are the best understanding of God’s humanly recorded interaction with humanity at a certain time and place. These interpretations give us some insight into the nature of God and how we are to respond to God. Yet as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other great reformers of the Church have shown us, these interpretations need to be reviewed, revisited, and reformed.

Next time someone tells you that you should or should not do something because this is what God wants, make sure that you clarify whether it is truly in the Bible or if it is someone’s interpretation of the Bible. The Spirit will guide you in your interpretation at that given moment and your response to God.

Awakening The Force

I am a huge Star Wars fan. I vividly remember when the first movie came out (Chapter 4 – A New Hope). It was the summer before I entered Junior High School. The first time I saw it was with my sister, brother-in-law, and infant nephew at a drive-in theater. That same week my brother-in-law and I would go to see it again but this time in an indoor theater. Chapter 4 through 6 will always be my favorite of all the Star Wars films. I have all the films on DVD except the most recent one which came out last year.

For my birthday this year, my youngest son gave me The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. So during this period of isolation, my husband and I decided to watch both of these movies. I love seeing some of my favorite characters once again, although they look a bit older. I was sad when Han and Luke died. As I watched these movies, I was reminded of the connection which others have made between the “Force” and the Holy Spirit. You can find endless books and articles which discuss the connection of themes between the Star Wars movies and the Christian faith. Intended, or not, they are strongly visible.

The title of Chapter 7, The Force Awakens, triggered in my thoughts the awakening of the Spirit in our lives. In this movie, we see one of the main characters becoming aware of a power within herself. The Force is always present. It runs through everything in the universe. Some individuals have an ability to harness the power of the Force and are trained how to understand it and use it. These individuals became known as the Jedi, an elite group which is called upon to overcome the evil actions of some leaders who take over the universe’s governing system. The Force has two sides, the good (or light) side and the dark (or evil) side. Here sets up the continuous battle between good and evil.

The character which I mentioned above, always had the power of the Force within her. In reality, the Force does not awaken but instead her awareness of the Force is what awakens. She is confused by the newfound abilities which she seems to possess. Only by conversations with one of the rebel leaders who has this awareness and with one of the Jedi Masters does she begin to truly understand this power and how she can use it to fight against the evil leaders.

Looking at this from the perspective of Christian faith, there are similarities between the Holy Spirit and the Force. But there are also some dissimilarities. Like the character from the movie, we must become awakened to the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Unlike the Force in these movies, the Spirit’s power is not limited to an elite group. Instead, the Spirit’s power is available to all people. Another similarity is that our awareness to the Spirit’s power must be awakened. This awakening can occur in a variety of ways but most common is through discussions with others who are aware of the power. Often the characters who are called upon to use the Force in dramatic ways are resistant at first and tend to want to rely upon their own abilities and the traditional methods. Individuals usually respond the same to the power of the Holy Spirit because the reality of this power is unnerving to us.

I wonder what would happen if more people were awakened to the power of the Holy Spirit. What if we had a group of individuals who used this power to strive for good within the universe? What if a group used this power to change the lives of others in a positive direction? Would we call them Jedis, or would we give them a different name? Would there people who would take the time to train them to use this power effectively and trust in it? Wait….. this may already exist. Could it be that we call this group of people, the Church? Could it be that there already exist individuals who we call pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, vacation Bible school leaders, and elders instead of Masters?

It is time that we awaken the awareness of the force, the Holy Spirit. Are you aware of the Force within you? How are you utilizing the Spirit’s power in your life? How are you sharing this awareness with others?

Most Important

Those within the Christian faith (and those who are not) have just celebrated the holiday of Easter. For Christians, this celebration is one which remembers the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. This day marks the end of a week which has become known as Holy Week. Holy Week recalls significant events Including:

  • Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem which turns into a procession with palm branches
  • Jesus’ final meal which Jesus has with the closest of his disciples
  • Jesus’ arrest by the temple guards, his “trials” before the religious leader
  • Jesus’ appearances before Pilate and Herod
  • Jesus’ crucifixion and death
  • Jesus’ body being placed in a tomb

For non-Christians, this celebration focuses solely on the Easter Bunny, hiding Easter eggs and all types of sweets and candies. Christians also take part in these fun activities. Our Jewish brothers and sisters also celebrate Passover which is significant in the Christian history as well.

The other significant celebration which is shared by Christians and non-Christians is Christmas. The Christian focus is on the incarnation of God in Jesus. Non-Christians focus on Santa Claus. Jews celebrate Hanukkah around the same time as well. A majority share in the giving of gifts, festive decorations, Santa Claus, and family gatherings.

As a Christian leader, I have wrestled with how our traditions and actions deal with both of these holidays which are significant celebrations of events in our faith. I would argue that Christmas appears to be much more important to us than Easter. Looking at the preparation, the amount of gatherings, the type of decorating, and the amount of money we spend on Christmas, our behaviors give this indication.

On an emotional level, I get it. Celebrating a birth is much more uplifting and exciting than acknowledging a torturous death followed by the foreign concept of a full, bodily resurrection. The time of the year may also have some influence. Christmas is celebrated around the winter solstice which is a very dark, and in many parts a very cold, time of year. We all need something to lift our spirits and give us hope. Easter is celebrated in the early part of spring when we are seeing new life and warming temperatures, so we already are experiencing a renewal of hope.

On a theological level, I think the emphasis is backwards. While the incarnation of God is truly amazing and unique to Christianity, and while birth has to be necessary in Jesus’ story before the events around Easter can even happen, the impact of Jesus’ death and resurrection has much greater significance in our faith, life, understanding of God, and life after death. Without Easter, Christmas would be just a celebration of another human birth. Easter gives us the basis of the Christian faith. The message of Easter will be what Peter proclaims during the Jewish Festival of Passover which is considered the birth of the Christian faith. The message of Easter is an outward demonstration of the love and grace which only God could provide.

I realize that economic and traditional behaviors will not be altered by my thoughts here. I can only hope that for those who acknowledge their belief in the risen Jesus, the Christ, it will cause all to pause and examine the behaviors. Maybe even work to bring the level of our Easter celebrations up to the minimum of our Christmas celebrations.