Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Power of Trust

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

I've seen creativity shut down in groups plenty of times. 

Someone may come up with a creative idea that is a little too creative.  It seems unfeasible and not realistic for actual implementation.  And so the idea is sneered at, laughed at, scoffed at.  At worst, the presenter of the idea is ridiculed. 

The creative person doesn't add any more to the group process after this point.  Their voice has been effectively silenced.

As group dynamics go, there are certain rules to brainstorming sessions.  One of the primary rules is that when brainstorming, there are no stupid ideas.  Everything, even the most ridiculous, gets written on the board. 

To ease anxiety, we let people know that just because something is written down, doesn't mean that it will be adopted.  Brainstorming is not the time for critique.  It is the time for thinking outside the box.

The great thing about ridiculous ideas is that they may spur thinking toward something different and new that is not ridiculous.  It is just unique.  I've also seen this happen time and again.
Learning to swim takes a lot of trust but the
end result is very rewarding!

The reason that the rule of "no stupid ideas" is so important is that it gives permission to be a little silly.  We can laugh with the person in delight but never in derision at the person.  This creates an atmosphere of trust.  When we begin to trust one another, we pull in a variety of viewpoints.

Otherwise, the loudest voices always dominate because they shut down quieter thoughts.  In a group process using brainstorming, the less vocal participants are given time and permission to share their ideas.  The experience and outcomes are always richer when the entire group enters into the process rather than hearing from only a minority.

This Sunday's gospel reading is a well-known parable for many dealing with the owner entrusting money to the servants.  As you read it over, how does a lack of trust stifle the creative use of the money with the third servant? 

As we continue to examine gratitude and thanksgiving this Sunday, I will be preaching on this parable with the examination of how trust and thanksgiving intertwine.  I trust that you'll join us if at all possible!

In Christ,

Sam
 
Photo by PoolSafely via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Prioritizing Our Lives

Sunday's Lectionary Reading: Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)

I never liked the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.  It feels more like a morality play than a parable.  It has a ring to it of The Little Red Hen or Aesop's The Ants and the Grasshopper.

There is nothing wrong with a good work ethic. 

There is nothing wrong with rewarding effort given.

The apostle Paul even states that "anyone unwilling to work should not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Of course, he is referring to Christians simply waiting on the second coming of Jesus.  They believed that the end was near and yet Paul was practical enough to know that the idle should not rely upon others bending their backs on their behalf if they are able-bodied.

The difference for me in this parable is that it follows along nicely with a works righteousness theology which doesn't always fit with the idea of grace. 

Works righteousness is what we would like to see in the marketplace where work would be valued appropriately.  But it may not be what we would like when it comes to our spiritual lives.  This is because we may have a deep and underlying sense that we could be doing better. 
Okay, I have my moments but I'm not this bad!

I'm often the lazy cat saying, "Not I" when asked to help plant the wheat.

I'm often the grasshopper whittling away my time while others stockpile for winter.

And I'm often the foolish bridesmaid who is looking to my friends to see if they have any oil to spare for my lamp. 

I can easily identify with those who are left on the outside looking in.  It is hurtful imagining Jesus saying to me, "I do not know you."

Because I believe compassion and grace are core components of Jesus Christ, I am forced to look deeper into my interpretation of this parable.  It seems that we are looking at priorities.  For Matthew's gospel, the oil may indeed reflect good deeds.  This parable asks us, "What do we realize spiritually through our participation in good deeds?"  And conversely, "What are we lacking in perception when we remain idle in works for others?"

As we continue to look at thankfulness as an overriding theme in worship, this Sunday I'll be preaching on "The Priority of Thanksgiving" as we look together at this gospel reading.  As always, there will be four opportunities for you to hear it on Sunday morning - and more if you livestream our Facebook feed or watch it later at your leisure.  Trey Witzel will be preaching at the Late Night service at 7 pm and I would encourage you to drop in if you miss Sunday morning!

In Christ,

Sam



Monday, October 30, 2017

A Month of Thankfulness

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV)

We associate quite a bit with November.

Sports fans think about Bedlam which usually occurs during the month and fans of the Cowboys and Sooners usually pay a little more attention to the hype in the upcoming week.

For the shoppers, there is Black Friday, when the retail stores finally get into the black for the year financially.  This usually involves lots of lines, lots of sales, and more than a little bait and switch for the big box stores.

For Oklahomans, pecans usually begin to fall this month and can be collected for some tasty snacking (or pies if you are crafty in the kitchen like my mother-in-law).  I am reminded of these because we have several pecan trees on the church property.

Nature lovers enjoy the fall foliage turning brilliant colors.  The leaves used to change in October but that month seems to be warmer now.  I know because I swam in an unheated outdoor pool more than once within the last couple of weeks.  So November has become the month for seeing all the variations of orange, red and yellow.

Some thanksgiving activities are a little bizarre
but amusing nonetheless!
Aside from all of these things, I think most Americans associate November with Thanksgiving.  Children perform in plays involving pilgrims.  Turkeys abound and we usually feast with family.

Growing up, we spent a lot of Thanksgivings in Houston, Missouri.  My mother's mother lived there and we had all of the usual suspects on the menu: turkey, ham, green beans (hers were better than any I ever had), sweet potatoes, hot rolls (I liked to put the cranberry sauce on mine) and of course, dessert.  Pumpkin pie was always a staple during this holiday with a lot of Cool Whip dolloped on top!

I have pretty good memories associated with all of these things.  I am grateful for my family as they shaped me in important ways.  They taught me gratitude and I try to maintain a grateful attitude. 

This month, we will look at a sermon series on thanksgiving.  Being thankful has all kinds of benefits.  We are happier when we count our blessings.  We are healthier too.  Being grateful deepens your relationships and allows you to go father in your career.  So how do we develop thankfulness?

This month, we will be looking at the gospel of Matthew from the lectionary and this particular Sunday, we will examine how thanksgiving takes humility.  It also happens to be All Saints Sunday (another thing the religious may associate with November) and we will remember our loved ones who have died in the past year.  Our gratitude should extend to these friends and family whom we appreciate and whom we miss.

I hope you'll take the time to join us for worship if you're in town.  We now worship at 8:30, 9:45 and 11 am in the sanctuary and 10:50 and 7 pm in Wesley Hall - five chances to cultivate your thankfulness!  And of course, if you miss them, you can check out our livestream on Facebook which can be engaged at any time.  I'm looking forward to a November where we realize our many blessings! 

In Christ,

Sam
 

Photo by Pinke' via Flickr.com.  I first felt sorry for this poor animal but the photographer claims that the dog actually likes dressing up because he knows he'll get treats.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Presence of God in the Midst of Suffering

I am one who has seen affliction
    under the rod of God’s wrath;
he has driven and brought me
    into darkness without any light;
against me alone he turns his hand,
    again and again, all day long.
                                     Lamentations 3:1-3 (NRSV)

This word from Lamentations speaks not of how we imagine the character of God but of the despair that human beings sometimes feel.  Jeremiah or a prophet close to him speaks of the emotional and spiritual void following the destruction of the capital city of Jerusalem and God's Temple which resided there.  These are words which most human beings unfortunately experience in some form or fashion as none of us escape suffering unless we refuse to love.

I suppose that people who have been hurt may refuse to love others for fear of being hurt again.  Ultimately, our loved ones will leave us as we pass from this life to the next.  It is painful and inevitable.

But when tragedies strike, such as the recent hurricanes or earthquake, we are left reeling knowing that we could have been dealt this tragic blow but somehow escaped.  The recent mass murder in Las Vegas is an unfortunate punctuation of suffering for an already hurting world.

One of the common threads of inquiry surrounding the Vegas shooting is the search for meaning.  Right after it occurred, even though the shooter likely took his own life, we begin to seek out some kind of rationale.  Was he connected with terrorist activity?  Was he a violent person?  Did he have a history of mental illness?  What was his motive?

The flags flying at half-mast
remind us that we are
a people who care for others.
What we are trying to do is to solve the "why" behind this tragedy.  Human beings like order and when someone acts irrationally, it disturbs us in profound ways.  If a grudge against country music fans were somehow determined, it wouldn't change the horrible act but it would allow our brains to cope with it more easily.

As we seek to cope with all this recent tragedy, one of the ways that is common is to disengage.  We try to ignore it and hopefully it won't touch us.  When we do this, we become more akin to the priest or the Levite in Jesus' parable than to the good Samaritan.  Rather, the Christian call is to compassion.  We seek to offer a helping hand to those in need - even if it is just a shoulder to cry on. This is exhausting but we do so because it is needed in a hurting world.  We realize that it could just as easily be us weeping.

As we continue to pray for those suffering - as we continue to give toward those seeking recovery from natural disasters - we become a part of the resurrection story with which we view the world.  We may not understand why tragedies happen but we can understand our response.

Our narrative fits with the author of Lamentations who moves from despair to hope later in the chapter:

I called on your name, O Lord,
    from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear
    to my cry for help, but give me relief!”
You came near when I called on you;
    you said, “Do not fear!”
You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
    you have redeemed my life. 

                                       Lamentations 3:55-58 (NRSV)



Monday, September 25, 2017

World Wide Worship

This summer while traveling, our family worshiped at Southminster United Church of Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  It was not the largest congregation we've ever attended.  In fact, we were 4 of the 34 in worship that morning.

My interest in this particular congregation was our common ties to Methodism and Wesleyan heritage.  The United Church of Canada was formed by merging four Protestant denominations in 1925, one of them being the Methodist Church in Canada. In fact, the United Church of Canada remains a member of the World Methodist Council. Since I am serving on this council in the present quinquennium (and since there are no United Methodist Churches in Canada), I thought it would be helpful to worship there.

It was a nice experience but not so different from small United Methodist churches that I've attended. To be fair, I didn't anticipate the Canadian worship to be drastically altered from what we do in Oklahoma.

A more varied experience was when Kyla and I stopped in to a Methodist Church on St. John's Island back in 2015.  They handed us percussion instruments along with the bulletins when we entered the sanctuary.  We had a good time of island style gospel singing to open worship!  Later in the service, the pastor asked if there were any other clergy in the congregation.  I was one of three present that day and he called us all forward.  I was invited to pray for people in the congregation as was happy to do so. Then I helped him serve Communion to the congregation which was one of my highlights of the trip (yes, but I am called to do this!).

This was not my first experience in praying for people of another congregation.  I have done so in Methodist Churches in South Africa and Mexico.  I can tell you that while our cultures may differ in a lot of ways, our needs in prayer are very similar.

Bishop Hayes is praying for a local woman in South Africa.
Part of the South African experience involved a hike to see The Pinnacle Rock in Graskop, South Africa.  While we were there, some of the local women found out that Bishop Hayes was an episcopal leader and an impromptu prayer service broke out!  Bishop Hayes was glad to pray for them as requested and I took a quick photo.  I think their trip to the mountain top included unexpected blessings!

All of this reminiscing is to remind us that we will be celebrating World Communion Sunday on October 1st.  This is especially moving to me as I imagine Christians all around the globe gathering for this holy meal.  Not all of us get along theologically but we are brothers and sisters nonetheless.  Even though we may have differences, we have far more in common than we would consider at first glance.  This Sunday recognizes our common heritage and faith.  It is rather impressive to kneel at the altar rails while realizing that people are praying in the same way in different languages in a wide variety of settings all over the earth.  Some of the prayers may be of a very different style but the basic content remains surprisingly similar.

I hope you'll find a place to worship and receive this Sunday and remember your brothers and sisters around the world!

In Christ,

Sam

Monday, September 18, 2017

Frustrated by Grace

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 20:1-16 (NRSV)

This may be my favorite parable of Jesus.  It has the surprise or twist ending that is so characteristic of his stories.  The parable hasn't lost any of its difficulty when told to a 21st century audience either.

I still find it vexing.

Most people put think of themselves as having a good work ethic.  And so it is easy to imagine that we would be one of the first people picked on the owner's first round-up.

Field picking is hot, backbreaking work that
would not likely yield generous feelings
if you are perceived as a slacker. 
As the parable progresses, we do not sympathize with the late arrivals but with the people tired from a hard day's work.

When the less than full-timers are bestowed with equal pay, it is shocking because we can easily imagine how we would feel.  It would not be a happy feeling!

As we think about the story, we recognize that this would not be a sound business practice for a landowner to employ on a regular basis.  And so this story must have deeper meaning as it relates not to human practice but to God's economy.

Grace doesn't make sense in an environment where we measure ourselves by our productivity.

So how do we embrace this grace not only for ourselves but in order to give it away to others?

I'll be exploring the idea that we can't fully realize grace until we begin to see it available for others on Sunday as the final sermon in the series, "Full: Finding God's Abundance in our Lives."  I hope you'll join us if you're in the area - maybe we can be vexed together!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Bread for the World via Flicker.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Accountability versus Judgment

Lectionary Reading: Romans 14:1-12 (NRSV)

“United Methodists lead with grace, not with judgment.”

This particular sentence was the first chapter in a series entitled, “What’s Different about The United Methodist Church?” by the former Oklahoma Conference bishop, Bruce Blake.  It came out twenty years ago in 1997 when I was still fairly new to pastoral ministry and many churches across our conference used it in preaching and teaching.

It is an idea with which I agree and would say effectively categorizes the identity of our denomination.  My early childhood years were spent in the Assemblies of God which emphasized holiness to a different degree than most current United Methodist churches. By holiness, I mean seeking right living (righteousness) as a part of being a follower of Jesus Christ.  This is different from self-righteousness which is a separate issue (but a danger or temptation to all who seek right living).  

The particular Assembly of God church where we attended was fairly judgmental in nature which was designed to keep people from sin.  I can remember various times from my childhood when I went home from church afraid for my salvation rather than assured. This is not the healthiest spiritual state for a five-year-old.  I’m not sure the fear increased my faith but it did increase my anxiety.  In comparison, the Assemblies have just as many problems with sin as United Methodists in my experience (or any other denomination for that matter).  Both of us have our share of stout disciples and our share of back-sliders.

I write this to let you know that sometimes my perspective may be reactive to my negative encounters of a judgmental church.  I often err on the side of grace.  I do this so that people may experience the welcome invitation that Jesus Christ offers for the journey of faith we all undertake.  

But one of the real problems of leaning so heavily on grace is oftentimes a lack of commitment.  If there are no real expectations or if the lack of commitment can be easily overlooked or forgiven without any consequences, then real problems begin to develop.

Sometimes the churches that emphasize grace turn Jesus into this nice man who just loves you and doesn't really ask for much in return.  He’s going to pick you up and brush you off and offer an encouraging word.  There are many times I need this and you likely do as well.  But if there is no direction for our life of faith and if we place our commitment level somewhere beneath our other pursuits in life, it shouldn't surprise us when people fall away from the church.  

This is not the kind of accountability I need!
Sometimes we remove all accountability to get away from being too judgmental. Conversely, sometimes we become too judgmental in the guise of accountability.  This becomes difficult as we seek to share God's grace with others.  We want to meet people where they are.  But at the same time, we encourage people to put away their sins.

This Sunday, I'll be discussing this particular tightrope as we continue the series, "Full: Finding God's Abundance in our Lives."  I hope you'll join us if you don't have something better to do (okay, that last line was sarcastically judgy)!

In Christ,

Sam
  

Photo by Wally Gobetz via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Difficulty of Grace

Lectionary reading: Romans 13:8-14 (NRSV)

Over the next three weeks, I will preach a series on the difficulties of God's grace that I've entitled, Full: Finding God's Abundance in Our Lives.

When we discover grace, we find that we have more than enough of the things that really matter.

Grace allows us to move past bitter hurts.

Grace allows us to forgive those who have done us wrong.

Grace allows us to love our enemies.

The difficulty comes when we encounter grace and feel as if we are undeserving.  Of course, this may be a necessary feeling so that we do not begin to take God's gifts for granted.  A little humility is an important ingredient for seeing grace for what it truly is.

With apologies to Wayne and Garth, sometimes our response to the idea that "we're not worthy" is to try to earn our way into God's favor.  We end up incorporating a "works righteousness" theology that will always leave us lacking.

Rather than work to curry God's love, we work in response to the love God has already bestowed upon us.  This may sound like semantics but it is crucial in how we understand the human-divine relationship.

Our work for Christ comes out of thanksgiving and gratitude rather than seeking to gain what we already have.

Gifts are often difficult for us to receive.  And as we look at the Romans passage, we see that we become part of the gift to the world when we seek to act out in love.  Love is not an easy thing or a simple thing.  My own capacity to love others is expanded when I seek God out in my life.
It is okay if we are as "busy as a bee" in our love
for others but it is easier to maintain the pace
when we acknowledge God regularly.

This Sunday will be the first of our new 9:45 am worship service in the sanctuary.  I will be preaching at 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00 am in the sanctuary and at 10:50 in Wesley Hall. Trey will be preaching at 7:00 pm in Wesley Hall as he and Matt finish up the series on the General Rules.  This gives a lot of opportunity for worship!  If you are in the area on Sunday, I hope you'll join us!  If you can't make it in person, you can always catch us on Facebook live or replay it later.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by rumpleteaser via Flicker.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, August 28, 2017

It's One of the Ten!

The upcoming Sunday has sometimes been known as Labor Sunday as a part of Labor Day weekend.  The United States has celebrated Labor Day as a federal holiday since 1894.  It originated as a time when blue collar workers organized for shorter work days and safer working conditions in a time when factory work utilized a greater portion of the work force in this country.

The recognition of the rights of workers pre-dates the urbanization of the USA.  In fact, it is contained in the Ten Commandments given to Moses in the book of Exodus.

Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV) specifically reads:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.  
Of course, not working each day was a novelty in its time.  If people didn't work, they didn't eat.  As we recognized the need for rest from work, we look to a better motivation than "we're tired!"  This particular commandment spiritualizes rest by tying it to God's example.

Interestingly enough, this commandment applies to children, pre-dating child labor laws.

It applies to their slaves, pre-dating the abolition movement.
The old idiom "Let sleeping
dogs lie" is actually part of the
10 Commandments on the sabbath
if you think of dogs as livestock.

It applies to their working animals, pre-dating the Humane Society.

It applies to the foreigners among them which meant that they couldn't go to eat out at a restaurant on the sabbath that was run by someone of another culture.

In other words, this was a sweeping edict which recognized the need for rest of all living things.  The impressive thing is that we see an equality in God's eyes that humans didn't yet apply to their everyday living.  The Bill of Rights extends from this philosophy of application to all people.

As we celebrate Labor Day this coming Monday, let us recognize its origins actually pre-date the founding of our country.  God bids us to rest.  We don't often think of this as a spiritual need but merely physical.  What does the cycle of rest have to do with our spirits?

Is it possible that we are more likely to implement the fruits of the spirit such as patience, kindness, gentleness or self-control if we are well-rested?

As we worship on Sunday, let us consider God's commandment of sabbath and how we can more deeply apply it to our lives!

In Christ,

Sam
        

Photo by Alex O'Neal via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Gates of Hell

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 16:13-20 (NRSV)

Back in the 90's, I was working on curriculum writing for our conference.  We incorporated video clips into some of the worship and this involved the use of VHS tapes. Editing was a lot more time-intensive!
The movie Dracula was a lot more intimidating!

One scene in particular that we used was from the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola film, Bram Stroker's Dracula.  It involved the vampire hunter Van Helsing (played wonderfully by Anthony Hopkins) backing a vampire back into a coffin using a cross and shouting "We are strong in the Lord and the power of his might!"

The idea we used from this clip was the obvious nature of evil in this film.  If we could simply stand overtly against an easily identifiable evil, we would do it.  Yet evil is rarely so obvious.  It is often more subtle.  It comes in the guise of something that will placate our fears or desires.

Evil replaces God on our priority list without us even realizing it.

In the scripture reading, Jesus tells Peter that the Church will overcome evil with the imagery of the gates of Hades or Hell.  We have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  We have authority to bind and loose.

Okay, this last piece seems a little vague.  What does it mean to bind and loose?  If Jesus is speaking of evil, when would there ever be a good time to loose it on the world?

Binding and loosing is likely referring to the binding and loosing of scripture in the world. Rabbinical tradition would bind specific scriptures to modern day situations such as when Jesus told us to turn the other cheek rather than take an eye for an eye.  Scripture was bound to how we respond to violence.  In last week's lectionary reading, Jesus loosens scripture when he spoke of our words defiling us more than the unclean foods that we might consume.

So our responsibility as the Church is to determine how we apply God's Word to the world and specifically how we stand against the evils of this world.

The litmus test I always use is "Does this application of scripture to this situation increase the love of God and love of neighbor in the world?"  Of course, this is from Jesus who gave these as the greatest of the commandments.

As we gather as the Church, we remind one another that "We are strong in the Lord and the power of his might!"

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by patterned via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

God of Grace or Judgment?

Lectionary reading for Sunday: Matthew 15:10-28 (NRSV)

When I saw the video of the car plowing through the crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, it immediately brought to mind the automobile assault my family experienced in Stillwater almost two years ago.  The commonality for these horrific incidents seems to be a loathing of life.

Adacia Chambers was suicidal when she drove her car through the police barriers and into the crowd during the parade in 2015.  Unfortunately, this loathing for life seemed to cast its shadow upon her neighbors as well.

Now, the nation has been witness to another driver with lethal intent.  The motivation for suspect James Fields, Jr. seems to be racial as he has ties to white supremacy and was ramming a counter-protest of those protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Rather than seemingly random, this loathing of life is more focused toward neighbors with differing ideals on race relations.  The hate toward the other becomes stirred up so much inside that you would seek to engage in terrorist tactics and throw your own life away to make a statement.

As we see the nation look to race relations once more, we find Christians on both sides of the argument.  Many white supremacists claim to be Christian.  I know many congregants who have wondered how someone can claim to follow Jesus and hate other people so vehemently.

I took this picture of the Jefferson
Memorial during our recent vacation.
His words* are especially important today.
I believe it is a matter of how one views God.  Is God primarily a God of grace who loves all people?  Wesleyans believe in God's preceding or prevenient grace which reaches out to all humankind regardless of skin color or even cultural ideals.  To embrace this grace is a realization of our own deficiencies and allows us to connect with our brothers and sisters around the globe.  We see that we are all alike.

But if one has the primary view of God as the God of judgment who is measuring each person's worth by their actions, this seems to make one live in a state of fearfulness.  The realization of human deficiency in this equation doesn't lead to a common dignity but rather a sense of worthlessness with regards to people in general.  So instead of responding with a generosity toward our fellow humans, we have no respect for those we deem as worthless.

When you mix racism which is taught and not innate into the mix, you still may hold a faith in God but now you judge others with a fierceness that stems from self-judgment and ultimately self-loathing.

The lectionary reading for the Gospel this week is timely.  Jesus deals with race issues as Jews and Canaanites clash.  Surprisingly, some interpretation may seem to favor the tribalism so associated with white supremacy until we read it in its context with the preceding verses.  As we witness all of the anger and hatred being spewed on the national scene, we realize the truth in what Jesus says, "it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles."

It is important for us to worship and remind ourselves that we worship a God of grace. This ultimately shapes our lives into generous lives that seek to love all our neighbors as we love ourselves.

I leave you with the hymn lyrics from Harry Emerson Fosdick's hymn, "God of Grace and God of Glory."  As the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, Fosdick was a chaplain during World War I and penned the lyrics for this hymn during the Great Depression.

Here is the second stanza:

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

May God grant us wisdom and courage indeed!

In Christ,

Sam



*Words from the Jefferson Memorial:

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish a law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state and on a general plan."
  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Blessing of the Backpacks

2 Corinthians 9:8-9 (NRSV) reads:

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

As it is written,

    “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
         his righteousness (or benevolence) endures forever.”


This Sunday, we will have a "Blessing of the Backpacks" in worship.  We are getting ready to start with a lot of educational endeavors in Edmond following Sunday's service and it is appropriate to recognize God's partnership in this.

Lots of stuff goes into these school backpacks!
Because Wesleyans believe in Sanctifying Grace, we believe that God wants us to further ourselves in knowledge.  By equipping ourselves in this way, we are better able to help those we encounter.  This allows each of us to become more Christlike.  And so, we do this not by ourselves.  We are not isolated in our efforts to improve.  We don't see ourselves competing with one another educationally.  As the Body of Christ, we believe that all people should pursue and receive education.  In this, we see God working with us, helping us along our way.

This Sunday, the Blessing of the Backpacks will remind us of the spiritual help available to us throughout the school year.  Education is sometimes difficult and we often need strength and courage and endurance.  Sometimes we need to relax amidst the pressure to remember what we know.  God helps us with these tasks and we want to recognize this on Sunday.

If you live in the Edmond area and will have a student (any age or level) in your household, I would encourage you to bring them and their backpacks to worship with us this Sunday (8:30, 10:50 or 11:00 am) and we will begin their year with a blessing!

In Christ,

Sam

Photo by Jillian Kern via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Walking in Faith

Scripture Passage: Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)

In 2013, I was leading a small group of seniors at church camp.  The curriculum called for a trust walk where half of the campers were blindfolded and the other half were sighted.  Normally, the sighted campers lead the others around on a flat surface and the blindfolded campers trust that their guides won't lead them into a ditch or a tree or cause them to stumble in some way.

They hadn't made it to the hard
part yet!
Since these were all experienced, savvy campers, I recognized that they had all done trust walks at camp or in youth group before.  In order to convey the point of trust, I challenged them to take the activity to a new level.  The blindfolded were led up a difficult trail up the side of the hill to the cross.  If you have been to Canyon Camp, this was not the normal path that the majority takes to get there.

We came to a chasm that requires you to hug the side of the cliff and to step across. I gave the blind an out and told them that they could take off their bandannas for this part but all of them chose to trust their guides.

Each one of them made it across and eventually took off their bandannas at the cross and felt good about the accomplishment!  The guides took pride in helping them up such a difficult path.  The blind took pride in the trust they put in their guides and in themselves.

This Sunday's passage is the famous passage of Jesus walking on water.  Peter wants to walk out to Jesus and quickly begins to sink.  There is something universal about his experience if we look at facing difficulties.  There are times we have stepped out in faith and felt good about what we've accomplished.  There are also times when we have failed or been insecure and needed God's reassurance and help.  Sometimes they occur simultaneously like they did for Peter!

As we think about the trust walk I mentioned above, this may be a good metaphor for the church.  We all have a need to help one another along life's path.  Sometimes we are the guides and sometimes we are the blind.  But we need each other along the way.  In the midst of all the changes we face, this is one truth that stays constant.  For Christians, we seek to recognize how God is present in this trust walk we are on together.

In Christ,

Sam

Monday, July 24, 2017

Hope for a Glass Half-Full

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:26-39 (NRSV)

"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

We review these famous words from the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28.  They can be daunting when one considers all of the awful things that human beings endure.

We know that all things change and sometimes it is for the better but many times our perception tells us otherwise.

Our human bodies begin to degrade and we spend billions on products to halt this process.  Eventually time wins out and our bodies fail us.  From a Christian perspective, one could take the balcony view on human life and point toward life after death in order to claim that the good would be the heavenly reward.

But getting there can be problematic.  Dementia sometimes takes hold of us along the way from point A to point B and we may rightly critique this statement to ask, "How in the world does Alzheimer's work for anyone's good?"

It is difficult to see the good in many of the
annoyances that life throws at us.  Maybe the
good comes in how we handle them.
In order to preserve the integrity of the Biblical statement, some then claim that the problem lies with the afflicted.  Either some unconfessed sin or lack of faith is trotted out as the culprit for the dementia. What might be a better solution is to admit that Paul is talking in generalities.  We know that when we go with an absolute, we can usually find loopholes in the logic.

I look at Paul's statement and believe that God can work with any awful situation and cause some good to arise.  This is the crux of the crucifixion and the resurrection for me.  I don't believe that God caused the suffering and death of Jesus.  Rather, human stubbornness called for this.  Yet, in spite of humanity's work against God's love in Christ, God shows us that suffering and death do not get the last word.

We are people of the resurrection and this statement of Paul's reminds us to see God at work even in the midst of suffering.  God may grant us the strength and courage to endure hardship and troubles when they come our way.  We see God at work through suffering not as the author but as the rock in the midst of the storm.

This important perspective is one in which we gather together when we worship to remind ourselves of the strength that we have available.  In this, we are working together for good in all circumstances and for all peoples.  Thanks be to God!


Photo by Janet Hughes via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.   


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bondage to Decay

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:12-25 (NRSV)

Paul continues in this week's reading concerning the division of the flesh and the spirit.  It seems as if Paul is really trying to hammer home our reliance on the flesh.  This dependence on the body is quite natural for people since we live within our bodies.  They are our homes.

They have needs that force their attention upon us.

Hunger can pull me out of prayer and pain may make it difficult to concentrate on anything substantial.  Another example might be how the bladders of children or youth shrink exponentially during a sermon (okay, that might speak more about the delivery than about our attention spans).

Our bodies restrict us in their limitations.

When I was starting for my 8th grade basketball team, I thought it would be cool to dunk the ball but my size and my athletic ability limited me.

The year before this, I experienced even greater limitation as I recovered from an Achilles heel injury.   I spent about six months recovering - some of the time on complete bed rest and the remaining time on crutches.  For the times I was unable to even get out of bed, it made me consider what a blessing it is to walk.  Being able to get around independently is something I had definitely taken for granted.  Being unable to get out of bed for any of my body's needs also made me keenly aware of my own dependence on the physical aspect of our lives.

As I get older, I discover that I can no longer eat anything I want.

I require more sleep.

I seem to get sick more often than when I was younger.

I am more aware of bodily break-downs that I previously ignored (or simply didn't happen).

Okay, there are a lot of good caption possibilities here.
I really resonated with Paul's description, "bondage to decay" as I recognize my own body's expanding limitations.  At the same time, being adopted by God must be more than just pie in the sky that we look forward to when this life is over.

I'm wondering if a focus on the spirit may not move us past the flesh but might allow us not to be subject to it quite so easily.  Our culture seems to idolize everything young and beautiful.  While most recognize the shallow nature of this, our desire for a fountain of youth seems to continue to capture our attention.

What if the spirit's leading allows us to incorporate our bodies into our selves without becoming slaves to them?

As I finished this blog post, I was actually thinking of rewarding myself with some ice cream.  Hmm.  Maybe I need to spend a little time in prayer instead.

In Christ,

Sam


Picture by Marla J Aleman via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I May or May Not Be Comfortable with Ambiguity

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:1-11 (NRSV) 

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  This kind of spiritual assurance is helpful as we begin to understand that it is the grace of God rather than any effort on our part that allows us to see our own righteousness.

It is through the incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves right with God.

Each individual may find a different touchstone in Christ with which he or she identifies more than another.  Some may be drawn to Christmas (incarnation) while others may find Easter (resurrection) better defines their relationship.  Still others may find meaning in the disciplines during Lent (suffering and death).  To name it so broadly is to be somewhat ambiguous.

Clarity in communication can be very helpful!
Human beings enjoy certainty.  

If I were to comment, "I heard the woman with the hearing aids," the statement is ambiguous in that it is unclear whether I or the woman use hearing aids.  So clear communication is important.

However, when we entertain the mystery of God, clarity may not be readily available.  

As we deal with God's call upon our lives, it would be nice to have blazing letters in the sky directing us to specific action.  However, the call is likely to be a little more subtle!

Paul becomes a little ambiguous when he states, "if Christ is in you" rather than assuming he is speaking to a congregation where all are "in Christ."  This makes Christians a little nervous as we may think to ourselves, "how do I know for sure if Christ is in me?"

This gets into the doctrine of assurance.  Some speak of knowing the exact moment of your salvation when you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Other congregations are not as clear and Christians grow up in the church with this identity never questioned.

That is, until someone questions it.

Sometimes the certainty with which Christians tout their own strong relationship appears as if they never have any doubts.  This bravado may actually keep people from living with a stronger faith because they assume that their faith is lacking.  It is better to be honest and let people know that due to the ambiguous nature of faith in an unseen God, there will be doubts from time to time.  We will have questions.  Assurance is nice, but it doesn't mean the same thing for each person.

This is similar to the touchstones we may more closely associate with in our own lives - as you think about these attributes, do you more closely identify with incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death or resurrection?  

All are helpful, but it is okay to claim the one you favor.  As we each claim something different for our own relationship in Christ, it is good to allow the variety within the Spirit. This comfort with the ambiguity with how we identify as Christian actually may give us more assurance and certainty within the broader setting as the Body of Christ.

And so we can relax in the Spirit as we join in worship with one another, knowing that we each bring a little bit different viewpoint to the table.  Shared understanding becomes fuller understanding.  That gives me greater assurance after all!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by dbowman2001 via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

One Step Forward...

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: Romans 7:15-25 (NRSV)

A lot of television sitcoms revolve around miscommunication.  Marital conflict seems to be a staple of humor to which most people can relate.  Even single people had parents that argued now and then.

For some couples, this is the appropriate
designation.  But we can learn how to defuse ourselves.
As I was typing pre-marital counseling in preparation for this blog, I mis-keyed "pre-martial" instead of "pre-marital."  For some marriages, "pre-martial" might be a better fit!  Although we prescribe several sessions of pre-marital counseling before the wedding ceremony, it has been mentioned that it might be even more helpful to require a check-in after a year.

After living together for a year, most couples begin to discover their irritabilities.  Usually there has been a fight that has resulted in hurt feelings on both sides.  No one ever plans on repeating this if they can help it!  However, we do end up fighting again even though this is not our preferred way of sharing life together.

And while conflict is inevitable between two people in close quarters, how one handles that conflict is entirely manageable.  I try to lay out ground rules for couples such as keeping their discussion centered around the issue at hand.  Most of us live by the rule that "the best defense is a good offense."  This may work in sports but in a marriage, this is highly unproductive.

If a couple can agree to this rule and keep it, they will find their conflict easier to resolve.

In today's reading, the apostle Paul speaks of doing other than what he truly desires to do.  We have all been in situations where we should have kept our tongues but we let them loose.  How do we retain control of ourselves if our behavior is destructive?

Why do we do that which we know will harm us?

If Paul continues to have difficulties in Christ with his own behavior, what hope do we have?

Paul ends this reading with thanks to Jesus Christ even as he remains mixed in his allegiances.  It seems that our hope lies in the forgiveness we receive but it also may lie in the strength we can have in Christ to change.  It likely won't come in an instant but will take discipline.

And maybe this is why we have difficulty making substantial changes in our lives!  It is easier to revert back to what we know.

At the very least, we can look back and laugh at ourselves as we move forward in this life of faith!



Photo by Mark and Allegra Jaroski-B.. via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I'm Not Tired!

Lectionary Reading: Romans 6:12-23 (NRSV)

Our emotions may hold us hostage when we
don't get enough rest.  Adults like to
pretend that we grow out of this!
The battle cry of every small child told to go to bed is “but I’m not tired!”  It is usually said with great distress as if the bedtime is the cruelest punishment a parent could inflict upon a hapless child.  

If the parent persists with the set time, sometimes the child throws a fit.  This is ironic in that it shows the parent that the child actually is tired and needs to go to sleep.

This is easier to see in one’s child than it is when looking into a mirror.

Sometimes I find myself staying up late for no good reason.  I might be reading articles online, playing a mindless game, watching a television show or movie or reading a book. I can blow past my bedtime because I am an adult.  I am in charge of my own schedule.

Unfortunately, all of the rationale that I tell my children still applies:

     I, too, need my sleep.
     I am more likely to get sick if I don’t get adequate rest.
     I will be crankier the next day if I stay up too late.
     I am more productive when I get adequate sack time.

So why would anyone choose otherwise?

There is not a good reason other than we may have convinced ourselves that we need more “me” time than we are getting.  We have more free time than any previous generation in history and yet we may feel that we are owed more.

Paul is talking about this very thing in this week’s epistle reading as he speaks of slavery to sin. Our slavery is to the self.  We believe that our will is law and heaven help anything that would disrupt this belief!

As we approach another national holiday, you'll hear a lot of words like “independence” and “freedom.” I’m not sure we instill the same meanings into these words that our predecessors from the 18th century did.  But I do know that we have a culture that needs to understand grace.  Maybe more than that, we need to understand a proper response to grace.  I have the freedom to decide how I will respond.  I hope that I’ll rest when I’m really tired!


Photo by Mindaugas Danys via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I'm Done with Sin!

Lectionary Reading: Romans 6:1-11 (NRSV)

Okay, I would like to be finished with sin but it seems to creep back into my life at just the wrong times!  Paul addresses this issue with the fledgling church in Rome within this week's epistle reading.  He indicates that our "old self" is crucified with Christ so that we may not be "enslaved to sin."

What does it mean to be "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus"?

The first vow that United Methodists ask when a person makes a profession of faith is "Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?"

We acknowledge that it is important for an individual to realize that there are forces at work beyond our control.  However, we can control our own actions and we choose to live a different life.

Overindulgence in the self does not lead to life.
Our expectation is not that a person will never sin again.  We understand that temptation will overcome us.  Our goal is perfection in love but it will take a lot of trial and error to get there.

If we overcome sin when we put on Christ, how come it is still so pervasive in our lives?  

What kind of victory is it if we fall prey to temptation at the drop of a hat?

I think that Paul's use of the words "old self" is key for us.  We must recognize a new direction in which we are to walk.  When the self is my idol, God has difficulty gaining a toehold in my life. If I am able to set aside the self and see the world through a different lens, I begin to make headway in my faith journey.

I do not take this to mean that I can never enjoy myself.  It does mean that I shouldn't enjoy myself if it comes at another's expense.

I remember one of the twelve-year-olds I baptized at his confirmation telling his friends that he could no longer participate in their mischief because he was now baptized!  It made a difference in his life and should make a difference in ours.  In the Coen brothers movie, O Brother Where Art Thou, when Delmar is baptized it changes him.  As his cohorts steal a pie from a window, he leaves a dollar in its place to pay for their transgression.  

Delmar is not immune to sin but he recognizes its danger and seeks to overcome it.

As we remain in Christ, this overcoming of sin becomes more and more possible.  It allows us to embrace the life that we are meant to enjoy in the here and now.  If it has been a while since you have worshiped somewhere, I invite you to join with me this Sunday if you are in the Edmond area.  It might just help with a multitude of things!



Photo by Daniel Lobo via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Being a Worthy Host

Lectionary Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:35-10:15 (NRSV)

The part of this passage that used to disturb me was where Jesus told his disciples to "Go nowhere among the Gentiles" as he sent them out.

If the mission of Jesus was only to the Jews, then we, as Gentiles, seem to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God.  For me, this lacks congruence with the overall message of "God so loved the world..."  Of course, the latter is from John rather than Matthew.  However, Matthew also has more universal appeal with the parable of the sower who scatters seeds indiscriminately.

Matthew's is the only gospel that includes the curtain of the temple being torn when Jesus dies which indicates that which had separated us from God is now gone.  The separation of the sheep and the goats in Matthew seems to point more toward morals than it does nationality when looking at righteousness.

And so, it is a little confusing to see the distinction Jesus makes here between Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.

I believe that this has to do with training.

My grandmother always used to have
a piece of pie or cobbler waiting for us
when we came to visit.  I think she
would have understood how to receive
the disciples.
Out of these three groups, which one would have received the proper example of Abraham and Sarah? When Jesus mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, it becomes apparent that this era is being referenced.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah follows the story of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis as two contrasting examples of how human beings should interact with strangers.

The lost sheep of the house of Israel should know the correct way to treat his disciples who are coming with nothing on them but the shirts on their backs.  So this stipulation seems to be for the benefit of his followers rather than a hierarchy of the worthy.

If this is the case, what does it say about the expectations of Jesus for the church today regarding hospitality?

I'm looking forward to unpacking this passage in more detail during Sunday's sermon which is entitled, "You Know What You Are Supposed to Do."
 

Photo by Alan Levine via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

We Know Only in Part

Lectionary Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NRSV)

Paul's second letter to the Church at Corinth includes the benediction from Sunday's reading that features the Trinity in verse thirteen.  The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday and many churches look at the doctrine of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is the Christian understanding of how God continues to reveal God's self to the world.

We come to know God in this way but it is difficult.  Human beings are finite and God is infinite.  Can we truly grasp the infinite?  Not yet.

Paul's own reflection in his first letter to Corinth declares in 13:12b, "Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."  He speaks of when we move from this life to the next gaining insight even as God already understands us completely.

I remember being on a young adult retreat at Canyon in the late 1980's (I was probably about 5) and Reverend Guy Langston was our leader at the time.  He was speaking to us on intimacy with God.  As human beings seek true intimacy with one another, there is never a way for us to truly and completely know one another.  Guy was vulnerable in sharing that even in the most intimate moments between spouses, there is never a way for them to become truly one in that we can never know another's mind completely.

The three-leafed clover is sometimes used to describe
the Trinity with three in one.  If using this example,
one must be clear that this is one plant (like one God)
and not three separate plants (like three separate gods).
This easily slips into heresy if you claim that
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each a third
of the Godhead rather than each fully God.  
We can't do Vulcan mind melds with people.

At the same time, we have this deep desire to be known by others.  We seek to be loved for who we really are. Christianity claims that God does know us and love us for who we really are.

God, in God's infinite capacity is able to do this. We, in our limited capacity, seek to grasp who God really is.

The Trinity is our way of knowing.  It can be somewhat confusing and contains more than a bit of mystery to it.  This is not to be a cop-out but rather an admission to our limits.  And so, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you.


Photo by Gabriel Rocha via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

United Methodist Annual Meeting-Time

Part of being United Methodist is understanding how we relate to the various other United Methodist churches around what we refer to as “the connection.”  This week, many Oklahoma United Methodists will gather for our annual meeting which we often refer to as “annual conference.”  This meeting will include business such as electing officers and approving next year's budget.  We will honor our clergy who are transitioning as we celebrate retirements for those finishing their full-time work as well as commissioning and ordaining those emerging in leadership at the beginning of their careers.  We also will remember those clergy who have died since the last annual conference.

For clergy, our church membership is within the annual conference rather than the local church.  My wife and children all have their membership at Edmond First but mine is within the Oklahoma Conference.  When I retire (some day long from now), my membership will continue to remain in the Oklahoma Conference but I will be required to have a charge membership at a local church somewhere.  This is to ensure that I am remaining active within United Methodism.  We have quite a few clergy with their charge memberships within our congregation and it becomes a gift to the local church as they share their wisdom with us.

Our church has received the New People New Places grant in order to bring on an additional clergy person on our staff.  This grant was established a few years ago by Oklahoma United Methodism's Annual Conference Council to encourage various ministries within our conference to try to reach people within the community that we are currently missing.  A local church is eligible to receive this grant for up to three years.  Because the cost of clergy has risen in the past decade, we are utilizing the grant to bring on a new staff member with the hopes of receiving a declining award for the next two years so that we might take on the new salary more gently as we grow the church.

This means that the pressure on the new clergyperson is to grow the church enough to afford the additional salary.  We also have pressure to receive the grant funding while we move in this new direction.  Fortunately, our church is already healthy and growing so that we anticipate a smooth transition.

We were told that Trey Witzel would be appointed here June 1.  I was excited that our church would be receiving Trey as I served as his mentor through the candidacy process.  I’ve known Trey since he was in Junior High as he grew up within our district at Village United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  We saw each other at various district events including summer camp each year.  Trey recently graduated with his master of divinity degree from Boston University’s School of Theology (a United Methodist institution).  His wife Addison grew up in Edmond and will be working at Oklahoma City University (another United Methodist institution).  Trey served Tewksbury UMC as a student local pastor while in Boston and grew the church from 25 to 55 in worship attendance. 

Addison and Trey were married before they
left for Boston three years ago right
after they finished undergraduate studies
at Oklahoma City University together.
Trey will be commissioned as a provisional elder on Wednesday night at 7:00 pm in the sanctuary of Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  All are welcome to attend and there will be a reception following if you would like to stop by and introduce yourself.  Trey will have a minimum of two years in which he will serve as a provisional member before he is eligible for ordination and full conference membership.  While he is serving in this capacity, he is still allowed to oversee the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion within the bounds of his appointment.  Once he is ordained, he will be able to preside over the sacraments in other locales as well.   

This Sunday will be Trey’s first at his new appointment at Edmond First UMC.  We will also have a reception for Trey and Addison in the Christian Activity Center following worship.  There will be food trucks in the alley which will begin serving at 11 am if you go to the early service. 

We are pleased at how God is leading us into the future.  Many churches are cutting staff positions rather than adding them at this point and so we feel very fortunate.  I hope that if you are in the area (and don’t already attend another church), you will join us as we worship together!

In Christ,

Sam



Monday, May 22, 2017

Adversarial Relationships

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 (NRSV)

At this point in the letter, there is the assumption that suffering and persecution are a part of the Christian life.  It could be that the author is speaking of persecutions directly experienced or of those related by colleagues.  In any event, there seems to be a sense of solidarity in suffering as if it is helpful to realize that you are not the only one in turmoil.

The old adage "misery loves company" helps us to remember that we don't do as well in isolation.

The Christian community works well when it lifts up its various members when they are down.  It does even better when it applies this same helping hand to anyone in its vicinity.  Churches are some of the best organizations at responding to disaster relief. We step up when we see the need staring us in the face.

To be isolated in the midst of crisis is to often face despair.  People working through grief know that it is easier when shared with others.  We instinctively understand that we need to lean on one another from time to time.

The second part of verse 5:8 struck me as it declares, "Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour."  This metaphor is apt.  Human beings have known for millennia that it is easier to get picked off by lions when you stray from the group.  There is strength in numbers - spiritually as well as physically.

All primates are social animals with
the need for interaction and sharing with one another. 
This verse reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.  After God favors Abel's offering, Cain is upset and God states in verse 7, "But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." This particular verse is from the New International Version which makes the metaphor of sin similar to the roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8.

These metaphors characterize evil as a force that is pursuing us.  In order to overcome it, our best defense is to share in the strength of the Holy Spirit which is most often expressed within the Christian community.

What does it mean for us to share in the suffering of one another?  How do we do this without getting dragged down with those in pain?  In other words, how do we lift them up rather than empathizing so much that we are now the ones needing help?

Prayer for the day:

O God, we have known and believed the love that You have for us.  May we, by dwelling in love, dwell in You, and You in us.  May we learn to love You Whom we have not seen, by loving our brothers and sisters whom we have seen.  Teach us, O heavenly Father, the love wherewith You have loved us; fashion us, O blessed Lord, after Your own example of love; shed abroad, O Your Holy Spirit of Love, the love of God and humanity in our hearts.  Amen.

                                  Henry Alford, Church of England, 19th Century


Photo by Aftab Uzzaman via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.