Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 37

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 10

We have here a break in tone which seems to be a different letter.  At the very least, Paul picked up his writing after taking a break from the previous letter.  When the letters of Paul were copied, there could have easily been various pieces of correspondence that all got copied into one parchment for simplicity's sake.  Unfortunately, we don't have any of Paul's original manuscripts.

Is this how the opposing
apostles saw Paul?

Earlier in 2 Corinthians 2:4, Paul states, "For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you."  Some have postured that starting with chapter 10, this is the painful letter referenced earlier.

We definitely see the tension within the early church.  What would it have been like to be Christians in Corinth?  It would almost seem like you were in a tugging match between these authorities who keep visiting you.  Each one is claiming to have the truth.  

We can see that Paul's opponents are not afraid to slander him in his absence.  This is not surprising as he has been treated even more harshly in person throughout his ministry. 

Paul reminds the Corinthians that he was the first to reach them with the "good news of Christ" as he is a missionary willing to reach the Gentiles.  Of course, Paul's stance is that the Gentiles do not need to be circumcised or practice the dietary laws of Judaism in order to share in the faith of Christ.  History shows us that in time, Paul's point of view became the orthodox position.  I think this was because he didn't treat the Gentiles as second-class Christians.

As we consider our own authenticity during Holy Week, we might think about our own humility.  It takes humility to raise up Gentiles as equals.  But the humility of God who came to us as a human being is also a part of our faith tradition.  How can we offer faith to people without seeing them as less-than?

Prayer for the Day:

Eternal God, you shunned the infinite for the temporal and limited.  You humbled yourself as a human being that would know rejection and pain and death.  Help us to see where our fears of these very things keep us from being an authentic witness.  Strengthen our love so that we might have the courage to be vulnerable.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 36

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 9

There is a fundamental joy
in sharing with others.

We are continuing in Paul's laying out the Christian responsibility for financially supporting the mission.  As we look at this particular part of his letter, we can see that not everyone was likely on board for sharing in this gift to be delivered to Jerusalem.  Anytime, you feel the need to remind the hearers that this is a "voluntary gift" rather than "extortion" is a good litmus test that not everyone is on board!

Pastors may have overused this text for stewardship sermons and emphasized the phrase, "God loves a cheerful giver."  Of course, it is equally valid theologically to say that God loves a grouchy miser but this may not open the checkbooks quite as effectively!

As I think about my own stance, I am what you would call fiscally conservative.  I don't like to spend money frivolously and there are lots of stories about me being cheap.

Once when Sheryl and I were dating, we were at a cheap theater with some of her family members.  They were looking at getting some snacks and I noticed that they had free refills on the large popcorn bucket and Coke.  I showed them the seven straws I had procured and convinced them this would be the most economical deal.  I think Sheryl's younger cousin was unfortunately on the end and was the one we kept sending for refills.

Somehow, I managed to convince Sheryl to marry me anyway!

While I do like to be thrifty in how I spend my money, I have always cheerfully written my check to the church for our tithe.  Because we are a two-income household that tithes, we have always been one of the larger giving units in the congregation.  I do not begrudge this giving because I see it as a part of our mission to fund God's work in the world.  Just as the mission needed funding at Jerusalem, I have been happy to support works both near and far through the church.

If I think about spending that money on myself, I doubt if my lifestyle would have changed all that much.  I can honestly attest that "the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."  I don't use this as a prosperity gospel where our gifts become an investment.  Rather, I believe that as I sow good cheer in my life through my giving or through other endeavors, I reap the harvest of that same good cheer.  

And I think the world could use some more cheerfulness, don't you?

Prayer for the day:

Blessed God, we give thanks for all of the gifts we have received in this life.  As we examine our lives, we find that blessings abound.  May we trust in this promise.  And help us to sow goodness and generosity and kindness.  Grant us the foresight to look forward to this harvest!  In Christ's name we pray.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 35

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 8

If this is what the preacher starts to 
look like to the parishioners, the
effectiveness starts to really drop!
Here we can see one of the earliest stewardship drives in the church.  Paul seems to be indicating that the church at Corinth may be better off financially than some of the other churches in the Mediterranean.  Corinth, as an important port, may have been a wealthier city and the church there may have had wealthier members.

There may have been questions about why Corinth had already given more than these other places and Paul is trying to show them that it was balanced with their ability.  As we look at percentage giving, if a person making six figures gives 10%, they would out-give in sheer volume someone making five figures who also donated 10%.  However, the person making five figures would likely find it impacting their lifestyle more.

Paul utilizes the idea of Jesus Christ becoming poor for our sakes.  We see here the concept of the eternal nature of Christ which stretches both ways in time.  The idea that he was at first rich indicates his heavenly glory prior to becoming mortal.  John's Gospel will later expound on this theology in the beginning of his telling.  But Paul relates to us how Jesus was willing to give up all for our sakes and how we should then be willing to provide the same for others.

This may have been as difficult in Paul's day as it is in ours.  If a person feels a disconnect with the ministry, it is much more likely that this person's support will wane.  But if they hear the story from the visiting missionaries from time to time, they are more likely to feel engaged.  Titus and other "brothers" are regularly making the rounds to the churches to keep them engaged in the mission.

As we think about this, would we even have the faith that comforts us today if they had not made these journeys and asked for support to expand the mission?

Today, we have some of the same difficulties.  Churches everywhere are trying to stay engaged with congregants during a pandemic.  We try to communicate the message in different formats and reach those who are unable to join us physically with varying results.  What might be effective for some - where they feel connected - may feel distant for others.  Fortunately, we are hopefully seeing the light at the end of this tunnel!

As things continue to change, how will we fund the ministries that will reach the generations to come?

Prayer for the day:

Generous God, we do understand that riches come in a variety of ways.  Some people who have great financial wealth may be impoverished spiritually.  Connect us with your mission once more so that our sense of purpose gives us greater peace.  May we see where our own generosity is connected with transformation.  We pray these things in Jesus' name.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 34

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 7

As we have seen Paul's afflictions in the previous chapter, we get the sense that God has helped alleviate them - at least helped to make them bearable.  

How does God accomplish this?  Certainly through various means but here Paul shows that God is actually working through the Corinthians in order to lift Paul's spirits during hardship.  In verse four, Paul writes, "I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction."

When we are trying to be change agents - and certainly, this was a change in the way many people came to know God - there is often great resistance.  For the most part, people are not excited to have you change their way of thinking.  They will often punish the inciter of the change and this often happened to Paul.  This work can be discouraging and this was likely happening to Paul in Macedonia.  Then he hears from Titus about the church at Corinth and his discouragement turns to rejoicing.

For Paul, leaving a new congregation must have been like turning over the keys to the car for the first time to a new teenage driver.  Before, you have always been in the car with them, tamping on imaginary breaks in the passenger seat while you suck in your breath and tell them to "SLOW DOWN!!"  But eventually they get their own license.  They have passed all the tests.  Are they really ready?  Only time will tell but we have to trust them to try.  When they come back from that first drive alone and the car is undamaged, we feel pride and some measure of relief and there may be some joy.  

The faith that lived in Paul has taken root.  It has sprung up in others and they did receive his disciple Titus with hospitality and anticipation just has he had hoped.  When we are vindicated in our hope, this is a cause for celebration and it does lift us up.  And we may think, the present troubles we are enduring are all worth it.

How are the seeds of faith being sown in the generation to come?  Are we trusting others to lead in ways that will provide enough risk for them to either succeed or fail?  As we think back to our best learning experiences, they may have been accompanied with a little fear and trembling.  But as we understand God to be with us, we often find that these are the lessons that stick with us the best.

Prayer for the day:

Living God, we give thanks that you continue to trust human beings and that you have specifically trusted us.  We are grateful for the times we have been able to step up and share your grace with the world.  And for those times, we have stumbled in our sharing, forgive us.  We give thanks that we can learn from our failures as much as from our successes.  May our achievements in the faith give pride and joy to those who led us along the way.  In Christ's name we pray.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Friday, March 26, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 33

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 6

Paul is pushing on toward salvation in Christ for the Corinthians.  He quotes from Isaiah 49:8 which reads in its entirety:

Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages;

The idea of God giving Israel as a covenant to the people is a strong theme in Isaiah and also becomes the narrative for the people following Christ.

I've always found going uphill 
is easier with friends.
Paul holds onto this mission as he lists all of the things he has endured through verses 4 and 5.  Many of that day might look at all of these things and ask, "Are you sure that you are doing God's will?"  

Paul's faith is an optimism that allows for suffering in the world and may even expect it.  But Paul's faith transforms suffering.  Paul sees hardships through the lens of faith in Christ as opportunities to show others how they too can overcome suffering.  

The challenge for us comes when Paul speaks of his love being wide open without restriction for the Corinthians.  But he also acknowledges that this affection may not be reciprocated.  

Have you ever loved a child that was angry with you?  In our most immature moments, we may yell back if they have hurt our feelings with a particularly effective barb.   But at our finest, we don't regress to that level and continue to remain calm and offer love and guidance.  Paul references this image as he states, "I speak as to children" and implores them to "open wide your hearts also."

It is important for us to remain open hearted to those who may not be at the same place.  This is a characteristic of Christians and our interactions may give us our own list of hardships and endurances!  

Paul's letter takes a turn here to speak of marriage with a non-Christian through 7:1.  Then it picks back up where verse 13 left off in 7:2.  Some scholars think that this was a fragment from another letter that was inserted here.  It seems to refute what he said to them earlier in 1 Corinthians 7:14: 

For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband.

Paul finishes with words from the Hebrew Bible.  The material seems to be a mashup of Leviticus 26:12, Ezekiel 37:27, Isaiah 52:11 and 2 Samuel 7:14.  

Why the seeming switch in thought?  Possibly, the community during his earlier letter was not large enough for marrying within the congregation.  As the church began to branch out, it also might be difficult for a fledgling faith to hold onto its identity if there was a lot of pagan thought influencing the church through multiple spouses that believed otherwise.

Today, we do not prohibit marriage with non-Christians.  For this we tend to rely on the earlier thought of Paul rather than the latter!  Maybe this is the way that we are opening wide our hearts today!

Prayer for the day:

Blessed God, we give thanks that you live in us and walk among us.  You are our God and we are your people.  Help us to remain faithful to you no matter the hardship.  May our suffering be transformed so as to remove any obstacles that would cause someone to stumble.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 32

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 5

For some people, this is 
more like the image of God
to them - waiting for them
to mess up and then striking
them down.

What does it mean to stand before the judgment of God?

Paul gives us this image of our souls being swept up to heaven when our earthly bodies fail us.  But while we may have been worried about appearing before God and being found wanting, we find that we are reconciled to God in Christ.  Yet the image of judgment doesn't leave us but Paul shifts it to our appearing "before the judgment seat of Christ."

Is this a softer judge who will be easier on us or is this out of the frying pan and into the fire?

I think it may depend upon how we have used these earthly bodies we have been given - or at least that's what Paul seems to indicate.

Much of the time, when we talk about justification by faith, we have often substituted belief for faith.  In other words, our salvation becomes an idea that we must hold in our heads and our hearts.  If we but claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then all is forgiven and the doors to heaven swing wide for our entry!

But there is a little more to faith than just belief.  Faith leads us to growth in love.  Love leads us to reconciliation with God but also with others.  Faith allows us to infuse the earthly with the spiritual.  We see with eyes of faith and this allows us to find hope where none existed before.  Faith allows us to forgive where any fool can see that we should be holding a grudge!

This faith is what allows us to become a new creation in Christ!  And so we would have others to know this faith in Christ because it is life giving.  And as we are reconciled to God in Christ, we understand that the heavenly life doesn't really start when we die but it begins as we take on this faith for ourselves.

And so as I begin to look around and think, "Who do I know that needs some reconciliation in their lives?" I then have truly adopted this faith for myself because I have become an ambassador for Christ.

Prayer for the day:

Beneficent God, we give thanks for the grace we have difficulty comprehending.  Help us to be transformed in gratitude.  If there be any hurts or wounds that remain in our lives, close them up and knit them together.  Let us not be afraid to look upon or touch the scars but to know that these make up who we are today.  May we see how they make us strong in the faith and able to offer this grace more freely.  We pray these things as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 31

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4

Some things we encounter
are more permanent than others.
How do we understand ourselves in the midst of trouble and turmoil?

As Christians, how do we define ourselves and how do we understand God at work among us?

During every age, we may redefine our identity depending upon the circumstance.  Certainly in the midst of the pandemic, we have faced the greatest pause in the life of faith within our lifetimes.   Those rural areas have not quite faced the same kind of pause that urban congregations have faced simply because the caseloads in these places have been so dissimilar.  But even in these places where worship has continued fairly untouched, there have been members who have refused to attend in person and so the gathering has been diminished.

Within Paul's day, he sees his own afflictions as serving the greater good.  Their purpose becomes to glorify God and so it allows the one who is suffering to come to terms with the pain.  Paul writes of our bodies being as clay jars containing treasure.  The vessel containing the treasure is temporary and wears out but that which it holds is eternal.  

The pandemic has reminded us of our own mortality.  It has served our world almost like a prolonged Ash Wednesday service telling us, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."  But even as we understand our mortal nature, we also hear the words of Paul telling us, 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

As we go through physical affliction, we are reminded of the suffering of our Lord.  We see that God has solidarity with humanity in Jesus Christ.  This allows our "inner nature" to be "renewed day by day." 

Even as we mourn those we have lost, we take heart in their "eternal weight of glory beyond all measure."  

We take heart because while things will not return to exactly to how they were prior to the pandemic, the important pieces of our lives will surely endure.  Our faith will strengthen because of what we have endured.  I believe that this is what Paul is celebrating in today's reading.

Prayer for the day:

Eternal God, we grow tired of our lessened public life.  We are weary of conflicting views about it.   We long for relationships without second guessing either their safety or their anxiety in gathering.  Yet, we give thanks that in all of this change, you walk with us.  Help us to see one another as gifts once more.  And as we take heart, may we find that as we are uplifted, this renewal gives you glory.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 30

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 3

As we read Paul today, it is important that we understand that he was having an intra-faith argument rather than one faith critiquing another (as it is often seen today).  Christianity was still viewed as a Jewish sect within Paul's day and it was definitely from a minority position as Paul wrote it.

Today, with Christianity being the majority and with the kind of persecution we have seen against the Jewish people (such as the Holocaust), it is highly important that we see Paul's words within the context of which they were written.

If we said today that Judaism kills while Christianity gives life (verse 6), it would likely be lifted up as hate language.  However, Paul never saw this as anything but a Jew who has a new revelation of the Messiah informing other Jews by utilizing the same faith.  There was always a Jewish understanding of being a light to the nations and Paul sees himself within this tradition.

As he speaks of the veil of Moses, he is talking of where Moses speaks directly with God and it causes his face to shine.  Exodus 34:35 states, "the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again."

Karl Barth said to "Take your Bible and take
your newspaper, and read both.
But interpret newspapers from your Bible."
Paul uses this story to say that when we are in Christ, the veil is removed or the glory of God is revealed.  It is one way of saying that as Christians, it is important for us to look through the lens of Jesus Christ.  The old question, "What would Jesus do?" should actually be key for us as we consider our interpretation of any Biblical texts as well as our responses in life.

This question actually relates to my opening response to Paul.  As we have become the clear majority and hold power over minority religions, I believe that Jesus would have us tread with caution as he calls us to love our neighbors.  The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that it is not always the supposed religious superior that follows through with action regarding the will of God.

So as we move through Lent, where do you perceive that you have power over another?  How do you use the lens of Christ to shine a light upon this relationship?

Prayer for the day:

Mysterious God, I find that you draw me into deeper relationship with you constantly.  A lot of the time, I believe that I'm trying to draw closer to you with the prayers I pray or the scripture I read.  Help me to understand the difference and to see that my actions are a response to the grace I receive.  May this spill over into my relationships with others.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 29

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 2

Here we see the maturity of Paul even in the midst of his insecurity.  Whenever we have conflict with others, it may be that we want to cut off emotionally from them.  It is easier to write them off and justify our (possibly hostile) responses to them as deserved.

This comes out of a "there's plenty of fish in the sea" mentality.  Another way of thinking about this is, "life's too short to spend time with jerks."  

But as we come from a resurrection faith that prides itself on reconciliation, Paul understands this as key to his mission.  And so, he doesn't cover over the "painful visit" and the damage done.  He recognizes it and bids those who were damaged by the conflict to forgive the perpetrator.  This is not necessarily easy for them to do because, unlike Paul, they were living with this person.  What if he does it again?

But as we see a different kind of community in Christ where sins do not disqualify one from participation, Paul writes in verse eight, "So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him."

For the Christian, it is important for us to see forgiveness as a tool of resurrection faith.  Practical mercy is in fact the epitome of resurrection.  The relationship under conflict may have indeed died.  As I forgive, the relationship may spring up into new life.

This idea of giving wings to our faith has been lifted up for centuries prior to Paul by the prophets and he continues in this important tradition.  He concludes the chapter by reminding us "we are not peddlers of God's word" but "in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence."

We bring the presence of God when we offer forgiveness.  This idea reminds me of Jacob's words to his brother Esau after Esau graciously received Jacob in Genesis 33:10, "for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor."

How can we embody the presence of God?  How do we overcome the pain of conflict and offer forgiveness?

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, we have been wounded by strangers and friends alike.  Help us not to see ourselves as weak and put upon but tough and hardy.   It is in Christ that we can find strength to offer forgiveness.  Let the healing that comes from this forgiveness touch us and touch the offender.  May it be transforming so that we experience resurrection here and now.  In the name of Jesus, who forgave those who harmed him, we pray.  Amen. 


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 28

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 1

Sometimes a disagreement can 
distract us from moving forward.
We can see further conflict between Paul and the church at Corinth as we read between the lines of this letter.  To me, it seems miraculous that any of these letters survived.  It shows that there would have been differences of opinion on Paul within the church itself.  He must have had his proponents or these letters would never have been copied and sent to other churches (and we wouldn't be reading them today).

Paul does address his detractors.  It seems that he was accused of vacillating on being able to visit them in a timely manner.  As we think about travel conditions in that day (and the fact that Paul survived being shipwrecked) combined with his propensity for being put in jail, it was a wonder that he could make it through at all.  

What I'm struck by in this opening chapter of his second letter is the first part of verse 20:

    For in (Christ) every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.”

This is an incredibly positive statement in the face of the aforementioned troubles that Paul had encountered.  It is especially difficult to make when facing detractors.  If one doesn't stay connected in faith to Christ, doubt can creep in and make one second-guess his or her spiritual leadership.

The difficulty with detractors is that they tend to focus on the negative.  If everything is colored by the person's rejection of you, nothing is acceptable because of the initial bias.  It is hard to move forward in a positive manner.  

Yet we see that as we continue in Christ as Paul does, it allows us to maintain relationships and find a way forward together.  As we remind ourselves of the "Yes" we have in Christ, this allows us to see the future can overcome any current crisis or conflict.

As we move forward in Lent, it is important to stay grounded in the life of Christ.  This means that we are open to being in relationship with all people.  At the same time, as we move forward as Paul does, we must be able to move forward in mission regardless of the detractors.

Prayer for the day:

Loving God, give us strength for the day.  Help us to overcome the negative attitudes and remember that in Christ, we have a mission that moves us forward.  May we offer peace to those who are dismissive but at the same time, may we not be paralyzed by them.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 27

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 16

Paul ends his letter to Corinth by reminding them of their commitment to pay their apportionments collection to their organizing body in Jerusalem.

We see in verse eight that he's writing this from Ephesus.  Of course, we have the later letter to the Ephesians which reminds us of the fruit from the various journeys of Paul.  We also see in Acts that he intended to travel through Macedonia.

I do like how he lets them know after sending the instructions in this letter, "I hope to spend some time with you" which could be seen as a promise or a threat!  He might as well have said, "I hope you have these problems wrapped up by the time I arrive.  I'll be taking note!"

His concern for Timothy's reception reminds us that the conflict within the early church was ever-present.  As we think about the issues we may have in our 21st century pandemic congregations, they might be downright serene in comparison to Paul's experience.  

Nevertheless, verses 13-14 continue to apply to us today: 

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

The network of people that Paul knows and employs for the work in Christ is helpful for us to remember that we are a part of the modern network of people that work in Christ.

As we move through Lent, the work that you once did may not be available to you right now.  What kinds of things do you hope to resume?  Is there work that God may be nudging you toward while you wait?

Prayer for the day:

Everlasting God, as we consider the names and places that were a part of the early church, we recognize that our history is broad and long.  We give thanks for all of those who kept the faith even through trial and temptation.  We pray for the church today and for those who will follow us.  May our actions lead others in this faithfulness.  In Christ we pray.  Amen. 


Photo by Jon Olav Eikenes via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 26

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15

We have lots of ways that we tell
about the Resurrection.
Paul moves into his theology of the Resurrection in this chapter and we see the earliest known writings about the risen Christ.  He recounts the resurrection stories in verses 3-7, giving scant details.  He merely references the post-crucifixion appearances that must have been expounded upon when he was with them last.  

We have more than one story in the Gospels of Jesus' appearance to Peter (Cephas) and the twelve.  We also have multiple accounts in the Book of Acts of Paul's encounter with the risen Lord as well as from his own words in Galatians.  The appearance to the 500+ is unknown although some scholars have postulated that this may be the story of Pentecost where 3000 people were baptized.  

We don't have any stories about his appearance to his brother James and this would be helpful as James seems to have become the head of the church in Jerusalem.  The earliest stories of Jesus' family have them trying to rein him in as seen in Mark 3:19b-21:

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.  When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

A few verses later, we have this encounter in 31-35:

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” 

Neither of these stories would be seen as favorable to any of Jesus' biological family as heirs to Christian leadership.  If Mark was indeed a disciple of Paul's, it may be that these accounts would solidify the authority of those outside his genetic brothers.  It is not that he would have made them up - anyone with a family would have stories of conflict among the family - and these are not terrible and would not prevent James from leadership.  But there may have also been favorable stories between Jesus and James that didn't get written into the gospels.

The fact that we have these accounts about James and then see his own rise to authority in the church allow us to further understand the power of the resurrection.  

As you think about your own family, are there your own stories of conflict among siblings or others?  Can we put on imperishability and offer grace?

As Paul writes, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, we read Paul's words about the resurrection and the life to come and we may have more questions than answers.  Help us to trust in you.  May we be steadfast and immovable.  Let us always excel in the work of the Lord and see that our labor is not in vain.  We pray these things in the risen Christ.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 25

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 14

The earliest part of my life in the 60's and 70's was spent in the Assemblies of God which are Pentecostal in nature.  Tulsa, in particular, had a larger charismatic population due to Oral Roberts University being located there.  So I saw my share of people speaking in tongues as a child.

I remember one woman in particular standing up in the middle of the sermon and she started babbling and crying.  I asked my mom what was wrong with her.  Mom replied that it was okay for her to be doing this - there was nothing wrong with her.  I also got the idea that I shouldn't interrupt worship with any outbursts like this!

When I was eight, we became United Methodists which didn't emphasize speaking in tongues or other charismatic gifts like the Assemblies did.  As a young adult, I encountered a couple of young men just older than I was.  They were telling me about being Slain in the Spirit.  When they found out that I had not experienced this gift, I was obviously lowered in their opinion. 

Neither of these experiences were building up the church.  This is not to say that they can't or that they don't build up the church.  But they have to be measured in this way because that's how Paul measured them.  He starts out by saying, "Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts..."

If the consideration is on ourselves, we may miss the point.  This is why Paul counts prophecy as more important than tongues - prophecy is for the building of the community.

We have this almost throw-away verse about women being silent in the churches.  These verses are actually placed in slightly different locations in different ancient manuscripts.  Was it a footnote added by an editor making a copy of the original letter?  Unless we discover the original letter someday, we'll probably never know.  There are other places where Paul speaks of the leadership of women in the church.  He later will mention Prisca in this letter and includes her in other correspondence as a leader.  

The other notable point is that Paul refers to the Law within this section from which he previously proclaims our freedom in Christ.  We don't know the specifics of this context.  It would be nice to have the letter from the Corinthian church to Paul which would have explained the problems and issues they were having.

We know that the women were the first to proclaim the risen Christ.  

As we pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, I have been a witness to women and men proclaiming the good news with equal effectiveness.  Maybe as Paul speaks of tongues not being worth much without someone to interpret, we have to have ears to hear no matter who is preaching to us.  This is a gift of the spirit worth pursuing. 


Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, we like our categories.  We may even declare that we know what is right because we are in the Spirit.  Help us to pursue love more than righteousness.  And may we find that as love comes, righteousness follows.  We pray to you in Jesus' name, who rises for each of us.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 24

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 13

This may be Paul's manifesto.
This is often a chapter read at weddings.  It doesn't really reflect romantic love but it does emphasize the kind of love to which a marriage should strive if it is going to have any endurance.

Paul, of course, was writing this as a kind of checklist for the early church.  They were having difficulty with posturing.  Who is holier?  Who is more spiritual?  As we consider the spiritual gifts from the previous chapter, Paul is lining out that if these gifts are not improving our relationship with one another, we may not be as holy as we think we are.

Speaking in tongues without love?  Gibberish.

Prophecy?  Faith?  Acts of charity?  Martyrdom?

Are they done in love?

As we consider the greatest commandment of Jesus - to love God and to love neighbor - Paul's writings in this chapter align pretty well with what we should be about.

As we think about our everyday relationships, verses 4-7 indicate how this love is to take shape.  Reading these particular verses is a part of how I start each day.  Sometimes I try to include positive imagery with these by then saying:

I am patient.  I am kind.  I am not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  I do not insist on my own way; I am not irritable or resentful; I do not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoice in the truth.  God help me to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.  Amen.

After all, if we are not becoming more loving, what are we becoming?

It may be that we believe that there are gulfs between our neighbors or relatives that cannot be bridged.  There may be too many hurt feelings.  Furthermore, we may be afraid of further injury.

I would not ask someone in an unjust situation to bear or endure it without adding the line, "Let me overcome all things."  We remember that Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  And so allowing abuse is not setting the proper boundaries we need to love ourselves.  

I do believe that relationships can be repaired and healthy boundaries can be set and observed.  But we must rejoice in the truth and the truth is that God does not wish for anyone to be abused.

The difficult question during Lent becomes, "Do I participate in the abuse of others unwittingly?"  This is a question that we may avoid because the discovery can be painful.  We may not intend any harm and yet, there it is.  I don't want to be as blind as the Christians in Corinth who showed many good gifts of the Spirit but neglected to show love.  They had good intentions, too!

Prayer for the day:

Eternal God, love is hard.  When we think about the many difficulties we may face in accomplishing love for all people, we give thanks for your unmerited love of us... and of them.  We often recognize your love for us through the love that others have bestowed upon us.  And we ask, "How will all the difficult people know you love them?"  And we may be afraid of the answer.  Help us to ask anyway.  We pray for Jesus' sake.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 23

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 12

"What's in it for me?"

We have a propensity toward individualism.   It is difficult to hold a body of people together.  The larger the body, the more difficulty we have.  The easier it is to get opposing ideas out there, the more likely it is to split off and do our own thing.

We saw this with the Protestant Reformation.  As the printing press came into existence, the ideas of Martin Luther were more easily spread.  The next few centuries saw countries become independent that were previously colonies of empire nations.

Today, we see this with the internet as ideas are spread even more quickly.  Ironically, it is also far easier to fact check these ideas but unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be as enticing.

Most kids don't like uniforms but
esteem is higher for those that wear them
while bullying is lower.
Paul uses the interworking of various body parts as a metaphor for the congregation.  In other words, we all need each other to function properly.

Of course, I want to value my contribution at a higher value than yours.  We want to make a difference and be seen as important.  This is natural as everyone likes to be appreciated.  But a group like the church is founded on the grace of God which seeks to value all people.

So what Paul asks us today is "Can you put the need to stand out on hold?"  Can you do it for the good of the body?

To be spiritually mature is to see the gifts of God at work in each person.  I really like verse 26 where Paul makes the aspirational statement: 

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Hopefully, we don't tend to suffer or rejoice more enthusiastically depending on the member but realistically, this is sometimes the case.

But to remain together - tied by the Holy Spirit - may mean to give something of myself up so that we can accomplish more as the Body of Christ.  

What's in it for me?  

The lifting up of my neighbor.  And that is enough.

Prayer for the day:

Loving God, it is hard to admit to ourselves and even harder to admit to others that we have a need for appreciation.  But you know us.  You see us at our strongest moments but also at our weakest.  We are thankful that you love us even as we may fluctuate wildly between the two!  Help us to grow in the Spirit not only so that we have more gifts to share with our community of faith, but also so that we will share them without the need for accolades.  In this, may our see ourselves as part of your larger mission in the world today.  We pray these things in Christ's holy name.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 22

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 11 (NRSV)

Here Paul tries to answer questions the Corinthians have about worship practices.  Likely conflict and dissension have arisen because of these issues, namely, appropriate appearance in worship and conduct for the Lord's Supper.

Hair length would not be
an issue for people going
to worship today as it
was in Paul's day.
In answering these, Paul is trying to restore order in the church so that they can keep their eye on the larger prize - the return of Christ.

Paul's answer of head coverings and hair length remind us that these cultural adaptions change through the centuries as well as over geography.  We can see this in Paul's use of veils which the majority of Americans do not observe today.

The real difficulty we see in this is that Paul has been arguing against Judaizers that were requiring observance of the Law for Gentile Christians.  Here we see custom and practice that might have come from Paul's Jewish roots that Paul is setting forth.  Paul states earlier (1 Corinthians 8:8) that "Food will not bring us close to God" but here seems to say that our hair length does?

It allows us to see how difficult it is to allow the Gospel to change the way we interact.  This first part of chapter 11 seems to refute his earlier words to the Galatians (3:28) where he states "there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."  

Paul may recognize the digression of his own solution to their question as he states in verse 16: 

But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

He seems to be saying that this portion is not to be taken as doctrine of the church.  

Then we see Paul address practices of Holy Communion.  We have a unique insight into early Christian practice and this is the earliest writing we have of sacramental liturgy in verses 23-26.  Unfortunately, some often take out of context verse 27 which states: 

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.

John Wesley in his sermon, "The Duty Of Constant Communion" addresses this by stating that Paul was clearly talking about partaking with allowing people to go hungry or partaking too much wine and becoming drunk.   

The "unworthy manner" does not speak to the condition of our souls but rather our behavior while we partake.  

As we finish this chapter, we ask ourselves in our practice of worship, is my behavior building up the body of Christ or becoming a distraction?  Am I encouraging others in the faith or detracting from their growth?

Prayer for the day:

Blessed God, we find ourselves coming to you in this specific time and place in history and the world.  It is unique, just as you have made each of us unique.  Help us to separate those things that are temporal from the things that are eternal.  As we grasp the things that transcend culture, help us to apply them to our setting today.  We pray these things in Jesus' name.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 21

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 10 (NRSV)

Within today's chapter, we have the famous saying from verse 13 where Paul states, 

"No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."

This can be a wonderful way for us to re-imagine hardships that we are facing.  Are we being attacked or are they challenges for us to overcome?  I'm not a victim but rather I'm a voyager sailing the seas of life.

This works in a lot of ways but it may also cause some of us to balk a little.

What if I have test anxiety?  The idea of God testing me may not be such a helpful image.

What if a person dies in some tragic mishap?  At this point, would we say that they failed their test?

The lack of sensitivity with adding insult to fatality should be enough to deter us from this.

So it is important that we remember that Paul's imagery is supposed to lift us in the faith.  If it is not working for us, we need to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is trying to help and using a variety of images to do so.

We see this in Paul indicating that all should be done "for the glory of God."  

How do we think about this today?  Some people ask, "Why would God need any glory to begin with?"

It is a matter of seeing.  If we see God as connecting all life and working good in the world, this is helpful to point out to others - especially those in despair.  We would turn to God being a strength in time of trouble.  The glory is present - we are not creating or inventing it but rather noticing it.

Like Paul, we are not seeking our own advantage but sharing salvation with the world.

Prayer for the day:

God of our mothers and fathers, we recognize that your faithfulness has continued through the generations.  Our ancestors dealt with so many difficulties and hardships.  Yet here we are.  Help us to think about our very existence today as a tribute to your glory.  And when we think that the going is getting too tough, let us breathe and consider how you walk beside us even now.  We pray these things in Christ's holy name.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 20

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 9 (NRSV)

"Don't muzzle the ox that treads the grain."

This bit of wisdom from Paul that actually comes from Deuteronomy 25:4 is something my mom would always say with a gleam in her eye while she was sampling food that she was preparing in the kitchen!

Paul may have been in some of these
but they would have been colored
for him by his faith in Christ.
Paul uses this as an example that we should treat with hospitality those who are working for us.  This chapter was evidently an answer to rumors that had been spread about Paul as a kind of leech on the church at Corinth.  Paul explains that he was providing for them spiritually and had the right to ask for wages from them.  However, he goes the extra mile to be beyond reproach by sharing with them that he has not taken advantage of these rights.

He shows that the gospel message is his priority and he doesn't want even the unclaimed wages he's earned to be a stumbling block for those seeking faith.

He shows this through one of my favorite passages from 1 Corinthians:

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Paul could be seen as having no identity.  He stands for nothing.  His beliefs are so fluid, you might say he doesn't believe anything.  He's a waffler!

But I think what this really shows is that all of these things are subservient to the gospel message.  Relationally, we can identify with a great variety of people.  Who we are in Christ doesn't discount some of the same categories with which we identify with others.  But it does oversee them in a way where they are not as important.  Fundamentally, we are Christian.

What categories do we claim today?  What are our various identities, memberships, clubs and affiliations?  How does our Christianity influence these?

Does the gospel hold sway in our priorities or is it merely another group?

As we move through Lent to the cross, we may need to hold these things in prayer.

Prayer for the day:

God of all Mystery, we find that when we stop to consider you, all else pales in comparison.   It may be that we fail to take stock in this consideration very often.  Forgive us and help us to re-prioritize our lives so that who we are in Christ not only touches everything else, but that it also lovingly transforms our relationships.  We pray in Jesus' name.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 19

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 8 (NRSV)

In Paul's day, meat purchased in the marketplace at Corinth was likely first offered as a sacrifice in a temple to one of the many gods or goddesses available for worship there.  If you had previously believed in and worshipped these deities, partaking of the food offered in these religious ceremonies might feel like you are still engaging in your former practice.

Long habits and customs - especially when they revolve around belief and religion - are hard to break and perhaps easy to fall back into.  It may not be as difficult to quit as smoking but there may be some similarities to give us an idea.

Paul speaks of those who understand that these idols have no power over them as those who possess knowledge.  Some of those who now follow Christ might still believe in the reality of these gods - they just choose God in Christ over these other options.  Paul refers to them as weak because they might waver in their new beliefs and practices.

As a community of faith, Paul advises that those who are strong in the faith should help those who are weak.  This may mean putting aside freedoms that we have such as eating the meat that was offered to idols if it will cause any to stumble in their faith.  This doesn't seem fair at all!  I recognize that it doesn't do any harm - so why should I limit myself?

It is because of my faith in Christ that I care for those who are struggling.

What are freedoms that we might limit today to help the larger community?  One example might be continuing to wear masks in public after you have been vaccinated.  You don't wear it because you might catch the coronavirus but because scientists are not sure if you can still be a carrier and expose someone who is vulnerable.  

We do it out of the concern for the weak!  This is the Christian value that Paul is sharing with us through his letter to the Corinthians all those centuries ago!

Prayer for the day:

Loving God, help me to rest in you daily.  Still those desires in me that place my own rights so far above my neighbors that I don't see when I'm stepping on them.  May I value the community in Christ to which I belong as something to nurture.  And where I've gained knowledge of you, O God, temper it with love so that my knowledge does not make me weak.  In Christ I pray.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 18

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 7 (NRSV)

Television shows in the 50's and 60's
portrayed married couples as 
sleeping in separate beds.  Paul
may have liked this portrayal by the media!

As we move through this chapter, we have Paul's advice to married couples in Corinth.  He seems to go back and forth on what is proper but he leans heavily toward being celibate primarily because he believes that Jesus will return shortly.

He doesn't want sex to be a distraction as it has been throughout human history.  Paul does make concessions to a more mutual approach to sexuality within marriage.  Rather than making the woman submissive to the man, he allows that a married couple is responsible to one another.  

While this was remarkable in the first century, twenty centuries later, it seems regressive to state that a husband is in charge of the wife's body and vice versa.  We would say that for healthy boundaries to be observed, one should always be in charge of their own body as far as what they would find allowable.  I think Paul is trying to make the point that we should seek to keep our sexual urges within the bonds of marriage while respecting one another in the process.

Paul does allow for interfaith marriages.  Rather than the non-believing spouse to drag down the faithful, Paul allows the optimistic view that our good influence might rub off on them.  This may have been much more common in Corinth at that time because there would have been so many who worshipped multiple gods at multiple houses of worship.

Ideally, a life unencumbered by a married relationship seems to be Paul's goal for the faithful at this point.  This comes from the belief in Christ's imminent return.  Because of context (Jesus didn't return in Paul's lifetime), we can see how we give allowances to ignore some of the advice he gives and more actively encourage marriage for people who would seek this covenant.

Can our closest relationships distract us from our faithfulness?  Absolutely they can!  But the opposite is also true.  If we see these relationships as enhancing our relationship with God, they strengthen our faith which also strengthens our marriage life and commitment.  As we consider the deepest questions of faith with those whom we love, it draws us closer to one another while drawing us closer to God.

Prayer for the day:

Holy Lord, we know that it is healthier for us to be comfortable in our own skin.  When we are satisfied with who you have created us to be, it allows us to have an inner peace that permeates all of our interactions.  May the peace we find in Christ give us love for one another that observes healthy boundaries and enhances your love in the world.  We pray these things in Christ's name.  Amen.


Photo by Kerry Ann Dame via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 17

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 6 (NRSV)

Paul continues to fight against the cultural norms of the day in Corinth.  This city, as an important port for Greece, saw a lot of cultural traffic through the Mediterranean world.  How does the Christian behave in the midst of all the activity going on around them?

Paul is trying to walk a fine line.  He doesn't want to lift up adherence to the Law necessarily with regards to the dietary restrictions.  But at the same time he wants those in Christ to adhere to the boundaries that move us to respect ourselves and one another.

We may have similar behavior at times.
He starts with lawsuits between church members.  I can't imagine today having two members of our congregation suing each other.  I know that this would disrupt the congregational life as people began to choose sides between the two.  How easy would it be to preach love thy neighbor or forgive your brother or sister in Christ?  Okay, I'll do that.  Right after I put them in jail.  Paul is trying to get them to work out grievances within the congregation.

Paul lists behavior that stands outside of the kingdom of God.  All of these cross the boundaries of self-respect and respect of others.  As we see a continuance of sins dealing with a sexual nature: fornicators, adulterers, male prostitutes, and sodomites, it is important that we see Paul also inject idolaters into this mix.  There was a culture of temple prostitution where priests and priestesses engaged in all kinds of sexual behavior with their worshipping community.  This included pederasty where an older man would engage a teenage (or younger) boy in a relationship.  So the male prostitutes of which Paul referred would have been young people who were likely sold into this line of work.  The sodomites would have been the older men engaging the younger boys.  

In today's culture, we still see issues with sex trafficking of minors.  It is clear to us that this is wrong but it can be argued that the notion of respecting each other really began its spread across culture with Paul's writings within Christianity.

Some readings of this chapter have led even married couples to feel like engaging in sexuality is somehow sinful and not to be enjoyed.  This unfortunately swings the pendulum of what Paul is trying to accomplish too far the other way.  Remember, in his day, he was trying to carve out a different way of living amid a dominate culture that had lots of temporary pleasures for enticing worshippers.  

Today, we may balk at going to Church X where they allow drinks or popcorn in worship.  How can we compete with that?!  Well, in Paul's day, the alternative to their worship included temple prostitution.  He recognized that this was ultimately demeaning to both of those involved as well as God.  

So when he speaks of "the body was not meant for fornication but for the Lord" he is referring to things that ultimately provide self-respect for God's creation.  Anything can become addictive and Paul reminds us, "I will not be dominated by anything."

How do we respect ourselves and others within the relationships we have today?

Paul seems to be asking us this question by saying, "What freedoms do you need to curtail so that you find your behavior beneficial to yourself and others?"

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, we are thankful for the forgiveness and mercy we receive in Jesus Christ.  Help this grace give us the desire to be Christ-like in our relationships.  Help us to be happy with who we are.  Help us to extend this same joy to others we know - and be happy with who they are as well.  May this joy sow greater respect in the world today.  We pray this for Jesus' sake.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 16

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 5 (NRSV)

As Paul addresses specific concerns with members of the Corinthian church, we come to sexual immorality.  A man living with his step-mother was in clear violation of Jewish law according to Deuteronomy 27:20:
“Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has violated his father’s rights.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”
Roman law at the time also had prohibitions against this.

It was more about the violation of the man's rights than the woman's at the time but it was also about establishing moral boundaries that are important to observe that help all genders.  

Attraction begins at a young age.  These
young women find this humorous because they
are in charge.  Would they feel as comfortable
if this young man were 40 years older
and their boss?
Sexuality emotions are very simple and at the same time very complex.

Sometimes if it is culturally acceptable, comments may be made without consideration and seen as normal.  Recently, American culture has been reexamining what is okay and what isn't with regard to how men interact with women.  Specifically, if there are power differentials in play such as a boss and an intern where one's employment might be threatened, this speaks to coercion that may make the younger person uncomfortable.

New York's governor,  Andrew Cuomo, has made the news recently about his own inappropriate interactions with much younger women including two that worked for him.  It just came out that Kansas Jayhawks football coach Les Miles has also had investigations for his interactions with young women while he was working at LSU.  

Both of these are examples of unwanted advances that society is trying not to continue to overlook.  

Paul seems to be instructing the church in the first century that we are to watch out for how our interactions with one another should respect boundaries.  Paul instructs the new church not to associate with anyone who is "sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber."

He is pretty adamant in what our response should be: "Drive out the wicked person from among you."

This letter was written prior to Matthew's gospel.  Was Paul aware of the (then) oral tradition of Peter's conversation with Jesus when he asks if he should forgive someone from the church as many as seven times?  Of course, Jesus' response was "as many as seventy-seven times" which implies that we shouldn't try to keep track of the grace we offer.

Does sexuality rise to a new class of sin?  Is it worse than other types?  We should note that Paul lists it along with others that we might not be as quick to condemn such as greed and reviling.  

Sexuality is complex because attraction changes.  It is complex because jealousies can arise.  It is complex because misunderstandings can destroy relationships.  Yes, you can be friends with an ex but this is often the exception rather than the rule.

Paul is trying to preserve a new expression of faith.  He may see the erosion of boundaries as particularly destructive to a young congregation.  Until it can be established, a burgeoning faith community may need to restrict its membership to those who are willing to follow its guidelines.  After a church has matured in its identity, then it can begin to extend the grace that we all receive.

It should be noted that during times of stress or anxiety, people tend to let boundaries erode.  As we all continue through this pandemic, we may need to be extra-vigilant in our own observance of our boundaries.  If we are not, we could end up being a "reviler" which in Paul's list equates us with sexual immorality.  So rather than take this as excessively judgmental, we should see this as a reminder that Christians are to be respecters of others.

Prayer for the day:

Blessed God, we seek to show respect to ourselves and to others.  Help us to maintain important boundaries - especially in our relationships.  Where there may be attraction that could tempt us to cross lines we shouldn't, let us examine it for what it is.  Give us the strength to respect the relationships we have established so that we can avoid harm to ourselves and those around us.  May we find joy in one another simply as fellow children of God.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 15

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 4 (NRSV)

Public shaming is one way
of accountability but I 
think it tends to reinforce
negative images that we
don't want people adopting.

It is difficult to submit to accountability.  One of the habits that Methodist groups had when Wesley started them was to hold each other accountable.  These were small groups of 5-7 people that sought to meet weekly.  They were Christians that wanted to get better.

A part of getting better is to desire to set our sins aside.

So they would ask one another questions like, "What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?"

While this might sound too judgy for our 21st century ears, they were doing this voluntarily.  It was not so they could judge one another and look down on each other.  It was so that they could help one another.

It also is a deterrent for sinning!

If you knew someone was going to be asking you this question, it might cause us to think twice before crossing that boundary.

Paul is trying to hold the church at Corinth (and ours as well) accountable.  But he also asks the Corinthian church not to judge them too harshly (based on what they were hearing from other teachers in the faith).  He reminds them to have a sense of grace - understanding that none of them were deserving of the mercy they had received.

As of this writing, Matthew's Gospel was not yet written.  Scholars believe that much of it was shared in oral tradition at this point.  We can see Paul's list of persecutions in verses 11-13 and it reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount lifted up in Matthew 5:10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Paul reminds them that he is coming in a spirit of gentleness.  As they are to become his imitators, it may be that they need to walk more gently with the one who brought them to faith.

As we think about those Wesleyan covenant groups, they would have had to walk gently with one another or they would have quickly disbanded.

As you think about accountability, do you walk gently with those you must hold accountable or do you treat them more harshly than required?  Sometimes our harsh treatment may come from our own guilt over unaddressed issues.  Sometimes we are projecting upon them a sense that their behavior shames us in some way.  If we don't feel confident in our own state of being, we may cover up with a lack of kindness over the errors of others.

Prayer for the day:

Loving God, may I see the mercy I have received.  May I hear the graceful words you offer me.  May I dwell in the forgiveness that affords me life and a blessed state of being.  As I see and hear and live, may this allow me to pass on to others what I have freely received in Christ.  It is in this holy name I pray.  Amen.


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

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.