Text:  Luke 17:11-19

Jesus heals 10 men with skin diseases.  One returns with gratitude and praise to God.

A rich passage to dive into. . .  I can imagine myself as Jesus, having given the grace of healing to 10 men I’d never met but who were in desperate need, or I can imagine myself as the one man who, upon being healed, returns to praise God, or I can imagine myself as one of the remaining 9 who were healed but did not return giving thanks, having forgotten the source of my healing in all the excitement.

Another approach is to ponder on the role of faith in the one man’s healing and how his healing might be different than that of the other 9, whose skin diseases were cured as well.

Today, I work through this passage by imagining myself as each of those in the story in order to avoid a cynical judgment against any.  It would be easy, for instance, to think of the 9 who went on their way as self-centered and entitled, too easily distracted by their new condition, or simply forgetful of saying “thank you”.  But how easy it would be for me to do the same.

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Text:  Luke 17:7-10

To summarize:  “Get over yourselves! There’s no special kudos coming your way for doing your job.”

Today’s brief passage always bothered me and I’ve finally figured out why, and the reason is embarrassing.  In it, Jesus perceives a sense of entitlement in some who feel that they deserve extra praise as they see their service to God as having gone “above and beyond” their due.  He responds by reminding us that there is nothing extraordinary about doing what we’ve signed on to do so why should we expect great praise.

What ‘s so embarrassing for me is that I’ve bought into two notions that are just wrong and fallen into a sense of entitlement because of them:

  1. That fulfilling my obligations to God by following the ways of Christ and obeying his commands and teachings is somehow “extra credit” work that deserves special mention, and
  2. That, as a hyper-individualized American for whom my rights and freedoms as an individual are all important, I am the very center of the universe (like everyone else who are also the centers of the universe).

The first wrong-heading notion comes from compartmentalizing my faith so that instead of it being infused into all of my existence, it functions more as an add-on.  The second wrong-headed notion is nothing less than self-idolatry–equating myself to God.  Lord have mercy!

Jesus reminds us that what we do in response to God mercy, grace, and love coupled with Jesus call to follow him is nothing more than what we commit to God to do.  It’s just part of who we are and what we do. Nothing more . . . and nothing less!

Text:  Luke 17:1-6

Sin happens . . . and, according to today’s reading, it happens in two ways:

  1. Intentional wrongdoing–doing what one knows is wrong
  2. Being misled into wrongdoing by another who seduces, cajoles, or deceives by making the wrong seem right, or at least, benign

While Jesus is clear that intentional wrongdoing is worse, both bring consequences.  Wrong is wrong regardless of whether we’ve engaged in it knowingly or have been misled into failing to recognize it as wrong.

It seems that we live in a not-my-fault, deflect-responsibility culture.  For example:

  • Violent acts are often blamed on domestic abuse suffered as a child.
  • The Great Recession was triggered by too-big-to-fail financial institutions whose defense was that they were allowed to commit the financial malfeasance in which they engaged (the “nobody told me it was wrong” defense).
  • We have a president who routinely construes blame for his self-induced difficulties on his predecessor (for instance, we are at the brink of war with N. Korea not because of greatly increased threats and tensions brought about by the current administration but because the previous one failed to effectively deal with them years ago).

None of this should surprise us.  Guilt, shame, and being held accountable and responsible for wrongdoing is unpleasant.  The more fragile one’s self-image, the more unpleasant it can be.

While it is frustrating when wrongdoers deflect responsibility for their wrongdoing, it is tragic that they have, by their deflection, cut themselves off from redemption.  We may forgive and offense, but doing so means little to the offender who denies responsibility.  More importantly, repentance is no longer possible.  How can one turn from sin when it is denied?

As painful as it is, taking responsibility for our wrongdoing–our sins–is necessary if we are to change our ways and experience the grace of redemption.

As frustrating as it can be, offering forgiveness to others–maybe more than once–is necessary if we are to help “those who trespass against us” experience repentance and redemption.

 

 

Text: Romans 15:14-21

“[So] in Christ Jesus I brag about things that have to do with God.  I don’t dare speak about anything except what Christ has done through me to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles.”  (Romans 15:17-18)

The Apostle Paul could easily have touted his own success in a way very familiar to us in 21st-century America:

“I’ve travelled the farthest for Jesus Christ.”
“I’ve planted and grown more churches, and brought more Gentiles to Christ than anyone.”
“No one is a more effective communicator about Jesus Christ than I.”

By contrast, Paul gives credit for his success to God working through him.  When he does engage in self-promotion, it is always with regard to issues tangential to the promotion of “Christ crucified,” such as in 1 Thessalonians 1 when he touts how hard he worked to support himself in order to not burden those in the church.  Indeed, Paul’s view of himself and what he helped accomplish is clear-sighted, balanced, and realistic.  If Paul sounds at all fatheaded about the success of his ministry it helps to reread Romans 7 and his painful confession of his own sinful human condition.  It also helps to read him more closely.  For when we do we see that it is God, not Paul, who has truly advanced the Good News of Jesus Christ, and Paul has been God’s servant and conduit.

Paul neither egotistically self-promoted nor self-abased.  He maintained a healthy self-image, lifting up those things he had done that were good while admitting to his own faults.  And in regard to the success of his mission for Christ, he gives the credit to God in a way that is not patronizing but sincere.

God works through us, too.  How, then, do we perceive and characterize the good works of evangelism, compassion, and faith-building which we participate?

Today’s text: Ezekiel 47:1, 6-9, 12

The vision of the river of life-giving water flowing from the temple would have been a powerful one for the text’s original audience.  We may miss the significance because we live in a lush and well-watered land (here in Michigan), and may not remember or be aware that the temple, more specifically its inner-most sanctuary, was, for Israelites, the place of God’s presence.  Thus, the river flowing into a dry land and down to the Dead Sea emanated from the very place where God was and brought life to wherever it flowed.

I began this daily devotion after realizing that I needed to dip into that river of life-giving water daily and with discipline and intentionality.  And refreshing it is for my spirit.

Even we in a well-watered place like Michigan live in a spiritual wilderness that is often parched and withered.  We need to take a moment each day to partake of the living water of the river of life that is our Triune God–Father, Son, and Spirit–whether through prayer, scripture, or simply silence in the divine presence.  How can we turn down such a gift?

Text:  Luke 14:25-33
“Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
. . . “In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.” (vv. 27, 33)

Some preachers (such as a few well-coifed and celebrity televangelists) tell us that we can have the blessings of God at the mere cost of naming and claiming our discipleship to Jesus.  Do that and become prosperous in spiritual fulfillment and happiness.  Come and get your blessedness on the cheap!

To those who preach such a prosperity gospel, I have to ask,  “Who or what is your god?  To what is your strongest attachment?”  For they preach a divided loyalty that claims we can have Jesus and everything else we want.

However, Jesus wants us.  All of us–unambiguously and with undivided loyalty.  If we want to follow him, we cannot do it with strings attached to anything else that would hold us back.  We may not need to give up family, career, wealth, possessions, or our very lives for Jesus, but to be his disciples we must be willing to let go these things. And this is where we need to be careful not to deceive ourselves.  It is easy to say we are willing to give up all for Jesus and yet be unable (unwilling) to actually do so.  This is what Jesus means when he talks of counting the cost (vv. 26-32).  Discipleship demands we first take a clear and honest look at ourselves and decide how much we are willing to give to follow him.  Maybe we have a distance to go yet to be able to “give up all our possessions” and “carry our own cross and follow” him.  That’s okay.  Salvation, sanctification, perfection–or simply just being a better Christ-follower–is not a static state of being but a process and a pilgrimage.

We pastors are people too, which means we react emotionally to the world around us, become blinded to our faults, and respond to real concerns in less than helpful ways.

Been there, done that!

I have serious concerns about how issues of poverty, health-care access and cost, environmental stewardship, and international diplomacy are being handled by our national leadership, especially our president. My response has been a massive, long-lasting knee-jerk that has surely put people off given how I have sometimes expressed myself. I have been strident regarding the politics involved and I have been especially hard on our president.

I sincerely apologize to all who have experienced my knee-jerk making me a jerk. I apologize for the insensitivity and gracelessness, especially to those who have placed their hopes and support with the current administration. I have allowed my concerns, however meaningful, and my reaction to them to get between my congregation and their experience of God and community within the holy space of our church sanctuary. There is indeed a place for the conversations about difficult issues in our world and how we approach them through our faith, but not in worship in the ways I have addressed them.

To all I have caused upset, I ask forgiveness, grace, and a chance for redemption.

Chastened by the Holy Spirit yet in Christ’s love . . .

. . . mark