Monday Meditation – Lent : Love

Love

Who do you love?  What do you love?

In Mark 10:17-22 we have the only reference in the gospel to Jesus “loving” someone.

What makes this man so special that we learn Jesus “loved” him?  The assumption is not that Jesus loved no one else but we aren’t told in the other stories so explicitly as we are told in this story that Jesus loved someone.  Why are we told that Jesus “loved” this man?

It is in his commands to the rich man that shows us the reader, that Jesus’ love extends to all he has encountered in his ministry – the healed, the called and the oppressed.

One translation for Mark 10:21 is as follow, “Get up, sell that which you have, give it to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven.  Come, follow me.”

“Get up” is used in “healing” stories.  This is a “healing” story as well.  It is a healing of the soul from the accumulation of stuff and wealth.

The second “sell that which you have” and last commands “Come, follow me” recalls the disciples and others who were asked to give up all they had and follow Jesus.

These two groups, the healed and the disciples, Jesus alludes to also have his love for they already have done what he asked of the rich man.  Even though ultimately the rich man does not do as commanded, Jesus knowing this, still loves him.

The poor are brought front and center with Jesus commanding the rich man to give all he had to the poor.  Jesus loves them enough to tell this rich man to provide for them.

Unfortunately, the man cannot obey and leaves.  While he has kept the commandments he has not acted in the spirit of the commandments.

Dear Lord, let us not just adhere to the letter of the law but the spirit in which you intended it.  Otherwise we run the risk of turning the law into an idol.  The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Compassion

sheep without a shepherd

In Mark 6:30-44 we have Jesus filled with compassion for his people who are like “sheep without a shepherd.”  In the original Greek, literally the word we translate as compassion means “to have one’s guts torn apart.”  What causes this primal compassion Jesus feels for the crowds?  Their ignorance, their lack of knowledge?

He teaches them well into the late hours of the day. Later in the story he had further compassion on them for their physical hunger.  He tells the disciples to feed the people.  He doesn’t ask them to, he tells them to.

The disciples’ lack of compassion for the people makes Jesus’ all the starker.  The disciples balk at having to spend so much to feed so many when they had suggested that the crowds be told to go and buy their own food.  Having just come from the mission fields, the lesson of hospitality has been wasted on them.  While they were to rely on the compassion of others in the mission fields, we find them without compassion for the people following Jesus in desperate need for His teachings.

Jesus cares not solely for His people’s spiritual lives but also their physical well-being.  And He tells us to do the same.

“But he answered and said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’”  Mark 6:37 NKJV

Dear God, help us to do what you commanded your disciples to do all those years ago – Give your people something to eat, both physically and spiritually.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Rage

rage

Continuing with our Lenten series on the emotional life of Jesus, we turn to Mark 3:1-6.

In this passage the Pharisees provoke Jesus’ anger.  After a discussion about what one can or cannot do on the Sabbath, Jesus makes the talk concrete by inviting forward a man with a withered hand.  Jesus asks the Pharisees, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil?  To save life, or to kill it?

The Greek description Mark uses for Jesus’ anger at the Pharisees is unprecedented in its use in the gospels anywhere.  Jesus is enraged because of the Pharisees stubbornness of heart, their lack of compassion for someone on the day made for humans to contemplate not just God but God’s relationship to humanity.

Do we do good when it is convenient for ourselves?  Or do we do it at every opportunity that God presents us with?  Does our own selfishness get in the way of our own compassion for people and do we use rules and regulations to keep ourselves out of the discussion?  How enraged would God be with us on the Sabbath?

Dear God, sometimes we have not been a loving church.  We have sometimes been too obedient to the structure and laws of the church than we have been compassionate to others.  Lord help us to see that the Sabbath was made for us and not us for the Sabbath, an idol that can obscure your face from us.  Help us live to do good when and where we can.  Amen.

No Longer Strangers in the Holy Land

No Longer Strangers

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land on an Educational Opportunities (EO) Tour.  With everything going on in our country and the world, my family and friends were a little leery about me taking this trip.  Of all the travels I have had, I must admit that even I was a little apprehensive about this particular one.  But as I thought more about it, I realized it was not every day that you get to visit the historical sites of our Lord and Savior, and at the same time witness firsthand a country in the midst of conflict. Visiting the birth and death place of Jesus was a memory I will never forget.  However, the most memorable time during this trip was my dinner with the Al Kassis family in Beit Jala.

Beit Jalal is a Palestinian Christian town in the West Bank, located near Aida Camp, which is home to 5,000 Palestinian refugees.  Hanan Al Kassis picked up my group at the hotel and we became immediate friends. Her mother, Suhaila, gave me the biggest “mom” hug when we entered her home.  It was very welcoming to receive this kind of greeting when travelling far away from home. Being able to connect with another family after mere minutes is so special.

We spent some time discussing life as a Christian in a Muslim nation, as well as the current crisis in the refugee camps.

The most interesting comment from Hanan was that among the Palestinian families there is peace despite their religion. Many of the local schools like Hope Secondary School of Beit Jala have Christian based curriculum.  Forty percent of the 130 students are of the Muslim faith.  The goal of Hope School is to teach love and compassion to everyone.

My thought going into this evening with the Al Kassis family was that I would learn how hard it was to be Christian in a Muslim country.  I left understanding that it is not hard at all, because they showed me that being Christian means showing love and compassion to everyone.

The beautiful sound of the Muslim call to prayer played through the speakers of the city as we prayed over our meal. We shared laughs and showed family and travel pictures to each other from our phones.

Scripture reminds us of what showing love means.

Acts 2:46-47 says “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We were not the first dinner guests invited to their home and we are definitely not be the last.   The Al Kassis family invites guests to their table on a weekly basis; sometimes twice a week they break bread with people from all over the world who come to visit the Holy Land. I feel I have a forever home in Palestine and for that, I am grateful.

To donate to the Hope School through the Advance Fund, please visit here:  http://www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission/Search-for-Projects/Projects/12018A

Blessings,

Natalie Schuette, Executive Assistant to the General Secretary at GCFA

Monday Meditation – Lent : Indignation

Indignation

Jesus had a full emotional life, which we get glimpses of in the gospels, especially in Mark.  During the Lenten season we get a hint at Jesus’ emotional life and what it meant for him to be indignant, angry, compassionate, fearful and loving and what that means for us today.

Almost from the beginning of his public ministry in Mark, Jesus is not an unemotional Savior.  In fact, he is a very feeling human being as well as God.

In Mark 1:40-45 when the leper approaches Jesus asking him if he dares to declare him clean, Jesus “snorting with indignation,” answers in the affirmative.

Is Jesus indignant with this man who dares to come to him with this outrageous request?  No he is irate with those whom the leper has just come from, those whom Jesus has him return to in order to show his cleansing as a testimony “against” (in the original Greek) their refusal to cleanse him, probably due to a lack of appropriate payment.

Should we be no less indignant at the systems that keep the poverty-stricken from full inclusion into mainstream society?  Low wage jobs, lack of health care and affordable housing, are but some of the impediments that the poor face every day in order to live in a self-sustaining way.

Dear God help us to understand how systems of oppression exist to trod down upon your people.  Help us to not partake in them and help us to bring them down much like your son preached and taught.  Let us never forget our righteous anger against a system that would marginalize people because they do not have enough to pay the toll.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Still Small Voice

Still Small Voice

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?  (I Kings 19: 12-13 KJV)

A lady running errands has gone viral.  Why?  Listen to her testimony.

This woman went to the grocery store and saw a homeless man trying to keep warm near the entrance.  When she saw the man, she heard the voice of Jesus telling her that the homeless man liked bananas.  She should buy some bananas for him.

The woman figured on her own that he would also need some protein so she bought him a couple of small nonperishable items as well.  She also wanted to buy him some fried chicken so that he could have some warm food in his belly.

Jesus told her not to buy the fried chicken that the man needed something for later.

The woman persisted in asking why she couldn’t get him some fried chicken.

Jesus said, “I don’t want you to get him fried chicken.”

Well the woman let it go and went to go pay for her groceries.  She separated out the things she had bought for him and took it to him, wishing him a “Merry Christmas and God bless you.”

A lady came up from behind her and said “This is your lucky day.  Here’s some fried chicken for you.” She then hands him the warm meal.

Lesson:  Listen to that still small voice pricking your soul.  Even when the Spirit says no, there’s a good reason.

Dear God, Still us enough to hear your voice not only when you say “yes” but also when you say “no.”  Though we know not the reason, let us still trust you and do what you do ask of us.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Valentine’s Day Gifts

Valentines Day

Valentine’s Day

Some say Valentine’s Day is a made up celebration by the floral and card companies in order to make sale in an otherwise devoid month of any “holidays” or “special occasions.”

I say any excuse to celebrate “love” is worthy.  Now how we choose to do so can be up for discussion.

Gifts

While gifts are one way to show love, they are not the only way or some would even say they are not the best way.  We can celebrate with gifts of all kinds like flowers and candy and cards as gifts for Valentine’s Day.  Even those are given with some thoughtfulness. It is more the thought put into a gift that provokes the most joy.

A handmade gift from my grandson is worth a great deal to me.  The effort and thought put into it by him is what counts as love in my eyes.

But we can combine gifts of cards, flowers or candy with something else.  Whether a purchased or handmade gift, we can also take the time to pray for them and then send a quick email or text letting them know you remembered them in your prayers.  It’s not bragging if done from a heart of servanthood to that person from a place of love.

It will show the other person that you were thinking about them and brought them before God with love and attention.  You shared your love for them with God.  You shared your time with God with them.

That, my friends, is a great gift.

Dear God, who is love, show us how to love more perfectly.  Help us to remember those near to us when we come to you in prayer.  Let our time be about others and not solely about us.  When sometimes thoughts and prayers can seem like empty sentiments, help us to revive the power of prayer. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Opportunity Costs – Investing Our Disposable Income

Opportunity Costs

“So much of what Americans live with is an economic landscape – malls, stores, and movie theaters, ski slopes and theme parks –  in which one’s relationship to place had to do with boredom, undisciplined need, and envy.” Gretel Ehrlich, Sacred Earth

Disposable Income

When you drive around your town, what passes you by?

A big box store? Restaurants? A couple of grocery stores?  Two of the same brand coffee shops? Office buildings? Houses, apartments? A park or soccer field? Schools or churches? Hospitals?

It isn’t any wonder with all these choices that we “invest” our disposable income on things. In 2007, we were exposed to 600 advertisements a day. Now we are exposed to 3,000 advertisements a day; 1.2 million in a year.

Jesus was asked to judge in a dispute between brothers over their inheritance, but he said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 (CEB)

In a culture today that depends on consuming goods and services, every activity seems to have a price tag. Everything is for sale. But Jesus warned us that our love of possessions should not overpower our love of those around us.

Opportunity Costs

Rev. Adam Hamilton, in a sermon on money, put forth the idea that for every purchase we make, there is an additional opportunity cost that we must consider.

What would happen if we reconsidered our spending choices according to opportunity costs?  Could we, instead, buy 8,000 mosquito nets for Africa, 1,600 food baskets for Syrian refugees, or make a real impact in the lives of individuals for years to come through one of the many ministries of our local churches and connectional ministries of The United Methodist Church.

Dear God, we are grateful for all that we have when so many go without.  Help us to be generous not only with our finances but with our time and effort as well.  Show us the path you would have us take in the coming days, months and years.  Amen.

Meditation Monday: Growing Pains

In order for a lobster to grow it must first rid itself of its shell. The shell does not grow but is rigid for the protection of the soft crustacean inside.

Growing Pains

As a lobster grows it begins to feel the growing pains of the too small shell it has. Pressure builds up as its body pushes against the old shell. It finds some rocks to hide in. Soon enough, it breaks out of its old shell with a new one already intact.

Just like the lobster, we sometimes have to push through growing pains in order to get rid of the old as we grow. God provides for new “protection” but we must recognize that we need to grow out of where we have been in order to get to where we need to go. The “stress” the lobster feels as it grows against it new shell is a sign to it that it needs to begin the molting process.

As the lobster sheds its old shell it recycles the minerals within it to build the new shell. It continually builds upon what has come before into what is to come.

“No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes; otherwise, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and makes a worse tear. No one pours new wine into old leather wineskins; otherwise, the wine would burst the wineskins and the wine would be lost and the wineskins destroyed. But new wine is for new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22 (CEB)

Dear God, help your church to shed its old shell as it matures and grows. Like the lobster, let us build on what we had in order to get what we need to proclaim and do your love in the world you have set us in. Amen.

Happy New Year

And we begin. Again.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”
Isaiah 43:18-19

You see it everywhere. Signs of the new year are all around us. New offers from retailers and car sellers. People making new commitments to “improve” their lives. New year. New start. New beginnings. But it doesn’t really start here. Perhaps it really started with our celebration of just a week ago. It started with the true gift of Love God shared with His people – the birth of the Christ Child.

The start of something new beckons us to forget the old – old eating habits, old health routines, old ways of thinking. It would seem quite appropriate in this day and age for United Methodists to remember one thing and renew it: to exhibit the kind of Love for each other that God has given us as an example. When we renew and exhibit that kind of love, we are able to perceive the new things God has in store for us.

What will the New Year bring?

The past year – the old – has been one of many discussions of the problems we face as a denomination. The concerns and comments are valid and bring up points that we must consider as we move forward as believers. You see news articles and blog posts about those concerns for the Church. You hear of ways Church leaders are moving forward to address these issues. The discussions seem like wastelands. At times we feel lost and wandering and wonder where we are headed. But those same conversations offer us some great hope – that while we acknowledge the differences between us, we also exhibit greater love for each other.

So…Happy New Year

So we ended the previous year with hopes of renewal for the new one. May Love be at the center of all we do, hope for, pray for, and work together to achieve among us and throughout the world.