Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 5: The Poor

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and His disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” (Mark 2:15 NLT)

315proclamationRecently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

The scroll of Isaiah was unfurled, opened to the sixty-first chapter, and handed to the familiar face of hometown carpenter boy turned prophet and healer. Jesus of Nazareth looked at the scroll, found the place from which he was to read, and began to utter the words slowly and clearly. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he began. All eyes were fixed on him intently, waiting to hear these words which had been read countless times before. Prior to this day, plenty of people had read the famous words from the profoundly influential prophet Isaiah. They knew these words and had heard the discussions surrounded its meaning. Everyone knew that these were the words that foretold the coming of the day of the Lord, the day when God would level the playing field, right the wrongs, and liberate all of Israel from her oppressors. Still, they had NEVER heard these words from the mouth of a commoner, the mouth of a carpenter, the mouth of someone who had been gone a while and come back so remarkably different than the person they they knew.

“…for God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.” The words quickly reverberated off of the walls of the small stone synagogue and into the ears of those gathered around this carpenter. They knew these words and had prayed to be able to live to see the day of their fulfillment. After all, each person in that synagogue were peasants. They were poor, hard-working people who had barely anything to show for all of their hard work. They not only were taxed on any kind of income, but they also had to yield a tenth of their grain crops, a fifth of their wine, fruit and oil, and they had to pay off the crooked publicans that collected their taxes. Yes, these people could hardly wait for the day when there was finally Good News for the poor.

It, no doubt, came as a surprise to the people of Nazareth, as well as the people in ancient Palestine (aka Israel), that this Jesus wasn’t necessarily referring to them as the poor. Nor did the “good news” he preached seem all that good to them! There Jesus was saying that he was anointed by God (which is code-speak for Messiah) to bring the Good News to the poor, and yet he was traveling with a tax collector and other sinners! The tax collectors were particularly despised because on top of the regular taxation the Romans forced them to pay, they would raise the amount owed and keep the rest for themselves, becoming rich off of their own.

How could Jesus preach about bringing Good News to the poor and hang around tax collectors, who were themselves rich in their corruption? How was that possibly Good News for the poor villagers of Nazareth? Whether they realized it at the time or not, Jesus was about to shatter their understanding of God’s justice as well as their understanding of what it means to be poor. In fact, he’s about to do the same for us as well. Jesus does not, ever, define who the poor are. Nor does he define the “least of these.” Instead, he simply served the poor and the least of these whoever they were. Good news for the impoverished is the cessation of being shunned and away out of their poverty. Yet it is not just the impoverished who are poor. The rich, though not impoverished, are poor in other ways. God does not call us to only fill the need of some, but to fill the needs of all who are in need. While the rich might be first in the bank, they might be the “least of these” in terms of spiritual depth and purpose. The question for us today is this, who are “the poor” in your communities, and what is the GOOD NEWS for them?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank
PRAYER
Lord, help me to hear the Good News that I need in my life, as well as be the conduit of the Good News in the lives of others. Amen.

Repent and Believe

Read Hebrews 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV)

repentAndBelieveToday is Ash Wednesday, and we are entering into the Christian season of Lent. During Lent, which is a forty day period that lasts from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, we enter a period of fasting and of reflection. Christians have traditionally marked the beginning of the Lenten journey by having Ash imposed on their foreheads, a dark and gritty reminder that we are both mortal and tainted by sin. As the ash is marked on the foreheads or hands of the faithful, people are told to “repent and believe the Gospel.”

This year, Ash Wednesday is having a different meaning to me. When I think of the ash that I will no doubt be imposing on the heads of countless people, and of the ash I will have imposed on my head, I cannot help but think of the Jordanian pilot who was lit on fire at the beginning January. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the twenty-one Christians who were mass-executed this past weekend. When I think of the ashes today, I cannot help but think of the countless people who have been killed throughout the centuries and millenia for religious differences.

Recently, at a Christian breakfast, President Barack Obama called on Christian leaders to show humility in the face of the imminent threat that ISIL poses to the Middle-East and beyond. He called them to remember what Christians did during the Crusades, during the Inquisition, during American slavery and segregation. Some Christians got upset at this because, while there is no denying that some Christians have done some pretty evil things in the name of Christ, they believed his call to humility only served to play into the propaganda of the ISIL organization.

While this point can be argued, what can’t be argued is that many terrible things have been done by many people in the name of their religion. Honestly, with or without Christian history, people would be killing and maiming in the name of their beliefs. What is sad about this is that most of these belief systems speak much more about the need for peace, love, compassion, humility and mercy than they speak on the need for killing and maiming. But all religious systems can be, and have been, interpreted in ways that “justify” doing great acts of evil.

Rather than getting outraged about being called out on the atrocities of the past, we should be outraged about the atrocities of the present. Rather than pointing at the past as a way of reminding others of what people long dead have done, we should be reflecting on the ways in which we can help to stop the sins we are committing right here and right now? We don’t have to look at the middle-east to see that we have been complacent in the face of suffering, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a sagely oracle to realize that such complacency has us far away from the heart of the Gospel.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, Christ is calling us to repent and to believe the Good News. Let us repent of the ways in which we have been complacent, and let us begin to live into the Gospel as if we ACTUALLY believe in it! Let us begin to live in solidarity with those who are suffering. Let us pray for the countless Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others who are being put to death because of their beliefs. Let us begin to treat others with the respect that should be afforded all human beings, who are created in the image of God. If we live in such a way, we will have truly received the Lenten message and will have begun our journey to the cross. It is there, and only there, that we will truly die to ourselves and resurrect into a new and glorious life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” – Thomas Carlyle

PRAYER Lord, today I repent and ask for you to reveal your Gospel within me so that I may believe and follow it. Amen.

Ash Wednesday

Read Matthew 4:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

And [Jesus] said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)

ash_wednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lenten journey, a journey that starts today and ends at the foot of the cross. It is a journey that begs of us to reflect, to meditate on who we are and who God is calling us to be. It is a forty day period out in the wilderness. Just as Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in preparation of his ministry in and around Galilee, so too we are called into such a time of reflection and preparation.

What does Ash Wednesday mean to you? Is is a religious obligation? Is it something that you have always done and continue to do for tradition’s sake? Is it a ritual observance and nothing more? Is it something that makes little to no sense to you? Is it something that you don’t observe at all? How do you spend your time on Ash Wednesday or do you focus on it at all?

Throughout this past year, I have written a number of devotions on the importance of having Spiritual Discipline. The observance of a day such as Ash Wednesday is certainly an important part of the Christian’s life and is certainly a discipline we should all be practicing. But it is also important for us to understand the meaning of Ash Wednesday before we set off to observe it.

Many people observe Ash Wednesday and the forty day period of Lent that follows by “giving up” something for the entire forty days. Some Christians give up meat on Fridays, others give up chocolate. Some give television and others give up their favorite pastimes. Regardless of what your practice is, if you have one, why is it that you are doing it? Is it because you have always done it and you don’t give it much more thought than that? Is there some other reason that you have understood your fasting to mean?

One of the things that is vital in our growth as a people of faith is that we really evaluate the reasons why we do things. Doing something just for the sake of it doesn’t necessarily cause us to grow from who we are to God wants us to be. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that your spiritual practice is wrong or mistaken, nor am I saying that you should give that discipline up. Rather, whatever your Lenten discipline is, KNOW WHY you are doing it.

Use your discipline as a way to reflect on where you are at this given point in your life and faith journey. What ever your discipline is, use it as a vehicle to draw you closer to God. If you are abstaining from something during Lent, let that be an reminder of the excess that we have and also let it be a reminder of the fact that GOD is truly all we need.  Whatever your spiritual discipline is for observing Lent, allow GOD to transform you through it. Open yourself up to the transformative power of GOD!

Today is Ash Wednesday! Make today the day you truly begin reflect on your spiritual health and on your well being in general. Take an assessment of yourself. Understand why it is you do what you do. Seek the deeper meaning behind your rituals. Open yourself up to the transformation that God brings to each of us as we need it. Allow your spiritual disciplines, whatever they are, to shape you and guide you throughout the next forty days and forty nights. My prayer for you is that God shows you your true purpose and that you embrace that purpose with your whole being.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Lent is a time to renew wherever we are in that process that I call the divine therapy. It’s a time to look what our instinctual needs are, look at what the dynamics of our unconscious are.” – Thomas Keating

PRAYER

Lord, guide me during Lent so that I may better understand who I am as well as who’s I am! Amen.

Rising from the Ash

Read Genesis 3:1-19; John 1:1-5, 14; 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Rising from the AshSurely most, if not all, of us have the image etched into our head. There in a quaint little cemetery, stand a group of people dressed in black, all gathered around a rectangular hole in the ground. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” echo the priest’s voice through the thickened, damp mist that blankets the sky in a dismal, dark gray.  As the words fade out into the foggy veil, the rain begins to fall, each drop turning the dusty ground into muddy spittle.

This is an image that reminds us all of our own mortality. It is often an image that we reserve for depressing dramas, eerie horror movies or other stories that are meant to haunt us in the night.  When all is said and done, most of us try to bury the notion of our mortality until the moment in which we must come face to face with it.  We all know that we are mortal, that our time here is limited; however, most of us live our lives in a way that seeming denies what we know to be true.

Such images often come to mind on Ash Wednesday, where we are reminded of our mortality; however, it is also a day in which we are supposed to be reminded of our imperfection. The reminder of our mortality does, in fact, humble us to recognize our need for something bigger than we are.  In ancient Israel, and the surrounding regions, people who sough God’s forgiveness would wear sackcloth and roll around in ash, as seen in Jeremiah 6:26. The ash served as a reminder of the penitent person’s mortality, humbling the person into repentance. This also went along with fasting and continual prayer.

But the ultimate point of Ash Wednesday goes far beyond the grave, far beyond human mortality, and far beyond human culpability.  After all, we were not created to live in a permanent state of guilt. Unfortunately, many Christians get stuck in the mea culpa mentality, believing that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God. I remember being stuck in that state, praying for forgiveness every second of every moment I prayed. My prayers would consist of, “Lord, forgive me of this” and, “Lord, forgive me of that.”  I would sometimes repeat the words “forgive me” without really knowing what I was seeking forgiveness for.

As Christians, the ashes being imposed on Ash Wednesday should not only remind us of our immortality and/or our culpability; however, it should also be a reminder that we are constantly being sought out by a God who loves us; that God loved us so much that God chose to take on our form and live life as a mortal. A God who chose to become dust with us, and return to dust for us.  But the story doesn’t stop there, because out of the dust God rose up and conquered death, showing us that nothing is impossible for those who believe that true LOVE never dies.

While many people focus on the mortality and culpability aspects of Ash Wednesday, and those aspects have their place, I see this day of observance to be one of celebrating life in God. It is a day in which we are reminded of the mighty works God has done in and through Christ Jesus…and the mighty works God is doing in and through each and every one of us!  So, wherever you are today, when you are getting the ashes imposed, close your eyes and see the God who rose from the dust and turned the ashes into lilies. Then open your eyes and remember that this is exactly what God has done in you! Breathe in the life God has given you and go share that life with others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“”The cross, with which the ashes are traced upon us, is the sign of Christ’s victory over death.” – Thomas Merton

PRAYER

Lord, help me to move forward from guilt to the new life you have waiting for me. Help me also to share that life in relevant ways with those around me who are in need of it. Amen.