Tag Archives: Mother Teresa

The Sermon, part 11: Fifth Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind.” (Leviticus 24:19-20 NLT)

embracingtheevildoer-passionofthechristContext, context, context shall be the prescription of the day. Anyone who reads these devotions knows that I believe context is key in properly undestanding anything. So it is here, in Jesus’ fifth antithesis, which hyerbolizes the Hebrew Scriptures, mixing it with conventional wisdom in order to show the extreme reversal in the Kingdom of God.

To start off, there is absolutely no command in the Torah or anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures for one to hate his/her enemy. With that said, there are plenty of instances where it is said that God hates evildoers and, using conventional wisdom, it would follow that if God hates evil doers then so should God’s children. Right? Well, according to Jesus while God is no fan of evildoing, God also does not believe that fighting evil with evil is the way to go.

In order to make a point of this, Jesus utilizes three examples, of which I hope some context will shed light on. In Jesus’ world, the right hand was the power hand. The left hand was the hand that one used to wipe themselves following doing “their business”, it was the hand that was seen as being the “unclean” hand for the obvious reasons. Thus, in Jesus’ culture, you didn’t shake with your left hand, you didn’t eat with your left hand and, for sure, you didn’t punch with your left hand. Well, you didn’t if you intended to knock someone out.

With that said, if one’s right cheek is being hit, than one must assume that, in this culture, that was a backhanded blow. More of an insult than something that would produce real injury. Jesus’ response is that if one insults you in a stinging way, that you should turn the other cheek and invite injury as well. This isn’t because Jesus loved getting injured or that he wanted to see his followers get injured, but that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildoer rather than retaliates.

The second example is a court case where the court decides that one must give the plaintiff his/her “shirt”, which was really a long nightshirt-like main garment, as settlement for a law suit. Jesus commands his followers to not only give the shirt, but also his/her cloak as well. Of course, If one did that they would be standing in the courtroom COMPLETELY NUDE! This isn’t meant to be taken literally, per se, but shows that God’s call for embracing the “evildoer” goes far beyond the requirements of the law (Exodus 22:25-26).

For the third example, Jesus utilizes was a political reality in his time period. It was legal for Roman soldiers to demand that a person show them the way to where they were going, as well as even carry some of their stuff for a specified distance. In fact, Simon of Cyrene was ordered to carry the cross of Jesus during his belabored march to calvary (Matthew 27:32). Jesus states, once again, that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildower not through retaliation, but by doing for the evildoer even more than what is required by the law.

This may all seem quite a bit confusing; however, it is important to understand that Jesus sees the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven, which is used synonomously) to be the complete antithesis to the Kingdom(s) of this world. To retaliate, to seek vengeance, to be violent is not God’s way but the world’s way. To put it more starkly, retalition/vegneance/violence IS SATAN’S DOMAIN and completely antithetical to the way of God. Yet, it must be said that EVIL is NOT absolute and God’s Kingdom will win against it.

How, you might ask? By embracing those who do evil against you, by loving them and, who knows, by potentially winning them over with God’s love. Even if that is not the end, God is defeating evil because, in those who refuse to participate in evil, LOVE IS CONQUERING. The idea is this, evil can only win in our lives if we choose to participate in it.

The question going forward is this, how seriously do we take Jesus on this? Do we, like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pfc. Desmond T. Doss and others, take Jesus seriously or do we have a line that we will NOT cross in follownig him? Will we embrace our enemies and those who do evil toward us, will we show them love in return for their hate, or will we fight evil with evil? This does not mean we should “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6), as we will later see, nor should we go out of our way to be hurt by evildoers; however, if evil is done to you, what will be your response?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I couldn’t picture Christ with a rifle killing people.” – Pfc. Desmond T. Doss, U.S. Medal of Honor Winner, Conscientious objector.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live as Christ taught me to live. Give me the strength to resist evil by embracing and loving the evildoer. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 5: Hungry

Read Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21a

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” (Isaiah 58:10 NLT)

mother-teresa-feedingOne of the brilliant things that Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes brings to the table is that it provides us with a deeper and more profound understanding of the heart of Christ’s teachings. It is widely believed by scholars that the four Gospels drew the words and teachings of Jesus from the hypothetical “Q” source. It is nicknamed “Q” because it comes from the German word “Quelle”, which literally means “source.” I say that this source is “hypothetical” because there is no archaelogial proof or record of  it, however, Matthew and Luke seem to have been utilizing the same source material (both “Q” and the Gospel of Mark) for their Gospels. What’s more, they were doing so independent of one another, as each of the four Gospels were written in different places and times.

Many scholars believee that Luke’s account of what Jesus said in Luke 6:21a, is a direct quote of “Q”, as it presents the most simplified version of the Beatitude. The reasoning behind this is that typically, when humans change things, they do so by adding to something. In Luke 6:21a, Jesus says, “God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied”; however, in Matthew 5:6, Jesus is quoted as saying, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,  for they will be satisfied.” It seems, on the surface anyhow, that while both are utilizing the same source for the quote, Matthew added to the quote in a way that Luke opted not to.

Of course, this is all educated speculation and it may or may not be the way it worked out in the writing and development of the Gospels; yet, it has led some to speculate that Matthew was “spiritualizing “Q” and, therefore, altering what Jesus was actually saying. I think that this is a grave mistake and has led some people to trivialize what Matthew’s account is undertaking. In Luke, Jesus’ beatitude blesses the physically famished. Period. “God blesses those who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied.”

In doing so, Luke’s Jesus is calling attention to the eschatological (aka “end of the age”) promise of God to right the wrongs of those who are poor, of those who are sorrowful, and of those who are hungry. It operates under the belief that God is working to bring justice into the world and, when that time comes, the world order as it exists today will cease to exist.

Matthew is ABSOLUTELY NOT in disagreement with Luke, and let’s not forget that Matthew wrote his Gospel prior to and separately from Luke. What’s remarkable here, in both independent accounts, is that we have what we can reasonably determine is an actual teaching of Jesus. The Gospels, despite differences in the accounts (which is a natural occurance when two different people are independently writing about the same person), truly do corroborate each other and convey the teachings of our Lord.

Matthew was not in disagreement with Luke, nor was Matthew “spiritualizing” the teaching found in “Q”. What Matthew’s Jesus is saying is that not only is Jesus calling attention to the eschatological promise of God in the Kingdom to come, but that God’s is actively working to bring that reality in the world as we speak. How, you ask? Because not only are people literally hungering and thirsting for food and drink, but people are hungering and thirsting for justice (also translated as righteousness) to be done. What’s more, it is not just the poor who hunger and thirst for such things; rather, all who truly follow Christ (and God) hunger and thirst for justice.

If one hungers and thirsts for something, they do not just it idly by and wait for some delivery truck to bring what they need. Instead, they actively seek what they need out. In other words, those who hunger and thirst for justice are actively seeking to do works of justice in the world around them. This is what Christ calls his disciples to do and this, in Matthew’s account, is the wisdom Jesus is imparting to his disciples and to those who are wishing to follow him. “Blessed are you who actively work to bring God’s justice into this injust world, for you will be satisfied in what you do and your work will not be in vain, neither now nor when God’s justice one day reigns supreme in the Kingdom to come. So the question for you to reflect on is this, are you bringing Jesus’ beatitude to life and, if not, are you willing to say, “Here I am, Lord! Send me!”?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.” – Mother Teresa
PRAYER
Lord, I hunger and thirst for justice. Use me to be a blessing for those in need of it. Amen.

All Authority

Read Luke 9:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20, NLT)

magic_gateway_wallpaper_by_jerry8448d4nyul6For those of us who are Christian, how easy it is for us to call ourselves people of faith, right? We often set ourselves apart from the “non-believing world.” We often separate ourselves from those who “don’t believe” and/or those who “don’t have faith” and see ourselves in an “us versus them” kind of way. I am not pointing this out in order to point out Christians in a way that is different from any other human religion, institution or group. All humans see their group in an “us versus them” kind of way. That is, whether fortunately or unfortunately, the human condition.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that Christians do see themselves as being people of faith. I am pretty sure that all Christians, everywhere, would agree with that statement. Yet, in my own observance, many Western Christians (in American especially) do not live out their faith with much conviction. Sure, we are good at being convicted about certain things. I mean, many Christians will flip over backwards to tell you how we’ve fallen from God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23), how Christ’s death was God’s plan to save us from our sins and close the chasm that lay between us and God, and that all we need to do to be saved is to say the sinner’s prayer (whatever that is) and accept Jesus into our hearts. Once that has been done, we are saved and no longer a slave to sin and death (Romans 8:1-2); what’s more, once we’ve been saved nothing can ever separate us from the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

We are convicted to tell you that part of the Gospel story, but that is just about where our conviction ends. As a result, Western Christianity is rather shallow and completely skips over the ACTUAL end of the Gospel. Being forgiven of our sins is only a part of the Gospel story…and it happens to be the beginning of it, not the end. You see, anyone who has read any part of the Hebrew Scriptures could figure out we’re sinners and that God is working to forgive us of our sins. It’s not like God wasn’t forgiving sins before Jesus. Yes, Jesus sacrifice for us and the salvation that sacrifice brings is a part of the Gospel story, but not the whole of it; rather, when we accept Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, we also accept the authority Christ has given us.

What authority you ask? The authority to represent Christ in the world. We have been the authority to fight against injustice and oppression, the authority to care for and bring healing to the sick, the authority to be present with the lost, the depressed and the lonely. We have been given authority over the powers of darkness and over the inner demons that try to take us and others down. To accept Christ’s forgiveness, to attain salvation in Christ, is to accept the authority that Christ is giving us over such things. But that’s not the end of it either. Once we’ve accepted Christ, and Christ’s authority, we being sent out by Christ into the world proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom. In other words, we are to proclaim to the world that the day of equality, social justice, mercy, compassion, peace, love, and God’s presence has finally arrived. This is exactly what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing when he spoke to the nation at the Lincoln Memorial. It was Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta, India. It was what Bonhoeffer was doing in Nazi Germany. This is not an activity reserved for a few who are called; rather, ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. All Christians have been equipped with spiritual gifts to do such.

Of course, this will not make Christians the most popular people in a world that wants to keep the have-nots in their places. Yet, if we are truly convicted in our beliefs, if we are truly a people of faith, then we will bless those who hear and accept the proclamation of God’s Kingdom and shake the dust off of our feet when it comes to those who refuse to. The latter is not intended to be our judgment against them; rather, Christ is telling us to leave the opponents of God to God and is calling us to focus on those who would ally themselves with God and with the arrival of God’s Kingdom of hope, healing and wholeness. The question for us is this, how convicted are we? How much faith do we possess. God knows what tree we are by our fruit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is much easier to call oneself “a person of faith” than it is to ACTUALLY live a life of faith.
PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me and continually work in me so that I may move beyond my fear and accept the authority you have given me. Amen.

No Doze

Read Mark 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

No DozeDo you remember the story of Rip Van Winkle? It’s the story of a man who is well loved by the people in his village.  He lived during the time prior to the Revolutionary War.  Van Winkle’s major character flaw was that he was lazy and that he loathed any kind of “profitable labor”.  His wife, Dame Van Winkle, is on his case about his laziness and he does anything to escape her nagging him.

One day, while escaping his exasperated wife, Rip goes hiking in the mountains.  While hiking he runs into a group of men who offer him some liquor to drink.  Taking the drink Rip gets very sleepy and falls asleep.  When he wakes up he notices that his gun is rotted and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found.  Heading back to town Rip makes the mistake of saying that he is a loyal subject of King George III.  What Rip doesn’t realize is that he has been asleep for twenty year and that the American Revolution has taken place and the American colonies have won their independence from Great Britain.

In today’s reading, Jesus is talking about when he will return at the end times and he warns his disciples that they need to be ready and to be always watching. He uses the metaphor of a servant who is caught asleep on the job by the master of the house who has just returned home.  Not a good spot to be in if you are the servant.  Jesus is warning his disciples that there is much work to do and there isn’t any time to be wasting.

Many people spend their time, when reading verses like this, discussing and trying to predict the meaning in terms of Jesus’ second coming; however, I also see another profoundly powerful way of looking at what Jesus is teaching his disciples.  In every question Jesus is given regarding the end of the world, he always points his disciples back to his mission and the urgency to carry it out.

Another way to look at what Jesus was talking about is through the story of Mother Teresa.  There were many times she felt like giving up, many times when she was tired, worn out, doubtful and on the verge of giving up; however, she never ceased to serve the marginalized and outcast people of Calcutta, India.  She said that every time she looked into the eyes of the people she was serving, she saw Jesus.  It is this persistent vision of Jesus in the faces of those she served that helped her to endure in the mission of Christ.

This is what Jesus called his disciples toward.  Rather, than sitting around and waiting for the master to return, rather than sitting around and waiting for the advent of the messiah, Jesus wants his disciples to live as if he has already arrived.  Christ’s disciples are to see Jesus in everything they do, in everyone they meet and in every place they travel to.  Christ is to consume us at every moment and, when that happens, we can be assured that we will not be caught unaware at the presence of Christ.

Jesus doesn’t want a bunch of disciples falling asleep, like Rip Van Winkle, only to wake up and realize that Christ has come and gone.  He doesn’t want his disciples to sit idly by while the marginalized and the needy continue to linger on without hope, healing, and wholeness. Disciples of Christ need to be alert to the presence of Christ in the world, and they need to never quit doing the work of Christ in the world. In fact, it is by doing the work of Christ in the world that we, as disciples, will truly see the presence of Christ! Let us be like Mother Teresa who, no matter the circumstances, never fail to see Christ in the people all around us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

When we put on this new mind, the mind of Jesus, then his kingdom is coming in our world. Then Jesus is King of our world. – Mother Teresa

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, help me to see you in everything I see. Help me to be your hands and feet for everyone I see. Amen.

 

Every Step of the Way

Read Ecclesiastes 4:1-6; Mark 14:26-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)

Every Step of the WayHave you watched the news lately? It seems like every time I watch the news I see politicians metaphorically throwing each other the bus, buildings around the world that are burning, families that are destroyed due to horrifying violence and other such atrocities. These stories are bombarding us every day, often bombarding us multiple times a day.

It’s to the point where I often find myself questioning what the meaning of all of this really is. Does God really exist out there and, if so, what does that say about God that the world is the way it is? Is life meaningless? Is there any point to all the chaos that people suffer day in and day out? These and so many more questions run through my head and I am sure that I am not alone in that?

As a pastor and a spiritual leader, some people might find it shocking to hear me confess moments of confusion, deep questioning and doubt. Some would say that it must mean that my faith isn’t strong, or that my doubts put into question my calling as a pastor. Many have this notion that in faith there can be no doubt; however, the Bible clearly shows that to be false.

For instance, have you read Ecclesiastes lately? If not, I must suggest that you do read it and that you read all of the twelve chapters that make up the book. It is a fascinating read. The author seriously questions the meaning of life, the point of existing in a world that is so needlessly cruel. What is the point in living out our seemingly trivial lives just to die in the end? To the author of Ecclesiastes, life seems utterly meaningless.

We can also turn to Jesus to find moments of doubt and intense spiritual questioning. The obvious place to look is in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus questions God’s will. He asks for God to remove his cup of suffering. While the Gospels make this account short and sweet, they do say he was in the garden for hours, praying to God…and the specific prayer that they point out is the one where he asks God to not have him go through with dying.

The fact of the matter is that it is perfectly human to have doubts, because as human beings we do not, in fact we cannot know everything. What is unknown to us gives us reason to doubt, but doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is false to assume that “in faith there can be no doubt.” Rather, it is quite the opposite. It is from the depths of doubt that arises faith. Faith is, in fact, made stronger as a result of, and certainly in spite of, our doubts.

The next time you have doubts, do not chase them away or harbor any kind of unnecessary guilt. Instead, embrace them and wrestle through them like the author of Ecclesiastes did and like Jesus in the garden did. Know that having doubts necessary to building faith and that many saints have had their share of doubts. From Paul to Thomas, from Joan of Arc to Mother Theresa, from Martin Luther to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many Christians have faced their doubts only to find themselves riding the waves of faith that were produced by the surge of the storm of doubt. You are not alone in your doubts, and your faith will show you that you are not alone in surmounting them. God is with you every step of the way!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER

Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Out of my doubt, build up a foundation of faith. Amen.