Tag Archives: Peace

God’s People, part 185: Paralytic

Read Matthew 9:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’”  (John 5:8, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

disabled-signPart 185, Paralytic. Accessibility has always been an issue for folks who have been traditionally seen as “disabled”. In fact, it still is an issue as not every place is accommodating of different needs. Still, overall, accessibility has come a long way and more places than not are taking into consideration the needs of others. In fact, the word disabled is even up for discussion as some people feel that is a denigrating label that devalues those with differing abilities.

For instance, while one might not be able to walk, that disability does not, nor should it, define the whole person and/or what they are or aren’t capable of. In fact, we all have “disabilities” one sense or another. For instance, I can sing. That is an ability I have. Others, however, are tone deaf and couldn’t even accidentally stumble onto a right note. That would be a “disability” for them; however, tone deaf people are not labeled and stigmatized by the term “disabled”. Yet, an opera singer who is paralyzed would be labeled “disabled”, which defines them by their disability, rather than their ability.

With all of that said, the fact that we’re even discussing the “labels” that folks in need of ability accommodations shows that we’ve come a long way from where people were in Jesus’ day. That just wasn’t a topic of discussion, nor was it in the social consciousness of people. Especially in Judaism, being born paralyzed or crippled was often seen as a result of sin.

We can see this is the case in the account of Jesus healing the man born blind. “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins’” (John 9:2, NLT)? In that very question, we see the mindset of the people in Jesus’ day and age. The disciples assumed that someone who was born blind must have been paying the price of sin. Otherwise, why would God allow for that.

Jesus’ response was pastorally corrective. People are not paralyzed, blind, deaf mute, etc. because of their sin or the sin of their parents. God was not behind the man being born blind, he just was. God is not behind paralysis, or the loss of hearing, or any other “disability”; rather, those things happen because we live in a world that is broken and fallen. That brokenness is the result of sin broadly speaking; however, Jesus is clear that someone who is differently abled should not have their “disabilities” held over their heads in judgment.

In fact, the appropriate response to any person, regardless of ability, is to approach with dignity as children of the Most High God. To do otherwise is counter to God’s law and the teachings of Christ. The disciples were looking to find reasons to avoid the blind man and if they knew his sin, that would give them justification for their biases. Yet, Jesus raises their understanding to see the bigger picture: the child of God in front of them and God’s work within that person bringing about the glory of God!

We, as humans, too often fall into the trap of labeling people and judging them based off of the labels we assign them. We do this racially, we do this in terms of age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and a whole host of different categories we label people by. What’s more, as hypocrites, we do not like it when people label us. I don’t like it when someone labels me a “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male”, but in what ways do I label others?

The challenge for us is to become more aware of how we refer to and treat other people. Are we aware of who they are as human beings, attentive to their needs, and respectful of their humanity and the divine image they’re created in? Or do we assign labels to them and objectify them in ways that take away their dignity and diminish (if not eliminate) their humanity. It is clear, which way is the Christian approach, and which way is not. Let us follow Christ and treat people with dignity regardless of differences.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognized as the person that they are and not a stereotype or an image.” – Loretta Lynch

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid labeling others and help me to treat everyone with dignity, respect and love. Amen.

God’s People, part 184: Lepers

Read Mark 1:40-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared.”  (Matthew 8:2-3, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Leper-HealingPart 184: Lepers. When we hear the word Leprosy or  Lepers, we think of people who have what is also known as Hansen’s Disease. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), leprosy is a bacterial infection that attacks the nerves, skin, eyes, and the inner lining of the nose. When attacking the nerves, the bacterial infection causes swelling and discoloration of the skin, which can also get flaky.

If left untreated, permanent nerve damage can be done leading also to paralysis of the hands and feet. A slow growing bacteria, it can take up to 20 years before one even shows symptoms of having it. This disease was once considered to be highly contagious; however, researchers have come to realize that it is not so easily spread, especially when it is treatable. People with leprosy, if properly treated, can go on to live normal and productive lives.

In the Bible, we read the word leprosy a number of times. Namaan, the Aramean General in 2 Kings 5, had leprosy. Leprosy is also mentioned a number of times in the Gospels, where Jesus lays hands on them and heals them. There’s a lot we don’t know about the disease that these lepers had; however, what we do know is that those afflicted with leprosy in Biblical times did not have what we know now as Hansen’s disease which was described above. The Hebrew word for leprosy is tzara’ath (צָרַעַת, pronounced tzaw-rah’-ath). This word was used for those who had a dermatological condition that caused the skin to scale.

Psoriasis, which can also lead to crippling psoriatic arthritis, seborrheic dermatitis, scabies, crusted scabies, syphilis, impetigo, scarlet fever, and other such diseases could be classified in the ancient world as tzara’ath or leprosy. In other words, any number of dermatological diseases could have been considered leprosy and anyone with that disease would be viewed as a leper.

Leprosy was viewed as a defiling disease, meaning that anyone with it would be deemed ritually and physically unclean. Such people were shunned and avoided at all costs. They were not allowed to live within the community, nor were they allowed to participate in the community’s religious life. They often lived in “colonies” of others with the disease.

According to the annotations found in The Jewish Study Bible, “The Bible does not view disease per se as defiling. Only those having “tzara’at” or abnormal genital fluxes are considered to be impure…Tzara’at, seen as a gradual erosion of the skin, was thought to culminate, unless the patient recovered, in the ultimate disintegration of the flesh, which was taken as a manifestation of the gradual escape of life. The person afflicted with it was looked upon as potentially dead, death itself having begun to consume his body.”[1]

If one even so much as came in contact with or touched a leper, they too would be seen as defiled. Thus, people avoided lepers like the plague. What’s more, many believed that leprosy was a divine punishment for the act of slander. Thus, those who had leprosy were not only shunned, but judged by society. Thus, we can see how scandalous it was for Jesus to lay hands on and heal lepers. Not only did he risk defiling himself, but he was also showing his power over sin.

When dealing with the healings that Jesus performed, I want us to focus more on society and on us as “the people of God”, for it is there that we see the true sin and missed opportunities in living up to being God’s people. The stories of Jesus healing the lepers ought to challenge us that God loves people equally, no matter what may or may not be afflicting them. When we shun such people because they are “gross”, or “disgusting”, or “we might catch what they have”, we are actually shunning God. When we refuse to help people because “they brought it upon themselves” we are actually putting ourselves above God.

While we should take precautions so as to not infect ourselves or spread infectious diseases, we should approach all people as children of God who deserve to be treated with love, compassion and diginty. We should work toward bringing healing to folks, rather than more harm through shunning and judging them. Let us open ourselves up to being God’s people rather than being people of the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are blessed that we might be a blessing to others. Shunning people is not blessing them.

PRAYER
Lord, help us to be compassionate to all who suffer no matter the cause, and steer us away from judgment. Amen.

[1] Schwartz, Baruch J. “Annotations for Leviticus 13.1-14.57” in The Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999), 234.

God’s People, part 183: Demons

Read Mathew 8:14-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  (James 2:19, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Demons_SilhouettePart 183: Demons. If I took the time to write about every individual person healed by Jesus, then I think the concluding words to John’s Gospel would be especially fitting, “If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written”  (John 21:25, NLT). So, I have decided that I would group most of the healings together per the type of healing they were.

The first grouping of those healed are the demon possessed. In the Gospel of Mark, aside from preaching, exorcism was the very first act Jesus did at the beginning of his ministry. The Gospels state, in fact, that Jesus performed exorcisms on many people throughout his three year ministry. These acts tell us quite a bit about Jesus, about the demons themselves, and about those who were possessed by them. What’s more, it also tells us a lot about the society in which these miracles occurred.

First, that Jesus has the authority to command demons to leave people tells us who Jesus is. Only God has such authority purify the unclean. Each of these exorcisms are an exercise of God’s authority over sin, evil and death. Each of these miracles represent God’s power to forgive sins, to rid a person of evil, and to purify them, making them righteous before God. That Jesus had such a command over demons is a witness to the presence of God within Jesus.

The demons themselves all knew who Jesus was too. In each case, the demons would hiss out at Jesus, “We know who you are, Jesus, Son of God!” Each time, especially in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus commands them to be quiet and to no reveal who he is to the masses; however, the demons DID know who he was. In fact, in the Gospel of Mark they are the only ones who KNOW Jesus’ true identity, with the exception of the Roman Centurion, who figures it out right after Jesus dies.

Again, this all points us to Jesus’ divine identity. Jesus was not merely a nice prophet who taught really nice things before being wrongly put to death on a cross; rather, Jesus IS the Son of God, the embodiment of God in human flesh. The demons all knew that and they were terrified of Jesus because he was filled with the authority of God.

Those who were demon-possessed were truly on the margins of society. Thus, the people themselves were shunned. They were avoided like the plague by friends and community members who saw them as being “unclean”. That meant that they could not participate in community life, and they most definitely could not participate in religious life. Just stop and pause a moment, who needs to be embraced by the religious community more than someone who is possessed by demons. Yet, these folks were isolated away from spiritual nourishment.

The reason for this was the fact that demon-possession was viewed as being the result of sin. Thus, the demon-possessed were viewed by society as being unclean and were to be avoided. We see this most clearly with the demoniac, whom I will write about in more detail in a separate devotion; however, in that person we see someone who was outcast from his community, chained up and living among the caves and tombs.

It is to such people that Jesus came and brought the loving acceptance and healing of God. In fact, Jesus’ actions made it clear for all who witnessed, God doesn’t reject the folks people deem as unclean or unworthy; rather, God shows them favor, forgives them, and includes them in God’s Kingdom. Following their being healed, those who had been demon possessed all became witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ!

This should give us hope, for we too have our demons. We are possessed by things that tear us away from God. We also, like the religious community in Jesus’ day, fail to see our own demons are too quick to point out demons in another. One thing is for sure, Jesus Christ is the ONLY One who can exorcise our demons and free us for joyful obedience to God.

Let us open ourselves to Jesus who will save us from the spiritual warfare that rages on within us. What’s more, let us not fall in the judgmental trappings of the religious institution. Christ has empowered us to bear God’s forgiveness, mercy, healing and salvation to all who need it. Let us be demon hunters in Christ Jesus our Lord, as opposed to people judgers.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you pain, He’s a pain taker. If you feel lost, He’s a way maker. If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior. If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker.” – Zach Williams in his song “Chain Breaker”

PRAYER
Lord, cleanse me from the demons at war within me, and guide me to be a presence of love and healing for those who are struggling with demons of their own. Amen.

God’s People, part 182: The Other Women

Read Luke 8:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened.”  (Luke 24:10, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

bible-films-christ-followers-women-1128908-wallpaperPart 182: The Other Women. One of the truly remarkable aspects of the Gospels is Jesus’ interaction with women. His willingness to teach and engage, let alone permit, women followers distinguishes Jesus from all the rest of the sagely rabbis and philosophers of his day and age. Not only that, but he is honestly distinguishable from all of the teachers and philosophers of years gone by leading up to his age. It was truly unique to Jesus.

Even more remarkable is that the Gospel writers themselves were not scandalized by it; rather, they included that detail in their accounts. I love when people bring up the “inconsistencies” between the Gospel accounts as “proof” that the texts are not reliable historically. Of course, we don’t hold the same standard with differing biographies on JFK or Abraham Lincoln, all of which have discrepancies in them too; however, with the Gospels, modernists like to hold the Gospels to a “higher” standard.

Yet, what makes the Gospel accounts credible to me is that they include things that would be scandalous and even embarrassing for the people they are seeking to account for. For instance, Jesus hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors would have been a shame on him and an embarrassment to his family, yet that is included in the accounts. What’s more, Jesus having female followers would have been scandalous. Women knew their place in that society and their place was in the home, not learning and debating with sagely teachers. Only men were permitted to do that.

Yet, the Gospel writers include the fact that Jesus had faithful women followers and, even more importantly, that some of them were prominently supporting his ministry financially. On top of that, the Resurrected Christ is first seen and witnessed to by the women and, in a twist of epic proportions, those women become the apostles to the apostles. If the Gospel writers were making up fanciful stories to promote some sort of agenda (as cynical modernists like to imagine), why include those “embarrassing” moments? That makes absolutely no sense at all.

What’s more likely is that women were absolutely VITAL to the spreading of the Jesus movement following his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. Jesus had built a culture of inclusion among his disciples that carried on long after he’d gone to heaven, and the earliest Christian writers accounted for that. Some of those women I have already written about, others I will write about in future devotions; however, each of the women (named or unnamed) were vital parts of the Jesus movement. Jesus would have had it no other way.

Unfortunately, we live in a man’s world, and the church fell prey to ideologies that reflected the world’s view of women as opposed to Christ’s view of them. As such, things crept into the Christian tradition and even into the Bible that countered Christ’s acceptance and inclusion of women’s role in ministry. Even to this day there are “complimentarians” in Christianity who are staunchly opposed to the kind of radical inclusion of women in ministry that Jesus first initiated.

As a pastor, in every church I have served at I have had at least some people come up and tell me how happy they are that they now have a man serving as pastor. That always makes me feel uncomfortable and, honestly, offended. What about my anatomy and physiology makes me any better of a pastor than a woman? When one stops and thinks about it, the science is not there to back up any sort of superiority, nor is reason or logic! What’s more, Jesus is not there to back that up as Jesus valued women in ministry and he sent a woman, Mary Magdalene, to  preach the Good News to the Apostles who were hiding in fear of their lives.

The challenge for us is to begin to see things as Christ saw them. The challenge for us is to begin to become more and more inclusive of others. Men and women are equally called to serve Christ and who are we to stand in their way as their adversary? Let us begin to bring the church back to the place where it first started, a place of radical inclusivity and hospitality. In doing so, we will draw even closer to Christ than we already are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No doubt [women of faith in the past] were reproached for His name’s sake, and accounted mad women; but they had a faith which enabled them at that time to overcome the world, and by which they climbed up to heaven.” – Rev. George Whitefield

PRAYER
Lord, I thank you for the women of faith in my life and for the women who boldly preach your Gospel so that others might turn and be saved. For such women in the past, now and in the future, I give you thanks. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 92, Amos

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

God’s People, part 181: Lazarus

Read John 11:1-44

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.”  (John 12:10-11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Bonnat01LazarusPart 181: Lazarus. The account of Lazarus is on that is familiar to many people. Not to be confused with the poor man named Lazarus in Jesus’ parable in Luke, Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary. Not too much is known about him other than the fact that he and his sisters were friends and followers of Jesus. There is much speculation as to his age, as the Bible mentions that he was “living with his sisters”, indicating that Lazarus might have even been a boy living in their care.

Regardless of his age, he was someone Jesus had loved, and when he died Jesus was deeply moved to the point of weeping. In fact, the Scripture says that Jesus grew angry (or greatly disturbed) at his death. Of course, anger is a natural part of the grieving process and Jesus, being human, was grieving the loss of Lazarus. The scene is very touching, a beautiful display of Jesus’ humanity and a testament to the love he had for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

Lazarus’ death, and Jesus’ reaction to it, is a stark reminder of on very important fact regarding the world we live in: it is broken and evanescent. What’s more, life in this world is short, fragile and, eventually, everything in this world dies. What’s lamentable is that is not how God created the world; however, due to human sin, that is the very reality that the world fell into. If you think back to the wicked serpent’s words to Eve in the Garden of Eden, which was addressed in part 1 of this series, you will see the bigger picture.

The devil, through the serpent, told Eve that humans would not die if they disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but that humans would instead become like God. Those words were true to an extent, and the first humans did not immediately die, but became like God in having the ability to discern good from evil. With that said, they instantly became separated from God, and while they knew good from evil, they lacked in the wisdom to discern what was ULTIMATELY GOOD and ULTIMATELY EVIL.

What’s more, death immediately entered into their reality, even if they didn’t realize it at first. They were cut off from the tree of life, they had to kill animals to cover their nakedness, their oldest son killed their youngest son thus giving birth to murder. From that point on, the beautiful world that God created was never the same. As much as it was still beautiful, it was also filled with sin, evil, greed, corruption, oppression, murder and, ultimately, death for everything that lived in it.

We see this reality in what follows Lazarus being miraculously raised from the dead. Scripture says that, following his resurrection and six days prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Lazaurs is at a supper that Martha prepared for Jesus. Many people from all over surrounded the home they were in because they wanted to see Jesus and this man whom he had raised. This, of course, disturbed the religious leaders and it says that they even considered murdering Lazarus because so many people were believing in Jesus as a result of him being raised from the dead.

While, we don’t have a ton of information on Lazarus, and it is impossible to tell what his strengths and weaknesses were as a human being, what we can do is come to an understanding of the world in which we all live. This world is so mired in sin that it would rather snuff out the presence of God than celebrate at the salvific work of God in and through others.

This should challenge us to pause and reflect on how we participate in trying to snuff out God’s work. In what ways have we allowed sin to dominate and control our lives, and in what ways have we participated in the world’s rejection of Jesus Christ. I pray that, in honest reflection, you open your heart to the ways in which you resist God so that you may respond to God’s grace and move more toward God and who God is calling you to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The mystery of the Christian life is that Christ expects us to flee sin and the devil, but does not expect us to rid ourselves of either on this side of glory. Repentance is a way of life, and so is the pursuit of godliness. I wish every Christian could be reminded of these two things.” – Kevin DeYoung

PRAYER
Lord, expose my sin to me and cleanse me of it so that I might fully praise, worship and serve you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Defying Gravity

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, since I will am away at Annual Conference this week, I thought I would have us  LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

A LOOK BACK: Tourniquet

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, since I will am away at Annual Conference this week, I thought I would have us  LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

God’s People, part 180: Mary of Bethany

Read Luke 10:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”  (John 11:32, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

MaryAointingJesusPart 180: Mary of Bethany. I belong to a group of clergy who meet to preach and discuss preaching before each other. It is a small covenant group that was established to help us all better hone our preaching skills. Like any group of professionals, clergy are always seeking ways to grow in their effectiveness as preachers, teachers and communicators.

Today, as I sit down and write this devotion on Mary of Bethany, I must confess that I was blessed to hear a sermon from a good friend and colleague, Rev. Amanda Rohrs-Dodge, on Martha and Mary of Bethany. The sermon was around the subject of hospitality and that there are really many different forms that hospitality comes in.

As was discussed in the last devotion, Martha and Mary had Jesus over as their guest. In that culture, one that was built on honor, it was a sacred duty to show radical hospitality to one’s guests. Such hospitality included making them feel at home, tending to their every need, preparing a feast, and ensuring that the guest had a safe place to rest and be. That is why, in the Old Testament, people like Lot went to troubling extremes to defend his guests from the towns people who were wanting to have their way with them.

As such, Martha was busy busy being the host, tending to Jesus’ every need and making sure everything was in order, dishes prepared, food cooked, etc. What’s more, when she saw Mary sitting and listening to Jesus rather than helping her with what needed to be done, she complained to Jesus about how unfair it was that Mary wasn’t helping out. She did this to scold her sister and she asked Jesus to send her sister away to help her.

This is where Rev. Amanda’s sermon comes in, because she shed light on an important point that I had never even considered before. While Martha was showing Jesus hospitality through taking on the role of the host, Mary was also showing Jesus hospitality by simply sitting and listening to him. She was showing radical hospitality through being present for Jesus. In fact, the account does not tell us that any one else was doing that. I just mentions that Mary was there listening to him.

Whether there were others or not is beyond the point. We so often look for God to be present with us, we look for Jesus to be present in our lives, but do we ever stop to consider being present for God? After all, what more does God want that a relationship with us? What’s more, how can we have a relationship with God if we are not present for God to have said relationship? Healthy relationships are always a two-way street.

Mary was not perfect at this, by any means. In her moment of grief and despair at the death of her brother, she was angry at Jesus because he wasn’t present for her brother when he was gravely ill. In not being present for her brother, she felt he had abandoned her as well. She wouldn’t have had to grieve and experience the pain death and loss if Jesus had just showed up.

With that said, in her grief she also failed initially to realize that Jesus, too, was grieving the loss of Lazarus. Knowing there is a grander plan in place does not make the death of a loved one any easier. Who was present for Jesus in his pain and in his grief? Yet, relationships are a give and take and Jesus understood why Mary was upset and it grieved him all the more.

Still, when not consumed by grief and despair, Mary was a person who chose to be present for Jesus. She didn’t look for him to serve her, she served him and looked to learn from the One she loved so dearly. That is why, while all the other disciples were missing the point, Mary was the one who anointed Jesus’ feet, an act that symbolically prepared his body and spirit for the brutal death he was about to face. That is why Jesus said that whenever people talk about his death and suffering, they will remember the kindness, compassion, and presence of Mary.

Indeed, this ought to challenge each of us to grow in our hospitality. We ought to be hospitable to others, and we ought to play the part of the host, attending to the physical needs of others. But we also need to balance the inner-Martha with Mary as well. We ought not merely be busy, but take time to actually be present with those we are serving. What’s more, we ought to reflect on how we can show hospitality to ourselves and to God. Let this be our challenge, that we grow from distracted, busy hosts to radically hospitable people.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is important that we not only show hospitality to other people, but that we show it to the One who first showed it to us. All that requires is our sincere presence.

PRAYER
Lord, You are always present for me, to the point I need not even ask for that. Now, Lord, I want to be present for you as well. Thank you for being in relationship with me and create in me a more hospitable and present spirit. Amen.

God’s People, part 179: Martha of Bethany

Read Luke 10:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.”  (John 12:2, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesus-mary-marthaPart 179: Martha of Bethany. Martha has been the subject of many of sermons, devotions and even sections of books regarding women of faith. She was the sister of Mary and Lazarus and, along with her sister and brother, she was a close friend to Jesus of Nazareth. It is uncertain as to how Jesus became friends with them, whether or not they were long-time family friends. What we do know is that Jesus had a profound love for them and it is Jesus’ interactions with Martha and Mary where we see Jesus in his most profoundly human moments.

Martha clearly had a profound belief in Jesus. In the Gospel According to John, Martha was the woman who first approached Jesus when he arrived at her brother’s funeral. She was actively grieving the death of Lazarus, and she was visibly upset with Jesus who had not come in her brother’s time of need. She cried out to him, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Yet, Martha also believed in Jesus. Her faith was clearly placed in him and so she followed her initial grief-filled comment with this heart-felt statement of faith, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha knew, even if she could not help being angry at the whole situation, that Jesus was the answer to all questions. While she could not understand why her brother was allowed to die, she trusted in Jesus all the same.

It was also Martha who was notorious for being eager to serve. In the Gospel According to John 12:1-8, Martha was the one who prepared and served the meal in Simon the Leper’s house. This was the meal at which Martha’s sister, Mary, anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. Martha was always busy serving Jesus in whatever way she could. She was a woman of GREAT hospitality.

With that said, sometimes her desire to serve also stood in her way. Like all human beings, Martha was not without her flaws. In the Gospel According to Luke, we see such as scene where Martha’s desire to serve brought her to scold her sister, Mary. Jesus had been visiting their house and Martha was busy being the hostess.

Culturally speaking, it was a great honor to have a teacher such as Jesus visit their home and the women of the house would work hard to make sure that the special guest received the “royal treatment”, as it were. Thus, Martha was working hard to show extraordinary hospitality to Jesus; however, Mary was sitting by Jesus’ side listening to his teaching and engaging in conversation.

Martha was incensed. That was no place for the likes of her sister to be. She ought to have been helping Martha in showing hospitality to Jesus. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” Jesus replied to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

While I am sure that interaction was humiliating to Martha, it teaches us a great deal about ourselves as well. It challenges us to pause and really reflect on whether or not we are putting our efforts in the right place. Sometimes we work and work on all of the wrong things. Or, perhaps what we are working on is good to an extent, but it is not what is ULTIMATELY GOOD.

This should challenge us to see where we are spending all of our efforts. Are they being invested in listening and following Jesus, or are they being put into the façade that the church can often become? Are our efforts invested in Jesus Christ, or are we putting on a “dinner theater” party that, ultimately misses the mark? Let us reflect on that and adjust, accordingly, to where the Holy Spirit is guiding us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Jesus is the answer. Now, what’s the question?” – Karl Barth

PRAYER
Lord, help me to invest my time in you and you alone. Let all other things fade, for you alone are the answer! Amen.