MothersBeach.jpg

Daily Devotional

New Way Of Identifying

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 
- Galatians 3:28

Paul takes the radical work of Jesus Christ and applies it directly to the basic structures of society. “Neither Jew or Gentile” means that Jesus put an end to racial stereotyping and the dominant narrative of racial superiority. “Neither slave nor free” means that Jesus put an end to the way we value people based on their net worth and their job titles. Instead, Paul says that we are “in” Christ Jesus - that’s our new, primary identity. As Jesus said in Luke 20, we are “Children of God.” This is now the primary way we relate to one another.

And there’s a third social construction that Paul tackles as well: “nor is there male and female.” Note that he uses “and” here instead of the “or” of the previous two couplets. That’s because in the original Greek he’s citing Genesis 1 where God made us “male and female.” Paul is saying that our original design is not God’s ultimate purpose, that God has something better in store for us than defining ourselves by our gender or sexuality. Think of all the power that sexuality has in our culture - the power to dominate (as in sexual assault), the power to motivate (as in all the marketing that uses sex to sell things), and the power to create families (as in, making babies!). Jesus has upended this whole system and redefined how we relate to one another.

The next couple of days we’ll look at what is constructed in it’s place, but the Bible does a lot to destabilize the sorts of cultural systems we use to create the pecking order of who is important and how we get our self worth. Take a moment and look over those three categories - race, economics, and sexuality - and ask Jesus to reorient you towards seeing yourself and others the way he does.

No Marriage in Heaven

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection
- Luke 20:34-36

As we think some about Jesus’s perspective on sexuality, this passage can be really insightful for a couple of reasons. The first is that Jesus clarifies that there is no marriage in heaven. Each person’s primary identity is being one of “God’s children” and “children of the resurrection.” If you take a moment to think about what it means for us to be God’s children - well, then we’re siblings with each other. Jesus himself started using the language of family to describe those who followed him. While it’s been misused by pretty much every cult that’s ever existed, that doesn’t diminish the fact that Jesus redefines our primary relationship to each other as brother and sister.

So marriage is temporal and family (across all boundaries, no less!) is permanent. Can’t you see the implications for sexuality? Then ponder how Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Jesus is inviting us to participate by our prayers and by our lives in bringing heaven (where there’s no marriage!) to earth! Yikes!

This doesn’t all mean that anything goes, and don’t run out on your marriage if you’re married! But what it does do is help us reprioritize our relationships, to rethink how important sex is (in America it is VERY important), and to revalue those who don’t fit the family type that the church has called ‘normal’ and ‘best’ for centuries (heterosexual marriages with children). Take some time to pray and think about these things, inviting Jesus to shape your heart and mind.

How Open Are You About Sexuality?

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
- Luke 20:27-36

This story comes in the midst of a whole chapter in Luke where religious people are trying to trap Jesus with trick questions. This week in our devotions we’ll be looking at sexual ethics, but let’s start with the question of openness. Are you open to what Jesus may be saying to you, or are your ideas so firm that even God couldn’t change them? That’s a strange way of putting it, but that’s what happened back in the day in this passage - the Sadducees had no interest in what Jesus actually said, they were just setting him up to show how wrong he was. How about you? What questions do you have, especially in the area of what is good and healthy about sexuality? Are you willing to let them surface and to break the sound barrier with God about them by asking them and really leaning in to hear what God might have to say?

Take a few moments and write down the questions you have about sexuality and then read them out loud to God with the simple prayer, “O God, help me surrender this area of my life to you and to respond to what you want to say to me about it.”

What New Wine Looks Like In Action

God says:

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!
- Amos 5:21-24

When Jesus shows up in Luke 5 saying that his kingdom is like new wine and that it’ll burst old wineskins, he’s appealing to an ancient tradition. Eight hundred years before Jesus taught, the prophet Amos came teaching that the people’s religion was useless. He cast God’s vision for a new way to practice their faith, with justice and righteousness - namely, doing right by the poor, welcoming the foreigner and caring for the marginalized.

And along the way Jesus makes sure that people know that the kingdom of heaven is available to all who are willing to enter into a simple connection through him. Revolutionary!

This same Jesus is here today inviting you into the new wine of his way of life. Will you follow?

Look Away From Me

Hear my prayer, Lord,
    listen to my cry for help;
    do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
    a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
- Psalm 39:12

David gives us a great example of theological deconstruction in this psalm. He’s tired of God not answering him, so he tells God so! This is David who was “a man after God’s own heart” and who wrote dozens of Psalms of praise about God’s goodness.

But those days come when all our good theology just isn’t working for us. And in those moments, what God actually wants us to do is to talk about. That’s called prayer. This is the sort of New Wine that Jesus talked about in Luke 5 - this kind of raw honesty with God, where you tell God you feel distant, where you tell God you feel mistreated, where you tell God that he’s not doing a very good job running the universe!

As strange as it sounds, this kind of prayer is an expression of deep trust - because, as opposed to saying the ‘right’ religious thing, we’re giving God our true hearts, ugliness and all.

Take some time today to have an honest conversation with God.

New Wine

He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
- Luke 5:36-39

Wineskins were made of animal skins and naturally had some elasticity, some give. As the wine goes through its fermentation process, yeast breaks down the sugars from the grape juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide (which is a gas), increasing the volume. So as the wine expands, so does the wineskin. Then, once all the sugars are fermented it stops expanding, just in time because the wineskin gets full and no longer elastic. So if you were to drink all the wine in a skin and then replace it with new wine, well, you’d make a mess - because the skins wouldn’t be able to stretch as it expanded, so it would explode!

Jesus is teaching about what happens when he shows up in people’s hearts. They expand! And if you don’t have any flexibility left in your heart, then as Jesus teaches you new things and more things, it’s going to be messy - because you’re not going to have space in your heart for him. The one thing that Jesus confronts over and over in the gospels is ‘hardness of heart’ - which is just another way of saying that people’s hearts weren’t soft enough to expand in response to his teaching.

How do you get a soft heart? That’s the real question, isn’t it! Talk with Jesus today about having a soft heart, a new wineskin, so that you can drink in more of the wine of his teaching and his power into your life.

Old Bluejeans

He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 
- Luke 5:36

Have you ever tried to patch and old pair of bluejeans? If you patch them with cloth that hasn’t been through the dryer yet, that first time will scrunch up everything because the new cloth will shrink, but the bluejeans won’t.

This is Jesus’s picture of how his teaching will affect us. If we just try to patch up our lives with a bit of Jesus here and there, it makes a mess. Maybe we try to put a little bit of Jesus on our tense relationship with mom and on that one big career decisions, but we leave out our finances, our relationships and our morality. Or we get stressed so we try a bit of Jesus to calm us down - but don’t really put on the full garment of Christ. The first time through the dryer (read: when things get hard), your life with get all scrunched up because Jesus’s ways won’t match yours.

The Apostle Paul puts it this way: Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14). He’s not talking about slapping on a Jesus bandaid here or there. He’s talking about the whole outfit. In another passage he lays out what that looks like. Take some time to read over this passage slowly, letting the words sink in. Hold onto the word or image that strikes you most and talk with Jesus about it:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Forcing Religion

They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?”
- Luke 5:33-34

It’s hard for people to understand that religion doesn’t have to be forced. So they come up to Jesus and are dismayed that his disciples aren’t fasting like all the other good religious people were. You can see them trying to lean on Jesus, heavily hinting that his people are out of line.

I love Jesus’s response. The modern parallel would be, “Can you make all the kids quiet at a six-year olds birthday party?” The answer is, “Not a chance!” In a more subtle way, he’s saying, “I’m not going to force them into religious activities, regardless of whether you want me to or not.”

Jesus is then going to lower the boom when he drops the parables on them, but let’s save that for tomorrow. For today, ponder these two questions:

  1. When have you sensed others or yourself trying to “make” you be more religious in unhelpful ways.

  2. Have you done this to others?

Talk with Jesus about what surfaces for you in your reflections.

Walls, Come Tumbling

The message from Sunday, Sept. 30th, 2018 - since we’re having some technical issues with our podcast, Brenna decided to approximate it here in written form!

We’ve been wandering on purpose together through the book of Luke, and our focus recently has been on the idea of “learning to be little” with Jesus.  Today’s conversation fits that theme, and also begins to shift us towards a new one: Jesus, Deconstructionist.  Now the term “deconstruction” can sound a bit intimidating if you’re not already familiar with it, and if we delve into its philosophical roots, things do get a bit heady.  But at its simplest, deconstruction is really just asking questions about how we know what we think we know and if we can really know those things.

In terms of faith, deconstruction works something like this.  Imagine your understanding of the world, and especially of the spiritual, of the good life, as a house you’re building out of blocks.  You start out with some simple pieces and add on over time, building a more and more complicated structure – God is good, I can learn about God by reading the Bible, Jesus loves me…  But inevitably, challenges come, things that make you want to rethink your design, to pull a few bricks free and reconsider if and where they really belong.  You read a certain book, or meet a certain person; you lose a baby, a relationship or a job. Soon pieces may be flying everywhere!  And brick by brick, the house of your early  understanding is pulled down.  Sometimes the process is relatively gradual; sometimes it’s so fast and fierce, a wrecking ball to the foundations of your faith, that demolition feels like a more appropriate word.  You wonder if things can ever be put together again.

What if Jesus embraces the messy process of deconstruction?  What if he sees in the midst of this chaos and confusion that we feel, an opportunity to build our faith even stronger and better than before?  We’re going to find a space to wrestle and imagine our way through these questions in an unexpected place – the classic story of the widow’s mite, read in its full context.

Luke 20:45-21:6

While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” 

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

If you’ve been part of church life for a while, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this story before, or at least part of it.  The middle section above, the first four verses in Luke 21, are traditionally taught as a standalone unit, and the widow is presented as a beautiful example, heralded by none other than Jesus, of cheerful and sacrificial giving.  The take-away point for listeners, of course, is that we too should give, to whatever the point of true sacrifice is for us, because that is the kind of heart God applauds, the kind of person God call us to be. 

Now this is the point where I start to mess with things a little, and that may make you happy or it may make you nervous.  You see, while this reading of the story can feel encouraging, validating the heart behind acts of generosity that might seem small or even a little shabby on the surface (an invitation to a simple dinner with a family of limited means), it can also feel manipulative.  How awkward (or if you’re more of a skeptic, how convenient) for a religious person like me to teach from a text that seems to instruct you to give, and give a lot, to God, which by implication probably means this church.  Give so much it hurts!  This text can be encouraging; it can also be uncomfortable.

Let’s problematize it some more – pull out a few more bricks from the traditional interpretation. (Footnote 1)  If we continue just to look at this set of four verses, do they really say what for so long we’ve thought they mean?  It’s interesting to notice that there are actually no words describing the state of the widow’s heart or what her motivations are; the text just describes very matter-of-factly what she did.  There are also none of the phrases Jesus commonly uses to show his approval or admiration of someone - no “go and do likewise,” no “she is not far from the kingdom,” not even a “he looked on her and loved her.”  Given that all of these words are missing, it’s at least worth exploring whether we’ve actually missed the point of the passage.  

If you were to go back and carefully read again, beginning at Luke 20:45, you might be startled to notice some key contextual details.  We can tell these earlier verses are closely connected to the widow’s story in a few ways. First, they’re connected by time and place.  Jesus is teaching in the temple immediately prior to his observation of the widow; that’s why Luke 21:1 describes him as simply looking up to see her.  Second, they are connected by this very word, widow, repeated in both sections.  Roving revolutionary and religious reformer that Jesus was, the point of his teaching in the temple was to warn his listeners and especially his followers about the self-interested agendas of their spiritual leaders, as illustrated by their showiness and pomp and by the way they “devour widows’ houses.” (20:47) That phrase, devouring widows’ houses, seems a bit mysterious at first – what exactly are they doing to the widows’, to the vulnerable and marginalized among them?  And then along comes a widow to illustrate Jesus’s concern in the flesh.

This widow, you see, coming to the temple treasury “put in all she had to live.” (21:4) It’s so interesting that we’ve learned to hear this in the story as a good or even an okay thing, when practically speaking, what Jesus is saying is that through her giving, she bankrupted herself.  Now while there are certainly places in scripture where Jesus challenges his followers to give all they have to the poor and live in radical dependence on God (e.g., Luke 18:22), the same can’t be said about the temple treasury.  True, all throughout scripture the giving of gifts dedicated to God is presented as normal, expected, and even spiritually healthy.  Also true - a sense of proportionality is meant to permeate that ethos of giving.(Footnote 2)  In the first chapters of Leviticus, for example, a variety of possible sin sacrifices are described, from expensive gifts like lambs (5:6), to humble ones like a bit of your best flour (5:11).  The determining factor on what kind of gift you should bring?  What you can afford (5:7, 11).  What you can afford…  What you have capacity for…  Key phrases we should come back to. 

Given his diatribe against the religious leaders, it’s clear that Jesus holds them responsible for twisting God’s original purposes.  This is how they were devouring widows’ houses, pressuring and demanding more from them than they could really afford. Jesus wasn’t praising the widow, he was defending her!  He was angry with the spiritual authorities of the day on her behalf.

I so wish I could just use this story to point fingers at other religious leaders in our world today, to storm over the obvious abuses of pastors asking sick people to send them outrageous sums of money as “faith seeds” to secure their healing, or suggesting that people looking for relief from enormous debt make those “faith gifts” by credit card. But I know that wouldn’t be honest.  Run-of-the-mill, non-televised religious leaders like me still devour widows’ houses every day.  We do it every time we pressure you, more or less subtly, to give more – in time, money or even emotional energy – than you can really afford.  Every time we let our agendas (and they’re often such beautiful agendas, all about building the church so people can know God and love others), when we let our beautiful agendas get in the way of God’s best for the person right in front of us, in all your complexity, we devour you.  I’m so sorry.

You know, thinking about how long we’ve gotten this passage wrong, if it’s any consolation, Jesus’s followers didn’t understand what he was teaching them either.  In Luke 21:5-7, they’re still right there in the temple, still talking about gifts (another word showing the continuity of these anecdotes), and all they can see is how beautiful the space is, how fancy.  It’s an incredible symbol of religious power – a symbol built, as we’ve seen, on the backs of the poor and the marginalized through a subtle twisting of God’s plan.  It’s a power the disciples are perhaps dreaming about sharing, now that they’ve been invited to the inner circle of this up and coming rabbi.  Unsurprisingly, Jesus is less impressed.  This temple, he reminds them, will not even last.  Like the bricks that keep tumbling in our attempts to understand life and get it right, every last stone of the temple will be knocked to the ground.

When churches go really wrong, friends, when they start devouring people, so often it’s because they begin to forget their original purpose.  They think it’s their job to protect the institution – to defend and keep building up their leaders and their agenda.  To be clear, institutions aren’t bad – they’re powerful.  And power, as we all know, can be used for good or for evil.  So we celebrate when companies commit to paying decent wages and investing in their employees, and when churches devote themselves to serving their communities and to neighborhood flourishing.  And we mourn (sometimes after we rage), when banks prey on the vulnerable, or the authority we give our law enforcement officers is abused. When powerful men are revealed as sexual predators.

The #metoo movement can, sadly, provide an easy and helpful illustration of how the church devours the vulnerable in her midst.  I say easy because of the multitude of examples of churches quickly rallying around leaders who have been accused, rather than caring for and listening carefully to those who have brought forward their stories of pain and abuse.  Of congregations giving leaders standing ovations for vague and limited words of contrition, instead of insisting on a humble clarity and a commitment to justice for the victims.  Yet even in these horrible stories, there have been glimmers of hope, as churches begin to understand and repent of this reflexive defensiveness of their leaders and ministries, a reflex that does so much damage to the already-battered souls of survivors.

Because of course it’s not about the institution – that was never the main point.  No institution, no church, no ministry will last forever, and that’s actually ok.  Because it’s actually all about Jesus, about the community he’s gathering, the work he started and invited us into and will complete no matter what.  It’s about that work of healing and restoring what’s been damaged and warped in us and  in the world.  So when we realize that we’ve started to forget that, when we can see that what we’ve built has warped and needs correction, it’s ok, it’s good, it’s necessary, for us to ask some questions.  It’s ok, it’s good, it’s necessary for us to pull down some towers, dismantle some structures, and grieve and struggle and then… try again. Because it’s not just what we’re building  - it’s how we’re building and why that matters.

Here’s one of the how’s, one of the guiding values, we want to live by as a community: UNFORCED.  Listen to Jesus’s words to people who, like the widow, have been eaten up and worn out by religion:

“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”” Matt. 11:28-30 (MSG)

Isn’t “unforced rhythms of grace” an intriguing and inviting phrase?  Here’s the thing about rhythms – they are intrinsically about change, about periods of activity or work alternating with periods of silence and rest.  So a rhythm of grace might be about alternating periods (each day, each week, each year) of giving and serving, of pouring yourself out for others, with periods of rest and renewal, of soaking in the grace available to you.

What if you have the inner freedom to discern and to choose, to talk with Jesus about what you can actually afford to give and what you need to receive?  What if we as your leaders commit to honoring that freedom and apologizing when we begin to put our agenda over your soul?  That might look like celebrating people who realize they need to give less financially right alongside those who decide to give more when both are hearing and responding to Jesus’s work in their lives.  It might also look like encouraging you not to come to a meeting or to volunteer for something if being involved would put you over your capacity in other areas of your life, like family and friends.  “What’s my capacity” should be a question we encourage you to pray over frequently, whether it leads you to have more people over for dinner that week or less, to give more or to rest more.  (So don’t be surprised if we roll out a little speaker unit some Sunday in place of the full AV set-up – we’ll celebrate that if it means we didn’t devour some poor team member that morning!)

Here’s a different way of picturing what this kind of UNFORCED community is like. (Footnote 3)  We’re so used to imagining leadership as coming from the top, managers from high atop the pyramid, barking out orders – build here, put that brick there, this way, not that way.  What if spiritual leadership is meant to be more organic and work from the bottom, like the trunk of a spreading tree?  The trunk isn’t particularly exciting; the branches are where the growth happens, the beautiful and dynamic stuff like blooming and bearing fruit.  The trunk’s job is just to help connect those branches with the nourishment they need from the roots.  You, my friends, are the branches.

If we commit to living this way, as a community, as an institution, it may not increase our budget.  We may not grow bigger; I’m pretty confident we’re not going to grow much fancier!  What if we focused instead on growing deeper, closer to Jesus and to each other?  What if we grew wider and yes, even fruitier, and made more and more of a difference in the community God’s planted us in?  We might find more people joining us on a Sunday morning, we might not.  But we would be growing in the ways that matter most. 

Postscript: At the end of this sermon, I invited up anyone who’d like to respond tangibly during the next worship song by adding or pulling down some bricks from the Duplo house a young friend had built for me up front.  A few accepted and made some small adjustments.  When the service was over and people were milling around talking, a woman came over, a mixture of eagerness and tentativeness, asking if she could still work with the bricks.  Given an “of course,” she rapidly went to work, enthusiastically yanking brick after brick apart, laying almost the whole building to waste!  “Are these the roots?” she asked me.  Friend, if you tell me those are the roots, they’re the roots.  “Good,” she responded, “I’ll leave the roots.”   

 

1  The original paper presenting this alternative reading of the widow’s mite can be found here: http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~tim/study/Widow's%20Mite.pdf.

2 Thanks to V.R. Marianne Zahn for this insight, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/vr-marianne-zahn/post_10560_b_8596712.html.

3  This imagery is borrowed from a quirky and wonderful business classic, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, “The Pyramid v. the Plum Tree,” by Gordon MacKenzie.

Rhythms of Grace

One thing that strikes me from yesterday’s reading in Matthew is that living in “rhythms” of grace will necessarily mean change.  A rhythm is not all one thing.  It’s periods of one thing alternating with periods of another - in music, for instance, activity or play alternating with silence and rest.

Perhaps one way of understanding “rhythms of grace” is that there will be fluctuations in how we balance giving and receiving: are we in a season where we sense we have a lot we can give others: emotionally, with our time or through our resources?  Or are we in a season where we sense some real limits in our ability to give, instead needing time to rest and restore or just deal with life, allowing others to minister to us?

Let’s read that passage again, this time asking Jesus for the emotional freedom and awareness to live in the rhythms he invites us into.  Talk with him about the season you’re in right now – today or as you think about your next week.  What is your need to receive and soak in grace?  What is your capacity to give and serve others?  It doesn’t need to be all one or the other; in fact, it rarely is.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matt. 11:28-30

Keep Company

On Monday we talked with God about ways we’ve felt like the widow in Luke 21, “devoured” by religious leaders and other authority figures – asked to give more than we can truly afford to, emotionally, in time, with our money or other resources.  Now imagine Jesus speaking these words to you and others with similar bruises:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matt. 11:28-30

What words, images or feelings capture you as you read slowly through this passage?  What practically might it look for someone to join you on your spiritual journey like Jesus offers to here?  How could you yourself walk alongside others to lighten their load?  Talk with Jesus about these things.

(For additional, admittedly eclectic inspiration, check out this visual from the business world, a book called Orbiting the Giant Hairball, illustrating leadership that supports and nourishes rather than forcing or demanding: the plum tree v. the pyramid.)

The Time will Come

The follow-up to the classic story of the widow’s gift (Luke 21:1-4), which Jesus tells to illustrate the religious leaders “devouring” the marginalized and taking more from them than they could afford, goes like this:

vv. 5-6, Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.

Though the disciples are impressed with the temple’s beauty, built on the backs of the poor, Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t built to last. No human building or human institution is - including City Church! (That’s actually a freeing realization, freeing us from feeling like we must build and protect the institution at all costs…)

Pray over these words from 1 Cor. 3:9-15 about the kind of building God is interested in:

You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done...

How are you experiencing Jesus as “foundation” these days? If your life or the community you’re part of (like City Church) is a building, what does it look like - what is it made out of, and how are you feeling about that? Talk with Jesus about these things.

Meeting Jesus at the Margins

One of the things the story of the widow’s mite in its full context (Luke 20:45-21:6) reminds us of is Jesus’ heart for those at the margins. Take a few quiet moments today to connect with that heart through these verses and the poem below. What thoughts, questions and emotions come up for you as you pray?

“Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Luke 24:10 − 11

Surprising Son of God
you revealed the truth to women 
who were not believed by men. 
You are in the voices of the unbelieved
and the ignored.
So bring us towards each other. 
Bring us towards
the truest truth. 
Because here, if anywhere, 
will we find you. 
Amen.
-from Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community

HT: Fred Harrell at City Church San Francisco

For further reflection: City Church is grateful to be a small part of a much-needed collection of sermons and resources addressing domestic and sexual violence, compiled by Sojourners and released in the last few days. You can browse them and (for our devotional readers outside of Long Beach) find churches in your area involved in this important conversation at https://sojo.net/100sermons.

Devoured

On Sunday we read through a classic Jesus story, one you may have heard many times if you’ve been in “church world” for a while…

Luke 21:1-4: As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

This time, though, we heard it in the context of Jesus’ teaching right before he “looked up”…

Luke 20:45-47, While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Widows like the one Jesus saw putting in her gift, the one that was more than she could really afford - they were being devoured by religious leaders concerned more about themselves and their own agendas than the widows’ souls. Jesus wasn’t mad at the widow, of course, but he also wasn’t praising her - he was mad for her!

Have you ever felt devoured by religious or other leaders? Like they have pressured you for more than you had to give, in time, money, or even emotion? Take a few minutes and allow yourself to remember one of those times today, and imagine Jesus in the situation with you, actually angry for you and sticking up for you. Talk with Jesus about what that means for you, how it feels.

Small Things Grow

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
- Luke 4:26-29

The miracle of growth is that God is always inspiring it in us. Our biggest task is to get out of the way, to watch it happen, and to participate with what the Spirit is doing. The old saint, Gregory of Nyssa, said in the 5th century, “Sin is the refusal to keep growing.” Ponder that for a while.

  • Where have you been resistant to growing?

  • Where have you been growing the most?

  • What would others say about whether and how you are growing?

  • How do you sense God inviting you to grow?

City Church Long BeachComment
The Remnant

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart.”
- Isaiah 7:3-4

Sometimes when we read through passages in the Bible they don’t make much sense because of all the terminology, but with a little background they can really speak to us. In the passage today, Ahaz was the king, but he wasn’t very trusting of God. Instead, in his anxiety to be more successful, he put his faith in the big political and military power of Assyria to help him accomplish his agenda for the nation. That would turn out to be a disaster, as Assyria (and Babylon after it) would turn and attack Israel causing great destruction.

God spoke powerful words to the King through Isaiah about learning to rest and surrendering control. Interestingly, Isaiah’s son, Shear-Jashub, was singled out to show up for this confrontation as well - probably as a prophetic reminder to everyone. That’s because, at the very time when Israel was on a path towards destruction, Isaiah had named his son Shear-Jashub, which means, “A remnant will return.” Isaiah and God were close, and Isaiah could see not only the coming destruction because the leaders wouldn’t trade their anxiety and control for calm and courage - but he also saw that after the fall of Jerusalem, God would be at work still in the small remnant of people who were faithful and who still loved and trusted God. So he named his son for the future, as a sort of promise that what was small would grow again.

Now reread the passage with that background in mind and ask God to speak to you. What is he saying about where you put your trust? About how you handle anxiety? About areas of your life facing destruction? About hope in areas of failure?

City Church Long BeachComment
The Small Will Grow

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart.”
- Isaiah 7:3-4

This passage feels a little bit confusing on the surface, but let’s get a couple of facts straight here. This passage is about the 8th century before Christ when the nation of Israel was not doing well, not seeking God, and being threatened by the Assyrians (which was then followed a couple of generations later by being captured and taken into captivity). God sent Isaiah to Ahaz, the King, to not let his anxiety let him get tricked into making allies with violent and untrustworthy groups. Ahaz, as is often the case of those with power and privilege, did not listen to God’s invitation to “keep calm, don’t be afraid, don’t lose heart.”

What’s particularly interesting is that Isaiah brought his boy to join the conversation - which ends up being another sign from God. You see, Isaiah’s son’s name (Shear-Jashub) means “a remnant will return.” That’s a pretty heavy name, but if you think about it, it totally makes sense. Isaiah saw how easily we’re tempted into being strong, taking control, and isolating ourselves (and ultimately choosing destructive paths) - and yet he knew God would always be at work in his people, nurturing that small group of people who wanted to be faithful, who wanted to grow, who wanted more of God. And so Isaiah named his son Shear-Jashub - a reminder to himself and everyone around that there would always be hope!

This is one of a zillion passages that depict our core temptations and God’s core promises. Going after the ‘bigger and better’ options in our lives very rarely is what God is calling us to. Calmly trusting Christ, allowing the small things in us to grow and blossom - that’s God’s way! What is he speaking to you about today through this passage?

City Church Long BeachComment
Triumph

 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
    and you who dwell in them!
- Revelation 12:10-12

The kind of triumph that Jesus promises his people is not an easy one. As this passage from Revelation shows, that triumph comes only at great cost. We are accused by the Enemy. We face suffering to the point of death. And yet, there is indeed triumph.

Jesus himself suffered the accusations, the sufferings, and the death. And he secured the final victory - which is why the first thing this passage says about triumph is that it’s “by the blood of the Lamb.”

Today, pause and reflect on the challenges, sufferings, and sadnesses that you face in your life. Remember your Savior and how he’s experienced those as well and ask him to help. Pray for others - here and around the world - who are facing trials, that they might experience Jesus’s triumph in their circumstances.

City Church Long BeachComment
Tears and Joy

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
- Psalm 126:5

Jesus wept over Jerusalem, lamenting how the people would not turn towards God to experience healing and hope. And yet he was so regularly filled with joy.

Interestingly, joy and sorrow are often connected. As Psalm 30 says, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” There’s something about having the capacity to grieve well that increases our capacity to rejoice deeply. As many a therapist will tell you, those who shut down one emotion shut down them all. It’s easier to avoid the sadness than to truly feel it. And yet, embracing sadness is the path to healing.

Jesus is inviting you today to face your sadness, to value your tears, to listen to your heart for the cracks in it - because he knows that as you face reality more honestly, you’ll become increasingly able to sense God’s presence and healing as well.

Ask the Lord where you have hidden sadness or unresolved grief today and go on the journey of embracing those emotions with him.

City Church Long BeachComment
Sad Jesus

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
- Luke 13:34-35

As Pastor Kristy Hinds said in the message yesterday, this is “the sad Jesus passage” - full of grief and what sounds like bargaining with God. What a great reminder that Jesus himself experienced sadness and grief, longing and loss, frailty and a sense of failure. He wanted the people of Jerusalem to experience true life but they just were not open to it, and he experienced it as a failure that things didn’t turn out the way he wanted them to.

This should give us real pause. Perhaps knowing Jesus isn’t just trusting that he’s got all things figured out and under control. Perhaps it includes learning how to grieve like him, learning how to name the circumstances we experience as failure, and wading chest-high into the sadness of unrealized dreams. Too often these are all the very things we run from. And, ironically, we often run to a sanitized version of Jesus to help protect us from these ‘negative’ emotions (one old saint calls this “using God to hide from God”). But Jesus didn’t run from them at all - he ran to them. He felt the pain. He lived into the loss. He faced the failures.

Ask Jesus today how you are running from grief, sorrow, loss, pain, failure and hardship. Invite him to teach you how not to run, but to embrace these things.

City Church Long BeachComment