The sin of “calling people out”…

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Matthew 7:“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

This can be a confusing passage because of the wide range of meanings of the word “judge” in English and Greek. Here’s what the N.I.B. Bible Commentary says:

“Matthew does assume that occasions occur within the community when ethical discernment and community discipline are called for (cf. 7:15–20; 18:15–20), but they must be made by those aware of their own failures and of God’s forgiveness.”

Unfortunately the modern Christian witness, from both the Christian right and Christian left, often involves self-righteous people vigorously confessing other peoples’ sins and shortcomings. Social media, in which the act of “calling people out” is a favorite past-time, is the worst. It involves an intense scrutiny on the words and actions of others – with little personal humility or confession of our own sins. Jesus warns that when we condition our minds to focus on the wrongs of others we risk of bringing judgment on ourselves.

Lord have mercy on us. Amen.

 

Negotiating with God…

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Genesis 18:22 So the men turned from (Abraham’s tent), and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

Here Abraham is negotiating with God regarding the planned destruction of the people living in the wicked city of Sodom. You may recall that Abraham’s nephew Lot settled in Sodom so Abraham has a personal interest in protecting Lot and his family – hence this exchange.

What I appreciate about this exchange is the fact that God was willing to respond to Abraham’s pleas and change his plans for Sodom accordingly. This sort of thing happens in other places in scripture as well. It encourages me to think that God may even listen to me as I pray. Our God is not a distant figure beyond our reach, but is near to us, listening to our pleas and perhaps even indulging our wishes. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Plans gone wrong…

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Genesis 16:3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her. 

In a recent blog post I mentioned Abram’s lack of scruples in dealing with the Egyptians and how God blessed him anyway. In the passage above, Abram’s wife Sarai comes off as petty and jealous, blaming others for the consequences of her own recommendations. Let’s face it, Abram and Sarai have serious issues. Yet, God remains faithful to the covenant he made with them and continues to claim them as his own. Moreover, Abram and Sarai never abandon their hope and expectation that God would eventually fulfill the promises made to them. This trust in the Lord, despite personal moral failings, is what the bible refers to as “righteousness”.

Lord Jesus, forgive us when we stumble and hold us close when we live into the painful consequences of our own plans. Amen.

Spontaneous gratitude…

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Genesis 14:17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet (Abram) at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed (Abram) and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
maker of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. 21 Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share.”

Abram returned from victory in battle over the king of Sodom and a few other kings. You know what they say, “To the victor goes the spoils”. It would have been customary for Abram and those with him to have kept the people and property (valuables, slaves, livestock, and so forth) of the defeated kingdom for themselves. In our passage the king of Sodom asks for a concession – that Abram keep only the goods, but return the people. Abram says he will keep neither, and in fact will make an offering to God via the priest Melchizedek.

“And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything”

I believe this is the first instance in scripture where we see the practice of the tithe – returning to God 10%. What I appreciate about this story is how Abram offers to return 10% before he’s even asked. And there are no commandments or law of Moses yet so it’s not required or expected. To me it appears to be a spontaneous expression of Abram’s gratitude. I mean, let’s be honest. He’s an amazingly wealthy man and he owes it all to God, so he certainly has every right to be grateful – as do I. As do you. We may not be amazingly rich in terms of money, but we are incredibly fortunate and owe to our God a debt that can never be repaid.

I believe this is also the sort of thing the apostle Paul has in mind when he writes many centuries later, “God loves a cheerful giver”. In other words, God wants us to practice the tithe because it’s our privilege not because we have to. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

 

Rules or relationship?

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Genesis 13:14 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD. 

Chapters 12 and 13 in Genesis are so interesting. A severe drought fell on the land of Canaan forcing Abram to take his family to Egypt. Once in Egypt Abram lied to Pharaoh saying his wife Sarai was his sister, not his wife. One would think Abram would lose favor from God because of his lying… but not so. Instead Abram leaves Egypt with more wealth than when he entered and promises from God that he and Sarai would have so many descendants they wouldn’t be able to count them all.

Why would God bring prosperity to such a flawed man as Abram? 

Abraham was a bit of a scoundrel, but there’s no doubt he placed his trust, his future, and that of his entire family in the hands of God. What I’m seeing in the Old Testament readings over the last couple of weeks is more clarity on what the Old Testament writers meant when they talked about “righteousness”. I’ve tended to think of righteousness as obeying the law, the rules, but people like Abram and King David regularly failed to follow the law – yet are considered righteous.

Seems to me “righteousness” is less about rules and more about relationship.

Both Abram and David have no illusions as to the source of their well-being, their blessing, their favor. It all comes from the Lord, not as a reward for good behavior, but as an expression of God’s love and grace. That’s a kind of righteousness that might just be possible for a sinner like me.

The prison of unforgiveness…

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Matthew 5:21 (Jesus said) “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Jesus tells the story of a person who avoids reconciliation, who continues to hold a grudge/anger against someone while at the same time going to the temple to make an offering to God. V.22 tells us doing this will make that person liable to judgment.

While we tend to read things like this metaphorically, there is a literal truth Jesus reveals. Fact is that when we withhold forgiveness from others, despite having been forgiven everything by God through Jesus Christ, we become trapped in a prison of our own making. Unforgiveness produces bitterness in the heart, encourages the remembrance of the wrong done to us, can even impair our ability to be in relationship with people who have nothing to do with the offense in question. We are “thrown into prison” on the inside. Unforgiveness results in death, not life.

Heavenly Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Amen.

Sermon on the Mount…

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Matthew 5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

This passage is referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount”, one of the most famous passages in all of scripture. Chapter 4 of Matthew tells us Jesus had been teaching, preaching, and healing people – Jews and non-Jew alike. He’s quite the rock star by this time and large crowds are following him. So he goes up on a mountain to speak the words above.

As he looks at the crowd of people who does he see? Was it the wealthy? The powerful? Those in command? I don’t think so. I expect the people gathered were the sorts of persons he mentions in the sermon: the poor, the meek, those suffering from injustice, and so on. They are on the margins. They are the kinds of people desperate enough to leave everything and follow Jesus because, honestly, they have little to lose. Then we pick up a new section beginning with v.13.

Jesus teaches about his followers being “salt” and “light” to those around them. What I find interesting is that Jesus chooses these people to be his messengers to the world: the nobodies, the dropouts, the people born on the wrong side of the tracks. They weren’t “qualified” in any normal sense, but they were his chosen anyway. And it worked. So it is with you and me brothers and sisters. We are called to be ambassadors for Jesus – in spite of all our shortcomings. It’s simply God’s way, so take comfort in that. Lord let it be so. Amen.