Desires and Devices

“For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

Romans 1:11-12 NRSV

The Apostle Paul desires to go to Rome so that he may encourage and be encouraged. A state of mutuality that builds up. Another word for that is love.

And Paul will eventually go to Rome, but it will be in chains under house arrest and eventually, as church tradition believes, executed. I don’t think that is exactly what Paul had in mind when he wrote the letter. But it happened. And he did. And they did. Be encouraged and encourage that is.

I often wonder if I would be okay if God answered my prayers in a way that was unexpected or even difficult? What if God gave us the desires of our heart but not the devices? Another way of saying this is God giving us what we want but not how we want it.

God’s will is always good. That is a promise. But God’s will is not promised to be easy. This is why we were called to community.

Burden bearing…joy sharing…stumble stopping…life giving. All closely aligned with true community. All necessary for the days of our journey.

Let us not give up the faithful practice of praying and looking for God to answer. But along with our requests, let’s also give God enough space to answer in ways that we may not have considered.

Groundhog Day

February 2nd is the national phenomenon and unofficial holiday called Groundhog Day. The good folks in Pennsylvania pull an oversized rodent from its den to predict if winter will be wrapping up shortly or go on for all eternity. My guess is the latter this year!

Most recently, Groundhog Day is often known for the Bill Murray movie by the same name. The movie is about an overly self-centered weather caster being forced to live February 2nd over and over until he begins to understand that there is a better way to live and treat people. The over and over part is what is so funny to me. Without fail, for most of the movie, he wakes up and relives the previous day with varying success.

It always reminds me of my spiritual habits (I am a pastor you know!) and the need to continue to lean into them regardless of how I feel or how they seem to impact me or not. Let’s face it, day after day of anything can grow tiresome. But it is when I continue to persist through the tiresome periods that I often find breakthroughs. Instead of seeing being bored or weary as a sign to give up, we need to see it as a sign that we are close to something. Please don’t hear me saying that we shouldn’t find rest at times! But what I am saying is that just because you reach a dry patch doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong.

9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9 (NRSV)

Love Builds Up

When we begin to recognize the truth that faith, while personal, is never private, then we begin to embrace the inter-relatedness God intends and experience its powerful effects.

The sermon in its entirety can be found here.

Paul tackles a prickly issue in his day in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 8. And here is the bottom line: Is it OK for followers of Christ to eat meat sacrificed to idols? At Paul’s time, meat was rarely eaten because it was very costly. Only the very wealthy or on special occasions would it be available. Often, in Corinth and other places, the meat would have been prepared after the animal was used in a pagan Idol ceremony. Hence the issue. Some felt it was wrong because of where the meat came from. Others felt it was OK because idols are not real. The ceremony was a fraud. Why let good meat go to waste? And so we have a problem. Part of the church thought it was okay. Part thought it was not only not okay but sinful. And here we have a conflict!

So Paul writes to resolve this conflict of thinking and practice. He breaks it down into two issues: knowledge and love. Maybe another way to say it is right and good; legal and helpful; letter and spirit.

Does God have a problem with eating meat sacrificed to idols? No! Paul says that since idols aren’t real they therefore cannot taint the meat. Knowledge wins the day – it’s OK to eat.

BUT….is this practice, while a-ok, helping others thrive? Am I loving in my actions? Where does my freedoms need to be reigned in for another person’s sake?

If a community member’s conscience isn’t as strong – Paul never says the individual is weak, just their conscience, and they think that this is a problem with eating meat sacrificed to idols. Then – Paul says don’t eat meat. Knowledge may give it a pass, but love gives it a failing grade.

Ben Witherington, in his commentary on the letters to the Corinthians, says, “In Paul’s view the issue is not what kind of meat one eats. It is, rather, the social and moral effects of eating in certain contexts. Thus, this discussion is primarily about interpersonal behavior not about cuisine.”

The two prong process of knowledge and love are the basis for our discernment. Too often we stop at knowledge. We get the answer, “it’s okay”, and that aligns with our desires and so we move forward. But Paul is reminding us here there is a second step. We need to not only ask ‘can’ but also ‘should’. Paul intimates that our freedom was never meant to be another person’s hindrance. How does it impact those around me, and even the larger society?

Let me put it another way: Knowledge is the means – love is the end.

1 Corinthians 6:12 (NRSV) – “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

1 Corinthians 10:23 (NRSV) “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

Karl Barth writes in Church Dogmatics that, “The Christian life begins with love. It also ends with love, so far as it is an end as human life in time. There is nothing that we can or must be or do as a Christian, or to become a Christian, prior to love. Even Faith does not anticipate love. As we come to faith will begin to love. If we do not begin to love, we would not have come to Faith. Faith is faith in Jesus Christ. If we believe, the fact that we do so means that every ground which is not that of our being in love to God in Christ is cut away from us; We cannot exist without seeking God.”

Saying something is okay is the starting place but only love is the true and lasting determining factor.

You’ve heard about the butterfly effect and chaos theory? Its basic understanding is that creation is so interrelated that a butterfly may flap its wings in Beijing and the weather pattern may change in Kentucky. While trying to predict exactly what triggers what is beyond me, and quite frankly beyond where we are in weather forecasting too, the concept of interrelatedness is an important one.

The butterfly effect is not just about global weather, it is about Christian community as well. Here’s where I’m going with this today, We are interrelated as a Christian community. What you do impacts me. What I do impacts you. Public, private, good, bad, all of our lives impact the other. When we begin to recognize the truth that faith, while personal, is never private, then we begin to embrace the inter-relatedness God intends and experience its impact.

In her book A Theology of Love by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop says that, “sin has consequences in life, so holiness has consequences in life.”

Often we take this in a negative way to stay out of trouble! But what if we took it in a positive way? Do good for it impacts us all!

top3 for January 29, 2021

Here are three things that have made an impact for me this week. Have a great weekend everyone!

#1


One Star Reviews on Amazon by Fran Lebowitz


So much to love and to enjoy in this piece, if a bit of sarcasm is your thing, from the New Yorker this week.


#2


Going to Bed Hungry from the Washington Post


The above article describes everyday people hit by the crisis of pandemic and making difficult choices. The impact of food insecurity on young persons is especially troubling. As we move through these times and look forward to a new day, it was a reminder to me of the struggles some are having right down our streets. While I am looking forward to eating in restaurants again…some are looking forward to eating regularly again.  And that is just in the US. We received this update from our family members serving in Peru this week. The news is beyond bad.


From my sister-in-law Jennifer in Peru:
We have gone back to extreme lockdown.  Men can go out on certain days and women on the opposite days and only one person from a house at a time for one hour to go to store or get medicine. There are police and blockades.  The government call it house arrest. No one can go to work or make any money.  
We need prayers. Our families are panicking.  We have already gotten calls that they don’t know how they will feed their kids the next 2 weeks during lockdown not to mention pay rent.


We have decided to bring big bags of food, more or less a weeks worth and give 20 families 100 (approx. $27 US dollars) soles to get them through. The government does nothing to help. (They had been feeding 145-160 families a week, just under 500 people)

#3


Our public leadership, almost without exception, has no capacity to imagine outside the categories of these loyalties and commitments. The outcome is the conviction, mostly not articulated, that we are living on borrowed time. As a result, our shrill public discourse is mostly the insistence that we should continue to do what we do, only better, only more vigorously and more adamantly, assuming that if we do so, somehow it will “all work out.”

from Reality. Hope. Grief. by Walter Brueggemann

Well, it didn’t take long for the public discourse in D.C. to return to “shrill” and unity seems to be once again a foggy dream. I have been so pleased that within Lexington things really do appear to be different. Our Mayor Linda Gorton continues to lead, in my opinion, thoughtfully, carefully, and inclusively. Just a hopeful reminder that the peace we so desire will not come from a far away place but it always begins closer to home. May it begin with me. May it begin with us.

top3 for January 15, 2021

Here are three things I’ve read and have been thinking about this week. Have a great weekend everyone!

#1

There is no force in the world better able to alter anything from its course than love. You can get someone to remove his coat more surely by a warm, gentle sun than with a cold, blistering wind.

John Ruskin

I personally try to embrace a leadership style which prioritizes carrots over sticks; chooses honey rather than bitter herbs. I can’t say that I am always successful, but it is my goal! That is probably why this statement from the 19th century English critic John Ruskin captured my attention. I also think it is quite a contrast to the cancel culture that swirls all around us.

1 Corinthians 13 says “love never fails”. It may be delayed but never denied. Love is not only a noun – it is a strategy that will bring about the peace we all so desire in our world today.

And if it is delayed – it will be worth the wait.

#2

New word I learned from this Arthur Brooks article in The Atlantic Magazine:

Topophilia

“There is a word for love of a place: topophilia, popularized by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan in 1974 as all of “the human being’s affective ties with the material environment.” In other words, it is the warm feelings you get from a place. It is a vivid, emotional, and personal experience, and it leads to unexplainable affections.”

I have warm feelings for a lot of places…wonder what that says about me? Don’t answer that question! Each place I’ve lived in both childhood and as an adult brings about a particular sense of ‘home’ for me. Thankful for the gift of home which for me is love, security, and purpose. I pray daily that my presence is making a home for others as well.

#3

“and a little child shall lead them”

Isaiah 11:6b

We often think of this as a prophecy for Jesus (which I would agree). And I also found myself wondering if another meaning could be pointing toward a time in our society when the truth of God is so well-known and abided by that even a child could lead us? In effect, leadership would be “child’s play” because we are all so aligned with the true leadership from God.