Selfish or Selfless?

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

 

Appearing in the September 12, 2017, issue of Fast Company, an online magazine, was an article called Brené Brown: America’s Crisis of Disconnection Runs Deeper Than Politics. The article is based on Brown’s book: Braving the Wilderness.

The general concept of the article is that Americans have moved in the past seventy years into increasingly uniform neighborhoods where we all think alike on most issues. But, surprisingly, this has caused us to become lonelier than when we lived with people of differing religions, politics, languages, morals, etc.

He goes on to write:  if we’ve hunkered down, ideologically and geographically, with those we perceive to be just like us, doesn’t that mean we’ve surrounded ourselves with friends and people with whom we feel deeply connected? Shouldn’t “you’re either with us or against us” have led to closer ties among the like-minded?

In fact, the opposite is happening. At the same time that cultural and political sorting is on the rise, so is loneliness.

For Christians, our goal is to hang out with people who believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All others should move down the road.

Reading today’s scripture in Ezekiel seems to support that attitude. The one who sins will be the one who diesNIV

But Jesus said, The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of youNIV Why? Because they were like the first son who said no to his father, but later did what was asked of him.

Christians are children of God, but so are the worst sinners, including those who don’t believe in God. Does God want us to live separated from sinners? Or does he want we sinners who have repented to live with those sinners who need repentance?

As Paul put it: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the othersNIV

In the early Third Century, Marius Victorinus wrote: We are truly acting for ourselves if we also have a concern for others and strive to be of benefit to them. For since we are all one body, we look out for ourselves when we look out for othersACCS

Too often we Christians assume that means we only watch out for our fellow Christians, forgetting that we too are sinners.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

I Wish I Were Dead

Photo credit: evanse1 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

 

Jonah is a prophet we can identify with. Elijah hardly seems like a man, living in a cave and being fed by birds. Moses used a stick to bring water from a rock. Even John could have been better dressed if he had gone to a thrift store. But, none of that for Jonah. He did it his way, even choosing to be grumpy, thank you.

Jonah told God, “No, I don’t want to go. My life here is comfortable and who cares about Nineveh?” He dragged his feet all the way and reluctantly delivered the message, possibly adding, “That’s what God says. I personally don’t care if you repent or not. In fact, since I’ve traveled so far, I’d just as soon see a fireworks display.”

It did not happen, of course, because God is the God of Mercy.

There was Jonah sitting outside the city walls, waiting for the big show. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatenedNIV

Jonah was mad. “God, you dragged me all this way, and then you changed your mind? Why? I thought you were going to punish them. I would rather be dead than have this happen.”

God asked The Question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

How often we humans are angry when things don’t go our way. Jonah preached God’s message of repentance, but when they did repent, he was angry with God. He sat outside the city and pouted.

God gave him an object lesson with the shade plant. The plant was obviously a gift from God since it grew to shade height in a couple of hours, and Jonah was happy. But the next day the plant died, and Jonah became angry again.

Jonah took pleasure in himself, not in God. He could not accept that God did not kill the evil people. He asked God to kill him rather than force him to live with the evil ones.

We American Christians have our lists of evil ones. Islāmic terrorists. Politicians of the ‘other’ party. LGBT. Anyone who disagrees with my understanding of Scripture.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus blessed ‘those’ people, forgave them, healed them, fed them, even went to their houses to eat.

With Jonah, we must be able to say, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in loveNIV

I am glad I am alive to know your love.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Right Hand of Pharaoh

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

 

The last chapter of Genesis contains many lessons for us. It opens just after the death of Jacob, called Israel. In verse 1, we read, At this Joseph threw himself on his father’s face, covering it with tears and kissesNJB There is no doubt of the love Joseph had for his father.

Next, Joseph ordered the Egyptian doctors to embalm his father, an expensive and time-consuming process reserved for the elite in Egypt. We learn from this that the children of Israel were not slaves in the days of Joseph.

Further, the Egyptians also mourned for Israel, indicating that Jacob held a place of status in their society.

Joseph requested that Pharaoh allow him to carry Israel to Canaan for burial. When the text reads, and with him went all Pharaoh’s officials, the dignitaries of his palace and all the dignitaries of EgyptNJB we should not overstate the case. The round trip would have been at least six months, and Pharaoh could not have run the country by himself. Read it as “Many.” None-the-less, to have Pharaoh’s household go on such a journey for a non-Egyptian is incredible.

That brings us to today’s reading. Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph intends to treat us as enemies and pay us back for all the wrong we did him?’ NJB Decades had passed since the ten older brothers sold Joseph into slavery, decades in which Joseph welcomed them, fed them, and raised them to the highest levels of society. But their sin lurked in their memories.

Today’s lesson is on forgiveness. We see the brothers making an almost desperate move to make sure they are safe from their more powerful younger brother. Before your father died, he gave us this orderNJB In their desperation, they banded together to lie. Notice the extra touch, your father.

They did not understand. They were much like the Twelve Disciples who sort of knew what Jesus was teaching, but not fully.

What kind of forgiveness did they receive? One they did not deserve.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Son of Man

Photo credit: jean louis mazieres via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

 

The reading in Ezekiel begins with, Son of Man. That title occurs 94 times in Ezekiel, once in Psalms, and twice in Daniel. We should recognize it as Jesus’ favorite name for himself, often used in the Gospels. It is also helpful to know that several writings were done in the fourth through first centuries BC using the Son of Man frequently to refer to the coming Messiah, especially the Book of Enoch.

Babylon conquered Judah, the Southern Kingdom, about 597 BC. Ezekiel was part of the first group of Judahites forced to march north to Babylonia, along with King Jehoiachin. Ezekiel was a priest of the Temple who remained faithful to God.

Note first that his faithfulness did not save him from captivity. He suffered along with those who sinned. He lived for nine years in the Babylonian Empire before they destroyed the Temple, but God gave him a vision of that destruction which he shared with his people.

Even in hard times, Ezekiel chose to stay with God and to encourage his people to do the same. Before his captivity, he served God in the Temple, but in Babylon God gave him a new responsibility, that of a prophet.

His prophecy was hard-nosed, giving no quarter to the Judahites. “Repent or Die!” Remember that the people had been given many, many, many chances to repent in the preceding five centuries and chose to ignore those chances most of the time. It is little wonder Ezekiel was so blunt.

Contrast his message with that of John the Baptist. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” With Jesus walking the earth, the Son of Man had arrived, the Kingdom is present. The urgency is just as great, but the tone is gentle, as was Jesus.

Buried in this passage is this Word of God:  Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? ESV

This is more like the message of John and Jesus. God wants every person alive today to continue to live in His Kingdom.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence