Skin in the Game


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Exodus 17:1-16, 1 Peter 4:7-19, John 16:16-33

Though the nation of Amalek shared a lineage with the nation of Israel, they were bitter rivals. When Israel was encamped at Rephidim, Amalek attacked. While they fought, Moses stood on a hill and held his staff in the air. As long as he kept it raised Israel prevailed, but when he tired and let it drop Amalek prevailed. Growing weary, Moses sat on a stone and  his brother Aaron and companion Hur held his hand steady. The whole incident is a little strange, as it paints Moses almost as some sort of magician casting a spell over the battlefield. If God wanted Israel to claim victory, why not just destroy the Amalekites like He had the Egyptian army? We can learn some valuable lessons from this story.

First, it seems God wants us to have some skin in the game. He gives us our freedoms, but they are ours to defend. When enemies storm the camp, we can’t assume God will take care of it all like a superhero. Of course we depend on Him for our strength, but actual effort is required. For example, if our enemy is hunger, we might remember words attributed to Pope Francis: “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”

Second, we have to be willing to receive and give help. Our leaders aren’t superheroes either. Aaron and Hur didn’t stand back and criticize Moses for failing to keep that staff aloft; they offered moral and literal support for as long as it was needed. They took turns because they were invested in the outcome, and leaders can’t do things alone. There was a measure of risk to getting involved: the people of Israel were fickle and quick to turn on their leaders, and if the battle had been lost Moses’s comrades would likely have paid a price. Like them, we need to shore up each other’s faith in difficult times, even when the outcome is uncertain.

Faith is not a miracle factory. It is a source of strength that grows stronger as we share it with others.

Comfort: Not only do you not have to carry every burden alone, it’s a sign of strength to share it.

Challenge: When you can, be part of a solution instead of an observer of problems.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the community of believers who supports me in my journey. May I pass on the strength you share with me to others who need it too. Amen.

Discussion: In what areas of your life are you passively waiting for God or some earthly leader to solve a problem? What could you be doing to help with it right now?

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Not Against Us


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab / window):
Psalms 119:73-80; 145, Exodus 4:10-20 (21-26) 27-31, 1 Corinthians 14:1-19, Mark 9:30-41

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. claimed the most segregated hour in America was 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. Our chosen church communities tend to resemble us racially, politically, and economically. It’s comfortable and easy to be with people “like us” and erect tall walls on a foundation of small differences. However, comfortable and easy are not Christian virtues. Today’s readings contain lessons about being in community with people different from ourselves.

In Exodus 4, Moses meets his brother Aaron. Together they deliver the Lord’s message to the Hebrews. Moses was raised Egyptian, spent forty years living as a Midianite, and was slow of speech (possibly due to a speech impediment). Aaron was of the priestly Levite class of Hebrews and quite eloquent. Together they represented an effective marriage of substance and style.

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul addresses the importance of the spiritual gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpretation. While emphasizing the need for prophecy (defined not so much as making predictions but as speaking words of encouragement, rebuke, and consolation from God), he also asks the question: what good is speaking in tongues if no one understands? Without interpretation, a person gifted with tongues does not build up the community, and without something to interpret, a person so gifted doesn’t bring much to the table.

When the disciples complained about people who were casting out demons in Jesus’s name, yet were not following them, Jesus told them: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” He knew the common goal of spreading the good news overrode petty differences.

Insisting on our specific way merely protects our egos when other gifts and perspectives make us feel insecure about our own. When we build or join a community, do we seek those whose strengths and weaknesses complement our own? If a church wants to tackle poverty, but is mostly a lot of rich people deciding what’s best for “the poor” without knowing or even asking them, how effective can it be? A team of co-workers who all share the same perspective rarely create innovative solutions. Our diversity was not created to be a source of jealousy or conflict, but to help us help each other.

Comfort: Your weaknesses are an opportunity to appreciate someone else’s strengths.

Challenge: Make a point of attending a church service or social event with people you normally don’t interact with.

Prayer: Thank you, Creator God, for the great diversity of life. Teach me to appreciate the beauty in the abundant shapes and thoughts of your world. I praise your holy vision and creativity. Amen.

Discussion: In what areas of your life do you seek like company? Are these areas where it might make sense to diversify your community?

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