Conviction

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54, 146, Numbers 22:21-38, Romans 7:1-12, Matthew 21:23-32

Does a vision without a voice have any value? In the pre-civil rights era, many preachers in white churches personally believed in desegregation, but were reluctant to say so from the pulpit. They feared alienating their congregations and losing members. Not many years ago, during a panel discussion on whether to ordain gay clergy, several pastors said they personally supported it, but that taking such a stand would drive their congregations to either fire them or leave the denomination. Only one pastor in attendance had the courage to say: “Let them leave.” Personal convictions, especially regarding matters of justice, mean nothing if we remain silent about them

The difference between a pastor and a prophet is often their willingness to (pardon the language) piss people off. A pastor is beholden to an audience; if he or she drives members away, they will likely be fired or transferred. A prophet is beholden only to God and conscience. Telling people what they want to hear in order to remain in power is the purview of politicians, not clergy.

When the chief priests and elders asked Jesus by what authority he preached, he countered by asking them: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” They dithered among themselves, trying to determine which answer would cause the fewest problems: if they said “from heaven” they would have to admit they’d been hypocrites, but if they said “from man” the people who followed John might turn on them in anger. At no point in the conversation does it seem they asked themselves: “What do we believe is the truth?” They answered, “We do not know.”

No one can truly lead people they fear to displease. When our pastors and priests are willing to tell us something we won’t like – something that may even anger us – we are not obligated to agree with them, but it is an indicator of their integrity. And when we are called upon to lead, we must not equivocate, but instead be clear in our words and intentions. If we wait to take a stand until most of the danger of doing so has passed, we have done nothing at all.

Comfort: You can’t make everyone happy, so don’t try.

Challenge: If the just opinion is unpopular, speak it anyway.

Prayer: God of Justice, give me courage to serve you boldly. Amen.

Discussion: When do you regret not speaking up?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Civil Disobedience

mercy_not_sacrifice

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 51; 148, Proverbs 8:1-21, 2 John 1-13, Matthew 12:1-14


The Gospels contain several examples of Christ breaking the Law to serve a greater good. In today’s reading from Matthew he hits the Pharisees with a double whammy. First, he and his hungry disciples pick heads of grain to eat while they are walking through a field, though the Law forbid harvesting on the Sabbath. Then Jesus heals a man with a withered hand (also work forbidden on the Sabbath) and justifies it by asking his critics if, had they only one sheep and it fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, would they lift it out?

As followers of Christ we understand God “desires mercy and not sacrifice” yet many civil and religious laws attempt to bind us to legalism over mercy. When are we called to civil disobedience – that is, disobeying the law out of Christian conscience? Without respect to their merit, some examples include conscientious objectors during wartime, refusal to sign marriage certificates for gay couples, and passing out food to homeless people despite local ordinances forbidding it. Further complicating the matter, Paul tells us in many scriptures to obey the civil authorities because they have been appointed by God.

What can we learn from Jesus’s examples of lawbreaking? Jesus breaks the law to show mercy to others – the sick, the hungry, and the outcast. He doesn’t do it to benefit himself, or to make a show of his piety. To the contrary, his actions compelled religious leaders to seek his destruction. Even when he cleansed the temple by driving out the money changers and livestock dealers, he was confronting a system that was technically legal but exploiting the disadvantaged. That’s the flip side of the coin: pretending our adherence to the law excuses our unmerciful behaviors.

We can’t opt out of society’s laws altogether – that’s simply anarchy – but when the law compels us to do something contrary to God’s desire for mercy, we must stand for God. Like Jesus we must be willing to suffer the consequences of obeying that higher law. And we must do it with the humility of a king whose only crown was thorns.

Comfort: You don’t have to fight every little aspect of society that doesn’t dovetail with your faith…

Challenge: …but you should be willing to stand up in the face of injustice.

Prayer: God of wisdom, teach me when to humbly respect authority, and when to humbly confront it. Amen.

Discussion: Have you broken the law – or the rules – to show mercy?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

The Good Consultant

1454766986357

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Genesis 24:28-38, 49-51, Hebrews 12:12-29, John 7:14-36


As a profession, consultants have a mixed reputation. After consultants have provided expensive professional expertise, employees commonly respond (correctly) with: “They didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.” If this is the case, is the service valuable or not? It can be — if what the business really needed was confirmation, not innovation. It may not sound as poetic as The Good Shepherd, but Jesus was also The Good Consultant.

When Jesus had grown popular enough that Jewish authorities began plotting to kill him, he had two choices: go into hiding, or follow his calling. Despite the danger, he began preaching openly in the temple during Sukkot, one of the most important festivals of the year. People marveled that he, who had not been taught, could teach so wisely. Jesus responded by saying his teachings were not his own but those of God. He advised anyone who doubted his credentials to apply a simple litmus test: was he speaking for his own glory, or for the glory of God? “Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.”

In this particular case he was preaching about their hypocrisy when it came to applying the Law of Moses, but he wasn’t providing any new information. Many prophets before him told the people of Israel their observation of the law was meaningless — even offensive — to God if they weren’t offering mercy and justice to the least among them. Like many enterprises, they were too busy performing day-to-day operations to step back and ask whether they were really fulfilling their mission in the best way. They knew the right things, but needed Jesus and other prophets / consultants to spur them to change direction.

In our spiritual lives as in our work lives, we need to recognize when established authorities are glorifying themselves and the status quo over the mission, and when outside voices are telling us what we already know to be true. The Good Consultant steers us away from hypocrisy and ego toward mercy and justice.

Comfort: When your conscience tells you to choose mercy over the wishes of authority, you should probably listen to it.

Challenge: Oftentimes following Jesus means defying “business as usual.” Make time to step back and measure your beliefs and actions against the teachings of Christ.

Prayer: God, I will do my best to listen to your voice above all others – including my own. Amen.

Discussion: When you ask your friends or colleagues for advice, how often do you already know what the right answer is?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

The Bare Minimum Wages of Sin

greatboldness

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Ruth 2:14-23, 2 Corinthians 3:1-18, Matthew 5:27-37


Mosaic law instructed farmers not to harvest the outermost edges of their fields, nor to retrieve what was scattered during the harvest. The remnants were left for the poor and the immigrant. When Boaz instructed his field hands to let Ruth, a Moabite immigrant, glean among the sheaves they had reaped and to pull stalks for her from the bundles, he went beyond what was required. While his reasons were not entirely selfless, we can infer he was not the kind of person who held onto things just because he could.

When Jesus spoke about temptations like adultery, he said “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus understood the difference between being tempted and surrendering to temptation. His larger message was that we shouldn’t be a people who skirt the technical boundaries of what is legal, regardless of whether it is right (a lusty look but not a touch), but a people who cultivate hearts that see others as more than an extension of our own needs and desires.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul described the law of Moses as written on stone, and the law of Christ as written on the heart. He called the first the law of death, and the second the law of life. A law carved in stone for everyone to read allows us to settle for the minimum amount of effort because then we’ve met our requirements. It encourages us to figure out exactly what we can get away with before earning punishment. Under a law of stone, we can trade our conscience and sense of ethics for a checklist.

The world tells us to make claim on all that we legally can, to think of justice as the greatest retribution we can legally extract, and to see others as competitors. This is the law of stone and death. The law of heart and life doesn’t leave the poor and alien scrounging at the edge of our fields because we are obligated to, but welcomes them to the table out of love.

Comfort: The law of love brings life.

Challenge: Loving your neighbor as Christ commands requires you to use your head and heart. Ask whether you are doing what is required, or what is loving.

Prayer: God of Life, teach me to read and obey what you have written on my heart. Amen.

Discussion: Many unethical actions are technically legal. Are there any that particularly bother you?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group , visit comfortandchallenge.tumblr.com, or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!