Engaged

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 50; 147:1-11, Isaiah 29:9-24, Revelation 21:9-21, Luke 1:26-38


Workplace engagement is an area of increased focus for many employers. Engaged employees take ownership of their jobs, feel like an integral part of a bigger team, and enjoy performing beyond minimum expectations. Disengaged employees are not necessarily bad employees, but usually perform below their potential because the job has ceased to matter to them. But engagement doesn’t create workaholics – to the contrary, work/life integration is an essential factor of it. Disengaged employees often don’t bother to complain; they simply withdraw and go through the motions. Employers can’t single-handedly create engagement; both parties must communicate about and work toward it.

Religion and faith can be similar. Isaiah explains the frustrations of the prophets by saying they may as well be handing over sealed, unreadable documents as shouting from the rooftops. The people are disengaged. Those who can read won’t make the effort to break the seal, and those who can’t read already have an excuse. Nobody in this picture is invested in doing more than they have to. Disengaged, they honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.

Mary, by contrast, is as engaged as it gets. When the angel Gabriel tells her she will conceive a son, she asks how that is possible for a virgin. It’s not a defiant question, but an honest inquiry. Mary wants to communicate – to understand the big picture. When Gabriel explains it all, she replies: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” That’s not a passive “Whatever you say…” but a commitment to be faithful even in uncharted territories. Like engaged employees, the engaged faithful know there is always a new challenge approaching over the horizon, and they step up to meet it. Mary, a betrothed virgin, knows she will be facing many challenges, but is dedicated to the larger plan of salvation for her people.

Like Mary, we should not passively resign ourselves to an inescapable fate. Rather, we should wrestle with it, hammer it out with our own angels, and find our place in the scheme of things. Sincere (if questioning) lips are preferable to distant hearts merely punching a clock until it’s time to check out.

Comfort: An engaged faith unlocks your potential.

Challenge: Where in your life are you simply going through the motions? Is it something you need to abandon or to take more seriously?

Prayer: Creator God, I pray for a heart like Mary’s, true and strong. Amen.

Discussion: Have you had a job you just didn’t care about? If so, what did you do about it?

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Getting Engaged

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Song of Solomon 5:10-16; 7:1-2 (3-5) 6-7a (9); 8:6-7, 2 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 20:1-8


Paul’s relationship with the church in Corinth was a rocky one. In his letter known as 2 Corinthians, Paul encourages and scolds, loves and mocks, thanks and threatens, delights and defends. Naturally written from his perspective, this epistle still includes clues about his contributions to the friction. Yet in conclusion, Paul writes with all sincerity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

How often do we hear such words spoken today between opposing interests? To the contrary, traditional and social media by design encourage not reconcilation across disagreements but confirmation of our existing beliefs and biases. We can find television networks that tell us what we want to hear and marginalize those who disagree. The feeds of most popular social media sites follow algorithms engineered to categorize us into ever narrower groups for marketing; the intention may not be to divide us, but division is at the least a problematic side effect.

Paul had many disagreements with members of the Corinthian church, including their lack of basic respect for him. Yet he remained committed to them as fellow Christians bound in common faith and community. He understood that neither the things that deserved his praise nor those that needed correction completely defined them. Paul remained engaged with them in an honest and loving way, though he knew not all of them were presently willing to return the favor. He had enough faith to believe his persistent love would lead to reconciliation, and enough wisdom to know that wouldn’t necessarily mean complete agreement.

How willing are we to engage with people who disagree with us – religiously, politically, culturally, etc – not to argue or defeat, but to actually interact with them as human beings instead of representations of a particular category? Paul could easily have left the Corinthians to the care of those he called “Super Apostles” (akin to today’s televangelists), but then everyone except those willing to exploit division would have lost. People can’t see us for who we truly are until we show up.

Comfort: God does not see us as labels.

Challenge: We should not see each other that way either.

Prayer: Gracious God, source of all love, teach me to love all your children, as they are my brothers and sisters. Amen.

Discussion: Is there any category of people you dismiss out of hand?

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Showing Up

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Joel 1:15-2:2, Revelation 18:15-24, Luke 14:12-24


It’s no secret that Jesus was fed up with the priestly class, but he didn’t dismiss them out of hand. He was present in the synagogues, and each time they challenged him he gave them an opportunity to hear him and accept him as messiah (though he was careful about using that word). How frustrating must it have been for him when, time and time again, they not only rejected him but remained willfully deaf to his invitation to repent and truly serve God and God’s people?

He told a parable about a man who threw a great dinner and invited many people. Each of the invitees had an excuse for not attending: I just bought some property; I’m a newlywed; I have new oxen to test-drive. The host was very angry, and sent his servants to “bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” These new banquet guests were the inheritors of the kingdom, and no one who was invited got to taste a bite.

Why do we cater to the people who never show up? Many a church exerts so much energy on attracting new people (or “giving units”) that it has little left for the needs of the faithful regulars. Hours are wasted on figuring out how to placate those dedicated (but affluent) malcontents who always seem to have one foot out the door because of one imagined slight or another, instead of asking engaged people why they stay and what they need. The poor, the blind, the lame; they aren’t merely the beneficiaries of the church – they are the church. We are the church. Every one of us is in need. There’s nothing we have to offer God that is not already God’s, so when any of us shows up, it’s with hat in hand, starving for grace. Any other posture is a rejection of the invitation. Let yourself be dragged into the banquet.

If you reject Christ’s invitation because the church is too hypocritical, judgmental, or old-fashioned, you just might be missing the opportunity to fill the seat that will change it.

Comfort: Church doesn’t exist for its leadership, but for its people.

Challenge: Are you showing up? Think about ways you might be rejecting the invitation.

Prayer: Thank you, loving God, for the invitation to life in your kingdom. I am grateful for it and accept it anew every day. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever been disappointed by a poor turnout?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group 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!