Systems Check

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 42; 146, Proverbs 30:1-4, 24-33, Philippians 3:1-11, John 18:28-38


When the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus and took him to the Roman governor Pilate, “they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.” Let that sink in for a moment… They found ritual uncleanliness unacceptable, but framing a prophet because he might actually be speaking on behalf of God was fine. Jesus was right to compare them to tombs whitewashed on the outside and rotten on the inside.

Under Roman occupation, Jewish leaders had no authority to execute anyone but they didn’t let this technicality discourage them. By saying Jesus claimed to be a king, they made him a rival of Caesar and therefore backed Pilate into a political corner. Jesus was advocating throwing off the Roman yoke for the Kingdom of God, but that didn’t suit their purpose so they twisted the truth to fabricate evidence against him. The tactic could be ripped from today’s headlines: self-righteous group misrepresents the facts to serve some narrowly defined greater good. Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth?” and we’ve been fudging the answer ever since.

Who are the villains in this piece? Should we point to scheming Pharisees, oppressive Romans, treacherous Judas, or fair-weather crowds? The truth is, everyone was guilty. The systems in place allowed corrupt leaders to act with impunity, communities to shift blame upward, and individuals to convince themselves they had no choice when they didn’t want to consider real but difficult options. In other words, business as usual.

In what Christ-betraying systems do we knowingly or unknowingly participate? How do we help perpetuate poverty, discrimination, violence, human trafficking, and other evils? If we knew the child sold into slavery to provide us cheap sneakers was Christ, would our cries for justice be louder and our choices different? We need to examine these questions when we make purchases, accept employment, and wield – or fail to wield – privilege and influence. Choosing God’s justice often requires choosing inconvenience, discomfort, and expense.  In God’s system, where the last are first, what does it mean to look out for number one? It means working toward justice for countless others.

Comfort: Every step you take toward justice is a step toward Christ.

Challenge: Lent starts tomorrow. This year give up apathy.

Prayer: Forgive me, Lord, for not wanting to know what I do.

Discussion: Have you ever made different choices after learning “how the sausage was made?”

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!

 

Every Table

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, 1 Samuel 7:2-17, Acts 6:1-15, Luke 22:14-23


Jesus didn’t seem to miss many meals. He accepted dinner invitations from tax collectors. He ate with Pharisees. He arranged delivery for thousands of people. Twice. He had intimate dinners with friends. He invited himself into the homes of notorious sinners. After his resurrection, he threw a fish fry on the beach.

Certainly his most famous meal was the Last Supper, the Passover meal he ate with his disciples before the crucifixion. From this meal we derive communion, sharing bread and cup in remembrance as Jesus commanded us.

When he arrived for this supper, he told his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Among them was Judas, who would betray him for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus could have called Judas out and sent him away before the meal, but he chose not to. This choice makes a remarkable statement: despite knowing of Judas’s impending treachery, Jesus still loved him so much that he wanted Judas at the table for one last meal together.

Depending on how we understand the accounts of Judas’s death (Matthew tells us he gave back the silver the next day and hung himself), this was also his last supper. An even more final event perhaps, since no resurrection awaited him. Imagine the sorrow Christ must have felt not just because he was betrayed, but because his friend would never have a chance to know that even he could have been forgiven.

While we point to the cross as the ultimate symbol of Christ’s immeasurable love for us, let’s not neglect the sacredness of the table. Not just the communion table, but every table which offers us a chance to love as Christ did; that is … every table. Powerful as it is, the cross is in the past, over and done, making relatively few demands of us. The table is present, sometimes inconveniently so, waiting for us to invite friends, strangers, enemies, and lost causes to experience the common humanity Christ brought to every table.

The cross, though indispensable, remains empty. The table begs to be filled.

Additional Reading:
For more on today’s passage from Luke, see Continental Divide.

For thoughts on today’s reading from Acts, see The more things change…

Comfort: Even when we don’t invite Christ to the table, he may invite himself.

Challenge: Read about the meals Jesus attended in Luke.

Prayer: Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer (Psalm 4:1b).

Discussion: Describe a meal that was especially meaningful to you.

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!

Forgoing Forgiving

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, Joshua 9:22-10:15, Romans 15:14-24, Matthew 27:1-10


“Woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born!” Jesus spoke these words about the impending betrayal by Judas. When someone says, “So-and-so will wish he’d never been born!” they are usually referring to a desire for revenge. Should we assume the same about Jesus? If we do, we are declaring Judas the one person Jesus refused to forgive. As our ultimate example of compassion and mercy, does it seem more likely Jesus spoke words of vengeance, or of profound sadness over his friend’s fate?

Other than the betrayal itself, perhaps Judas’ biggest mistake was seeking forgiveness from no one but the same religious leaders who funded his wicked purpose. Not knowing Jesus would rise in three days, he saw no opportunity to ask Jesus directly. Though he flirted with repentance, Judas ultimately decided he was beyond redemption, and set his sights on the hanging tree. In the most immediate possible sense, he was unable to know the forgiveness of Christ.

How do we imagine the Christ of the gospels would have responded if Judas had survived to ask forgiveness of him? We’ll never know, because Judas settled for the verdict of the chief priests. Sometimes when we do terrible things, our guilt convinces us we have committed the one unforgivable sin in all the world. We accept the verdict of our own religious leaders, families, or hearts. We decide we are beyond redemption, and follow a path validating that decision. We believe we are unworthy to even ask for redemption. We go through the motions of church and life, all the while feeling filthy and hollow. But what if we dared to ask Christ for forgiveness? More unthinkable, what if he forgave us? Then we might have no choice but to forgive ourselves.

What an overblown opinion of ourselves to say to Christ, “My sin is greater than your grace.” It is our understanding of mercy that is too small, never Christ’s. The only thing really standing between Christ and us… is us.

Comfort: It is never too late to experience God’s forgiveness.

Challenge: On one side of a sheet of paper, write down things you have trouble forgiving yourself for. On the other side write “God forgives me.” Burn the paper while offering a prayer of thanks.

Prayer: God of all Creation, thank you for your endless mercy. Amen.

Discussion: How difficult do you find it to forgive yourself?

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!

Invitation: Come as You Are

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Most of our experience with communion is in a fairly formal setting. The priest or worship leader takes us through a familiar ritual. The bread is dedicated specifically to the purpose of communion. Depending on your tradition and beliefs, it may or may not be considered sacred but, knowing what it symbolizes, we all treat it with reverence and respect. As far as reenactments of Jesus’s last supper go, it’s pretty inaccurate.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread…” No one processed into the room with consecrated wafers or a loaf with a slit in the bottom to make it easier to break. There may have been unleavened bread on the table for a traditional Passover meal, but otherwise it was unremarkable. Jesus used bread that was already present — and possibly half-eaten. The cup was just a cup. The gathered disciples would have washed it up after the meal with all the other cups and by the next morning probably couldn’t remember which one it had been.

Then there’s Judas. In all four Gospels, Jesus is aware his betrayer is at the table. He doesn’t identify Judas by name. He doesn’t exclude Judas from the meal. Instead Jesus shows him the same love and offers him the same blessing as everyone present.

The last supper — or first Eucharist — was made of the ordinary: the half-eaten, backwash-tainted, treacherous things and people at hand. It was sacred not because of the sanctity of the elements, but because Christ’s transformational presence makes the ordinary sacred. Your participation in communion does not require your perfection; it requires humble recognition of your deeply flawed nature. That’s the door through which Christ’s broken body and shed blood enter and transform you. And nobody can shut it but you.

If Christ welcomed even Judas at the first Eucharist, what possible reason could there be for anyone to be excluded? Who can say: “I get to determine who is worthy of the grace Christ gives freely?” We don’t get to decide that about other people, and other people don’t get to decide that about us. We don’t even get to decide it for ourselves. Communion isn’t about the perfect loaf of bread for the perfect people. It’s about Christ turning leftovers into a banquet that feeds the world.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.