Today’s readings:
Psalms 111; 146, Genesis 28:10-22, Hebrews 11:13-22, John 10:7-17

“All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.”

– Hebrews 11:13-14

Do you feel like you have a homeland? For most of us, it’s the nation we live in. Or maybe, if you were born in a different land, it’s your country of origin. Some people feel an affinity for places they’ve only ever visited, or perhaps never been. For the faithful described in today’s passage from Hebrews, the homeland was a place which didn’t exist except as a promise from God.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God – a place which is very real yet not found on any map – perhaps we should always feel a little displaced. When we are too comfortable in an earthly kingdom (or republic or federation or whatever form that “kingdom” may take), we may confuse it with God’s Kingdom and begin to equate patriotism with fidelity to Christ. As a result we look at other nations – also full of God’s children – as morally inferior, and think of our own institutions as somehow divinely ordained.

Yes, there are a few Biblical passages that can be interpreted to mean worldly authorities have been ordained and placed by God, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be corrupted. Even the United States, which prides itself on religious freedom, was founded in rebellion against existing authorities, and is itself subject to very un-Christ-like behavior.

Any government claim to divine authority is dangerous propaganda created to convince us we shouldn’t question all-too-human authority.   When, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side,” he wasn’t claiming God would back the winner, but that God’s purposes are greater than we can imagine. Though they may occasionally overlap, the concerns of an earthly nation are not equivalent to the concerns of Christ.

Our homeland is nowhere – and everywhere. We find it wherever we are by following Christ. Our responsibilities to God’s justice , peace, and love don’t fluctuate with the whims of nations, but our commitment (or lack thereof) to those responsibilities may be revealed when those whims are at odds with discipleship. Our flag is the coat we give to our neighbor, our anthem the words of forgiveness spoken to our enemies, our border the limitless reach of God’s love.

For additional thoughts on today’s reading from John 10, see Our Shepherd’s Voice

Comfort: Your citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is constant.

Challenge: Pay attention to discern when someone is trying to exploit your faith for personal or nationalistic purposes.

Prayer: God of all creation, my allegiance is to your Kingdom. Amen.

Discussion: What are the dangers of mixing national identity with religious identity?

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  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!

Propagandist or Prophet?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Nehemiah 9:1-15 (16-25), Revelation 18:1-8, Matthew 15:1-20

After the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from exile and purged themselves of foreign influences, the Levites (priestly class) offered a long prayer to the Lord. This prayer recounted the history of the Jewish people from creation to their current situation, and ended with a plea for help. This history included both the triumphs and failings of the Jewish people. It didn’t attempt to explain or excuse past transgressions; to do so would have been an affront to the Lord. The people’s current condition – better than exile yet not so good as complete freedom – was the culmination of all they had done, and asking for it to be better required a humbling honesty with themselves and the Lord about how they got there.

Nobody claimed, “I was born in exile, so I can’t be held responsible for exploiting those widows and orphans back then.” Nobody pointed a finger at the Ammonites and said, “It’s their women’s fault for agreeing to marry us.” No one interrupted the prayer with an unrelated diatribe about Hittite-on-Hittite crime.

Whether it’s today or 2600 years ago, a nation which truly wishes to embrace justice must come to terms with its past as a nation. The currently downtrodden and marginalized didn’t spring up overnight; they suffer and others prosper because of the violence, oppression, greed, and inhumanity of the past. It doesn’t matter how long ago something happened if people are still suffering the consequences today because it’s more comfortable to forget about how terrible we were and focus on how great we are.

If your palace is built on sand, it’s inevitably doomed until you dig deep to pour a solid foundation.

None of us is excused from corporate accountability for the past simply because we don’t feel individually guilty in the present. No one is asking us to feel guilty anyway; guilt is useless, maybe even detrimental, to national healing because it nudges us away from empathy and toward defensiveness. When we can’t admit (or worse yet try to excuse) what we as a people have done wrong, who was hurt by it, and why we did it, we’re all but destined to repeat it, much like Israel’s cycle of faithfulness, blasphemy, and devastation. To break the cycle, we must abandon the spin.

A nation is rarely short of propaganda, but prophets are in short supply. The former may make us feel good about being on the team, but the latter will tell us how to be a team worth belonging to.

Further reading: for thoughts on today’s passage from Matthew, see Lip Service.

Comfort: The truth sets you free … from a lot of things.

Challenge: Support the communities you belong to by holding them accountable.

Prayer: O Lord, I will be true to you above all others. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever been surprised to learn something new or different about history? Did you research to find out if it was true?

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!

Hammer or Nails?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Zechariah 9:9-16, 1 Peter 3:13-22, Matthew 21:1-13

For Christians, victory is a challenging concept, because so often it looks like defeat. Our savior overcame death, but first he had to humble himself before the powers-that-be and willingly accept the cross. Throughout history beloved saints and martyrs have followed in his footsteps and died for their faith, but collectively we seem to be much more eager to kill for it.

In his first letter, Peter advised disciples to do good even if they suffered for it. Does that sound like what we do today? Or do we, as the dominant faith in our culture, succumb to the temptation to force others into submission to our will and beliefs? The United States is a nation founded on religious freedom, but we certainly didn’t allow the Native Americans to practice their religion in our midst. Every Christmas season, examples of religious inclusion are mocked as politically correct or attacked as un-Christian (and by association, un-American), as though businesses, cashiers, and baristas are somehow obligated to acknowledge Christian traditions to the exclusion of at least a half dozen other religions celebrating holidays in December. When we bury ourselves in wrapping paper and bows, happily co-opt pagan symbols like trees and mistletoe, yet take offense at “Happy Holidays” in a place of commerce (and in today’s reading from Matthew we read about Jesus cleansing the temple of commerce), we aren’t so interested in sharing the Gospel as force-feeding it.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to tell the Empire its power was irrelevant. The marriage of faith identity to national identity produces some unholy offspring. It turns the faith into a hammer, when we are supposed to be willing to take the nails. We only feel the need to hold power when we ourselves are in the grip of fear. Peter wrote: “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.” Delivering the Gospel on the point of a sword sanctifies nothing, and ultimately undermines Christ’s message. Living as persistent, humble witnesses, regardless of whether the world accepts us, is true victory.

Comfort: As long as we rely on God, we are never defeated.

Challenge: Examine parts of your life where your decisions are based on fear.

Prayer: Almighty God, in you alone will I seek victory and validation. Amen.

Discussion: Can Christians declare loyalty to a particular nation? Why or why not?

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!