God out of Nazareth

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab or window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Genesis 4:17-26, Hebrews 3:1-11, John 1:43-51


Soon after Philip the apostle met Jesus, he found his friend Nathanael and said:”We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael replied: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Of course he was swayed once he actually met Jesus, but his initial skepticism is noteworthy.

The village of Nazareth did not have much of a reputation. It was small and relatively obscure. Suggesting the Messiah could emerge from Nazareth seemed ridiculous even to its own citizens, who repeatedly rejected Jesus and his teachings. Yet a Nazarene he was, defying all doubt and eclipsing all expectations.

It’s not fair, but the world pigeonholes people based on the circumstances of their birth. Inner city kids are thugs. Immigrants from the middle east are suspected terrorists. Women are less capable than men and men are less nurturing than women. Pretty people are stupid and nerds are lonely. Stereotypes  are endless. Like Nathanael we sometimes encounter someone who demolishes one of our biases, but many of them remain unchallenged. One might think that being subjected to a stereotype would make a person less likely to do the same to others, but it isn’t so. We all justify our own biases and the world is poorer for it.

Where is your Nazareth? It may be an actual place, like Detroit or Syria. It may lie in an opposing political or religious ideology. It could be buried in the pigmentation of someone’s skin cells.You may not be able to locate it easily, because it doesn’t necessarily stand out as a place you actively dislike, but perhaps a place you can casually dismiss. Nazareth is any place or circumstance you use as an excuse to invalidate a person or their voice.

Jesus overcame all the obstacles of his birth. So can we, because we are children of God. And we need to give others the same chance. Let us each work to examine and dismantle our prejudices so we can look at each other and see the face of Christ, Nazarene and Messiah.

Comfort: You are more than any label. You are a child of God.

Challenge: Ask a friend you trust what your biases are. Don’t argue with them about what they say, just listen with an open mind and heart.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to see you in all people, even when I don’t want to.

Discussion: What biases have you formerly held which you no longer hold?

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Blame Game

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, Genesis 4:1-16, Hebrews 2:11-18, John (1:29-34) 35-42


The story of Cain and Abel is the original tale of sibling rivalry. Cain, the first child of Adam and Eve, was a “tiller of the ground” and made God an offering of his harvest. His brother Abel was a shepherd, and offered God the finest of his flock. God favored Abel’s offering but not Cain’s, and in jealous anger Cain slew Abel with a rock. Instead of killing Cain, God instead banished him east of Eden and placed a mark of protection on him so no one else would kill him either.

Stories of rivalry are seldom so extreme, but Cain made a common mistake: when things didn’t go his way, he assumed the role of victim.

When God noticed Cain was angry because his offering was not respected, he asked Cain: “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Cain never stopped to ask himself (or God) what he might have done differently. Instead he directed his anger toward Abel. God had advised him: “And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” As God predicted, blaming Abel for his failure led to an even bleaker fate.

Our reaction to failure determines the course of our future. Not being honest with ourselves about our own contributions to a failed effort can have disastrous results for ourselves and those around us. Even when we feel someone has taken advantage of us, we can ask whether and how we made it possible. This doesn’t excuse the other person, but restores our sense of control over the situation and prepares us for similar situations in the future.

We’ll never know why God  rejected Cain’s offer, because he didn’t ask. When we bungle a project at work or handle a family situation poorly, it’s tempting, easy, and human to blame the circumstances, a co-worker, or a spouse. Once that’s out of your system, you need to look inward. In any situation, you are the only person you can control.

Comfort: When you make mistakes, God is not waiting to condemn but to help.

Challenge: Reconsider a situation – from a time when you were an adult – where you blame someone else for failure or problems. Ask yourself what you might have done differently, and what could you do differently in the future.

Prayer: God, teach me to see myself as I am, not as I pretend to be. Amen.

Discussion: How often do you play the victim?

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!

Peace as Preparation

Today’s readings: Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Zechariah 4:1-14, Revelation 4:9-5:5, Matthew 25:1-13

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In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus relates a parable about ten bridesmaids – five foolish and five wise. They all take lamps to meet the bridegroom, but only the wise ones take supplies to keep the lamps burning when the bridegroom is delayed. The foolish bridesmaids ask the other for oil, but the wise ones are wise enough to say no because they’d all be unprepared. The foolish bridesmaids leave to buy oil and return to find the bridegroom and wise bridesmaids have left them behind.

It’s not difficult to imagine the foolish bridesmaids thought of themselves as unlucky, or victims of the wise bridesmaids’ stingy nature. Very often what we call poor luck or unfairness is our own lack of preparation. How do we properly prepare for the kingdom of God?

By not giving away more oil than we can spare. That doesn’t mean a lack of generosity; we should be generous of spirit and wallet. The oil we need to keep topped off is the energy to stay vigilant for the presence of Christ in the world. Many things conspire to steal this energy if we allow them: demanding jobs,  busy social schedules, housekeeping, and so on. None of these things is inherently problematic – they are  mostly good! – but neither is any of them our true purpose. If we don’t learn to say “no more oil for you, foolish bridesmaid” the energy left over for worship, charity, and our relationship with God can quickly dwindle to nothing. And by the way, if we think of those as “left overs” the reserves are already below acceptable levels. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Preparation means laying the groundwork for our whole lives, not just our spare time, to serve God. When we carefully steward our resources, we have enough energy to seek Christ and our peace in him. We must fill and refill our own lamps through prayer, service, rest, and worship.The wise will not save us from ourselves. Have you checked your oil lately? Tomorrow could be too late.

Comfort: It’s okay to do less so you can be more.

Challenge: Take an inventory of your obligations and eliminate the ones that drain your oil.