Humble Piety

Today’s readings:
Psalms 46 or 47; 147:12-20, Isaiah 65:1-9, Revelation 3:1-6, John 6:1-4


The Gospels may be “The Good News,” but many of the things Jesus taught us – or perhaps more accurately re-taught us – were good and old. Centuries before Jesus reminded the people of his day that true obedience to God meant embodying a spirit of mercy and justice – rather than mercilessly following the letter of the law – Old Testament prophets had tried to deliver the same message. Isaiah told the exiled nation of Israel she had lost God’s favor because of her “holier than thou” attitude (not even paraphrasing – see Isaiah 65:5). Their burnt offerings, once a pleasing fragrance, became a stench in God’s nostrils as they substituted superficial piety for love and mercy.

Flash forward 800 years, and no one seemed to have learned anything. The occupying force may have changed from Babylon to Rome, but the Jewish people still needed to hear they were like whitewashed tomb: dressed up on the outside, but decaying inside. Flash forward another millennium or two and – no surprise – followers of Jesus need to hear we might be a little too focused on displays of piety and not enough on mercy. Who are the prophets of the message this time? Certainly many voices from within the church, but more telling are the voices of outsiders looking in. Surveys consistently reveal that non-Christians perceive Christians as hypocritical and judgmental. When non-believers are filling in for Isaiah and Jesus, it’s time to take note.

Misplaced piety seems to be a chronic condition of the faithful. And lest we begin to feel too superior for reigning in our own pious impulses … that’s a form of it also. The good (old) news is that prophets speak because there is always hope we will listen and change our ways. Sowing mercy and justice is challenging work. It’s much more comfortable to check off lists and to follow familiar rules than to listen to the voices telling us we need to reevaluate what we think God wants from us – especially when that might mean others will look down on us. When we feel challenged, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 3:6).

Comfort: God’s message to us has remained constant.

Challenge: We have to do the work of properly understanding it.

Prayer: God of Grace, teach me to be merciful.

Discussion: We are all sometimes guilty of hypocrisy. What do you do when you find yourself acting like a hypocrite?

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Kingdom Come

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Malachi 2:1-16, James 4:13-5:6, Luke 17:20-37


When it comes to the concept of “end times” Christians are all over the theological board, from people believing the Bible contains clues to the actual date, to believing it’s all a big metaphor, to countless subtle, overwrought positions between them. After two thousand years it’s hard to believe it’s just around the corner (as did many of his contemporaries), but Jesus talked about it too much to simply ignore it.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, he told them it was nothing that could be observed but “in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” So which is it – now or later?

He shared examples of what it would be like. Two in a bed, and one taken. Two grinding meal, one taken, the other left behind. Ordinary things. Things we’re not likely to be doing if we think the world is ending. Things we do every day, right now, even as the world ends for so many people caught in war, famine, and disaster.

When the kingdom arrives for you, maybe you’ll be in bed and startle awake with a gasp that feels like the first complete breath you’ve ever taken, a breath full of sorrow and hope that connects you to all the other breaths of the Kingdom. The person sleeping next to you, and their shallow breaths, will wake next to someone who understands why we do good to our enemies, and how forgiveness saves the world, and wonder why you can no longer share the same hate. The kingdoms you wander could suddenly not be more different.

Perhaps the kingdom will come in the middle of your daily grind, when a remembered verse about lilies in the field blooms large, and your fears are cast out. A new perspective, a focus on what’s eternally important rather than what’s mundanely urgent, now separates you from co-workers who look at you like you’re from another planet. Your sudden inability to share their worries confirms their suspicions.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. That is when earth is like heaven.

Comfort: The kingdom is right here.

Challenge: Pick a random page in the newspaper (or your regular online news source) and ask yourself how residents of the kingdom might see the stories differently.

Prayer: Thank you, merciful God, for inviting me into your realm. Amen.

Discussion: Do you feel like part of the present kingdom?

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!