Monday, November 26, 2018

I Am King

"Jesus said, 'My Kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.'  So Pilate said to him, 'Then you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say I am king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice.' "-[John 18: 33B-37].

Self absorption has crept into so much of our culture, that we barely recognize it any longer.

Everything is individualized - individual pan pizzas, custom online jeans, Selfies, Facebook pages, individual Twitter accounts on which we can weigh in on topics at any time of day or night. Even in the news in the last day or so, human-edited embryos so we can design our individualized baby.

I think Jesus would be horrified.

This all-about-me Universe declares that "I am King" (or Queen).  To have the world's attention bestowed upon us in ultimate admiration has become the epitome of success. We boast about our Twitter feeds, our 'Likes' on social media, the number of followers on our online accounts.

We even puff up our own importance in solving the world's problems. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "There are those who seek to convince us that only man is able. Their attempt to substitute a man-centered universe for a God-centered universe is not new. It had its modern beginnings in the Renaissance and subsequently in the Age of Reason when some men gradually came to feel that God was an unnecessary item on the agenda of life. [But] man is not able to save himself or the world."

King also talks of the folly of passing more and more laws to save ourselves. He wrote: " Men have usually pursued two paths to eliminate evil and thereby save the world. The first calls upon man to remove evil through his own power and ingenuity in the strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, he will at last conquer the nagging forces of evil. This idea, sweeping across the modern world like a plague, has ushered God out and escorted man in and has substituted human ingenuity for divine guidance."

As Jesus declares, "My kingdom does not belong to this world." This world is our world and in many ways, we have made a mess of it.

These days, even the "Truth" is relative. My Truth is my own, we say, and you can have your own brand of Truth, but there is no absolute Truth.  There is so much individualized spin, often we cannot readily discern who is lying and who is being accurate.

Such is the stuff and nonsense of the human world. But Jesus says, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice."

John 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. . . full of grace and Truth."

The Word in John 1 IS God's Son Jesus. He is made flesh and dwells among us. Jesus testifies to the Truth, He embodies the Truth, He IS the Truth.

And the Truth is that God is Love. "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is Love. Whoever lives in Love lives in God, and God in him." -[ 1 John 4:8].

Who is the King of the World? Not any human who strives to place himself above all others. Not any human who believes that he can do all, control all, solve all, manipulate all, by solely his own power.
Not any human who believes it is all about him, with no humility or love for those he serves.

"If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all." -[Mark 9:35].

[Related Postings: "Who is YOUR King?', 11/20/16; "Christ the King", 11/24/13; "King of the Universe", 11/26/12.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Poor Widow

"Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling His disciples to Himself, He said to them, 'Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.' " -[Mark 12: 41-44.]

Up until recent times, widows were usually poor. Women in ancient times were not educated by their families, and had no means of support other than what was provided by their husbands. If her husband died, a woman was left with no ongoing financial means.

When we think of a widow, we think of an older woman wearing black, appearing grim, quietly working, or perhaps clasping her hands together in distress.

Certainly, the stereotype of a widow is of someone whose contribution is almost worthless, or who cannot give at all. But in this Reading, a poor widow is praised for giving a small sum that is actually "her whole livelihood."

When I was growing up, I would ask my parents if we could give to charity. Certainly, we had more than enough, and therefore, we would be giving out of our surplus. But my parents would act horrified: "We don't GIVE our money away!"

At dinner time, I would hear them talking about how people are lazy or just want a hand-out. They would say that people who are poor ought to work a little harder, or maybe they were grasping for too much; maybe they shouldn't want a car but should take the bus.

Meanwhile, I might have just exited from Sunday School, (which they had driven me to); and heard,\ the lesson, "It is far better to give than to receive."

Years later, when I was an adult, my best friend had been diagnosed with cancer. She was in her early thirties and had two small children.

She called me with the devastating news and asked if I could pitch in to help her, her children and her husband.

At the time, my father had passed away abruptly. My mother was living miles away and it was becoming clear that she would not be able to live any longer in her suburban home. She could not drive, and her own health was failing. It was up to me to gently convince her that she had to sell her house and come live near me.

At the same time, my husband was working many long hours to support me and our son. And our son was struggling with school. My own health was uncertain with all the stresses of life at the time.

When my best friend called, most people would have said no. I said, Yes.

As I look back, I realize that I was helping my friend for months before her diagnosis - picking her kids up from school if she felt tired and run-down, running out for milk or other items at the store.

When my parents found out about this, they were furious - 'You take care of yourself FIRST.'

It has taken years of hindsight for me to realize that, like the widow, I was unable to give much when my friend called. In my situation in life at the time, I think I was the one who needed help!

But I called around, and I gathered a dedicated team to help out. I gave everything I could, even though I was under duress and spread thin to begin with.

Sometimes these days, I see people who are asked to give and their attitude is, "Why SHOULD I?"
Or, "Someone needs to give to ME."

I give, whether I am able to give a lot or a little. I give because what I have is what someone needs. I give because I can always give something - sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

I give because Jesus understands that sometimes my "little" is my All; and that giving from the heart, giving from one's deficit and not from one's surplus, is the most sacrificial giving of all.

I give, for all the times someone gave to ME, and I really, really needed it.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Heart and Soul

"The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself." -[Mark 12: 28B-34].

There are over 600 Commandments in the Old Testament. But when Jesus came, His Commandments were summarized in the Commandment, above. This Commandment can be summed up in one word, Love.

I suppose one could reduce the Rules For Living into the Ten Commandments, but each Commandment - Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not steal; This shalt not bear false witness - all come down to one unifying command, to Love.

To love the Lord our God, alone, means to not make anything else a god in one's life - not material goods, not fame, not power, not money, not one's physical beauty, not one's all consuming hobby or pastime, not one's vast command of facts and figures and regulations, not one's work title or accomplishments, and so forth.

There is no "I" in God.

We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all mind and with all our strength.

I remember one evening my husband came home from work, seeming dejected. I asked what was wrong? He told me that a big boss had asked him, "What ARE you?" He had replied, "Uh? A guy?" This boss was not satisfied. So he replied, "Uh? American?" Finally, my husband became aware that the boss was asking about his religion. He replied, " Oh. I am Christian. Catholic."

The boss said to my husband, "YOU are way too smart to be Catholic." My husband replied, "Boss, you have a LOT to learn."

Folks misperceive us Christians. They assume we are privileged, powerful, wealthy and classist. But this Commandment begs otherwise. God wants every part of us. We as Christians are supposed to be ALL in - giving our hearts to Him - not to money, jewels, fame, prestige, power. He wants us to love Him and love each other, as much as He loves us.

God wants our soul. He does not want us to "sell out" to an evil program that seeks to mislead us into thinking that absolute power will make us invincible.  He does not want us to "give anything" to have worldly control, massive amounts of possessions, or abusive power.

God calls us with our minds. He does not want us to follow Him blindly; otherwise, how would we put our intellect to bear, to love and help a neighbor in need?  How would humankind ever have discovered penicillin, or invented solar power, or researched cures for cancer, without the considerable determination of the mind? The impulse to help others is the impulse to love, and Love comes from God and God IS Love.

God wants us to love one another with all our strength. In this area, I think of Habitat for Humanity, the organization that brings together many hard workers to sweat and labor in building homes for the disadvantaged. If we are not working hard to help each other, we are not following the Commandment to love with all our strength.

Folks misperceive us Christians. They assume that we are rule-bound, judgmental, intolerant, haters.
But we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. God knew that as humble, unassuming and gentle as He would expect us to be, our temptation is to always take just a little bit more for ourselves and leave a little bit less for others.

Anyone who uses Scripture to carve out anyone, as "not worthy" of God or of our Love, is mis-using the Bible and torturing Christianity. In God's call to love one another, there ARE no exceptions.

When I sent my son off to school for the first time when he was about 5, I told him: " If it isn't Love, don't do it, don't say it, don't believe it, don't promote it. Always do the loving thing. When you are done with your work, use your extra strength to help your classmates or the teacher. Put yourself in others' shoes. What if that were you? What kind of response would you hope for?"

"If we have no Peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." - Mother Teresa.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Divine Eyes

"As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.' And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more. . . Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.' So they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.'  He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, 'What do you want me to do for you?'
The blind man replied to Him, 'Master, I want to see.' Jesus told him, 'Go your way; your faith has saved you.' Immediately, he received his sight and followed Him on the way." -[Mark 10: 46-52.]

A prominent man in the community where I grew up once told my mother, "When people read the same article in the newspaper, they see and understand what they want to."

It is true that we all bring our own personal biases and experiences to events in life. We all see things through our own individual lens.  In many ways, we are ALL blind, like Bartimaeus.

Consider the case of the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. In the absence of reliable eyewitnesses or any physical evidence regarding the alleged attack on Christine Blasey (now Ford), we really cannot know with legal certainty what happened.

But many vociferously argue that this was a case of an accomplished man, falsely accused, in a travesty of justice. Just as many vociferously argue that this was a case of an assault survivor who was physically attacked and then dismissed out of hand.

Or consider the case of the man who sent more than a dozen pipe bombs to political figures of the Democratic party. This man, Cesar Sayoc, had his picture all over the news after his arrest.

While some may have seen a demon, what my son noticed was the expression of utter despair and sadness on Soyuc's face. My son, who is studying Psychology in college, said, "That man looks so sad. Someone has to ask him what happened to him in his life, that he would commit something so evil?"

How could a young person like my son demonstrate such compassion for a man who committed acts so heinous?  The straight answer is that my son sees with different eyes.

Jesus Himself said to His disciples, "This is why I speak to them in parables: 'Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. . . For this people's heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes. . . ."

What Jesus wants us to do is to see with Divine Eyes. This does not mean that we are clairvoyant or can see into another's soul.

It does not mean that we excuse another's wicked behavior.

It does mean that, as much as we are feeble and only human, we strive to see the whole person, the person who in pain cries out by sinfully hurting another. My son said, "Someone like that needs our help."

Jesus also said, "For judgment I have come into this world so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."

There is a great tendency today for us all to be "armchair experts". We are like the Pharisees who live by The Law and who think we have all the answers, but who are so wrapped up in the Rules, that we don't see the whole person or that we don't realize that life is a whole lot more complex than "black and white rules". The Pharisees may believe they have all the answers but in fact, they are "blind."

We judge a caravan of migrants coming to cross the Southern border of the U.S. We fear that they are all gang members, murderers and terrorists. Or, others of us may see only the poor and desperate, who ought to be given a chance at a new life. But in fact, we do not know each and every person in the caravan, their stories, their triumphs or mistakes. We assume we know everything about the Constitutionality of illegal migrants' children born in the U.S. Well, we are not Constitutional scholars.

And in fact, that is not who Jesus wishes us to become. Jesus does not want more people who are expert reciters of the Rules. What Jesus wants is more people with a Heart. . . . people who are humble enough to admit they don't have all the answers. People who can try to love the Sinner but hate the Sin. People who can see that just another soundbite on the news is not necessarily the Truth.

Because the Truth is known- - not just by what is told but by what is untold. As my son saw with Divine Eyes, "Who can truly know the inner workings of a man's heart?"

We want to believe that more and more Rules bring us to enlightenment. But, in fact, only The True Light brings us to true Light and to true sight.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrestled with this idea in his book, Strength To Love, when he said: "How can Evil be cast out? The first [path] calls upon man to remove evil through his own power and ingenuity, in the strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, he will at last conquer the nagging forces of evil. This idea, sweeping across the modern world like a plague, has ushered God out and escorted man in, and has substituted human ingenuity for divine guidance."

In fact, the tale of Bartimaeus ends, not with him suddenly acquiring superhuman vision or all the answers to life, but by him receiving his sight, "and following Jesus on His way."

Jesus tells Bartimaeus, "Your Faith has saved you."

Martin Luther King said, "Modern man. . . has turned his attention [away] from God and the human soul to the outer world. But in spite of these astounding new scientific developments, the old evils continue and the age of reason has been transformed into an age of terror. Selfishness and hatred have not vanished with an enlargement of our educational system and an extension of our legislative policies. A once optimistic generation now asks, in utter bewilderment, 'Why could we not cast it [evil[ out?' [But], in His magnanimous Love, God freely offers to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our humble and open-hearted acceptance is Faith. So by our Faith we are saved."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.