Pastor Phil

How does God Provide?

It flows from the lips of a variety of religious people, “Don’t worry, God will provide.”  Really…Just how does that happen?

I’m perplexed by people who understand God actively making thing happen in our world.  Is God reaching down and moving a Pawn or a Knight, as if life were a chess game?  I am aware that the Bible often speaks of a very interventionist God.  My personal favorite story has God lengthening a day so that the Israelites would have more sunshine to kill their enemies in battle.

Joshua 10:12-14 (NRSV) 12 On the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD; and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.” 13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded a human voice; for the LORD fought for Israel.

Wow, did you miss this story in Sunday School?  The story of God giving more sunshine so there would be more time to kill people!  Do you believe in such an interventionist God?  Some Christians assume prayer works this way.  Ask God for what you want and “poof”…it happens.  Many faithful loving people, pray and pray, for healing and it never happens, while others who don’t believe in God get cured of cancer…Just how does God provide?  How does God intervene?  Does God intervene?

This past Sunday the first Sunday of Advent I embraced Jesus’ works from Luke that “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but not his words” (Luke 21:33)  Jesus’ words are eternal!  Can God provide for humanity through the words of Jesus?

Absolutely.

With one caveat.  The words are useless if not lived.  We are the living words of Jesus.  God provides for all of humanity.  Those who follow Jesus seek to live Jesus’ teachings, Jesus’ words.  Being the Living Words of Jesus involves constant daily attention.  It is not a simple task.  It takes effort, persistence and a determination to seek a deeper level of living.

God has provided.  This earth produces enough abundance for all people.  Our egos and fears get in the way of distributing this abundance for all God’s people.  I don’t believe in an interventionist God that will fix the world when we have the ability and capacity to do it.  I don’t need big daddy in the sky to fix thing that people have created.  God has created us in God’s image to manage and bless the whole creation.

Although Heaven and Earth pass away I believe the word of God is eternal.  This eternal word is centered in love, God’s love, AGAPE.  The New Testament authors had an understanding that we have that ability to love as God loves.  To a group of conflicted and fighting Christians in the town of Corinth, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “I will show you a more excellent way”, (1 Cor. 12:13).  That way, is the way of love.  I doubt Paul would commend this “way” to the early arguing Christians if he did not think they could live it.  Paul ends his description of “the way”, with a familiar phrase often read at weddings.  It is great advice to newlyweds, and to all people, but especially to arguing people, “Faith, Hope, and Love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”  And that love is not a feeling, but an action to be empathetic, caring, considerate, gracious, and cooperative in the midst of arguments.  In a divided nation we need that mutual respect of one another.

In Advent we remember Emmanuel, “God is with us”.  God is with us to PROVIDE!  God provides through people living the teachings of Jesus.  Not easy!  But very necessary in our world.

As we seek to follow the words of Jesus we become “the living words of Jesus”.  Join that Journey and seek to learn to love like Jesus!

Expect Nothing in Return!

This past Sunday I welcomed, Eva Ritvo, MD, to speak about her book, “Bekindr”.

Such a simple concept.  First be kind to yourself, then be intentional about being kind to others, strangers, too.  Simple things, like looking people in the eye and recognizing them as they pass.

She backed everything up with research, which I in turn researched, the skeptic that I am, to find that she is right!  And then some!

Mirror Neurons.  I never heard of them before!  Wow, I always said we were wired by God to be in relationship with one another as well as being creatures of LOVE!  Agape love.  The type of love that is unconditional and action oriented, not a feeling.  Bkindr is a book about Agape love, toward complete strangers and what that can do for both the one who offers Agape love, and the one receiving.  Mirror neurons fire off in our brains as we look at people in the eye.  Eyes trigger mirror neurons.  If you smile at someone and they see it, mirror neurons fire in their brain as a smile!  Likewise, mirror neurons detect anger, fear, and worry.  Become a smiler, it’s contagious.

Like all spiritual gifts some excel at one but not another.  Kindness is a spiritual gift.  It may not come naturally to some.  This concept was discussed at our adult class.  “What happens if my kindness is not reciprocated?”  Keep on being kind.  Keep on smiling.  Keep on saying, “Hello”. Be true to what you know is right regardless of how it might be received.  Agape, is an action taken, regardless of how it is received.  No reward necessary.

We live in a “Quid pro quo” world.  You do this, I’ll do that.  Everything is an exchange of some sort.  We even deal with God in this way.  “God I’ll do this, if you only provide me with…”  How freeing it is not to keep score, to have a memory lapse about insensitive comments, or to forget a past infraction.  I’m reminded of the teaching of Jesus in Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, which in Luke doesn’t occur on the Mountain, but on the Plain;

Luke 6:32-35 (NRSV)
32  “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34  If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.

Being Kind has everything to do with “expecting nothing in return”, that is Agape Love.  Take that phrase with you each day as you seek to love like Jesus!  Expect nothing in return!

The bark of a Dog that changed everything!

I’m a big proponent of individual responsibility.  I tell my kids and self often, “It’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it’s all how you react.”

There are some interesting reactions going on in our past Sunday scripture passage, Mark 7:24-31.  This passage is often called Jesus interaction with the Syrophoenician Woman.

Mark 7:24-31 (NRSV)
24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

It’s not an easy dialogue to follow, let alone understand, what do dogs have to do with Jesus’ answer or for that matter what crumbs are being fed to children?  I marvel at Jesus and the unnamed Syrophoenician woman’s reaction.  Their reactions speak volumes of maturity, civility, and healthy responses to painful realities.

It starts with understanding that Jesus uses a generic insult by using the word, “Dogs”.  This insult was directed at non-Jewish people, particularly this woman and her sick daughter.  Dogs were considered shameless and unclean.  In using the term Dogs, Jesus let her know his mentality toward non-Jewish people.  A reality reflected in his culture of the day.

Geography matters in this story!  If you look at an ancient map of Israel in Jesus’ day, Tyre is a port city well north of Galilee, outside of the “Promised Land”.  Jesus is in foreign territory.  This Greek or Gentile woman is described as being Syrophoenician in origin.  Syria and Phoencia are also north of the “Promise Land”, in an area that would be considered unclean.  Jesus is in unclean land with unclean people.  At least according to his culture.

Jesus’ use of the slang, “Dogs” for people who do not live in the “Promise land”, would have been culturally conditioned.  Some conservative commentators suggest Jesus uses this insult to illicit faith….I have a problem with that.  Let’s allow Jesus to be human, brought up in a culture that looked down on those who were different.  Have things changed????? REALLY.  I know I have to fight those impulses toward those who are different from me.  Foreigners…..I notice difference in clothing, language, wealth, manners as well as skin color.  I don’t like that, but it is who I am.

What’s amazing is the woman’s REACTION after being called a Dog.  After having her sick daughter called a dog!  She takes on the slur!  She didn’t spit at him or curse him, she used her neo-cortex and his language to make her point!  She reacted with civility and maturity.  “Sir, even dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”

The Children are Jesus’ kind, those people who live in the “Promise Land”.  Jesus is the food, his words, his teachings, his healing…he is the bread of life.

She is willing to recognize who the children are, what the food is, and that she might be considered a dog…but she will still take left overs, crumbs, anything for the love and healing of her daughter.  WHAT A WAY TO REACT TO SUCH AN INSULT.

Jesus to his credit reacts well too, put in his place in a foreign land, by a foreign woman!  He uses his neo-cortex and realizes she is right.  All people deserve spiritual nourishment regardless of race, sex, religion, language or neighborhood.  She was right.  Jesus realized that and REACTED WELL.  Her daughter was healed.

Then Jesus continued his new found understanding that his mission and words, his healing and teachings were for all people in all lands and left this unclean place, Tyre, and traveled to an new unclean place east of the “Promise Land”, the region of the Decapolis.  (Verse 31)  This unclean dog’s bark changed everything.  In the Gospel of Mark this story presents a seismic shift as Jesus then continues his new expanded mission to new wild places, with wild people, to do wild things.  In the wild place of the Decapolis.

This coming Sunday Jesus challenges his disciples to “Follow Me”.  Will you do that?  Follow Jesus to foreign lands, risk engaging people who are not your “Kind” and learning from them!  Will you remove yourself from your comfortable TV news that confirms your believe because of the slant of the reporting?  Will you remove yourself from email groups and face book friends that make enemies out of the “Other Side”?  Our world needs followers of Jesus in order to embrace new ideas in wild places from wild people which might create a little wildness in us.

How we react to one another matters!

It’s amazing that a bark from a dog changed everything for Jesus!

 

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Thursday Bible Study

Thursdays 12:15-1:15pm—Presently reading through Mark. No Bible knowledge needed.