Sometimes God comes right out and tells us what to do. Matthew 7.12 says, “Treat others the way you would like them to treat you.” Now it doesn’t get much more black and white than that. At other times, He can be more subtle. Jesus often spoke in parables and afterwards his disciples had to say, “What in the heck were you talking about back there.”
Phyllis Tickle is a lecturer and author primarily on religion and spirituality. She has commented that roughly every 500 years the church has a rummage sale where some of the old is let go to make room for the new. She points to Gregory the Great who transformed Christian worship in the sixth century, the Great Schism in the 11th century and the Reformation in the 16th.
Mary and Joseph were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing without grumbling or complaining about the circumstances. They didn’t ask for special favors or to postpone the trip until after the baby was born.
The holidays are here. Carols and peppermint fill the air; twinkling lights delight the eye. All through the day, we’re greeted with “Merry Christmas.” Whether we are religious or not, Christmas is everywhere.
Every time I load updates on my computer, I seem to get a lot more than I want. It’s so slow now I’ll have to ask one of my tech-savvy friends to declutter it. The reason for my angst is the mysteriously enhanced prevalence of the aptly named spinning wheel of death. You know the little symbol that appears to let you know that your web page selection is supposed to be loading. That tiny whirling dervish that just keeps on going round and round, while you stare at the screen wondering what’s taking so long, take a brief timeout to water your plants, visit the washroom, get a cup of coffee, and still end up twiddling your thumbs. Strangely enough, I can watch dreamy-eyed at clothes whirling and flopping around the Laundromat dryer. But the moment that mini-me dryer equivalent appears whirling on my computer screen, I get restless and agitated. At least we know something purposeful is happening at the Laundromat, whereas the computer offers no guarantees.
The Jewish tradition requires justice — in Hebrew, “tzedek.” This goes beyond criminal justice. Indeed, we seek justice in all cases, between all creatures. A just world is a world in balance, a world without want. We seek to bring balance to the world through the performance of mitzvot, religious and ethical actions that nudge the world just a bit further from pain and a bit closer to bounty.
In Luke 17, there is an account of Jesus healing 10 lepers who immediately take off running, jumping, laughing and anxious to return to a normal life. The sad part is only one of them came back and said, “Thank you.” Why do you suppose the other nine never returned? Here’s what I think:
I try to jot down a few specific prayers in a journal every day. It is amazing to flip back and see how many of those prayers God has faithfully answered, oftentimes in ways I didn’t expect. I am encouraged that He will continue to answer even more prayers as I continue to put my hope and trust in Him.
As a person who speaks in front of crowds on a regular basis I often get into funny conversations with people I meet. We have five campuses across the Valley so most people in our church hear me preach at a distance. When all you know is what you see from afar, or on video, real life has a way — evidently — of surprising you. I’ve been told that I’m shorter than they thought and even that I have more gray hair than they’d expect. I’ve been told all manner of observations that catch me completely by surprise. People tend to turn off their regular social filters in moments like these. Normal etiquette falls by the wayside as blunt truth takes over.
I saw a clever bumper sticker some time ago. It read, “What Would Scooby Do?” Well played. The Sermon on the Mount gives us some insight into answering the same question about Jesus. It is some of the best-loved and well-known words from the gospel of Matthew.
The word watermark doesn’t tend to come up in casual conversation. Yet consciously or unconsciously, watermarks are a big part of daily life and faith. Here are a few examples. High quality stationery has long been associated with watermarks. I can still remember my mom’s special bond quality writing paper, with the curious watermark on every page. We all handle money regularly, but if you work in retail, banking, or any profession that deals with money frequently, then you’ll be more than familiar with the watermarks used in paper currency to help stop counterfeiting. The same is also true of those who work in airport security checking passports for the safety of all travelers. If you’re in any kind of construction work, home or building repair specialist, then watermarks have a whole different meaning, especially if you’re called in to deal with the aftermath of a flood or some other type of water damage. Then there’s digital watermarking used in audio or image data for copyright purposes. Other types of digital watermarks protect data integrity and computer security. Last, but not least, from a spiritual perspective, the word watermark reminds us of our baptism.
Love always wins. It may be denied for a time, but not forever. When it can’t flourish, it burns and breaks us. When love is allowed, it transforms, improves and heals. It makes us deeper, kinder, more caring people. When we love, we see beyond ourselves, and come to experience another person’s full humanity. When we recognize another person’s full humanity, we can see it in everyone else, too. The more love the better.
My friend’s daughter just turned 8 and I was recently reminiscing about having attended her baby shower. I arrived at the party, set my purse in a room with everyone else’s and joined the activities. Most of the women in attendance went to my friend’s church.
Our society loves labels of all kinds. Many of us now check out the label on packaged food products before we buy them. Perhaps because we’re watching our weight, avoiding allergens, or trying to reduce the salt in our diet. Or maybe because we’re trying to make healthier choices about what goes into our body. Some of us just like to know where our fresh food is grown. When it comes to clothing, we may prefer a certain designer label, or a brand that we know fits us well. With greater social awareness of injustices around the world, many of us also look at labels so we can shop wisely for fair trade products, or avoid buying from countries with unfair or abusive labor practices. Then there are other labels such as nicknames, or descriptors that we use to conveniently label and categorize people. These labels, which are largely subjective, quite often determine our attitudes and our treatment of others. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the cruel and hurtful labels that children of all ages use to dehumanize, taunt, or exclude others.