Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Clearing the Way for the Lord

Isaiah 40:3-5
3  Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!
4  Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places.
5  Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.
    The Lord has spoken!”

After a year full of activity and ups and downs, personally, locally and internationally, I was recently reflecting on this passage of hope about John the Baptist and the Christ who would come. While these verses are full of many things, here are a couple that I've been thinking about.

One observation is that our world today is not that different than it was in the time of Isaiah.  Wilderness and wasteland are still apt descriptors for many places where there is chaos, injustice, suffering and war. Whether it's our personal lives, issues in our families and communities, or conflict in Syria, (insert place _______), and among world leaders, this planet is groaning (sometimes screaming) for change and help.

In this passage is the call for God's justice and the invitation to be a part of levelling the mountains and clearing the rough places for the Messiah to be revealed. We believers are all called to the privileged task of actively sharing God's love with family, neighbours, coworkers, even strangers and enemies.  I wonder how, exactly, I can remember this task as a privilege when the kids are fighting, and the landlord raises his asking price for the Wood Shop, and our staff don't see eye to eye, local traffic is exasperating, and violence seems ready to erupt around all the corners and in the lives of so many people we work with here.  I simultaneously wonder at how much LOVE and JUSTICE are all the more needed in times like these.

Lord, help us to do all the hard work of love.  And help us to count it as a privilege to do so.

Finally, we are reminded to hope in the promise that God's glory WILL be revealed, and that ALL the people will see it. God is faithful, and in this season of Advent, we remember that faithfulness in the glory-revealed-form of Emmanuel, God with us; Jesus, the gift sent for all the world (universe!).  Even in the wasteland, we hope for what is to come.  Our call is the same as Isaiah's, as John's, to level the mountains, clear the way, shout about Jesus who came, who still comes to us in the middle of all the messes and loves us, and who will come again to once-and-for-all make everything right.  Even in our wastelands, we fight for love, hope, justice.

God will have the last word, and God will get all the glory.  Give us eyes to see it!

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Yesterday, our pastor, Milton Rojas, preached a sermon on the following passage.
Luke 18:9-14
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer[Some manuscripts read stood and prayed this prayer to himself]: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
  In light of the polarization that I see (from an 'outside' perspective of almost 8 years in Costa Rica) happening in the church in the USA, this sermon was timely. Whether I believe myself to be better than 'sinners' or better than other 'believers' is not that important.  Arrogance has no place in the Kingdom of God.  God is not impressed with my list of good deeds and accomplishments.  I can do lots of great things and be an outstanding pharisee that talks more to convince myself and others how great (right) I am than actually connect with God and love others.  And in the polarization of issues, political or otherwise, I must be careful to remember that my citizenship in God's kingdom supersedes my citizenship in any earthly nation.  And the mark of his kingdom is love.
  Yesterday I was reminded that I need to stop believing in my own righteousness and the 'righteousness' of my opinions.  I must lean into Christ's mercy, for I, too, am a sinner.  
O God, be merciful to me. . . .

Ayer, nuestro pastor, Milton Rojas, hizo una predica sobre el siguiente pasaje.
Lucas 18:9-14
Luego Jesús contó la siguiente historia a algunos que tenían mucha confianza en su propia rectitud y despreciaban a los demás: 10 «Dos hombres fueron al templo a orar. Uno era fariseo, y el otro era un despreciado cobrador de impuestos. 11 El fariseo, de pie, apartado de los demás, hizo la siguiente oración:[ Algunos manuscritos dicen El fariseo se puso de pie e hizo la siguiente oración para sí mismo.] “Te agradezco, Dios, que no soy un pecador como todos los demás. Pues no engaño, no peco y no cometo adulterio. ¡Para nada soy como ese cobrador de impuestos! 12 Ayuno dos veces a la semana y te doy el diezmo de mis ingresos”.
13 »En cambio, el cobrador de impuestos se quedó a la distancia y ni siquiera se atrevía a levantar la mirada al cielo mientras oraba, sino que golpeó su pecho en señal de dolor mientras decía: “Oh Dios, ten compasión de mí, porque soy un pecador”. 14 Les digo que fue este pecador —y no el fariseo— quien regresó a su casa justificado delante de Dios. Pues los que se exaltan a sí mismos serán humillados, y los que se humillan serán exaltados».
  Con todo lo que está pasando en estos días con la polarización de ideas dentro de la iglesia en los EEUU (de mi perspectiva, ya con casi 8 años viviendo en Costa Rica), este sermon llegó en el momento adecuado.  Que yo me crea mejor que los 'pecadores' o mejor que otros 'creyentes' no importa tanto.  La arrogancia no tiene lugar en el reino de Dios. El no queda impresionado con mi lista de hechos buenos ni mis logros.  Yo puedo hacer muchas cosas buenas y hasta ser una excelente fariseo que habla mas para convencerme a mi misma y a otros de cuan buena (correcta) que sea yo y realmente no conectarme con Dios ni amar a otros.  Y en medio de esta 'polarización' de ideas y asuntos, politicos o religiosos, debo tener cuidado y recordar que mi ciudadania en el reino de Dios sobrepasa mi ciudadania de cualquier otra nación del mundo. Y lo que marca la diferencia en su reino es el amor.
  Ayer, me acordé que necesito dejar de creer en mi propia justicia, y en la 'justicia' de mis opiniones. Debo acercarme y dependerme mas en la misericordia de Cristo, porque yo también soy pecadora.
Oh Dios, ten compasión de mi. . . .

BIG Time Gap

As I opened the blog this morning, I realised just how long it's been since I wrote anything.  It was the day before my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  The day before.  Now it's been well over a year since he went to be with Jesus.  I don't know that there's any possible way to fill in all the gaps with the feelings and events that have transpired during this last year+.  So, for now, anyway, I'm going to leave it all where it is.  And we'll see. . .