Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

Tag: Jesus Page 2 of 5

Called to Serve

Jesus calls his followers to be servant leaders: to lead others by serving them, by doing for them, by acting out of concern for their well-being. This leadership model reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr’s statement that no one is free until we are all free. By calling us as servant leaders, Jesus asks us to work on our own freedom by freeing others from whatever injustice holds them down: racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, violence, poverty, and on and on. Until we can free our neighbors from these evils, we cannot ourselves be free of them.

This is the vision of a world free of injustice, filled with love, peace, and hope. It’s what we mean when we talk of the kin-dom of God. But is such a world really possible? I trust in God that it is. If we can envision it we can build it. When we begin to live by the principles of the kin-dom (love, justice, and peace) then the kin-dom begins to exist within each of us. Born within our hearts, the kin-dom begins to grow in the world.

We answer this call to be servant leaders by humbling ourselves in the service of others and not worrying about what we get out of it but serving out of compassion and concern. This type of leadership by example is sorely needed in our “me-first” culture. Jesus’ call to servant leadership stresses the equality of all, that we’re all equally important in God’s sight. It also acknowledges that our true leader as Christians is Christ, God’s word of love to the world. Above all else, we are led by Love.

There are also temptations and dangers when we start to think of ourselves as leaders. We can fall prey to hypocrisy, not practicing what we preach. We can get attached to the power and the praise, becoming all show and no substance. We can also give in to greed, serving only those who can give us something back. A strong relationship with the Holy Spirit can give us the strength and courage we need to help us avoid these kinds of temptations as we answer Christ’s call to work for a justice filled kin-dom.

As followers of Christ we are called to be servant leaders, to serve where, as Frederick Beuchner says, “the place of our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” By beginning to build the kin-dom within ourselves by opening our hearts to the strength of the Spirit and by offering ourselves as God’s servants in the world, we can make God’s kin-dom a reality. We are called to serve. How will we respond?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 5, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Forgiveness from the Heart

Forgiveness is so important in good relationships, whether with God or with each other. So why is it often uncomfortable to talk about? I think this is partly because forgiving requires open, honest, and intimate communication about our emotions and so many of us find that very difficult. Of course, in church forgiveness is connected with talk about sin and therefore is also connected with the spiritual baggage we gain when the concept of sin is misused, as it often is. But forgiveness is critical for restoring damaged relationships. Forgiveness at its best is transformative so that the past need not dictate the future. In other words, forgiving can open up new possibilities in our lives.

Forgiveness is an act of courage. It can be surprisingly difficult to let go of pain and bitterness, anger and resentment, shame and guilt – even when these things threaten to consume us and deaden our spirits. But practicing forgiveness is important for our spiritual health and it takes practice. We often have to do it more than once. It takes time and persistence. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells Peter to forgive 70 times 7 times (that’s 490 times!). That’s an abundance of forgiveness!

When we can’t forgive, we are asked to keep forgiving anyway until it wears down our walls of pain, hate and bitterness. Each time we make an effort to forgive is like taking a hammer to those walls. Even if they don’t come down at first, Jesus tells us to keep forgiving, keep hammering, until the walls are gone, until the way to restoration is clear. To forgive seventy times seven times is to practice forgiving until it becomes ingrained in our very souls. To forgive from our hearts is to make God’s love the ruler of our hearts, not our pain and bitterness. To forgive from our hearts is to free ourselves from the grip of the past, to make possible the restoration of relationship that might otherwise be lost, and to open the future to new possibilities. Whom are we being called to forgive today? For what do we need to be forgiven?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, September 17, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Out of the Ashes Reading

Here’s a reading I did for my book “Out of the Ashes.” Enjoy!

Note that toward the end of the reading I read a poem which contains some adult language.

Building God’s Church

Every building needs a strong foundation. The bigger the building, the deeper and stronger the foundation needs to be. Strong foundations aren’t just important for buildings, either. We would probably agree that one needs a good education as a strong foundation for a fruitful career and that love and communication are needed to form a strong foundation for a lasting relationship. Well, when Jesus says in Matthew 16:13-20 that Simon will be known as Peter, which means “rock” in Greek, and then talks about building the church on “this rock,” it makes me also think about the foundation of the church.

We’ve all heard about the so-called decline of the Christian church over the last 10-20 years. It makes it tempting to ask if the foundations of the institution of the church is showing cracks, perhaps rotting away? Is the church really in danger of collapse as some fear? Maybe it’s past time to inspect the foundations of our churches. What are the foundations upon which the church has been built? Or, perhaps we need to first ask what are the foundations which Christ intended for the church?

Some people understand Jesus to say that he will build his church upon Peter the person. But what if instead Jesus, in the scripture above, means that he will build the church upon the revelation that Peter had just shared, the revelation that Jesus is the son of the Living God? What if that revelation, which we are further told that Peter learned directly from God, is the bedrock of the church? Perhaps what Jesus is saying is that he will build the church on our firsthand, direct experience of Jesus as the loved and loving child of the living, relevant, still-speaking God. Perhaps the bedrock of the Christian community is to be built on the personal revelation of God’s love through Jesus.

The church is, of course, not a building but a way of life, a community of people. It is meant to be the beginning of God’s kin-dom on this earth, an example of what the world can be and of what it means to walk God’s path. It’s where we come together to practice being the world that God intends us to be, a place of love and justice, a place of hope and peace. We fail at this a lot, which necessarily leads us to inspect our foundations. But, coming to know the revelation of God’s love in Christ, we can build the church upon that love. Community based on God’s love is built on a firm foundation that will last. If we build the church, our lives in Christ together, on the foundation of God’s love, if we truly love God and our neighbor and make that the foundation of who we are, we have nothing to worry about.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 27, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Jumping in the Water

What are we supposed to do with Biblical miracle stories? You know, those stories that bend our imagination just a little too far. Perhaps, like the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), they even defy the laws of physics. Sometimes we want to explain them away, saying “Oh, I bet I know what really happened…” Or sometimes we get caught up on insisting in their literal veracity as if God’s very existence depended on us believing something that contradicts all scientific evidence. Both of these approaches are a distraction from a third important option, which is just living with the mystery.

Miracle stories are similar to parables and Buddhist Koans. They’re a riddle or puzzle that try to help us unravel greater truths about the world and ourselves. If we change the story to make it seem more plausible or if we insist upon its historicity, we immediately run the risk of missing out on its meaning. Sometimes we need to embrace the mystery. Parables, miracle stories, and buddhist koans aren’t meant to be logical and literal but are meant to be understood by the spirit, by intuition. That is, by the heart rather than the head.

For example, one meaning or truth I find in the story of Jesus walking on water, where Peter also tries to walk on water and fails, comes in the form of a question: are we so filled with fear that we can’t trust in our power to do amazing things? I admire Peter in this story. He saw Jesus doing this amazing and scary thing and after asking for and receiving a little encouragement, Peter actually had the courage to step out of the boat. He too began to do this amazing thing until he noticed the wind and the waves and was filled with fear and began to sink. Peter failed but he had had the courage to try. I admire that. As much as I’d like to be the confident and together Jesus in this story, I’d wouldn’t mind being courageous but fearful Peter first because too often I’m like the other disciples who huddle in the boat just watching what’s happening.

Of course, this is not about walking on water. It’s about the many challenges we face in this life that force us to ask are we so filled with fear that we can’t trust in our power to do amazing things? Do we have the courage to jump in the water like Peter? Perhaps one thing we can do in the face of our challenges is what Jesus did: take time to pray, meditate, and connect with the Divine, reminding ourselves of the blessings and love that do exist in this world even if they so often get lost in the horrific headlines. But that’s not enough. We also have to act, to work for a loving, peaceful world. So, after renewing our Spirit, how do we find the courage to step boldly out into the water? Ultimately, we have to trust in the power of God that resides within us.

If we fail, if we are overcome with our fear and start to sink like Peter, we need to remember that Jesus is here, walking with us. We can call out like Peter did, “Save me,” and know that God is here with us ready to catch us, to get us back in the boat where we can begin again. What might we accomplish if we trust in our power through God that we can do what seems impossible? We might actually solve some of our problems like poverty and racism. We might just create a peaceful loving world! Don’t be afraid to get wet, jump in the water!

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 13, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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