Sunday, March 26, 2017


Ephesians 4:30-32
            There are people who believe you can say anything nasty about a person as long as you preface it with, “Bless her heart…”  They feel this “blessing” makes it okay to speak ill of someone. 
            Earl Wilson, the late newspaper columnist (gossip columnist, actually) said, “Gossip is hearing something you like about someone you don’t.”  Wilson made his living digging up and writing gossip about the rich and/or famous.  With the political system as it is today he would have a field day if he were still writing. 
            We don’t need gossip columnists to do our dirty work for us.  Many of us pass gossip around like soap bubbles, filling the air with tales best left untold.  I remember hearing an old line that went, “You know I would never say anything about someone that wasn’t good…and this is really good!”  For some people, the juicier the better, and too often the nastier the better.
            Frank Clark said, “Gossip needn’t be false to be evil—there’s a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around.”  All too true.  Whether what we say about someone is true or false matters less than how much it will hurt.  We all have things in our past—or in our present—that we’d rather not have the world know.  If we say what we say knowing it will cause pain to someone, we are doing that person an injustice.
            Paul understood how speaking ill of someone can hurt.  That’s the essence of his words to the church at Ephesus.  He says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”  That doesn’t leave much negative we can say about someone, does it?  Notice that slander doesn’t get mentioned until well into his list.  Even true words spoken in anger are to be avoided.
            Why should we refrain from gossiping?  Paul’s opening statement in this passage makes it clear: “…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”  We know gossip can be deadly dangerous in any community, but especially in a church.  Remember, Paul is writing to the Ephesian church, not just to a bunch of townspeople.  I remember overhearing my mother speak about two of the members of our church—a father and adult daughter—when I was a growing up.  The father had a couple of habits that were in opposition to the discipline of the church, but his daughter was a gossip.  Mom said, “His habits are not as harmful as her gossip.”  She was right. 
            One thing to remember about gossip is that it flows both ways.  An old Irish proverb says, “Who gossips with you will gossip about you.”  We tend to forget that a gossip is a gossip is a gossip.  Gossips get their kicks from spreading stories about people.  If he’s spreading tales about other people to you, what is he saying about you behind your back?  You may never know until it comes back to haunt you.
            Paul’s admonition doesn’t end with the negative.  He lists the kinds of conversation we are to avoid so that we will not grieve God’s Spirit, but he doesn’t stop there.  He tells us what kinds of words we should put in their place.  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” 
            Our conversation about people must be such as builds each other up, and builds up the body of Christ.  When we say something negative about someone we are focusing on behavior of which we don’t approve.  Instead, we are to forgive, and one step in forgiving is putting talk about that behavior to rest.
            Someone once said, “The best thing to remember about gossip is to forget it.”

            Good advice.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


2 Corinthians 9:6-11
            Generosity!  It’s a hard sell.  We want people to be generous to us, but sometimes we find it difficult to let generosity flow the other way. 
            Then, of course, there’s the problem of who to be generous to.  It’s easy for us to be generous to those we know; more difficult to be generous to those we don’t know; more difficult still to be generous to those who don’t share our religious beliefs or world view.
            Paul raises the issue of a collection “for the saints.”  This is known as the Jerusalem collection, because its main purpose was to relieve the suffering of the Christians residing in that city.  Things were not easy for them.  Caught between the Jewish leaders and the Roman oppressors, they found it difficult to support themselves; so as Paul moved through the cities where Christianity had gained a foothold he collected what money he could to take or send to the city where this new religion had its beginning.
            For a more complete background, turn to the beginning of the previous chapter.  That’s where Paul begins to talk about generosity.  Notice how he uses flattery, telling the Corinthian Christians how much he respects their generous spirit.  Of course, he’s not above chiding them as well.  He even sets up a competition, bragging about the generosity of other churches.  We might say he does whatever is necessary “that by all means I might reach everyone” (to paraphrase a famous line from another of his letters).
            Perhaps I was a bit hard on today’s Christians in the second paragraph.  We do try to be generous, but we also want to be sure our money is really going to places where people will be helped.  We’ve heard about scams even among charities, and we don’t want to give to one of them. 
Many of us are as generous with our time as we are with our money—or perhaps even more so.  I know people who barely have enough money to live on, who give of their time and energy willingly, gladly helping out in any way they can.
            Here’s something to remember: “Generosity consists not in the sum given, but the manner in which it is bestowed.”  A willing spirit doubles the impact of the gift, while a miserly, penny pinching attitude makes it less effective.  The value of our gift increases with the openness of our hands and our hearts.
            Helen Sterret asks an interesting question, one that has great significance as we look forward to the events of Holy Week: “When the woman poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet, was it an act of extravagance, or an act of selflessness?”  Take a moment to ponder.  This woman gave extravagantly, no doubt.  We know that she wasn’t among the rich elite of the town.  Her gift came from a generous spirit, but it came even more from selflessness, for she gave not simply from her hear and her pocket, but from her heart.  That perfume might have been a gift from someone who cared deeply from her.  Perhaps it was all she had of her mother, or another woman who had meant something to her; yet she not only gave it away, but poured it out as an offering.
            Sterret asks another question: “What are we hoarding that we might be able to share with someone else?”  It’s easy to write a check.  That takes no effort and very little thought.  We might even write a sizable check, one that would seem very generous; but are we giving selflessly?  Or are we still hoarding something that could be valuable to someone?  What “jar of perfume” are we holding on to that we ought to give selflessly?

            John Wesley said, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”  Great business advice.  But the giving means nothing if it isn’t given from a selfless heart full of love.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Friendship With Jesus

Friendship with Jesus
John 15:12-17
            It is a few hours before Jesus’ betrayal.  He knows what is going to happen.  He knows there will be pain—excruciating pain, more than any human body can stand.  He knows his life will end on a cross, and he understands what it is to die that way.  The Romans loved crucifixion because it was not only an agonizing death, but totally humiliating.  Jesus knows he has only a short time before the agony will begin, so he chooses to spend that time with his friends.
            Friends may seem like a strange word to use here.  These were Jesus’ disciples—not just any disciples, of course, but his hand-picked inner circle.  He tells them, “I chose you; you didn’t choose me.”  It was unusual for a master to choose his disciples.  In most cases the followers decided which teacher they would attach themselves to; but Jesus chose these twelve, and now he spends his last few hours of freedom with them.
            John’s gospel gives us the most extensive picture of the Last Supper.  Instead of focusing on the institution of the Eucharist (the sharing of bread and wine) John turns in other directions.  He begins his account by telling how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet—a necessary task in those days of dusty roads, one that was performed by the lowliest of servants.  Yet here was the Master—the Son of God—performing this basest of tasks for his followers, his friends.
            John then focuses on Jesus’ last words.  This is no abbreviated version.  Instead we find four chapters devoted to the Lord’s final instructions to his disciples and his prayer for their salvation.  John gives us beautiful, lyrical lines, lines to read carefully and often so we can hear Jesus saying them to us.
            But what about this idea of friendship?  How can there be this kind of relationship between master and disciple?  How can a student be friends with the teacher?  Is such a thing possible?  And how can Jesus call them friends after all the times he had to correct them, the times he shook his head over their density, their insensitivity?  Can he really mean friends?
            Janette Oke has said, “A good friend remembers what we were and sees what we can be.”  In this light, Jesus was truly the disciples’ friend.  He knew what they were when he called them:  a ragtag bunch of working stiffs, not a scholar in the bunch; men who were not afraid to get their hands dirty, but definitely rough, uncut stones—not just rough around the edges, but rough all the way through.
            We might consider Bernard Meltzer’s words.  He said, “A friend is someone who thinks you are a good egg even if you’re slightly cracked.”  No doubt the disciples were that.  They had cracks all over the place—and lest we look at them and say, “I never would have acted like that!  I would never have made the mistakes they made,” we need to look at ourselves in a good mirror, because our cracks are definitely showing.
            Doug Larson says, “A true friend is one who overlooks your failures and tolerates your successes.”  I would change “tolerates” to “celebrates.”  I believe Jesus celebrated the successes of his disciples/friends.  Mark tells us that Jesus sent his disciples out to extend his work.  When they came back, he wanted to take them away by themselves—to have a little downtime, surely, but also to celebrate the successes they had achieved during their time on the road.
            The finest quote I’ve read recently on friendship comes from an unknown source, who said, “A friend will strengthen you with his prayers, bless you with his love, and encourage you with his hope”—and that is what Jesus did throughout his ministry.  Staring death in the face he continued to pray for his friends, that they would have the strength to resist the world.  He surrounded them with love, and encouraged them with the hope of a future in God’s kingdom.

What a friend!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Who Needs Healing?

Who Needs Healing?
Matthew 9:9-13
            The quick answer to this question, of course, is that we all need healing.  There’s not one of us who is in perfect spiritual health, so we are all in need of Jesus’ touch on our lives.  We may actually be in better physical than spiritual shape, at least in part because we spend more time working out our bodies than we do our souls—but that’s, unfortunately, human nature.  If I spent as many hours a week in prayer and in Bible reading as I do at the gym, I wonder what I might accomplish for God?     
            This passage begins with Jesus calling Matthew to discipleship.  Once again Jesus has taken someone who, by all reasonable standards, should not have been chosen.  After all, he was a tax collector!  That meant he collaborated with the enemy.  He was a traitor to his people.  What’s more, he had a license to steal.  Whatever he could wring out of the people over and above what was owed to the Romans was his to keep—and tax collectors did very well for themselves.  As much as we might hate the IRS today, it was nothing compared to the contempt in which people held the taxman in first century Judah.
            But Jesus called him; and Matthew responded immediately.  The gospel writer (Matthew or one of his followers) says he rose from his tax booth and followed Jesus—left everything behind for his new Master.
            It wasn’t bad enough that Jesus honored this despicable character by issuing him an invitation to become one of the inner circle.  Jesus turned right around and went to dinner with “many tax collectors and sinners.”  Goodness gracious!  Didn’t he know these were the kind of people a righteous person was to avoid at all costs?  We are known by the company we keep, aren’t we?  Remember the old saying, “If you lie down with dogs you’re sure to get up with fleas?’  Jesus reputation with the “right people,” the good folk, took a hit every time he broke the cultural rules.  Here, he’s going from bad to worse.  Does Jesus have no shame?
            I find it interesting that the Pharisees don’t have the nerve to confront Jesus directly about his behavior.  Instead, they talk to his disciples—but I suspect they spoke loudly enough for Jesus to hear.  They may have been afraid to question him directly, but they wanted him to know he had really blown it this time.
            “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Jesus heard their question—oh, yes, he heard it loud and clear; and he wasn’t shy about answering them.
            “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
            A good answer, and one that makes excellent sense.  In effect, he was saying, “If you religious leaders were doing your job properly, you’d be eating with them too.  How else are they going to be reconciled with God and made whole?”  This is a pretty scathing condemnation.  I wonder: did they get it?  I know they didn’t agree with Jesus.
            Lest you think that Jesus was letting these religious leaders off the hook by declaring them well, read on to the end of his comment.  He continues: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
            Jesus wasn’t calling the Pharisees righteous, not for a minute!  He hit them right in their religious snobbery.  We might be tempted to change righteous to self-righteous, and we wouldn’t be off the mark if we did.  Jesus was putting them in their place.

            So…we return to our opening question:  Who needs healing?  The answer remains the same:  we all do—and if we don’t believe it, we’re the ones who are self-righteous.