#CoffeeTimePrayer: God’s freebie

 

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Growing up, I watched a lot of Oprah. My favourite episodes were the ones where she gave stuff away. Who doesn’t like freebies? As the years progressed and her show gained in popularity, the freebies escalated too. I remember in one show everyone got a car. The audience lost their minds.

Funnily, nothing brings out the worst in people like the prospect of a freebie. It either turns us into starry-eyed dreamers who show up for free toasters or microwaves and end up buying dubious timeshares, or we become staunch cynics with jaundiced eyes who don’t believe any good can come of anything. There’s no middle ground.

In Matthew 20:29-34 we read the story of Jesus healing two blind men. It’s outside of Jericho, and Jesus and a big crowd are coming past. The men had probably heard about Jesus – calling him, “Son of David,” presumes some knowledge of him – but whether they actually believed the rumours we can’t say. Still, a supposed healer and holy man coming through the neighbourhood? What did they have to lose?

Jesus turned aside to their calls and asked them, “What can I do for you?” I’m sure Jesus knew what they wanted. But did they? Would they ask Jesus for what they wanted or, faced with the prospect of a “freebie” healing, would they lose their heads like an Oprah audience or regard the opportunity as suspect at best?

Looking at the story’s conclusion – both men are healed and choose to follow Jesus – it’s easy to see that Jesus’ motives were pure. He didn’t confront the two blind men with an ultimatum before feeling compassion for them and curing their blindness. The “freebie” was a genuine, no-strings-attached miracle.

How do we approach Jesus when faced with the opportunity for “freebie” grace? Do we go mad with it, “squandering” it on ourselves with little to spare or care for anyone else, or do we decline it because we’re afraid there are Ts and Cs or hidden costs we don’t want to pay? Either is a waste of a wonderful miracle – a continual second chance with God!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the miracle that is your grace! Help me to be generous with it, both with myself and the folks around me. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Fertile ground

 

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Image source.

 

Once when I was a young teen my friends and I were playing the 30 Seconds board game. At one point a person on the opposite team quickly had to explain something to their teammate; we stuck our fingers in our ears to stop us from overhearing. Unfortunately, our nefarious plan to eavesdrop failed when they asked us, “Can you hear us?” and yours truly shook her head “No”!

In Matthew 13:16-17, wedged between the Parable of the Sower and its explanation, Jesus told his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (NRSV). Because we have seen and heard Jesus through the Word and the revelation of the Holy Spirit, we can’t shake our heads “No!” when we clearly hear his voice! We don’t have the excuse of thorny or rocky or weedy ground to explain our lack of faithful yield, because we “[hear] the word and understand it” (verse 23).

If like me you often find yourself shaking your head “No!” when Jesus talks to you, don’t be discouraged! In Proverbs 20:12 we read, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye—the Lord has made them both” (NRSV). Rather than condemn ourselves for our lack of yield, we can ask the Spirit of God to restore our sight and to heal our hearing, to see him and to hear him so we can be fruitful ground for the Kingdom seed.

Prayer: Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear you. Amen.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Hope alights

Brown Bird on a Branch

Winston Churchill called his depression a “black dog”. It was something that dogged his steps, leading him to avoid balconies or railway tracks for fear that he wouldn’t be able to resist suicide.

If depression is like a black dog, then hope alights like a bird. It flits from tree to tree and garden to garden. One of the joys of bird watching is how transient individual birds are even when they’re nesting in the area. To see them is to appreciate them, for the sight might be rare.

Hope is hard when we’re having “black dog” days. We can become so preoccupied with the creature pursuing us that we forget to keep our eyes open for hope. But hope is perched above us. Sometimes it’s hardly visible, but it’s always worth the trouble to look for it. Like God, it might just surprise us.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:5 NIV

Lord God, help us to find the hope of you in our darkest days. Amen.

Looking Lectionary: Trinity A/P1 A

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Reading: Matthew 28:16-20

To me, the Great Commission is one of those “guilty shifting in your seat” passages in the Bible. It’s something I know about, something I intellectually understand to be necessary. But I don’t always see evidence of this conviction – that it’s vital – when I look at my life. I think I can trace this – I’m going to say reluctance, but “apathy” would work just as well – to three things:

I doubt Jesus’ (earthly) authority

Terrorism, wars, violence, corruption. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel that Terry Pratchett was right when he wrote,  “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” If God is so good, I think, then… Then.

But I wonder if it shouldn’t be, “Despite God’s goodness…” Despite God’s goodness and greatness, there are those who choose the other things. I don’t even have the luxury of assigning blame here because I’m often one of them. To truly acknowledge Jesus’ authority is to submit to it, and I don’t always want to submit to God.

I don’t think everyone deserves Jesus

It’s not like I walk around, point at people and declare, “You there! Yes, you sir! I don’t think Jesus ought to like you!” And yet… And yet. There are moments when I find myself in some situation where I’m not only judge and jury, I’m jailer too, jailing someone away from Jesus in my thoughts. (Atheists on r/Christianity, for instance.) I do this by withholding – no, hogging – no, hoarding – grace. I so often deny others this thing I get so freely and so abundantly.

Why do I do this? Aside from the usual prejudice and self-righteousness, it probably has a lot to do with deservingness issues. I think I worry that if Jesus loves others – especially the ones I don’t – he’ll “run short” on grace and there will be less for me. Or, more worringly, he will expect me to love them too…

I don’t really want to obey Jesus

I wanted to write that “it’s hard to submit to Christ when the sins are fun”, but honestly, it’s hard to submit to Christ even when the sins aren’t fun, even when they are life-wrecking and gut-churning and terrible. Obeying all of Jesus’ commands brings out a donkey-like obstinacy in me that I’m usually unaware of and have no reasonable explanation for.

I wonder if my reluctance to do the Great Commission isn’t rooted in the concomitant accountability the work brings. If I am to do the work of the Great Commission, then spiritually-speaking, I have to show up, shoes shined; I have to continually confront my fallen nature with its butt-savedness, I have to constantly revise my assumptions about myself, others and the world around me in light of Jesus’ righteousness and salvation. And that means obeying, and obedience means surrendering to God’s authority.

Service

If one of our “services” as Christians is to encourage people to return to the world’s rightful ruler, to try to reach absolutely everyone, and to do so as an act of faith and obedience, then I wonder if it’s not as much a service to ourselves as it is to God and to other people. You can’t exceed at the Great Commission unless you trust in God, live in close relationship with Jesus and work in the Holy Spirit. And perhaps that’s no accident: wouldn’t it be just like God to give life to those tasked with this life-giving work?

Blessings,

Lee

Looking Lectionary: Pentecost Day A

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Readings: Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

A few years back I was getting chemotherapy at a government hospital in Pretoria. One day an old lady was there for her treatment the same day I was. She asked me a question – something about procedure – but because she had such a heavy Scottish accent I had trouble immediately understanding what she was asking, even though she was speaking English. When I’d run it through my noggin’ and answered her, I could tell it took her a few seconds to process my (Afrikaner) accent in turn, even though I too was speaking English.

I was reminded of this incident when I went through the readings for Pentecost day. In Acts 2 the disciples witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – as a “tongue” of flame that rested on each of them – and they were able to declare God to many different people in their own languages and dialects. The sarcastic comments that they were drunk probably indicates that this wasn’t a staid affair: the disciples were ecstatic and emboldened, as we see in Peter’s subsequent speech. The crowd was astounded.

Beholden to our faith traditions or upbringing, I think we sometimes forget that the Holy Spirit is multilingual. We become used to hearing the cadence of the Holy Spirit’s voice in certain ways, certain places, certain music and rituals. There’s nothing wrong with this: we each have a “faith” mother tongue, a language we understand and speak well, one that expresses us best. But ours isn’t the only language the Holy Spirit speaks, teaches, guides and leads us with, and ours isn’t more or less legitimate than, say, French is to Finnish.

At her heart, the Holy Spirit is an interpreter. She interprets the heart of God for us and interprets our hearts back to God. In John 7 Jesus told his disciples that they had not yet received the Spirit because he had yet to be glorified (crucified). If Jesus had been the heavenly-to-earth dictionary, allowing us to make sense of God, then the Holy Spirit is a Babel fish*.

As an interpreter, however, the Holy Spirit isn’t just limited to heavenly/human conversations. The Holy Spirit is an active participant in human-to-human dialogues as well. In a faith marked by vast differences in practices and adherents, and in a world noisy with different spiritual “speech”, the Holy Spirit helps us to speak each other’s language. Like the Scottish lady and I, it might take us a moment, but if we are committed to hearing and to being heard, the Holy Spirit will “do the talking.”

Blessings,

Lee


* With apologies to Douglas Adams.