The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
— John 21:17
The life of faith is about being faithful. There are many ways in which we can be faithful. For example, we may regularly attend worship services, participating actively. We may be committed and disciplined givers, consistently contributing to support the ministry of our house of worship.
I believe there is at least one more way in which we can demonstrate our faithfulness to the example and the teachings of Christ, and that is through our participation in ministries that truly meet people where their need is. When Jesus questioned Peter, Jesus didn't respond with, "Develop stellar bylaws" or even "Create excellent worship experiences." Instead, Jesus asks Peter to do one simple thing, "Feed my sheep."
We often spiritualize that instruction, but the reality is that far too many people in our world and our city never have enough to eat. We can do at least as much good by feeding people physically as we can spiritually. One way we can take a concrete step in that direction is by seeking out opportunities to feed hungry people.
At Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, we are doing just that with the kickoff of our monthly Feed My Sheep meal this month. This monthly meal will be offered to anyone who desires to eat, without cost.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
— 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
An old song that many of us learned as children states, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine!" Yet I have to wonder as we become adults how many of us remain true to that purpose. As adults it seems we often become encumbered in ways we could not have imagined.
In fact, we often become bound by the very things that are supposed to save us time and energy. For example, computers are wonderful tools that can bring a wealth of knowledge to our fingertips, dramatically speeding up research. Yet, they require time and skill on our part to maintain them for optimum performance. Other things in life are like this too. Every time I hear how we are becoming a paperless society, I end up with five more forms to fill out. And it all accumulates.
And so we spend countless hours of time, energy and focus on the very things that were supposed to free us for other pursuits. As a result, we become bound by things that consume our time and drain our energy. The result is that we can feel used up and wonder why.
We forget the simple truth that it is the nature of light to shine. It doesn't have to work endlessly to do so; it just does it because the action of shining flows naturally and effortlessly from light just being light. When we keep the main thing the main thing, rather than feeling drained, we find ourselves invigorated. We reflect the presence of Spirit to those we encounter. More than that, we find ourselves, our experience, our very lives, transformed for the better. So, as we go about the various tasks of daily life, don't get trapped by the trivia. Instead, seek out the light that lies at the center of all life--including yours--and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Jesus told the crowds all things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: "I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world."
— Matthew 13:34-35
Jesus often couched his most subversive teaching in parables. These parables conveyed insights in a narrative form, using characters and symbols that would have been familiar to his listeners, while revealing an unexpected — sometimes startling — truth.
While we often tend to spiritualize the meaning of these parables, there is also another level of truth to be explored. As Rev. Celena Duncan so aptly demonstrated in a recent workshop at Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, we much more readily accept the spiritualized understanding of the meaning of parables while almost never perceiving their more practical "nuts and bolts" meaning for daily life.
For example, the so-called "parable of the tenants" in Matthew 21:33-39 tells the story of a landowner who leased property to tenants and is often used to convey the image of God sending prophet after prophet (the servants) who are consistently mistreated until finally as a last resort sending the son and heir whom the tenants kill, thinking to possess the land for themselves. This is the most common sense that is made of this passage.
However, on another, more practical level, it can also be instructive for us about the futility of repeating the same actions, choices or behavior all the while expecting a different result each time. Such repetition can be costly indeed.
These are the often hidden truths of the parables that seem to lie just below the surface, beyond our popular and more common approaches to them. They are there for the finding. Try engaging a parable for yourself. Let the story question you. See what unexpected truth you find.
But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, says the Lord, and do
not be dismayed, O Israel; for I am going to save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
— Jeremiah 30:10
This week, the world has watched as a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the island nation of Haiti. The swift and determined response from people worldwide has been astonishing to behold. When the news first broke, many I imagine wondered if this would be a repeat performance of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, only on an even more horrific scale.
After all, Haiti is a poor nation, with little to offer back for any help received. While those in New Orleans had to wait a seeming eternity for help to arrive, people in Haiti already know not only that the world is watching but also that help is on its way from all around the globe. The devastation they must endure, they will not face alone. Already, religious groups and relief organizations are mobilizing to extend both help and care to the beleaguered and battered populous.
In fact, the only ugliness I've seen beyond the earthquake's results themselves has come from TV preacher Pat Robertson. Blaming the victims, he asserts the earthquake was God's doing in response to the Haitians having made a pact with the devil! It is sad when one who should be a voice for love and compassion twists the significance of objective events in vile ways like this.
Yet, his rhetorical tripe continues to find a niche market among the fearful. It is difficult for me as someone deeply in love with Jesus and his message to imagine that people still buy into his outdated and immature understandings about God and humanity.
Hope persists, even in the face of all that would tear it down. Such is the nature of hope. The caring response that the people of Haiti have a God-given right to expect is on the way, and even the gates of the 700 Club shall not prevail against it.
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
— Eleanor Roosevelt
In this world, those with political and economic power tend to feel
superior. After all, they have the means to do what they will. And if
they do it in sufficient numbers, it will almost seem legal, moral,
ethical, even spiritual. When people and nations behave badly (i.e
unjustly), they always have some excuse. The pending legislation in
Uganda is one such example. The problem is that it's sham reasoning to
justify a pre-existing bigotry. Recently, someone on Facebook sent me
hate-mail after an innocuous post of mine on my friend's wall. He
stated that I had no right to exist and must be mentally ill or
deficient purely because I'm gay. Fortunately, I am no longer
susceptible to being defined by others, particularly the hate mongers
of our world. With divine guidance, I discern the boundaries of my
life. I make my own choices, and they are not limited to the options
offered me by the dominant culture.
To see this more clearly, try an affirmation like this one: I am an
expression of divinity and that divine spark guides me to seek justice
for all people, including myself.
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs."
— Matthew 19:13-14
What can I say? Kids just get it! Children in their natural state are about as close as we can come to being the way God originally planned in the grand design for us to be. Think back on how many times a parent has been feeding a baby. While making all those yummy, appetizing sounds, all of a sudden the child will take the food in hand and gesture toward the parent's mouth. It seems that we are hard-wired for both sharing and caring. There is no thought of there not being enough to go around... no obsession about the future. The child lives fully present in the moment, without apology.
It is only as we "mature" that we allow other concerns and priorities to assume positions of pre-eminence. It is then, as they grow into adulthood, that a malaise of misery seems to take hold of many people in our world. It is then that the avaricious impulse to grab all one can for self takes hold. In essence, we enter adulthood striving to short out that circuit within us that constantly and inexorably draws us back--like a compass continuing to turn till it is aimed north, the human conscience within us continues to call us to a meaning and purpose beyond self. It is only when we yield to that innate, inner call that we begin to discover what life is really all about.
In Luke 10:23-24, Jesus teaches the disciples in an uncharacteristically plainspoken way. "Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and [monarchs] desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.""
This passage occurs following shortly after Jesus' discourse on how the disciples are to handle the acceptance or the rejection they receive from others. The fact is oftentimes we do not feel particularly blessed when we experience rejection of who we are as people and indictment of our relationships as being somehow "less than" or "other than" by people who do not understand or who have closed their minds.
In these two brief verses, Jesus makes the inescapable point that whether our truth is received into open hearts or rebuffed by closed minds--either way--we are blessed in the sharing of our truth. Although it may not be changing at the pace we would like, the world in which we live is changing, and is changing because individual people dare to speak and to proclaim the truth of their own lives and experience. So even when our truth is not received warmly we do not stop proclaiming it. The more people who are willing and able to take up that challenge, the more accelerated the pace of that change will be, until finally a reign of justice and peace will sweep across our fragile world.
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."
- Luke 1:46
Mary, it seems, understood something that often seems to elude today's people in our world. Mary understood that, in living out of the divine purpose, our lives are enchaned and transformed. In a very real sense, our souls can magnify the divine presence and power when we willingly yield ourselves to live in that reality.
Like a magnifying glass focusing rays of light, our souls serve as the lens through which the divine reality we call God comes into true focus. As that energy pours through us, it gains focus and momentum through the real and tangible ways we offer ourselves to accomplish the divine will.
The result of this continuing, unfolding process in us is that the measure of joy we find in our lives is greatly increased. As Christmas draws near, may we all practice the presence and power of the living God in our lives and our communities.
Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
- Isaiah 1:17
Learning to do good, not just for ourselves, but also for others from whom we have no expectation of repayment in any form -- it's the real bottom line of our purpose in the world. The real question isn't, "Why does God allow starvation and sickness?" The real question is, "Why do we?"
Learning to care, not in a superficial way, but deeply and from the heart, brings meaning and purpose to our lives. It allows us to move beyond acquisition and accumulation -- beyond spending our days inventorying our collection of objects and finding ways to stave off our own boredom. Caring for others in tangible ways also evokes in us a sense of appreciation for the good things about our own lives while lessening our angst about toys we haven't gotten yet.
With the clarion call of scripture to find our purpose in caring for others, I continue to be completely puzzled by groups of people who present themselves as devoutly religious and yet actively strive to prevent things like universal health care, who do not support programs that feed the hungry or shelter the homeless, especially in the midst of extreme weather like we are currently experiencing.
Within my own Christian faith tradition, the words of Jesus echo loudly, "Whatsoever you did for the least of these, you did for me." Perhaps we obsess too much on the idea of "being good" that we overlook the challenge to actually "do good."
Our world used to seem like such a huge place. Now, we know that our earth is just under 8,000 miles in diameter. When set against the vastness of the universe, the entire earth in not even a neighborhood, not even a separate home. The image that confronts us is that of one human family, all living on one ball of rock and water, traveling together. It's time we all perceive and grasp that reality. Let us find ways to do the good that so desperately needs to be done, in our community and in our world.
"Remember who you are." Mufasa to son, Simba, in Disney's The Lion King
It was such a powerful scene that it gave me goosebumps lasting days. Simba, the future king, is reminded by his Spirit-Father of his identity and heritage. It speaks volumes to us about the nature of both.
Truly, we are who we were created to be. Some of us humans embrace that; some of us don't. However, our refusal to recognize it doesn't change the underlying truth of who we are. Sometimes, we forget; sometimes we try to disprove our divine lineage; yet the truth of ourselves is ever before us: We are heirs of the divine legacy, deeply loved by God, and called upon to bring the world around us into wholeness and well-being.
To see this more clearly, try an affirmation like this one: "The power of creation is expanding within me. I am God's partner in re-creating my world in wholeness."