Perversion at Lent

22 Jerusalem, your silver isn’t pure anymore.
    Your best wine has been made weak with water.
23 Your rulers refuse to obey the Lord.
    They join forces with robbers.
All of them love to accept money from those who want special favors.
    They are always looking for gifts from other people.
They don’t stand up in court for children whose fathers have died.
    They don’t do it for widows either.
24 The Lord is the Mighty One of Israel.
    The Lord who rules over all announces,
“Israel, you have become my enemies.
    I will act against you in my anger.
    I will pay you back for what you have done.
Isaiah 1:22-24 (New International Reader’s Version)

In light of recent budget cuts by the current administration affecting programs that benefit millions in this country, this post was written.  It’s a shame that we have people who profess to “know” Christ marching in lock-step with such indiscriminate use of power.  A review of the last two months of Donald Trump’s presidency (if you want to call it that) shows a man who does not care for the people he swore to govern-save those in the 1% income group and his family.  We’re seeing a president that is totally out of control: perversion of power.

If we look at tonight’s Scripture, we see our current government situation in it.  We see a total perversion of power.  In ancient Israel, God warned through the prophet Isaiah about her perverting power.  God listed charges against Israel that He/She could read against America today: rulers siding with the corrupt; catering to special interest groups; not caring to those who are struggling.  The parallels are staggering.

As we continue on into Lent, we need to recognize this perversion of power.  We must first be sure we’re not guilty of this: be it in our homes, jobs, churches, or social circles.  We must not abuse that which God has entrusted us; and exercise this power justly.  Plus, we must be sure not to condone (or endorse) such perversion-directly or indirectly.  We must pray and ask God to alert us to this.  If we’re guilty, let’s pray that God will change our hearts.

After we rid this perversion in ourselves, we must speak out to perversion of power in the larger community-especially to those in power.  We can preach, blog, social media, vote, petition-whatever it takes to bring this sin to attention.  If we are to be the salt and light Christ calls us, we must be serious.

For you see, God warned Israel-and us-that He/She will pay back in kind those who perverted power; since they will become God’s enemies.  And trust me, none of us would ever want to be on God’s “shit list.”  No matter how powerful we are-even the President-God will deal in kind.  Those in power will end up being on the bottom rungs, the marginalized, the humiliated.

Perversion at Lent is something we need to be on our spiritual guard for.  We need to see and call it out for what it is: individually and in the greater community.  For if we don’t, God certainly will.

Peace.

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Humility at Lent

My neighborhood.

15 He sends his command to the earth.
    His word arrives there quickly.
16 He spreads the snow like wool.
    He scatters the frost like ashes.
17 He throws down his hail like pebbles.
    No one can stand his icy blast.
18 He gives his command, and the ice melts.
    He stirs up his winds, and the waters flow.
Psalm 147:15-18 (New International Reader’s Version)

If you’ve been looking at the news today, you will see that a snowstorm is pummeling the Tristate (NJ/NY/CT).  In fact as I write this, snow with sleet is coming over my town of Plainfield; which will later turn back into snow before exiting tonight.  Mass transit has been either running on modified service, shut down, or soon to be shut down.  Roads are pretty abandoned as schools and offices are closed; and others (like me) work from home.  Power outages are the concern for the Jersey Shore and Long Island.  Don’t let my photo above fool you; it may look “tame,” but far from it.  We have our area governors issuing bans and other storm-related edicts.

As we dog-sled through Lent, we’re getting a lesson in humility.  We’re watching tiny snowflakes falling from the clouds and banding together thanks to cold ground temperatures. Factor in the wind those little flakes, can shut down an entire metropolitan area, and dictate to us what do do and where to go.  Nature is powerful when She wants to be and is not afraid of our little attempts at controlling Her.

Today’s Scripture text is calling Israel (and us) to praise God-reminding us of His/Her goodness and power.  The text also reminds us of God’s power through Nature.  In fact, the passage used is relevant for the weather here in God’s Country.  We’re witnessing God’s power through His/Her acts of nature: wind; snow; hail (or sleet); icy blast…God ain’t playing.  We as human beings need to recognize that it’s not about us: God is still in charge.

However, let’s remember God’s goodness.  Despite all the shit in our world (or today’s weather), God has been good.  He/She still has kept us collectively and individually.  In my case, God has kept my family and I safe in our home, warm and able to keep in touch with others.  I have my health and strength and creativity.  Many of us who are reading this post still have many blessings that others in this world wish they did have.  And God has been good to us when we sure as hell didn’t deserve it.  Again this should remind us that it’s about us: God is still in charge.

We need to realize God’s power and goodness should make us humble, not in the groveling “what a worm am I” sense.   We’re not the “center of the universe” as some want to think.  We are vulnerable to Nature and to God’s will-like it or not.  When we realize this vulnerability, we will be develop a sense of humility in our relation to the greater scheme of things.  We also need to realize how dependent on God we are. This is important for Lent since Christ spoke of his vulnerability and dependency on God.  This humility will not make us weak, instead will make us human and wise….

Teach us to realize how short our lives are. Then our hearts will become wise.
Psalm 90:12 (NIRV)

In our age of rabid nationalism, ethnocentrism, and chauvinism, we need humility.  For in the final analysis, we’re all vulnerable-like it or not.  Maybe if we learn humility, not just for Lent, we’ll be human and wise.

‘Nuff said.  Peace.

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Seeking at Lent

Scripture reference: John 4:1-42 (Jesus and the woman of Samaria)

Tonight’s passage is a well known one.  I won’t rehash the story since you’ve probably heard it a zillion times in a zillion different ways and in a zillion sermons or meditations.  And I know this story is probably being worked over for Women’s History Month.  However, my focus for Lent is the Samaritan woman herself.

The Samaritan woman had the notoriety of having five husbands, and shacking up with a man during the time of the narration.  We “enlightened” moderns look at this woman with pity and scorn at her situation.  However we forget that the Samaritan woman is really us; and I say “us” because like her, we’re seeking.

First, the Samaritan woman was probably seeking for some emotional fulfillment with her going through six men.  She married over and over again looking for someone to fill a “void”; and was trying with her current partner.  Before we get judgmental, how many of us go through people-be it friends, lovers, spouses, partners, etc looking for some fulfillment?  We sometimes go through sex partners like we do changes of underwear trying to find that “someone” who’ll fulfill our needs.  And if not people, what about things?  Who reading this hasn’t gone from job to job because it didn’t fulfill us professionally?  Who hasn’t moved through more towns than a concert tour, looking for that place that touches us emotionally?

Second, the Samaritan woman was also seeking validation-like us.  She carried a double-burden in the validation department.  First, she was a Samaritan-a ethnic group looked down by Jews for their intermarrying with local peoples while “pure” Jews were in exile.  Second, the woman’s sexual (let’s just say it) reputation has distanced her from others in her community.  In fact, it’s common knowledge that water was drawn in the early morning whilst it was cool.  The woman here came out during the day when it was hot (think Las Vegas or Phoenix) when she could be alone. We too seek validation-especially when our past or some “sin”marginalized us from others.  We will do anything to receive validation-even at the cost of our self-esteem.  Or if we can’t find that validation, we will be alone and cut ourselves off.

Last, yet just as important, the Samaritan woman was seeking answers that could not be answered in the ordinary.  When Jesus offered her water from which she’ll never thirst again, girlfriend thought this offer will spare her going out to draw alone- or to ease the pain of her seeking validation.  Yet Jesus saw into this woman’s life and knew she was seeking more than what life had given her.  Heaven knows we’re doing the same in our day.  We’re quickly-and painfully-finding out that life is not giving us what we thought it would and many of us are now seeking.  Who’s to say that God is not calling us to something bigger and better than what we were handed?

At the end, the Samaritan woman was able to end her seeking.  She found her answer in Christ, where she found fulfillment, validation, and her deeper questions answered.

Lent is a time for us to ponder on what we’re seeking.  Are we seeking fulfillment from the transient things in life (including people)?  Are we seeking validation from those who marginalized us; or if we’re not validated we withdraw?  Are we seeking the answers to questions that cannot be easily furnished?  Are there other things we’re seeking?  As we seek, let us look to God for guidance and help, so like the Samaritan woman we too will find what we’re seeking.

Peace.

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Justice for Lent

a001615-r1-19-19_1The Lord has shown you what is good.
    He has told you what he requires of you.
You must act with justice.
    You must love to show mercy.
And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.
Micah 6:8 (New International Reader’s  Version-Emphasis Mine)

We recently marked the fifth anniversary of the shooting of Trayvon Martin-an unarmed young Black male-by George Zimmerman, a White security guard.  George Zimmerman walks free today whilst the Martin family grieves over injustice…

The Sioux Nation still fights “Big Oil” over the Dakota Access Pipeline, that is slated to run through Sioux lands…

Today we have indigenous Palestinians being hemmed in and mistreated by an expansionist Israel that wants to build more and more settlements on lands granted to Palestine-all based on a faulty interpretation of the Bible…

The above situations-and more-all call out for justice. Today, we need justice in our world as we see injustices all about.  We see racial injustice, ethnic injustice, environmental injustice, gender injustice, political injustice, and other forms of injustice in our world today.  Our world cries out for justice.

In today’s text we see God speaking through the prophet, Micah.  This text is a well-known text, yet still has meaning for us today.  God calls for us to act with justice and show mercy.  Too often we do the opposite-allowing injustice with little or no mercy.  What’s even worse is how many of us in the Boardinghouse of Faith will comply with injustice just as long as it’s not us being affected.  However, if we don’t side with justice, we’re just as bad as those perpetrating the injustice-no matter what rationale we offer up.

God still cries out for justice and mercy in our day and age.  He/She calls out justice for those who our society has marginalized and objectified.  As we’re starting Lent, let us examine how we act with justice: from the courthouse to the church house down to our house.  Let us examine how merciful we are with others as well.  Heaven knows I’ve messed up in these departments at times; and I can use some self-examination.

Today would be a good day to start! Peace.

Prayer: Father/Mother God, Your Voice cries out for justice and mercy in a world in need of both.  Help us to examine our hearts to see if we harbor any injustice or unmerciful tendencies; and if we do, lead us into the way of justice and mercy.  Empower us to call out for justice and mercy like your prophets and prophetesses throughout the ages, even for our enemies.  Let us live with justice and mercy collectively and individually.  For when we do, we can walk humbly before You.  In Your Name, Amen.

(Image:  Door with message on Halsey Street in Newark, NJ)

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“The Truth For Lent” or “Midnight in the Garden of Truth and Falsehood”

19 Here is the judgment. Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light. They loved darkness because what they did was evil. 20 Everyone who does evil deeds hates the light. They will not come into the light. They are afraid that what they do will be seen. 21 But anyone who lives by the truth comes into the light. They live by the truth with God’s help. They come into the light so that it will be easy to see their good deeds.
John 3;19-21 (New International Reader’s Version)

As Lent kicks off for the rest of us; it looks like things for Comrade Attorney General Jeff Sessions are not looking up.  As of this writing, Sessions has recused himself (stepped away) from any probe into President Trump’s 2016 campaign.  This is in the wake of a Washington Post report that Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year and did not disclose these meetings to Congress.

The Sessions affair is a perfect example of tonight’s post regarding the truth.  Sad to say, the Sessions affair is part of a larger web of lies (called “alternative facts”) spun by an administration that attacks any truth-finding journalism.  Plus, we see presidential appointees that have already laid down some whoppers (i.e.:  Education Secretary DeVos’s recent remarks about Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs]).

Tonight’s Scripture is dead-on with current events in regards to truth-telling.  Here we see the Pharisee Nicodemus-a Jewish ruler-coming to Jesus at night and getting a night class in the Realm of God.  This passage of Scripture is interesting because we see a ruler of Israel coming to Jesus at night-a time associated with evil, spiritual blindness, and danger. You can see the sneakiness of Nicodemus’s coming at night instead of seeing Jesus during the day for fear of his possible loss of status.   Even Nicodemus’s opening lines at the start of John 3 about Jesus’s “a teacher who has come from God” (verse 2) makes me wonder if his words were just mere flattery.

However, Jesus zing’s Nicodemus with dope truth-telling the man about being “born again,”  launching into a discourse about the Realm of God, and why Jesus was sent into the world.  It was during this discourse we see tonight’s text at the post’s start.  You see we’re judged already, because we shunned the Light of Christ since we love to do evil in the darkness.  We don’t want to step into the Light for fear of exposure.  OTOH, Jesus says that those who want to do good will step into the Light and let their deeds be seen.

The Jeff Sessions affair is telling about our fearing the Light, yet loving the darkness.  Sessions would have been just as happy if Congress (and the rest of us) were kept in the dark about his Russian dealings.  However the light of Government (and media) probing shone on the man and now he’s crying “Uncle;” whilst his foes are crying for his resignation.  BTW, this Sessions was the same cat who called for then-President Bill Clinton’s impeachment for perjury in 1999 in light of his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Let the words of Jesus in the above passage sink into our hearts and minds this Lenten Season.  Let’s pray that God will help us to examine ourselves to see if we too slink into the darkness of lies and evil, avoiding His/Her Light through the Christ that came into the world.  May God shine His/Her Light into our individual and collective hearts so we can live lives of truth.

Peace.

(Image of Jeff Sessions courtesy of The Washington Post)

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Protest at Lent

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

Matthew 16:23 (King James Version)

Today is Ash Wednesday; and the start of the 2017 Lenten Season. For the next 40 days we’re called to prayer, reflection and any other practice to draw us closer to The Divine.

We see protest in the world as we start this Season, protest against the Trump administration in the  White House. This wave of protest is not some random rant, but a groundswell of anger. People are witnessing the perversion of power on a grand scale, whilst lies-euphemistically called “alternative facts”-pass off as news. We’re witnessing crony Capitalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism and sexism being part of everyday life in government. Demagoguery has hijacked democracy and We The People are fed up.

If we want to take a look at Lent, we see that the act of giving up (or taking on) is a “protest” against the things of this world. When we give up something to grow spiritually, we thumb our noses at the consumerist culture that assails us. When we take on those things that help us and bless others, we reject the selfish attitudes that current culture celebrates.

In light of today’s Scripture, we instead savor the things of God instead of the things of this world.

Protest at Lent? Or should I say “Lent is Protest?” Welcome to Lent 2017.

Peace.

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Nevertheless, She Persisted

A large group of people followed. They crowded around him. A woman was there who had a sickness that made her bleed. It had lasted for 12 years. She had suffered a great deal, even though she had gone to many doctors. She had spent all the money she had. But she was getting worse, not better. Then she heard about Jesus. She came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. She thought, “I just need to touch his clothes. Then I will be healed.” Right away her bleeding stopped. She felt in her body that her suffering was over. At once Jesus knew that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd. He asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people,” his disciples answered. “They are crowding against you. And you still ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around. He wanted to see who had touched him. Then the woman came and fell at his feet. She knew what had happened to her. She was shaking with fear. But she told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Dear woman, your faith has healed you. Go in peace. You are free from your suffering.”
Mark 5:24(b)‭-‬34 (New International Readers Version)

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted…

Two millennia before Senator Elizabeth Warren came on the scene, there was a persistent woman whose brave act of faith put her in the Bible.

In today’s Scripture, we see Jesus en-route to the home of Jairus, whose daughter was dying.  As Jesus was walking, a crowd of people gathered around him and his disciples-following them. In this crowd we’re introduced to a very interesting individual…

The individual referred to above was a woman, but not just any woman.  You see, this unnamed woman had some kind of blood disorder for 12 years.  What blood disorder we’re never told since we’re referring to ancient texts.  We don’t know if the woman had dysfunctional uterine bleeding, some clotting disorder that prevented the woman’s system from natural self-healing, we don’t know.  However, we’re told that the woman had it for 12 years, which amazes me that anyone-especially in Jesus’s time-would have survived.  Plus, this woman spent all she had on doctors that did not have the old-time sophistication of Ancient Egypt.  By the time of Jesus’s story she was still sick and was broke.  And to add insult to injury, her condition grew worse.

All the above would’ve been bad enough, however in the woman’s day the prevailing order made things worse for her.  In the arcane Mosaic law, the woman was declared unclean: no God-fearing Jew-not even her family-could come in contact with her.  The religious authorities-all men of course-warned her about her situation; and she was banned from the Temple due to her condition.  As we would say today, “She was warned. She was given an explanation.”

Now we see what could have been once a lovely lady reduced to a bandaged, starving, dirty, homeless woman who held onto every scrap of hope she could have.  In the Scripture, the woman hears about Jesus’s passing by and recalls stories she probably heard about his healing power.  Despite her condition, the woman could sense that Jesus was more than he appeared to be and thought that even touching just the hem of his clothes would heal her.

So our intrepid woman took what was the biggest chance in her life and made her way though the crowd.  I say “intrepid” because if anyone caught her in the crowd it would have been insane.  People would have been ceremoniously unclean and could have tried to kill her for “contaminating” them.  As the woman walked, she saw her quarry-Jesus and focused on the hem of his garment.  Quickly and carefully, the woman navigates herself through the crowd…comes up to Jesus and touches the hem of his garment.  According to the Scripture, the woman was completely healed.  As we would say, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

However, the woman’s persistence was unique.  You see, she took virtue out of Jesus-his divine power.  When Jesus did the healing, he was the administrator of his power-determining its use.  However, the woman was the administrator; probably gave Jesus his “WTF?” moment, for he asked who touched him due to his power flowing from him.  Of course, his disciples looked at him as if he were stupid; they told him about the pressing of the crowd and why his question.  Nevertheless, he persisted in his questioning as he looked about.

Eventually, the woman came before Jesus and fell at his feet.  You see, the woman knew what happened; and with Jesus’s persistent questioning knew she was probably busted.  Here, we see the woman’s bravery as she fessed up to Jesus.  Even though she was healed, under Jewish law she did commit two transgressions.  First, the woman touched a rabbi whilst still sick.  Second, even if her sickness was not held against her, the woman touched a man that was not her husband.  However, the woman took a risk and told all.

However, Jesus’s reply was touching: “Dear woman, your faith has healed you. Go in peace. You are free from your suffering.”  In one phrase, Jesus liberated the woman from whatever fears, shame, etc she might have had.  Jesus also complimented the woman’s persistence (her faith) in seeking healing when she could have given up.  And Jesus bade her peace for her to enjoy the rest of her days.  Now the woman can return to society, to the Temple, and all that she missed for 12 years.

Nevertheless, she persisted.  Although this is not yet Women’s History Month, I felt it necessary to post now.  This can also apply to our current Black History Month-especially coming from a Black man-reflecting our faith in pressing through the injustices heaped against us.  This can apply to the Native Americans who currently fight for the protection of their lands from greedy energy developers.  This can apply to anyone “sick” from the injustices of the world, who persisted despite all the “warnings” and “explanations” fired at them.

The woman in tonight’s Scripture is an example for us all-male and female.  May we follow her lead.

Peace.

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