Philemon’s Speck and Our Log

Scripture: Philemon 15-16
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

Reflection: Philemon’s Speck and Our Log
By John Tillman

Between Philemon’s time and now, many have struggled to live out Paul’s challenge to overcome the cultural mindset of slavery. It has been a struggle uniquely led by Christians.

However, when we look to the past, there is a temptation to sneer. Many modern moralists convince themselves that if they had lived in certain ages, they would have been on the “right side” of history and as a result they treat writers of those ages as hypocrites, refusing to learn from them.

This is foolish, arrogant, and is an attitude that is condemned by Christ himself.

Better that we remove the log in our own eye rather than seek to remove the speck from the eye of some deceased writer in another age.

In our own time, Paul’s challenge to Philemon is still applicable. Slavery may not be sociologically acceptable anymore, but it is still economically viable and, as a criminal enterprise, is alive and well. The United Nations estimates that over 89 million people are currently or have been enslaved in the past five years.

And though we may not have slaves, all of us have servants. Even those without in-home staff such as maids, butlers, chefs, or nannies, have an entire service industry taking care of everything we might need. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projected that by 2018 over 131 million people would be working in the service industries.

Our food is prepared for us, our coffee is customized for us, our packages are delivered for us, by servants. Yet our society denigrates manual labor of all kinds, and especially labor in the service industries.

We denigrate and look down on service so much that we use service jobs as a way to scare better grades into our kids. Service jobs are the stick that spurs youth toward the carrot of a better job after incurring massive debt attending college.

Our existence is supported by the labor of people who directly or indirectly serve us, just as Onesimus served Philemon. How we treat those individuals—both relationally and economically—shows whether we consider them part of the economic machinery or spiritual brothers and sisters.

Prayer: The Greeting
Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger. — Psalm 119.54

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 12 (Listen – 2:38)
 (Listen – 2:52)

Ready to do Good

Scripture: Titus 3.1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

Scripture: Acts 4.16, 21
“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it…They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.

Reflection: Ready to do Good
By John Tillman

In Titus chapter 2 Paul said to “show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” And today, in Titus 3.2, he implores us to, “slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

In today’s climate of tweetstorms, rants, fake news, and the never-ending escalation of meaningless arguments, it may seem impossible to take Paul’s words to heart.

Is it really possible to live in such a way that our critics would have nothing to say? That they would be ashamed to have accused us?

Can we really be expected not to counter-attack those who attack us with falsehoods?

Rather than turning the other cheek, we prefer that if they slander us in the left wing news, we must slander them in the right wing news. And vice-versa.

Living in our current culture of social media outrage (and the monetization of that outrage by social media companies) we tend to answer Paul by saying, “Sorry, Paul. That’s not possible or practical.” And it may not be possible. Not without a miracle, anyway.

In the lectionary reading from the past weekend, we read of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin after performing a miraculous healing.

Despite the fact that Peter and John proclaimed a resurrection that the Sanhedrin was paying bribes to cover up, they could not ignore the goodness of what Peter and John had done.

We cannot, without compromising the facts of the gospel, please everyone. (As demonstrated by the suffering and death for the gospel that Peter and John eventually experience.) But history shows over and over that when the church acts in incontrovertibly beneficial ways on behalf of the community, those who oppose us will confess the goodness of our works, even if they deny the goodness of our gospel.

To regain respect, Christians need to repent from seeking to speak stridently enough to destroy our enemies. Instead, we need to seek to act miraculously, benefiting our communities, living out Christ’s model of servanthood, and enacting his resurrection before the world.

Peter and John were drawn to their miracle on their way to afternoon prayer. In your prayer life today, what miraculous service will the Holy Spirit draw you to?

Prayer: The Request for Presence
For the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me. — Psalm 31.3

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 11 (Listen – 1:40)
Titus 3
 (Listen – 2:05)

Resurrecting Goodness

Scripture: Titus 2.7-8
In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Reflection: Resurrecting Goodness
By John Tillman

It would be easy to misread the second chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus as a legalistic list of behaviors to enforce—complete with injunctions against addictions and stealing and including commendations of moral purity and of showing respect for masters and for husbands.

But these actions are not requirements of the gospel as much as they are results of it. They are differentiators—showing the evidence of God at work among the Christian community.

Nearly every religion promises transcendent joy and peace in the hereafter. Christianity describes a God willing to get his hands dirty fixing things in the here and now.

Our God is not a distant observer, merely passing judgement. He is a present participant, showing the dignity of work by engaging in it himself. He works on us as Paul says, he, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

Even Christ’s resurrection wasn’t about his cosmic survival, it was about us. Christ didn’t stick around after his resurrection to “prove” he was alive. If he cared about incontrovertible proof, Christ would simply have leapt off of the top of the Temple as he was tempted to do at the beginning of his ministry.

Christ invested time between his resurrection and his ascension preparing his followers for the coming of the Holy Spirit and getting them ready to do the work the Holy Spirit would prompt them to do.

It is a uniquely Christian claim that God is invested in our present, not just our future. His Holy Spirit is our present down payment on the future eternity we will one day inherit. And right now, in each moment, the Holy Spirit inhabits us giving us the connection, the power, and the ability to resurrect goodness into the world.

During the season of Easter, we transition from a Christ who walked around in a body like ours, doing good in the ancient world of the past, to a Christ whose Spirit walks around in our bodies prompting us to do good in our world right now.

When we engage in the gospel that Paul describes to Titus, the natural result will be a connection to the Spirit that makes us “eager” to do good.

May we connect with the Spirit of Christ and resurrect goodness of speech, goodness in teaching, and goodness in action for those in our communities.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
For the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me. — Psalm 31.3

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 10 (Listen – 2:33)
Titus 2
 (Listen – 2:01)

Immortality and Resurrection

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 7.2
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.

At the end of tax season in the US, we take a look back at this 2015 post from The Park Forum. The issues discussed are, of course, immortal. — John

Reflection: Immortality and Resurrection
The Park Forum

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. — Benjamin Franklin

Franklin could not have foreseen Silicon Valley. Today’s tech elite feel differently (possibly about both issues, but we’ll focus on the desire to upgrade life for this weekend.)

“Death makes me very angry. Premature death makes me angrier still” says Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle who has invested over $430 million into anti-aging research.

Peter Thiel — who co-founded PayPal and Palantir, and has a net worth over $2.2 billion — told Sonia Arisen, “The great unfinished task of the modern world is to turn death from a fact of life into a problem to be solved — a problem towards whose solution I hope to contribute in whatever way I can.”

The Washington Post describes Thiel as, “the embodiment of Silicon Valley culture at its individualistic, impatient extreme,” and he is at the helm of modern tech’s latest quest: to end death.

Max Anderson posted on Forbes about Thiel’s recent conversation with N.T. Wright:

“For Thiel, life is a self-evident good and death is the opposite of life. Therefore death is a problem, and as he says there are three main ways of approaching it. ‘You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.’ Whether we can successfully fight death is a question about the nature of nature and about our ability to understand it. Whether we should try to fight death is a question of our philosophy and our theology.”

Anderson quotes N.T. Wright from Surprised by Hope:

“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present — by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself — will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
W can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life; For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it. — Psalm 49.10

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 7 (Listen – 3:37)
2 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 8 (Listen – 2:41) 2 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:48)
Ecclesiastes 9 (Listen – 3:13) Titus 1 (Listen – 2:24)

The Weekend Reading List
Peter Thiel, N.T. Wright On Technology, Hope, And The End Of Death by Max Anderson
Tech Titans’ Latest Project: Defy Death by Ariana Eunjung Cha
100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith by Sonia Arisen (Basic Books, 2011)
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright (HarperOne, 2008)

Remember Jesus Christ

Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:8
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.

Reflection: Remember Jesus Christ
By Jon Polk

Instructions to remember are commonplace across the landscape of Scripture.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (Ex. 20:8)
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. (Deut. 15:15)
These days should be remembered and observed in every generation. (Est. 9:28)
Remember the law of my servant Moses. (Mal. 4:4)
This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. (1 Cor. 11:24)

Remembering in Scripture is often a calling to focus on God’s commands or to recall God’s intervention in history.

The apostle Paul in his role as mentor encourages his protégé, the young minister Timothy, that when doing the work of the gospel, we must “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.” Paul also tells Timothy to “Keep reminding God’s people of these things.”

Why? Because apparently many in the church were arguing about unimportant matters.

The most commonly quoted verse from 2 Timothy 2, “Do your best to present yourself to God as a worker approved,” is nestled between injunctions to cease “quarreling about words” and to “avoid godless chatter.”

When public discourse becomes volatile and contentious, it is far too easy for us to become distracted by matters of lesser importance. To become God’s workers who “correctly handle the word of truth,” we must focus on remembering God’s faithfulness to us, particularly through the resurrected Christ. Remembering helps us to keep the main thing the main thing.

Remembering the good news of the risen Christ provides perspective for our lives.

Remembering the resurrection also recalls Christ’s suffering and reminds us that we may experience suffering, too.

Remembering the Messiah who was in the lineage of David encourages us that God can and will work through the frailness of our own humanity.

The call to remember Jesus Christ as our focus, our goal and our hope, is echoed by a phrase in the Barmen Declaration, written in 1934 by Karl Barth and the Confessing Church in response to powers seeking to use the church in service of the nation of Germany:

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

As the shadow of Easter Sunday begins to lengthen, let us diligently continue to remember.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me. — Psalm 101.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 6 (Listen – 1:44)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen – 3:17)

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