Doing Justice to the Sacrament :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11.26
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Reflection: Doing Justice to the Sacrament :: Throwback Thursday
By Martin Luther — 1519 AD

We at present see to our sorrow that many masses are held and yet the Christian fellowship which should be preached, practiced and kept before us by Christ’s example has quite perished.

This is the fault of the preachers who do not preach the Gospel nor the sacraments, but their humanly devised fables concerning the many works to be done and the ways to live aright.

But in times past this sacrament was so properly used, and the people were taught to understand this fellowship so well, that they even gathered material food and goods in the church and there distributed them among those who were in need.

Christians cared for one another, assisted one another, sympathized with one another, bore one another’s burden and affliction.

There are those, indeed, who would share the benefits but not the cost, that is, who gladly hear in this sacrament that the help, fellowship and assistance of all the saints are promised and given to them, but who, because they fear the world, are unwilling in their turn to contribute to this fellowship, to help the poor, to endure sins, to care for the sick, to suffer with the suffering, to intercede for others, to defend the truth, to seek the reformation of the Church and of all Christians at the risk of life, property and honor.

They are unwilling to suffer disfavor, harm, shame or death, although it is God’s will that they be driven, for the sake of the truth and their neighbors, to desire the great grace and strength of this sacrament. They are self-seeking persons, whom this sacrament does not benefit.

Just as we could not endure a citizen who wanted to be helped, protected and made free by the community, and yet in his turn would do nothing for it nor serve it. No, we on our part must make others’ evil our own, if we desire Christ and His saints to make our evil their own; then will the fellowship be complete and justice be done to the sacrament.

For the sacrament has no blessing and significance unless love grows daily and so changes a man that he is made one with all others.

The Morning Psalm
The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer. — Psalm 6.8-9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 2 (Listen – 4:31)
Acts 25 (Listen – 4:40)

Every Man a King?

Scripture: Esther 1:22
He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household

Reflection: Every Man a King?
By John Tillman

It is perhaps most fitting that a book titled for it’s heroine, Esther, begins with a tale of fragile male ego. In what amounts to not answering her husband’s Facebook event invite, Vashti commits what, to the assembled, powerful men of the land was a grievous wrong.

What follows is what typically follows after a bruised male ego—overreaction leading eventually to violence. In any era, including our own, powerful men being snubbed at a party can set off a chain of events that threatens an entire population, but in the ancient world of monarchs it was inevitable.

Xerxes, who on the outside seems the most powerful person in the story, is shown in many ways to be the weakest. He is ruler of half the known land mass of the world, but spends the entire narrative beset by and tied up in, reactionary (and irreversible) laws. Some of them of his own making.

Xerxes is obsessed with what happens to himself. His ego can’t tolerate being disobeyed in even the slightest way. When snubbed, he looks to legislation rather than to relationships as both punishment and final solution.

The idea of “every man a king” does not come exclusively from this verse, but it is an early iteration of the concept and a desperate attempt by men to maintain ungodly power over women who are, together with men, bearers of the image of God.

The legislation that ends Chapter one is the desperate shutting of the door on an already empty barn. It is descriptive—telling us of the foolish actions of men. It is not prescriptive—telling us how men should deal with women. The men who utter it are the bumbling fools of the story, not the heroine.

And the next step taken, to replace Vashti, is the first step in bringing to power a woman who will do something more unusual than refuse the king’s presence. She will command his attention instead. She will condemn to death men close to him. She will issue commands to the leaders of his people and change the course of history.

The Call to Prayer
But I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me.
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament,
He will bring me safely back… God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me. — Psalm 55.17ff

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 1 (Listen – 4:14)
Acts 23 (Listen – 4:11)

The Freedom of God’s Forgiveness

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” — David, Romans 4.7-8
There are two ways in which a Christian can become trapped in sin. The first is readily recognizable—perpetuation of pride and brokenness despite awareness of their darkness. The other way a Christian can become trapped in sin is to go on living as if he has not been forgiven.

It’s the equivalent of Lazarus shouting back at Jesus from his grave—refusing to come out because he knows he has died and ought not be able to walk normally again among the living. The weight of sin, not the act itself, has become the trap.

Oftentimes people will say things like, “if I could just go back.” This sentiment (it is clearly not a viable solution) is our confession that we would rather solve our greatest problems on our own than have to humble ourselves and accept God’s unmerited grace.
Forgiveness of sins cannot be such that God by a single stroke, as it were, erases all guilt, abrogates all its consequences. Such a craving is only a worldly desire that has no idea of what guilt is. — Kierkegaard
We are truly shocked when we become aware of our sin. Prior to recognizing our failure we would never have confessed such darkness was in us. Yet, if we really believe God foresaw us and sees throughout all time, our sins did not surprise him. We overestimated our intrinsic goodness—feeling as if we had earned God’s approval through our devotion and discipline. God loved us first—even knowing the specific ways in which we were yet sinners.

Once we’ve seen our own unrighteousness, the only way forward is to find the glory of grace greater than the destruction of sin. The Church, at its best, is the spiritual community that surrounds each individual and echoes this truth through word and deed.
You rest in the forgiveness of sins when the thought of God does not remind you of the sin, but that it is forgiven; when the past is not a memory of how much you trespassed, but of how much you have been forgiven. — Kierkegaard
Until we see Christ’s forgiveness of our sins as a blessing, and feel the natural rejoicing of the soul that comes from such a miracle, we have not experienced the full force of forgiveness. Either grace is a mere fantasy—something which would be lovely if it were true—or it is as mighty and wonderful as the Scriptures proclaim it to be.

Today’s Reading
Esther 9-10 (Listen – 6:15)
Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)

The Theology of Food :: Weekend Reading List

Scripture’s focus on every facet of the tabernacle and temple is remarkable—God’s dwelling place, and the materials used to create it, were selected and prepared with the fastidious care. The New Testament confesses that the bodies of the faithful are the new temple of God’s Spirit.

To build this theology the authors of Scripture first caution against vanity. The care given to the temple was not to make it beautiful for its own sake, but to display the glory of God. At the same time, they challenge the early Christians to see how their decisions in the physical world affect their bodies.

In a recent article Bethany Jenkins, our founder at The Park Forum, asked, Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From? It’s a wonderful question that expands the discussion of faith and food beyond healthy eating to exploring how Christians can cultivate human flourishing through the food we consume.
Where did we get the idea that our food should be as cheap as possible? Do we not know that, when food is cheap to us, it is costly to someone else? Regular baking cocoa is cheaper than its fair trade equivalent, at least in part, because only a tiny portion of its profits goes to its growers.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration that, following the Great Depression, worked aggressively to lower the percentage of the average American salary that went to food and rent. In our world today, the loss of this easy-to-access and inexpensive food creates what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert.”

Journalists Phillip Lucas And Mike Schneider explain the ripple effects of a food desert created by the closure of a neighborhood’s Wal-Mart:
In Wichita (Kansas), the Wal-Mart that opened four years ago became a community hub in a shopping plaza that previously had been a haven for prostitution and gang shootings, said Pastor Kevass Harding, whose Dellrose United Methodist Church is right by the store.

“We had a place that used to be an eyesore, but then we had a first-class shopping center in this urban neighborhood,” Harding said. “So last week we get the news, my heart just broke. I was disgusted that it’s about money. It’s not about the people.”
The reality that cheap food has become about profit cannot be understated—just ten companies now manufacture almost everything Americans eat. The public’s awareness of the modern industrial food complex has opened up an opportunity for a host of local, organic, and hand-crafted food start-ups. Yet the price mark up on these foods causes pause. This is where Jenkins asks, “If we commit ourselves to ethical food sourcing, will the higher prices we pay be worth it?”

The answer, at least in part, is found in knowing where our food comes from—and maintaining a healthy skepticism toward the narrative crafted around it. Last year the Mast Brothers, who sell “artisanal chocolate” for $10 a bar, were accused of remelting high-cacao-butter chocolate from the French chocolate manufacturer Valrhona to create what they claimed were their own “bean to bar” chocolates. This unleashed what can only be described as chocolate kerfuffle.

In The Way Forward for Hipster Food Dana Goodyear explains the lesson for those trying to make informed purchasing decisions around food:
Old-fashioned food: let’s examine its appeal for a moment. So much of the artisanal movement is about a return to pre-industrial aesthetics and flavors, a celebration of the home- and handmade… But the Victorian era the movement makes loving reference to was not a wonderful time to be a consumer.

In the moment that the Masts’ aesthetic conjures, food was an anxious proposition, unregulated and rife with chicanery—lead in the red candy, chalk in the milk. Deep in our memories, along with the nostalgia for mustache wax, lies the awareness that stories about food are not always true, and that buying into them can be dangerous.
The main question for people of faith is not about recovering a lost aesthetic, but about the value of spending more money on food that is ethically sourced, humanely raised, and environmentally conscious. “UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children are working in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast,” Jenkins writes, “and up to 12,000 of them may be victims of trafficking or slavery.”

It’s up to us as consumers to raise our awareness of laborers in the food industry. As stewards of this world we cannot turn our eyes away from the effects of industrial food production on the environment or the horrific treatment of animals by the poultrybeef, and dairy industries. Our decisions in the physical world affect God’s dwelling place and, through that, our world.

Thoughtfulness around this matters for Christians because, as the leaders of the Lausanne Movement write,
The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ. We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance. We care for the earth and responsibly use its abundant resources, not according to the rationale of the secular world, but for the Lord’s sake.

If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our relationship to Christ from how we act in relation to the earth. For to proclaim the gospel that says ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.

Today’s Reading
Esther 6 (Listen – 2:40)
Romans 1 (Listen – 5:02)

This Weekend’s Readings
Esther 7 (Listen – 2:08)  Romans 2 (Listen – 4:13)
Esther 8 (Listen – 3:41)  Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

Weekend Reading List

The Honor of Faith :: Throwback Thursday

By George Whitefield
Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. — Esther 5.11

I suppose you would all think it a very high honor to be admitted into an earthly prince’s private council—to be trusted with his secrets, and to have his ear at all times and at all seasons. It seems Haman thought it so when he boasted.

Alas, what is this honor in comparison of that which the meekest of those enjoy: to walk with God! Do you think it a small thing to have the secret of the Lord of lords with you and to be called the friends of God? All God’s saints have this honor!

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” David was so sensitive to the honor of walking with God that he declares, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us that wisdom’s “ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”

Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb?

What have you felt when, like Jacob, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory?

I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative and realize the yoke of Christ is easy and his burden light—His service is perfect freedom. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?

*Abridged and language updated from George Whitefield’s sermon, Walking With God.

Today’s Reading
Esther 5 (Listen – 2:42)
Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

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