Degrading Each Other

Scripture: Romans 1.24
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

Everybody’s got a hungry heart. — Bruce Springsteen

Reflection: Degrading Each Other
By John Tillman

God’s wrath is often framed as a response to offenses committed by men and women against God. In this framing, God is the one harmed and the one seeking vengeance. Moderns contemplating this view have a hard time reconciling it. God seems selfish, vindictive, petty, and small.

It’s not that this framing of God’s wrath is inaccurate as much as it is woefully incomplete. The missing component is that God is wrathful not for what we have done to him directly, but for what we have done to each other.

We can’t reach God to harm him and sin against him, so instead we attack God through harming and degrading others made in his image. God’s wrath is seated not in selfish vengeance against his enemies but in justice for those he loves.

You have done it unto me.

Whether we help or harm others, Jesus steps into the interaction. He places himself into the bodies and the pain and the suffering of the people we harm every day—whether directly, indirectly, by our actions, or by our inactions. It is a shocking claim.

As the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world, Jesus stands with the victims, claiming their pain as his own, identifying with their feelings of powerlessness, of isolation, and of being silenced for so long.

Christianity teaches that no matter what our lusts are, they are not outside of our control. Sexual behavior is under the control of our will and, therefore, regardless of state of mind, location, previous behavior, the influence of alcohol or drugs, or even the state of dress of another person, we are responsible that we not “wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister” in this matter.

No environment, from Hollywood offices to the sanctuaries of our churches is untouched by the culture of degrading sexual manipulation and abuse. Christians have an opportunity to drop partisan loyalty, abandon “what-aboutism,” and step into this cultural problem with the perspective of the Gospel.

Christians can uniquely offer condemnation for abusive actions and the systems which allowed them, while offering compassion and protection for victims, and even forgiveness and redemption (though not necessarily reinstatement) for perpetrators.

The Morning Psalm
May god be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

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

For Such a Time

Scripture: Esther 4:12-14
When Hathach told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai sent her this message: “Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” (The Message)

Reflection: For Such a Time
By Jada Swanson

There are times in one’s life when following God’s plan for our lives does not really make sense to those closest to us and, perhaps, not even to us. Even still, God calls us to obedience during the dark and the daring moments of our lives. In his word, he has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

In this passage, Esther finds herself facing a most important crossroads, which necessitates a response of faith, even at great personal risk. In each of our lives, there are times when God Almighty calls us to boldly speak out for and act on behalf of those who are marginalized and disenfranchised, the voiceless, and the invisible. Embracing his promptings as an act of obedience, even when it comes at great personal cost. This is leadership.

John Wesley states, “We should every one of us consider, for what end God has put in the place where we are? And when an opportunity offers of serving God and our generation, we must take care not to let it slip” (Notes, 4:14).

Leadership comes in many ways and takes on many forms. At its very core, leadership is influence. Although we may not hold positional roles of leadership, we all have very specific influential roles of leadership in our everyday lives. Have you taken notice of where they are? And with whom? Pray for God to reveal these opportunities to you. Pray for boldness and courage to step forward and speak out, to be of service to the Lord and His people.

God has a plan and purpose for each of our lives. And in God’s view of time, there are no coincidences. As such, it was no coincidence that Esther, a Jew, was selected as queen. Neither is it a coincidence where we find ourselves at this very moment and on this very day. Be observant of those around you, of situations and circumstances. Take notice of how you may be the one appointed to take action, in seemingly small or significant ways. As God’s children, we know that he will accomplish his purposes and plans for this world. The beauty is that he invites us to take part…for such a time as this!

Song: Born for This by Mandisa

The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statues. — Psalm 119.145

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 3 (Listen – 3:12)
Acts 26 (Listen – 5:17)

This Weekend’s Readings
Esther 4 (Listen – 2:53) Acts 27 (Listen – 6:09)
Esther 5 (Listen – 2:42) Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

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)