Lenten Bible Study – Day 32

Friday, March 26, 2021 – Day 32
Luke 16:1-8 
Then Jesus[a] said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
On March 8th, 1987 my father gave me a talk that I recently had the privilege of giving to my daughter around 30 years later. It starts very simply, “if you want a dog you have to promise to take care of it”, the child responds with “I will, I promise”. The parent then continues “you need to walk it, feed it, bath it, etc.…”, “I will, I promise responds the child”. Now to Emma’s credit she has done a lot more for her puppy than I did when I was her age. She had been begging me for a puppy for 2 years now and finally I decided to cave and give it to her, mostly because I love her. I certainly had some reservations because I didn’t know if she would hold up her end, but I decided that I wanted her to be happy, so I caved.
This parable is considered by many scholars to be one of the most difficult parables to understand. We see a manager will be fired for squandering his masters property. He realizes he cannot do manual labor and doesn’t want to beg so he begins settling his masters debt by making the people give less than what is owed, he does this so that those people will like him and maybe give him a job. The master then commends the manager for doing this, though it seems it was a completely selfish act. There are many ways in which people try to justify this parable. Some believe the manager was commended because he didn’t take a commission. Other scholars believe the manager was commended for collecting and showing compassion at the same time (word of a caring master would encourage more business). While I’m not completely sure which of these I agree with, I will say that it is not the point of the parable.
God has given us many things in our lives. We have money, food, houses, and lots and lots of stuff. We were given this stuff not to own or use just for ourselves, rather it was given for us to manage. The questions become are we wise with our money? Are we compassionate when others owe us money? Are we managing it well for our master, or are we squandering it away. God has given us a responsibility to manage this world, will we be shrewd, or will we squander it away?   
Jesus, we thank you for everything you have given us. We recognize that we don’t always use the things you have given us as well as we should. Let us recognize that we are managers of your things, and we need to manage your resources in caring and careful ways. Amen.

Lenten Bible Study – Day 31

Wednesday, March 24, 2021 – Day 31
Luke 15: 11-32
11 Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’
When my kids were little one of the bed time stories we would read them was “The Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown.
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.”
The mother rabbit will follow and find her little bunny no matter where he goes. She will not stop until she finds him. Kind of like the parable of the lost sheep, right?
But there is something different about this parable. The prodigal son leaves … and the father does not look for him. What the child said to the father is this:
“It would be better if you were dead. Then I would get my share of your money. And I could get out of this place. Let’s pretend you are dead. Give me the money and I’ll get out of here.” There seems to be little point in going after him. He has “killed” his father. He has rejected his family. What would be the point of the father searching? Maybe Dad knew something about the son we don’t. A lesson needed to be learned. Tough love was necessary. So the father let him go.
But we read later that the father saw the boy return from far away. I wonder about that. I get this image that the father went out on the front porch of the home every day and looked down the road. Maybe today. Maybe he will come today. And when he did, the father then ran to this prodigal child. Lost and now found. Repentant and forgiven.
Then there is another prodigal child to contend with. His other son, the one who stayed, resents the prodigal. He will not welcome his brother home. He literally walks away from the family reunion. He wants nothing to do with a father who welcomes home a disloyal child. He leaves the father. Just like his brother. But there is something different between the two brothers. This one the father goes after. Maybe that is what this one needs. Maybe this one will listen to a lesson. When he finds him the father explains: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.
Everything I have I have shared with you. But now you are the prodigal. Here we are at home, your home, and you refuse to be part of this family. Just like your brother did. I let him go. But I am not letting you go. I will not take that risk with you. I have come after you.”
Prodigals come in many different forms. Which are you? I think that is how God deals with in a way that fits our needs. Are we the one who walks away for the world? Are we the one who resents grace? Are we the one the father waits for or are we the one who the father goes after. Whichever, grace abounds.
Today, read Psalm 139: 1-18 as your prayer.

Lenten Bible Study – Day 30

Tuesday, March 23, 2021 – Day 30
Luke 15:8-10
“Or what woman having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15 is my absolutely favorite part of the Bible! In many ways I think it explains a lot of what Jesus was trying to tell us. It all starts with the setup, Jesus is eating with sinners and the Pharisees are complaining, Jesus gives them 3 parables. Fun fact, the early church always read these parables allegorically (we are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd, we are the prodigal son and God is father). In our section today, it was read that the woman was the holy spirit and we are the coins. Extra fun fact, the noun for Holy Spirit RUAH is a feminine noun. 
There are 3 things that are present in each parable and should be seen through the lens of Jesus eating with sinners. First, something gets lost and has such value that everything is left abandon to be found. Second, there is community involved in each story. Lastly, there is a call to party! People are lost in this world, there is no doubt about that in any way. We need to recognize that we are all in this together, we are all part of a community, belonging to God. We need to party when people come back to God. We need more joy in this world, we need to love each other so much that I am not just desperate for a relationship with God for myself, but I am desperate for you as well!
I am not sure what your relationship is with God, but please know I am cheering for you and I am ready to party. I truly want you to know Jesus, just like my mailwoman, our politicians, the prisoners, and people in Norway. We are all God’s children and we need to support them and let them know we care for them. So please know I love you and want to party with you. I hope to rejoice with you soon. In case I didn’t mention it, I love Luke 15.
Lord in spite of our urge to run, you seek and find us. Give us strength to be a community and truly rejoice with each other, just as you rejoice in us. Amen.

Lenten Bible Study – Day 29

Monday, March 22, 2021 – Day 29
Luke 15: 4-7
4‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
There was a commercial on TV a while back – for what I don’t know – where a young couple were driving somewhere, and after a stop, he (you knew it was the guy, right?) could not find his sunglasses. The two of them looked everywhere. They backtracked every place they had been that day. No luck. Finally, late in the day, he was coming out of a cave they had visited, and a bunch of bats flew out. He put his hood up and the sunglasses fell out of the hood. The young man looked a bit sheepish, but you could tell he was overjoyed! Even the young woman had to smile.
This parable and that commercial speak to me! When I have ever lost something that has some kind of value to me, whether monetary or sentimental, even if I don’t need right then, the fact I don’t know where it is drives me nuts! Looking for it becomes a virtual obsession. I cannot rest (at least not well) until I find it. And if I never find it, I always wonder about it.
This parable is about that kind of obsession. The kingdom of God is like that. The shepherd lost a sheep. The shepherd obsesses over the sheep until the sheep is found. Then there is a celebration. Even the neighbors are invited over! Can you imagine inviting the neighbors over each time you found your lost keys? But that is what happens in heaven when one lost soul is found. All the heavenly hosts gather together and celebrate.
God is obsessed with finding and saving lost souls. God was obsessed with you and me. When we were found, there was a celebration in the kingdom. They did that for you. They did that for me.
Dear God, thank you for rescuing me when I was lost. Your amazing grace is sweet and sure. Amen.

Lenten Bible Study – Day 28

Saturday, March 20, 2021- Day 28
Luke 14:28-33
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
This parable is often labeled as “counting the cost”, which is very appropriate. Jesus tells us numerous times he does not want us to be lukewarm. What he calls us to be is all in disciples. People that are willing to drastically change their lives because of their love for God. The fact is our lives should look different to people who don’t have faith. Our lives should be different because we love Jesus. This doesn’t just mean it’s a list of things we don’t do because we are Christians. In fact, it is more of a list of things we do! We should care for, love, share, and give different. We should act humbly, compassionately, and tenderheartedly. That is what the scripture is telling us, if you want to be a follower you need to be different, so before you make a decision add up the costs and decide.
I have felt this struggle recently after having a discussion in a small group. The discussion centered on an estimate that there are around 27 million slaves in the world today. The question was, how did I contribute to the slavery? We were directed to a website called slaveryfootprint.org where we take a short quiz to see if what we bought contributed to slaves (You should do this it is eye opening). The idea is that if you buy certain products it may be from a corporation that gets certain products from an area of the world that uses slaves. A huge problem years ago was that a vast amount of cocoa beans where from Ghana, which was notorious for using child slaves. Our chocolate candy corporations where buying cheap cocoa to make chocolate. If we buy that chocolate it creates a higher demand which needs increased slaves.
The problem is that many of our things are actually at least partially produced by slaves. It can be so overwhelming that many people do not want to bother checking before having a snack or buying shoes. We even found churches to be a major contributor when purchasing palms for Palm Sunday (JMPC does buy fair trade). While it is overwhelming and time consuming I will ask you, what should we do as believers of Jesus Christ? Should we ignore it or consider ourselves okay since we are a few steps removed from making slaves? Do we know that these slaves are children of God and are we treating them as such?
This of course is just one example of counting the cost of discipleship, we all know there are many more. However, it is a very important cost, and it is up to us to decide how we follow Jesus. Discipleship is not just something we can take part in when we want to, and Jesus is warning us of that in this parable. We must be willing to stretch ourselves to love others. We must seek out justice for all people in the world. We must give up of ourselves, so that others may see and know of our God. That is what Jesus did for us on Easter. It is in that love that we need to respond in true and unflinching discipleship.
 Jesus, give us the ability to be followers of you on a full-time basis. Do not let us bargain with you on our faith, trying to let ourselves out of the commitment. Let us be strong and live into true discipleship with you. Amen 

Lenten Bible Study – Day 27

Friday, March 19, 2021 – Day 27
Luke 14: 16-24
16Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.”19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.24For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
There is nothing worse than last minute cancellations from guests invited to a dinner party. You have planned the meal so that everyone will get enough to eat and drink. You have also planned the guest list so that the conversation will be engaging yet not too controversial. Now someone cancels. The whole event is now out of balance. Too much food and drink. Not enough conversation. So, you ask why they cannot come and the excuse is … well … lame. What is the chance you will invite that person to your next dinner party?
But you have all this food! What do you do? Some years back the people that lived next to my family had a party planned. For reasons I was never told, most of the guests did not come. So, they came over to our house and said that they had a bunch of food and plenty to drink and did we want to come over for dinner? They went to every door on the block. We all gathered at their house and had an impromptu block party! We had a great time and got to know each other. It worked out well.
That is what the Kingdom of God is like. It is a dinner party that we are all invited to. How we got on the guest list, we do not know, but we are expected to come because … well … who wouldn’t? But at the last minute we cancel. The excuses we give are lame. Too busy. More important things to do. Not sure we will like the food. The question, then, is do we expect to be asked again? Maybe not? Maybe we missed out chance.
I read this parable as the answer to the question of universality of salvation. Is everyone saved? Well, I think everyone is invited. But some don’t accept. How many times will the invitation come? Do we want to wait and find out? Or just come to dinner with Jesus right now? It’s like the invitation to Communion. Everyone is welcome, but you have to show up.
Dear God, thank you for the invitation to be a part of your Kingdom. Please know I will be there to share food and drink and lively conversation … and I hope to stay, forever. Amen.

Lenten Bible Study – Day 26

Thursday, March 18, 2021- Day 26
Luke 14:7-14  
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Unfortunately, it seems that our culture is running away from humility. Social media has exasperated this in every way possible. Youth are expected by their peers to constantly be filming and taking pictures of all their experiences. If you are doing something great you need to let others know about it. This is nothing new for young people, except that social media has expanded the scale. This is one part of humility that Jesus warns us about. This is the part where he tells us to not take the most distinguished seat. We should not be bragging about ourselves and everything we have or do. We should not see ourselves as more important than others.
However, Jesus continues to talk about humility. He tells us to not invite our friends and family to dinner, but to invite the poor, crippled, and lame. His reasoning is simple, these people cannot pay you back in any possible way. You will receive nothing quantitative from your invitation and hospitality. This is the true meaning of humility, it is giving up of yourself so that others may benefit. 
Every year around Christmas I hear a news story about someone who calls the water company and pays off random stranger’s bills. I love these stories, they are filled with selflessness and humility. I have had people give money to help children and youth go to camps and mission trips but insist on being anonymous. These actions are so powerful and loving because they don’t glorify any person, they glorify God. This is where we should understand humility, being humble glorifies God. This should be our goal in life, to glorify God. We glorify our creator, savior, and best friend. Humility should be our goal every day, it serves our neighbors, it loves our enemies, and it glorifies God… what could be better?
Jesus let us think less of ourselves and more of others. Lord let us think less of our “stuff” so we will give it to those in need. God let us glorify you in our humility. 

Lenten Bible Study – Day 25

Wednesday, March 17, 2021 – Day 25
Luke 11: 5-8
5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
Believe it or not, this is a parable about prayer. But it is also about hospitality. First the prayer part.
Imagine this: A man has surprise company. But he’s a bit short on supplies. So he goes out to his neighbor’s house and asks for help which he expects to get. His neighbor’s response? “I’m in bed with my family. Don’t make me get up.”
The tone of Jesus description of the friend in bed is sarcastic.
“Could something like this actually happen?”
And all his listeners would be shaking their heads no. It would be unheard of. Shocking! Shameful! Jesus says we are to respond to shameful refusals of hospitality with persistence. In other words, keep asking. That is how we pray to God. With perseverance.
Jesus puts it another way:
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
But what do we get? In the words of Mick Jagger:
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need!
This is how God responds to us. God will give us what we need!
What do we need?
What did hospitality look like in 2016?
A bit like this, I think. Well, 15 people from JMPC and one from Florida went to Sibol, Chiapas, Mexico to help a Presbyterian congregation build a wall for their church compound. We were travelers on a long journey. When we got there, we were welcomed by our host, Randy DuVall. He had transportation waiting that took us to a place where we could eat and sleep half way to Sibol. We were fed … and given coffee! When we got to Sibol, we were fed lunch, given rooms to sleep in, hammocks or beds to sleep on and a worship service to welcome us. For the next seven days we were taken care of with food specially made to make sure we did not get sick. We were given purified water, so we could drink. And we were given places to bathe, though the favorite place was in a local stream. We were counseled on appropriate conduct and safety measures and directed to places where we could touch base with home if we wanted to. We were provided immense hospitality.
But we did not come empty handed. We brought our own form of hostess gift. To honor them. We came with supplies. Cement and VBS materials. And our labor. It was a mutual offer of hospitality. Mutual hospitality. We provided for each other’s needs. It is what God calls us to do and be.
Dear God, help us to understand our own needs and be willing to ask that they be met. Help us to see what others need and provide it to them. Keep us persistent in prayer and generous in providing hospitality. Amen

Lenten Bible Study – Day 24

Tuesday, March 16, 2021- Day 24
Luke 17:7-10
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[k] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
You have to love a parable you have probably heard a lot of times. The “good Samaritan” is a parable that has been looked at from many different lenses and angles. Today I would like to look at the initial purpose of the parable. The question that leads to this parable is in verse 29 and it says, “who is my neighbor”? When you read the Bible, you will see Jesus telling you to love 2 different groups of people. He tells us to love or neighbors and our enemies! We know who our enemies are (note I’m am writing this after my beloved Flyers lost to the penguins). We are told to love our enemies, it is hard, but we can identify them. However, Jesus also calls us to love our neighbors, so who are they?
Jesus gives us a parable in which 2 of the people you would expect to help and who were technically neighbors (countrymen) walk by the man. The third man stops and goes out of his way to help the man in every way possible. While many people see this as extreme (loving a foreigner) it should not have been. Numerous times in the old testament scripture God tells his people to care for foreigners. This was not a radical new calling, rather it was something people really struggled doing. What Jesus was trying to convey to them is that everyone is your neighbor because all people belong to God. What Jesus was also showing them is that being a neighbor is in your actions, not in your location. We aren’t called to help the people closest to us, we are called to help all people. 
The best example I can think of when it comes to being a neighbor is mother Theresa. This amazing woman was born in Macedonia, yet she spent a life time loving her neighbors in India (over 3,000 miles away). The children in India recognized her as one of their own, not because she was born there, but because she loved them. The answer to “who is my neighbor” is simple, it is everyone. Loving foreigners when Jesus gave this parable was not new, there were commandments to care for the foreigner in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Malachi, Exodus, Ezekiel, and many other books. Yet, the people still asked, “who is my neighbor”? Jesus reinforced who our neighbor is and let us know how to care for them. Will we truly understand this, or we will we still be found asking “who is my Neighbor”?    
Lord give us strength to love our neighbor. Let us see everyone as our neighbor, whether they live in our country or another country. Give us wisdom and power to take actions to love foreigners, fully recognizing they are neighbors. Amen.