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Lenten Bible Study – Day 37

Thursday, April 1, 2021- Day 37
Luke 19: 12-27
12So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ 15When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 16The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ 17He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ 18Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ 20Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ 24He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ 25(And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”
This is a parable spoken by Jesus the day before he rides into Jerusalem. It is an illustration to explain what he is about to do. You need to know that for the parable to make any sense.
But you also need to know a bit of Judean history. When Herod the Great (the Herod from the Jesus birth stories) died, he had two sons, Archelaus and Antipas. Both wanted the throne. Archelaus, to get the throne, was required to go to Rome and be appointed. When he left, a delegation of Judeans and Samarians followed to oppose him. He was successful and … well … the delegation was not. One can assume things did not go well with them on their return to Jerusalem. This was history known to the folks listening to Jesus. Jesus said that this was a bit like what was going on right in front of them. Jesus was talking about God returning to the people.
God had not gone off to a distant country, though. The Judeans had done that. That happened when they were exiled and the original Temple, the residence of God, had been destroyed. Now God was returning. Jesus was his incarnation. And now the king was going to ask what his loyal followers have been doing with what he had left them. Some had done well. Some had done not quite as well, but pretty well nonetheless. Others had done nothing. The returning king was going to redistribute the authority among his people so that the ones who were good at it got more and the ones who were less good at it got less, and those that did nothing, got authority over nothing. Kind of makes sense. There is no punishment, just authority redistributed in accordance with gifts.
But there was more. What about those who did not want God to be in charge? They were punished. They did not want God. They did not get God. The kingdom was not theirs.
There are those in the Christian community who believe that if we have enough faith, we will be rewarded with riches and wellbeing. This parable seems to say otherwise. In this parable Jesus seems to say that our reward is based on what we do to serve God. What we do to carry out God’s will. It is all in the doing in this parable.
We should all consider what we are doing for God this Lent. But not just quantity; quality. What gifts do we have that we are exercising to increase the recognition of God’s presence in the world? What do we do well that contributes to God’s kingdom? Worth some thought.
Dear God, you know that we want you to be our king. We also want to be good stewards of the gifts you have given us and to use them for the benefit of your kingdom. Help us to know what we do well and what you would have us do. AMEN

Lenten Bible Study – Day 36

Wednesday, March 31, 2021- Day 36
Luke 18:10-14
1“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
As we think about this Lenten season humility should be something that is always on our mind. We see Jesus come into Jerusalem riding a donkey. We see Jesus beaten with a crown of thorns on his head. We see Jesus hung on a cross next to criminals though he was blameless. Humility is something that should be foundational to Christians, it was certainly modeled by Jesus. However, humility seems to be something that is hard for us to come by, especially when it comes to religion and politics.    
Two famous pastors George Whitefield disagreed with John Wesley on some theological matters, he was careful not to create problems in public that could be used to hinder the preaching of the gospel. When someone asked Whitefield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven, Whitefield replied, “I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.”
Too many times in our lives we think we are right and the other person is wrong. In fact, it seems that being right is very important to most of us. So much so that we need the other person to admit they are wrong. If they don’t agree with us they are an idiot, fool, or crazy. Many times, in the church we look at other people and denominations and think they have it wrong. We assume what we believe about God is correct and what they believe is not the “true” word of God. 
I see the same when I see people argue about politics. I see many different kinds of people coming from many different backgrounds all insisting they are correct. There doesn’t seem to be any learning or compromise because we already think we are correct.  
Our scripture today is Jesus telling us that we need to be humble. We cannot be people who insist they are right about everything. We cannot be like the man thanking God for not being like other people. We cannot be people who don’t care about the people we disagree with, and label them in large generalizations. We need to be humble in every aspect of our lives. We need to listen to the people we disagree with and assume we can learn from them. We don’t need to agree with each other, but we do need to care about each other. Being humble is thinking less of ourselves am more of others. It is what Jesus did, and it is what we need to do ourselves!
God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Amen.

Lenten Bible Study – Day 35

Tuesday, March 30, 2021 – Day 35
Luke 18: 2-8
2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
During the 30 years I practiced as a trial lawyer before I was called to ministry, I spent a great deal of time in court. I appeared before judges in every county in western Pennsylvania as well as in the Federal District Court in both Pittsburgh and Erie. If I tried to name every judge I appeared before, it would be an impossible task. For the most part, the judges I encountered were ethical, intelligent, unbiased and fair. But there were a couple who were … well … more like the judge Jesus depicts in today’s parable. Not particularly faithful to the law and not particularly respectful to those who appeared before them. Going before those judges was always hard. You never knew what they were going to do, and it did not appear that they were concerned with justice. Fortunately, there are few of them. But the woman in the parable must go before such a judge when she seeks justice. This judge ignores her pleas and refuses to do her justice. But rather than throw up her hands and give up, she devises a unique strategy. She continues to come before the judge pleading her case. She is so persistent that he finally gives her what she wants just to get rid of her. So in the end she gets her justice.
What could this story possibly have to do with God? Jesus point is that if someone can get justice from an unjust judge, how much easier is it to get justice from a just and merciful and loving God. Pretty easy, Jesus says. Just ask God for justice and you will get it. This of course begs the question: When you are doing the asking, are you seeking justice, or just asking that you succeed? Are you asking that God’s will be done, or your will? If you are asking for God’s will, it will be done.
Then Jesus asks a strange question. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? What faith does Jesus hope to find? Faith in God. Faith that God will do justice in accordance with God’s will. Faith that this will happen whether we recognize it or not. Faith that tries to recognize God’s justice and mercy and love. Faith that makes us look for it and try to understand it. That should be easy in Lent. God’s justice is that we are forgiven through the suffering and death of Jesus. That we receive mercy and love from a just God.
Dear God, help us to be persistent in our prayers that your justice prevails in all things. We pray also that you encourage us and empower us to look for it, recognize it and thank you for it. AMEN

Sunshine 04.21.2021

I am my father’s son, so, like him, I enjoy a beer or two from time to time. My current brand of choice is called “Burning River Pale Ale” brewed at Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland, Ohio. The first time I was handed a bottle, I laughed because the label is a picture of a river on fire. The name and label come from a famous event on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire. It was a “burning river”. This was not the first time, either. This from the Ohio History Connection website:
The Cuyahoga River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States as represented by the multitude of times it has caught fire [.] [A] recorded number of thirteen starting in 1868.  The most potent blaze occurred in 1952 which caused over $1.3 million in
damages[.] [H]owever, the most fatal fire happened in 1912 with a documented five deaths. The 1969 fire, which did not incur maximum damages or fatally wound any citizen, was the most covered incident occurring on the river.  This was in part because of the developing [concern] over industrial actions[.] [T]he United States was becoming more eco-aware.  Also, due to the shift from industry to technology, waste dumping to recycling Time Magazine produced an article about the incident. 
A burning river … What does that have to do with our worship of the living God? Join us Sunday, April 23, 2021 when we celebrate “Creation Day” at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We are on Facebook Live and in the church parking lot at 10am. See you then.

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