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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

Lenten Bible Study – Day 34

Monday, March 29, 2021 – Day 34
Matthew 20:1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage,[a] he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.[b] 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.[c] 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?[d] 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’[e] 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”[f]
When I was a young man, maybe 14 or 15, I washed dishes at a local restaurant. I worked extremely hard washing dishes, taking out the trash, and mopping the floor. I would be working non-stop on the weekends and would come home late at night tired and smelling like fish. My reward for my work was $5.35 an hour. As any young person I was shocked to look at my paycheck and see just how much taxes I had to pay on my already small check. On the flip side my younger sister babysat neighborhood kids. She would play with the kids and then put them to bed and watch tv.  She was paid by the families 8 dollars an hour and it wasn’t taxed because the people just handed her cash. She was literally making twice as much as me and was working not nearly as hard.
While I was completely jealous and bitter as a young person, I can look back at appreciate my experience. While at the time I felt it was un fair, both of us agreed to the money we would be paid. I could have left any time I wanted and was not forced to work for the wage I agreed upon. I used to think it was unfair that I had to work so hard for so little. Now I look back and realize that it was really good for me. It built in me a strong work ethic and made me appreciate money much more than some of my peers who just had money given to them by their parents. 
Often times when I read this parable I can understand why the early workers are upset. They work much harder and longer than the late workers. However, I now think that maybe there are other benefits to being an early worker than just the money. 
God’s grace is available to all people through faith in Jesus Christ. This can happen to some as children and others as adults. Some hear God’s words as children and cling to them, while others ignore it for years and years, maybe coming back to you later. I have heard some people say that the people that ignore God and live a crazy life don’t deserve God’s grace. The truth is none of us deserve grace, but it is available to all of us no matter when we call out to Jesus. If you haven’t taken Jesus as your savior I hope that you do, recognizing the grace and love that is waiting for you. I also hope that you do it today, there are a lot of benefits of living knowing how much God loves you!
God, we thank you for your grace. Let us be reminded that your grace is for all people no matter how old they are, or how they have lived their life. Let us also be thankful that we are living our lives knowing the promises we have in you. Amen.      

Lenten Bible Study – Day 33

Saturday, March 27, 2021 – Day 33
Luke 16: 19-31
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
Rich people do not fair well when Jesus speaks of them in Luke’s Gospel. Woe to them, Jesus says. They are fools for building big barns to keep all their stuff that they will not need. They will never follow Jesus because they have many things. Their idols are their wealth and possessions. And they do not want to share. When they die, these things that gave them comfort are gone and there is no comfort to be had. That is the rich man in this parable. Unimaginably wealthier than the poor sick Lazarus, yet he does nothing for Lazarus. At death the roles are reversed. It is the rich man who craves just a finger of water, but Lazarus because both are now dead, can do nothing. He wants to warn is brothers, but that warning must come from the Hebrew Scriptures.
This reminds me of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Marley and his fellow ghosts are condemned to drag the implements of their wealth around for eternity. There is no rest. There is no end to the torment. But then there is this: they finally feel empathy for those they ignored in life, but now, because they are dead, can do nothing to help those they now want to help. That is the rich man’s fate. He is burdened and can do nothing.
What does it have to do with us? We are Scrooge. We are given this story by Jesus and can learn from it. What do we learn? That we are to care for those who need it. The hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, the oppressed. If we do, we do so to Jesus and are welcomed into the Kingdom of God. Jesus knows that no one can take care of all of the world’s Lazaruses, but if we take care of one, in some way, we take care of all. Who are you caring for this Lent? Something worth considering this Lent.
Dear God, help me to serve and give to those who are in need. Help me not to judge who is worthy of my service and resources, but to give as I feel called by you to do. You gave the full measure of service to us on the cross. Help me to do my part as well. 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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