grace that’s amazing

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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PSALMS 82

God calls the judges into his courtroom,
    he puts all the judges in the dock.

2-4 “Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough,
    you’ve let the wicked get away with murder.
You’re here to defend the defenseless,
    to make sure that underdogs get a fair break;
Your job is to stand up for the powerless,
    and prosecute all those who exploit them.”

Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges!
    They haven’t a clue to what’s going on.
And now everything’s falling apart,
    the world’s coming unglued.

6-7 “I commissioned you judges, each one of you,
    deputies of the High God,
But you’ve betrayed your commission
    and now you’re stripped of your rank, busted.”

O God, give them their just deserts!
    You’ve got the whole world in your hands!

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

This is a great reading from the Ketuvim, the 3rd section of the Hebrew Bible, set to contemporary dialog.  Why should I be surprised that social justice was a concern of the early Jewish culture much as it is today with our Christian tradition?  Apparently man, although he has conquered many technical impediments to enlightenment, has yet to master his own ego, that part of him which says he is better than, different from, and entitled to.

I often inventory these aspects of my own inner forces which determine who I shall be today – better, different or entitled.  And sometimes miraculously, I tune in to a greater self which tells me I am a son of that universal essence which created all mankind equally deserving of justice among their fellow-man whether wealthy and powerful or poor and needy.

I can picture the author of Psalm 82 standing before a panel of appointed judges reading the riot act to them for their lack of compassion towards the defenseless and underdogs.  In today’s society I am one of many, not only judges and politicians, who would do well to reflect on attitudes toward and treatment of those who have hit personal bottoms, endured unjust racism, struggled through financial difficulties.  The homeless, the emotionally challenged, the addicted, the prisoners, the broken, the afflicted – all are deserving of a day in the court of compassion and empathy.

When honesty hits me between the eyes, I would have to admit that I am unworthy of mercy and grace, that I should be sleeping in the woods, scrounging for food, sitting in jail for my disobedience.  That honesty tells me that I am not special nor gifted nor smarter.  No, I am merely luckier because I have escaped the harshness which afflicts my brothers and sisters.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed
When we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun. 

John Newton, 1779 OLNEY HYMNS

John Newton understood this undeserved gift from a gracious God.  He lived a profane and wicked life, but turned the page which all of us turn when we exclaim,

“Dear God, there has to be a better way than this.”

His actions endorsed social reform and supported the fight to abolish slave trade in the British Empire resuling in the British Slave Trade Act in 1807.

guess who’s coming to dinner?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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I’m having a dinner party next week to celebrate my 71st.  You are all invited.  The menu isn’t yet decided so if anybody has food allergies, restrictions, or dietary quirks, please let me know now.  I don’t expect a full table as several of my friends took issue with my political stance in 2016, a few of my church associates don’t agree with my views on theology, the next door neighbors aren’t speaking ever since I asked them to curb their dogs, and numerous family members have disowned me because of – well, let’s just say they don’t approve of my choice in life partners.  Other than those decliners, I’d say we’ll have a table to celebrate.

I wonder if Jesus would accept my invitation?  Would he come to my party and share a meal with me despite my, er….limitations?  I know he sat with his disciples for the Passover meal before he was crucified.  But, they were all of like minds.  They were his devoted followers.  Even a man as revered and popular as Jesus could only get a dozen people to his dinner.  Lord, maybe I should be content with three of four people.  Do you think Jesus would come to my birthday dinner?  Would you mind sharing a table with him?

Maybe he  had doubts, too, about his dinner plans.  The laws in the Book of Leviticus defined right from wrong in Jewish culture.  The Scriptures tell me that Jesus suffered severe rebukes from the Jewish hierarchy for his departures from those laws.  The dietary and social customs were very strict and he broke most of them.

“Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.  When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?'”  MATTHEW 9: 10-11  The Message

It seems that those Pharisees were not easy men to please.  Jesus said:

“For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, he hath a demon.  The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”  LUKE 7:33-34 ASV

He shared dinner with a Pharisee, named Simon, and when he had taken his place at the table

“…..a woman from the city – notorious as a woman of ill repute – follows him in.  She has heard that Jesus will be at the Pharisee’s home, so she comes in and approaches Him, carrying an alabaster flask of perfumed oil.  Then she begins to cry, she kneels down so her tears fall on Jesus’ feet, and she starts wiping his feet with her own hair.  Then she actually kisses his feet, and she pours the perfumed oil on them.” LUKE 7:36-38 the Voice

Simon was shocked and questioned whether Jesus was truly a Prophet because he thought a prophet would not associate with a harlot.  Not only did Jesus share meals with those whom the traditions of Judaism considered unworthy, he stayed overnight in their houses.

“……he looked up, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.  And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.  And when they (Pharisees) saw it, they all murmured, saying, he is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.'”  LUKE 19:5-7 ASV

The Judaic laws presented in Leviticus chapters 17-24, the laws which excluded multitudes of people from the “table” were not Jesus’ idea of God.  He met and knew a different God – one who was all about mercy and compassion.

Jesus is definitely coming to my birthday dinner.  Don’t any of you worry about putting on your best clothes or sprucing up your manners. He doesn’t care about that.  All he wants is your heart and your soul.  Hmmmm, what does one cook for Jesus?  Should we have a birthday cake?  I guess pork is not a good idea.

 

the marginalized

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“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims—laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children.” —Isaiah 10:1-2, The Message

This passage quoted by Fr. Richard Rohr is attributed to the writings of Isaiah, one of the most prolific prophets of Judaism who probably wrote all 68 chapters of the Book Isaiah sometime during the years between 740 BCE and 686 BCE.  Believing in prophecy, or not, is irrelevant to the significance of this message to us living during these tumultuous times in contemporary society because it describes the trials and perils we, the marginalized, face today.  I do not need to be a believer or follower of Jesus (which I am) to recognize the remarkable parallels.

“When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy.”

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey-Bass: 2014, ©2011), dedication page

Has the world forgotten what politics should be?  Today’s  world of politics has become so overshadowed by greed and self-interest that it is very difficult to view it as a conduit for the welfare of all earth’s humanity including the poor, the homeless, the children, the elderly, and the mentally ill.  The most fitting adjective we can use for that segment of society is marginalized and oppressed.  It need not be that way given the enormous wealth in the hands of a small percentage of the population.

Politics is derived from the Greek word “politikos”meaning “of, for, or relating to the citizens” and “civil, civic, belonging to the state.”

“We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.

[As Christians,] it is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. . . . ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:35). [3]

Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis, http://reclaimingjesus.org/.

The core belief of the traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is committed to compassion and hospitality.  Adherents are known by their actions and works.  If professing anything other than love and tolerance as depicted in their Scriptures, then they are not true followers of their faith.  It’s a simple assessment based on the writings of the ancients.

Principalities and powers pass away, but the inner power of the Spirit as represented by the Hebrew prophets, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed is infinite and eternal.

12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  EPHESIANS 6:12

psalm 51

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1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.  3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Psalms 51: 1-3 The Voice The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

These verses were sometimes referred to as the “Hangman’s Prayer.”  A sentenced convict was given an opportunity to set things right with the One he/she called Almighty before the noose tightened.  Grace and mercy reigned when that Power was called upon.

In addiction we also receive the sentence of death for our walk into hell.  It is a spiritual death often more onerous than the finality of a hangman’s noose.  Surely, I often prayed for a physical end to my suffering for I could not fathom a life other than that of an alcoholic.  Others were able to drink socially or totally abstain, but not me.  My demons would not allow it and my God, yes I did believe, would never forgive me.

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I am a miracle who walks aside millions of others like me who finally faced the toughest decision of our lives.  Admitted, believed, and made a decision to turn it over.  That “God of my understanding” listened to my confessions, forgave every one of my transgressions, and then transformed a wretched human into something useful, clean and serene.

God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.  Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.  Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!

Psalms 51:10-12 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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