From the Well - 7/27/2017

Romans 8:26-39 (NRSV) 
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Franciscan, Richard Rohr says,

God is to be found in all things, even and most especially in the painful, tragic, and sinful things-exactly where we do not want to look for God. The crucifixion of the God-Man is at the same moment the worst and the best thing in human history. It validates the central notion of paradox at the heart of Christianity.

Paul says, “If God is for us, who is against us?” It’s hard sometimes to see God in the ups and downs of life but God is there. It’s true, sometimes our faith falters as it contemplates the challenges of life. As Leonard Sweet says, sometimes we are,

Doubting in the face of death . . .

Weak-kneed in the face of illness . . .

Wimpy in the face of danger . . .

Worthless in the face of adversity . . .

Frozen in the face of Confrontation . . .

Apathetic in the face of challenges . . .

Despairing in the face of the Serpent . . .

Acquiescent in the face of greed . . .

Oblivious in the face of pollution . . .

Heartless in the face of hunger . . .

Self-absorbed in the face of homelessness . . .

Whining in the face of hardship . . .

Knowing that God is with us and for us in all circumstances causes us to proclaim,

In the face of death . . . there is resurrection

In the face of illness . . . there is eternal healing

In the face of danger . . . there is the right arm of God

In the face of adversity . . . there is “blessed assurance”

In the face of confrontation . . . there is confidence

In the face of the serpent . . . there is the gift of the cross

In the face of greed . . . there is the abundant life

In the face of pollution . . . there is God’s redemption of all      creation

In the face of hunger . . . there is a legacy of loaves and          fishes

In the face of homelessness . . . there is compassion

In the face of hardship . . . there is the promise of goodness

Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 7/13/2017

Romans 8:1-11 (NRSV) 
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law-indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

The poet, peacemaker, minister and Celtic Spirituality scholar J. Philip Newell writes:

"Eriugena, the ninth-century Irish teacher, says that if goodness were extracted from the universe, all things would cease to exist. For goodness is not simply a feature of life; it is the very essence of life, Goodness gives rise to being, just as evil leads to nonbeing or to a destruction and denial of life's sacredness."

The Apostle Paul believed that we have a choice. We can live as forgiven and redeemed people (Life in the Spirit) or we can live out of our sin. There is goodness in all of us but sometimes we set the good aside so that we can please our ego, need for power, greediness, emotional desires, and bodily wants. 

Paul's main point was that we cannot do good on our own. We need God's help. I'm reminded of a story told by Ted Engstrom in his book, The Pursuit of Excellence. Babe Ruth who hit 714 home runs didn't end his baseball career all that well. In one of his last major-league games between the Braves and Reds, Ruth fumbled the ball and threw badly. In one inning alone, his errors were responsible for most of the runs scored by the opposing team.

As Babe walked off the field, the fans yelled and booed. Suddenly, a young boy jumped over the railing onto the field. With tears streaming down his face, he threw his arms around the legs of his hero.

"Ruth didn't hesitate for a second," wrote Engstrom. He picked the boy up and hugged him. He then set him down on his feet, patting him on the head. The angry, rude noise from the stands suddenly came to an abrupt halt. There was no more booing. A hush fell over the entire park.

In those brief moments, the fans saw goodness. They saw it in Babe Ruth who, in spite of his dismal performance that day, could still care about a young boy. They saw it in a boy who cared about the feelings of his hero.

Will you choose goodness or something else as you walk through the days of your life? Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well 6/15/2017

Romans 5:1-5 (MSG) 
1 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us-set us right with him, make us fit for him-we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. 2 And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand-out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. 3 There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, 4 and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. 5 In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary-we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

The Catholic priest Brennan Manning once said, “I used to be Snow White, but then I drifted . . .” We walk the road of discipleship carrying all of our imperfections and mistakes that make us human. We follow Christ knowing that we have the peace that only God can bring. When we stumble over our imperfections--when we fall--God picks us up and puts us back on the path because we are loved. Life is never perfect and often it is very hard but we are never deserted or left alone. God is always there.

In a letter written several months before his execution by the Nazis, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the presence of God and how God strengthens us in the face of all that life can throw at us. In conclusion, Bonhoeffer wrote with confidence,

God does not always give us everything we want, but He does fulfill all his promises, i.e., He remains the Lord of the earth, He preserves His Church, constantly renewing our faith . . . gladdening us with his nearness and help, hearing our prayers, and leading us along the best and straightest paths to himself.[1]

Bonhoeffer certainly hoped for a different path in his life but he followed the path before him with faith and with the knowledge that God’s peace was enough to carry him through. Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York, NY: Little Brown & Company, 1996), 49.

From the Well 6/2/2017

Ephesians 6:10-20 (NRSV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. 

The writer of Ephesians is in prison, probably chained to a Roman guard. To encourage the Christian community in Ephesus, the writer looks at his Roman jailer and decides to use the soldier’s armor to symbolize or illustrate the qualities of God that the Ephesian Christians need as they engage the community and world. The writer’s suggestions not only speak to the Ephesians but also to those of us who are attempting to be faithful in our twenty-first century discipleship.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we must cinch on the belt of truth so we can stand up to the untruthfulness that so often invades and threatens our morality and ethics. We must don the breastplate of righteousness to guide us in our decisions. Our feet need shoes of peace in a world that too often chooses aggression and war. We need a shield of faith to bolster us during those times of difficulty and pain. There needs to be a helmet of salvation to remind us that we are always being held in the loving arms of God. We carry the sword of the spirit so we can bring positive change to our communities and the world. We need to pray so we might have a transforming and sustaining relationship with God. Finally, we need God’s Word as a road map for our lives.

Being a followers of Jesus in today’s world is not natural or easy. Thus the writer suggests that we shouldn’t go out unarmed. It’s tough out there. The world speaks a different language and certainly has a different agenda than the church and its followers. Disciples of Jesus Christ must be in the world speaking a different language, the language of love.

Gerhard von Rad suggests in his, Old Testament Theology, that in the days of the Roman empire an emperor could not be everywhere in his realm. So the emperor made statues of himself to be erected throughout the land. These statues or images where to show everyone that the kingdom belonged to him and no one else. We are God’s images that are placed on the face of the earth in order to show that the earth belongs to God. So put on the armor of God and get out there. As Thomas Merton once said, “Our real hope is not in something we think we can do, but in God, who is making something good out of it in some ways we cannot see." Put on the whole armor of God and trust that you can make a difference with God’s help. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well 5/25/2017

Ephesians 4:29-5:2 (MSG) 

29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. 30 Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted. 31 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. 32 Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. 1 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. 2 Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

The Benedictine nun, author, and speaker, Joan D. Chittister, told this story at a conference on the Rule of Saint Benedict:

There was a Benedictine community to whom nobody came. As the monks grew old, they became more and more disheartened because they couldn't understand why their community was not attractive to other people. Now in the woods outside the monastery there lived an old rabbi. People came from all over to talk to him about the presence of Yahweh in creation. Years went by and finally the abbot himself went in the woods, leaving word with his monks, "I have gone out to speak to the rabbi." (It was of course considered humiliating at the time that a Christian community had to go back to the synagogue to find out what was wrong with them.)

When the abbot finally found the rabbi's hut in the woods, the rabbi welcomed him with open arms as if he had known that he was coming. They put their arms around each other and had a good cry. The abbot told the rabbi that his monks were good men but they spread not fire, and the community was dying. He asked the rabbi if he had any insight into the work of Yahweh in their lives. The rabbi replied, "I have the secret and I will tell you once. You may tell the monks and then none of you is ever to repeat it to one another." The abbot declared that if they could have the secret, he was sure his monks would grow.

So the rabbi looked at him long and hard and said, "The secret is that among you, in one of you is the Messiah!" The abbot went back to the community and told his monks the secret. And lo! As they began to search for the Messiah in one another they grew, they loved, they became very strong, and very prophetic.

Chittister ended the conference with these words: "From that day on, the community saw Him in one another and flourished." Enough said. Think about it.

Matthew