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#Advent13: Righteousness and Justice

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

Charla, Elizabeth, and Kurt Gwartney

Today, we have a special treat. Our friend, and one of the Pastoral staff at our home church, Charla Gwartney is offering our Lenten reflection. Rev. Charla Gwartney serves as Executive Pastor at Acts 2 United Methodist Church, overseeing administrative details of the congregation. She is blessed to be a part of a growing congregation with a heart for ministry. Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth. They live in downtown OKC and enjoy the urban life of Oklahoma’s largest city in their free time.

A reading from the Psalms.

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.  May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.  May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.  May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.  May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.  In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

— Psalm 72:1-7 (NRSV)

The Word of God for the People of God.

As I write this, the world is mourning one of the greats, Nelson Mandela. He died on Dec. 5. He was 95 years old. Many people know more about Nelson Mandela than I do. I simply know that he stood for forgiveness when he had every right to stand for revenge.

I know that he spoke words of peace to those who oppressed him (and others who shared his skin color.) I know he was imprisoned unfairly. And, I know that when he was released, his country was able to endure revolution without the bloodshed that often accompanies such change. I know that Nelson Mandela spoke truthfully about justice and righteousness and I know that it brought him trouble.

When the writer of this scripture prays for a king, I think the psalmist is hoping for one like Nelson Mandela. “May he judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice…May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” Leaders like Mandela are few and far between. It is hard to find people willing to speak up for those without a voice and endure the price of speaking up. More likely, those in power are lulled into believing that power is evidence of God’s blessing. This blessing belongs to them, rather than being entrusted to them for sharing with all those God loves.

It is hard to argue with the witness of scripture – God has a preferential option for the poor. And, God asks leaders to care for the poor. This kingdom Jesus teaches us to pray for (…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven) is a place where all come to the table and share together in God’s abundance.

On the same day that Nelson Mandela died, workers in fast-food restaurant chains were protesting a wage that forces them to rely on government assistance. A recent study found that 52% of fast-food workers rely on government assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid. This news surfaced at the same time that McDonald’s purchased another luxury jet for its executives, costing $35 million. What should we do with that? What should we do with this reminder that the world Nelson Mandela imagined has not yet come to pass? What should we do with this reminder that the world Jesus teaches us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer…that the psalmist is lifting up…is conspicuously absent?

For me, this is the hard part of Advent. I love lighting the Advent candles and proclaiming that light has overcome the darkness. I love special family traditions, like Advent devotionals and calendars that build expectation. I love the music, food, extra time with family and friends. But, there is this part of Advent I can’t ignore – the call for justice and righteousness. The psalmist prays for a king that will bring a kingdom mirroring God’s priorities. The stories of this season remind us of a babe born in poverty, facing the risks that so many who are poor still face…hunger, danger, no access to basic necessities.

I need to see this side of Advent too. I need to be reminded that vulnerability carries its own power. I need to remember that the blessing God has chosen to give me is intended to benefit all of God’s children.

I am grateful for the life Nelson Mandela lived and for the witness he proclaimed. But, if that is the only witness made, the light can’t overcome the darkness. No! God calls all of us to speak truth to power, to stand in solidarity with those who have no voice, and to care for those the world would rather ignore. May it be so.

All That’s Left

(Photo courtesy of Mission InfoBank)

Syria. It's a nation that has dominated the news cycles for the past few days, and has been a recurring fixture in the media for the past couple of years. I'm not even going to begin to try to rehash or explain what's going on there. Many others have done a good job doing that already (for instance, this piece from the Washington Post).

What's a Christ-Follower to do in the face of so much chaos?

Brian Zahnd does a fantastic job of helping us try to find an answer to this question by inviting us into his inner monologue.

And we would be remiss to have a conversation regarding the Middle East and a Jesus-Followers response to it without hearing from Carl Madearis. In this post from the other day, he urges us to ask, “Who would Jesus bomb?”

What do we do when we don't even know where to start?

I'm grateful for friends like the great folks over at 24-7 Prayer who help us by giving us some suggestions for how to pray into the situation.

And for Jesus-Followers like Rachel Held Evans who posted this beautiful piece on her blog this evening. As I read it, I kept coming back to something that's been hounding me for the past few months now.

What do we pray, when we don't know what to pray?

Lately, I've found myself in that position more often than not. As I see the hurts and struggles of people close to me and of those that I've never met, I find myself without words to even pray.

So, what now?

Even in writing this post, I've found myself trying to find the right thing to say and the right way to say it. As I said on my FaceBook page last night, I struggle to put my thoughts into words:

“Weighing what I want to say with what is prudent for me to say with what God wants me to say.

“Knowing that my words won't change the situation, yet feeling compelled to use my words to spark prayer, contemplation, and love from those who believe that God longs to bless, redeem, and bring shalom–nothing missing, nothing broken–to the situation.

“Finding it hard to bring hope–confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God–in the midst of despair.”

Here is what I know: God is good. God is not the author of confusion or chaos, rather God is the Creator of Orderly Order. God's desire is for people to be blessed–not for their own benefit, but rather so that they can bless others. God longs for His Kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven.

His Kingdom–that place where what God wants done is done as Dallas Willard described it.

His Kingdom–where in the midst of chaos, we see orderly order emerge as John the Gospel Writer described it.

His Kingdom–where the life of God is made accessible to man, and they enter its enjoyment here on earth as Andrew Murray described it.

His Kingdom–where His shalom becomes our reality.

I'm coming to learn that all I can pray is the prayer that our Savior taught us: “Your Kingdom come.”

As I search for words to pray in regards to the situation in Syria, I'm left there. I'm left with nothing other than the words of Jesus. To pray anything else would be to pray my opinion. It would be to pray out of my own understanding. Instead, I have no cry other than “Your Kingdom come.”

It's a cry for mercy.

It's a cry for grace.

It's a cry for hope.

It's a cry for justice.

It's a cry for Shalom.

It's a cry for that which is missing to be found.

It's a cry for that which is broken to be repaired.

There's a beautiful passage in the story of the birth of John the Baptist (the one who proclaimed that the King was coming and in His coming was bringing the Kingdom–much like we are called to do as followers of The Way). It's in the prophetic prayer that Zechariah prays over John the Baptist at his circumcision. In that prayer are these words:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God's Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. — Luke 1:78-79 (The Message)

And, so, all that's left is for us to pray. “Your Kingdom Come.” May Your sunrise break in upon the people of Syria. May it shine on those in darkness. May it bring life to those in the shadow of death. May it show the way–one foot at a time–down the path of peace.

YOUR KINGDOM COME!

 

Lent 2012: 1.3 – Forgive me, as I have Forgiven Them

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when your judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you do not despise. — Psalm 51:1-17 (NIV)

David. The “man after God’s own heart” has really dropped the ball. In 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25, we get the story that leads us into this Psalm. That story, in a word, Bathsheba.

David, a king who was supposed to have been with his army, stays behind. Neglects his people. Allows selfishness and pride to take over. In a few short verses of 2 Samuel 11, he has broken several of the 10 Commandments.

Adultery? Check.

Lie? Check.

Murder? Check.

Covet? Check.

Things are in a rough place. Nathan, the prophet, comes and tells David exactly how bad things are.

Then comes David’s response — our text for today. “Have mercy on me, O God,” David cries. Psalm 51 takes us through the process of forgiveness.

Realization

David realizes the extent of his sin. Not that breaking four commandments is worse than breaking one, rather that David has said to God, “I don’t want to be in relationship with you right now.” He has realized that he is not in that relationship any longer, and he wants to be.

Repentance

David repents. Yet, his repentance was more than a mere, “I’m sorry, God, please forgive me.” David calls out, “Create in me a clean heart (mind, will, and emotions)!” Clean my mind! Clean my will! Clean my emotions! So often we view repentance as a simple, “I’m sorry.” Yet, repentance is a complete turning away from the thing that took you away from God, and turning toward God. Sin says, “I don’t want to be in relationship with You right now.” Repentance says, “I want to be in relationship with You so much that I will completely turn from that which I left relationship with You to pursue.”

David repents.

Righteousness

God responds to David’s repentance. He responds by granting David righteousness–right legal standing and right relational standing. God and David are back in relationship. Yet, it’s not just a relationship that says, “David, you are now legally ‘OK’ with Me.” Rather, righteousness goes further than that, and says, “You are now legally ‘OK’ AND we are back in relationship.” As we highlighted a couple of weeks ago, “Righteousness is to be put in both a right legal standing and a right relational standing with God. Right legal standing makes us citizens of the Kingdom. Right relational standing makes us children of the King.”

Restoration

One more really amazing thing happens in this process. David is restored. Not just his relationship with God, not just his pure heart, not just restored in trust, but also the joy that comes from relationship with His King and His Father. Restoration.

Here’s where we miss the boat on forgiveness. We’re all about letting people who say to us “I don’t want to be in relationship with you right now”, realize that they’ve done wrong. We have no issues when they repent of their wrong. And we’re even pretty well ok with bringing them into “right legal standing” with us.

Yet, our interest in placing the person who has wronged back into a right relational standing is proportional to the level of hurt they caused. And, we have little to no interest in restoring “trust” (we say really ridiculous things like, “You have to earn it”). Finally, when it comes to fully restoring the joy of the relationship, we won’t even put that on the table.

Nevertheless, we will pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Thankfully, Father says, “I don’t work that way.” Father says, “I will completely restore you in righteousness, in joy, and in trust.” Imagine with me a world that works in the way of the Kingdom. Imagine a world that says, “I will forgive in EXACTLY the same manner that David was forgiven.” Imagine a world where forgiveness is not conditional, and where trust is not negotiable.

David.

The law breaker. Realizes his state of being out-of-relationship. Repents and turns himself completely back toward relationship. He is placed into a right legal and relational standing with His Father. Finally, he is restored in trust, joy, and position.

And, then, he has a testimony and an obligation to share it. Just as we do! When God has done something as wonderful as this, we are compelled to shout it from the rooftops!