Archive for February, 2013

Follow the Lord – God Is Calling Us

Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

Faithfulness that comforts and afflicts

As we journey through this Lenten season, the call is one of  repenting and  believing in the Gospel. That is the biggest challenge of life, and the biggest challenge for our churches: to really believe in the message and to challenge ourselves and our folks to live the message of the Gospel!

In the Gospel passage today, we listen to the story of the landowner and his tenants and how the  tenants kill the workers that are sent into the vineyard to harvest the produce. The owner says, “Surely they will respect my son”, yet the son is killed, which is symbolic and a foreshadowing of the Son of God being killed because he was faithful to live out God’s love!

The fruit of the Kingdom is love and that love raises two challenges for us this Lenten season. The first challenge is how faithful are we in demonstrating the fruit of the kingdom? The second challenge is how are we building a kingdom where each of us is called to live out God’s love?

The current challenge of expanding Medicaid in the state of Missouri is one of being faithful to the call of God and not “killing” the messengers; the workers who come to produce the fruit of the Kingdom. God’s love is about seeing to it that all people have the necessary components that make life worth living: an adequate wage, adequate health care, proper housing and supporting the poor and downtrodden. Jesus did these things in proclaiming the Kingdom! We have a challenge in our communities today, to be similarly  faithful  to the message of the Gospel.

This kind of faithfulness certainly comforts the afflicted, but it also afflicts the comfortable! This is a tough message to proclaim to our somewhat “comfortable” communities, but as communities bonded together to bring about the message of the Gospel, we must challenging ourselves to be faithful to this message. Together we can make a difference!  As Mother Theresa said, “God doesn’t ask us to be successful, but to be faithful!”

May we be good and faithful stewards of God’s vineyard and yield a harvest of hope and promise for all people!

Father Michael Roach, Pastor, St. James Catholic Church in Liberty


Follow the Lord – God Is Calling US

Jeremiah 3:6-18

The Welfare of the People

Today’s scripture is from the Prophet Jeremiah. His words come as God’s judgment upon both Israel and Judah for their lack of faithfulness. They are compared to two sisters who both commit adultery in their relationship with God. Jeremiah says, “Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.”  As a nation Israel failed to be faithful to her covenant with God.

The Missouri state motto is “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.”  When we are at our best we live out this motto adopted in 1822. In a real sense Missouri’s motto is a “covenant” between our government and the citizens of our state. As people of faith we believe we have failed many times to consider “the welfare of the people” as we make decisions in our legislature.

We do not believe it right to give tax credits to corporations and fail to provide the opportunity for citizens to have basic human needs. As people of faith we cannot remain silent when the poor are oppressed so the rich might become richer. Our regressive tax code means the poor pay a much higher percentage of their income in taxes than do the wealthy. Our health care system does not provide access to quality and affordable health care to all our citizens. Our failure to address the abuses of the payday loan industry makes the working poor victims and keeps them locked in a cycle of poverty.

It is time for our state government to take seriously our motto and genuinely make “the welfare of the people” our priority. We need to consider all “our people” and not just the wealthy or privileged. We call upon our legislators to act with justice and faithfulness in their decisions. Jeremiah says if Israel will return, then God will “give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.”  We call upon the “shepherds” of our state to rule with knowledge, understanding, and be faithful to the covenant with have with our citizens and our God.

Rev Jim Hill, Church Administrator, First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Board President, Missouri Faith Voices

Follow the Lord – God Is Calling Us

Isaiah 1:10-17

Working for the dignity of all people

The prophet Isaiah is reprimanding the people and actually comparing them to the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah. God has no time for shallow and empty prayer and fasting. There is no action behind their prayer and fasting. Isaiah accuses them of going through the motions. They pray and fast because that is what the Law says, but not what the Law means. Why do we pray?  Why do we fast?  We do these actions to open up our hearts to the will of God. We deny ourselves of something, whether food, drink, or materialism to realize that we need God in our lives to see how God sees. And when we pray and fast, we are listened to when we act.

The rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah wanted to cause harm to the angels that Lot welcomed into his home. These strangers were not from here they thought. They don’t belong here. This leads to even more sinful behavior because the inhabitants of these cities do not want anyone who will change their perception of the status quo. They do not need God. They had become their own gods. The comparison for the people of Israel to these people is a very strong warning from Isaiah; however, it is also a call for conversion from God. The people of Ninevah listened to Jonah. The Israelites did not, nor did the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

For us today, how do we welcome the stranger? How do we welcome the immigrant? Do we fail to see the dignity of our brothers and sisters who have come here seeking to feed their families? Are we the entitled people that judge those whom we decide are not entitled? It sounds very familiar to the people that Isaiah chastised. It sounds very familiar to the actions of the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah. If we cannot see that, it is vital to pray to God during this Lenten season and ask that our hearts, our eyes and our minds be opened. Have you chosen to give up something that is not healthy spiritually or physically? I have given up all meats and all dairy products. I pray to be open to understand God’s will for me in building this kingdom of God that Jesus began during his ministry. I am willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Are you?

When we pray and fast and open our hearts to God’s will, then we must act. Working for the dignity of all people who are suffering in our country can take many forms. It includes voting in ways that promote the morality that Jesus has and continues to teach us: to love one another, to share what we have, to welcome the stranger. When we act in ways that are befitting to God, we know God is listening and sending us the Spirit to do what we can to work with Christ to build this kingdom.

Father Jeff Stephan, Pastor, St Sabina Catholic Church in Belton

Follow the Lord – God Is Calling Us

Follow the Lord: God is Calling Us

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Unlikely Ones are Chosen

Throughout the history of humanity, people with special characteristics have been called out, set aside, anointed, if you will, to provide care and guidance, and to speak out on behalf of their people. They have been kings, prophets, and messengers. Today they may still be seen as prophets and messengers; but we also know them as religious leaders, public servants and elected officials. These people who are called out to serve have been called out for the specific purpose of helping what the bible has referred to as “the least of these”, the people who find themselves voiceless and without enough resources to fully care for themselves and their families. From the very beginning, God’s anointed ones have been set aside to work and to advocate for the common good of all God’s people.

The scripture from 1 Samuel calls us to forge boldly ahead in our quest to bring about the common good, even among adversity. Our call to serve God and one another is in the very depths of our souls. God sees this capacity within us and calls it out of us, to be used for the good of all. The narratives in scripture have an amazing way of telling the story, where we may find ourselves relating with any one of the characters. In this case, you may be feeling like Samuel, called to do God’s bidding, delivering news that is very often not well received. Perhaps you relate more to Jesse, thinking surely you know the way that the whole thing is going to play out, but surprised to find out that God has other plans. Maybe at this point you’re hoping that you’re not Saul, the one who once was a great leader and has since forgotten his true purpose. And then there’s young David, the unlikely one. He is the one who is so attuned to God’s call on his life that he will be known for thousands of years as “a man after God’s own heart.”

May that be our legacy. May it be our prayer that we are the unlikely ones, the ones who haven’t come to our positions in an assuming way, sure that we were the ones cut out for the job. Rather, may we come to our post in humility, recognizing that it is by God’s grace that we have been chosen. May we always remember the passion for the people that God saw in our hearts that got us to this place, and may we always be faithful to that first true love; our desire to serve one another and to bring about reign of God, where peace and justice prevail. Lord, lead us today to be men and women after your own heart. Amen.

Rev Michelle Scott-Huffman, Pastor, Table of Grace (Disciples of Christ) in Jefferson City

Seek the Lord – What does God Command

Psalm 55:16-22

Your Words are Smooth as Butter and War is in your Heart

Whose job is it to take up the cause of the poor and vulnerable? That may be at the heart of our discussion about how we are to treat those who are most in need in our society. Undoubtedly some would answer that it’s not government’s job to take care of the poor in our society. Some may even say that government is part of the problem. However one answers this question, suffice it to say that those of us who consider ourselves people of faith and who are part of congregations, would certainly understand that we have an obligation to care for the poor. Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, we are presented with verses about God’s command to care for the poor. So if we are to seek God, we have to take this command seriously. Then we have to ask ourselves and those in our congregations, if we are doing our part to care for the poor.

Now let’s look at our scripture for today. Clearly the Psalmist is grieved and troubled. For those of us who aren’t in economic distress, who aren’t crushed by the overwhelming obligations to pay our bills because we barely make enough to get by, it may be hard for us to imagine crying out to God in the evening, morning and noon. The claim of faith made the Psalmist in spite of the burdensome weight that is present is inspiring. To cast our lot with God, believing that God will sustain us should be something that more of us do.

Perhaps though, what is also fascinating is the Psalmist’s depiction of the person in verse 20. This is a smooth-talking person who has violated a covenant and insists on creating enough dissension that the Psalmist uses metaphors of war (heart is at war, swords being drawn).

If the Psalmist were alive today, to whom would the Psalmist be referring? Who are those people whose “words are smooth as butter?” If we are not careful, we might be tempted to blame the victim and believe that folks who are poor or who are working poor are in their economic plight, because they are lazy, unwilling to work or “gaming the system.” There seems to be an all out attack on those who are economically vulnerable and many would have us believe that it’s the fault of those who are making minimum wage, who don’t have access to adequate health care or who are undocumented immigrants in our communities. As people of faith, we need to take our covenant more seriously to seek God and care for the poor.

My prayer is we all cast our cares on the Lord so that we may all be sustained and may God hear our prayers so that all of us can trust in God.

Deth Im, CCO Director of Clergy and Congregational Organizing

Seek the Lord – What Does God Command

Psalm 87

Revival in the the kiss of God

The psalmist writes, “Will you not revive us again?” Any one of us could write, feel, or pray the same thing when we are tired of the struggle and it feels like we are making so little progress.  Justice can seem so far off, pain can seem so persistent, the reality we live in can seem so far from what we had hoped for.

What do you think?  Can you imagine living in a world in which revival is guaranteed? In that imaginary world, everything would always get better.  We would not need to pray for renewal. We’d just wait.  But don’t you think we’d be hopeless? And being hopeless, doesn’t it seem like we wouldn’t need to pray?  Doesn’t it seem like life would lose much of its sweetness?

But aren’t you also glad that we don’t live in the opposite imaginary world in which everything is guaranteed to get worse? We’d be hopeless in that case, too. There would be nothing to hope for, but all hopes would be dashed.

The prayer of hope, “Will You not revive us again?” is for people who live in the real world. The psalmist lives in ordinary life, but also looks beyond the ordinary to the source of life – God.  The one who prays in hope is living in the ordinary but looks beyond it to the extraordinary. Prayer looks for an intervention that links our hearts and God’s, to refresh something we may have known in the past, so we can live in the present with a reasonable hope in the future.

Someone said, “You can’t be revived unless you’ve been vived.”  In other words, you can ask for a renewal of life and hope if you are not alive.  A plant might be wilted, but still be alive.  There might not be any flames in the fireplace, but there can be coals under the ashes.  Hope is for the living.

What a wonderful world we live in!  A world that is full of hope, even though it may momentarily look hopeless.   The psalmist gives us a beautiful gift of being able to see the world with spiritual sight, of a world in which God is active, meeting us in the present.  The psalmist expresses his vision of the human encounter with God in physical, incarnational terms.  God is not far away, but as close as a kiss, and from that kiss, truth springs up from the earth, righteousness comes down from heaven, and peace is the result.

 “Mercy and truth have met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed.

Truth shall spring out of the earth,

And righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Yes, the Lord will give what is good;

And our land will yield its increase.”

The beauty of these words expresses something beyond the human experience, even though they express human experiences.  We have experienced mercy, strive for truth, seek righteousness, and long for peace, and we seem so far from them all. Even so, the prayer invites us to experience the kiss of God, and in that kiss, find revival.

For the Christian, the psalmist’s divine-human encounter is located in space and time.  “The Angel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin…” is the way Luke tells it.  “And the Word became flesh, full of grace and truth,” is the way John tells it.  God, the Son of God, reaches down from heaven, and Mary, Our Lady of Hope, welcomes him with her “Let it be….”  Jesus is the kiss.  Mary’s Magnificat, can be our song, too.  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… he has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things.” Mary’s song and the psalmist’s prayer are one.  They renew our lives in the present.  Whether she sings it or we whistle it alone in the dark, the song is a song of faith we sing with sisters and brothers.  The divine-human encounter still takes flesh in the community of faith; earth and heaven continue their embrace in the mystery of Christ’s body.  Christ in us is the hope of glory, justice, and peace, the kiss of righteousness and truth.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory.

Hallelujah! Amen.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory.

Revive us again.

Father Ernie Davis, Pastor, St Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City and Missouri Faith Voices board member

Seek the Lord – What Does God Command?

Isaiah 55:6-11

Complacency is a ruthless enemy

How do we “seek the Lord?” How do we know we’ve “found” the Lord? Is it through reading and studying the Scripture? Is it in prayer? Worship? Do we read the books of the great theologians? Probably all of the above. Do we also seek the Lord, the word of the Lord, the will of the Lord, when we see suffering? When we see injustice? When we see greed and violence and obscenity? Are we more keenly aware of the presence of God when actions or conditions around us cry out to us? Stop the madness! Deep within our conscience, God’s word, and God’s will, make themselves known.

The Prophet calls us to seek higher thoughts, higher ways. Complacency may be the most ruthless and powerful enemy of God’s will in our world. Those who make laws oppress further those whom are already the most oppressed. And they make laws that favor those whom are already the most favored within our society. Complacent? How can it even be an option for those who “seek the Lord?” Those who listen to the Lord’s voice, who dream of God’s vision for humanity.

The Word of God descends on the earth like the rains, like the snows, falling from heaven above. Some of the rain falls on concrete, making its way to the drainage ditches. But some of the rain reaches the seeds of hope, the roots of justice, and new life in the Lord begins to sprout. We hear the words over and over, “do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.” “The Word became flesh, full of grace and truth.” “He will not judge by what his eyes see.” And we’re moved yet again, reminded of a higher calling, of higher ways and higher thoughts. Do we dare ask, what would God have us do?

Do we dare to speak that which our heart has accepted as the word of God? Read the verses again. Isaiah speaks of mercy and pardon. And of God’s word accomplishing that which is purposed by God. Isaiah identifies the wicked and the unrighteous and asks for our return, our repentance, our coming home to faithfulness, justice, peace and goodwill for all God’s children, especially those who are weak and hurting.

Prayer: Almighty God, who calls us through the prophets, speak now, come near. Let us hear again your holy word. Let us see again, ever more clearly, your vision for creation. And let us witness to our faith in word and deed, trusting in your grace and strength.

Rev Jim Bryan, Retired United Methodist Minister and Missouri Faith Voices Board Member

February 2013
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