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Posts Tagged ‘kingdom-building’


1 Corinthians 4: Servants, Stewards, Ministers of Christ

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Ruins of Corinth

Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  In this way Paul describes our work for us; he defines our lives; he makes it clear that no other calling is more important.

It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal.  In this way Paul states his creed; he clarifies his position; he spells out his limits and existence.

What do you possess that you have not received?  With these words Paul points out that all that we have and all that we are come from God; he helps us to see that we can take credit only for following God and being gracious recipients of God’s gifts.

We go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands.  With these words Paul describes his circumstances . . . and he invites us to join him in his holy work.

When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently.  We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.  With these words Paul tells us that being Christ’s servants, stewards and ministers will not be easy . . . that kingdom building will be a dangerous and difficult vocation.

Which do you prefer?  Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a gentle spirit?  With these questions Paul brings us to the brink of ourselves; Paul calls us to a reality we may not like.  Do we wish to be forced . . . they why do we attempt to force others even though we dislike being forced ourselves?  Do we wish to be loved . . . then why do we not love others even when we wish to be loved?

And so we pray . . .

Good and loving God, you have forgiven all, you have sacrificed all, you have remembered all, and you have loved all.  Make of us the servants you wish us to be.  Remain in us that we might be the stewards you wish us to be.  Guide us as we strive to be your ministers; build with us the foundations and pillars of your kingdom.  For we are nothing without you.  We are all because of you. 

Abide with us as we struggle to be good servants of Christ.  Live in us as we labor to be good stewards of the mysteries of God.  Dwell in us as we learn to be good kingdom builders who minister in the Spirit of the Lord.  Amen. 


A re-post from December 8, 2011.

Image from: http://www.harrys-greece.com/h-taxi-greece/taxi-tours-corinth.htm 

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Titus 2:1 to 3:7In Conflict with Reality

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Titus was one of Paul’s companions during the evangelization of the island of Crete, and Paul left his young follower to administer to the churches they established there.  In this letter, Paul encourages Titus and gives him an outline for 1) how to best minister to these new communities, and 2) how to maintain the truths brought to them by Christ in the Gospel story1.  This would have been a huge task for anyone but we can guess that it was particularly tricky for Titus who would find that every action he took and every word he spoke would be in direct conflict with the reality of the times.  We might identify with this conflict between doctrines and philosophies we know to be correct, and the accepted practices and activities in our own families, communities and workplaces.  We might want to use Paul’s words to Titus as our own manual for Christian behavior.

In a reflection posted on his website for Sunday, February 05, 2012, Fr. Richard Rohr describes living life fully while at the same time accepting reality In part he writes: “Living and accepting our own reality will not feel very spiritual. It will feel like we are on the edges rather than dealing with the essence.  Thus most [human beings] run toward more esoteric and dramatic postures instead of bearing the mystery of God’s suffering and joy inside themselves. But the edges of our lives—fully experienced, suffered, and enjoyed—lead us back to the center and the essence”.

Rohr continues to explain how we must open ourselves in order to allow God to move into us, in order to allow God to act in and through us.  He makes his point clear that we do not make our own lives but rather it is our lives that form us . . . once we allow ourselves to suffer in Christ.  He writes that as we search for God, God finds us:  “We do not find our own center; it finds us. Our own mind will not be able to figure it out. Our journeys around and through our realities, or ‘circumferences,’ lead us to the core reality, where we meet both our truest self and our truest God. We do not really know what it means to be human unless we know God. And, in turn, we do not really know God except through our broken and rejoicing humanity”.  (Adapted from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, pp. 17-19 by Richard Rohr)

As we read Paul’s message to Titus today, we hear the encouraging words that we need as well for as we move through our own reality we will want to know how to find the courage to stand tall against the thinking of the day when we know this thinking is defective.  We will want to have the hope that God will convert false realities into kingdom promises.  We will want to know where to find the faith and patience we will need, when to act with the love and justice that we will require, and how to work with others in charity . . . even those who put obstacles in our way.

Paul describes for Titus how he might guide others as they transform their own lives and their world.  Rohr reminds us that the work is difficult and that we must stand with one foot in the reality of this world and the other in the reality of God’s Kingdom . . . just as Jesus does.

We cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged from this kingdom work for it is the only work that matters.  We must rely on God, follow Christ’s model, and live in the Spirit.  So let us bear the mystery of God’s suffering and joy inside ourselves . . .for this is the only way we will be successful when we find ourselves in conflict with the reality we see around us.


1 We will want to remember that the prescription for Christian living that Paul sends to Titus was written two thousand years ago when the treatment of women and slaves as possessions was a philosophy woven through the thinking of their times.  Slaves were seen as natural possessions of their masters; women were subject to the men in their lives.  For more on slavery and Paul, see the Philemon – The Challenge  and the Titus – Church as Community pages on this blog.

A re-post from February 6, 2012.

Image from: http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/world/655272/off-the-beach-in-crete

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Psalm 16Song of Trust and Security in God

From the mini-reflection in today’s MAGNIFICAT Morning Prayer (Cameron 369): “When seen in the light of Easter joy, our sins can weigh us down with discouragement.  Yet God’s love does not deal in punishment as human vengeance does.  God’s love disciplines and prunes us in order to free us – sometimes a painful process – so that we might not die like a withered branch but live and bear much fruit in the risen Christ”. 

And from today’s Gospel which is John 15:12-17: It was not you who chose me I but who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.  This I command you: love one another.

We know how difficult change is yet we cannot avoid it for it is inevitable.  We know how difficult life is; in one way or another we experience pain and sorrow daily.  Because life is never free of suffering we might use this kind of pruning to find our best selves.  We know that we exist for a purpose and that purpose is to find our skill set as kingdom builders.  Perhaps we have the idea that we wish to design the architecture in this new kingdom when what God needs from us is that we serve as caretakers of the needy.  Or maybe we hope to serve in some significant organizational role when instead God needs us as harvesters.   Rather than focus on the specifics of our work or on the obstacles to attaining what we wish to attain, we might best focus on God alone instead, for only in God do we find a sheltering place that is secure, permanent and healing.

We do not chose God, God chooses us.  In this we can be secure; this we can trust.  God loves us through the pain of life and not in spite of it.  Let us look beyond our immediate sorrows and desires to see where the boundary lines have fallen.  Let us examine our circumstances to find that we are in pleasant places with a goodly heritage. 

If we are troubled about the pruning that is taking place in our lives today, we may want to turn to God to ask him for the strength to trust God as we ought.  Let us turn to this Psalm to pray . . .

I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.  Amen.


A re-post from October 1, 2011.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 27.5 (2011): 369. Print. 

Images from: http://christians-in-recovery.org/wp/2011/06/14/general-recovery/never-forsaken/

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Isaiah 24 – 27Elusive Antagonists

Monday, October 8, 2018

Written on February 25 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Scripture persistently warns us about how to live, whom to follow, and what traps lie ahead to ensnare us.  All we have to do is to pay a bit of attention.

Each of us has our personal impediments to the progress of the soul.  All of us must come face to face with ourselves and the lives we have lived.  Our antagonists are sometimes in our faces, but more frequently they slip in among our friends and loved ones to betray us in our inmost heart.  Those who oppose us openly are easily identifiable; the more dangerous enemies, Isaiah warns, are those who come in the guise of goodness – and for this reason the Lord turns the world upside down . . . to see who shakes out, and who has learned the skills needed by the faithful.

If we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, given shelter to the homeless and taken in the lost, we have been putting ourselves through our lessons well.

If we have mourned the dead, tended to the sick, ministered to the imprisoned and entered into the vineyard to do God’s work, we have becomes accustomed to living in mercy and compassion.

If we have witnessed to evil, rebuked our companions, atoned for our sins and made changes in our lives, we know how to live in God’s vineyard . . . and we will put our heads down, go indoors, and await the passing of the dreadful singing of the harvesting sword.

We ought not fear the obstacles we constantly stumble against for they are lesson plans that refine us.  If we have answered God’s call and accepted our work as remnant toiling in God’s vineyard, then we need not fear the coming of the day as we see it here . . . for with God all things are possible.  God will turn all that is evil to an end that is goodness, and we will know peace out of chaos, justice out of ruin, humility out of pride, love out of envy, and joy out of sorrow.  Our elusive antagonists who have hounded our heels and sent chills of fear through our bones will have honed our skills at kingdom building and as remnant . . . and we will find to our amazement, that we will have readied ourselves for the work of God’s eternal city.


A re-post from September 5, 2011. 

Images from: http://www.annerobertson.com/2009/04/naboths-vineyard.html

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Isaiah 58Fasting

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Many religions and cults include the practice of fasting as a form of worship; and in most cases the act of abstaining from food, drink or activities is meant to indicate one’s belief in or attitude toward some higher power.  In the case of Christians, fasting is prescribed on certain days in the liturgical calendar; the practice of denying one’s self food and drink is meant not as an outward sign or status but as an expression of interior penance.   The Catholic catechism states the following: “Fasting: Refraining from food and drink as an expression of interior penance, in imitation of the fast of Jesus for forty days in the desert.  Fasting is an ascetical practice recommended in Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers; it is sometimes prescribed by a precept of the Church, especially during the liturgical season of Lent”.  (“Glossary” 879)  Prayer and almsgiving are other forms of this interior penance described in paragraph 1434 of the catechism.

None of this should be a surprise to those who are familiar with the prophecy of Isaiah in which we hear today that this, rather, is the fasting that I [the Lord] wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bead with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.  These words are echoed beautifully in the Beatitudes spoken by Jesus in Matthew 5 . . . yet we persist in thinking that the poor are without resources because they are lazy or ignorant, victims have somehow brought their circumstances upon themselves, and the hungry and homeless just have not planned their lives well.  We continue to believe that refugees have gotten themselves in their sorry state; and immigrants need to “go back home”. It seems that many of us prefer to believe that life’s circumstances can be controlled yet . . . there but for the grace of God are we.

I am wondering if we might feel better about ourselves as a society if once a month we prepared casseroles of food and took them along with gently used clothing to shelters for women, children and men who find themselves in circumstances they do not deserve and have not asked for.  Of course, we would want to do this without judging how or why some of us need such help from others.  I am imagining how the world might be different if we stood up to corruption and the abuse of power.  I am visualizing our communities if we were to come together in small or large groups to exert all our efforts to the improvement of life for all of us and not just some of us.  I am thinking that we would be happy with the results . . . and that we might even enjoy ourselves in the process.

There are worthy organizations that build homes for the marginalized and take on legal cases for victims who cannot afford decent advocacy; there are medical and legal professionals who quietly give of themselves in pro bono work for the disadvantaged.  The least we can do is to support these groups with our own resources of time, treasure, talent and prayer.  We always receive far more than we give once we find time in our busy lives to exert ourselves and to expend our energy in true kingdom-building.

The psalmist reminds us in Psalm 40:7-8: Sacrifice and offering you do not want; but ears open to obedience you gave me.  Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require; so I said, “Here I am . . .” 

And so we pray . . .

Here I am . . . to do your will, Lord . . . here I am.

Here I am . . . to answer your call, Lord . . . here I am.

Here I am . . . to do offer my gifts, Lord . . . here I am.

Here I am . . . to love your sheep, Lord . . . here I am.  Amen. 


A re-post from Friday, August 12, 2011.

“Glossary.” CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editice Vaticana, 2997. Print.

Image from: http://healthyetips.com/fasting-blood-sugar-levels-advantages-and-disadvantages/ 

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Luke 8:4-15: Living as an Engaged Listener

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Vincent Van Gogh: The Sower

This familiar story has much to teach us not only about our capacity to instruct others but about the way we engage the mysteries of God’s kingdom.  Commentary tells us that this parable “can serve to encourage those who have looked at their failures and who have forgotten that some seed will yield abundantly.  What is important is to realize that this is a parable, and therefore is not a simple illustration of a point being made otherwise.  Rather, a parable is the message, and a message offered in such a way as to elicit listener involvement in its meaning.  With parables listeners bear heavy responsibility for what is heard and understood; quite often the message is not obvious nor available to casual, unengaged listeners . . . In the interpretation (8:11-15) the parable is made into an allegory, i.e., a story in which each item in the narrative is made to represent something else.  Most scholars agree this interpretation represents the situation of the early church in its missionary preaching to a variety of conditions.  As an ‘explanation’ of the parable, however, the interpretation is less than clear”.  (Mays, 939)

We always want answers to our questions in the same manner as we warn a meal in a microwave oven.  We hit a few buttons and we have our desired result.  Listening for and to God’s voice is not so swiftly done.  In order to hear the wisdom of scripture we must settle ourselves, read the words before us, and then grapple with the “less than clear” interpretation given to us.  As the commentary points out, even when we are active, engaged listeners we will not clearly discern the message we know is being placed before us.  And so we look for more clues.

In Matthew 13:18 Jesus seems to be saying that the word goes out to four kinds of hearers: those who will never accept the kingdom’s word, those believe for a little while and then lose heart and fall away, those believe but who are too anxious to act, and finally those who hear the word and produce fruit abundantly.  We see roles defined and demarcations made; the mystery becomes a bit more clear for us and we are less uncomfortable.  Yet we know there is more.  We understand that with this story – as with all stories that Jesus tells – we are given the opportunity to clear away some of the fog that always clutters our view when we are kingdom-seeking.  We are given the chance to examine our failures and successes without being judged.  Knowing that there is more to be found than these simple equivalents of soil and people, we return to Luke’s Gospel . . . we concentrate and read again.  We lean forward a bit as if to physically engage ourselves with these verses in order to wrestle more clarity from them . . . in order to dispel the fog that impedes our vision.  We pray as we read each verse.

Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you . . . and we offer a quick prayer of thanksgiving for this story that shows us that although we work hard at conveying God’s message of love, we will not always succeed.   We marvel at this God who is so patient and willing to give each of us all the time we need to find our way to him.  Thus one of the mysteries of the kingdom is revealed.

But to the rest [the mysteries] are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand’ . . . and we offer a quick prayer of petition that stony hearts be softened and stiff necks unbent.  And we marvel at this God who is so merciful and loving that he waits endlessly for us to finally listen and hear . . . to finally see and understand.  And here is another mystery of the kingdom revealed.

The image of sowing and reaping was common in Jesus’ day and so the story of the sower was easily understood on a practical level.  What was challenging for Jesus’ listeners then – and what is just as challenging for us today – is to engage with the mysteries Jesus offers to us, to enter into the inscrutable ways of the kingdom, and to willing accept the heavy responsibility of living in this swirling fog of trust, fear, compassion, mystery . . . and love.   This is a message Jesus gives his kingdom-builders.  It is a message we are called to live.

Mays, James L., ed. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1203. Print.


We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on June 28, 2011.

Image from: https://gl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficheiro:The_Sower_-_painting_by_Van_Gogh.jpg

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Matthew 13:33: Critical Yeast

Monday, June 18, 2018

Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.” (GNT)

We know that when we bake bread, the baker must thoroughly mix the yeast with all the ingredients. To leave one portion untouched means that the loaves will bake unevenly; one slice of the loaf will be light and airy while another will be heavy and flat. Jesus asks that we go out to all those he invites to join him in the Kingdom.

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (NRSV)

We know that when we bake bread, the baker must knead and re-knead the dough, punching down the growing form to eliminate bubbles. To leave these pockets of air distorts the baking loaf and gives it unusual proportions. Jesus asks that we rise again when circumstances keep us from our work in building the Kingdom.

And he told them yet another parable. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with a bushel of flour, then waited until the whole batch of dough rose.” (CJB)

We know that Jesus gave his twelve Apostles authority over evil when he sent them into the world to build the Kingdom. (Mark 6:7) Jesus sends us into the world each morning as yeast for the kingdom; he welcomes us home each evening to heal our wounds and restore our flagging spirit.

Another story. “God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises.” (MSG)

We know that Jesus sends seventy-two disciples in the world. He sent them out two by two, to go ahead of him to every town and place where he himself was about to go. (Luke 10:1) Jesus sends us into the world not as large cohorts but in small groups to be yeast that will leaven all places of his kingdom.

God creates us as critical yeast for the world. God’s very Word empowers us as he sends us into all parts of the kingdom. The Spirit raises us repeatedly after each buffeting so that we might bring God’s critical leavening to a world that longs for the Kingdom.

Today we pray Psalm 31 and we repeat the anitphon: A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough (Galatians 5:9).

When we compare varying translations of these verses, we discover new ways to become yeast that will build God’s Kingdom. 

Tomorrow, we are the Temple.


To learn more about cricial yeast in the world, listen to the June 7, 2018 podcast of Krista Tippett’s On Being show with AMERICA FERRERA AND JOHN PAUL LEDERACH: “How Change Happens, In Generational Time”. https://onbeing.org/programs/america-ferrera-john-paul-lederach-how-change-happens-in-generational-time-jun2018/

Image from: https://www.circleofhope.net/jonnyrashid/bake-bread-follow-jesus/

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Isaiah 49:1-6: The Servant’s Mission

Holy Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Yesterday we reflected on the role of the servant in God’s plan for creation. Today we reflect on the servant’s mission.

I will also make you a light to the nations—
    so that all the world may be saved. (GNT)

When we wonder if our thoughts are one with God’s, we examine the source of our motivations. Do we forgive our enemies? Do we pray for those who harm us? Do we reach out to those who are broken-hearted?

I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (NRSV)

When we wonder if our words reflect God’s plan, we examine the foundation of our beliefs. Do we speak up when we see injustice? Do we rebuke ourselves and our loved ones when we go astray? Do we shelter the homeless and feed the hungry?

I will also make you a light to the nations,
so my salvation can spread to the ends of the earth. (CJB)

When we wonder if our actions serve to build God’s kingdom, we examine the fruits born from our life’s work. Do we work to break down unjust structures? Do we work with others to ferret out corruption no matter where we find it? Do we work to create societies that give preference to the poor?

I’m setting you up as a light for the nations
    so that my salvation becomes global” (MSG)

When we wonder if we have the faith to persist in our mission, we ask God for strength. When we wonder if we have the hope to believe in God’s promises, we rely on Christ’s encouraging presence. When we wonder if we have the love to work for the transformation of the world, we rest in the Spirit who heals, counsels, and consoles. As we near the Easter Triduum, we move forward to continue the work of our mission as God’s servants.


When we compare varying translations of these verses, we find the strength, confidence and mercy to move forward in our mission as disciples of Christ. 

Images from: http://lutheran-church-regina.com/blogs/post/sermon-january-12th-2014-isaiah-42 and http://www.turnbacktogod.com/pray-for-gods-servants/ 

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Nehemiah 5: Praying with Nehemiah

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

We, like Nehemiah, can rebuild the ruin we see around us when we rely on God. Some of us make large, visible changes for good in our culture; but most of us make small, incremental changes that we think invisible. Yet, in the mind of God our actions are essential to the moving forward of God’s plan. Our prayers are also essential, as Nehemiah shows us.

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation   as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is,   because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.  Do not deceive yourselves.  If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.  As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”  So then, no more boasting about men!  All things are yours whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

What do we do when enormous hurdles block our way forward, we can remind ourselves and others of our true calling. We can pray unceasingly, and we can build kingdom wherever we are planted, for we are God’s builders. We can be wise as St. Paul recommends, and be fools for Christ as Nehemiah was, building as directed by his creator, giving without thought of recompense, hoping for the goodness of the promise, and loving those among and with whom we dwell – even our enemies.

And so we pray.

Nehemiah lives in a world rife with conflict . . . yet he remains loyal to God and the faithful.

Nehemiah lives as a target for the gossip and machinations of his numerous enemies . . . yet he maintains his integrity.

Nehemiah lives among people who refuse to live by the terms of the covenant they have heard, witnessed, and sworn to uphold . . . yet he remains sincere and authentic.

Let us put aside the cares of this world and build God’s kingdom today, for we are God’s co-workers in the kingdom.

Amen.

Adapted from a reflection written on December 23, 2007.

For more about Nehemiah and how his prayer-life affected his work-life, click on the image above to visit the “Bible in a Year Blog” or go to: https://oneyeardevotional.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/powerful-prayer-nehemiah-1/ 

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