Friday, November 30, 2018

December 2, Advent 1: Living Between the Times: Righteousness

Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, I Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

We want the world to make sense. We want existence to add up. Einstein said that what’s most incomprehensible about the universe is that it’s comprehensible. But some thinkers have turned that around: What’s comprehensible about the universe is that it’s incomprehensible. It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t add up. And it certainly isn’t fair. The world is just not fair.

Some people get the breaks and others don’t. Some people have it good and others have to struggle. Isn’t that just evolution, the survival of the fittest? The second-born baby eagle gets kicked out of the nest. Isn’t the wage disparity in America just the cost of business and the consequence of liberty? As for any morality, isn’t it just karma, cause and effect, what goes around comes around?

You can deal with the unfairness of the world in kind. Give up on fairness, work on fitness, become the fittest for your own survival and success. Or even exploit the unfairness, especially if you have grievances. It’s payback time. This is now American policy under our current President.

But what if you believe in a God of justice and love? Then the world’s unfairness is a problem, and maybe the biggest obstacle to belief in God. That God should allow such unfairness is a theme in Dostoevsky’s great novel The Brothers Karamazov

Coming to terms with this problem is one of the chief steps in spiritual maturity, but even the greatest saints lose heart. That sinking feeling is what Psalm 25 is getting at. “Let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me” who say there is no God, who mock us for waiting in vain. Let me not be humiliated by the absence of my God.

We say that we are waiting for Christ to come again, and that we are in between the times, and the days are surely coming when he will judge the world and establish justice and vindicate fairness and set everything to rights. This coming of the Lord we celebrate in the season of Advent—that he shall come again as the Lord as certainly as he came once as a child. Advent is the season of expecting something more, some one-more great definitive day of God within the world.

Until then, between the times, we are offered a kind of justice that differs from the expectation. It is a kind of justice that is not defined as balance and fairness, but justice defined as righteousness. We learn this from Jeremiah, who combines them as “justice and righteousness.” 

The world can be unfair and existence cruel, but if there is a persistence of righteousness available for people to witness, the world can still make sense between the times. Even in overwhelming injustice, the evidence of righteousness is enough to justify the world, and give sufficient credibility to the God who claims to be in charge of the world. That’s at least the offer. Can you believe it? Does that work for you?

I had an uncle in the Netherlands named Wim. He was a Reformed Church pastor. Not an easy guy, polite but stiff. But during the War he hid Jews in the church building, and it cost him. Years later the Israeli government named him a “righteous Gentile.” He did it because he felt he had no choice. I think that’s what righteousness feels like, that you don’t know what else to do. His righteousness had a double benefit. He saved Jewish lives. But he also saved the world from the triumph of nihilism. The world still makes enough sense that we can keep going. Your little acts of righteousness today are pointers and hints and witnesses to the final justice that God will bring.

You can be righteous. You are righteous when you do the right thing even when it feels unfair that you have to do it and others don’t. You are righteous when you do the right thing even though a wrong was done to you, when you do not respond to unfairness in kind, when you break the cycle of cause and effect. You are righteous when you are kindly to someone who is unfair to you. You are righteous when you stop living by excuses and stop pleading your extenuating circumstances. You are righteous when you stop blaming others for your predicament, or for the choices that you make. You are righteous when you use your own privilege in the cause of others who experience injustice and oppression, when you resist or protest at no benefit to yourself or even at cost to yourself.

You are righteous when you recognize that you have had the benefit of much unfairness too. I have known unfairness in my life, but I also receive a lot of credit I don’t deserve. The unfairness of the world has generally been on my behalf. Therefore who am I to excuse myself from the costly righteousness of loving the world?

God does not ignore the world. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. God enters the world, God walks among us in the world, God eats with us and sleeps with us and nurses at his mother’s breast. The whole thing is a great big “yes” to the world, to the material world, so everybody wants to celebrate, and it’s no wonder that most of our celebration of the holidays is more about the world than it is about God. We sing about the baby, but we are very busy with materialism and worldliness.

Advent is the discomforting conscience of the Christmas season. Amidst our holiday busyness the Church holds forth the Advent message that “he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.” We are people of the future no less than the past. There is more to come, and we live with expectation. We are to be alert. We are the designated drivers of the world.

We are not to lose ourselves in that most common strategy for dealing with the difficulty of the world, by drowning ourselves in it, through dissipation and drunkenness, as Jesus says, nor through the respectable temptation of materialism, which is no less an indulgence. Designated drivers resist temptations to indulge, you determine your behavior now by what you’re expecting in the future. Keep sharp, keep lively. Jesus says to keep alert and raise your heads.

He says to be on guard. Not against your enemy, but against the fear of your enemy. Be on guard, not against the turmoil of the world, but against the temptation to respond to the turmoil by fear instead of love and peace. When trouble comes, lift high your head. When unfairness and injustice come, it is your opportunity to witness to the righteousness of God.

You want to be righteous; that’s why you are here. I have good news. The Lord is your righteousness. Your righteousness is not your own success at being virtuous. Righteousness is not your own performance of saintliness. Righteousness is your orientation towards God, your commitment to God, your exploration of God, keeping your eye on God and on what God might be doing.

The Lord is your righteousness. Be wholly interested in God and the righteousness will come. Open yourself to the voice of God, to the judgement of God, as searching as it may be, and your righteousness will come. Give yourself to the comfort of God, and not your own devices, open yourself to the love of God and not your own desires, and the righteousness will come.

If I were God I would run the world differently. I would have come back already. I would not allow the misery to go on. I would have ended all the unfairness. Why God makes us wait between the times I don’t fully understand. I could say that the Lord Jesus holds off in order to give room in time for Holy Spirit to do her always surprising work. I could say that God is giving you time to live your life, that God gives you room, and that God delights in your small creative acts of righteousness, but is that delight of God worth all the other suffering? I will come back to this next week.

I am not sure of the reasons, and neither was St. Paul, I think. But the promise in the meantime is that God has not abandoned us. In the meantime, says St. Paul, God strengthens your hearts in holiness. By holiness we mean that orientation to God that counts as righteousness. And in the meantime the Lord makes you abound in love for one another and for all. Everything that God does for you is designed to make your love abound the more. Maybe a reason that Jesus waits is to give time and space for you to abound in love. That would go with Dostoevsky’s vision in The Brothers Karamazov.

And a reason that Jesus waits is to make a great long space within time for God’s unconditional welcome. That unconditional welcome is not just empty space but great embrace, not just avoidance or indifference, but unconditional love, welcoming love, hospitable love, serving love, investing love, a love which God demonstrated within that space by being born as a baby, a baby to be loved by his mommy and his daddy.

Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Meeter, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

November 25, Ingathering Sunday: A Vision of the Kingdom

2 Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132:1-12, Revelation 1:4-8, John 18:33-37

Today I’m going to talk about the king and then I’ll talk about the kingdom.

Pontius Pilate says to Jesus, “So you are a king!” Pilate would not be impressed that Jesus was a king. Petty local kings were the bother of Roman governors all the time, to be used for imperial advantage—manipulating them, subsidizing them, even executing them. He just thinks, “Oh bother, so the Jews have a king now!”

It’s peculiar that the chief priests who should be supporting this king are accusing him instead. The governor has to figure this out, make a play at justice, and keep the advantage. So it’s at least for information that he has to question Jesus. The interrogation of Jesus by Pontius Pilate is one of the remarkable parts of the Gospel of John, and it extends beyond our lesson this morning.

Pilate finds him puzzling. The Lord Jesus is calm and self-possessed, he’s respectful but not obsequious. When Pilate asks him a question, he answers, but he seems always to change the subject. Just as he did before in the Gospel of John, in his interview with Nicodemus, and in his conversation with the woman at the well. Whatever the question may be, he answers as he wants to!

So when Pilate asks him, “What have you done?” Jesus replies obliquely, “My kingdom is not from this world.” That answer was no use to Pilate, but it’s accurate, because ultimately that’s why Jesus is in trouble—from the kind of kingdom that he introduced. His answer also means that whatever he might have done is not accountable to human judges nor comprehensible to imperial analysis. He means that Pontius Pilate is not competent to judge him, despite his being in charge that day.

When he says that his kingdom is not from this world, don’t misunderstand him. His kingdom is over this world and very much in this world. But its source and its power is outside the confines of the world, and its perspective is larger than the here and now. It is not subject to the rules and judgments of the world. So how can Pontius Pilate judge him rightly, or even ask the right questions?

If Pontius Pilate can recognize him as a king, it’s only as a troublesome king to be disposed of in the end, and not a king that he should serve. This peculiar king is unable to marshal any effective power to fight back, or to prevent his execution. Jesus admits as much, he says that if his kingdom were from this world his followers would fight for him

And Jesus seems content at this point that Pilate admits that he’s a king. That is a truth that Pilate recognizes here, as far as he can even understand it, so Jesus has had this success at least, that he has testified effectively to the truth about himself. And to testify to the truth is why he was born, and why he came into the world.

His kingdom is the kingdom of truth. The truth about the world is not from within the world. The meaning of humanity cannot be discerned from inside humanity. The purpose of existence is learned only from outside of existence. To gain the truth about the world you must listen to the voice of the one who came into the world from outside of the world, the one who loves the world.

He tells Pilate that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice. Pilate could try that—he could listen to his voice and ask him questions of curiosity instead of expediency. Questions from his heart, questions that open instead of close, to open what Jesus has to offer instead of questions designed to dispose of him. But Pilate does not listen for the voice of Jesus, because he doesn’t belong to the truth, he belongs to power. And power wants truth only when the truth gives it advantages.

For all the power of Pontius Pilate, his hands are tied. He’s got to worry about his bosses above him and he’s being manipulated from below. He might like to set Jesus free but for political reasons he cannot. He has power only as the servant of power and the slave of it. He has no power over himself. Jesus does. Jesus is free. He has the power of truth, and the truth is always free.

In America we are watching a President who has power but who hates the truth. In our city we have a mayor who for all of his vaunted progressivism does not like the truth and acts afraid of it. We have a governor who makes his deals behind closed doors and is all about advantage. We do not find them trustworthy or faithful because they don’t belong to the truth.

Faithfulness is the moral aspect of truth. You use your power in trust. You use your freedom for fidelity. This is why Jesus is respected in the world, even by those for whom he is no king. He never acted other than in truth.

If he’s a king, then what is his kingdom? And how much are these words, king and kingdom, metaphorical? Are there metaphors less masculine and military? David was king because he was a military hero. It’s indicative that even modern kings wear military uniforms when they get married.

This came up when we were drafting our new mission statement. We want to offer “a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.” What can we substitute for “kingdom”? Maybe realm, or dominion? Calvinists like the word “sovereignty.” Compared to these, the virtue of the word “kingdom” is that it has the person of the king built into it, which is the point. The problem has no solution, only choices.

The kingdom extends from the king. And that’s why it’s a realm of truth. That’s why it’s the dominion of grace and peace. And as the character of the king extends to the kingdom, so it also extends to you who are part of it. You too are witnesses to the truth. You witness against the false kings and the rival powers of the world. You witness by your protests and resistance. You witness by your service, especially by your service to the poor and the powerless in whom the world sees no advantage. You witness by your lives of faithfulness and your habit of trustworthiness.

Because the kingdom extends from the king, this kingdom is not military. You are not its soldiers but its priests. In the words of the Revelation, he has made us a kingdom of priests. This kingdom has no need for soldiers. It does not need to be defended. Of course it has many opponents and attackers. We are tempted to want to defend it and to fight for it. This has always been a great temptation for Christians; you know: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” Well, no. We are priests who are too busy serving God, his Father.

And how do you serve God? What do priests do? Explain, advise, counsel, set an example. Pray for others and help others pray. Give out forgiveness, make places of safety and maintain places of sanctuary. Help non-priests to make their sacrifices and do their acts of service and good deeds. If we are priests it’s our job to make places and occasions for other people to do their service.

Take the example of our Hurricane Sandy Relief Kitchen. It was not a bad thing that most of the people volunteering were not from our church. Because our congregation was being priestly in offering the space and possibility for all of the volunteers, no matter what they believed, to do their sacrificial service. That was the kingdom of heaven.

And it is not a bad thing that 600-odd people who use this building all week are not from our congregation. You make the space for them to do their good work. The kingdom of heaven is over them. And when our sanctuary is reopened as a kingdom of priests you will offer that sacred space of unconditional welcome, and even the sight of that beautiful space is one vision of the kingdom of heaven.

The very strange thing about this kingdom of heaven is its lack of interest in advantage. Which is what make no sense to the powers of the world. Why have power for no advantage? Why else America first? I see Christians expecting their loyalty to the kingdom to give them advantages. With God on our side, a more Christian country, a Supreme Court on our side, advantages for private schools, or even just personal blessings or personal healings. Yes, Jesus has told you to pray for healings and blessings as you desire them, and God desires that you do so. But the point of the metaphor of the kingdom of heaven is not for our successes as Christians or even our convenience.

Then what is its advantage? Why is it worth it? Because its policy is the truth and its power is love, and that’s what you want to belong to. You want your life to bear witness to what is true and good and beautiful, and you want whatever power that you possess to be for love. That’s your mission, that’s your share in the mission of Jesus in the world, as he gathers all things to that great end when all will be in all—to live your life in the greatest truth of all, which is the love of God for you and for all the world.

Copyright © 2018, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

Friday, November 16, 2018

November 18, Proper 28, 364th Anniversary: The Alternate Story

1 Samuel 1:4-20, Canticle of Hannah, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8

Wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes and famines. It was the story then and it’s the story now, the same old story and the story of our lives. Buildings built up and buildings demolished. The post-war order coming down, the President demolishing our moral structures, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in self-destruct, earthquakes in Indonesia and famines all around. It is the over-arching story of humanity, with an ever new cast of characters, including us who live within it.

It’s a true story. It’s not fake news. But it’s not the only story that is true. There is another one, an alternate story, and just as true. The alternate story is harder to believe, so it’s considered a delusion and a fairy tale. It’s the story we tell in church, the alternate story of the world. It too is an over-arching story with countless characters and ever new details, and we who tell it are also in it.

The alternate story is never separate from the same old story. It keeps arising out of it and turns back toward it in grief and hope and love. It is always coming to birth in it, and the pain and stress we feel who tell it are the birthpangs of the gospel story being born again within our dying world.

In our gospel lesson the Lord Jesus told the disciples that when the Romans, being Romans, would inevitably demolish the Temple, the looming agony of Jerusalem would be the labor pains of something more wonderful and universal in the ever-developing story of God’s love for the world. But for all its promise there would be some loss and grief and that was hard for them to hear.

The same old story is in the Epistle lesson with the daily sacrifices of the priests that can never finally take away our sin, the old story of religion as guilt, of some people pure and others not. But out of this arose the alternate story: the good news of the Lord Jesus who offered himself once, for all of time, to break the grip of guilt and sin. We tell it not as a theory but as a story, especially to our children, because even children can recognize the love in it and we all can imagine the hope in it.

The same old story is in the Old Testament lesson in the jealousies and competition in the family of Elkanah. How typical and conventional. But the shame and despair of Hannah gives birth to the gospel of her praying and her blessing. She offers up her first-born son to God, just as the Lord Jesus offered up himself. So the alternate story challenges you too to offer your life, the good news makes a claim on you, it challenges you to bless you. Yes, you too want to offer your life for your part in that story that both challenges and blesses the same old story of the world.

The interplay of these two stories is in the Canticle of Hannah that we just repeated, the winners and losers of the same old story upended by the alternate story of the gospel. The weapons of the mighty are broken, but the weak are clothed in strength. Those once full now labor for bread; those who hungered are now well fed. The childless woman finds her life fruitful, and the mother of many sits forlorn. God raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with rulers and inherit a place of honor.

Is this true? Is this at best a fantasy, a fairy tale? Doesn’t it always go the other way, the old story just grinding on? Yes, it does, the dreary news is not fake news, but the alternate story is also true, and it gets more true the more you believe it and repeat it, as it inspires you to love instead of domination, and good deeds instead of power. So let us hold fast to the confession of our hope, and encourage one another by keeping the alternate story in the telling, as we have been doing for the 364 years of our congregation. Which is not very long in the universal scheme of things.

In 1664 the alternate story led our deacons to a good deed of encouragement when they bought four dairy cows to farm out among the poor to provide them with free milk. 348 years later the story led you to start a respite shelter for homeless men, and then the Hurricane Sandy Relief Kitchen that made 200,000 meals. I’m telling you your story as part of the larger story to encourage you.

You can see the story there on the table. That’s one of our two communion beakers from 1684, crafted in silver for a rustic village church, a thirtieth birthday present from a woman named Maria Badia to a poor congregation too poor to afford its own pastor.

Think of all the different hands that passed that cup along and all the lips that drank from its silver brim. Well-to-do and poor, Dutch, French, English, German, Canarsie Indian, free African, but also the African slaves of the Dutch and the French. From the same old sinful story we drink the alternate story of grace, and the work of human hands is the vessel of a miracle.

On the surface of that cup has been reflected the lost interiors of four church buildings. Five times now the stones were built up and four times the stones thrown down. Our first building was square and squat and ugly. Our fourth building was a grand Greek temple, the largest of all, but we used it only fifty years before it was demolished.

The demolition is the judgment that breaks down the stones, but from those same stones we built new houses of reconciliation, and so the alternate story keeps rising up from the old, the story of judgment and death for resurrection. How long will this fifth building last, these loftiest stones of all? How long will our part of the story go on?

We have been awarded a $250,000 challenge grant by the Partners for Sacred Places from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. There are many beautiful churches in America, and many churches doing marvelous ministries, but they recognized in us the special combination of four factors: a culturally significant building, an expensive need for restoration, a vital congregation, and a commitment of service to the larger community as a public good. That combination is special.

In these four factors I can recognize our new draft mission statement: “we are a community of Jesus Christ for Brooklyn, offering a space of unconditional welcome, a practice of worship and service, and a vision of the kingdom of heaven.” That’s our particular application of the alternate story, the story of the kingdom of heaven that makes upon the earth a space of welcome, a welcome that can be unconditional because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, whose offering encourages us to good deeds of worship and service unselfishly for the public good.

Unsaid within our statement but assumed by it is the mission of every Christian church, which is to tell the alternate story to every generation. A community of Jesus is that community that tells the story and is always being shaped by the story that it tells, and then is being stimulated by that story to express it in love and good deeds and mutual encouragement.

We are used to thinking of our congregation as small and poor. That’s the same old story. But Partners for Sacred Places is trying to show us the alternate vision of ourselves and of our mission, a vision of abundance born from within our scarcity, a cultural significance we have not dared to recognize, and our church as a public good beyond our estimation.

Yes, we know our steeple is a landmark and our sanctuary is extraordinary, but we are being encouraged that our congregation is fully capable of living out our vision and fulfilling our mission with generosity and with joy. And that’s right—the alternate story, for all its judgment and its challenges, is a story of confidence and joy.

You are a part of it. The story of your own life is part it. Your needing a space of unconditional welcome is part of it. How you always have to live within the same old story, and you hope that you can trust the alternate story to encourage you, and you hope that the pains in your life are the birthpangs of the better you that you long to be, who are not finished yet.

And in that interplay within you of the same old and the good news is how you best contribute to the mission of this church, how you encourage one another, and share with one another in good deeds, and always trying love. Your contribution of your love and your good deeds to this community strengthens and sustains it for its mission, a mission as expansive as our sanctuary and as intimate as our old communion cup.

What was Maria Badia thinking to give this gorgeous gift to our poor congregation? I can see on its lovely surface a vision of gratitude and love, that she would drink her sacred wine from this same cup with all these rustic people. Her gift of love expressing the love of God. The great story that we are commissioned to tell is the story of God’s love.

Copyright © 2018, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

November 4, Proper 26, Law and Gospel #8, The Law of Love is Gospel

Ruth 1:1-18, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, Mark 12:28-34

In the Gospel of Mark we have jumped two chapters to the other side of Palm Sunday. We have left the villages of Galilee, and finished the road to Jerusalem, and entered the Temple.

The Temple, where the rabbis taught and the schools debated, where the priests killed the animals and burned the flesh and offered the blood to sanctify the defilement of the people to permit them to worship the living God, and the focus of all the hopes and beliefs of Jesus and his disciples and his opponents, the very center of the Kingdom of God.

So it’s a riddling compliment for the Lord Jesus to tell the scribe that he was “not far from the Kingdom of God.” Could you get any closer? Well, soon, at the cross!

In the Temple, morning and evening, the Levites began the liturgy by singing out the Sh’ma, from Deuteronomy 6: Sh’ma yisro‘el adonai eloheinu adonai echad. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” 

So it’s no wonder that the Lord Jesus answered the scribe’s question by quoting what they heard, and what they themselves recited in private every morning. If Jesus had been a Protestant, he might have answered with one of the Ten Commandments, but for Jews, there are not just ten commandments, but 613 mitzvoth, all through the Torah, so neither was it odd that for his second great commandment, the Lord Jesus took one of the mitzvoth from Leviticus instead of one of the Ten.

Love is the heart and focus of the Law. Love is law because love is your duty to God. But love is also gospel because it’s good news about the nature of God. It is only a god who loves you who would want your love back, and only a god in whom love is supreme would expect your love as your supreme duty. 

God expects of you what is consonant with God’s own being. And because God’s being is one and undivided, there is nothing in God that is not also loving, so that God requires your undivided love, from all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and mind.

How much is your “all,” how big is your “all”? How much love have you got in you to share? Is your love scarce or bountiful? You can’t be thrifty with love. Yes, love is a risk, and a costly investment, and it takes intention and you have to be wise, but if you are thrifty with your love then you will love only those people and things that are close to you and you get back from, which is really only loving yourself.

You could assume the scarcity of love, but you are called instead to believe in the bounty of love, and in your own capacity for abundance in love, that your own love can overflow, because you believe in the gospel of God, who is overflowing love beyond all measure.

Let me point you to our first lesson and the risky bounty of love in the young woman Ruth. Her mother-in-law Naomi represents scarcity, famine, and loss. Scarcity is a law for her. It tells her how to act. It was the scarcity of the famine that made her and her husband move to Moab. And now when she returns she expects a scarcity of available husbands for Orpah and Ruth, so she tells them to stay back in Moab.

Orpah gives in, but love abounded in Ruth, expressed in her famous speech that I had to memorize as a child: “Entreat me not to depart from thee, or to return from following after thee. For whither thou goest I will go, and whither thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

Ruth was loving her mother-in-law as herself. She offers to bitter Naomi the whole of herself, all of her, totally risking, totally investing, making bounty out of scarcity.

You could say that it’s a matter of seeing the glass half-empty or the glass half-full. Except that Naomi was draining the glass and Ruth was pouring into it. If you read the rest of the Book of Ruth you will see the young woman keep on doing this, until by the end she manages to fill the emptying glass of Naomi right up to the brim.

The Book of Ruth is a short-story, with several themes, but its primary theme is loving your neighbor as yourself despite the odds in real-life ways. Loving your neighbor as yourself as law, as obligation, not based on prosperity or good feelings, and also as gospel, how it can lead to human flourishing even in time of trial.

On this first Sunday of November it is my obligation to preach to you on tithing, and my take-home today is that tithing is an act of love. You think of charity as love, you might think of charity as gospel and tithing as law. Charity is the generous response to human need when you encounter it, and charity is your Christian obligation, but tithing is different.

Tithing expresses your inner desire and commitment. Tithing is not a response but an investment, which is like love, and tithing is challenging, like love, and risky and intentional, like the kind of love which God commands of you. But tithing is also gospel, because to do it makes you a fully-realized Christian, and you are a fully-realized Christian in order to be a fully-realized human being.

Tithing is when you make a challenging commitment ahead of time. Ahead of time, you commit a certain percentage of your money before you spend it on anything else. The ideal is ten percent, which is costly, but if you have to you start out less and then every year you challenge yourself another percent. Tithing is costly, just like love, but it’s a good work that converts scarcity to bounty.

I said that Ruth poured her love into Naomi’s emptying glass. She invested her love in Naomi, not that Naomi needed anything from her. So tithing is not a response to the need of the church but an investment in this community of Jesus and in its mission and in its vision. When you tithe you are saying that you want to strengthen this community of Jesus and support the mission and extend the vision to the heavens.

You do it because you want a practical way to love your neighbor as yourself and to love God every week by means of worship. You can do it, you can tithe, and do it to free yourself from the temptation of scarcity for the reality of abundance.

The conviction of the Bible is that by loving your neighbor as yourself and by loving God with all of yourself you become a full human being. Love defines your human nature just at love defines God’s nature, because you bear the image of God. And because the law of love makes you a full human being is also gospel. You can love like this, and your love will increase as you love.

We come back to the Lord Jesus conversing in the Temple. St. Mark’s gospel is the only one to put this conversation in that venue and at that time, just days before his crucifixion. In his answer to the scribe he was reporting what challenged him, the law of love that drove him to accept his death.

Across the temple courts he could hear the bleating of the animals as they were being killed for sacrifice, as he himself would soon be crying out. He would be doing it not because of any guilt that he had to pay but freely from the bounty of his love. He threw his whole self in for the universe of humanity, just as Ruth threw her whole self in for Naomi. Such abundance, so absolute, and because God was totally in him, therefore eternal and ever valid and once for all, the absolute expression of God’s love, the nature of God fully and finally exposed. "His nature and his name is Love."

Copyright © 2018, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.