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So then, my brothers and sisters, be glad in the Lord. It’s no trouble for me to repeat the same things to you because they will help keep you on track. Watch out for the “dogs.” Watch out for people who do evil things. Watch out for those who insist on circumcision, which is really mutilation. We are the circumcision. We are the ones who serve by God’s Spirit and who boast in Christ Jesus. We don’t put our confidence in rituals performed on the body, though I have good reason to have this kind of confidence. If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee. With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless.
I’m guessing that a few folks cringed and maybe even crossed their legs during our reading today. I’m also willing to bet that unless you have devoted yourself to reading the Bible, cover to cover, you’re confused as to why this issue is an issue at all. Even if you have read the Bible, cover to cover, you’re probably wondering why we’re talking about circumcision.
If you don’t know what that is, ask a friend.
Paul is apparently writing about a group of people that the Philippians need to be warned about. Paul calls them dogs, people who do evil things, and mutilators of the flesh, coming to a theater near you this Halloween.
There is something about these persons and what they are doing to others that makes Paul write so passionately and viscerally. Paul is worked up about this, he is angry about what these dogs are doing, but then Paul goes on to write, “We are the circumcision.” This bold statement somehow never found it’s way into any of the creeds of the church and I think we can all understand why.
By the time Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians, the Christian movement had sprouted into a few different branches. There were Jewish followers of Jesus, like Paul, that grew up with the law and the torah, and they were now trying to figure out how to hold everything together in light of Christ. There were gentile followers of Jesus, folks that grew up not knowing about Moses, the exodus, the law and the prophets, they didn’t know the stories, they didn’t know the traditions or the customs, but they were still compelled to follow Christ and they were trying to figure out what all this means. And then there was this other group Jewish followers of Jesus that started saying to those gentile, non-Jewish followers of Jesus:
“It seems like you want to be one of us, that’s great have you been circumcised?”
“That’s not really something that happened in my community”
“Well, if you really want to be a follower of Jesus, there’s something that we need to do, but don’t worry about it too much, just turn your head, cough, and try not to look down.”
This sort of thought and practice shaped the idea that some followers of Christ are better, are more faithful and more righteous than others. There were the ones that practiced all of the rituals and the customs and the routines, and then there were the others that weren’t worthy of grace and peace.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is essentially all about this issue and, as an aside, Galatians 5:12 is a passage that I sometimes mutter to myself when I’m cut off in traffic. If you don’t have that passage memorized, Paul writer in Galatians 5:12, “I wish that the ones who are upsetting you would castrate themselves!”
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Can you imagine if someone had a sign that said Galatians 5:12 at a football game instead of John 3:16?
The letter to the Philippians was written sometime around the year 60. In the last 1,960 years, the world has changed quite a bit. Right now the economy is great for some but is in shambles for others. Some folks have decided that we’re no longer in a pandemic because they think they can make that decision. Rates of depression and anxiety are on the rise. Fears and uncertainty are all around us, we’re wrestling with issues of education, unemployment, racism, socio-economic injustice. But in this sermon we’re going to spend our time together talking about circumcision? Aren’t there more pressing matters for us to deal with?
What we’re going to do today, is walk through what this issue was and as we do, I want you to think about all the ways that this is about something else, something bigger, that has all sorts of implications for everything that we are going through in 2020.
If you have a Bible with you, we’re going to turn to Genesis 4 and take a look at the Bible’s first family. The first family was a bit dysfunctional which brings about an odd sense of comfort and hope. The first son, Cain, kills the first brother, Abel. In Genesis 4, starting in verse 8, it’s written, “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”
A few verses later in verse 23 where there’s an individual named Lamech and they say, “…I killed a man for wounding me, a boy for striking me; so Cain will be paid back seven times and Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Let’s think of the significance of this passage 23 for a moment. Lamech, poetically, says, when Cain killed Abel it was bad, but what I just did was eleven times worse. It’s just like the movie Spinal Tap, things have been turned up to eleven.
Let’s look at Genesis 6. It’s written in verse 5, “The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and that every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil.”
None of us have ever thought that about anyone, right?
Now turn to Genesis chapter 11. Genesis 11 is fascinating because it’s a chapter about technology. In Genesis chapter 11 someone invents a new kind of technology and it’s called the brick. Stones can be hard to stack and move and build with, but bricks make building a lot easier. Bricks are a brand new technology that starts changing the way people see the world. All of a sudden they can build things faster, stronger, better and cheaper. The question becomes, what are we going to do with this new technology? That question is answered in verse 4 of chapter 11, “They said, ‘Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves…’”
If you can believe it, this new technology creates a sense of pride and arrogance. The people start to believe that with their technology they can be in control of the universe, they can be like God.
Most of us learned history as facts. We learned names and dates and the order of events, we learn history with those sorts of details. But in the ancient world, history was less about names and dates and more about meaning. Think about it like this, when the Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, that disaster took place because the rubber O-rings used on the Challenger had never been tested in cold conditions. Due to this, the O-rings became stiff and failed to fully seal, causing the fuel tank to rupture and explode 73 seconds after liftoff.
Those are the facts. But is that what the Challenge disaster means?
Every now and then Christians can obsesses over the facts in these Genesis stories and they miss the meaning. So let’s think about what all this means.
In Genesis 4, Cain kills Abel and just a few verses later there is this poem that says it things were terrible then but now it’s eleven times worse now. A couple chapters after later, things aren’t just eleven times worse, the whole world is in danger, and a couple chapters after that, technology is being use and abused. The meaning that these ancient storytellers are trying to get across is that this project we know as humanity is in danger, we are on the edge of falling apart, things are not as they need to be, we are barely hanging on.
Have you ever felt that way?
Ever been watching the news and experienced that meaning?
Have you ever experienced humanity on the edge like that?
It’s kind of like driving down the highway and all of a sudden a rock hits your windshield. Before the rock hits, you see it coming and no matter how many times you say please, no, there is nothing you can do. At first, you tell yourself the lie that it will all be ok, but that crack in your windshield starts to grow and grow, and maybe it takes a day off, but the next day it’s twice as big.
Things are falling apart, life is not as it should be, and that’s what brings us to Genesis 12.
In Genesis 12 we read, “The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
What’s the message and the meaning of this passage?
God has saving love for everyone. That’s why God says, “all the families of the earth will be blessed”. There is that line, “those who curse you I will curse” but it’s more about how you get back what you give to others. The meaning of this passage is found in the loving grace and peace that God has for everyone, always. All the families of the earth, meaning everyone everywhere will be blessed.
From this passage in Genesis 12, throughout the rest of the scriptures, we start to see how this saving love of God is shared with the whole world. It starts with Abraham, but if it’s one person in this movement for God’s grace, the odds aren’t really in Abraham’s favor. So this movement of God’s grace grows from Abraham to a family because father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham. Even then, though, if it’s only one family, that still might not be enough to make a difference for every other family in the world. It’s got to be more than a family, this needs to be the movement and the mission of a tribe, of a nation. If the problem is the old habits of our humanity, then there needs to be a new kind of humanity that we can live into together to take things into a new direction.
Here’s where things get really interesting. In Genesis 12, God says, “all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.” This is fascinating because, typically, tribes and families and nations are only interested and invested in looking out for their own needs and desires. Nearly every nation wants to say we’re bigger, we’re faster, we’re stronger, we’re better, we’re number one. But this is a whole new kind of family and tribe and nation that God is initiating with Abraham. This tribe doesn’t exist for itself, but for the saving love, grace and peace that God has for all people, everywhere.
There is this movement of God’s love and grace and peace, this rescue and redemption of humanity, that moves from Abraham, to a family, to a nation, to the whole world.
We could say it like this, Abraham is blessed, but it’s not so Abraham can be blessed alone. Abraham is blessed and so is this new family that gets to strive towards love and grace and peace together, but their blessing aren’t just for them, it’s for the tribe and the nation that they are a part of. But even then, those blessings aren’t just for this nation, this new nation doesn’t exist for it’s own preservation, this nation isn’t here to hoard and cling to their blessings, better than that, this nation is blessed so that it might be a blessing for the health and vitality of the whole world.
Now, let’s turn to Genesis 17 and ask ourselves the question, how do you make sure that you have a man’s attention.
The stories that we’ve seen so far are filled with murder and escalating violence, chaos, confusion, technology is out of control, we are teetering on the edge of destruction, so how do we know who is serious about living into this new humanity and is devoted to participating in this movement of God that is with and for all people?
Within this ancient patriarchal and nomadic culture it was assumed that men passed the seed of life onto women during a certain act. Have whatever flashback to health class that you need to right now. In this ancient, patriarchal society, men were seen as the primary actors of procreation, which, we can admit, they got wrong, but, as a family is seeking to create a new kind of tribe and nation, can we understand what this sort of thought would have meant to them.
In Genesis 17 God says to Abraham, “I will produce nations from you and kings will come from you, I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be you God and your descendants’ God after you. I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan, as an enduring possession . And I will be their God.’ God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants in every generation. This is my covenant that you and your descendants must keep: circumcise every male.”
In Genesis, God is looking for a tribe, a nation of people that are serious about blessing the whole world and circumcision, in this context, is a tribal ritual of identification. Within this ancient, nomadic, patriarchal society circumcision is a symbol of who is willing to risk it all and trust that God’s mission will be shared with the next generation and everyone else.
As we get ready to jump back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, let’s start to tie everything together with RAGBRAI.
On RAGBRIA, some tribes, some groups, identify themselves with very specific markings and colors. They seek to stand out by the crowd with their accoutrements, ensuring that they don’t look like anyone except those that they most closely identify with.
Others on RAGBRAI are less identifiable based on outfits and are instead identified by their behaviors. One team has a habit of stopping a lot and so they are known, creatively, as team stop a lot. Other teams and tribes are identified with their search for pie.
With all of these various teams and tribes, each one marked with a different cultural identifier, what do you think happens when a Flamingo is stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire, and no other flamingo is in sight?
More often than not, no matter who is stranded on the side of the road, someone from the Air Force RAGBRAI team stops to help.
In those moments, it’s not like the member of team Air Force becomes a Flamingo, trust me, they don’t dye their hair pink as they help you. Instead, what happens is that together we transcend and include. We’re still apart of our own team, but we know that our team isn’t the only one that matters.
If RAGBRAI doesn’t work for you example, remember that there will come a day when we can attend sports again. There will come a day when Iowa and Iowa State play one another in basketball. Imagine, when that day comes, that the student sections for Iowa and Iowa State are right next to one another in the stands, and for some reason, you were given a ticket to sit between these rival teams. Now imagine that you show up to that Iowa vs. Iowa State basketball game wearing a Drake Bulldogs jersey. You’re having fun at the game and the student sections are jeering one another, back and forth. Because you’r there as a Bulldog at the Iowa vs. Iowa State game, you can just enjoy the game because you’re not really cheering for either side, you’re a Bulldog that’s so you literally don’t have a dog in that fight. As the game goes on, you decide to get some popcorn. You take a bite and all of a sudden you know that a kernel has gone the wrong way and you start to cough, you’re choking, you’re panicking, because rival tribes are on either side of you, and you aren’t a member of either of them.
Do you think they’re going to help you?
If you are an Iowa fan, if you are an Iowa State fan, are you going to them even though they are not a part of your team?
We carry cultural identities close to our hearts. There are teams and tribes and nations and groups that we are deeply connected to, that we could never imagine leaving behind, and yet, when someone outside of our tribe is in trouble, if we continue to cling to our tribal identity and refuse to help the person that’s choking, our tribal identity is inhibiting and working against the ongoing creation of God’s goodness, justice, grace and peace in this world.
This is what it means to transcend and include, because if you are choking while wearing a Bulldogs jersey and a Hawkeye helps you, they don’t cease to be a Hawkeye and you don’t cease to be a Bulldog. We can, for the sake of the healing of the world, for the ongoing creation of God’s grace and peace, transcend our teams without leaving them behind as we include one another in the movement of grace and peace.
Integral Theory is a combination of philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics, and religion. This theory tries explain and encourage human development. Integral Theory can fit on top of this Biblical approach to development that we see from Abraham to a family to a nation to the whole world and it also mirrors what we see in childhood development.
Maybe it’s not fair to say that a baby has an egocentric or individualistic view of the world, and yet, the whole world revolves around the needs and the wants and the smells of that baby. This ego development is good and necessary and vital because we need babies to grow up with a solid base of love and care and compassion and belonging. Children, and adults for that matter, should have a healthy ego, but to have a healthy ego you can’t only be egocentric.
This is why, as children grow, they’re given chores. Children have to pick up their toys, they need to make the bed, they need to help put away their clothing. All of these kinds of behaviors help to move the child from an egocentric view of the world to an ethnocentric view of the world. Now, life is not just about the individual, but the family, the tribe, and each family has a certain way that things are supposed to work in their house.
When a child is around two or three, they have one favorite word – no. It’s the perfect example of an egocentric view of the world because no one and nothing can make me do anything. So around that same age, parents start to engage in a kind of dance with children, moving them into a healthy relationship with the family where everything isn’t about them. There are still times when it is and necessary for your ego development to say no, but other times, for the sake of the family, you have to say yes to chores, to behaviors and habits and customs that aren’t just about you.
This egocentric to ethnocentric movement can be rushed in unhealthy ways. You would never say to a three year old, the chore wheel says it’s your turn to mow the yard again and this time make sure you don’t miss any spots.
At our best, we transcend and include as we move from egocentric into ethnocentric, we have develop a healthy enough ego that we can rise above our own egos for the sake of one another. But we can’t just stay ethnocentric either. Because what happens if the family, the tribe, the nation, starts to veer off course? This is why transcend and include is so important, because if the wheels are starting to fall apart in the family, if the tribe is going the wrong way, we need someone to have a healthy enough ego, we need someone with the courage and fortitude to stand up and say to their family and their tribe and nation we can’t do this anymore.
As much as we need an ethnocentric understanding with one another, as much as we need to know how things are supposed to work in this house, there are moments when we need to transcend our team.
What happened in Rwanda in 1993 when Hutu radio stations started listing the names of ‘traitors’ on the air that deserved death?
What happened in Germany throughout the 1930s as churches throughout German stoped saying Jesus is Lord and started to say, Jesus is Lord and the Nazis have some interesting ideas.
Every now and then the ethnocentric way of life is dangerous and we have to be able to transcend it. We have to become world centric. We have to remember that this world is not just here for us, or our team, because we are in this whole world together with the love of God that is with and for every family, every person, every nation, everyone, always.
And yet, sometimes even when it is revealed to us that our tribal practices of justice aren’t just, that our our ethnocentric habits of consumption are dangerous for the rest of the world, instead of growing and transcending, we dig in our heels and stick our fingers in our ears, even if it costs us the chance of moving into a worldcentric understanding that is better and healthier for everyone, even our tribe.
Now, at this very moment I am a televangelist and I still don’t know how to feel about it. But, have you ever found yourself flipping the channels on TV and all of a sudden you see a professional televangelists, the one’s that wear fancy clothes, have veneers and better hair than me. You want to turn away, but it’s like a train-wreck and you have to see how bad things are going to get. Televangelists use words like Jesus, God, Bible, prayer, promise, hope and faith. They are likely going to use these words often and it sounds Christian, but as you try to figure out what their message is actually about, you start to notice that as they talk about God and faith and Jesus, what they are really saying is God wants to give you a mansion and take care of all your desires so that you can have lots and lots of expensive stuff.
It’s Jesus language, but at the core, it’s all about me. It’s the gospel from an egocentric perspective.
Ethnocentric perspectives are all around us and they can be a little trickier for us to see. In Iowa, we have a lot of communities, Des Moines included, where the circles of church, school, work and family all overlap and intertwine. When this happens, certain behaviors and routines and customs become the way things are because that’s the way things are. Imagine someone that’s lived in the same town and in the same neighborhood all their life graduates from high school and they go to school somewhere else.
All of a sudden they are exposed to a whole new world of behaviors and routines and customs. Every now and then, as this growth is taking place within them, as they are moving from egocentric to worldcentric, while they are trying to transcend and include, they meet the resurrected Jesus in a new way. They begin to see that grace and peace transcend the barriers that they’ve built in their mind. And at this very moment, as they start to become more alive, they start to worry about Thanksgiving and how that conversation around the table is going to go.
Even though their faith has exploded with possibility and potential, even though they are seeing the good work that God has begun within them and can’t see where it takes them, they know that uncle Josiah is going to have a few choice words to say about the new way they are seeing the world. Uncle Josiah thinks they’ve gone off the deep end because all these ethnocentric understandings have been questioned and in the moment when the gospel is most alive in this person, the only message they hear from home, church, school, and family is criticism, is fear about the kind of person they’re becoming.
Sometimes, when people talk about the gospel or Christianity, they’re really just talking about an ethnocentric identity.
There is this movement that we see with Abraham, from egocentric, to ethnocentric, to worldcentric and we see this in Philippians too because in this community all kinds of people from every kind of background are experiencing the saving, redeeming, resurrecting love of God that is with and for all people. At the very same time there is this group that is seeking out these new followers of Christ and this group says to these people, if you’re going to follow Jesus you have to participate in our tribal ritual, here’s a towel, bite down hard and for the love of God don’t look down.
Paul says we should beware of anyone that tries to take the gospel the wrong direction. The gospel doesn’t pull us backwards it keeps pushing us forward so the whole world can be blessed with grace and peace.
Paul uses a few choice words to describe those that would pull the message of God’s love away from everyone, everywhere. The first word Paul uses is κύνας (kynas) or dogs. Figuratively in the ancient near east this meant a scavenger, a predator that feeds off others. In Proverbs 26:11 says, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats foolish mistakes.” In certain religious communities it was common for persons that saw themselves as righteous and holy to call everyone that didn’t live up to their standard κύνας (kynas), dogs. In our reading today, Paul makes this judo move and uses their own momentum and language against them because Paul essentially says, you see yourselves as clean and you see everyone else as a dog, but as you try to make them fall in line with your tribal ideology, you can’t even hear how you’re just bark like a dog.
Paul then uses the words Κακοὺς (Kakous) ἐργάτας (ergatas). Κακοὺς (Kakous), you might be able to guess, means bad or evil or rotten and ἐργάτας (ergatas) means workers or laborers. Paul warns these dogs that in their efforts to get people to live into their tribal and ethnocentric understanding, they may think they are doing good works but it’s actually rotten and destructive.
Which brings us to the next word which is just brilliant – κατατομήν (katatomēn). The word in Greek for circumcision is περιτομὴ (peritomē) peri means around and tome means to cut so περιτομὴ (peritomē) circumcision means to cut around. Hopefully that makes sense to you and I don’t have to go into any more detail.
κατατομήν (katatomēn), on the other hand, means to cut to pieces. Paul warns us about these dogs, these destructive and rotten people that think they are showing up to do God’s work but all they are doing is cutting others into pieces.
Some of you know exactly what it feels like to be cut to pieces by ethnocentric understandings of grace and peace.
In a meeting a couple weeks ago, someone told me about a church that opened up for in-person worship in their sanctuary, and as soon as they told me the denomination of that church I zoned out because I started to imagine what it would be like for this person to attend a service there. I started to think about every stereotype of this kind of church, from the shouting in the sermon to rolling around on the floor and ‘speaking in tongues’. I don’t know if this is true about that particular church, but I’m willing to bet that they have one of those signs out front that tries to be clever. You know, those cheesy signs that say something like, ‘AC broken, good thing our church is prayer conditioned’. I once saw a sign that said, “Want to know what hell is like, come listen to our pastor”. I know people don’t always like what I have to say, but that’s rough.
Every now and then a church with one of these signs puts out the cheesiest of messages, like
I see signs like that and think to myself, this is why people think brunch is better than church.
Beware of that dog.
Beware of the dog that tells you our tribe, our church, is more thoughtful, more inclusive, more progressive, faithful, that we are more interesting and relevant and better. Beware of that dog.
We absolutely need to have necessary and even difficult conversations about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in 2020. Too many things are done in Jesus’ name that have nothing to do with Jesus. And yet, the impulse to assume that our group, our team, is more loved, that we get it and they only the point, beware that dog.
Paul says in our passage today, we boast in Christ Jesus alone and nothing else. We boast in the humility of knowing that God’s love is extended to all people, even me, even you, even the churches with those awful signs. God’s grace and peace is extended to the whole world and we get to be a part of it.
There is no room for condemnation, superiority, or the assumption that because we know a bit Greek we know better than all those other folks. Beware of that dog.
Are we barking?
Are we praising ourselves as we condemn others?
Or are we joining with God in the never-ending expansion of grace and peace?
We get to be a part of this movement of God that grows from within each one of us to everyone else.
May God continually expand our awareness. May our hopes and dreams be shaped by the worldcentric love and grace and peace of God so that we might not be distracted by all that ways our egocentric and ethnocentric ideologies masquerade as the Gospel. May we be continually rescued from the dogs that tell us we’re better, we’re more righteous, and only our side gets it. And may we, with God, boast only in the resurrected Christ that continually extends grace and peace to all people, of every tribe, every family, every nation, every background, everyone, everywhere, even you, even me, even everyone else. Amen
So then, my brothers and sisters, be glad in the Lord. It is no trouble for me to repeat the same things to you because they will help keep you on track. Watch out for the “dogs.” Watch out for people who do evil things. Watch out for those who insist upon circumcision, which is really mutilation. We are the circumcision. We are the ones who serve by God’s Spirit and who boast in Christ Jesus. We don’t put our confidence in rituals performed on the body, though I have good reason to have this kind of confidence. If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I am a Pharisee. With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless.
Oct. 5 – 10
Click on the day to expand the guide.
Read – Luke 11:37-12:34
Notice – Jesus challenged his day’s religious and political leadership structures. In today’s reading, we see that they fixated on washing for ritual purity (not for hygiene—they didn’t yet know about viruses). Jesus taught that faith and trust flow from the inside out. He gave a wide-ranging set of warnings against a “mismatch between… hearts and lives” (12:1). The tension between the status quo and God’s kingdom kept building. Jesus 1) warned his disciples about opposition, and 2) reminded them that God knows and cares about every part of our lives. He challenged his followers, then and now, to avoid a casual, half-hearted faith. How wholehearted is your faith? What does it look like for you to follow Jesus with your whole heart? In verse 34, Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.” True security and satisfaction, he taught, came from prioritizing our connection with God even over important externals like food, clothing, or material possessions. How does Jesus’ teaching challenge the messages our culture sends about how much security and satisfaction “stuff” can bring you?
Pray – Jesus, it’s hard for me to make the inside of me match the outside sometimes. Help me desire your kingdom of eternal security and fulfillment above all else. Amen.
Read – Colossians 3:15-17
Notice – How many times, in these three verses, did Paul mention gratitude or thanks? Where is your heart on a “gratitude meter” this Thanksgiving Day? Without pretending that any painful or frustrating situations you face don’t exist, what inner choices can you make that would move you higher on the scale today?
Pray – God, thank you for the gift of this day. Thank you that whatever happens today, you will be with me. Thank you for clearing my vision so that I can see reasons to say “thank you.” Amen.
Read – John 13:2-15, 34-35
Notice – Jesus didn’t just “talk the talk” about humble service. He “walked the walk.” In first-century Palestine, “Washing others’ feet was normally a servile task. Dirt roads made feet dusty…. Disciples served teachers rather than the reverse, and the one act of service specifically not expected even of them was dealing with the master’s feet.”* Jesus brought his teaching about true greatness to life by washing the disciples’ feet himself. Do you find “servant leadership” nothing more than an idealistic oxymoron, unrealistic in the “real world”? Or might Jesus’ way of leading be a life-giving alternative to the more usual views of leadership? Have you seen one or more “servant leaders” be effective?
Pray – Jesus, teach me how to find my glory in serving God and others, as you did, rather than in having others serve me. This is a hard prayer, but I mean it. Amen.
*HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture
Read – James 3:13-18
Notice – James 3:13-15 said “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” are things to “stop” (and certainly nothing to brag about). Instead, he said a “humble lifestyle” is the result of living with wisdom. Have you ever seen jealousy or selfish ambition damage relationships between people? How does humility protect against these hurtful ways of thinking and acting? Do you believe you can act with confidence (in any setting) out of humility rather than pride? What attitudes or actions does it take to make that a reality? Prayerfully review the harmful qualities James listed and the ones he said come “from above.” Which are most characteristic of your life? How can you work with God to make the wisdom from above increasingly the dominant guiding principle in all your everyday relationships?
Pray – God of wisdom, I want to increasingly live out your wisdom in my earthly life. Guide me as I prune and shape my character to more closely match your ideal for me. Amen.
Read – Luke 8:1-21
Notice – What kind of soil are you—how receptive are you to God’s message of transforming grace? Or perhaps it’s better to ask, as you read through Jesus’ description of the four kinds of soil, which aspects of each type can you identify in yourself? Are there ways in which Jesus’ story challenges you to become more open to God’s work in and through you?
Pray – Jesus, you keep sowing the seed of your kingdom even though not everyone responds to it. Keep teaching me how to keep the soil of my heart receptive to you. Amen.
Read – Romans 2:1-4, Luke 7:11-17
Notice – Having met the risen Christ, the apostle Paul wrote that “God’s kindness is supposed to lead you to change your heart a0nd life.” At many points, the gospels show Jesus acting kindly out of his deep concern for hurting people (e.g. Matthew 9:36-38, Mark 8:1-8). Today’s story from Luke 7 is an outstanding example of how Jesus showed God’s kindness. He went to a village called Nain. He met a large crowd coming through the city gates, not to greet Jesus but to support a grieving widow and mother going to bury her only son. There’s no hint in the story that Jesus knew the woman or had gone to Nain to meet her. But whatever his original plans, he laid aside any other agenda until he brought the woman’s son back to life and restored him to his mother. In that day, losing an only son was not just an emotional loss. Under Jewish law, only through a male relative did a widow have legal standing to own property or sustain herself. So Jesus kindly saved the widow in Nain from likely poverty and marginalization as well as the loss of her son’s love. What has Jesus saved you from? In what ways does a sense of his kindness powerfully at work for you and through you give you strength and a sense of purpose every day?
Pray – Jesus, your kindness wasn’t a dull duty. It flowed from the overflow of your love for all of creation. I’m not you, but I want to learn more all the time about how to let your love flow out of me to all those around me. Amen.