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The story of the banquet is found in Luke 14:7-11. Jesus attends a Sabbath feast and notices how everyone comes into the room jockeying for the most honored seats. He warns them not to. Better to take the last place and be invited up, rather than presume the honored one and have to be moved down. He finishes with one of his favorite lines, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Whenever we set ourselves to be honored above others, or promote our own influence, people only become a tool to our own ends and real life and real love cease. They came into the party with their eyes glued on the head-table.

Who wouldn’t? Banquets are designed to draw attention to the front of the room and celebrate the most-honored guests. And few people walk in without wishing they could have that place of honor so that others would know how important they are.

I don’t think Jesus’ point was to take the last place as a way to get to what you think is first place. Maybe his point was that the last place in a room is really the best place to enjoy him and love others in a way that is meaningful and transforming.

I don’t know of a story that better answers all of our how-to questions. How do I find relationship, fellowship, or an outlet for my creative expression? Instead of looking for what we don’t have, Luke 14 invites us into the space of responding to God’s working right where we are. Rather than having to make something happen by our own wisdom or ingenuity, the path to God’s life comes by loving the people he has already put before us, applying our gifts to their needs. I’m convinced that will create opportunity enough for whatever God wants to give us and what he desires us to share with us.

(Excerpts from “How Do I…” Article in BodyLife newsletter, March 2010, by Wayne Jacobsen)

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Meditation

In Sunday School, children are sometimes taught this acrostic:

J – Jesus first
O – Others next
Y – Yourself last.

Is this formula too childish, too simplistic to be true? Certainly it runs utterly against the grain of our culture, which advises us to look out for “number one.” Even in our spiritual communities we often hear people give advice to others who are spending their lives serving Jesus to, “take time out for yourself…  if you don’t, you’ll burn out.” How do you think Mother Teresa would have responded to such a suggestion?

Wrestle with these questions this week:

What is the source of the deepest and most lasting joy I know?
How does this joy compare to the fleeting frivolities that advertise themselves as being the source of true happiness?
In times of crisis, confusion or depression, distress and grief, what does it mean to be able to “rejoice in the Lord always?”

Consider the possibility that the best time we can take for ourselves is our time of contemplation and prayer before God, our time in conversation with the Holy Spirit. Could it be that our “burn out” is directly related to our neglect of our relationship and conversation with Jesus Christ?

Prayer for Illumination:

Author of grace and our Eternal Guide, Jesus,
As I make my pilgrimage through this life,
shed your light upon my way; keep me from slipping or going astray.
Speak to me in the recorded witness of community and church
that through the Spirit’s interpretation of the Scriptures
I may find direction, strength and joy;
through Christ Jesus, Shepherd of my soul. Amen.

Music for Contemplation

This fall Christian musician Todd Agnew released a new album called “Need.” In that album, the first song is titled “Joy Unspeakable.” Let me share the lyrics of this song and a link to listen to this album:

Album “Need” by Todd Agnew

Joy Unspeakable

I’ve found His grace is all complete.
He supplies my every need, mm…mm…
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free…indeed.
What kind of joy is this?

It’s joy unspeakable…
all You’ve done for me.
It’s indescribable…
just a taste of Your glory.
And it’s unnatural…
not to tell the story
of all You’ve given me.
My words are incomplete.
It’s joy unspeakable.

I’ve found the pleasure I once craved.
It’s joy and peace within….within.
What a wondrous blessing, I am saved
from the awful gulf of sin.

It’s joy unspeakable…
all You’ve done for me.
It’s indescribable…
just a taste of Your glory.
And it’s unnatural…
not to tell the story
of all You’ve given me.
My words are incomplete.
It’s joy unspeakable.

I’ve found the joy no tongue can tell.
How its waves of glory roll!
It’s like an overflowing well…
springing up within my soul.

It’s joy unspeakable…
all You’ve done for me.
It’s indescribable…
just a taste of Your glory.
And it’s unnatural…
not to tell the story
of all You’ve given me.
My words are incomplete.
It’s joy unspeakable.

It’s joy unspeakable…
joy unspeakable…
What kind of joy is this!?

The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome
but kindly to everyone,
an apt teacher,
patient,
correcting opponents with gentleness.
2 Timothy 2:24-25 (NRSV)

God’s servant must not be argumentative,
but a gentle listener
and a teacher
who keeps cool,
working firmly but patiently
with those who refuse to obey.

2 Timothy 2:24-25 (The Message)

Today we consider gentleness as a fruit of the Spirit.

From birth onward, we seem to know instinctively how to be harsh and even cruel, particularly to those with whom we disagree. Most of us have mastered well the skills of sarcasm and superiority. Gentleness, on the other hand, seems to be something we have to learn, particularly when dealing with those who strongly oppose us.

Yet who among us would not prefer that we ourselves be corrected by a gentle person rather than by someone whose manner is rude and caustic? Paul asks the Corinthians a question whose answer is a foregone conclusion: “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”

In our interactions at home, at church, in the workplace, in the world at large, the gentle manner of a Christian believer is a powerful testimony to the alluring gentleness of the Christ to whom we are to bear witness.

Prayer

Give grace, O Lord Jesus, as I seek your way,
that I may grow more and more into your likeness
and that I may bear your ensign
as a banner of hope and direction
before all who are distraught or confused.
Through this time of daily devotion
instill in me your own gentleness,
quiet my over-wrought alarms,
and enable me to rest confidently in your wisdom.
These things grant by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

(excerpts from This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer. Laurence Hull Stookey)

Matthew 5:1-12, NIV.
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of
righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you
and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in
heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets
who were before you.”

I have been a follower of Jesus for most of my life. But a little while ago, read this passage as if for the first time. Don’t get me wrong – the words were familiar to me. I could have recited most of them from memory.

But words can become divorced from meaning. They can be abstracted
and used for a million mundane purposes. They can be pasted into advertisements and mission statements of multi-nationals.

They can become like veneer glued to plastic to give it the appearance of fine carpentry.

Or they can be obscured by a fog of assumptions that makes them illegible. Like wearing someone else’s thick glasses.

Perhaps some words are over venerated – locked away in glass cases – filed and categorised and cross referenced. Pinned like a lifeless butterfly.

But these words – it seems to me that every generation needs to discover them anew. They contain something so wonderful, so powerful, that they are dangerous.

Like dynamite.

Here are the words of Jesus, spoken to his friends. Given as a means to shape their engagement with the present-future Kingdom of God.
Words that turned everything upside down.

Subversive, revolutionary words.

Beautiful, hope-filled, wonderful words.

May they find their way to the middle of you…

(From Listings, by Chris Goan)

Prayer / Blessing

may you be blessed
as you continue to seek out
honesty, and truth, and peace
desiring more than passing, cheap, flippant intimacy.

may you be blessed
as you travel through seas of strangers
desperately wanting to be seen
and not merely passed by
yearning for a touch, a word, a presence.

may you be blessed
as you authentically try to respond
to the God-given wrenching of your gut
making you aware that a need is near
and someone is waiting on your touch,
your word,
your presence.

may the blessing of a love that transcends indifference
and brings reconciliation
be in your heart and in your mind and in your hands
as you travel to and fro –
constantly aware that even now you are surrounded by
love.
may you seek,
may you be completed,
and may you be blessed.
amen.

 

 

Meditation for the day.

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus;
And what you have heard of me through many witnesses
Entrust to faithful people
Who will be able to teach others as well.
2 Timothy 2:1-2

Today, let’s consider faithfulness as the fruit of the Spirit

Faithfulness begins with God. Why would we want to commit ourselves to an untrustworthy deity? It is the reliability of God that is the basis for our faithfulness to God. The Scriptures place great stress on the dependability of God, precisely so that we can join confidently in the covenant God opens to us. Once we have done this, we are called to be a faithful people.

But yet there is one more step in this process. The faithful people of God are to “teach others as well.” That is, we are to be witnesses to the reliability of God so that those who have not committed themselves to covenant faithfulness may come to believe. If we are not faithful, we place in their way a stumbling block over which they may fall.

On this day, then, we pray for grace to trust in God’s goodness, to keep our vows with fidelity, and to be those who instruct others in the way.

Verses from Psalm 31 (The Message)

What a stack of blessing you have piled up
for those who worship you.
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
to escape an unkind world.
You hide them safely away from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
You silence the poisonous gossip.
Blessed God! His love is the wonder of the world!
Trapped by a siege, I panicked,
“Out of sight, out of mind,” I said.
But you heard me say it, you heart and listened.
Love God, all you saints,
God takes care of all who stay close to him.
But he pays back in full those arrogant
enough to go it alone.
Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.
Expect God to get here soon.

Prayer:

God of all ages,
In every time and place you have been steadfast.
Your faithfulness endures without fail from generation to generation.
So bind to yourself the hearts of your covenant people
that all who have promised fidelity to the gospel may fulfill their vows.
Preserve your church
not only from renunciation or neglect of faith,
but also from a tepid faith that calls forth from others
contempt rather than conversation.
Make your church to be a city set upon a hill,
that our witness may be seen.
And that others may be drawn to you.
for the sake of Jesus Christ, who is faithful in all things. Amen.

(Some excerpts from: This Day, a Wesleyan Way of Prayer; Lawrence Hull Stookey)

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