“Signing up for the Loyalty Program”

“Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people.” —Proverbs 3:3-4

Many of the companies I do business with, such as on-line retailers, airlines, and hotel chains, have “loyalty programs.” They offer “rewards” to customers who are loyal to their brand.

This use of “loyalty” is shifting the very meaning of the word into a commodity, something that can be bought and sold. This is just one example of how our consumer society tends to see all transactions as commodities.

Another arena in our common life where the idea of loyalty has been corrupted is in politics, where political loyalty is also viewed as a commodity, not so much to be bought and sold (although sometimes it is), but as the currency for a quid pro quo, which is Latin for mutual backscratching. Some politicians even require complete loyalty while offering none in return.

But true loyalty is interpersonal. It is a relationship. It is not the loyalty to a brand, a political party, or a sports team, but keeping faith and trust with another.

Loyalty is one of the attributes of God. The Hebrew word closest to loyalty is hesed , often translated into English as “loving-kindness.” It describes a faithful unbroken persistent relationship. Often in the Bible the metaphor of a faithful marriage is used to describe the kind of covenant loyalty that God has for Israel.

And God’s loyalty is the model for our own keeping faith with those we love. If the worlds of commerce, politics and sports have debased the notion of loyalty, true loyalty remains a beautiful thing, and much to be cherished.

Prayer: Keep us ever loyal, Eternal One, to each other and to you.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for January 4, 2018. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

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“Epiphany: A Drama in Three Acts” (The Baptism of Jesus, Year B)

The reason for my title is there are three Biblical stories that are traditionally read in worship during Epiphany, and they all share the same purpose. Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation”, and the themes of Epiphany are about seeing and knowing Jesus as the incarnate One, the Light of the World. Continue reading

My Epiphany Hymn “They Sought Him by a Star” with music.

Back in 2001 I wrote the lyrics to this hymn for Epiphany. We are going to sing it Sunday at the church I attend in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This hymn has only been sung a couple times before, once in Pittsfield right after I wrote it, with lovely original music by Lou Steigler, and once at Green’s Farms Church in Westport, Connecticut, where the then minister of music, Eileen Hunt, set it to Darwell’s 145th. I look forward to hearing it this way for the first time. Thanks to Ron Hanft for matching up the lyrics with the tune for the bulletin. It is copyrighted to me, but you may use it with attribution.

My Top Ten Posts from 2017

Once again, as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it has been my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Some years a theme emerges, and this year the idea of perseverance seems to be the theme. In the light of God’s unending faithfulness and lovingkindness let us all live in hope in 2018. Continue reading

“First the Bad News . . .” A Sermon for Proper 28, Year A

You all know those jokes that begin ‘I’ve got good news and bad news . . .” Well, in this sermon I’m going to flip it around and talk about the bad news first, because there is lots of bad news in the appointed lessons for today. There is talk of a dreadful “Day of the Lord.” There are dire warnings of impending disaster. Continue reading

“The Weightier Matters”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” —Matthew 23:23

Jesus was quick to spot religious hypocrisy. The Pharisees have got a bad name because of Jesus’ criticisms of them, but in truth they were the ones Jesus had the most affinity for. They were serious, pious and scrupulous keepers of Torah. Continue reading

“Our Blessed Guides”

“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”—3 John 11

Our culture prizes originality. No one wants to be considered an imitation! But in a number of places in the Bible we are admonished to model ourselves after someone or something, either a person or an ideal. Continue reading