“God’s Righteousness and Ours” A Devotion on Psalm 111:2-3

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is God’s work, and God’s righteousness endures forever.”—Psalm 111:2-3

The concept of “righteousness” was important to Ancient Israel’s self-understanding of their covenant with God. The Hebrew word usually translated as righteousness could also mean integrity, justice, prosperity or wholeness. Righteousness was both an attribute belonging to God, and the order of things that God put into place for the well being of Israel.

There were two contesting schools of thought about Israel’s special covenant with God. There were those who believed that God’s choosing of Israel was unconditional and could never be revoked.

The other opinion, associated with the prophets, was that Israel’s election came with the responsibility to manifest God’s righteousness in the life of their society.

And the prophets’ test for national righteousness was how it treated the most vulnerable of its citizens. In patriarchal Israel the most vulnerable were widows and orphans, who had no male to give them status or protect them. Other vulnerable people were foreign migrants, who had no claim to the land. And finally, as in every society, the poor were vulnerable. Whenever this collection of “the last, the least and the lost” were being mistreated it called into question the integrity and identity of national life.

This idea of societal righteousness was important to our Puritan ancestors, and, though it has never been fully realized, remains in the DNA of American identity. For example Dr. King powerfully employed this Biblical notion in his plea to our national conscience during the struggle for civil rights.

A pressing question for our time is this: can the soul of a nation be considered sound if it mistreats its most vulnerable members?

Prayer: You are righteous, O God. Pour out your righteousness on our troubled land, that our national soul may be healed.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for August 16, 2018. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here)

“Down to Earth” A Sermon on John 13:1-17

I started my ministry 43 years ago in two small congregations in two adjacent tiny towns in Maine about 9 miles apart. When I lived in Maine just about the nicest compliment you could give someone was to say they were “down to earth.” It meant that they weren’t puffed up about their own importance. They were reliable, sensible, responsible, unpretentious and humble. Continue reading

“Did God Say?” A Devotion on Genesis 3:1

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” —Genesis 3:1 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

“Winners or Losers? Reflections on Vocation” A Sermon on Genesis 32:22-31

What are we to make of this strange story in which Jacob wrestles all night and gets a new name? I think it tells us something important about who our God is and about the identity of God’s people. And I want to reflect on what this story tells us about our own identity and vocation as Christians.

The first thing to notice is that whenever somebody in the Bible is given a new name it is best to pay attention. A new name signifies a turn, a change, a new chapter in the person’s life, and a new calling. A new name means a New Being.

So, for example, Abram becomes Abraham as God calls him to keep the covenant of promise. Saul becomes Paul on the road to Damascus and is changed from being a zealous persecutor of the church into the Apostle to the Gentiles. Fisherman Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus will build his church. Continue reading

“The Giver of Life” A Devotion for Pentecost

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”— Acts 2:17

The church marks the Day of Pentecost as the birthday of the church. Some congregations mark the day with a birthday cake, something the children take to readily.

Still, if the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost marks the beginning of the church, the Spirit’s work was not finished on that day, since it is the Spirit who creates the church in every new generation. Continue reading