“I Am the Lord Your God”

Leviticus 19:9-18 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

When God says something directly to his people, he is quite emphatic.  In our relationships with one another, we do what is right for those relationships because the Lord is our God.  Righteousness happens between people because that is the way that the Lord our God is.  Whether we are harvesting, or speaking with one another, or interacting with the deaf, or working with all classes of neighbors, or when we attempt to bear a grudge, we are to be righteous.  Why?

God says it emphatically, clearly, and purposefully: “I am the Lord your God.”

Is this truth working in our lives?  Is this truth working in our local churches?  Is this truth working in our Annual Conference?  Is this truth working in our current denomination, the United Methodist Church?

These questions are for the people of God.  These questions are not for the unchurched. 

Are there happenings in our lives that attempt to refute God’s position in creation?  We are to care for the poor.  We are to honorably carry God’s name with our lives.  We can fear God, even when others do not frighten us.  We can honor our neighbors of all classes.  We can love our neighbors as ourselves.

We seek justice—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.  We deliver the truth—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.  We love—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.

Are the many sides in the United Methodist Church recognizing that the Lord is our God?  Are we doing such by refraining from bending the truth?  Are we loving our enemies?

Lord, you are God.  There is no other god for us.  As we interact and go through the present turmoil in the United Methodist Church, forgive us for not loving our neighbors, especially those who do not believe as we do.  We are to honor you and recognize the dignity of our neighbors.  Guide us to be righteous as you are righteous while we live in these days.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

The Gift of Giving

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (NRSV)

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.


By Chuck Griffin

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was writing to a church in an affluent part of the world, with well-off people mixed into the membership. (Sound familiar?) But when he wrote about an offering being taken up for the destitute Christians in Jerusalem, he cited what had already been raised among other churches nearly as poor.

In effect, he was asking, blessed Church of Corinth, will you do your share?

For Paul, giving was a matter of the heart, and it only made sense that people blessed with abundant resources would give abundantly. Yes, the idea of the Old Testament tithe, the giving of 10 percent, became obsolete in the light of New Testament grace, but it appears most early Christians interpreted that life-giving grace as a reason to go much further in their giving than a simple tithe.

Acts 2:43-45: “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

This pooling of resources sounds strange and even shocking to us today. As members of a capitalist society coming out of the Cold War and headed toward similar tensions with China, a lot of us don’t like anything that smacks of communism.

Don’t get lost in modern politics as you consider all this. The early Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit and madly in love with Jesus. Their resources became a way to show that love even from city to city, and Paul was praying the Christians in Corinth would join that movement, imitating what the earliest Christians and the Macedonian churches already had done.

The current-day lesson in all of this is pretty obvious: Our giving reflects our love for Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Do we have a need to grow in love?

Dear Lord, inspire us with a deeper sense of your grace and a new understanding of how we are to use our resources to care for one another in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Scrubbed of Hypocrisy

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 15:1-9 (NRSV)

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

I had been wondering when this text would come up during the pandemic. I figured someone would have something to say about Jesus defending his disciples’ lack of handwashing.

Except this story is not really about handwashing, is it? Instead, it’s about empty rituals, and even worse, rituals used in a mean-spirited way.

The Pharisees and other Jews did have a long tradition of ritual washing before eating, although the act had little to do with modern hygiene. It’s questionable whether they even had soap as we think of soap today.

The ritual, rooted in God-given instructions to priests, was intended to put a holy act between any inadvertent unclean contact and the act of eating. For example, you never know when you might have brushed against a person or object considered unclean under the law.

As Jesus often did when he realized a strategic effort to discredit him was underway, he in a theological sense returned fire, revealing the hearts of those who piously invoked the handwashing tradition.

Specifically, he pointed out the Pharisees’ tendency to use the letter of the law they had defined to overcome the spirit of the law given by God. Jesus picked an ugly example: the ritual neglect of needy parents.

If you know your Ten Commandments, you know that caring for your mother and father is very important. These Jewish leaders, however, had designed a way to shield their assets by dedicating their property to the temple, even though they continued using their possessions for their own benefit. “Sorry Mom, sorry Dad—it’s all set aside for God’s work, can’t help you.”

Maybe Mom and Dad weren’t so great, having been neglectful or abusive. Who knows what could harden a child’s heart in such a way. None of that really goes to the point Jesus was making, however.

God in his greater wisdom ordained a system of relationships that holds godly society together. When a parent and a child are properly bound by unconditional love, or a man and a woman are joined in the marriage covenant, or a neighbor cares for a neighbor, we are seeing God’s system at work. We may not understand it in full, but we honor the fact that love undergirds what God has established.

Love also is why we should not let today’s Bible passage create in us a disdain for rituals. Ritual religion should be a powerful and beautiful part of our lives. Appropriately performed, rituals allow us to receive love from God, return love to God, and share God’s love with each other.

Let’s keep the good rituals, and if we run across one that fails to transmit love in one of these ways, let’s ditch it.

Lord, where we find ourselves working hard to avoid loving as we should, help us to pause and consider what you would have us do. Amen.