Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Is the pursuit of personal greatness an acceptable pursuit in the kingdom of God?

According to the Synoptic Gospels the disciples apparently had a preoccupation with the pursuit of greatness. Such an interest would be applauded by any business executive or sports coach in our comparative and competitive society. But not by Jesus.

Here’s Mark’s account:

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:33-37).

One could read this to mean that Jesus is not against the pursuit of greatness, rather, he is redefining what constitutes greatness. One could turn Jesus’ words into another strategy for the pursuit of greatness.

There is no question that service rendered on behalf of others in the pursuit of greatness is far better than grasping for position and power. But it still misses the point.

I believe Jesus is confronting the problem at its root. God’s realm is not about status, applause, rewards, winning prizes, or acquiring merit badges.

The wisdom of Jesus confronts us with an alternative to the normal, conventional wisdom of society. In Jesus’ alternative world – in the realm of God – the very pursuit of greatness is eliminated.

Love for others is what matters. Love is the end and the means to the end. It is the goal and it is the motive for reaching the goal. It’s all about loving and serving others simply for the sake of the good and well-being of others, especially the most vulnerable.

This is the point Jesus makes with the little child. A little child represented in that culture one of society’s most vulnerable members. Scholars have pointed out that in the Greco-Roman culture children were generally held in low esteem. The characteristic feature of children in that world was their complete lack of legal status. There were no laws protecting childrens rights. Jesus is instructing his disciples to welcome and receive the lowest and the least, the weakest and most vulnerable among them.

But in God’s realm there are no lowest and least. All are God’s daughters and sons. All equally depend on divine grace and are loved with an unconditional love.

In the movie Forrest Gump Forest is mistreated when he gets on the school bus for the first time. Forest is wearing braces on his legs and none of the kids want to give him a seat. As he starts toward an empty seat the kid next to it says, “Seat’s taken.” Then he starts toward another, and the kid there says, “Taken.” Still another says, “Can’t sit here.” But then a little cute blond girl speaks up, “You can sit here if you want.”

Reflecting later on this experience he says, “You know, it’s funny what a young man recollects; I don’t remember when I was born. I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas, and I don’t remember when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember when I heard the sweetest voice in the whole wide world.” Forrest says, “I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. She was like an angel.”

Whenever we stand up for and identify with those society regards as the lowest and least we are like angels – we are servants and representatives of God. Angels have no interest in pursuing personal greatness. Do we?

(This was first published at Baptist News Global)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The word of God may not be what you think it is (tradition, scripture, and the word of the Lord)

Too often scripture is contrasted with tradition on the basis that scripture is the word of God while tradition is of human origin. Not so.

In its biblical and theological usage tradition simply means “what is handed on.” In this sense our Christian scriptures are part of our Christian tradition. Paul tells the Corinthians, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). In 2 Thessalonians Paul or someone writing in Paul’s name says, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). Paul is referring to the teachings and practices he passed on to the churches.

So tradition is not bad. Tradition is necessary. There would be no Christian community without Christian tradition. The biblical and theological meaning of tradition includes our sacred texts, our sacred practices, and the ways we have interpreted and made use of our texts and practices.

Is Christian tradition of human origin? Indeed. And this includes our Christian scriptures. Whatever biblical inspiration may or may not mean, our sacred texts emerged out of particular historical contexts and were the result of cultural and historical human processes.

It is extremely important to understand that the word of God is NOT limited or confined to sacred texts. The word of God is a dynamic reality, not static. As such the word of the Lord transcends scripture.

A scriptural document, a biblical text, whether it’s the book of Deuteronomy, the Gospel of Mark, or an epistle of Paul represents a particular stage in a faith community’s evolving faith. A biblical text is a developing tradition frozen in time. The word of God, however, is fluid and cannot be fixed forever at a point in time. The word of God is God acting in time, which for God is the eternal now.

The word of God is God speaking, revealing, convicting, judging, wooing, loving, and engaging our world and our personal lives right now in non-coercive, non-manipulative, and always in life-enhancing ways. The word of God is God continuously interacting with the creation.

This is why James says that we are given birth – we are regenerated, given new life – “by the word of truth” (1:18). James is talking about the regenerating activity of the spiritual presence and power of God in our lives. This is what the author of Hebrews is talking about when he says that “the word of God is living and active” (a written text is frozen and fixed) and “is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Both of the above texts are referencing a divine presence and activity that transcends scripture.

Is God’s regenerating activity mediated through scripture? Certainly. Is God’s regenerating power limited and restricted to scripture? Certainly not.

It’s important to keep in mind that the early Christians lived in an oral culture where there were few written texts (very few could read and write, and writing materials were expensive). Christian traditions were passed down orally. These traditions were interpreted and adapted to ever-changing circumstances. They were constantly evolving, taking on new forms and finding new expressions. The written texts reflect this oral tradition fixed in time. And while their evolving faith became fixed in time through a written text, their faith never stopped evolving. Nor should ours!

Unfortunately, the church-at-large has not done a very good job helping people understand this. In fact, some of our practices have muddied the waters and left false impressions. For example, a tradition in many churches is to say after the scripture is read: “This is the word of the Lord.” Is it the word of the Lord? Not literally, no. Hopefully it can be a medium through which the word of the Lord comes to the congregation, but that remains to be seen doesn’t it? That will depend on how the scripture is presented to the congregation – how it is interpreted and proclaimed. And it will depend on the congregation’s readiness and willingness to receive and act on that word. The scripture is a medium for the word of God, but it is not literally the word of God. I cannot emphasize enough how important this distinction is. If a believer or faith community fails to make this distinction, then the likelihood that they will revere a written text over the living God increases. God can never be captured by or restricted to a text.

When Jesus charges the religious leaders with making void the word of God in Mark 7:13, he is not saying that they are nullifying scripture itself. Rather, he is charging them with making void or nullifying the will and purpose of God as it is understood and expressed through scripture. These religious leaders were interpreting and applying their faith traditions in ways that opposed God’s good will and purpose, thus revealing their hypocrisy and lack of authenticity.

The critical question is not: What is tradition and what is scripture? Scripture itself is part of our Christian tradition.

The critical question is: What is behind our interpretations and appropriations of our Christian traditions? What motivates, inspires, guides, and directs our use of our Christian traditions? Are we adapting and expressing them in healthy, transformative ways as part of our own dynamic, evolving faith? Do we emphasize those texts and traditions that take us three steps forward, or do we fixate on those that take us three steps back?

The religious leaders that Jesus confronts in Mark 7 were using their sacred traditions to actually subvert what was clearly God’s will. They used their traditions to justify their lack of compassion and greed. They tried to convince others, having already convinced themselves, that what they were actually doing demonstrated how holy and devoted they were. When in reality it showed just the opposite.

Jesus zeros in on where the real problem lies: “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come . . .” (Mark 7:21). In the heart is where good and evil originate and what is allowed to settle in our hearts greatly impacts how we use our sacred traditions. An unconverted person, and by that I mean someone who has not experienced significant heart change, will use their Christian traditions in unhealthy, destructive ways.   

On the other hand, converted persons whose hearts are honest, humble, and open to change, will make use of the same Christian traditions in healthy, life-affirming ways. Persons being transformed by the word of the Lord can readily acknowledge the petty, punitive, and oppressive biblical texts that are part of their Christian tradition (texts like 1 Tim. 2:11-15), but such persons will not allow such texts to shape or influence their own evolving faith.

For example, one might argue that 1 Tim 2:11-15 reflects a post-Pauline backlash against the Apostle Paul’s more egalitarian theology and practice (Gal. 3:28; Rom. 16), or one might find other interpretations more convincing. But however such a text is interpreted, it is not allowed to trump a commitment to liberation and equality, which is grounded in other scriptures such as the Jesus traditions in the Gospels. The call to pursue liberation for the oppressed and equality for all is received as the living word of God.

I can’t imagine someone reading 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in the contemporary church and then saying after the reading, “This is the word of the Lord.” No it is not! Certainly not today. And I seriously doubt if it functioned as a word of the Lord in that day and time as well. Texts and practices that are healthy and unhealthy, true and false, liberating and enslaving are all part of our Christian tradition. We must discern the difference.

One whose heart is open to the unconditional love of God will be able to “test everything” and “hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).  The converted person will be able to hear the word of the Lord through both the good and bad of the tradition.

(This blog was originally published as a Perspective piece at Baptist News Global)

What the Bible Is

The written documents that constitute our Bible are snapshots of an evolving, developing, dynamic faith frozen in time.

The faith reflected in these written sources thrived in an oral culture that did not depend on written materials. Writing materials were expensive and few could actually read and write. So the stuff of faith – stories, poetry, wisdom sayings, etc. – were passed down orally. This oral tradition was flexible, fluid, and easily adaptable to different situations and historical contexts.

This process meant that faith was constantly on the move – changing, growing, branching out into new forms, and always finding fresh expressions in different settings.

Consider one example: The various ways the Jesus saying, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first,” is interpreted and employed with other Jesus sayings in the Gospels.

In Mark it occurs in a context where Jesus assures Peter that those who have left much to be his followers will gain much,

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:28-31).

In the parallel passage in Matthew 19:27-30 Matthew makes a significant alteration (redaction) of Mark’s version. In Matthew Jesus begins by responding,

Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28).

No such promise is ever made in Mark’s Gospel. Does Matthew’s statement reflect an actual historical promise made by Jesus of Nazareth which Mark intentionally omits or didn’t know about? Was this part of Matthew’s oral tradition or did Matthew create this saying to serve his own theological purpose? 

Matthew also omits Mark’s reference to “persecutions.” Mark’s Gospel was probably written about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans around 70 C.E. No doubt Mark’s Jewish followers of Jesus were facing great opposition and suffering. By the time Matthew was written (80 to 90 C.E.) the intensity of the earlier wave of Roman persecution would have subsided.

In Matthew 20:16 this saying shows up again in the parable of the landowner (Matt. 20:1-16). The landowner hired day laborers at various intervals throughout the day. At the end of the day beginning with the last workers hired, the landowner paid each of the workers the same wage. This meant that the first workers hired who bore the heat of the day were paid last and paid the same wage as those who worked only one hour. They “grumbled against the landowner.” Wouldn’t you?

The landowner says to one of them,

Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last (Matt. 20:13-15).

Is this intended by Matthew to be the conclusion of the parable by Jesus or did Matthew include the saying here as his own interpretation of the parable?

This saying also appears in Luke’s Gospel (written around the time of Matthew or possibly even later – 90 to 100 C.E) in a judgment context. Luke’s Gospel takes on national and religious exceptionalism (see Luke 4:16-30). In Luke 13:22-30 Jesus challenges those who think their futures are secure because they belong to the right group. Jesus says to them,

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:28-30).

Notice that here Mark and Matthew’s “many” is changed by Luke to “some” – “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Why the change? We might also ask how much of the passage in Luke 13:22-30 actually goes back to Jesus and how much was creatively added by Luke?

Finally, a form of this saying also shows up in the Gospel of Thomas in Logion 4:2, “For many of the first will be last and will become a single one.” An emphasis on oneness between God and humanity and within humanity was characteristic of the Christianity that flourished in Syria toward the latter part of the first century, which the Gospel of Thomas represents (see Logion 22, 23, 48, and 106).

So what does this one example from the Gospels demonstrate? Namely, that the sayings, teachings, and stories attributed to Jesus, as well as stories about Jesus were constantly in flux rather than fixed.

This is how oral tradition works. The early disciples were much more creative than many Christians today – altering, changing, adapting, and appropriating the Jesus traditions in ever fresh and new ways.

Stephen J. Patterson, a scholar of Christian origins describes the process this way,

Oral culture was more fragile [than cultures pervaded by written texts]. Texts endure; the spoken word does not. Oral tradition relied for survival on constant repetition and use. It had to be useful. If something was not useful, it was not repeated, and if not repeated, it very soon vanished. . . . The skilled sage was one who was able to render things useful in new and ever-changing settings. Oral tradition was malleable. It had to be. One may see this even in the literature of early Christianity. Literature that comes from a predominantly oral culture behaves more or less like oral tradition itself. So when one compares a saying or parable of Jesus as it appears in two or more gospels, it is often striking how differently it has been rendered. This is true of the stories about Jesus as well . . . . Each of the gospel writers also exercised great liberty and creativity with the tradition. This reflects quite simply the oral mentality of the ancient world. Things were never simply repeated; they were repeated and interpreted. (The Lost Way, 197-88) 

The Christian Gospels give us a glimpse into the diverse ways the Jesus traditions were appropriated by early Christian communities. These traditions contain both echoes and memories of historical reality and creative theological interpretations not rooted in historical memory at all but expressing the dynamic unfolding and developing spiritual experience of the communities themselves.

Christians who claim that the Bible gives us an infallible, fixed revelation of truth for all time must deny or completely ignore the historical processes of evolving faith that the Bible clearly mirrors.

Shouldn’t we be at least as spiritually and theologically creative and imaginative as the first disciples? Shouldn’t we be as open to a changing, expanding, evolving faith as they were?

(This piece was first published on the Unfundamentalist Christians blog.)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Loving Beyond Our Differences (a sermon from James 2:1-17 and Mark 7:24-30)

Martha Sterne, in her little book, Earthly Good: Reflections of Life and God, tells about the time an old friend morphed into an unacceptable person. Mrs. Caldwell, who Martha knew was a teacher somewhere, lived a few doors down. She would stop by their house from time to time with treats. She taught her little songs, how to play canasta, and took a wonderful picture of her and her cat. Mrs. Caldwell, says Martha, had fat sausage curls all over her head, just like Aunt Pitty-Pat in Gone with the Wind. And on each cheek was a small, bubblegum-pink, perfectly round circle of rouge. Martha says that she knew Mrs. Caldwell was very beautiful because she loved her and showed it.

Well, the years went by. They moved to a new neighborhood. Martha says she worked very hard in junior high to become cool and achieved a kind of fragile success. Then on the first day of her sophomore year in fourth period class guess who turns out to be her algebra teacher? Mrs. Caldwell – complete with sausage curls and rouge circles – and she was the laughing stock of the school. Mrs. Caldwell was so glad to see Martha. Martha wasn’t so glad. And guess what? She showed it.

I suspect at some point in our lives we have all treated badly those whose only crime was that they weren’t cool. Maybe they were just different in some way or maybe in some way disadvantaged – didn’t have what the others had. But the cool people made fun of them. I am ashamed to say that I was caught up in that at one time as a kid. In order to fit in with the cool people I did what the cool people did, even when I knew in my heart it was wrong.  

There is something similar going on in the congregation or congregations James describes in this passage. The community James describes treated the richly attired person with honor. The well-to-do person is invited to come close, to sit in a choice seat, and be comfortable. The disadvantaged person is ignored and scorned. The disadvantaged person is regarded as a kind of non-presence, a non-person, a nobody. James points out how utterly foreign such behavior is to the one the community gathers to worship. Such behavior James points out is utterly contrary to the values of the Christ in whose name they have gathered.

I don’t know if this happened or if Tony Campolo just made this up, but he tells about two boys in Philadelphia where he grew up, on the night before Halloween they broke into a five-and-dime store. The two boys didn’t steal anything. Instead, they changed the price tags on just about everything in the store.

The next morning, radios were selling for ten cents, while bobby pins were priced at 10 dollars. What was valuable had been reduced to practically nothing, and what was cheap had been rendered valuable.

A similar thing can happen in communities that lose their way. They forget who they are, what they are about, and their values get all mixed up. Christian communities/churches are no exceptions. 

When this happens in churches, in Christian communities, or simply in high profile individual Christians, it really exposes Christian inauthenticity and hypocrisy. We see this playing out right now in the life of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses, claiming that her religious beliefs were being violated. She has been all over the news and the internet this past week. And on Thursday U.S. District Judge Bunning sent her to jail. The couples who originally sued in the case asked Bunning to fine her but not jail her. Bunning said that sending her to prison was his only alternative because he did not believe she would comply with his order even if she were fined.  

I have to admit I have looked at this woman with some disdain. I have thought, “Oh great, another example here in Kentucky of Christian fundamentalism and religious hypocrisy for all the world to see and poke fun at.” So generally, when I heard her name mentioned on television or came across another news story or opinion piece about her I would feel frustration welling up within me.

But something happened this past week that got through my defense mechanisms and touched by true self. I don’t know why, but when I read an article earlier in the week that talked about the possibility that she could be jailed or fined for being held in contempt of court (and I knew this already, but for some reason when I read it this time) somehow the Spirit broke through and was able to turn me in a different direction, a direction more in keeping with what James calls the royal law, the perfect law of liberty, which is the law of love.    

Here is what I thought. I don’t know where it came from. I would like to think it was from Christ. But for some reason, when I saw her picture and read the article, I felt compassion. I felt sorrow. I felt sympathy. Here’s what I thought: It makes sense when someone faces consequences for standing up for what is just and fair and right, the way the civil rights marchers did. It is commendable when those who oppose injustice - like  unjust wars or discrimination of minorities – stand up for justice and take on unjust systems of government and power. We applaud that or should. And while those who do take such stands often get beaten down or sometimes jailed or mocked or ridiculed, they stand forth for all time as witnesses to authentic faith and courage. And that, sisters and brothers, is commendable is it not? Even though the consequences can be rough, their faith and courage is commendable.

Then it hit me. Here is a woman who faces consequences, and now is currently in jail, for what? For standing up for equality and justice? No. For standing with the vulnerable and marginalized? No. Why is she jailed? For what? For standing up for what she believes? Yes. But what is it she believes?  

Yes, there is a group of conservative Christians which views her as a hero. But what will she be known for in society? If she is remembered at all she will be remembered as someone trying to cling to the past and assert her religious beliefs on others. She will be remembered as someone who made a last ditch stand for discrimination. Think about it. For that she is to be pitied.  And that is why I feel compassion for Kim Davis.

Earlier last week before the judgment by Bunning she said, “I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word.” And though there are critics who mock this, I really do get it. She really does think she is being faithful to Christ. She does not see. She is blind to what is. She cannot see the hypocrisy and discrimination in her actions.
She does not see and in this regard she is comparable to the Christians James is talking about in this passage. They did not see. They were catering to the well-to-do and ignoring and disrespecting the poor. James says, “Don’t you see? Are you that blind? Do you not know that in God’s value system, in God’s world those who have the least in this world are the very ones who are rich in faith and are heirs of God’s kingdom.”

In fact, says James, the rich, the well-to-do, the powerful people of this world are the ones who oppress you. They drag you into court to take what little you have and they disrespect your faith. But you do not see.  

They couldn’t see. Kim Davis doesn’t see. And what is true of the congregation in our text and what is true of Kim Davis is also true with regard to you and me on some level. Maybe not to the same degree, but on some level we all have trouble seeing. A large part of our spiritual growth and development is about taking our blinders off and learning how to see.

Even Jesus needed some help seeing according to our Gospel reading today. Did you find the Gospel reading today in Mark a little troubling? (If you didn’t it’s because you have already thought about this or you were asleep during the reading or you chose not to think about it. And the last option is the one many Christians choose. Unfortunately, there are not a few Christians who refuse to think).

Maybe Jesus got into a bit of a rut. From all indications in the text, Jesus wasn’t going to expend the energy to heal the little daughter of this woman from Syrophoenicia, this Gentile woman’s daughter. In fact, his response seems so out of character doesn’t it? He says, “Let the children be fed first (referring to his fellow Jews), for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Did Jesus really say that? No way to know for sure, but most likely he did. It’s hard to imagine a follower of Jesus creating this sort of response. I find it somewhat amazing that this saying didn’t get edited out. So, here it it. But this Gentile woman did not take offense did she? I would and you would, but she didn’t. She was persistent. She responded, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then Jesus healed her daughter.

I would like to think that maybe she helped Jesus see something he wasn’t seeing at the moment. Maybe Jesus was too locked on, too preoccupied with his work among his own people. So even Jesus had to keep opening his eyes. Even Jesus was impacted by others who helped him to see.

I heard about a urban pastor who led his church to create a soup kitchen in the basement to help feed the many homeless people who lived in that part of the city. Over time many of these homeless people began to wander in to church on Sunday. The upper middle-class folks were not all comfortable with that.

At some point a deacon took the pastor aside and asked him, “Do these people have to be here with us? Can’t we provide a special service just for them?”

The pastor said, “Well, I think everybody should have an opportunity to meet Jesus personally.” “Well, of course,” responded the deacon, “everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus. Sure they should have an opportunity to meet Jesus.”

The pastor said, “I’m not talking about them! I’m talking about you!”

That’s where we find Jesus isn’t it? In, with, and among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable among us. That’s where Jesus is. These are the ones, says James, who are called to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. If only we could see.  

I’m sure I have practiced favoritism. I’m sure I have hown partiality in ways that I am not even aware of. I suspect you have too. Our ego blinds us to our sins.

So somehow we have to help each other see. Sometimes it is you who does not see, sometimes it is me. Surely part of what it means to be a Christian community is that we can help each other in those areas where we tend to be blind. 

It’s easy to find fault in others, but it is much harder to find fault in ourselves. We can become so intoxicated by our personal views, our positions, the stands we take that we are like a drunk trying to walk a straight line. The guy tries so hard to walk straight doesn’t he? He stares down, he wants to do it right. But his senses fail him. He wobbles and drifts. There is no balance, no perspective. He cannot see.

We need the whole community to help us stay balanced. I am, of course, referring to our local community, our faith community here - we need each other. But I also mean other faith communities, other voices, other perspectives, even those outside our Christian tradition. Christ can speak to us from a variety of places. 

We all need to keep before us what it means to be a follower of Christ. It’s not what we believe about Christ that is of ultimate importance, but how we embody and model the life of Christ. James is clear on this: faith, without works, without deeds, without active engagement and involvement, is no faith at all.  

James admonishes us to live and act as those who will be judged by the law of liberty, the law of love. That’s what matters. The question is this: Is our faith turning us into more loving persons? If it’s not, there is something wrong somewhere.

And once again, it’s much easier to see this need in others than in ourselves. I look at Kim Davis and think: What if the law of love became the basis of her actions, instead of her bias against same-sex couples which she justifies by her faith? I can see this clearly over there, but how about right here, in my heart, in my life and in my relationships? I can’t do anything about Kim Davis but I sure can do a lot about my own prejudices and biases and unloving ways if I will first, see them, admit them and second, get serious and do something about them.

Do I have the will (the drive, the determination) to work on my faith by making my faith work? Do I have the will to replace my negative, selfish patterns with more compassionate, gracious ones? Am I willing to be judged by the law of love so that I can become a more loving person?

Gracious God, forgive me when I judge others without first judging myself. Forgive me for reacting without trying to understand and identify with those who like Jesus said, “Do not know what they are doing.” And help me to see more than I have been willing to admit that in any number of ways I am the one who does not know what he is doing. Help us, Lord, to see and judge in ourselves any partiality or prejudice that may be lurking in our hearts. Help us to learn how to love consistently, impartially, unconditionally, the way Christ loves us and wants us to love others. Amen.