Sell Everything and Follow Me

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mark 10:17-23 NRSV

We have come to an unexpected and very unusual place in the history of humanity. So many of us are very apprehensive about our futures and about our collective future.

That’s putting it mildly. It might be closer to the mark to say that many of us are terrified of what the future may bring.

Many experts and prognosticators have been warning of hard economic times coming. Some of the warning signs began to flash even before the crisis posed by the coronavirus came around.

And now that so many of us are staying at home, and most work and economic activity has ground to a halt, there is almost no possibility that a serious recession can be avoided.

Many who make their livings by studying such things say that we’re not headed into a recession, but that it will be a full-blown depression, the like of which we haven’t seen since October of 1929.

The story recounted here in Mark 10 can be instructive for us today. The Master plainly tells this 1st Century high-roller that his great wealth is an impediment to his ever entering God’s Kingdom.

We have been living in a time when people with great wealth — people who’ve amassed a lot of stuff — are greatly admired.

We write and read stories about them and may wish that we could get into that elite club.

Sometimes, we give them their own reality shows.

But — as was true in 1st Century Palestine — there are so many of our elites who are sitting on huge piles of cash today but are stunningly spiritually-impoverished.

Although we can’t know exactly how events will play out as this crisis unfolds, I have no doubt that many people who have been at the top of the pyramid, so to speak, are going see a lot of their wealth — and the power and influence that usually come with it — disappear.

And we’ll be reminded once again that great riches and prestige and all of that do not enrich us spiritually; that they are — for so many of us — great burdens we carry through life, burdens that may well keep us from entering into God’s Kingdom.

This is a time for all of us to desire above all else to enrich ourselves spiritually, to lay up treasure in heaven, as Jesus said to this would-be follower in Mark’s Gospel.

Those who amass this kind of wealth know well that these riches cannot be taken away by anyone or anything.

They know that their loving, compassionate actions bring them closer to their fellows, closer to true wealth and closer — most especially — to God’s Kingdom.

May we remember this as we go — together — through these uncertain and trying times.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis

Blessings and a dark cloud

Today I find myself in one of those “happy-sad” situations.

There’s nothing unusual about that for me. I’m pretty sure that all of you can relate to that.

The things I feel good about today: it’s the first day of spring and we’re having a truly beautiful day here in Florida.

And I’m happy to note that our Fellowship turns one year old today.

Those are great blessings.

I don’t have to tell you about the sad part.

Today–like all of you–I’m living under this dark cloud and the great weight of uncertainty that comes with it.

I’m referring to the Coronavirus, as I’m sure you know.

I know this a really serious situation and we’re paying attention and following the instructions of our elected officials the medical professionals who advise them.

I’m apprehensive as we brace for very difficult and dark days.

These huge threats and those dark days do come around, of course. They’re nothing new.

Sometimes when we least expect it.

And we’ve got to use the resources we have. Our faith is one.

Our determination to go through this together is another.

As we continue to go through this unsettling trial, the words of the Psalmist found in the 46th Chapter come to mind.

Pray. Help in ways you’re able to help. Look out for those who are the most vulnerable.

And take comfort in these words:

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Psalm 46: 1-7

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Wisdom and Critical Thinking

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.

17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.

Proverbs 3:13-18

In this passage the writer of Proverbs really wanted to drive home the point that acting wisely as we go through life is a good thing.

Yes, it’s a very good thing.

And who would disagree?

I love the way it’s stated so poetically here. And it’s true, very true in our day, just as it was when this pithy poem was written.

The point I want to make here is that some discernment, the ability to think critically is a very big deal, too.

I would say that’s it’s foundational, that wisdom absolutely depends on our ability to think critically, to clearly pierce through the rationalizations and half-truths and arrive at sound decisions.

As I take a look around the cultural and, especially, the political landscape these days, I don’t see a lot of wisdom.

And it’s clear to me as I look around or read the news that a lot of folks–people who hold the reins of power in particular–are sadly deficient in critical thinking skills.

Or have, perhaps, stopped using the skills they’ve got.

This is a very bad thing and bodes ill for our country.

May we all–those who make important decisions that affect the common good, especially–seek and employ the discernment and critical thinking upon which wisdom and wise decisions depend.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Friday Funny for February 21st

One day while little Johnny was visiting his grandparents, he opened their cherished family Bible and began to read.

He leafed through it and took particular interest in the first chapters of Genesis.

As he pondered on the meaning of those early chapters, an old oak leaf that his granddad had pressed between the pages many years before fell out.

“Grandma, look what I found!” he shrieked with excitement.

“What’s that?” his granny asked.

With mixed surprise and delight, Johnny answered, “I think it’s Adam’s underwear!”

I hope you’re blessed this week with wonderful and unexpected surprises.

Brother Ben

When the Dam Breaks

14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
    so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.

Proverbs 17:14 NIV

This verse in Proverbs tells us something we all know. But it’s good to be reminded of how this works, as it’s a truth we don’t often think about.

Now, it’s also true that going to great lengths to avoid confrontations is not always a good strategy.

But it’s also true that for so many of us, we often fall off the other end of the pier, so to speak.

Too often we behave as though quarrels and full-on fights are just a part of life and they’re no big deal.

Like the writer of Proverbs, I’m not of that school of thought. Framing this in that way can definitely set us up for a lot of unnecessary conflict in our friendships, relationships and in any other sphere of life as well.

It’s a good thing if we think twice before we say or do things that could easily lead to an argument or an interpersonal “slugfest”, as it were.

Before the dam breaks.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis

God and David’s Distress

It’s recorded in the 25th Psalm, that King David sent heavenward this heart-felt entreaty:

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.

Psalm 25: 16-17

We often see the things we read in the Bible through the lens of the times in which they were written.

We might think, for example, that David had troubles of the heart served up with a side dish of anguish, and–if we take the time to carry the scenario out to its end–chalk it all up to some passing problem he was facing at the time.

And we may not think to take a closer look and put his prayer into a contemporary context, including what we know today about Mental Health issues.

If we put this Psalm into that context, I think we’d draw the conclusion that David suffered from depression. And–no doubt–anxiety as well.

Reading further through the Psalms reinforces that conclusion.

I think one of the reasons many Psalms resonate with me is that I have long traversed a lot of the same territory.

I think we’d all agree that keeping one’s emotional equilibrium, staying calm and serene through life’s inevitable ups-and-downs, is a very big deal.

Going through that kind of thing is quite common. You might say that King David has plenty of company among us modern folk.

And among all people of all times, all of us who’ve ever walked around in human skin.

No doubt David and people living at that time could have benefited from the insights and practices of modern medicine.

And having at their disposal modern meds that can help us keep our emotional balance and cope successfully with our “troubles of the heart” and “anguish”.

They didn’t have those helpful tools in their time, of course.

It’s such a good thing that we do.

Prayers like David’s in this passage may help when those dark clouds begin to gather around us.

Compassionate and effective care from professionals in the Mental Health field can certainly help too.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Burn the Shields with Fire

There are wars raging in every corner of our planet at this moment.

War has been a part of human existence from the very beginning. And in places where conflicts are raging now, people know from their own grim experience that war is a very hellish thing that should be avoided at all cost.

Here in the US, we’ve been involved in hundreds of wars but have not had the fighting come to our shores since Pearl Harbor.

And before that, one must go all the way back to the War of 1812 to find a time when a foreign adversary attacked us right here, where we live.

And so the thought of wars may not evoke much of a response from many Americans.

But those who have lived through–or are living through wars right now–know full well what a horrible, suffocating, life-stealing tragedy war is.

From a Faith perspective, Peace and Peace-making must be our goal.

The Psalmist hoped–as have countless men and women of faith–that The Divine One will, one day, put an end to war and the instruments of war.

9 Come now and look upon the works of the Lord, *
what awesome things he has done on earth.

10 It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; *
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.

11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God; *
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 47: 9-11

Does this hope in the heart of Humanity that God will one day put an end to war mean that we should simply wait patiently for that coveted day to arrive?

Does it mean that we should not work for Peace nor attempt to be instruments of reconciliation among our fellows and even among Nations?

It cannot mean those things.

Peace must be our goal.

As I write this, the U.S. is closer to an actual shooting war than we have been in a long time.

One of the things that is so frustrating and disquieting is that it’s possible–even likely when one looks at the facts–that our elected leaders are foolishly spoiling for a war.

If that’s the case, those in our country who have the power to set in motion conflicts and wars are certain to get their wish.

If so, it will be yet one more time when those who, like the writer of Psalm 47, will have their desire for Peace thwarted while humanity descends, once more, into the dark and desolate hellscape of war.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Do not fret

In the 37th Psalm, David wrote this:

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:1-4

When we see people doing things which are clearly wrong, even evil, we are inclined to wonder if they’ll ever be called to account for their misdeeds.

They may even be people who hold a lot of power and have a lot of support for their actions. They may hold sway over many followers and hangers-on who share their warped values.

Here the words of the Psalmist remind us that their day of reckoning will come.

This doesn’t mean that we are to be passive in the face of evil.

Quite the contrary.

But in human society–and especially in God’s Kingdom–there is an unfailing principle that when those who inflict misery on others whose well-being has been entrusted to them, the poor and disenfranchised, people on the margins of society, it doesn’t end well for them.

Not only can we trust that leaders and powerful people who inflict misery on those who cannot defend themselves will not carry the day, we know that living well, living by the values we have learned, will–in the end–mean that we will receive “the desires of our heart.”

That’s powerful encouragement when we see others who live selfishly, who live as though their own welfare and happiness matter above all else, seem to be winning at their selfish and cynical game.

Be encouraged today, know that living for others, living as Jesus plainly instructed his followers to live, will be rewarded.

Brother Ben

© 2019 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

The Widow’s Mite

This passage from Chapter 21 of Luke’s gospel was one of the Lectionary readings for October 1st.

Verse 1: He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’

Luke 21:1-4

In our churches, do we shower the big givers with accolades for their contributions but ignore others who give smaller amounts but give sacrificially?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

This has been an issue for a very, very long time.

Jesus saw how this operates back in his time. It’s still going on today, of course.

Large churches–especially ones that have embraced and are spreading the prosperity gospel nonsense–will never be free of this tendency to put their large givers on a pedestal and slight or ignore members who–like the widow in this passage–give lesser amounts but are giving sacrificially.

Let’s resolve–whether corporately or simply in our individual lives–to focus on each person we know who are putting their hands to the work, and to not simply lavish praise on our fellows who are able to write the big checks.

Brother Ben

© 2019 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Hear me, Oh Lord

This passage from Psalm 69, though written about 2,000 years ago, can nevertheless be instructive for us today:

16 Hear me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good;
Turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.

17 And do not hide Your face from Your servant,
For I am in trouble; Hear me speedily.

18 Draw near to my soul, and redeem it;
Deliver me because of my enemies.

I’m certain that this passage strikes a cord with just about everyone. Psalm 69 is a well-known and beloved one.

I certainly can relate.

Having said that, I hasten to add that as we read this passage with our thoroughly-modern eyes, many of us would have some thoughts about how we often set ourselves up for misery and troubles.

We may meditate on the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships and keeping out of situations where our actions have created chaos and difficulties where Divine intervention seems our only way out.

And it’s also true that when we’re in tight spot and our problems seem beyond our abilities to deal with them, we’ll appeal to God to intervene and set our feet back on solid ground, so to speak.

And we’ll do that whether our troubles truly come from circumstances beyond our control or–as is often the case–our own decisions and actions have led to our predicament.

Plead for Divine help when you’re in a tight spot.

And be sure to also examine your choices and your deeds and take life’s inevitable troubles as opportunities to become better at keeping yourself out of misery, despondence and despair.

 

Brother Ben

© 2019 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.