Category Archives: Devotions

Meditations on a specific Scripture passage accompanied by a prayer.

The Sin of Scapegoating

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The Sin of Scapegoating

“Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task.  The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:21-22 NRS).


(Image by Sarah Wastella)

While the term itself, “scapegoat” is not in the Bible, the concept comes directly from Scripture.  In the Book of Leviticus, the Law of the Lord, made provision for the collective sins of Israel to be expelled from their midst.  The text outlines the High Priest laying his hands upon the head of the goat, transferring the sins of the people, and then sending it off into the wilderness.  Thus the sins are sent out of the presence of people and the Lord who dwells in their midst.  The notion of scapegoat is one humankind seem to have a natural affinity towards, probably because it takes the burdens of our guilt and bears them.  We do not like to be wrong, guilty, or at fault.  We appreciate the notion that someone else can be to blame.  I have always suspected that this is why so many Christians cling so tightly to the concept of a devil who cajoles us into sinning against God.  Jesus, while explaining what it truly is that defiles a person, tells the disciples: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.  For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matthew 15:18-20 NRS).  Jesus blames our sin and the evil it creates in the world on our sinful inclinations, the evil intentions of our heart, not a devil, or Adam and Eve.  If we are looking for a scapegoat for our sins, someone to hold responsible, we need to look no further than the closest mirror.

We are held responsible for our sins by God.  We break the will of God when we sin, and we seek God’s forgiveness to be absolved of our guilt.  When the High Priest transferred the sins of the people to the goat, it was with full acknowledgment of who had sinned, and what those sins were.  It was a purposeful action.  It was not a case of “we are not really at fault, so this is just a fail safe.”  They had to repent, and that requires acknowledgement and ownership of the actions that caused evil to God and others.  There is no forgiveness without repentance, no grace without the will to receive.  We have to be honest about what we have done; honest with God and ourselves.

I believe that the lack of responsibility for our actions and words is part of the moral decay in the world today, especially in American culture.  I have been the one who has hurt others, and I have been the one hurt by others.  There are times when I might have been able to stave off pain and suffering I have endured, but maybe not.  Sometimes nothing we can do could prevent our suffering when someone else was determined to cause it.  The sin of causing suffering is only compounded when we try to blame someone else for inciting our sin.  No one makes us sin.  It is a choice to do what we know is wrong according to the Lord.  It is to speak or act in such a way that we know will cause harm.  Granting grace and forgiveness does not mean that we should ever blame the victim, the one who bore the evil sin brought.  No one deserves the evil another’s sin visits upon them.  That’s why I was taken aback by the words of Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of the Pretenders, in this article published by The Washington Post: “Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde says women can be at fault if they are raped”

Sexual assault is one of the greatest perversions of sex.  It is to take something meant to bless and turn it into the means of hurting another.  Nearly one in every five women in the United States have been sexually assaulted, whether successful or not, even to attempt it is a violation, a sin against the intended victim.  With so many of the female population being victimized, this is statement about the way women are understood, rather than the way women act, speak, or present themselves.  As someone who was sexually assaulted in Middle School, I was shocked to read Ms. Hynde’s remarks.  I was further stunned to discover that she was once raped.  According to her own words, Ms. Hynde blames herself.  It is a dangerous line of thinking.  This is where legalism and God distinctly diverge.  There are no sins of opportunity.  We will ourselves to sin, and God makes no distinction between planned sin and improved sin.  It is all equally sin.  Perhaps like so many others Ms. Hynde makes a distinction.  Maybe she thinks she could have prevented what happened to her.  Maybe, maybe not.  We can spend all our lives conjecturing, but that will never change was happened and what is: a sin was committed, someone was violated, and suffering entered into a life against the will of God.  God never blames the victim in Scripture.  Only the sinner is held responsible for their sin.  Legalism can forget this, and strip the victim of their dignity by placing the blame sinfully back on the one who was hurt.

People make poor choices.  This cannot be denied, but in the face of the truth that people who make good choices can still be made to suffer from the sins of others, our choices may have nothing to do with the sins others commit.  I believe that connection can only be made and validated by God.  If God wishes to make that known to a victim, then that is God’s business, not mine or anyone else’s.  We do not have any right to lay the sin of one person on the head of another.  God never told the High Priest to lay his hands on a human being, but an animal.  When I was sexually assaulted, I was wearing a tunic length shirt, leggings, and sneakers.  I was trying to get my books out of my locker before my next class.  I cannot imagine how I incited the assault.  The reality is that a male wanted to express his dominance and in a sexual manner.  He did so, and that was his sin.  He didn’t even know me.  If I had been twenty-five, dressed to go out dancing at a club, and with someone I had once dated, it still would have been his choice to sin, his guilt, and not my fault.  We are all inclined to sin, and God has given all of us the power to resist.  The tragedy is that some will not.  They will sin, and then add insult to injury by blaming the one they hurt.  Follow that line of thinking and meet with disastrous, sinful consequences: “she wanted me to hit her,” “the child kept testing me as if he wanted to get beat,” “he disrespected me so I shot him.”  The battered wife does not deserve her beatings.  The abused child does not deserve their abuse.  A false sense of respect does not justify violence and death.  The victim of sexual assault is not at fault.  Jesus did not deserve the abuse and death he suffered either.

We scapegoat because it makes us feel better, spreads the guilt around.  By making someone else even partially responsible, we have lessened our burden, but God does not share that mindset.  My sin is mine.  Your sin is yours.  Only I can take responsibility, and only I can repent of what is mine.  The same goes for all people.  While we spend so much time and energy trying to pass the blame, we could just be honest and seek forgiveness.  God is ever ready and willing to forgive the one who repents.  Even if other people are not willing to model this graciousness, God will exonerate the victims we have failed to shield from scapegoating.  Then we will all have to account for the times we participated in scapegoating another person.

Prayer:

Have mercy, my God.

Forgive me for my sins, those I commit according to my will.

Help me rid myself of the will to blame others.

Help me take responsibility for my sin, so that I can repent.

Sin destroys the good you created, and the love you give.

It perverts the blessings you bestow, and makes evil a real presence.

For those I have wrongly blamed, I cry out my shame.

For those I have made suffer, I reject those ways.

I cling to you, and seek your grace.

Let me stand with others against the sin of scapegoating.

Let me speak up for those who have been silenced by unjust words of condemnation.

Allow me to be a vessel of your love.

Amen.

Devotion for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

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(Image courtesy of poetrysync.blogspot.com)

(Image courtesy of poetrysync.blogspot.com)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, hear these words concerning Christ our Lord, from Jesus himself, according to the Gospel account of Luke:

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high'” (Luke 24:44-49 NRS).

Lord, hear our prayer:

Sovereign God,

By your power can we receive the divine wisdom necessary to understand the sacred texts.

Open the Scriptures to us once more,

So we may see with opened eyes the prophetic fulfillment we discover in Jesus.

Christ came down from heaven,

Incarnate in human form, full of grace and truth.

Forgive us when we have kept our mouths closed where we should have proclaimed.

Grant us grace when we hold ourselves back from declaring his mighty acts of salvation.

We are witnesses to your goodness, recipients of your grace.

Give us the words and the courage,

And we shall fulfill the words of our Lord,

Having received the power of the Holy Spirit,

We are the Body of Christ manifest.

Now may we manifest his love for all people.

Amen.

Devotion for the Third Sunday in Advent

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(Image courtesy of poetrysync.blogspot.com)

(Image courtesy of poetrysync.blogspot.com)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, hear these words concerning the prophecy of the Messiah, Christ our Lord, from the Prophet Isaiah:

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.  They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.  Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; but you shall be called priests of the LORD, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory.  Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs.  For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed” (Isaiah 61:1-9 NRS).

Lord, hear our prayer:

Spoken first by your prophet,

The words fulfilled by our Savior are the divine proclamation about the purpose of salvation.

Those that struggle and suffer find the promise of blessing.

We are welcomed into your Kingdom to come.

Now we work, but the hope of heavenly reward is sure.

Our deeds build upon the cornerstone of Christ.

Our words herald the truth of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.

So too shall our love seal our lives:

Our love for you, for one another, and for your holy Word.

What you began in us, bring to fruition,

And we shall be living proclamations of your unbridled grace.

For your honor and glory, we live and pray.

Amen.

Devotion for the Second Sunday in Advent

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(Image courtesy of poetrysync.blogspot.com)

(Image courtesy of poetrysync.blogspot.com)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, hear these words concerning the prophecy of the Messiah, Christ our Lord, from the Prophet Isaiah:

“Who has believed what we have heard?  And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.  Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  By a perversion of justice he was taken away.  Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.  They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.  Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.  When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.  Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.  The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:1-12 NRS).

Lord, hear our prayer:

By your mercy, we find forgiveness.

Though we are undeserving, grace has cleansed us.

For our sake, the Son became truly human,

For us, you suffer and died.

We first rejected the Father’s Law,

Then we rejected the Son’s love.

Help us to embrace the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us remember what sin and hatred can do:

It nailed our Lord to the cross.

Having done nothing wrong, Christ made us righteous by his sacrifice.

May we live out that gift, this marvelous grace.

Amen.

The High Cost of Holding Grudges, Withholding Forgiveness

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“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 NRS).


(Image courtesy of dani-kelley.deviantart.com/art/Forgive-180080742)

(Image courtesy of dani-kelley.deviantart.com/art/Forgive-180080742)

Each generation has its cultural super villan.  For my parents’ generation, it was Adolf Hitler.  For mine, Saddam Hussein.  For my sister’s, perhaps Osama bin Laden.  All three were men who perpetuated great evil upon masses of people, causing incredible numbers of human deaths that equate to murder.  Yet they are not irredeemable.  Sure, our culture and political propaganda would say otherwise, but Christ came to bring grace and salvation to all people, even those we cannot fathom for the breadth of their sin.  Can we forgive the likes of these three men?  We should try, because God declares that God will hold our standard of forgiving others to us.  Consider that for a moment.  Each time I deny someone my forgiveness, my grace for whatever reason, God will use that standard for me.  The difference is that I want to be forgiven for everything, anything I do.  So I cannot practice anything but total and complete grace for one who seeks my forgiveness and to be reconciled to me.

When I teach Confirmation to the youth of my church, I ask them if there is anything we can do that is unforgivable.  They usually say no.  When I ask them if there is anyone who is unforgivable, there is more pause and discussion, because they are aware of the portrayal of certain people in our media.  They know that people are described as being “pure evil.”  That would be judgment, brothers and sisters.  We are not granted that liberty, for it belongs to the Lord alone.  Our duty as those who have been the beneficiaries of grace and the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ is to pass it along, doing likewise for all those in the sphere of our lives.  We are called upon to model radical grace born of God’s transformative and redemptive love for all people everywhere.  Our forgiveness directs others back to God who first forgave us.  It is testimony, and even divine encounter through human vessels.  To withhold such blessing, to restrain our grace is to truncate the outpouring of God through us.  We have no such right.  Jesus tells us repeatedly, almost constantly in Scripture to love not only God, but others: our neighbors, our enemies, and even the stranger we do not yet know.  To fully love is to forgive when someone says they are sorry, and entrust the healing of the Holy Spirit to work within them, us, and between us both.  We do not have to bother with whether or not they are genuinely sorry.  That is a human construct that we have created to give us an out from granting grace, but God gives us no such right in the Bible:

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times”
(Matthew 18:21-22 NRS).

Keep forgiving every time they say they are sorry, because we keep sinning, and often times the very same sin we confessed and repented of previously.  We often fall prey to the exact same sinful inclination over and over again, so why would we expect another person to be any different?  Forgive as you wish to be forgiven.  Love as you desire God to love you.  Let nothing come between you and granting grace, so that nothing will stand between you and God’s grace on Judgment Day.  We have been freed from the burden of testing true repentance.  That tremendous task is the Lord’s, the only one qualified to do it anyway.  So cherish the liberty you have from sin and judgment.  You have been set free from sin to love and to do so abundantly.  How can we truly say we love if we refuse to forgive those who ask for such grace?

Prayer:

Lord,

Forgive me.

Grant me grace for the times when I have failed to do so myself.

Help me to move beyond my hurt,

And embrace the blessing of reconciliation.

I want to model you in my life.

I desire to shine forth the glory of your limitless love.

Only with your power and strength can I accomplish this,

And I must so that all people will discover the love I have in you.

Amen.

Devotion for the First Sunday in Advent

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(Image courtesy of poetrysync.blogspot.com)

(Image courtesy of poetrysync.blogspot.com)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, hear these words concerning the prophecy of the Messiah, Christ our Lord, from the Prophet Isaiah:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness– on them light has shined.  You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.  For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.  For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.  For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.  He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:2-7 NRS).

Lord, hear our prayer:

Out of the darkness we cry to you, O God.

We wait for your return, the Second Advent, by recalling with great anticipation the first time you walked among your people.

Born to bear our burden, to free us of our guilt,

You carried our sin to the cross.

All authority is given to you, and by your word we are healed.

Help us to wait with patience, but not inertia.

Lead us onward to build the Kingdom,

And spread hope to the ends of the earth.

Let our days be filled with acts of kindness and mercy,

Born of Christ-like hearts filled with love and compassion.

We yearn for the grace born only of your offering upon the cross.

Come, O Lord, and fill your people.

Amen.

Lessons from a Living Leper

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“Again, the LORD said to him, ‘Put your hand inside your cloak.’  He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow” (Exodus 4:6 NRS).


(Image courtesy of tapestryproductions.com)

(Image courtesy of tapestryproductions.com)

Humanity has an instant and strong reaction to skin disease.  I know, I have watched it countless times.  I have lived it.  I have watched people draw back in fear of me.  Since the age of three, I have suffered from Psoriasis.  It manifests itself as a skin disease, but we now know that it is, in fact, an autoimmune disease.  It’s genetic, and it has been the catalyst for years of pain and suffering.  Even though I am the only one of my family to ever display the symptoms, it has been passed along in my family’s genetic code, inherited and unseen, until it awakened in me.  As a young child I watched as people, children and adults, gasped and withdrew back from me.  I listened as they bombarded me with questions and even accusations about what was wrong with me.  I felt their stares, and learned to hide myself.  I hid behind clothing, hair, and closed doors.  I endured physical examinations, pokes, and prodding by countless doctors.  I have had steroid treatments, UV therapy, acid treatments, injections and creams.  My skin itched relentlessly, and when I scratched I bled and scarred.  It would begin as pink and red spots, and then turn white.  I spent fifteen out of the first eighteen years of my life hating my skin, and fearing people discovering my disease.

When I first began to read the Bible on my own, I came across all these passages about lepers.  I cannot forget reading the above passage for the first time and thinking, “My God, that’s me.  I would have been a leper.”  Up until the 1800s, Psoriasis was classified as a form of leprosy.  It was miscategorized, but that means little when people were disgusted by what they saw, not its medical classification.  My childhood Psoriasis was horrific.  There was not one part of my body, from the top of my head to my feet unaffected.  What was most affected was my mind and my self-esteem.  I hated being judged by my skin, something I could not control.  It changes you, teaches you.  I understand what my brothers and sisters in humanity feel when they suffer from Vitiligo, Eczema, Lupus, Rosacea, and even Acne.  Skin is often the first thing we see, the first catalyst for reaction.  We make judgments based upon what we see in the skin of others.  For almost half my life, I experienced much of the same disdain for my abnormal skin that people experience because of skin of a different color from the majority.  Almost two thousand years after Christ came, I was made to feel like a Biblical leper time and time again.  Then I turned eighteen, and something changed.  Perhaps it was my hormonal structure, or some other change that occurs when we enter into physical adulthood, but either way, my Psoriasis all but went into remission.  It shrank, until it was barely noticeable even to me.  Eventually it went away all together, at least on the surface.

At the end of July 1st decided to let my blog posts stop for a while.  I was stressed out and overworked.  I knew because for the first time in fifteen years I had a breakout of Psoriasis.  It had been so long that I first mistook it for a rash, an allergic reaction of some kind.  But it did not go away after a week, and then I noticed that my skin felt like it was crawling all the time.  Nothing was on me, and then I realized that my skin itched.  I felt this wave of nausea roll over me when I realized that my Psoriasis was back.  One of the single greatest triggers is stress.  Something had to give.  I had to make a change and I had to stop running full tilt all the time.  I will never forget the recollection that washed over me, and the fear that came with it.  I did not want to be a leper again.  I did not want to be judged, feared, hated, and avoided because of my skin.  I live in a society and am immersed in a culture that is hyper skin conscious.  We are willing to perpetuate evil upon another because of their skin, both in condition and color.  We shed our skin cells completely every seven days.  We are walking displays of newness and regeneration, yet we also use it as a reason to dislike and discriminate.  Some even use it as a reason for violence.  In the end, it is just skin.  I always felt like crying out as a child that “I am more than my skin, so stop judging me.”  When I made friends with people whose skin colors were vastly different from my own, I watched as people treated them horrifically because of their skin, too.  For what end?  So that someone can feel superior to another?  So that one person may oppress and lord over someone else?  My dignity and my personhood are founded deep with me, placed there by God Almighty, not dictated by the condition or appearance of my skin.  The time has come to stop being people of skin deep nearsightedness.  The time came long ago, but we resisted, rejected the word of Christ to love all people, not just those with clean, clear skin the color of our own.  The day has to arrive when we start seeing beloved children of God rather than physical states of the human body.  I have learned not to judge based upon what I see, because I have been judged.  I know that pain and the impact of that suffering.  It leaves scars that run deeper than skin, but the love and acceptance of God magnified in others heals like no other balm.  When the choice is love or loath, I will choose love every time.  Because that is all that I want for myself.

Prayer:

Lord, who healed the sick,

And cleansed the lepers,

Lay your hand upon me.

Heal my brokenness, cleanse me of my sin.

Help me to look beyond the surface, and search out the spark of God in all people.

May I honor the image in which each and every person was created,

By loving them and granting them grace.

In you, I find unconditional acceptance, unwavering love.

Let me share it with others,

And show them that they are more than the visual projection of their form.

They are beings of sacred worth,

To be loved and celebrated.

For this brings honor and joy to you.

Amen.