NOTE: BEGINNING MONDAY, AUGUST 10, I WILL BE TAKING A BREAK FROM WRITING REFLECTIONS. I WILL RESUME WRITING REFLECTIONS, MONDAY, AUGUST 17. BUT IT WILL BE IN A DIFFERENT FORMAT. YOU WILL BE ABLE TO FIND MY REFLECTIONS THROUGH THE PASTOR'S BLOG TAB AND NO LONGER THROUGH THE PASTOR'S DEVOTIONAL TAB. THE PASTOR'S BLOG WILL ALLOW YOU, THE READER, TO RESPOND, IF YOU WISH, TO WHAT YOU HAVE READ. THIS WILL ALLOW FOR SOME INTERACTION AND CREATE FURTHER REFLECTION. THANK YOU!
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Reading: Matthew 14:22-33
Immediately he (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he wend up the mountain by himself to pray. - Matthew 14:22-23a
In all the years of reading this story and hearing it being read, I've never really noticed how it was that Jesus cleared the way to be by himself. Jesus has had a busy time of it healing people and feeding thousands. He was also reeling from the news of John the Baptist's death. Earlier, Jesus tried to get away, before the feeding the five thousand. "Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns" (Matthew 14:13). After Jesus sends the crowd away he gets rid of the disciples by sending them off on a boat by themselves.
It was on the mountain that such great personages as Moses and Elijah went to meet with God. So also, it is the mountain where Jesus goes to communion with God to seek solitude and gain peace. We see this, time and again, throughout Jesus' ministry, his slipping away to be recharged for ministry. It is in the midst of this solitude that Jesus can reflect on what is going on and gain focus about God's single-minded will for him as the Son of God.
I don't know what it is, but we tend to keep trudging through life as though we don't need rest or deserve it. In the busyness of our daily lives we often forget to take some time, away from it all, to commune with God. I think that it's a subconscious thing, but we tell ourselves that what defines us or gives us our sense of identity and worth is what we do. But what about our inactivity or quiet moments with God? In such times, when we commune with God in prayer, is what really ought to define our being: who we are and what we are to be about. If not, we find ourselves lacking, never quite measuring up or being fulfilled.
Jesus shows us the way. The fullness in life that we seek doesn't come from continually being on the treadmill of being busy. We need to find a quiet time in prayer to recharge.
Let us pray: Dear God, life can be overwhelming and stressful. May we set aside the time and space to be with you in prayer, that we may find peace in you. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Saturday, August 8, 2020
Reading: Matthew 16:1-4
An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. Then he left them and went away. - Matthew 16:4
In some large or small way, we all look for signs. We want some sort of proof or at the very least some assurance from God that things will be alright. When things begin to unravel around us we look for something to pull things together again into some sort of sane semblance. When bad things happen, such as the pandemic, it brings out the best and the worst in people. The world becomes ever more divided and chaos ensues.
The sign of Jonah that Jesus speaks of is himself. In many ways Jonah was an eminent sign and type of Christ. As Jonah was thrown into the sea by mariners, to whom he had entrusted himself; Christ was delivered to death by the Jews, too whom he was especially promised. Jonah, by being cast into the sea, saved those in the ship; Christ by his death saved humanity. Jonah was in the belly of a giant fish for three days and cast upon dry land; Christ after three days rose from the dead.
The sign that the Pharisees and Sadducees were demanding to test Jesus was right before them but they could not or would not see the sign given to them. So Jesus walks away, because they could not see the sign from heaven in their midst.
When things are unraveling right before us, do we look for signs to give us proof and assurance that God will pull things together again? Do we want something to fall from the sky, something extraordinary or supernatural, in order for us to trust God that everything will be alright? We may convince ourselves that we need these signs, while all along, the promise of God's presence has been with us. How many times do we need to hear Jesus' words, "Do not be afraid, for I am with you always" for that trust to sink in and become real in our lives?
Let us pray: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Amen.
Friday, August 7, 2020
Reading: Acts 18:24-28
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. - Acts 18:26
Apollos, a Jew from Alexandria, was an eloquent man who was instructed in the Way of the Lord and was well versed in scriptures. But when he spoke, Apollos must not have told everything just quite right, since Priscilla and Aquila pulled him aside to set him straight about some things. Preachers aren't always as accurate in their preaching as they like to believe, present company included. One of my biggest fears when I was attending seminary, in preaching class, was the instructor, or worse yet, one of my peers pulling me aside and telling me that I better go back to Basic Christian Beliefs 101 class.
I never was called out for anything that I preached, at least not at the seminary. There has been a time or two when parishioners from congregations of which I was a pastor would tell me that they didn't quite agree with my interpretation of a passage I was preaching on. There's nothing wrong with that. We all ought to be accountable to one another in the church, including pastors. I can now look back on some of the sermons I have preached and think that I should have taken a different approach with a passage or a different interpretation of a text than what I preached about.
The church needs more Priscilla's and Aquila's. On the rare occasion of hearing a television evangelist, I cringe, and imagine someone with a stage hook, like they had in Vaudeville, and yank that preacher off the stage for blabbering nonsense. I mostly cringe over the popular preachers who are making big bucks tauting a "theology of prosperity." The gospel is not about how God is going to make us prosper or succeed in business, or "increase our territory," as in the Prayer of Jabez. It is about the good news of Jesus Christ that God's grace is sufficient for you.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, we thank you for the privilege of working in your kingdom. May we be open to your Spirit, leading us to passionately pursue the gifts you have given to us as we reach out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Thursday, August 6, 2020
Reading: Psalm 85:8-13
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. - Psalm 85:10
Peace is much more than people sitting around a table talking about how they can settle their differences. Peace is a way of life for both individuals and communities. The psalmist writes, "Righteousness and peace will kiss each other." The psalmist is personifying two of God's attributes and how they work together. The psalm recalls the restoration of Israel in the past and is pleading to be restored again. That "righteousness and peace will kiss each other" is a plea that the Lord's attributes will harmonize and provide comfort to Israel who have strayed.
A kiss was a common form of greeting in the ancient world and is still part of some cultures in the world today. The picture painted in Psalm 85:10 is one of two friends greeting each other as if they had been separated for some time. Righteousness and peace have been estranged, but now they are friends again.
Like the psalmist, we long for a time in which righteousness and peace will kiss each other. We long for a time in which hatred and violence will be no more, and people can live together again in harmony. We are ambassadors of God's kingdom and bear the responsibility of being peacekeepers ourselves by our words and through our actions. It's not easy, because it means we have to put on humility by putting aside our own selfish ways.
Let us pray: Dear God, may we find peace within our hearts so that we may be at peace with others. We pray this in the name of the one who is righteous, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Reading: Exodus 16:2-15, 31-39
The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us to this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." - Exodus 16:3
Family Systems Therapy would say that the people of Israel complained against their leadership, namely Moses and Aaron, because that's what systems do when they're feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. The anxious feelings have to go somewhere, so the leadership become the ones who are dumped upon emotionally.
The LORD sees the needs of the people who are complaining against the leaders whom the LORD had appointed, because they are hungry, and sets forth a plan in which to feed them. Problem solved. Not really, since the people complain again about their boring food which the LORD has provided. They're tired of the same insipid manna day after day. And what is manna, really? Within the Family or any other system there is always a certain amount of anxiety floating around. People are never fully satisfied with their lot in life, no matter how good they have it.
The people of Israel evidently had forgotten what the LORD had done for them by delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians who had enslaved them and their ancestors for hundreds of years. Yes, the wilderness is not a pleasant place, but it's a place where God is with them. And places of trial and testing are never going to be comfortable and convenient.
The congregation is a family system in which the dynamics work much the same way as a family. Anxiety is part of the system in which people will complain because they are, after all, feeling anxious about things. Change within the church will precipitate anxiety within the system. In this time of COVID-19 anxiety abounds because we have been faced with so many changes. The church has had to make some major adjustments. Through it all, the Lord has been with us. We have seen God's hand provide what we have needed during this difficult time.
Let us pray: O Lord, when we are feeling anxious, you hear our cry to you. Calm our fears as you set our minds to rest through your promise that nothing can separate us from your love. Amen.
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Reading: Acts 2:37-47
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. - Acts 2:44
We may have evidence here in Acts of the first kibbutz. A kibbutz is a collective community in Israel that is based traditionally on agriculture. Living in community and caring for one another was a sign of the Spirit at work. "All who believed were together and had all things in common." The Spirit had drawn them together as a community of faith, whereby, they took care of one another and supported each another in their spiritual and physical needs. No one was lacking in anything or in want. They shared their resources; none vying for power over the other in position or possessions. They met together each day for worship and fellowship.
In the midst of COVID-19 we have to distance ourselves from one another physically. Up to this time we have not met together to worship in our sanctuary, yet alone, be able to sit down and have coffee or a meal together in our Fellowship Hall. Fortunately, with the miracle of modern technology, we have been able to meet virtually via live-streaming and Zoom. It's been a challenge for our congregation and for other churches because of our basic human need to live in community with each other.
I've heard some from our congregation say that they miss gathering together for worship and seeing their friends and sitting down and visiting with them. Once again, it has to do with our basic need to live in community. The church is perhaps one of the last strongholds of community in our culture today. In this age of heightened individualism and personal freedoms, we've lost the sense of how important community really is to meet our basic need as human beings who long to live in community.
The Spirit that gathered the first believers in the early church, saw fit to bond them together as a community to care and support one another. The early church models this for us, to be led by the Spirit, in order that the community of faith may continue to flourish and grow.
Let us pray: Come Holy Sprit! Move upon the face of our congregation and continue to create a community in which we care for and support one another in Jesus' name. Amen.
Monday, August 3, 2020
Reading Romans 1:8-10
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. - Romans 1:8
The main aim in Paul's life was to preach the gospel to as many as possible. His missionary journeys took him far and wide and were quite treacherous. He was beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, constantly weary and in pain, and was beset by hunger and thirst constantly. It makes one wonder why Paul endured such hardship, why he didn't just throw in the towel and settle down in a comfortable condo along the Mediterranean.
It would be an understatement to say that Paul was a driven man. The fire of the gospel burned within him and he had to let it out. He had a desire that consumed him to share it everywhere and anywhere he could, as the Spirit would allow him. There is no doubt that if it were not for Paul's burning desire to share the gospel, that Christianity, and its spread, would look quite different on a map today. The church, which includes us, owe Paul a debt of gratitude.
In his first chapter to Letter to the Romans, Paul is thanking the believers in Rome for sharing their faith. For this, Paul constantly remembers them in his prayers. It could be said that if Paul were alive today, he most likely would not be interested in our gratitude for his great contribution to Christianity for his missionary journeys. What would please Paul, I suspect, would be our willingness to take a risk in sharing the gospel. The point here is not for us to necessarily aspire to become an Apostle Paul. The point is, our willingness to stick out our necks for the sake of the gospel.
We hear these words of Paul following this passage from Romans 1, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew and also to the Greek." We may not be called to take on three or four grueling missionary journeys, like Paul, but we are called to unabashedly share the gospel wherever and whenever we can.
Let us pray: Fill me with the Spirit to keep the fire of faith burning within me to be a bold witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Reading: Isaiah 55:1-5
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. - Isiah 55:2b
Food is one of the gifts from God that we can truly enjoy. But, like anything else, we can turn something that God intended as a gift that gives us life and turn it into something that can be death-dealing. We're creatures of habit. We go to the grocery store and buy the food that we need to eat and don't give it any thought as to where it came from, how it was produced, and what has been added to the food that we eat. This is especially true for what has been packaged. Just look at a label sometime in the store of most any item and there is probably a long list of preservatives and additives.
Biblically, the writers of such books as Isaiah, were not concerned about these things. Preservatives and additives were not part of their world, unless it was something like simple salt to help preserve food. The writer of Isaiah was talking about an abundance of rich food that God provided for his people as a sign of blessing. It was a vision of a world of post-exile Babylon. "Rich food" was a sign of hope given to a people who had been taken into captivity, snatched away from the land "flowing with milk and honey" and controlled by foreign oppressors.
In God's goodness, there is enough food to go around. But unfortunately, food is used as a weapon, whereby some are well fed and others go hungry. The issue is not scarcity, the issue is the lack of sharing. In the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which is the gospel for this Sunday in our Revised Common Lectionary, Jesus sees the crowd that has followed him and has compassion for them because they are hungry. Jesus' disciples want to send the crowd away. But Jesus, out of compassion, tells the disciples to take what they have, which are five loaves of bread and two fish, and give it to the crowd.
It seems impossible that 5,000 men plus women and children added to that number could be fed by so little. But the miracle, which begins with a meagre amount, is multiplied, enough to feed all of the crowd. They are not only fed, but each had their fill as well. And there were leftovers of 12 baskets full. The miracle feeding of the multitude began with compassion and then moved to Jesus insisting that the disciples, who were at first reluctant to feed anybody that day, use what little they had and sharing it with others.
Feeding those who are hungry begins with compassion and then there is a sharing of what we have with others.
Let us pray: Gracious God, by your hand you have made enough food for all. May we be moved by compassion to see those who are hungry and share what we have with them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.
Saturday, August 1, 2020
Reading: Matthew 7:7-11
"Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you." - Mattthew 7:7
The world of knocking on doors is long gone. I remember as a child, the Fuller Brush man coming to the door to sell his wares. We also had milk delivered to us. Later is was the Kirby vacuum cleaner guy who'd come "knocking on our door" to give us a demonstration of this fabulous (and extremely heavy) vacuum cleaner. Now people make a point of posting "No Soliciting" signs on their doors to warn all, "Don't you dare knock on our door!"
Earlier on in ministry, I remember that we had teams from the church being sent out to canvass the area to tell our neighbors about our church or an upcoming event to which they were invited. Now, we send out flyers or post something on our Facebook page about an event. We leave the door knocking to the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses who haven't quite caught on that door knocking is out and "friendship evangelism" is in.
Jesus, in this teaching in Matthew, however, invites us to knock on the door of the Father anytime and we will be welcomed. Jesus wants us to know how open and welcoming God is as we search him out. Moreover, Jesus tells us that we need not be shy in asking God to give us good things. We do not have to shy away from expressing our needs to God. God is present to open the door to let us into a relationship with him in Christ.
Let us pray: We rejoice, dear God, that you are open to hearing our pleas for what we need. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Friday, July 31, 2020
Reading: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. - Psalm 145:16
You've perhaps heard the story of the monkey trap. Since monkeys are fast and agile creatures, it's difficult to catch them. But one way that hunters would use to catch a monkey would be to have a glass jar with an opening slightly bigger than the hand of the monkey. Food would be placed into jar, like a banana. The monkey would see the banana in the jar, put it's hand inside and grab the banana. The hand is now turned into a fist and it is impossible for the money to remove it's hand from the jar, unless it lets go of the banana. But there is no way that the money is going to let go of the food. It's beyond the monkey's nature to let go of the food. The monkey, because of it's greedy impulse, is trapped.
It's that way with human nature as well. We see something that entices us, something we want. We want to have it, and like the hand of the monkey, made into a fist, that is trapped in a jar, so too, we become trapped by the very object of our desire. It possesses us. We are close fisted about things. We become stingy in our stewardship of what we have and hold onto money, or our time, with a death grip, unwilling to let go. In our fear, we're afraid that we will not have enough. In the end, our money, our time, our things take over our lives and trap us.
But God teaches us to open up our hands. This is an act of a generous God of abundance, to have an open hand and give us those good things we need in life. If we but open our hands up and share what we have with others, by that very act, we are freed up. We are not possessed by our possessions.
Let us pray: You satisfy the desire of every living thing because of you are generous to us, O God. We thank you for giving the things that we need every day. Teach us to move beyond our fear to open our hands in gracious giving toward others in need. Amen,
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Reading: Philippians 4:10-14
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:13
I remember being at a pastor's gathering of some kind while living in North Dakota. Someone from Cando, North Dakota was present and introduced himself, giving his name and which church he was serving, Cando Lutheran Church. Another person quipped, "I wish I were pastor at Cando Lutheran Church!" I've never forgotten that, because there are times in ministry when you come up against a wall and think to yourself, "I can't do that." Or you want to try to do something new or different in the church, to change things up a bit, and you're met with resistance, "You can't do that," or "We've never done it that way before!"
Paul was in prison (presumably in Rome about 62 AD) when he was writing to the church at Philippi. We know from the letter that the Philippians were facing hardship of their own. Paul wrote a letter to them to thank them for the gifts they'd sent to him in order to continue his ministry of spreading the gospel. The letter is filled with joy an encouragement to the church at Philippi in the midst of their hardship.
We could all use a word of encouragement, especially in this difficult time of COVID-19. The world has changed and in the process we have changed as well. When faced with difficulties and hardship we cannot "do things as usual." We have to make adjustments. We even have to make sacrifices which have not been easy. As I am writing this, students, parents, teachers, bus drivers, and others involved in the Minnesota school districts are waiting on pins and needles to hear the announcement today about what school will look like in the fall. There are many who are still out of work. Others who have businesses are yet struggling because things have not returned to normal, whatever normal is now. I heard on the news just yesterday that many are dying of starvation every day in third world nations and going hungry in our own nation as a result of the pandemic, and it's only going to get worse, they say.
Paul's words are what we need to hear, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." We are strengthened because of God's constant love, in the midst of all the changes and challenges that we face. We are strengthened because we have one another to encourage and lift up, like Paul did with the Philippians while they were facing hardship. We CAN DO all things through him because of what Christ has already done for us. We are not alone in our struggles. God is present, with us, in Christ who strengthens us at all times and in all things.
Let us pray: Lord, we can do all things through you who gives us strength. As we look to you in our time of need, strengthen us that we may be of help to one another. In Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Reading: Mark 4:30-34
"It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth." - Mark 4:31
In our Bible study, someone in our group said, "Why would anyone want to plant a mustard seed? I grew up on a farm and we were always trying to get rid of them." The mustard plant is apparently an invasive weed that can take over a field where a farmer had planted crops to grow. But Jesus compares God's kingdom to a mustard seed as a positive illustration about how the kingdom can start out small and then grow into something quite large.
We can consider God's kingdom by the number adherents there are to Christianity. Jesus became with twelve disciples. By the time that the event at Pentecost rolled around the number of believers had grown exponentially. Today, there are 2.4 billion Christians in the world.
We could also look at God's kingdom in terms of our faith. It starts out small. Perhaps the seed of faith was panted in you when you were in Sunday school, Bible camp, or by a parent or a grandparent. The seed was planted, and then it began to grow within you to the point that it "took over" your life. Your faith grew such deep roots that in troubled times your faith helped see you through it all. And like the parable, the mustard seed grew into such a large shrub that its branches provided a place for birds to live, so also, your faith branched out positively affecting the lives of those around you.
We are truly blessed that someone took the time to plant the seed of faith within us. We are blessed that someone was there to help nurture our faith as we watched it grow and grow. We are blessed, that through our faith, we can branch out into the lives of others and be a blessing to them.
Let us pray: Help us, God, to grow in our faith and, in turn, plant the seed of faith in the lives of others, to watch your kingdom grow within us and around us. Amen.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Reading: Ephesians 6:10-18
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:12
This is the stuff of Star Wars it seems. The cosmic powers of the universe are at battle with each other, the forces of light and darkness, going at each other. Paul is well aware of how systems and governments can be drawn to the dark side and become corrupt and even evil. To fight against such powers, Paul suggests putting on the whole armor of God.
The analogy that Paul uses here of armor is a bit outdated. It makes us think about knights wearing armor to protect themselves. A modern version, I suppose, would be a police officer who puts on armor of a sort, wearing body armor, a helmet, and a shield at times. Whatever the case may be, the point is that the armor is worn in order to protect the person from injury, or worse, death. The armor that Paul writes about, the belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, and helmet, are the equipment that is needed to withstand evil as one is engaged in a spiritual battle. Truth, righteousness, peace, and faith is what's needed to protect us from the force of darkness in the world.
Paul mentions only one weapon amidst the list of armor. It is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The word is the weapon used to combat the powers of darkness. Words can be powerful, but they are most effective when the Spirit is involved. Words are used as a weapon by individuals and systems that are considered evil as well. But it is only the the word of God that can vanquish evil.
Our Lutheran understanding of the word of God is more than the written word, the Bible. In John's Gospel we read that Jesus is the Word. Another understanding of the word is that which is spoken or preached. All of these forms of the word can be used against the powers of darkness. These are available when we confront not only the darkness around us but also that darkness that we encounter within us. God's word, together with the whole armor of truth, righteousness, peace, and faith that we put on are available to us in order to withstand evil in whatever form it takes shape in the world and in our lives.
Let us pray: Lord, deliver us from evil, teaching us to put on the armor of truth, righteousness, peace and faith, while wielding the weapon of your Word. Amen.
Monday, July 27, 2020
Reading: James 3:13-18
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
- James 3:13
"Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words." These words are attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. He most likely didn't say this but it is a meaningful sentiment nevertheless. The letter of James is a practical reminder to us that actions can speak louder than words at times. Earlier on in the letter is written, "Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves" (James 1:22). Later on, in the next chapter, is written, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?" (James 2:14).
If our actions don't match our words, what good are they? It can then be said that our words are used in vain. It is like a parent who tells his child, "I love you," but never demonstrates affection to the child; no hug given or no tucking into bed. Perhaps the greatest threat to Christianity these days is not other religions threatening to take over or undo it or secularism that attempts to suck every ounce of religion or religious practice out from our society. Perhaps the greatest threat to Christianity these days lies within its own ranks. What good is it to spout off about believing in Jesus Christ but failing to live out what the Gospels share about Jesus, his life, teachings, and ministry.
Jesus uses the metaphor of trees and fruit to capture what the writer of James is espousing concerning works. If we claim to have faith in Christ but our lives bear no evidence of that, it's like claiming to have his good fruit, but all we produce is rotten. Jesus says, "By their fruits you will know them" Matthew 7:16). Our good works certainly do not lead to salvation, but the fruits of what we do bears testimony to the faith we profess.
Let. us pray: Gracious God, may what we do this day be in accord with what we say we believe; our faith be put into action. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Sunday, July 26, 2020
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Saturday, July 25, 2020
Reading: Psalm 119:129-136
Redeem me from human oppression, that I may keep your precepts. - Psalm 119:133
Human oppression has sadly been an unfortunate part of our history as a nation and countless other nations as well. Oppression is born of power. For those who exercise their oppressive power, there is a twisted belief that they are superior and the others whom they oppress are inferior. Oppression enables those in charge to have control over the resources and choices, while making those who are labeled as inferior vulnerable to poverty, violence, and early death.
What does it mean that the psalmist writes, "Redeem me from human oppression, that I may keep you precepts?" We may find a clue in the psalm itself through another verse that reads, "Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words" (verse 161). The psalmist is being oppressed. God's precepts are just and right. God's law is not meant to oppress anyone, but rather to call for justice so that we may live in peace with one another. The weight of oppression may be for the psalmist too much to bear to live according to God's precepts.
For those who are oppressed, feelings of hatred or a desire to seek vengeance against their oppressor certainly could be understood. But hatred and vengeance would only exacerbate the problem. Violence begets more violence.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa had every right not for forgive his worst enemies during apartheid, the racial segregation and oppression of nonwhite South Africans beginning in 1949. But he chose forgiveness and having done so changed the world for the better. So too, we have a choice to "keep God's precepts" and walk the path of forgiveness.
Let us pray: O Lord, we rejoice in your word that is just and right. Lead us to walk in your ways so that we may live in peace with one another. Amen.
Friday, July 24, 2020
Reading: Acts 7:44-53
"Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.'" - Acts 7:48-49a
Until the time of King Solomon there was no temple. God was with his people wherever they lived and dwelt with them. But it was the desire of the king and of his people to make a house for the Lord in which to live. It should be said that God didn't want a place built in which to dwell. We know, of course, that the plan to build a house for God went forward. There were actually two temples built. The first one by King Solomon in 1000 BC. The first Temple was destroyed in 585 BC by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, when he conquered Jerusalem. The second Temple was built in 515 BC and later destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
If you look at the floor plan of the Temple you would see that there is an outer courtyard, an inner courtyard and the Temple building itself. The innermost room of the Temple is called the "Holy of Holies," which is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was the belief that God dwelt in that innermost sanctum. There was no light in that space and only the High Priest was allowed to enter that room.
In Mark's Gospel we read, "Then Jesus gave out a loud cry and breathed his las. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (Mark 15:37-38). This was a sign that there is no containing God. God cannot be pent up in a temple. God is omnipresent and cannot be confined to one place.
Church architecture evolved into a temple-like floor plan with the space called the chancel, which is surrounded in many churches, especially cathedrals, by a railing or a screen to keep it separated from the remainder of the sanctuary. But God cannot be contained in this space any more than God could be contained in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
When I was growing up we would "go to church." We dedicated an hour or two each week to go to a building to worship and for Sunday school. There seemed to be a real separation between "church time" and the remainder of the week. We would do well to remember that God is with us 24/7. Our holy God dwells with his holy people wherever they are, be it in a sanctuary, a classroom, a house, or at a workplace. The pandemic has taught us that we can worship God anywhere, even in our homes or wherever we find ourselves. In the midst of the pandemic, we have also learned about our deep desire and need for ongoing worship.
Let us pray: We can give you thanks and praise wherever we find ourselves. Keep the fire of our hearts to worship you, O God, burning within us always. Amen.
Thursday, July 23, 2020
Reading: 1 Corinthians 4:14-21
For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. - 1 Corinthians 4:20
You're no doubt familiar with the phrase, "Talk is cheap," But where did that idiom come from? The sentiment was expressed by John Bunyan (author of "Pilgrim's Progress") in The Saint's Knowledge of Christ's Love, or The Unsearchable Riches of Christ published in 1692: "I know words are cheap, but a dram of grace is worth all the world." The expression, "talk is cheap," as it is used today is often quoted, without the second half of the original idiom.
The word "dram" is of Scottish origin, meaning a small unit of weight, which is still used as a measurement by pharmacists that equals 1/8 of an ounce. A dram, therefore is a very small unit of weight. A dram of grace, according to Bunyan, "is worth all the world." So if we think for a moment of grace as a commodity, it is priceless.
The idiom, "talk is cheap," means, actions are stronger than words. We can say, "I love you," all we want but our actions have to match our words at some point. When Paul says that "the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power," I think what he is getting at here is that our actions, our display of God's love in the world through what we do, far outweigh our words.
We are living in the midst of a war of words these days. Through social media, for example, people of different factions, representing one side or another, usually political in nature, are sparring with one another with words. We can get caught up in this war as well. I admit that I have at times. But this is a war in which no one wins. It just further divides us and forces us to take sides. Christians are called to live in the world but not be of the world. That is, we are called to be set apart, to demonstrate the love of God in Christ Jesus through what we do, including how we treat others, yes, even those with whom we disagree.
Let us pray: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. May we embody this word which demonstrates to the world your great love, O God. Amen.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Reading: Psalm 130
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord who shall stand? - Psalm 130:3
The word iniquity is one of those religious words that appear in the Bible, as in Psalm 130. We don't go around using the word in our everyday language and casual conversations. The word iniquity is a highly charged word that is used in scripture to describe immoral or unjust behavior. Translated from the Hebrew. the word iniquity quite literally means twisted. It's twisted behavior from what God intends for us.
The verse from 1 John 1:8 reminds us, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." In other words, we cannot get away from the truth about ourselves that we all sin. In realizing that we sin, that we have "missed the mark" of what God intends for us, as to how to live in a right relationship with our neighbor and with God, we seek forgiveness. The writer of Psalm 130 reassures us in verse 4, "But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered." If God dealt with us according to our sin, none of us could stand. But God who is gracious, and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgives us our iniquities.
Through God's gift of Holy Communion, we come before God as sinners in need of forgiveness. We humbly come before the altar with hands wide open as beggars before God, to receive the host, the body which has been broken for us. The two words, "For you," is a reminder to us that God personally knows each of us and desires to forgive us. Before the Lord's Table we equally stand before God as sinners in need of forgiveness. Through the bread and the wine, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are fed with the food of forgiveness to nurture us and sustain us in our life of faith.
Let us pray: O God, with you there is redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. We are not worthy to receive such forgiveness, but it is given because of your great love for us. For this we give you thanks and praise; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Reading: Isaiah 43;1-13
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. - Isaiah 43:1
What's in a name? In the Bible names have meaning. Names are given to those throughout scripture according to an event or their character. For instance, the name Jacob means "supplanter" or "ankle grabber." Jacob was the younger twin of Esau. In Genesis, we read that when the twins were born, it was noted that Jacob grabbed the ankle of his brother Esau. This was a portent of what was to come. Jacob stole Esau's birthright and blessing, thus, supplanted Esau of his rightful place as the oldest son of Isaac and Rebekah. Later on, Jacob would wrestle with a stranger by the Jabbok River, and be renamed "Israel," meaning "one who wrestles with God."
The name "Paul" means "little, small, of no account." I can thank my parents for that. I was told that I wasn't even named after the great apostle. My mother told me that she just like the name, Paul. A fun exercise is to go to the public library and check out a book on baby names. There you will find listed just about every name under the sun, both girl and boy names.
I have used a book of names for babies in children's sermons. The kids get a kick out of hearing about what their names mean. If there was a Leah present, however, I would have to lie and tell that child that her name means, "enlightened one" or something along that order. The name "Leah" is of Hebrew origin meaning "cow." You may recall that Leah was the not as good looking sister of Rebekah. Jacob loved Rebekah and wanted to marry her but was unable to wed her unless Jacob first married Leah. The name Rebekah, incidentally means "beautiful" or "captivating."
Even though we are not named according to an event in our life or our character, as in the Bible, our names are important. In our baptism we are named, and together with God's name, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are claimed by the triune God as God's children. In our baptism, God declares, "I have named you, beloved child of God, claimed you as my own, and you are mine." God calls us by name from the waters of our baptism to be about God's work in the world. It's not a small thing that God would call us by name, claiming us as God's own, to be about God's purposes in the world.
Let us pray: O Lord, we are truly blessed to be named, claimed, and called to be your own in our baptism. May we live out our calling, drawn from the waters of our baptism, to be about your will in the world; in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Monday, July 20, 2020
Reading: Psalm 87
On the holy mount stands the city he founded. - Psalm 87:1
Jerusalem is built on Mt. Zion, the holy city in which the Temple once stood. Jerusalem is mentioned 660 times on the Old Testament and 140 times in the New Testament. Jerusalem has great religious significance, not only for the Jewish people because it was once the site of the Temple but also has significance for Christians, as Jesus' last days were spent there, the culmination of his life and ministry called "Holy Week."
At the center of Jerusalem sit three major holy sites: the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in the world for Muslims; the Western Wall (the old remaining walls of the Temple), part of the holiest site in the world for Jews; and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the place where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, entombed and resurrected.
The psalmist sees Jerusalem as the seat of God's power. It is a city established in which the reign of God is centered. History has shown to us, including that of Jerusalem's , that nothing lasts forever. Buildings topple, kingdoms fall, and the boundaries of nations vanish. Yet, there are some who have come to believe that they can establish God's kingdom here on earth and attempt to manipulate that through politics and policies. But if scripture has taught us anything, it is that God's reign is not a place but a condition, a way of life, and one that dwells in the hearts of people who've come to trust God above all else.
Let us pray: Come rule in our hearts, O God, and establish your reign there forever. Amen.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Reading: Romans 8:12-25
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. - Romans 8:14
When I was in high school, which was a long time ago, I played one season on the junior varsity football team. I played left offensive guard, a not so fun position in which I saw a lot of grass, which means, I wasn't a very good player. But I remember the cheer leaders on the sideline, giving their cheers. One of their cheers to rev up the crowd was, "We've got spirit, yes we do! We've got spirit, how 'bout you?" The fans would then chant back the same cheer. Even though I wasn't that good a player, I always found those cheers to be encouraging, because they were meant not only for those who played well, but also for those like me, who didn't play so well. The cheers were meant for the whole team, regardless of individual skill level, to give us encouragement.
This is how I see Paul in this passage to the Roman church. He is cheering on the believers, in the midst of difficulty and a time of persecution. He is giving believers encouragement to persevere in the midst of their problems. He is offering up hope in what may seem otherwise like a hopeless situation.
We could all use some encouragement these days, especially as we face such uncertainty in the midst of a pandemic. Paul's words cheer us on into the future that is filled with hope, as God's glory will be fully revealed. We all have the Spirit to sustain us in troubled times and see us through into the hope-filled future. We have all "received a spirit of adoption," Paul says, "not to fall back in fear." As children of God, our spirit is in-sync with God's Spirit, which gives us encouragement each and every day that we are not alone in our struggles. God is with us.
Let us pray: Abba! Father! By the power of your Spirit you lift up our spirits, giving us encouragement and hope as we continue to live as your children. Amen.
Saturday, July 18, 2020
Reading:: Matthew 7:15-20
"Thus you will know them by their fruits." - Matthew 7:20
This year, Brenda and I purchased a couple of raised garden beds that were listed on Facebook Marketplace. I filled it with soil and Brenda planted the vegetable plants and seeds. Some of the vegetables did well, mainly the pepper plants, and others didnt' do so well. We knew that we'd put good soil in the planters and we thought we'd watered it plenty. Perhaps the plants didn't get enough sun and the planters will need to be moved for next year.It seems like for plants to grow they have to have certain right conditions for them to flourish.
The same can be said of our faith. We have to be in an environment with certain conditions in order for our faith to grow. Nowadays, many say that they believe in God but they don't believe in any organized religion. I'm reading an interesting book right now called, "Frogs Without Legs Can't Hear," having to do with nurturing disciples in the home and congregation. One of the authors spoke with a woman who declared that she didn't believe in organized religion. His response to her was, "So you prefer disorganized religion?" He added that he didn't get a convert with that statement.
I can see how people these days can be turned off by organized religion. But there are definitely some very positive things that the church can offer that helps us in our lives of faith. There is community and nurture, fellowship and accountability. A lot of learning takes place within a community of faith. Christianity, and most other major religions, are established in community. As a church, we can do far more together than we ever can by ourselves. The greatest fruit comes from an organized and concerted effort of the community coming together to demonstrate what our faith is all about.
Accountability comes from living in community, without which, one can make of faith as one wills. Without a faith community, a person could very well be producing bad fruit. But with living in a community of faith, it bears a sense of responsibility, from which can come forth much good fruit.
Let us pray: May our faith, as we live within a community of believers, bear the good fruit of your love, O Lord. Amen.
Friday, July 17, 2020
Reading: Psalm 86
For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. - Psalm 86
In these days of COVID-19 we are all crying out to God to deliver us from death. Because the virus is invisible and it has not darkened our doors does not make it any less real, as it continues to wreak havoc in the world. In our own country, cases of COVID-19 are increasing daily at a dramatic pace.
The psalmist is giving thanks to God for being delivered from the depths of Sheol, because of God's steadfast love. Sheol is a place of darkness to which the spirits of the dead would go. The Hebrew understanding of death is that Sheol is the place where people go when they die.
When Alexander the Great conquered the world surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, from 356 to 323 BC, the Greek language spread throughout that ancient land as well. When the Hebrew scriptures was translated into Greek, around 200 B.C. the word "Sheol" was translated into the Greek the word "Hades." Hades was also the name of the Greek god of the underworld or the dead. Hades would later be referred to by Christians as "hell" or a place of torment. The Hebrew understanding of Sheol and the Greek understanding of Hades are not exactly the same thing.
The reality of the pandemic into which we now live may seem like hell to us. In many and various ways we are being tormented by the effects of the virus. The virus does not discriminate between people in terms of their beliefs or faith. It can and does indiscriminately attack anyone who is in contact with it. But, because of our faith, we trust in God's steadfast love for us, regardless of whether we contract the virus or not.
Let us pray: Your steadfast love for us, O God, endures forever. Deliver us from all that which would harm us or threaten our lives this day; we ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Reading: Hebrews 2:1-9
"You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet." - Hebrews 2:7-8
Our understanding of angels might be limited to the television show that aired a number of years ago, "Touched by an Angel," if you're old enough to remember that program. Or perhaps our understanding of angels is limited to our singing about them at Christmas, "Angels We Have Heard On High," or with the story of Christmas itself in Luke's gospel.
There are a lot of misunderstandings out there about angels as well. One of those comes from Renaissance paintings of angels that has been imprinted in our minds, that they look like chubby babies with little wings attached to their backs. Another misunderstanding is that when someone we love dies they "earn their wings" and become one of God's angels, especially if they died when they were young.
The Bible is filled with angels, many of whom are messengers of God. The angel Gabriel was sent by God to deliver a message to Mary that she was to conceive in her womb and bear a son, and that she was to name him Jesus. There are numerous other angels that are mentioned throughout Scripture. These angels would not have appeared with wings to those who received their messages from God. Nor would these angels have been an offshoot from someone who was once human. Angels were separate beings in their own right.
According to the writer of Hebrews, human beings were created to be a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor. The author of Hebrews is quoting Psalm 8:5. We are given a special place and role in God's kingdom. Because of God's love for us, God took on our flesh and blood in the person of Jesus. The incarnation is God's ultimate revelation of how far that love has been extended to us, to the point of Jesus' death on the cross.
Let us pray: Gracious God, you have made us to be a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor. May we embrace our place and our role in your kingdom as human beings. Amen.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Reading: Proverbs 11:23-30
Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves. - Proverbs 11:28
I played the role of Tevye in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" in community theater. Tevye is a poor dairy farmer who delivers his milk to the townspeople of the little village of Anatevka. Throughout the musical, Tevye has a talk with God, mostly about how how sad he is to be poor. In one monologue, Tevye addresses God, saying, "You made many, many poor people, I realize, of course, it's no shame to be poor, but it's no great honor either. Now what would be so terrible if I had a small fortune?" Tevye's desire to be a rich man never comes to fruition, but he discovers the richness of life in the important people who surround him.
In some small way we are all like Tevye, desiring more than what we have. But we discover that life is not comprised of the riches of wealth that we may accumulate, but rather how we live our lives in relationship with those around us. The true and lasting treasure is found in the stuff of relationships with others, such as, love, compassion, honesty, and integrity.
We will "flourish like green leaves" when God is part of our lives. We are righteous when our motives are honest. Do we seek God to make us happy and content or do we seek the things of this world that can wither and perish? Do we live out our love for God by the way in which we love our neighbor, or do we seek to use our neighbor in whatever way possible to get ahead in life? We can consider ourselves wealthy, indeed, when we seek both God and neighbor to love above everything else.
Let us pray: O Lord, lead us toward the richness of knowing you, as you desire to have us love one another. Amen.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Reading: Ephesians 4:17-5:2
And live in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. - Ephesians 5:2
There are certain aromas that are pleasing to the human sense of smell. Several come to my mind right away, such as, the aroma of fresh bread coming right out of the oven, the smell of coffee brewed in the morning, the sent of lilacs through a soft summer breeze, the smell of a juicy steak on the grill, the odor of pine trees in a forest. The list could go on. Certain aromas are pleasing to us and others are not.There is a strong connection with smell and our feelings, and smell and memory as well.
The ancient Israelites regularly offered sacrifices to God at the Temple, as a measure of atoning for their sins. The fat that was burned created smoke that would rise up to God as a fragrant offering. When the Temple was destroyed a second and final time in 70 A.D. there were no longer sacrifices offered up to God. A shift took place in Judaism, in which, the worship involving animal sacrifice ceased and worship then took place in synagogues, where they became places of gathering for worship and for learning in which the people concentrated on the law given by God.
Paul is using the language of sacrifice concerning our lives in Christ. As Christ "gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God," so believers are to live their lives of sacrifice through love. The sacrifice we make by giving of our selves in love toward others is the most pleasing fragrant offering we can offer up to God. Christ showed his love for us by giving up his life to reveal how much God loves us. As we are marked with the cross of Christ in our baptism, we are claimed as God's own in Christ, commissioned to be about God's purposes in the world to love others as he has loved us.
Let us pray: May what we do this day, be pleasing to you, O God, as a fragrant offering to you, giving ourselves away in love toward others; in Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Monday, July 13, 2020
Reading: Psalm 92
How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! - Psalm 92
What are the works of the Lord? They are God's very handiwork which leaves us awestruck. It is the created order in which God has left his thumbprint. God's identity is written all over creation. We are told in Genesis that we are made in the image of God, both male and female. We are part of God's great works.
When our three children were born, I was filled with wonder. It was a humbling experience which gave me pause to consider how I was a part of God's created order and that a part of me was in them. As they have now all grown into adulthood, I am still left in wonder because I see their looks, their little foibles, and personalities mimic in some ways, for good or for ill, my own. They are their own persons, I know, but to know that we are connected in a profound way both physiologically and psychologically is amazing.
Life connects us all, to one another, and with our creator God. Because of this, we are duty-bound to help preserve in whatever way possible that life. How sad it is, however, when we treat one another as less than human or as objects to be used. We are meant for more, for we are all part of God's great purpose in life to be drawn closer to God and to one another.
Let us pray: We praise you for the works of your hands, O Lord. Help us to see your image imprinted in all people. Amen.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
"Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears, listen."
- Matthew 13:8-9
In hearing or reading this parable of Jesus, I've often wondered about what the fruit looks like that has come from the good soil. We get too caught up, it seems, in what the good soil look like, and not with what the fruit from that good soil looks like. The seed, the word of God, falls upon the good soil and it produces fruit.
In what form does that fruit take shape? It could be through someone older mentoring someone who is younger in the faith. It could look like a person who was lost and alone in the world and came to realize that he is not lost and alone because someone took the time and made the effort of befriending him. It may look like a parent who makes sure that she takes her daughter to worship with her faithfully every Sunday morning. It may take the shape of someone sharing a word of God's love to a person who feels hated and discriminated against.
We are called, you and I, to spread the seed of God's word wherever and whenever we can. We don't get to choose to whom the seed is spread. We are simply called to spread it in whatever way we can, like a reckless sower, broadcasting the seed far and wide. We are not responsible for the seed taking root. It's dependent upon how receptive people are to the word, how open they are to God's indiscriminate love spread in their direction.
Has the seed of God's word taken root in our lives? If it has, what does the fruit from that seed look like?
Let us pray: Lord, let our hearts be good soil, where your word takes root in our lives and bears the fruit of your love in what we say and in what we do. Amen.
Saturday, July 11, 2020
Reading: John 12:44-50
"I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness." - John 12:46
One of the important items to remember to bring on a camping trip is a flash light. It's amazing how much it gets used while camping. There's been a time or two when I've gone camping and could not find my flashlight. Groping around in a dark tent in the middle of the night is not fun, let me tell you. Normally, we would have the ease of simply flipping on a light switch and find our way through a room or hallway. Light, light switches, and electricity are things we simply take for granted.
Light and darkness is a theme throughout John's Gospel. John, in fact, begins his gospel with the words, "What has come into being in him, was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:3b-5). Jesus is the light who has come into the world to enlighten everyone. In this passage in John 12, Jesus says that he has come not to judge the world but to save it, that is, to bring people who live in darkness into the light.
What it means to live in darkness is to grope around in the dark not being able to find your way. It's like finding yourself in a tent without a flashlight and you're trying to navigate where you are at in the darkness. Jesus' intention is to lead people out of the darkness, into the light of living in relationship with God, not to let people fumble their way through life without knowing God. Jesus is the light who reveals who God is to us. God is gracious and merciful, desiring that we no longer linger in the darkness but live in the light through Christ.
I am mindful of the old gospel song, "I Saw the Light" by Hank Williams Jr.
I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I'm so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, we praise you that you sent your Son, to be the light which leads us out of the darkness, to live in the glow of your presence. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Friday, July 10, 2020
Reading: Romans 15:14-21
Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else's foundation. - Romans 15:20
The Apostle Paul's chief aim, following his conversion, was to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Prior to this, Paul's aim was to squelch the gospel by putting to death any who would proclaim the good news. Such a dramatic turn around in Paul's life brought about the spread and tremendous growth of Christianity. It wouldn't be out of line to say that if it were not for Paul, the Christian Church would not have grown to what it is today. His missionary journeys and letters to the churches throughout the Meditteranean paved the way for the massive spread of the gospel.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that he is reluctant to proclaim the good news to those who have already heard. Is it that he doesn't want to steal someone else's thunder? Or is it that Paul doesn't find it necessary to spend his energy preaching the gospel where it's already been heard. Such redundancy will only delay him from spreading the good news further to many more who have not heard it. The Roman church was not founded by Paul himself. At the time when he wrote Romans, Paul had never visited Rome, although in Romans chapter 16, Paul does indicate that he had acquaintances there. He is perhaps writing a letter to the church at Rome to offer words of encouragement and to help strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ.
Whatever motivation Paul has in writing to the Roman Church, one thing is for certain, and that is, Paul is passionate about the gospel and spreading it as far as he can possibly take it. Whether it is through his own personal missionary journeys or writing to the many churches that have arisen, Paul is "on fire for Christ."
Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit, set our hearts on fire for Christ. Ignite a passion within us to share the gospel whenever and wherever possible; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Reading: Psalm 65
You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. - Psalm 65:8
There are many things in life of which we have little of no control. As much as we would like to, we cannot control the weather. We could all be a meteorologist and give the forecast of the weather, we've heard bantered around. "There will be a 50/50 chance of rain," or "There will be partly sunny skies." The truth of the matter is, however, that inasmuch as we think we can all predict the weather, we certainly cannot control it.
Since ancient times, people have been concerned about rain, mostly having enough rain for crops to grow and water to drink. Even now, water is the most precious resource there is, because it is scarce, especially safe drinking water throughout the world. When I visited our sister congregation in Tanzania in 2001, I saw women carrying five gallon water pales on their heads along the side of the roads. It was a common scene to see women walking miles from their homes to a source of clean drinking water to bring back to their families to survive. A major initiative of the church of which i was a part at the time and other churches, was to dig wells in the center of villages. It would be open to all people of the village to obtain safe drinking water.
There are images of water in abundance throughout the Bible as a sign of a gracious God. We can rejoice that we have a God of abundance who desires to have his people filled with good things, such as, clean water to drink and with which to quench their crops. Part of our outpouring of rejoicing includes sharing water to drink and food to eat with others, so that all may rejoice in God's generous gifts.
Let us pray: Good and gracious God, we rejoice in the many gifts you give to us, including water. May we share in our abundance with others in need; in Jesus' name. Amen.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Reading: John 13:1-17
"So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you." - John 13:14-15
This passage in John is read as part of the lectionary on Maundy Thursday. John does not write about Jesus' final meal with his disciples, but rather goes into great detail about Jesus washing his disciples' feet as a symbol of servanthood. If Jesus, their Lord and Teacher washes the feet of the disciples, they also, ought to wash each other's feet. The washing of feet in ancient times was a common practice relegated to a servant or slave. It was a menial task for them to wash the feet of their master, to clean the dust and grime off their feet, before the master as they would enter the house.
Jesus takes the task of a servant of foot washing and turns it into a sign of discipleship. The Teacher is using this occasion as an object lesson to teach his students about what it means to be a true disciple. There is no glitz or glamor in being a disciple. There is no vying for power or element of prestige in being a follower. To be a disciple means to take up the role of a servant.
To be a follower of Jesus Christ, there ought not be any hint of privilege. In claiming to be a disciple of the Teacher, there shouldn't be any sense that one is more important than another. All those calling themselves "Christian" are called to be servants. As students of the Teacher, we don't get to pick and choose which teachings of his we will follow and which ones we don't want to take up. Yes, some of what Jesus is asking us to do is challenging and even involves sacrifice. Followers of the Lord and Teacher, Jesus, are Kingdom people who are called to "do feet."
Let us pray: O Lord, you have called us to take on the role of a servant. May we shed the cloak of any arrogance we may have and put on the garment of your grace. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Reading: Psalm 131
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
- Psalm 131:2
Any new parents will tell you that having a child changes their lives forever. No longer will they have a full night's rest of uninterrupted sleep. The weight of responsibility is heavy upon the parents as they have another person in the household, but one who is totally dependent upon the parents for EVERYTHING! There is no turning back. There is only the vigilant attention given to the child who has to be fed, burped, changed, and bathed on a constant basis until that child grows to a certain age. Even then, one doesn't just stop being a parent.
The psalmist paints a picture of a parent who is doing the job of parenting and a child who is content by being nurtured through a loving parent. It is a peaceful scene of contentment. There is no screaming child here, demanding to be fed, nor is there present a parent screaming out of frustration of being overwhelmed by parenting.
I love Eugene Peterson's version of this psalm from, The Message, "I've kept my feet on the ground, I've cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in it's mother's arms, my soul is a baby content."
To be content is not as common a thing that we'd like it to be these days. We are mostly doing battle with one thing or another that produces discontentment within us. We feel agitated and anxious in a pandemic world and we wonder if our souls will ever be content. But the psalmist gives us an image that we can hold onto. It is an image of a God who nurtures us and cares for us as a loving parent. Our souls are quieted when we can set aside our agitation and anxiety, casting our cares upon God who loves us with an everlasting love.
Let us pray: O God, calm our hearts and minds with your very love, as you hold us in your arms. Amen.
Monday, July 6, 2020
Reading: Romans 1:18-25
Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse. - Romans 1:20
The wonders of creation bring about a sense of awe within us. It is difficult to gaze upon the created order and not be struck by God's divine power. Consider the intricacies of the human body itself and how inter-related every part is and how each function together to make a whole body. Even though I took human anatomy and physiology in both high school and college, it wasn't until more recently that I learned how purposeful and plentiful bacteria is in the functioning of our bodies.
There are those who do not believe in a God of creation. That has always boggled my mind. The evidence is before us each and everyday. But some either just don't see it or refuse to believe that there is a power in the universe that has brought all things into existence.
My friend, Dan Engblom, who is a member of Immanuel, posts on Facebook everyday a picture that he has taken of something from nature which he calls, "Lawn Ornament of the Day." I look forward to seeing what wonder from creation he is going to feature each day. I appreciate his "Lawn Ornament" posts because it opens my eyes to the variety of things that are in creation that I am simply not tuned into. Dan has a keen eye of observation that most of us don't have. He also reveals to the rest of us a deep appreciation of the created order in which we may be lacking.
We are invited each and every day to open our eyes to God's creation in order to appreciate the wonders of all that God has made. In so doing, we will experience the sacredness of life in all it's fullness.
Let us pray: Creator God, thank you for making us and all that exists. As your Spirit moved over the face of the waters in the beginning, so move within us to cherish how sacred everything is that you have created. Amen.
Sunday, July 5, 2020
Reading: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." - Matthew 11:28
What are your burdens? Has the changed world of the pandemic caught up with you and found you lacking, not knowing how to continue on with this "new normal"? Are you burdened by the barrage of demands put upon you, as you have tried to put on the many hats that are expected of you to wear? Is the burden the weight of worrying about finances and how you're possibly going to get through another month trying to live paycheck-to-paycheck? Or is the burden a chronic illness that has clinged close to you for so long that it has taken over your life each day, and it seems, every moment of every day?
Whatever heavy burden you are carrying, there is one who wants to give you rest. He didn't say that he will remove your burden, But he did say that he will ease it by giving you rest. How he proposes to do this is for you to take his yoke upon you and you will learn from him. But a yoke seems like another burden to bear, and the thought of taking on some more weight seems too heavy to bear. But, then again, a yoke is something that is used by livestock that is meant for two in order to ease the burden by lightening the load.
What Jesus is proposing here, by taking up his yoke, is to share your load with him and lighten whatever burden you are carrying around with you. He does this because he loves you. It's not earned or even deserved. But it is available for you because Jesus loves you more than you can ever fully know or imagine.
Let us pray: Thank you Jesus, that you love me so much, that you're willing to take on my burdens in life. Amen.
Saturday, July 4, 2020
Reading: Genesis 27:18-29
"Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you?" - Genesis 27:29
Jacob is a scoundrel. He is a liar and deceiver. He cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright. Jacob tricked his own father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing which was by rights supposed to have been bestowed upon his elder brother, Esau. One wonders, how in the world did Jacob get by with it? But a blessing, apparently, once given, cannot be rescinded. Later on in Genesis we would read about how this "supplanter," for this is the very meaning of the name "Jacob," would receive another name, "Israel." Aptly named, also, because the name Israel means "one who wrestles with God." Jacob fought against God by the Jabbok River demanding the be blessed by this stranger. Once again, Jacob, who becomes Israel, had no right to demand a blessing. Yet, was given a blessing.
Jacob is but one example about how God has used flawed human beings to bring about God's will. I've thought about Jacob as one we can look to whenever we may question, "How in the world can God use me, a flawed person, to bring about God's purposes?" The Bible is filled with shady characters who, despite their sins and iniquities, God has used to get the job done. In other words, it should dawn on us by now, that God can use us, flawed as we are, to accomplish God's will and work in the world.
Let us pray: Use us, O Lord, even in our weakness, to be a blessing upon others in the world to do your holy will. Amen.
Friday, July 3, 2020
"In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you."
- John 14:2
I am reminded of a joke about a man who dies and goes to heaven and St. Peter at the pearly gates asks him which denomination he is. The guy tells St. Peter that he's Methodist. St. Peter takes him to the room where he will be staying and tells the guy to be quiet, as they're walking past a certain room along the way. The guy asks St. Peter why he has to be quiet. St. Peter tells him, "Well, that's the room for the Lutherans. And they think that they're the only ones up here."
You can, of course, substitute "Lutheran" with Catholic or Baptist or what have you. The point is that there are some Christians who believe that they're the only ones who will get to heaven. Those in the other denominations will simply not get to heaven because they don't adhere to certain beliefs. If your ticket to heaven is belonging to a certain denomination, it's a wonder why more people haven't bought this ticket. And then, there are those who can't get into heaven because they didn't quite live the right way.
For those with "ultra orthodox" beliefs, heaven is a small place with very few rooms. But Jesus seems to think the opposite, that heaven is expansive, with room for many. "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places," he says. It's a wonder how some in this life have appointed themselves as the gatekeeper of heaven and have the authority to decide who makes it in and those who don't. I don't really think that it's up to any of us to determine something that is ultimately in God's hands.
If we've become too heavenly minded for our earthly good, it's because we've not invested ourselves in what is going on here on earth. The truth is that we are not the gatekeepers of heaven any more than we are the judges here on earth. The way of Jesus is the path of compassion for the neighbor and not condemnation. That compassion for the neighbor is revealed through how we treat them.
Let us pray: In your house, O Father, there are many dwelling places. Quell our desire to sit in the place of judgement, and use us as instruments of your will to reveal your love for all people. Amen.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Reading: Psalm 145:8-21
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. - Psalm 145:8
When I was young, I thought of God as an angry God. It could have been because the main male figures in my life growing up had a short fuse. My father and grandfather were quick to get angry. They would let off steam with their loud voices which would frighten me. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with anger, It's what you do with it that matters. Anger is one of those negative emotions of which we don't like being on the receiving end. There are those, like myself, that don't like to display anger either, and tend to "stuff it." But doing this only builds it up and stores it up, until it's let out like steam from a boiling tea pot.
The psalmist says, "The Lord is slow to anger." Note that the psalmist didn't say, "The Lord has no anger." God gets angry alright. We've read about God's anger in the Bible, mostly by-way-of the prophets. But God is not hot-headed, who blows off steam at the drop of a hat. We see that God's anger is typically revealed when God's people have turned from his ways. Turning from God's ways are when we have not treatied one another with dignity and respect. God also shows his anger when God's people have turned to other gods. But, here too, it is based on God's love for his people, in which God knows that these other gods cannot offer them what God can give them.
There are times when I get angry and I am reminded of this verse in Psalm 145 that God is "slow too anger and abounding in steadfast love." It helps me to calm down long enough to do something with my anger other than in a way that I might regret. At other times, when I'm on the receiving end of someone's anger, I am reminded of this verse to calm my nerves, comforting me with the thought that if the Lord is gracious and merciful and is slow to anger, then what shall I fear. God's love for me abounds and there is nothing in all of creation that can separate me from that love, not even someone being angry with me, as devastating as that may feel at times.
Let us pray: O Love Divine, I thank you for your steadfast love for me. As you have shown me your grace and mercy, so also, my I be slow to anger toward others. Amen.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Reading: Isaiah 51:1-3
Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. - Isaiah 51:1b
Several years ago I did a DNA test with Ancestry.com to look into my ethnic heritage. It was a fascinating discovery. The test revealed that I was about 1/4 Scandinavian. They didn't delineate how much of me is Norwegian and how much Swedish. I am a bit of Scotch-Irish and English. I have a little French as well. What I also discovered, that I didn't know before, was that I am 1% Semite. That means I am either a touch Hebrew or Arabic. I'm suspecting that it is more likely Hebrew or Jewish, with ancestors coming from Europe.
Isaiah is reminding the people of Israel to look back to their ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. They are the ones from which they came, the rocks from which they were hewn. They were their ancestors not only ethnically but also ancestors of the faith. Abraham and Sarah are the ones whom God had chosen to bring about a great nation and people as well as a chosen people who were in relationship with God.
As I look back at my ancestors of the faith, I think about my two grandmothers and how they modeled the faith for me. I also remember my father who taught me the importance of going to church and being faithful about attending worship and Sunday school. Our ancestors of the faith have taught us much. But the lineage of our faith continues, but does not end with us. We too are called to model the faith to others: our children, grandchildren, and many others that we may influence. Thanks be to God for our ancestors of the faith and for entrusting us with the treasure of the gospel to pass on to others.
Let us pray: Dear God, we celebrate our ancestors of the faith and cherish the gift that they have given to us. By your Spirit, help us to pass on that gift to others. Amen.
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Reading: 1 John 4:1-6
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. - 1 John 4:1
Life in the early church was filled with many challenges, including combating many gods. There was also conflict within the early church surrounding certain beliefs. The Gnostic heresy arose at this time in which a religious group of offshoot Christians, called the Gnostics, believed that anything physical was considered evil. This, of course, was a fly in the ointment of the belief in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, in which God took on flesh and blood and became one of us. To get around this, the Gnostics believed that Jesus never literally came "in the flesh" but only seemed to have come in the flesh, kind of like an apparition. That being said, one may as well as throw out the Gospel of John.
There were other challenges that the early followers of Christ had to face. They combated evil spirits that would demonize individuals, which, in turn, would challenge the power and authority of Christ as Lord. Such were the spirits that Jesus encountered in his ministry (see Mark 1:21-28).
Then there were the false prophets who claimed to be from God but were actually preaching a word which was contrary to the word of God. Such prophets were self-serving and led many astray who believed in their teachings. Their message was contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ and his teachings.
Discerning the spirits is not something that believers had to deal with only in the bygone era of early Christianity, it is something believers have to be about today. There are many preachers who preach a word contrary to the gospel that Jesus taught and lived out. The "gospel of prosperity" is one such example in which there is a mass following because it legitimizes the accumulation of material wealth.
As we discern the spirits in our age, we are called to lift up Jesus' teachings and ministry. Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets, embodying God's word of love for all people. As we continue to live out our mission: "Centered in Christ's love to invite, grow,and go," we will be met with the ongoing challenge, also, of discerning the spirits in our age.
Let us pray: Speak to us, O Lord, your word of truth and so that we may discern the spirits that combat the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Monday, June 29, 2020
Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Do you not know that you are God's temple, and that God's Spirit dwells in you? - 1 Corinthians 3:16
I don't know about you, but I find myself cringing over this verse. I don't know as though I have done a very good job with God's temple. Each of us has been given the gift of our bodies and the responsibility of taking care of them. I haven't done well with my weight. And as far as my soul is concerned, I could do a better job with that as well. I could pray more, be more generous, and be a kinder person. But it helps to be reminded that the Spirit of God dwells in each of us.
If we think about our bodies as housing the very Spirit of God, we would tend to look at our bodies and our souls for that matter, as not belonging exclusively to ourselves to do what we darn well please with them. With this verse, we are given a sacred image of ourselves. We have the responsibility of taking care of ourselves with more care. It becomes a discipline by which we strive to take care of ourselves, because something or someone else far greater than ourselves, dwells within us.
In this passage from 1 Corinthians 3 it says in verse 17 that "God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." The word "holy" means to be set apart for a greater purpose. It we only live to ourselves, what good is it. But as the Spirit of God lives in us, we have been set apart for a purpose that reaches far beyond ourselves. We are given a sacred purpose of working out God's will through us. To me, this is both awe inspiring and terrifying at the same time. To consider that God can use me to work out his purposes in the world boggles my mind.
Let us pray: Creator God, you have made us in your image and your Spirit dwells within us. Fill us each with a sense of awe of your creation, that we may treat our bodies as a temple of your dwelling. Amen.
Sunday, June 28, 2020
Reading: Matthew 10:40-42
"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." - Matthew 10:40
We're not always good at welcoming others. We are suspicious of the stranger, those whom we do not know. The stranger may be someone who is different than ourselves; they look different, dress different, and speak a different language. The fear of the stranger is perhaps embedded in our ancestral background of tribalism in which those from other tribes were looked upon with suspicion or distain because the "other" posed a threat to the tribes survival.
Welcome or hospitality, however, is an important part of our faith. The earliest ancestors of the Christian faith were still very much rooted in the faith tradition of Judaism, in which hospitality was woven into the very fabric of their faith and culture. How we welcome others as a church is still an important part of what we're about as a Christian community. In fact, church experts tell us, that one of the most important components for church health and growth have to do with how good we are at welcoming others.
Welcoming others goes well beyond our "Welcome Center." How well we are at welcoming others begins with those who greet others at the doors of our church home, but it doesn't end there, of course. In this time of our church building being closed due to the pandemic, it's hard to even be talking about welcoming others who visit our church who would otherwise gather for in-person worship on a weekly basis. But how well we do welcome, is something that has to come from each and every member of the congregation. Each of us, individually, are representatives of the church. We are all ambassadors of our congregation. How we approach others, especially those whom we do not know, will reflect how important or unimportant welcoming is as a Christian practice.
So, wherever we are, as we are marked with the cross of Christ forever in our baptism, we are commissioned servants of Christ. Part of what it means to be a servant of Christ is to be welcoming to others, especially those whom we do not know. Just like the disciples of old, we risk being rejected, but we also may receive welcome ourselves. Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me."
Let us pray: Dear Lord, may we be welcoming of others, especially the stranger. Teach us to live a life of hospitality wherever we find ourselves. In the name of Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Reading: Luke 17:1-4
"Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive." - Luke 17:3
A long time ago, I remember seeing a sign in a pastor's office that read, "Sinners Only." I asked him about the sign. Apparently, there was a story attached to it. He told me that it used to hang above the entrance to the sanctuary of the church he was serving. "I put it up there.," he said, "but they made me take it down. I guess people didn't want to be reminded that they're sinners."
I don't think we like to be reminded that we are sinners. But I don't think that we mind so much, reminding others that they are sinners. We are so quick to judge others, "the speck in (our) neighbor's eye," that Jesus speaks about, "while ignoring the log that is in (our) own eye." (Matthew 8:3). We like to point out the sin of others, while not considering our own sin, because it deflects our own iniquities. But we see elsewhere, in Scripture, "But if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).
We cannot escape that we are sinners. But this doesn't mean we have to wallow in our sin or despair about it. The path of salvation is to realize that we have sinned and to repent. The religious word, "repent," means to turn away from our sin, so that, as we are turning our backs on sin we find ourselves facing God who forgives us. It is an about-face, so that sin no longer has ahold of us and constricts our lives.
Jesus tells his disciples to rebuke anyone who offends them or sins against them. "And if there is repentance," Jesus says, "you must forgive." Jesus intention is that there be reconciliation so that they may live in relationship with one another. Reconciliation is the goal in order for them to live in harmony with each other. We can all learn from Jesus' teaching here. Rebuking another, pointing out another's sin, with no intention of being reconciled with that person, is not the way of Jesus. Pointing out another's sin without the intended result of being reconciled with that person is a sin.
Let us pray: O God, teach me the way of Jesus to forgive others as I have received forgiveness, in the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Friday, June 26, 2020
Reading: Psalm 89:1-18
The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it - you have founded them. - Psalm 89;11
We are an arrogant lot, we human beings! We think we own the place. We certainly act as though everything upon the earth and the earth itself is ours by right. The psalmist reminds us that the heavens and the earth, and all that is in the world belongs to God. We are but sojourners, who travel through time upon the earth only briefly. The earth and all that lies therein is given to us by a gracious God. It is not ours to squander or to use as we please. We are caretakers of God's wondrous creation, and as such, we are to watch over and help preserve it so that generations that come after us may enjoy it.
Until we get our heads on straight, theologically, about our relationship with God's creation, things will still be in a bit of a mess environmentally. Until we see ourselves as stewards or caretakers of the earth, we will continue to destroy the land, water, and air. Until we can see that the planet is our home that we share with billions of others and with billions to come, we will continue to live in our own selfish, wasteful, ways.
God is the owner and we are the tenants. It doesn't get any simpler than that, and yet, we want to complicate things and bring privilege and power into the equation. The psalmist had it right about God, "The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours." The power belongs to God who is gracious enough to share the earth and all that lies therein with us. There is no privilege involved here.
Let us pray: Creator God, you made us to be stewards of all that you have made, to cherish it and preserve it. May we live as though the earth and everything in it belongs to you. Amen.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Reading: Psalm 13
How Long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? - Psalm 13:1
How many have lifted up this same lament to the Lord, as the psalmist, during the pandemic? I'm sure many have felt isolated and left alone, even abandoned and forgotten. Some may even have felt as though God's was hiding from them and left the alone.
Years ago, while I was in college studying abroad in England, I had the opportunity of traveling throughout Europe for several weeks on a train pass. There were places I went to with fellow students and there were other places that I went to on my own. This is not something I would recommend anyone doing nowadays. I traveled alone to Vienna, Austria to take in many of the sites there. A visit to the zoo came highly recommended, so I went there. While at the zoo, it occurred to me that traveling by yourself is not really fun. It's always more enjoyable when you can share the experience with someone else. I came across a polar bear that was cooped up in a circular structure, the center of which was where it basically lived, staying cool, and the perimeter was a walkway. As I watched the polar bear literally walking in circles, it occurred to me that I was like that bear. I felt alone and like I was walking in circles, travelling in Europe all by myself.
We've all had that feeling of loneliness. These days, especially, many have had to be isolated because they are vulnerable to the Coronavirus. My mother-in-law, for example, lives in a senior living place in Arizona and has been kept isolated for quite some time. She's safe but she has also expressed how isolated she has felt and "bored." She has never been an avid reader but told us the other day that she has started on another book again.
Throughout the Bible, the words from God, "I am with you" appear (21 times). There are, of course, variations of this that runs throughout the Scriptures as well, such as, "I will never leave your or forsake you," "I will not abandon you" or "leave you orphaned," "I will not forsake you," or "I will remain with you," and many others. God is continually pleading with his people to draw close to him, especially in time of need.
God's ultimate act of drawing close to us is in Jesus Christ, who is called, "Emmanuel," or "God-with-us." From John's gospel we hear that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus speaks to his disciples about sending the Holy Spirit, his very presence to be in their midst. Before Jesus ascension he declared to them, "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." God's promised presence saturates the Scriptures which gives us little or no doubt about God's intentions to be close to us.
Let us pray: Loving God, help us to hold onto your promise during this difficult time, that you will never leave us or abandon us; in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Reading: Matthew 10:5-23
"See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." - Matthew 10:16
Jesus has just summoned his disciples, giving them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. The twelve are named in Matthew's gospel. They are sent out to the lost sheep of Israel to proclaim the good news. They are to do all these things without payment, and they are to take scarcely anything with them. They are to rely on the generosity of strangers whom they meet along the way, of those who welcome them into their homes.
If this wasn't hard enough for the disciples to take in, Jesus throws in a clinker, "I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves." The disciples are going to have to face rejection all because of Jesus and even face flogging, ridicule, and persecution all because of him. It's a wonder that the disciples didn't just throw up their hands and say to Jesus, "I didn't sign up for this. Count me out."
I don't know about you, but this passage in Matthew gives me pause and concern about the whole venture of discipleship. We certainly are not having to face persecution for our faith, at least not in this country. We don't have to live with the threat of being brought before the authorities to be questioned or flogged for our beliefs. We're at a different place than the early disciples, which is a relief. But what concerns me is that we perhaps don't take our role as followers of Jesus seriously enough. I am saying this from the perspective of my self and my own level of commitment. The biggest struggle these days is finding "workers for the harvest." It's likely a result of too much affluence and apathy toward ministry itself.
It makes no sense to beat ourselves up with guilt about discipleship, but I do think that it does make sense for us to continually reflect on what it means to be a disciple and find tangible ways of living out the role of discipleship. Perhaps a start is to look at the marks of discipleship: worship weekly, pray daily, read Scripture daily, serve in ministry, share our gifts with others, and develop faith-filled relationships to help strengthen our walk with Jesus. If we're serious about our faith, it will follow that we're also serious about being disciples.
Let us pray: O Lord, empower me by your Spirit to be bold in my faith and follow the marks of discipleship in my life. Amen.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Reading: Jeremiah 26:1-12
It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings. - Jeremiah 26:3
There's a story about a pastor who was newly called to a congregation. Things seemed to go well between him and members of the church. Things were going well until, that is, the members had problems with the pastor's preaching. It wasn't that he was a bad preacher. The problem was that the pastor kept preaching the same sermon every single Sunday. Finally, one member couldn't take it anymore and asked the preacher after worship one Sunday, "Pastor, the sermon is good, but you can't keep feeding us that same food every Sunday from the pulpit. It's getting old. Why in the world to you preach the same sermon to us every Sunday?" The preacher, without hesitation, responded, "And I will continue to preach the same sermon every Sunday until something changes!"
This story illustrates what it was like for the life of the prophet. The prophet would speak God's word to God's people. It was a word to listen to God's word and turn from their sinful ways." The people would not heed God's word and God would punish the people. The people would repent, turning from their evil ways. God would offer them forgiveness. But then, after a while, the people would go back to sinning. God would respond with some sort of judgement. And so, the pattern would continue.
So it is with the pattern of our lives, it seems. We can't seem to learn from the "evil ways" of our past. It was the Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana, who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We cannot seem to get our act together because we are plagued with short memories. The sad truth remains that both the present and our future isn't going to turn out so well when we refuse to turn from our ways. This is what Martin Luther meant when he spoke of how we are in bondage to sin.
In Romans 5:8 we read, "But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." it is only by the grace of God that we receive forgiveness that allows us to live. We will remain sinners until the day we die. But God's love has been poured out for us in Christ, that we have received redemption.
Let us pray: Thank you Lord for saving me a lost and condemned person through the most precious and innocent blood of Jesus Christ my Savior. Amen.
Monday, June 22, 2020
Reading: Psalm 6
Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. - Psalm 6:8
Evil is mentioned no less than 469 times in the Old Testament and 123 times in the New Testament. This reveals to us that evil is a common theme throughout the Scriptures. Evil is hardly mentioned at all in our secular society. I don't know if this is the case because many don't believe that evil exists or if it is because we use different words in place of the word evil. Whether one uses the word evil or not, evil yet exists in the world.
The nature of evil, it seems to me, is that it has to have a host to manifest itself in the world. The psalmist cries out, "Depart from me, all you workers of evil." Evil finds its way into people's lives in crafty and sometimes subtle ways, but almost always through the door of human weakness. It preys on our vulnerability and weak moments often when our perceived needs aren't met. We then justify all kinds of destructive behavior because there was a deep longing for something that was lacking in our lives.
One of the best definitions of evil that I've come across is from M. Scott Peck, the psychologist and author, in a book he wrote about evil called, "People of the Lie," His definition of evil, simply put, is this: evil is anything that is against life and livelihood. In other words, evil is about destruction or that which is death-dealing. Death is part of life, we know this, but when we're involved with death-dealing behavior this is what is considered as evil.
In the baptismal service in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship, there is a part of the service called the renunciation. One of the questions that is asked of the parents of the baptized and the sponsors, and in some cases even the baptized herself or himself is: "Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?" This is asked together with questions about renouncing the powers of this world, and the ways of sin as well. The reason these questions are asked is because baptism is a public act in which we not only confess what we are for, thus the confession of faith in the creed, but also renouncing all those things that are against God. In our baptism, we are basically declaring that we're aligning our selves with God and all that God is about, such as, good, livelihood, wholeness, righteousness, and justice. In our baptism, we are basically taking God's side against the forces of evil in the world that run contrary to God's good will for our lives.
We pray in the Lord's Prayer, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." As baptized children of God, we are about the things of God. But evil is constantly raising its ugly head. We're tempted, and so we continually pray the prayer our Lord has taught us, for God to deliver us from evil.
Let us pray: Dear God, deliver us from evil this day. Shape our lives to your will that fights against the devil, the powers of this world, and sin. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Reading: Mathew 10:24-39
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father." - Matthew 10:29
I've written on this site before about the robins that like to build nests near our deck in the back yard. The first year, they build their nest underneath the overhang of our gazebo on one side. The next year, they built on the other side of the gazebo. This year they built a nest on top of our outdoor speaker. Yesterday evening as we were outside on the deck, we were being entertained by the family of robins. Mother robin laid four eggs and they hatched about a week ago. Now we have four baby birds all straining their scrawny necks upward for mama bird to deposit bits of a worm into their beaks. As we were watch this take place, I thought about how fragile those little baby robins were and how utterly dependent they are on their mother to feed them and take care of them in that crammed in space of a nest .
Matthew is writing his gospel at a time when the church is being persecuted. Jesus' words to his disciples are meant to give them assurance in the midst of their fears. Sparrows sold in the marketplace were cheap evidently. Yet, God cares for the sparrow. God cares for the birds of the air and watches over them. God is using the mother robin to watch over and care for the baby robins. It's a marvel to see this. If God cares for the sparrow and the robin, then God who loves us, will watch over us.
There are many things for which we have reason to fear these days. Covid-19 has turned our lives upside-down. There is still much uncertainty of the future and what it holds. God has already gone before us and knows what lies ahead. God's loving presence goes with us to still our fears and guide our way into the unknown future.
Let us pray: Gracious God, give us confidence to turn to you in the midst of our fears. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Saturday, June 20, 2020
Reading: Romans 12:1-8
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:2
What does it mean to be conformed to this world? We should be able to answer this question in a snap. We've become very adept at conforming ourselves to the world. We don't always know it, because by-and-large it seeps into our psyche by living in a particular culture. We live in a consumer culture in which we are driven by our consumption of things. Part of what it means to live and a consumer culture is that we have developed the desire to accumulate things. What it also means is that we hunger for more and more, and insatiable appetite which has led to becoming a throw-away culture.
What does it mean to be transformed by the renewing our our minds? Does it mean somehow having the neurotransmitters in our brains go on a different path, as it were, to be rewired? Does it involve a new way of thinking? Or does it simply mean redirecting our minds from our own will, or the world's demands upon our will, to focus on the will of God?
I happen to think that the will of God is not captive to a particular culture, people, or nation. God is much larger than this. God's will, that we want to shrink down to our size and particular brand, is global and universal. God's "good, acceptable, and perfect" will is for the world and God's love for it. To be transformed by the renewing our our minds means focusing on what God's will is, not just for us individually, but for the whole world.
Let us pray: O God, transform our minds to your will, which is good, acceptable, and perfect; through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Friday, June 19, 2020
Reading: Psalm 86
But you, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. - Psalm 86:15
The wrath of God is a common expression in the Old Testament and there are also dozens of references to God's wrath in the New Testament. The wrath of God can mean several things in the Bible. It is frequently referred to as anger. Wrath can refer also to God's response to human disobedience. The wrath of God also has to do with divine retribution for human sin. It is God's response to the cruel and evil way that we treat one another.
When I think about wrath, whether human or divine, my mind automatically goes to the word "anger." Anger is a negative emotion that we don't readily want to deal with. Often times people, myself included, will want to stuff angry feelings and neglect dealing with them and confronting the source of that anger. But that's not a healthy response to anger. Anger is simply one of many feelings that we have. Anger is an unwanted feeling but something we need to pay attention to because more often than not anger is masking other feelings that we have which we should address, such as, hurt, disappointment, and grief.
If we have a tendency to not confront our own anger, the same can be said about how we approach God's anger. Whether we like it or not, God gets angry. God sees the injustices in the world and is angered by that. It's foolish for us to believe that God doesn't get upset about this. After all, our God loves us and cares what happens to us, which includes how we treat one another. This psalm teaches us this, that we have a God who is "merciful and gracious , slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." The words of the psalm instruct us that as we have a God who is loving and forgiving, we also, ought to love and forgive one another.
Let us pray: Gracious God, you are abounding in steadfast love toward us; teach us your ways to love one another. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Thursday, June 18, 2020
Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies. - Psalm 69:18
When I have visited people in the hospital I would pray with them. Quite often the prayer would include words, such as, "We pray your healing presence, O God." When we are feeling sick or suffering, what we desire the most is God's healing presence.
When I was a child, my mother was the one who took are of me when I was sick or when I injured myself. I would turn to her in my time of need, and her presence would comfort me. My mom, being there for me amidst sickness and injury, assured me that everything would be fine and I would get well. I fully trusted her. She knew exactly what to say or what to do to comfort me and to ease my pain.
Like a caring parent, God is one in whom we can trust to comfort us when we are sick or feeling troubled. God's healing presence is a balm to sooth our souls. Even when we feel as though we have been left alone or abandoned, God's presence is near us because of his love for us. We can trust God enough to share with him what we are feeling in prayer. We can receive the reassurance we need in troubled times by turning to God's Word.
I have often turned to the psalms as a source of comfort and reassurance for myself and for those whom I would visit who were ailing. There was a young woman who was chronically ill that I would visit often. She spent several months in the hospital being treated for cancer. I came upon a resource, a book, "Psalms for Healing," by Gretchen Person, that I would use in my visits with her. She would look forward to my sharing a psalm with her and the commentary that followed. She even bought the book herself so that she could read from the psalms each day. It gave her great comfort in the midst of those tedious days in the hospital.
The psalmist declares to God what we all desire when we are sick, suffering, or troubled, "Draw near to me, redeem me." It may not always seem so, but God always listens and God is always present with us.
Let us pray: Thank you God for your vigilant presence to comfort us when we are are sick and feeling troubled. Amen.
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Reading: Proverbs 4:10-27
Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. - Proverbs 4: 24
"People will question all the good things they hear about you but believe all the bad without a second thought.: - Unknown.
People like to talk about one another, and it's not all favorable. It's ironic that those who tear others down is done in order essentially build themselves up. Unfortunately, the very people that ought to exemplify "truth telling" and refuse to be involved with gossiping, are those who are part of the church.
The church upholds the Word, God's Word, while we don't find it important to be careful with the words that we use. I heard once that you need to take care of how you choose your words, because once spoken, they can never be taken back. This is certainly the case in a committed relationship such as marriage. Wives and husbands become so accustomed to one another that they speak whatever is on their minds. A harsh word is spoken and feelings are hurt. Injury has been done in which, in some cases, only time can heal the wound.
We so easily forget that much of God's Word has to do with how we treat one another. God sees how we disrespect one another with our words. This is why God has given us a commandment just about how we should speak about our neighbor. The eighth commandment is: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." Martin Luther's explanation to this commandment is: "What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light."
What Luther is saying here is no easy task? It's easier to let our tongues wag negative things about our neighbor than it is to speak well of them and coming to their defense. But it's much more difficult to pick up the pieces of our relationship with our neighbor if we have chosen to speak ill of them or gossip about them. Once we have spoken a word against the neighbor, it is difficult, albeit, impossible to retrieve.
Let us pray: Holy Spirit, come into our hearts, that we may have more concern and compassion for our neighbor than putting them down and killing them with our words. Teach us, by the very example of Christ, to live in community with one another. Amen.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-9
Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. - 1 Samuel 3:9
Eli was a high priest in the tabernacle when Samuel, Eli's student whom he was raising up, was lying down, where the ark was. The word of the Lord was rare in those days and visions were sparse. Suddenly, the boy Samuel hears the voice of the Lord calling, "Samuel! Samuel!" Samuel replies, "Here I am!" He runs to tell Eli thinking that Eli was calling him. Eli tells him that he is not calling Samuel and to go back to bed. This happens two more times. The old blind man, Eli, then realizes that it is the Lord who is calling Samuel. Eli tells the boy to respond, if the Lord should call him again, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
Calls vary. They certainly don't have to be as dramatic as Samuel's calling by God in an audible voice in a sanctuary of the Lord. Most calls are much more subtle than this. But they are calls, nevertheless. When I was called into the ordained ministry, there was no audible voice, and it certainly didn't occur in a moment in time and in a sanctuary of the Lord.
My call took place over a period of time and through a series of failures. It began when the Sunday school superintendent of our church asked me if I ever thought about being a pastor. I shrugged it off for about eight years. I went to college to study history with the intent of teaching. I didn't do very well in my history classes. I moved onto music and the same thing happened. Then psychology courses with the idea of being a counselor. But I didn't exactly make the grade with that either. In the last semester of my freshmen year I heard a "still small voice" from the past, "Have you ever thought about being a pastor?" The Lord works in mysterious and sometimes humorous ways.
Not just pastors are called. Pastors are called to a specific ministry of Word and Sacrament. But we are all called into the one vocation, or in Latin "vocatio," by God to be ministers in our own right, using the gifts of God for the purposes of God. There is a variety of occupations, but there is only one vocation, or calling, that we have as followers of the Lord Jesus. This is why Martin Luther was adamant about what he called "the priesthood of all believers." We are all called into this holy priesthood as Christians, to use our gifts to be instruments of God and God's work in the world.
Let us pray: Dear God, you have called us to follow Jesus and his teachings as disciples living in the world. Fill us with the gift of your Spirit to reach out with your very love to a broken world. Amen.
Monday, June 15, 2020
Reading: Joshua 1:1-11
"I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD you God is with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9
Moses has died. Joshua is commanded by God to take the helm and lead the people into the land God promised them. God then commands Joshua to "be strong and courageous and not be frightened or dismayed." It strikes me as odd, God commanding Joshua these things which have to do with feelings. something that we have very little or no control over. I've heard counselors say, "Feelings are feelings. They are neither good or bad. They are what they are." If there is a thunderstorm, it would do no good for a parent, for instance, to tell a child, to not be afraid. But it makes all the difference to that child who is frightened for the parent to say to her, "You don't have to be afraid, because I am with you."
Joshua was probably afraid of the daunting task of leading the people into this unknown land and all the uncertainty that it contained. But hearing God tell him,"God is with you wherever you go" gave him the courage to face whatever obstacle or threat that would come their way. God-with-us is more like a promise than a command it seems to me. God being present with us in difficult times has to do with God's grace. God doesn't have to be with us, but God choses to be present for us because God knows how frightened we get sometimes. God is with us because of God's love for us, like the love of a parent has for his child.
As you face an unknown future and all the uncertainty that may stir up feelings of fear and dismay in you, know that God is with you wherever you go.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for your steadfast presence when we are feeling frightened or dismayed. Amen.
Sunday, June 14, 2020
Reading: Romans 5:1-8
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. - Romans 8:3-4
When I was a child I was not coddled. I was loved by my parents, don't get me wrong, but they were not overprotective of me. They allowed me to stumble and fall along the way as I was learning about the world around me. I have observed some parents now who are overly protective of their children. It's a good thing for parents to want to protect their children. But I've noticed some parents not only smother their children with attention, but also coddle them. The child is not allowed to learn for themselves what hurt or pain is.
I don't think that any of us willingly seek out pain and suffering. But pain and suffering will find its way in our lives. The paradoxical thing about suffering is that one cannot know what true joy is unless one has also experienced suffering and sorrow. We all have a story to tell which involves both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow.
The suffering that Paul is talking about in his letter to the Romans has to do with suffering which is the result of our faith. Paul, along with many others in the time of the early church, suffered persecution for their faith. There are, yet, others today that are being persecuted for their faith in Christ. Suffering for the sake of Christ brings about "endurance, which, in turn, produces character and character produces hope, and that hope does not disappoint us," Paul says, "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."
Let us pray: O Lord, thank you for your great love for us that has been poured into our hearts which gives us hope in the midst of our suffering. Amen.
Saturday, June 13, 2020
Reading: Mark 7:1-13
'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain to they worship human precepts as doctrines.'
- Mark 7:6b
In this passage from Mark's gospel, Pharisees and scribes gather around Jesus and notice that Jesus' disciples are eating with defiled hands. They make reference to the tradition of the elders about cleanliness. Jesus responds to them by quoting Isaiah, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship human precepts as doctrines.' Jesus then adds, "You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."
We, the church, get caught up in holding human traditions so tightly that we neglect the greater commandment of loving one another. We forget that human tradition is an attempt to bring order to things but is often be used to control and manipulate. Whereas the commandments of God were established to bring order to our lives but with the attempt of preserving our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. The basis of the commandments is love.
One of the commonly used phrases to preserve our traditions is, "We've always done it this way," or "We've never done it that way before." Phrases like these are used to kill any attempt at trying something different, or doing something new. Even while change is part of the fabric of our lives in the world, we are dealing with changes each and every day, especially now in the midst of a pandemic. But there is a strong sentiment that the church ought to be the last bastion to fight against change. The church becomes our "sanctuary' for constancy amidst the ever-changing world in which we live. But we forget that Christianity itself is a religion that is based on transformation.
Our mission statement is: "Centered in Christ's love to invite, grow, and go." If there is constant in our lives, let it be this, that we are 'centered in Christ's love." Everything else is secondary to this.
Let us pray: May the love of God in Jesus Christ transform our hearts and minds this day; that we may honor God, both on our lips and in our hearts. Amen.
Friday, June 12, 2020
Reading: Acts 7:35-43
"Make gods for us who will lead the way for us." - Acts 7:40b
This passage in Acts is from Stephen's lengthy speech before the council. His "sermon" to the council enraged them, "they ground their teeth...covered their ears...and dragged him out of the city to stone him."
A few weeks ago in our Wednesday evening Bible study, we had a discussion on truth. A member of the study shared with me how a phrase from a movie (A Few Good Men) popped into her head, "You can't handle the truth!" She added, I think that's how we are sometimes - it's good to know the Spirit is with us to help us handle things at those times." In Acts 6 it says that Stephen was a man "full of faith and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5). We was speaking the truth about Jesus Christ but the high priest and the rest of the Jewish council could not handle the truth.
Stephen used the example of how the people of Israel had rejected their leader, Moses, while they were in the wilderness. They turned to Aaron, imploring him to make other gods for them. A golden calf was created. They'd turned away from the Lord. Stephen called the council and all others who were listening to his speech, "a stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, forever oppressing the Holy Spirit, just as their ancestors did before them" (Acts 7:51).
Sometimes we cannot handle the truth because we don't listen to the Holy Spirit that speaks to us. Sometimes the truth hurts us, cutting to the core of our being, that which we don't want to hear about ourselves, that we are sinners in need of God's forgiveness. If we face the truth, it may mean that we have to admit that we weren't as strong or capable as we thought we were. But the nature of the Holy Spirit is to reach down into the depth of our being and expose the truth about ourselves. Pride often gets in our way, but the spirit of truth cuts us down and we are humbled, as we realize our utter dependence upon God.
Let us pray: Holy Spirit, Truth divine, dawn upon this soul of mine; Word of God and inward light, wake my spirit, clear my sight. Amen.
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Reading: Psalm 100
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth. - Psalm 100:1
Noises in worship has always been with us. It is not something new, different, or unusual. Even while visiting the Benedictine monks at Assumption Abbey in Richardson, North Dakota, at one time there was noise present in worship when there was supposed to be a moment of silence. A book fell to the floor and the noice reverberated throughout the sanctuary. There are some in worship who wish to point fingers at children in church and hush them up. They tell the pastor to "do something about those noisy kids," or worse yet they shoot daggers with their eyes at the parents of the noisy child.
I often like to point to this psalm and particular verse as proof-text that we are to make a joyful noise. "Let the little children come to me," said Jesus, "do not hinder them." Let the children come to worship, do not hinder them. We should be glad that they're in worship with their parents. If a baby cries, do not hinder her. It's evidence that there is life and breath flowing through the sanctuary.
I have often used this psalm and verse as proof-text to give license to everyone to sing in worship. You don't have to carry a tune. "Make a joyful noise," it says. In worship while I was growing up, I had to sit next to my father in the pew who sang all the hymns two octaves lower than the rest of the congregation and louder than anyone else. But no one, not even I, tried to hinder him from singing or "making a joyful noise."
What is the point of "making a joyful noise to the Lord?" According to the psalmist, it is to worship the Lord, uttering praise to God that God's "steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations." In a world in which there is death and destruction, hatred and violence, every day we need to utter and to hear sounds in which everything that has life and breath give praise God for his steadfast love and faithfulness.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, we thank you that you have given us life and breath to proclaim your praise for your steadfast love and faithfulness. Amen.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Reading: John 14:25-26
"Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." - John 14:27b
Each of us at times is given over to fear. We are afraid of the surface things, such as spiders, snakes, and things that go bump in the night. And then there are those fears that reach to the core of our being, such as abandonment, isolation, and death. The ultimate fear that we all have to face is death. There may be other fears related to this - fear of the unknown and fear of leaving loved ones behind and uncertain as to what their future may hold without you.
It is because of these fears that Jesus tells his disciples. "Do not let your hearts be troubled." At the beginning of this same chapter in John, Jesus exclaims, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." I don't know if there is necessarily an antidote for fear, like an inoculation to cure for our fear, but there is certainly an answer which involves something that resides deep within our souls. It is trust.
When I was a child, I remember relying and depending upon my parents for everything. As a child, I trusted my parents for everything; nurture, care, and provisions. This meant that I gave over myself to them to watch after and look after me. It was not a choice. It was a complete and utter dependence upon them. The same can be said in our relationship upon God, our heavenly parent in whom we put our complete trust. But as we get older and "wiser" we think that we can go through life on our own. We don't need God. Jesus teaches us, however, that the life of faith means putting ourselves in God's hands. We cannot do this on our won. The Advocate, the blessed Holy Spirit, is sent to work within us to come to God and trust in him.
Let us pray: In this time of uncertainty and as we face an unknown future, bless us with your very presence to nurture us and convict us to trust in you now and always. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Reading:1 Corinthians 12:4-13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 12:12
In both high school and college I took biology to fulfill my biology class requirement. I took a class in human anatomy and physiology. It was one of my favorite classes because it was so fascinating. The complexity and intricacies of the human body are mind boggling. I learned that everything works together to make up the human body: organs, systems, tissues, hormones, and fluids. I also learned that if one part of the body suffers it affects other parts of the body. This is, no doubt, why we have to keep careful watch over our bodies as to what we eat and how we keep everything moving.
The apostle Paul likens the church to the body of Christ in which we all work together for the common good of the body. All parts are functioning together, which means that not one part is any more important than the other. As the church, we each contribute to the body with the gifts that we have been given in order to function as Christ in the world. When we do function well together we are bearing witness to Christ who lives among us and within us.
We too often forget Paul's body analogy for the church when we consider all the members and how each is important because of the gifts that they share to contribute to the body. Sometimes we uphold a particular part of the body as being more important than the other parts. This gets us into trouble as the church becomes dysfunctional. This even translates into one group being more important than another. We each have our passions but we cannot let our particular passions override someone else's passion.
As we consider the gifts that we each contribute to the body of Christ, let us not loose sight of our mission, "Centered in Christ to invite, grow, and go."
Let us pray: Thank you Lord, that you have given me gifts to share so that I too may contribute to the body of Christ, the church. Help me to cherish and uphold others gifts that contribute to the same body. Amen.
Monday, June 8, 2020
Reading: Psalm 29
May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! - Psalm 29:11
After reading Psalm 29 I am reminded of the storms I have seen and heard and been caught it. The claps of thunder and bolts of lightening from the sky creates awe and wonder in us as well as fear at times. Those in ancient times may have believed that God of Israel, or for the pagans the gods, were revealing their wrath through thunder, lightening, and earthquakes.
I remember in a cartoon once, I think it was the "Family Circus" comic strip, in which a little girl hears a clap of thunder and quips, "God is bowling again!" No matter how we interpret these signs of nature we can all agree that they stir up something within us, be it a sense of awe or a feeling of fear.
God's wrath in Scripture was often a reaction to the mistreatment of an individual or a group over another. This righteous indignation of the divine is typically a result of some injustice being committed. The prophetic voices we encounter in the Bible is God's voice being raised up, through a person of God's choosing, who points to the mistreatment of some by others. The prophetic voice calls for repentance, people turning away from their sin. In the end, God's intention is about peace.
We often think of peace in terms of the individual who has a sense of calm and tranquil mind. But the peace of God is more in the realm of peace between people. It has to do with how we treat one another with respect and dignity. It is a peace that comes from giving and receiving forgiveness. Peace comes when we are reconciled with one another, discovering a way in which we can live in harmony with each other.
Let us pray: O Lord, give us your strength and your peace. Teach us how we may learn to live together as a community in harmony. Amen.
Sunday, June 7, 2020
Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. - Matthew 28:17
At the end of Matthew's gospel is what is called "The Great Commission." It is Jesus' command to his followers to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but having heard The Great Commission hundreds of times before, I tended to concentrate on the command itself at the expense of glossing over the small details at the beginning of the account. The small details I'm taking about are when the eleven disciples meet up with the risen Jesus in Galilee on a mountain which Jesus directed them to meet him, they see him and it says that 'some worshipped him, but some others doubted."
Matthew's audience for his gospel is Jewish. So ending his gospel with the words "they worshipped him (Jesus)" would have been quite controversial. For the Jews, there is only one God. In fact, the Jewish creed has always been, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone" (Deuteronomy 6:4). So to worship Jesus would have seemed outlandish to Matthew's Jewish audience. But this is exactly Matthew's point. He is declaring something new here which God is doing in the world.
The second detail that I've often missed is that it says, "some doubted." After all the disciples had been through; after all that they were taught, had seen and heard, and experienced together there were still some who doubted. To us, who have heard the rest of the story, including the dramatic moment of the unleashing of the Spirit at Pentecost and beyond, wonder how it is that some would still doubt. I think Matthew wants to show us that in spite of all evidence there will still be the element of doubt. In our weakest moments we sometimes doubt. That doubt may not necessarily be in the form of doubting in the Lordship of Jesus and worshipping him, but it may be about doubling in his promise "to be with us to the end of the age."
As followers of the Lord Jesus we are commissioned to "Go and make disciples." This is no simple thing. We have been entrusted with the radical gospel to introduce to others. This may not necessarily entail door knocking, but it most certainly will involve something more challenging than this. It means being transformed ourselves by this Good News, calling us to live a radically new life.
Let us pray: In baptism, you have claimed us, named us, and called us to be your own. In our baptism, we are drawn out of those waters to live for you. Lead us in our journey "to go" to trust in your promise that you are always with us. We pray in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Saturday, June 6, 2020
Reading: Job 38:22-38
"Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on earth?" - Job 38:33
The book of Job is a complex one dealing with the questions of human suffering and evil in the world. In this particular passage from this "book of wisdom" God is questioning Job who claims to remain righteous and faithful to God even while he has lost everything. God is reminding Job that there is a difference between God and humanity, and that human beings cannot compare themselves with God, the creator of all things. In the end, there are no easy answers as to why there is human suffering. We do know, however, that if our suffering were solely based on human sin than none of us could stand.
God questions Job, if he knows the ordinances of the heavens in order to establish them on earth? God's rule, law, and order is a just one. It is based on the very character of God who reigns with justice. I don't pretend to have one-up on Job, knowning the ordinances of the divine. But what I do know is that God's ordinances have to do with God's love and mercy. If God's ordinances are truly established and carried out on earth, we would be living with the divine law of love. There would be a lot less suffering in the world. Selfish and evil intensions would melt away and we would show more concern for neighbor than with self. We would see an end to division and war itself would come to an end.
Throughout Jesus ministry, he was always about carrying out the reign of God on earth, through the divine law of love. When he spoke of the Kingdom of God, it was not some far off distant place far removed from the earth. The Kingdom of God could be as close to us as our own hearts. It could dwell within us. The Kingdom of God is not so much a place as it is a condition. It is the reign of God that rules our heats and minds that begins here and now.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, through the prayer that you have given us, we are taught, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." May your reign of love rule our hearts in minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Friday, June 5, 2020
Reading: 2 Timothy 1:12b-14
Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. - 2 Timothy 1:14
You and I have a treasure. Yes, we do! It's not in the form of a possession. It's not in a safety deposit box. It isn't our bank account, All of these things can vanish in an instant. It's hard to believe, but there are those who can tell you that they have lost their life-savings. There are others who can tell you that their possessions were destroyed in a single day. Nothing is certain. Well, almost nothing,
The apostle Paul writes of a treasure that has been entrusted to his friend Timothy. That treasure is the gospel, the Good News of God's love revealed in Jesus Christ. The treasure is received by faith through the help of the Holy Spirit. Although we would normally consider a treasure as something that is physical or tangible, like a possession or money, the treasure with which you and I have been given is everlasting. It is a gift that cannot fade or be snatched away from us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most precious gift that we have, but it is not like a possession that we possess. That is, it is a gift that has been given to us, in which we cannot keep this treasure for ourselves. It is meant to be shared. The intent of the treasure of the Good News is that it is supposed to be spread around.
It's so easy for us to set our minds on earthly things, such as the things that we have, what we possess. But the nature of possessions is that they end up possessing us. The nature of the gospel is that it does just the opposite. it frees us up to be the people God intends for us to be: giving, loving, and compassionate. These are the things that are lasting and endure forever.
Let us pray: Lord, you are more precious than silver. Open our hearts to receive the true treasure that comes from you, the Good News of your love for us in Jesus Christ. Make us servants of the gospel in sharing your love freely to others. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Thursday, June 4, 2020
Reading: Psalm 8
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? - Psalm 8:3-4
One of the best memories that I have of when I was younger was seeing Lake Louise in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The brilliant aqua blue glacial water was still enough to reflect the backdrop of the magnificent mountains. It took my breath away. Another memory that I have, much later as an adult, was seeing the vast expanse of the Serengeti grasslands in Tanzania. The elephants and the giraffes were silouetted against the backdrop of the brilliant sunset. It was breathtaking.
You, no doubt, have some fond memories of your own of scenes in nature that took your breath away. We've all had those moments in which we were captivated by the beauty of the natural world around us. For some of us, all we need to do is to step outside our backdoor and experience this daily. There are the larger scenes in which God has painted the world with large brush strokes that leave us awestruck. And then there are the much smaller complex wonders of nature in which God has painted in detail that captivate us.
The writer of Psalm 8 is praising God, the Creator, marveling at the wonders of the moon and the stars, while wondering about human beings, whom God has made a little lower than the angels. "How is it that you are mindful of them?" the psalmist asks. God has made us to have dominion over the works of God's hands, putting all things under our feet." There are some that may interpret this to mean that we can do what we want to with the created order. But this would be a grievous interpretation of the text. I read a commentary indicating that Psalm 8 reveals that those suffering at the hands of evil forces (verse 2) are those made in the image of God and valued highly by their creator. The psalm reveals that human beings are God's agents on earth.
In recent days we have had to step back to consider how all lives matter. We are all made in God's image and agents of God's work on earth. We don't get to choose which lives matter and which one's do not. As we are awestruck by the beauty of nature which surrounds us, like the psalmist, we also can be awestruck by how wondrous God has made human beings. We have been made in God's image. We are all precious in God's eyes.
Let us pray: O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! May we cherish the gift of each person who are precious in your sight. Amen.
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Reading: Numbers 11:24-30
But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and the the LORD would put his spirit on them!" - Numbers 11:29
This story from Numbers is a fitting complement to the Pentecost account in which the Lord has poured out his Spirit upon all who were gathered for the celebration. What I find fascinating in this passage from Numbers is that the Lord took some of the spirit from Moses and put it on the seventy elders. Apparently Moses had enough spirit to go around, so God just scoops it out of him, like a cup of sugar, and sprinkles it on the others. it seems like there was a limited amount of spirit that could be spread around.
The spirit rested on two men who remained in the camp, Eldad and Medad, who remained in the camp. They began prophesying in the camp. Someone goes to tell Moses about this, objecting that they were prophesying. Moses dismisses the complaint, declaring, "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets and the Lord put his spirit on them." Why should Moses object to what the Lord is doing? Why would he hinder the Lord's activity among the people in apportioning the spirit to speak God's word?
Amidst denominational Christianity, there is jealousy. We look at other churches with envy because we see that they're on the green side of success. We beat ourselves up that we don't have the same numbers as the Community Church By the River in our Sunday school. We start finding fault with those other churches that have a successful youth program. We may not share the same theology. We don't have the same social concerns. So we find fault in others.
I don't always agree with what other churches of different denominations than mine believe or how they practice their beliefs. But this doesn't mean that they are not doing the Lord's work. There is certainly enough, more than enough, spirit to go around. Who am I to hinder God's work and to whom God apportions the spirit. I have to remind myself that there are many denominations because there are many different kinds of people with a variety of beliefs, practices, and traditions. I would like to believe that in spite of our differences the oneness that we share is in Christ who unities us through his love.
In this time of Covid-19, the unity that we share in Christ through his love, needs to be lived out to bear witness to God's love for the world. This will mean that we all, of our many and varied denominations, have to set aside all selfish pride and self-interest for the sake of the gospel.
Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit, make us one. Teach us to love one another, in Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Reading: Psalm 104:24-35b
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. - Psalm 104:33
Ever since I can remember I've always enjoyed singing. It's a passion of mine. But I am also keenly aware of how important singing is for the community of faith. Singing is a key component of corporate worship as it unites us together and helps us as worshipers to express our emotions while telling stories of faith.
One of my favorite hymns from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship Book is "My Life Flows On in Endless Song" (ELW 763). The first stanza of this stirring hymn is: "My life flows on in endless song; above earth's lamentation, I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation." The refrain follows: "No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I'm clinging, Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?"
The psalmist declares a continuous praise to God in singing, saying, "While I have my being." Singing is so much a part of our tradition as Lutheran Christians that it's hard to imagine not singing or not being able to sing. As we look forward to having in-person worship again. We may not be able to sing right away, due to the risk of spreading the Coronavirus, but there will certainly be a song.
Let us pray: Abide with me O Lord, as I look to your presence in this difficult time. Help me to declare your praise with my whole being while I have life and breath. Amen.
Monday, June 1, 2020
Reading: Romans 8:14-17
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. . - Romans 8:23
The Apostle Paul writes about the whole of creation that has been in travail because of the brokenness of the world, until God's will for humanity and creation itself comes to fruition. Too often, we as human beings disconnect ourselves from the rest of creation, acting as though we aren't integrated with the created order itself. But we see how this plays itself out with disastrous results. The land, air, and water becomes polluted. This, in turn, wreaks havoc on our health. The spiral of destruction will continue unless we are faithful to our calling as stewards of God's creation.
As the Sunday of the Holy Trinity approaches, we are mindful of our triune God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The creeds in which we publicly profess our faith is divided into three articles: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I would venture to say that, in practice, we are better second and even third article people than we are first article people. We are not so good at keeping our role in God's created order and in taking responsibility of caring for the good gifts that God has so graciously given to us.
There is an excessive amount of waste of the resources we have been given. Fortunately, there has been in recent years a concerted effort of attempting to reverse this trend through the recycling movement. But we could do so much more. Let's face it, we are a throw-away society in which we live by the philosophy of "one and done." Disposable everything it seems for convenience sake has choked our oceans with debris and land-fills are filled to overflowing with no regard for what we will leave for our future generations.
It is incumbent upon us all to do our part as stewards of the gracious gifts of God. I will confess to you that I need to do more, so that my actions match-up with my convictions.
Let us pray: Creator God, we thank you for the gift of your creation. May your Spirit move within us to be better stewards of what you have given us. We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Please accept my apologies for not sending out the devotional for yesterday. Here it is now.
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Reading: John 7:37-39
"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink." - John 7:37-39
We all have basic daily needs in order to live. We need a certain amount of sleep. It's recommended that we get between 7-8 hours of sleep a night. We all have the need for food. To feed the organism that is our body we need to feed the cells for nourishment, strength, and energy. We all need water. On average a person can survive for three days without water. It stands to reason since our bodies comprise of 60% water. The brain and the heart are composed of 73% water and the lungs are about 80% water. Water is vital to every cell in our body. Water helps to regulate our body temperature. Carbohydrates and proteins that our bodies use as food are metabolized and transported by water in the bloodstream.
When Jesus was speaking to his audience, he was relating something to them that they could all comprehend, thirst. In the arid region of Palestine, natives that land would have been acutely aware of how important water was for survival. Jesus takes this basic need for water to describe himself. It is, of course, a spiritual thirst that Jesus is speaking about, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me." Jesus then says, "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water." Jesus related words similar to this earlier in John's gospel when he was speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, "The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." (John 4:14b).
We continue to remain thirsty until our thirst is quenched, and then we are satisfied. Our spiritual life is similar to this. As St. Augustine said, "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." The living water that flows from those who believe are those who know and experience God in their lives. That living water is being in relationship with God in Christ in which we've come to know the love of God and that love flows through us into the lives of others in what we say and do in our lives.
In this difficult time in which we now live, as we drink of the "living water" that satisfies us spiritually, may that water continue to flow through us into the life of our neighbor in need.
Let us pray: O God, our hearts are truly restless until they find rest in you. My the love we have come to know from you, flow through us into the lives of others. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Saturday, May 30, 2020
Reading: Exodus 20:1-21
You shall not make for yourself an idol; whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. - Exodus 20:4
Idols were plentiful in the ancient world. The Canaanites worshiped the idol Astarte, a fertility god. The female earthen image would have been displayed in homes throughout the Mediterranean region. It was believed that she would bring good crops and healthy children. The Israelites had to contend with Astarte and many other idols that were so much part of the Canaanite culture.
In the wilderness wanderings the Lord saw it fit to give order to his people's lives through the giving of the Ten Commandments. They had been slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. They needed to be organized into a people that set themselves apart from other peoples - those who worshipped pagan gods. As I read this passage from Exodus 20, it dawned on me how lengthy the first commandment was compared with the other commandments given. Having "no other gods" was the first and lengthiest commandment because of its importance. There was the ever-present threat of worshipping other gods because they were so plentiful and so dominant in the land in which the Israelites were to subdue.
It has also been said that if one keeps the first commandment then all the rest will follow. In our culture, we don't see the threat of idols because we do not perceive them. They are not idols made of clay but rather they are subtle, like power and money, cars and other objects. People who are famous, such as athletes and movie stars, are "idolized."
Martin Luther in his Large Catechism begins with this reflection on the first commandment: "'You are to have no other gods.' That is, you are to regard me alone as your God. What does that mean, and how is it to be understood? What does 'to have a god mean, or what is God? Answer: A 'god' is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refugee in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart. As I have often said, it is trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol."
I think that we live in a time of misplaced trust. We're making idols of many things: government, political parties, leaders, famous personalities, ideologies, and our many many things we gather around ourselves. It's good for us to be reminded often who alone is our one true God who offers us freedom and salvation.
Let us pray: O God, may we devote our hearts to you and trust in you above all else. Amen.
Friday, May 29, 2020
Reading: Romans 8:14-17
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. - Romans 8:15a
Whenever I am in doubt or waver in my faith because of fear, I go back to Martin Luther's explanation to The Third Article of the Creed: "I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in true faith." Whenever we think that we can go it alone or pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps regarding our faith we are already lost.
I am always suspicious of those who say that they have their act all together with regards to their faith. We're human, and as such, we waver in our faith from time to time. We rely on the help of God, through the Spirit, to help us get our act together. But receiving the help of the Spirit means listening to the Spirit.
We can easily fall back into fear if we listen to the other voices in the world that lead us away from God. But listening to the Spirit means availing ourselves, or opening ourselves up to the Spirit's bidding. Think about it. Have your ever tried being in a relationship without listening to the other person? It doesn't work. As much as we want to be heard by others, we still have to listen. The same can be said of our relationship with God. We need to listen to the Spirit which draws us closer to God in Christ.
Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit and dispel the fear that is within us and fill us with faith in our Lord that we may come to him. Amen.
Thursday, May 28, 2020
Reading: Psalm 33:13-22
The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind. - Psalm 33:13
There have been various beliefs about God over the ages. One is the belief that God created everything and then wound up the clock and let time tick away as God watched, uninvolved, from the heavens what was going on upon the earth. Another is that God created everything and like a divine puppeteer pulled the stings to manipulate things to God's control. Fortunately, we have a God who created everything and has chosen to be intimately involved with the created order. But God's involvement and interest in what happens on earth doesn't involve manipulating things but allowing freedom to be part of the created order.
The psalmist alludes to God's involvement and interest in humanity. This is the God who has chosen a people and has chosen to be intimately involved in their lives. But that involvement does not entail manipulation or control. We have been given the freedom to live in relationship with God, to keep his commandments or not keep them. Human sin is when we've chosen to live outside his commandments. The consequence of sin is destruction and death. Relationships are strained or severed. We distance ourselves from God. We abuse the very freedom we have been given by manipulating others to our control to satisfy our own selfish desires.
It was horrifying to watch the news last night. A video taped scene of a police officer strangling George Floyd which later caused his death. The protests for justice concerning his death turned ugly as crowds began looting and destroying the businesses of those who had nothing to do with the death of George Floyd. We saw how violence and abuse can lead to further violence and destruction in a brief amount of time.
The Lord looks down from heaven and isn't some distant and detached deity who is uninterested in what goes on with us. God looks upon us and weeps. God, who has "fashioned the hearts of all" compels us to be moved with compassion as neighbor reaches out to neighbor, comforting, consoling, and rebuilding a community which has seen devastation. And that is what we are all called to do as children of God, as ones who are fashioned in God's image, and as followers of the Lord of Love.
Let us pray: Comfort those who grieve and console the brokenhearted this day. Bring hope and a future to those in despair by using us as instruments of your love. Amen.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Reading: 1 Kings 8:54-65
The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; may he not leave us or abandon us, but incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, which he commanded our ancestors.
- 1 Kings 8:57-58
That is our ultimate desire isn't it, that God not leave us or abandon us. Our greatest desire is perhaps also our greatest fear, that we would be abandoned or forgotten in time of great need. It's a basic creaturely instinct of ours which stems from when we were young and utterly dependent upon our parents for our nurture and care. But that built-in fear stays with us even into adulthood. Constant contact and community is one of our most basic human needs.
I was sitting on our deck the other day soaking in the beautiful weather. I couldn't help but notice the family of robins that had a nest built on top of one of our outdoor speakers underneath the eaves. I had watched them build that nest almost from day one. Soon enough the eggs were laid in the nest and then hatched. Now there are three baby robins crowded in that nest at the edge of being pushed out. I found that when I got too close to that nest mamma bird would go berserk. The babies beaks were all pointed heavenward waiting for mamma to bring them each a bit of worm to eat as they were temporarily abandoned. They were left abandoned for a moment, but it was because she perceived me as a threat and didn't want to risk it, lest she be taken out of the picture herself. Then the whole family would be in jeopardy.
When things have been opening up, some states sooner than others, we've seen the scenes on beeches and in restaurants. Crowds of people all flocking together for human contact, all longing for some semblance of community. We've also heard reports about such gatherings and the unfortunate consequences of sickness and death. It's as though we cannot help ourselves. Our longing for human contact betrays us at this time. But nature itself can teach us, like the mamma robin, to be patient and play out the bigger picture and wait.
It has been a struggle to be patient and to wait for churches to open up. Now is a good reminder to us that the church is not a building but a people. The church has been open throughout all of the pandemic. The doors of the building may have been shut. But we have not stopped being the church and to seek out ways in which we can maintain the community of the church.
Let us pray: Teach us patience, O Lord, as we wait. Guide us in all wisdom, as we look for ways in which we may safely gather together again physically in worship. Amen.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Reading: I Peter 4:7-11
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. - 1 Peter 4:10
This passage from 1 Peter 4 begins with, "The end of all things is near." It might seem that way with the spread of Covid-19 and the world-wide repercussions of the pandemic that has created all kinds of havoc. Also, not too many weeks ago we heard about the possible incoming threat of "murder hornets." It reminds us a bit like the plagues of biblical proportions that ocurred in Egypt at the time of Moses.
In every age, people believe that the end is near. They point to certain signs and believe that they have been given prophetic gifts that they didn't have before and declare the end of all things. I'm afraid that our age is no different. Although, Jesus proclaimed, "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24:36). The problem with thinking and acting that we know more than Jesus about the end times is that it sets up a scenario whereby it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What comes of this is that we neglect the environment and have a come-what-may attitude toward life that is destructive.
Only the Father knows the day and the hour. In the meantime, we are called upon to continue to live each day as though it were our last. We are to use the gifts, in the time, that we have, that God has given to us to make the world a better place in which to live for all people. Whatever gift that you have received, use them for the sake of Christ. Someone once asked Martin Luther what he would do if he knew the end of the world was imminent, he responded by saying that he would plant a tree. Let's all be about using the gifts that we have been given to further God's kingdom in the here and now.
Let us pray: O God of Grace, you have given us gifts to use to further your kingdom. May your kingdom come and your will be done as you have called us to be good stewards of your manifold grace, serving in the name of Christ. Amen.
Monday, May 25, 2020
Reading: Psalm 99
Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. - Psalm 99
When something is just, it is a cause or an action in which the intent is doing what is right. The writer of the psalm declares that God is the "lover of justice." As such, it is God's intent in making sure that people are treated with respect, honesty, and ensure an environment of equity. We have a God who reveals his character as the "lover of justice" throughout the Scriptures. We see this primarily through the prophets who were the mouthpiece of God, declaring what they saw around them as unjust, and a called the people to repent. Repentance or turning around is to make an about-face, no longer living for one's self or selfish ways, but to be about the things that God is compassionate about.
Jesus declares in Matthew, "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12). This is commonly known as the "Golden Rule," but can be easily dismissed when we fall prey to the sense of privilege in which we live with the notion that we are more important than others or that some people matter more than other people. Living with the sense of privilege can be easily justified when we put labels on others as being lazy, different than us, or we otherwise see as a threat to our existence or way of life.
We have heard a lot these days concerning the pandemic that "we are in it together." The spread and threat of the Coronavirus is not something that we have to deal with just locally, as a community, or even as country. By the very use of the word "pandemic" regarding this virus, it is a global threat. Unfortunately, even though we are truly in this together, we are yet divided. But as Christians, we can demonstrate to the world that "we are in it together" in our response to the Coronavirus. We can do so by reaching out in whatever ways we can to the most vulnerable at this time. We can reflect the very character of God who is the "lover of justice" by standing up for those are being hit the hardest by the virus. We can be "in this together" through even the simplest means by feeding those who are hungry, making a phone call to someone who is feeling isolated, or helping a neighbor out who can't get out the the house with some needed yard work or grocery shopping.
Doing what is right or just is actually not an option for those who call themselves followers of the Lord Jesus. He has, in fact, commanded us to love.
Let us pray: O Lover of Justice, come to the aid of those most vulnerable at this time, and use us as instruments of your love. In Christ, we pray. Amen.