Thursday, November 16, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, November 16

The way in which things came together last night was still bringing joy to me this morning.

Justice offered a wonderful insight on prayer, the various styles of prayer and the differing ways in which prayer allows us to share with God what is happening in our lives and what is weighing on our hearts.  

His reflection took its origins in Thanksgiving, that many of us would be gathering next week to give thanks; and that last night was our LCM Thanksgiving Meal together.

In the room were many of the post-student-stage-in-life persons whose prayers of thanksgiving include praying for all of you.  Persons whose prayers of intersession include the joys and challenges of your life.

And, it was obvious from the way you joined in the Thanksgiving Feast, that you are praying for them and expressing thanks for their love and support.

The Kingdom of God is like so many things.  It is surely also like a gathering in which we are allowed to experience the care of others and we are given opportunity to give thanks for all that God is doing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, November 15

When the religious leaders criticized Jesus' disciples for plucking grain and eating as they walked through a grainfield, Jesus attempted to remind them the purpose of the Sabbath and God's Torah.  He ends with this:  "And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and no sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless."

The Pharisees, including modern-day Pharisees known by other names, would evaluate Jesus' followers in terms of sacrifice.  "In order to show one is a true believer, one will not........"  

To be driven by mercy places our following of Jesus in a different place.  To be motivated by mercy is to live our lives in such a way as to help the other and aid them in their life.  We may sacrifice our time or even our resources in this effort, but it is an outgrowth of our desire to see mercy increase.

Jesus' care and compassion for others lies at the center of his life.  When we follow Jesus, we follow his way of loving and caring for those whom we encounter on our journey.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, November 14

This morning's devotion is more of a thanksgiving.   In a conversation yesterday morning I found myself talking about the significance of LCM-Clemson.  We were talking about reasons why LCM-C was worthy of the support of others.  The words which I heard myself speaking brought tears to my eyes.

It is often reported to me that you came from home congregations in which there were one, or two, or maybe three other persons your age.  This means that rarely have you had a community of peers, walking with you as you sought to determine your life path.

We not only need peers as we make our way.  We need mentors and guides; we need the wisdom of those who have gone before us.  But having peers is a special and very useful gift.

After a few opening references, Jesus seems to have never traveled alone.  When he sent the disciples out into the world he sent them two-by-two.  We need travel companions and we need someone to be with us as we face challenges and decisions.  Those persons do not necessarily need to share our confessions and affirmations, but they understand us differently when they do.

You are not a community of my peers.  But I can walk into practically any congregation and find my age group.  But I am grateful for the opportunity to set up a structure which allows this gift to come your way.  

Take a moment today and give thanks for those who journey with you.  And, pause just long enough to send them a meaningful snapchat or text or message which will let them know you are grateful.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Devotion - Monday, November 13

Matthew 11:16-24 is another section of the gospel which causes me discomfort.  Jesus is asking why it is so impossible to hear his words and accept his message.  

This section is difficult for me because I prefer not to blame folks for their unbelief.  The world (and even some of our fellow Church members) dangle many alluring opportunities to choose an alternate underpinning for one's life.

But, out of faithfulness to the scriptures, I need to be open to Matthew 11's message.

What is the source of your beginning to follow?  Maybe I should ask what more it might take for you to give your life over to Jesus?

In Matthew 11, Jesus speaks of the signs and wonders that the people of Bethsaida and Capernaum had witnessed.  Did they fail to understand the magnitude of these events?  Or did they find ways to explain them away - as a natural cause which coincided with Jesus' words? 

There are many alluring attractions, offering to be the matrix which under-girds our lives.  Be wise enough to recognize these; and faithful enough to see the presence of Jesus and God's Word.  It is doing the latter which enables us to avoid the lack of commitment which characterized Bethsaida and Capernaum.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon - Pentecost 20 - Year A

                                                                                           
Matthew 25:1-13       
                                            

There was a lecture on campus this week, Thursday night, by a Reformation scholar from Yale Divinity School.  Dr. Gordon is about to release a new book on Zwingli. His earlier works were mostly about Calvin.  He was very fair in his presentation, fairly correct.  (That was supposed to get a laugh – that I would critique a Yale Divinity School Reformation Scholar – saying his lecture was “fairly correct”……)

The lecture hinged on where it is that one places authority.  Basically - who gets to determine (and to enforce) the drawing of lines between the sheep and the goats.  Who is it that can tell us which are the wise bridesmaids, and which are the foolish?  The Church which all of the Reformers sought to reform placed that authority in the great ecumenical Councils and those who upheld the Council declarations.  Luther, Dr. Gordon claimed, placed that authority in the religious experience which brought him to enlightment.  Dr. Gordon’s presentation asserted that Luther then insisted that this type of religious experience was to be normative for all the righteous.  Zwingli gave authority to the scriptures, which he understood as having been directed if not dictated by God.  Calvin places this authority in the mutual consent of the faithful (and by that he was most likely referring to the faithful Reformers.)

Where does that authority, or right, lie?  Who gets to decide (and possibly enforce) the drawing of a line; and statements about who is and who isn’t welcomed into the wedding banquet?

I wonder how many sermons this morning will unknowingly also hinge on the notion of authority.  How many preachers will warn congregants against being like the five foolish bridesmaids?  I wonder, as you listened to me read these verses from Matthew 25, if you envisioned two distinct and separate groups and wondered into which group you were to be found?

It is important that we remember Calvin’s insistence that the purpose of our weekly gatherings is to build up the church and every church member.  It is helpful when we point out thoughts, words, and action which might prove to be stumbling blocks to receiving the gifts of God’s grace.  It is important and we need to do it. 

I am trying to avoid uttering a “but”.  Because saying that word, after one sentence is complete and the next is about to begins – is sort of like drawing a dividing line.  And the message God has placed on my heart this morning is to tear down any such dividing lines or criteria for asserting authority.

So you tell me – really, tell me.  By the nodding of your heads or a subtle “Preach it brother,” when I read Jesus parable about the kingdom of heaven how many of you started wondering, “Am I sufficiently prepared?”  Or “Will Jesus catch me sleeping?” 

I do wonder how many sermons will return to this theme.  As I consider my own preaching history, most of the sermons I have peached on Matthew 25:1-13 have been encouragements to be ready, to be on guard, to keep awake!  Too often – far too frequently the discussions within our churches concern themselves with the topic of in which group of five we will find ourselves.  Even lectures on The Reformation revert to the pre-Reformation emphasis on who has the right to establish and enforce the criteria by which we had all better be ready to be judged.

Early in the week, a gift arrived in my email in-box.  The writer said one thing which completely altered my week and my approach to this text.  He wrote, “Focus on the lamps; ignore the bridesmaids.”

“Focus on the lamps; ignore the bridesmaids.”

This was the advice of a contemporary colleague in ministry and I would be remiss if I in any way implied that St. Matthew intended the emphasis to be placed on the lamps.  But it is a great thing for us contemporary preachers to do.

The drawing of lines and the debates over right vs wrong has inappropriately and unfortunately overtaken our churches and our worship events.  This congregation articulates why it is a “better” congregation that the one down the street.  That congregation defines itself by pointing out the ways in which it isn’t like the other options in town.  It all sometimes seems like a contest to determine which group of bridesmaids are the wise and which are the foolish. 

“Focus on the lamps, ignore the bridesmaids.”

The groom takes the action he does because there isn’t the light from the lamps present when he arrives.  The groom recognizes and welcomes those who provide the light in midst of a dark and lonely night.  The groom does not recognize those persons whose own faces are not lit by the glow of the lamp that never runs out of fuel.

In re-reading my sermon to this point – and particularly that last paragraph, I worried that I too had allowed this to slip into an evaluation of the holders of the lamps.  Call me on that – and help me to not do that.

Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, St. Matthew the Gospel writer, and Jesus the Christ ALL worked to ensure that the light from the lamp of God shines and gives light to a dark and too often lonely world.  And they all – every one of them – including Jesus – lifted as a primary concern shining forth the light which brought the world into being; the light which illuminates our path.

­What the light exposes is sometimes fickle or fleeting.  It is a light which exists on this side of I Corinthian’s kyros time.  It is a light which we too often see only in a mirror dimly.   It is a light which needs attending and trimming and dedication.  And that which is exposed by the light is to be examined.

What if we focused on the lamps, and ignored the bridesmaids?  What if we devoted as much attention to open, ongoing, heart-felt conversation about what the light exposes?  Too often, rather than looking at what the light reveals, we debate and argue about who is holding a lit lamp as opposed to whose lamp isn’t burning brightly.

Happening to have a lit lamp or failing to keep awake relegates us into bitter bickering about who is right and who is wrong; about drawing lines and enforcing them.

Worry about whether we are among the five wise or relegated to the pool of the five foolish inhibits our ability and our willingness to see what the light is exposing.

I think this is why some of us hate any mention of controversial topics in worship.  We are eager to be among the lamp-holders; less eager to consider what the light and the lamps expose.  It is comforting to know we are tending our lamps; it is a challenge to peer through the flicker flames and try to see clearly the path of the approaching groom.

The debate as to where authority lies will never cease – and it should not.  We need to discuss this and expose the various answers and then admit how answering these questions will impact our attempts at forming congregations and churches and communities of faith.  How one answers that question does influence whether you are likely to be Catholic or Lutheran or Baptist or Methodist……. 

We all should strive to be the wise bridesmaids, who plan ahead, who are awake.  Our life together ought to strengthen these traits in us.

Above all, we need to focus on those lamps.  We need to study our bibles and be ready to offer the wisdom of Jesus in the midst of any and every conversation.  I am not asking for you to memorize texts which can be used as proof or validation for your previously held thoughts.  I mean knowing the Gospel message and bringing it to light whenever we find ourselves seeking guidance or wisdom.

As a pastor in the Christian Church, I won’t ignore the bridesmaids.  As a preacher and a teacher in the Christian Church, I will trim my lamp and shine the light of God’s Word so that the darkness of the world around us might be dispelled and the way of our groom might be illuminated.


Amen.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, November 9

This morning's reading from Matthew 10:34-42 is one of the "contrasting" verses.  By this I mean it is a verse which speaks a message other than the verses I am most likely to remember and repeat.

In Matthew 10, Jesus says, "Do not think I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."

Even here, Jesus is not speaking of a military weapon.  The sword which he goes on to speak of is the one which divides father from son, daughter from mother.  He says that only the one who leaves everything and follows him is "worthy" of him.

These verses are not a call to militant action.  They are a reminder that the Word of God is likely to divide us.

Divided are those who understand the complete transformation which comes in following Jesus.  Divided are those who would want to claim the name but not take the action.  Divided are those who would go along with the conventional thinking rather than call into question words/actions which demean or hurt others.

Jesus does bring a peace into the world.  But that peace is one which cuts through all the bullshit and only leaves the will of God.  Those who would prefer to see the world as the world would like to be seen are likely to feel the cutting edge of Jesus' sword.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, November 8

A couple of us went to the Catholic Student dinner last night, carrying with us the candle stand given to our Lutheran Bishop by the Catholic Bishop.  In a very simple ceremony, we repeated the affirmations of the Call to Common Mission.  These affirmations are invitations to unity; they are also strong guides for the way each of us should live our lives.

Allow me to share them with you this morning:

The first imperative
Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.

The second imperative
Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.

The third imperative
Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.

The fourth imperative
Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.

The fifth imperative
Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.


I am more guilty than most of lifting up the things which lead to a variety of denominations among God's people.  The affirmations above could be re-written with the name of any faith community.  The call to rediscover the power of the gospel for our time and to be active in our service to the world needs to reclaim the center of every congregation and ministry group.j

May God guide us in living into these affirmations and living them out in our lives together.