Thursday, March 15, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, March 15

When Paul writes in I Corinthians, "We are all one body..." he uses as  possibilities for not seeing our shared identity "Jew or Greek, slave or free."

I wonder what would be the modern day equivalent?

What designations or descriptions or differences inhibit our ability to see another as a member of the same body?

Last night's program (great job - Christine) pushed the edges of what we as a society ought to provide as a basic, human right.  Housing?  Health care?  Education?  It seems at times as if we blame or ignore those at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder.

The previous week Peter spoke of race.  How "white" he experienced Clemson to be - and he wasn't just referring to the skin tone of his classmates.

Many of us will board a plane this afternoon for Germany.  Will we encounter our hosts there as sisters and brothers, or as aliens and foreign enemies?

Paul reminds us that one part of the body cannot ignore the other parts.  If the heart is diseased, the brain had better instruct the feet to take the heart to the doctor.  We cannot take care of ourselves and tell the others they are on their own.  We can't.  Well, we can.  But this would be contrary to the way of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, March 14

Subtle theological differences do make a difference.

The Christian faith is a response to the call from God.  The call comes to each person, through the Word, from the Holy Spirit.  I read this morning from I Corinthians 12, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit."  It is the same Spirit, and the same Lord, but the call may attach itself to any number of differing receptors.

So, some respond to the call by hanging out with a Lutheran group; others will be at the Catholic church; others at New Spring.  Some won't go to a church building, but find themselves responding in a peer group meeting on campus.

I do possess a generous orthodoxy.  Each are responding to the call from God.

But subtleties in theology do make a difference.  They either allow us to be whole-heartedly engaged, or leave us a feeling like "this isn't exactly the best match for me."

Be active in your faith and in your search for the place where you can live that out.  But also ask the questions about the subtle confessions present in the ministry group.  Not every place is the best match.  And those places which insist there is but one response to the Spirit may not set well for some of you.

This thought arose as I read that I Corinthian passage this morning.  It followed a conversation yesterday with a person straddling two some-what differing ministry groups and wondering where they fit in.  The message may also help you as you return home for Spring Break.  Realize that this ministry has its own unique response to God's Word - one that may differ from the congregation in which you were raised.  Do not reject that community of faith which prepared you for where you are now in your faith journey.  And if you notice differences, use them to grow in your knowledge and understanding.  And - if you have time - come and talk to me about it.  I love such conversations.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, March 13

A systematic reading of scriptures has a way of connecting to life.  Rather than searching my bible for something that is meaningful for me today, a system permits me to see how the scriptures bring relevance to me.

At last evening's meeting of the LCM Directing Committee, we digressed into a discussion of the practice of some denominations (such as Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) to require persons to register for communion.  While not firmly enforced by all congregations, the LC-MS does have "Close Communion."  This is the church's way of making sure that they abide by the instructions of Paul in I Corinthians 11:29:  "For all who eat and drink without discerning the Lord's body, eat and drink judgement against themselves."  What congregation would want to enable such an injury to another?!?!  So, they have close communion - your appreciation of the sacrament must be close to the teaching of the Church, or we will protect you from potential judgement.  The only way we can be assured you are close is if you have received instruction in one of our congregations.  The limits on communion may be interpreted by some as a limitation - but its roots are in a deep pastoral concern, and in the scriptures.

Meister Eckhart's words also came up this morning.  (Those visiting Germany next week will visit the church where he lived and taught.)  He writes that while we should not wait until we have an "upsurge of emotion or devotion" to seek Holy Communion, we ought to be rightly prepared.  There are three steps:  1) conscience is without reproach, 2) readiness to take pleasure in nothing but God, and 3) that each communion result in a grown in ones affection for our Lord.

Communion practice is continually debated and discussed among us as followers of Jesus.  And, there is rhyme and reason for each congregation's choices and practices.  Each are logical and methodical.  We do well to think charitably of the practices of others - as we ask them to do the same about ours.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Devotion - Monday, March 12

"'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful."  I Cor 10:14

Ethics do matter.  How we conduct ourselves in the world is something we need to monitor.  

Among us, it is too common to flaunt our liberties.  We make jokes about what is forbidden in other religious communities.  This is surely consistent with what is lawful.  But is it helpful?

Is it helpful to those in search of an alternative to the vices and abuses of the world?  Is it helpful to those whose family struggles with additions and abusive behavior patterns has lead them to the hallowed halls of God's house?

There are many, many eyes watching us.  And how we are seen matters.  Matters deeply.

It is not by works that we are saved.  It is a gift of God's grace.  But as saved individuals, we are called to live life differently.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon - 4th Sunday in Lent

John 3:14-21  

                                                                     Love the Darkness 

There is a section of C.S. Lewis’ popular book Mere Christianity in which he argues against folks who want to make of Jesus a good, moral teacher.  Lewis points out that Jesus does not qualify for such a designation.  You either have to be a follower of Jesus, or be honest enough to admit that he was at best a liar or at worst a flaming lunatic.

Jesus said he was the Son of God.  And every one of his so-called moral teachings emerges from this identity.  While it is possible that lunatics or liars can say some truthful or helpful things – you would not want to name them as an example of what we all ought to be.

So, stage one in this morning’s homily is establishing a baseline for whether we will identify Jesus as Messiah/Son of God – or if we are more inclined to put him in those uncharitable categories named by Mr. Lewis.  Tilt your head one way or the other – so I can get a feel for how the rest of this is going to go.  Jesus is who he says he is - - - Jesus maybe ought to be relegated to the margins.

Claiming to be God’s Son isn’t the only outrageous thing that Jesus says.  Look at this morning’s reading from the 3rd chapter of John.  Verse references are omitted, so let’s look by lines.  Go to line 4, the very last word, and read that phrase:  “and people loved darkness rather than light.”

Which way did you tilt your head?  Does this statement by Jesus sound rational/reasonable?  WHO? would love darkness over light?  Is Jesus a liar?  A lunatic?

Perhaps you didn’t stop reading where I did.  Maybe you remember the rest of the verse or sentence.  Jesus says they preferred darkness because their deeds were evil.  And we might naturally assume that “evil people” would shun the light and remain in the shadows.  Jesus doesn’t seem so prone to exaggeration or lunacy when we heard his words as a call to discipleship.

Or does he?

Let’s remember what Jesus’ call to discipleship is about.  Let’s not forget the liturgical season in which we find ourselves and that Good Friday and Golgotha are the destinations upon which Jesus has set his sights.

This great and respected moral teacher said that his disciples are those who abandon mother and father and follow.  This highly regarded motivational speaker once said that if you have two coats you are to keep one and give the other one away.  This lunatic said that the only way to save one’s life is to sacrifice it.

The only time Jesus’ words don’t sound like a lie or the rantings of a severely disturbed mental patient are when we strip his words of their bite and refashion them into pretty little phrases suitable for posters we can tape to the wall.

I do regret, every time I sense that a sermon is turning angry or accusative.  Usually, I write such sermons Saturday and then wimp out on Sunday morning when I look at the faces of the lost and lonely little lambs who have come in hopes of a ray of good news.  I want to say nice things, I really do.  And I will.

Look again at our Gospel reading.  John 3:16 is perhaps the most popular of all biblical verses.  And John 3:16 is the ultimate ray of hope and good news.  God does so love the world, that he gave his only Son.  So that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

It is very unfortunate – extremely unfortunate – that the second half of that sentence is too often interpreted as a condition.  This good news comes our way IF we meet whatever definition the interpreter gives to what it means to believe.

But keep on reading.  Jesus says that the Son does not come into the world to condemn, but to save.  These verses to do speak of a God cruel enough to dangle something before our eyes and then point out why we can’t have it.  It is a statement of a reversal of what humans have eventually done with every religious tradition.  It is a statement which destroys the attempts to recast God as a vengeful hater of the very ones whom he has created.  “For God so loved the world….”

Then comes this tricky part, where we find that reference to people loving darkness rather than light.  This tricky part is confusing, and it goes contrary to so much of what we are accustomed to hearing that we forget this part or dismiss it or overlook it.

I prefer translations of the bible which are literal – meaning they don’t clean up the language for us.  But a paraphrase of these verses might be helpful.  Isn’t Jesus saying that condemnation comes to those would rather trust in their own world-view than embrace the way of the Son?  Are not these verses almost a tearful acknowledgement that the way to salvation and eternal life and happy life is right before us – but we still tend to choose a different path.

Which way did you tilt your head?  Are you inclined to think of Jesus as who he says he is?  Or would you rather relegate him to the margins?

Jesus did say – If you have two coats give one away.  There weren’t IRA’s or Pension Plans or 501(k)’s in his day, but if they had existed I think we all know what Jesus might have said.

Which way did you tilt your head?  Jesus speaks roughly to the Gentile woman who asked for her daughter to be healed, but then goes on to admire her faith.  He tells an adulteress things he won’t say plainly to the religious leaders in the Temple.

We don’t need to ask what Jesus would do - we know what he would do -when faced with protecting himself or potentially harming another. 

The judgement does not come from on high to descend upon us.  “This is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, March 8

Mark 6:34 is memory verse for me.  It is both a great comfort and instruction for my work as a servant of Christ.

Jesus and the disciples are being called upon to respond to so many issues and concerns.  Jesus says it is time for them to go away for a while, so they can have time to reflect, to pray, to reorient.  They attempt to do so, but when they get to this place, the crowd has beat them there, and are waiting.

Jesus looks out on this scene and Mark writes, "He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."

The verses which follow are Mark's retelling of the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus does have compassion.  Compassion upon us and for us.  We sing as children "Jesus loves me...." and then we enter the adult world and hear messages of God's looming damnation.

Jesus has compassion.  Compassion for us and upon us.  ".... for the Bible tells me so."

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, March 7

Lord, grant that each one who has to do with me today may be the happier for it.

It is far to easy to forget that the call to follow Christ is to lose ourselves in our having found him.  There are few encouragements to return to this core affirmation of Christian faith.  We are more often reminded to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" as if getting a ticket to heaven were the mark of a disciple.

Jesus made it clear that those who would be his disciples are those who care for others, serve other, understand themselves to be slaves to others.

I do not want you to worry or fear - there is no reason to do so!  I can make such bold assertions because of my decades of following Jesus and discovering the assurance which emerges from continually looking for ways to love and serve "each one who has to do with me today."

Those who are pre-occupied with their own fate (eternal or otherwise) have a great discovery when they find how quickly such concerns disappear in the commitment to make "the happier" those who cross their path this day.