Thursday, December 10, 2015

Devotion - Thursday, December 10

As the fall term comes to an end, I want to send you home with the assurance that you will be missed and that I will keep you in my prayers while we are apart.  I know that you are heading home, where you will be safe and loved and cared for.  (Though I do not mean to ignore those for whom a return home brings it's own anxieties.)  However, being separated also leaves open the door that something may happen to you or to me while we are not together.  I will pray that this does not happen.

The world around us appears to be spiraling downward into increased expressions of anger and mistrust and fear.  Do not let the world's attention to these things alter the way we have been invited to see that which God has created.  There is anger and mistrust and fear out there, but this is not the good creation which God makes and sets us in the middle of the garden.  Those expressions are the hidden corners of those who want what we were never intended to have. Those expressions are the underbelly of a desire to build towers that reach to the heavens (Genesis 11) or be recognized in the public square (Matthew 23).

Micah teaches us what we need to know:  Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 23 instructs us: do not neglect the weightier matters of the law: Justice and mercy and faith.

I do not know how the anger and mistrust and fear of our world will be set aside and turned around.  But let's refuse to allow the world to turn us around and away from the way of God, from the way of justice and peace and kindness.

Be careful over the break.  Be careful as you travel and as you experience holiday cheer.  But above all be careful that you do not allow the chatter around you to distract you from what you have come to know and to affirm: God is good and the goodness of God's creation is found in all things.  Do not allow the world to turn you away from the weighty matters of God's Word.

PS:  I will be back with you come January 6.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Devotion - Wednesday, December 9

The cycle of readings I follow has me reading from Revelation.  In case you have not heard me say this before - Revelation is an extremely uplifting book, full of God's promise.  Those to whom the book were written were facing tremendous threats.  Those who read John's words for the first time were fearful for their lives and for their communities and for their way of life.  The letter John wrote them reminded them that God is near and that God will not allow their hopes to come to nothing.

The misinterpretation of these words from John begins when the interpreter realizes that he/she may be the oppressor in John's story.  Much like the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes in the Gospel accounts - some interpreters perceive these things are about them.  

Revelation reminds us that God is in control and that nothing - nothing - can disrupt our relationship with him and our confidence in him.  The things which oppose us are powerless in comparison.  In Revelation, John encourages his readers to remain faithful.  To him this means not becoming angry or vindictive.  It means we see reality for what it is and that we don't allow our anxiety to cause us to forsake the persons God has called us to be.

There is way too much hate going around today.  There are far too many voices calling on us to label others as unacceptable.  There is no opening for God's people to participate in such talk.

We have a powerful witness to the eternal reign of God and we have complete assurance that Jesus' way is the way to follow.  We will identify evil as evil, but we will not repay evil with evil.

Reading Revelation reminds me of the perceived threats in past generations.  All of which have run their course and are gone.  Reading Revelation reminds me that my aim is to remain focused on the way of Christ and not allow loud voices to distract me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Devotion - Tuesday, Dec 8

Before coming to Clemson I was a pastor in Houghton, Michigan.  In that town, there were six different Lutheran denominations.  (Did you realize there are some 30+ Lutheran denominations in the US?)  Most of those Lutheran denominations did not have professional clergy.  In fact, they would repeat the Jesus statement about "the hired hand does not love the sheep" as justification for not having "professional" pastors.

Crazy, right?

But when I read the book of Amos (which is one of my favorites) I come up against the same argument.  Amos warned God's people about their complacency; the professional prophets (think clergy or teaching theologians in our day) said everything was fine.  These folks even tried to shew Amos away, telling him to "flee away to the land of Judah, and (make your living there)."  Amos 7:10-17 is the story.

Amos points out that he isn't interested in making a living.  That he makes his living as a day laborer.  This whole business of being a prophet is new to him.  Not a position he trained for or ever sought.  He is a layman; not a church professional.

Never become dependent upon folks like me to tell you everything you need to know about God and God's will in the world.  What do we call that?  "Drinking the cool-aid"?  Become and be your own prophet.  Now, I hope and pray you will do that with a great deal of reflection and study and prayer.  But trust what God is saying to you and speak that message to others.

Take a 20 minute study break and read the book  of Amos.  He is among the books called the "Minor Prophets," but his message scores major points.  The read will be well worth your time.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Devotion - Monday, December 7

Here in Clemson, we let yesterday pass without really talking about St. Nicholas.  Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra in the 4th Century.  It was reported that he would slip out of his manse in the night and take gifts to those in need.  The red cope of a Bishop was reported to been seen by those who say the mysterious night visitor vanish after leaving his gift behind.

It is important to remember this tradition to reclaim the origins of "Santa Claus."  The parts of the story least likely to be emphasized is the nature of the gifts left by St. Nicholas.  They were sometimes life-saving.

I enjoy getting gifts.  The thoughtfulness of the one who shares with me is never lost.  In the same vein, it brings great joy to share with others.  But I pray that we might not forget the part of St. Nicholas' story which challenges us to remember that the plumb line set among God's people is one which reveals our care for the least among us.

Nothing like being a day late and a dollar short - but spend a few minutes today reading stories about St. Nicholas, and consider what this Saint might be directing you to do.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sermon - Advent 2, Year C

Luke 3:1-6 & 1:68-79 

Anyone who had been assigned to read the lessons on Pentecost Sunday or at an Easter Vigil liturgy had to smile a little smile this morning when you heard me stumbling over the names for the regions presided over by Philip, brother of Herod.  “Ituraea?”  “Trachonitis?”  “Abilene” is rather easy to pronounce, but what of the guy who was the ruler of this city – “Lysanias?”  Like the readings on Pentecost, these verses contain difficult names to pronounce, of places and people we have long since forgotten. 

Why are all those names included in Luke’s text?  I had this discussion with another preacher.  I asserted that these names were there in order to document the year when John begins his ministry.  “One reference would have done that,” was the reply.  Besides, this reference only confuses the time line.  While each of the persons mentioned eventually figures into the unfolding story, their reigns don’t align as perfectly as Luke 3 would have us believe.

“No.” my conversation partner insisted.  “They are mentioned so Luke can drive home the point that all these powerful people are passed over when God has a word to share.”  Look right there at the last phrase of verse 2.  The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  The word of God does not respect the structures or preferences of human design.  The word of God goes where it will – and at the time of Messiah’s arrival - God wills it to go to John, out there, in the wilderness.

Luke will employ such a tactic many times in his writings.  And we had all better get used to it, because we are in the year of Luke.  From now till next Christ the King Sunday, we will be reading from Luke on Sunday mornings.  And throughout Luke there is a theme of God passing over the rich and powerful in favor of the lowly and powerless.  Such a message was an added “good news” to Luke’s readers.  Remember that they were not members of Rome’s ruling majority nor were they Pharisees, Sadducees, High Priests, or scribes. 

I guess it is yet to be determined whether we will consider this aspect of Luke’s presentation as good news.

Emperor Tiberius, Governors Pontius Pilate and Herod and Philip; high priests Annas and Caiaphas – the word of God is spoken to them, but not by them.  The word of God is spoken by John, the guy living out there along the river bank.

Or I should say, it will be spoken by John, eventually.  Did you notice or realize that John doesn’t speak in today’s readings.  He is spoken about, but he does not speak.  Others speak about him.

The first to speak about him was his father.  Zechariah’s song is in Luke 1.  (Luke 1:68-79)  These verses serve as our Psalm for today.  I hope you listened carefully as they were read by the Lector.  The lines of this Zechariah’s song are unique, a collection of verses and thoughts from various Psalms.  The message is clear and straight forward – God has looked with favor upon His people and is sending to them one who will save them “from the hands of our enemies.”    

Zechariah’s speech is notable for other reasons.  Do you remember that when a messenger from God told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child; Zechariah doubted that such a thing was possible.  Elizabeth was old and considered barren.  When Zechariah doubted it was possible for God to send them a child, he lost his ability to speak.  It is only at the naming of the child, when Zechariah affirms that he is to be named “John” that Zechariah regains the ability to talk.  And Luke 1:68-79 is what he says.

Zechariah’s song affirms that God does see us and God remembers His promise to us.  God comes to us, giving us reason to hope - and then fulfilling our hopes.  Zechariah sings:   “The dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

That is what Zechariah has to say about John.  In Chapter 3, we read what Luke has to say about him.

These lines are also borrowed from elsewhere in our bibles.  Do you remember where?  Luke quotes from Isaiah 40:  The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Again, high hopes and welcomed promises.  Luke remembers the words of Isaiah, spoken to people who had lived through some of their darkest days.  Luke repeats Isaiah’s assurance that God will come and set them free from the hands of those who hate them, the tyranny of those who oppress them.

In Luke’s day, it was the ruler of Rome – all those folks mentioned in verse 1.  In the time of Isaiah, it was the Babylonians.

If you turn in your bibles to Isaiah 40, you might have footnote, similar to the one in my bible.  Isaiah 40 begins what is sometimes called Isaiah II.  There are three sections in Isaiah: one which speaks to the time just prior to their being overrun and carried off into exile; one (the one that begins at Chapter 40) which is offered during the time of transition in their fate; and a final section which speaks of the rebuilding of their lives and their religious practices.  Isaiah 40 was an assurance that God had not abandoned His people.  They were sitting in darkness and may have feared that they had lost their status in God’s eyes.  “Not so,” God assures them.

Same situation, same message, some six-hundred years later.  In Luke’s day it was Rome who rules over them.  Tiberius and Pilate and Herod and Lysanias and Annas and Caiaphas – these are not your liberators or redeemers.  The one who can save you is the one whom God is sending.

We are too often enamored with the power structures of our world.  We come to rely on the alliances we have made and the systems we have put into place.  They usually function very well – particularly for those who created them, because in the creation process we tend to make them favor us as much as possible.  But the message of Luke 1 and Luke 3 is to remind us that we cannot find our salvation, or our hope, or any reason to be encouraged in such structures.  The word of God goes to the wild-eyed guy living in the wilderness.  It goes to the one who cares not what happens to the rulers of the state or to the rulers of the religious structures.  It goes to the one who isolates themselves from all of that and listens for the word.

Is Christmas about what God did back there, in that place and time; or is Christmas the perpetual arrival of the One who turns the tables in the Temple, angers those in authority, upsets the social norms, and is eventually executed at the insistence of the crowd who had once welcomed his word but turned on him when they learned the ramifications of accepting that word?

I join the majority who like the way things are.  I live rather comfortably in the configuration as it is.  But all week I have struggled with the question of whether the rest of the world’s populations would accept my complacency. 

That list of difficult to pronounce names were the who’s who of Luke’s day.  All of them are gone.  The only reason their name are remembered is because they are included in someone else’s story.  The nations and regions they fought so desperately to control – wiped off the map and given different names by new rulers who were themselves eventually overthrown.

But the word of God continues. 

The word of God comes to those who listen for it and to it.  The word of God comes to those willing to allow their world to be turned on its head and re-established with God’s vision of justice enthroned.  The word of God is like no other word we will ever hear.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Devotion - Thursday, December 3

I remember the title of the book - but little of the content.  The title was powerful; and worth repeating.  "Amusing Ourselves to Death."  The concept is that we occupy ourselves with trivial games while participating in an un-examined system of destruction.

I have spent my share of time this week talking about Clemson's #1 ranking and the "largest pizza party".  Christmas is coming so my emails have included gift suggestions and plans for holiday gatherings.

Are we amusing ourselves to death?

Yesterday's shooting in California resulted in immediate and real deaths.  Cities like Chicago and Baltimore are erupting in violence over deaths which occurred in situations were safety and calm should have been expected.  

You are in the middle of final exams, and have plenty to keep you busy.  But there will always be some distraction.  There will always be something pressing for your attention.  

God has sent his servants into the world as peacemakers.  It is our responsibility to speak of God's will and to see that God's expectations come to God's creation.

Will you and I be able to stop the mass shootings and senseless deaths?  Yes.  We will be able to do so.  When enough of us shake the distractions from our minds and speak of what needs to change and how urgently that change is needed.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Devotion - Tuesday, December 2

At least part of our difficulty with Advent is the balancing act between eagerly looking for Messiah's arrival and realizing that we already have everything we need.

Christ has accomplished all things.  From the cross he proclaims "It is finished."  Our salvation is assured and there is nothing more God needs to do in order to claim us as children.

These assurances set us free to worry about the state of affairs in the world, rather than fretting about whether we will get to heaven.

And yet, we know there is more to come.  We realize that the fullness of God's reign has not come to all the earth and to all who dwell there.  We pray for and anticipate that fullness.

We practice keeping this balance during these weeks of Advent.  We speak to one another of the glorious presence of Christ in our world, even as we long for the time when more will experience it.

The days of Advent are a balancing act.  Use them wisely.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Devotion - Monday, December 1

The prophets served as court jesters - walking the line between speaking the painful truth and avoiding getting the King angry enough to silence them (usually by killing them.)  The prophets spoke poetically about the very real problems they saw.

These early days of Advent have me reading Amos.  I would encourage you to read along.  Amos speaks to the Kings, and to the loyal subjects, about the hope and promise God felt in establishing a chosen people.  That hope has been compromised; the promise has not come to every member of the family.

Systemic evil is more difficult to address than individual morality.  Talk of systemic evil does not allow us to say "The preacher is talking to someone else."  I realized this past summer, in response to a sermon I preached, that systemic evil is a subject we do not want to talk about in worship.

Systemic evil involves the structures and rules which protect the way of life of some while diminishing the lives of others.  Systemic evil quickly becomes political (remember that politics refers to the process of negotiating our course of action.  Politics only becomes partisan when we become ideologically blind.)

During the season of Advent, I hope you will examine the ways in which you could be more moral or ethical.  But the magnitude of the Christmas Story (star in the sky; astrologers from the East; angels singing to the shepherds) reminds us that Messiah's arrival is about much more than whether we use four-letter words to express ourselves.

The prophets saw how some were lying on beds of ivory while others were going hungry.  The prophets' words should help us see the realities of our world and time.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Devotion - Monday, November 30

An informal survey confirmed for me what I had feared - not that many of us were in worship yesterday.  (I was on vacation myself - taking advantage of the Thanksgiving Break.)  The rush to return to school, the putting away of Thanksgiving dishes, or the putting up of Christmas trees - for a variety of reasons, many of us missed yesterday's observance of Advent 1.

Advent is 4 Sundays long.  It ends with the announcement of the birth in Bethlehem.  It began yesterday.

These weeks are to be given over to preparing and anticipating; to looking for Messiah and looking for how Messiah might change our world.

Waiting and watching do not come easy to us.  Particularly in the world which swirls around us these days.

The acts of violence which have dominated our world have united us in some ways; divided us in others.  We are united in our disgust; divided on how to respond.  Christians are themselves divided.

Advent would encourage us to put off responding until we have reflected and envisioned the end toward which God is calling us.  Advent would remind us that our short-term goals should not be in conflict with the eternal vision of God for His creation.

Too few of us were in worship yesterday; too few of us are prepared for the discipline of Advent.  But we can get prepared, and ready, and we can make straight the pathway of Messiah.  We can.  Will we?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Devotion - Monday, November 23

All the excitement this weekend may have diverted our attention from the excitement of the Church Year Festival observed this Sunday.

Christ the King is the final Sunday of the church year.  It's presence on the Liturgical Calendar is to challenge us as to how we have responded to Jesus and his message.  Will we follow him?  Will we adopt the marks of his reign?  Will we pledge ourselves to carrying out his mission?

There is a tremendous need for those who answer "Yes" to those questions to live them.

Our world is being challenged by religiously justified violence.  Our world is being ripped apart by the misguided notion that God would ever sanction violence as a means of establishing His reign.  Those who have accepted the way of Jesus must speak up and speak against hatred and rejection.  

The bible tells us that Jesus came to set son against father, daughter against mother.  There will be divisions, even within our own families, over acceptance of his rule.  Those divisions are justification for killing;  those divisions fall along the lines of those who choose to advance themselves by dethroning others.  Such is not the way of Jesus.

Christ the King is the Sunday of the Church Year when we demonstrate that we have heard the message of Jesus and show that we are ready to put it into practice.  Let's do that - especially those parts of Jesus' message which forbid us from taking up swords.  We can never - never - advance the message of Jesus by spewing hate or by advocating violence.

Such are not the way of Christ's kingdom.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Devotion - Thursday, November 19

Even Kings get caught up in the moment and make bad decisions as a result.  In Matthew 14 we read of the beheading of John the Baptist.  Herod had placed John in prison, but his fear and respect would not allow him to bring further harm upon John.  However, when his step-daughter's dance pleased Herod's guests he offered her whatever she might ask.  She asks for the head of John.

We had discussed in our Tuesday Bible Study how important it is have accountability partners.  There is a tremendous gain to be had from having among our closest friends those who share our commitments and our convictions.  It is less likely that such persons are going to stand idly by while we get caught up on the moment and make bad decisions.

Jesus sent his disciples out two by two so they might have such a partner.  Who are the partners in your faith journey?  And have your spoken with them about the role you hope they will take on in your life?  We all find it way to east to get caught up in the moment;  we can all anticipate such moments and have in place safe-guards against destructive behaviors.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Devotion - Wednesday, November 18

My morning prayers include concerns and topics which have been shared with me; matters which have been shared in conversations or pastoral visits.  It is my hope that I honor each promise made to remember in my prayers these things.

This morning, as I was working my way through the list, I also prayed that those who had spoken to me had also confided in others.  I prayed that they had enlisted their roommates and friends and family in the cloud of witnesses who would bear them up through these days.

Too much of our world encourages us to go it alone.  Too many messages are given us about not appearing to be needy.  This is not the message we hear in scripture or at church.  There, we are reminded to bear one another burdens; there we are encouraged to share the burdens which we carry.

When we share Good News - Bad News at our Wednesday night gatherings we do so with the purest of intentions of hearing the concerns of those around us and of aiding them with our prayers and our care.  This is a sacred part of our life together.  It is an essential expression of who we are as God's people.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Devotion - Tuesday, November 17

Matthew 13:48ff contains the parable of the kingdom of heaven as a net cast into the sea.  This net catches fish of every kind.  All the fish are gathered - the good and the bad.

Too often we want to separate ourselves; we want to uphold some self-determined sense of purity.  Matthew 13 seems to warn us against such.  The kingdom gathers in all kinds.  It is only at the "close of the age" that any separating occurs.  Then, it is the angels who do the work.

The horrific events in Paris have led many to embark upon intense attempts to do our own sorting.  There are cries for excluding those whose only association with the perpetrators is having at one time lived in the same region of the world (the very reason these persons are fleeing!)  We all deserve and desire safety, but not at the expense of shutting the gates and leaving the innocent on the outside.

Jesus reminds his followers that choosing his way isn't always going to be easy.  One of the tough aspects of his way is refusing to hate and to blame and to retaliate.  If ever the followers of Jesus need to be more like Jesus, it is now.  In the face of the hatred and blame and violence unleashed in Paris, Jesus' followers must model Jesus' way.  It isn't going to be easy.  But easy isn't what was promised us.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Devotion - Monday, November 16

A verse from yesterday's readings has been bouncing around in my head ever since we shared it.  It is from Hebrews 10, verses 24-25:

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. 

The word "provoke" stuck with me first.  We hear folks speak of being "provoked," but the action attempting to be justified is usually an angry one or one that involved retaliation for an injustice.  Have you ever experienced someone being "provoked" to love and good deeds?  I hope that I will - soon and often.

The second part of these verses is the reference to "not neglecting to meet together."  It is the habit of some (many) to neglect meeting together.  I am not and never want to be the attendance police, but I will always encourage coming to Church and meeting with others at bible study or worship.  There, we can be provoked to love and good deeds.  Of course that meeting can't just be to watch TV or share a pizza.  It is a meeting, not a random gathering.

Let's be intentional in our meeting together and in our provoking one another.  Let's be certain that we offer encouragement, to do well in class but also to live out our Christian calling.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Devotion - Thursday, November 12

I continue reading from Matthew 13.  The disciples' question as to why Jesus teaches in parables is followed with an explanation to the parable of the sower, offered by Jesus.  (Verses 18-23)

This morning, my prayer time brought to memory the necessity of time for "fruit" to grow and mature.  We attempted to establish a community garden for the Habitat homeowners on Stephens Road.  Students worked on getting the soil ready and hauled loads of chicken mature to the site.  But all the planting and harvesting happened long after the students ended the term (one regular volunteer graduated).  They never saw the fruit of their labors.

I will go back to the image of the sower.  The sower distributes the seed in this parable without regard to the likelihood that the soil will be good soil.  The sower distributes the seed and then goes away - allowing the growth and the production to happen.

Our most faithful sowing of the seed is likely to be in situations where we will never see the growth.  We are nearest to God's ideal when we offer the good news and provide the right thing without hovering over the recipient to insist that the seed produce. 

Do good.  Be good.  Offer assistance.  Give encouragement.  These acts stand alone as the yield which brings joy to God's Kingdom.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Devotion - Wednesday, November 11

Matthew 13:10-17 addresses one of the questions all of us would like to have answered.  The disciples come to Jesus and say to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?"

There are a few places in the Gospels where we are told "Jesus said this to them quite plainly."  But, for the most part, his instruction is in parables.  Why?

In Matthew 13 there is the hint that this is to reveal the truths to some, while keeping it veiled from others.  That doesn't seem fair.

One outcome of such an approach is an increased appreciation of faith itself as a gift from God.  Did we come to understand the things of God as a result of our reason or effort?  Or did we come to appreciate Jesus' sacrifice as a result of grace poured upon us abundantly?  Is it "I" who have done this; or is it Christ?

Martin Luther spoke of this as prevenient grace - it is the grace which is active in us before we become active in our faith.  It is the affirmation that "while we were yet sinners" God was at work within us.  It is in keeping with Paul's experience that "it is not I" but Christ who has accomplished all things.

Why does Jesus speak to them in parables?  Maybe it is to frustrate those who want to be able to package and distribute something which can only be received.  Faith is a relationship with Christ; not a set of tenants or a list of rules.

"Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Devotion - Tuesday, November 10

It was during my college years that I heard a retelling of the parable in Matthew 13.  This is the one where the sower casts the seed and some falls on the path, some among thorns, some on rocky soil, and some on the good soil.  

In the typical interpretation, we are warned against being like the path (where birds come and snatch up the seed), or the rocky soil (with no depth of root), or like the thorns (which choke out the plants), but to be like the good soil.  We even sing a song to this effect - "Lord, let my heart be good soil....."

The alternate retelling which stuck with me was from someone who understood that a sower would know, before casting the seed, where that seed was going and the likely outcome of the seed being cast there.  While seed, cast in the wrong places is unlikely to yield much grain, the sower does not withhold the seed.

God's grace, God's goodness, God's gifts are freely given out to all.  There is a verse which reminds us that God sends the rain to benefit the fields of the just as well as to the fields of the unjust.  Whatever may befall those who abandon God, it does not befall them because God ceases to provide for them.

I pray that our hearts may be "good soil."  And at least part of the determination of ourselves as such is a full awareness that God loves us not because of our response.  It is because of God's unwavering love that our hearts respond with what goodness we can manage to offer.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Devotion - Monday, November 9

This morning's appointed Gospel text is Matthew 12:43-50.  Jesus speaks of something that we most often avoid or dismiss - unclean spirits.

For Jesus, "spirits" were the cause for many disorders and unexplained behaviors.  We may still speak of someone acting "as if they were possessed."  But we typically don't address their situation with exorcisms.  

But some behaviors or even personalities are so extreme "possession" might be a helpful description.  Some situations may be so troublesome that our approach would be aided by starting with a plea to God for intervention.

It is difficult not to loose hope, when we see enormity of some challenges.  The one who needs to be reflective isn't; there is a resistance to the help made available; our efforts seem so small in the face of all that is needed.  Where else ought we begin than with a prayer to God.  A prayer which acknowledges God's ability to accomplish that which we never could; a prayer which reminds us of God's continued presence and strength.

"Unclean spirits" lead many to hurtful and harmful behaviors.  Let us look to Jesus who drives out such spirits and restores to us the one whom we love.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sermon - Pentecost 24

I Kings 17:8-16 & Mark 12:38-44     

Giving All That We Have

            They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation. (Mark 12:40)  I have to tell you that this verse has stuck in my mind all week.  It is the kind of verse I hate hearing, let alone having to read in public and then preach on (or try preach around.)  “They will receive the greater condemnation.”   How is that possible anyway?  Isn’t condemnation condemnation?  What could Jesus possibly mean?

            Considering that the gospel moves immediately from Jesus’ announcement of the greater condemnation to story of the widow and her mite, I would sure be nervous if I hadn’t already figured out what my pledge was going to be for the coming year.  What if I give too much?  Putting me in the category of those who put on a great show and receive that greater condemnation?  What if I put in too little, thus failing to meet the standard established by this poor old widow?  These verses will no doubt be in the back of your mind as you complete your own estimate of giving.  And I would be really careful - if I were you.  Condemnation is bad enough - I hate to think what greater condemnation must be like.  Too much and you might be grouped with the showy scribes, who like to walk around in long robes.  Too little and you may fail the test of the widow’s mite, giving instead out of your abundance.

            Of course Jesus isn’t concerned with what we put down on a piece of paper.  He’s not actually concerned with the amount we put in the offering plate.  The thing which matters to Christ is what is etched into the fabric of our lives.  That is what he is observing, as he sits next to the temple treasury.  He sees, not the amount of the gifts placed in the pot, but what the gift says about the person who gives it.

            If you watch what people do, you can learn a lot about them.  Observing behaviors reveals to you what a person is made of, how they are put together, what they consider to be important.  Watching differs greatly from making assumptions.  We can make assumptions quickly, but watching takes time.  Observing behaviors over a period of time allows you to see folks commit not only one act but several. 

            We don’t want to jump to conclusions as to how we are to interpret this gospel lesson.  Jesus’ condemnation is not of rich folks.  Jesus is not saying that the wealthy should withhold their abundant gifts.  I have to point out - if for no other reason than the sake of my own livelihood - that much of what God hopes to accomplish in the world can only be accomplished when those of us in the wealthiest quarter of the human population give generously of what we have first received.  So don’t jump to the conclusion that Jesus is condemning all rich folks.

            Don’t make assumptions; don’t jump to conclusions.  Watch, watch and learn, and then comment on what is observed.  This is what Jesus does as he sits next to treasury in the temple.  He watches, he learns and he makes comments on what he sees.

            What he sees allows him to speak of the difference between those for whom God is a sideline or hobby and those for whom faith in God forms the core of their existence.  Jesus observes that many who come into the temple behave as if they could take or leave this whole God thing.  They make no sacrifice unto the Lord; they view their gifts as little more than charity, cast in the direction of the less fortunate. 

            As he is watching all this, Jesus sees the widow entering the temple.  She has a much different attitude.  She comes, bringing all that she has, and presents it to God.  For her, God is no sideline or hobby; God is the one upon whom she is utterly dependant.

            What would Jesus see, learn and comment on if he were to watch us as we make our way through a typical day, or week?  What would Jesus deduce were he to follow the ushers along each row and watched, as each envelope was placed in the offering plate?  It doesn’t bother us too much, to read what went on in some temple in ancient Israel.  But think of the risk of having him look over our shoulders here, today.

            This is not a legalistic question.  Jesus doesn’t watch to see what folks place in the treasury and then calculate whether that gift equals a tithe of one’s income.  Jesus merely watches, sees what we do, and comments on what the gifts say about the giver.  What do our gifts say - about us?

            The congregation’s ability to meet its budget is not the issue here.  At issue is the importance we are placing upon that which we proclaim to be at the core of our existence.
             What value do you place upon your faith?  Do you think of your church involvement as fire insurance?  When we take out a fire insurance policy we figure out the minimum coverage needed so as minimize our premium payment.  Do you think of your gifts to the church as a retainer, similar to that you would give a lawyer so you can have access to their services?  Only in this case we are retaining access to the church should we need a wedding, baptism, funeral or something of the sort? 

            Our relationship with God is not fire insurance.  Our offerings are not a retainer.  Our relationship with God forms the core of our existence or it is of little value.

            When Jesus watches the worshipers place their gifts in the treasury what he observes is the value each person places upon their relationship with God.  The widow’s two copper coins are a powerful statement about her attitude toward the one called Lord.

            I wonder if this widow had heard the story of the widow of Zarephath - the story that we read as our first lesson for today.  In that story the widow is sought out - Elijah goes looking for her.  When he finds her, she is gathering firewood in order to cook her last meal. 

            She does not resist Elijah’s request to feed him first. She obeys, even though she has no reason to trust his promise that the flour will never give out.  She makes him a cake first, and then she feeds herself and her son.

            We are not told how long Elijah stays with this widow - but for as long as he is there, the jar of meal was not emptied, and neither did the jug of oil fail.  So long as she was providing for Elijah, the woman was able to provide for herself and her son.

            The wonderful twist in this story is the way in which God takes care of this woman.  God provides for her by sending to her someone that she could care for.  She provides for Elijah.  She trusts that God will take care of her.  So long as she takes care of Elijah; God takes care of her.

            I think I am about to decide that the greater condemnation is being trapped in the fear that we have to take care of ourselves.  Might the greatest of all condemnations be being alone as we face a bleak future?  If we stand alone in our prosperity we will certainly feel alone in our distress. The widow of Zarephath did not face a very promising future, but she was willing to take on the burden of caring for another. I am about to decide that the greater condemnation is the fear which leads us to think that our primary task is to take care of ourselves.

            I love the post-communion prayer, included in the Now the Feast liturgy.  It reads, “Gracious Lord, give us courage to share our bread.”  It does take courage to share our bread.  It took a lot of courage for the widow to put her two coins in the treasury. 

I don’t intend to leave you with a guilty conscience this morning - what I really want is to persuade you to pray for courage, for the courage it takes to share.  I remain convinced that those with such courage never experience want.  Like the widow of Zarephath so long as we care for another we are also cared for.  Pray for this courage.  And I promise you that condemnation (the common everyday kind or the kind Jesus calls the greater condemnation) will never come into your life.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Devotion - Thursday, November 5

Near the end of I Corinthians, Paul speaks of a "contribution for the saints."  He is speaking of an offering.  This is timely; UniLu will have our "Consecration Sunday" this Sunday, where we will ask persons to complete an estimate of giving card for 2016.

It sometimes seems a bit weird when we do this, given that those front three rows are occupied by students.  What are you to do, while all this is happening?

Well, hopefully, you will reflect on the same question being asked of the congregation - "How will you make use of the gifts that God has given you?"

I am not suggesting that you take out additional student loans in order to be a regular "contributor for the saints."  But you should look at your spending habits and ask if there might be choices which would allow you to be financially helpful.

Among the patterns you are setting in your life is the pattern of giving.  Now is the time to establish habits for your life.  Sharing and caring ought to be one of those habits.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Devotion - Wednesday, November 4

I wrote to you on Monday about Sabbath.  That reflections was to encourage you to observe Sabbath, in the sense of slowing down and turning your attention to those aspects of our lives that make life meaningful.

In Matthew 12, Jesus struggles to help us understand Sabbath and how to observe it without turning it into an additional burden.

The religious culture of Jesus' day had developed all sorts of rules for what observing Sabbath meant.  No work or labor was to be allowed.  This resulted in condemnation when Jesus' disciples plucked grains from the stalks as they walked through the grain fields.  Jesus tries to help the legalistic minded folks see that their rules were distracting folks from the purpose of Sabbath.

Rules are necessary for children.  A child may not be able to discern what is right or helpful.  But as adults we come to see that practically every rule will met a situation in which it misguides us.

The Sabbath is an opportunity to reflect on God's Word, to appreciate God's instructions, and to discern how we will follow.  The Sabbath is the invitation to develop the relationship with God in which rules are replaced by a willingness to see and act in accordance with God's hope for the world.  As we observe Sabbath we become less needful of rules.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Devotion - Tuesday, November 3

The appointed daily readings have been dovetailing well with our Tuesday night study of I Corinthians.  This morning I was directed to I Corinthians 15:41-50.

Questions have arose regarding the resurrection.  Remember that most early followers of Jesus thought they would not see death before Jesus' return.  When some died, there was worry as to what this would mean.  Paul's letter assures them that the promise of Christ will not be impeded, simply because they happen to die before Christ returned.

Paul also helps them to see that life in the resurrection will be different from life as they now know it.  Dr. Sittler, one of my teachers, mused just before his own death that life had been so wonderful he could not image that the resurrection would be disappointing - BUT, he admitted he had no idea what that resurrected life would be like.  He would tell us that as much as some would like to claim otherwise, there is no precise picture given of what life is like for us on the other side of resurrection.

I do not write these words in order to challenge images of eternal life rooted in your heart or mind.  Rather I offer these reflections for the sake of those who are unsure or questioning or worried.  I would also acknowledge those who have not had such a wonderful life, perhaps even been the victim of abuse.  My prayer this morning is that any anxiety about what happens at death might be eased.  Paul tells us that there can be no heavenly body till the earthly body is ended.  We will need to turn lose of this one, to get the next.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Devotion - Monday, November 2

The room where I have set up my desk is in a part of the house were the sound of the rain is the most pronounced.  I am not sure when it started raining; I recall waking a few times to hear it during the night.  When my alarm went off, I definitely heard it; as I read my bible and said my prayers, I heard it; and now, it is almost lulling me back to my bed and more sleep.

Let me insert an important note: The flooding last month reminded us that raindrops become swollen rivers.  I do not want to seem insensitive to that.

But the sound of rain coming down does tend to calm us and permit (if not encourage) us to stay in our pajamas and away from the wet and chill.

Observance of The Sabbath has fallen off in our culture.  Part of that is a good thing - Christians should not get to rule how others will spend their Sunday any more than Jews should shut down Saturday football or Muslims would halt Friday afternoon activities.  But this loss of Sabbath means we too seldom take our rest and allow ourselves to be restored and refreshed.  

God is the Creator of the Sabbath.  And it was not created for selfish reasons.  God knows how essential it is that we take our rest; that we give attention to the things that are close at hand but too often passed over in the midst of rushed lives; and that we learn to listen for the messages when can only come when we have pushed aside the noise of the world.

You may not have the luxury of staying at home in your pj's, but take a bit of a rest - you owe it to yourself, it is a gift God wants to give you.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Devotion - Thursday, October 29

I am still at the pastors' conference.  The topic of community continues to be discussed.  But I have to admit that it is the conversations with colleagues which prove to be the most helpful.  Many of those conversations follow the lead of our keynote presenter, but applied to our own situation and context.

Allow me to share my musings from one of those conversations.

This pastor has a child who is active in one of Clemson's Greek organizations.  As I could have predicted, there are required meetings of this organization which conflict with the student's interest in participating in LCM events.  Over time, strong bonds will be formed with the others who are joining; and relationships with LCM folks will have been weakened.


I do wonder what would happen if LCM and other religious church organizations instituted our own requirements for membership.

This morning I read from Matthew 10.  Here Jesus speaks of the cost of discipleship.  He tells us that we must lose our lives in order to gain the life he offers.  That sounds like a pretty demanding requirement.

Don't worry - we will never set up requirements for membership.  But I would be remiss if I didn't speak of the scripture's own statements of what must change in our lives as we become a follower of Jesus.  And, I would be failing you as your campus pastor if I didn't ask whether these changes had come in your life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Devotion - Wednesday, October 28

I generally find it necessary to process what I hear at these conferences by writing about them in my e-devotions.  The Rostered Leaders' Convocation is discussing the issue of "Community."  

One of my campus ministry colleagues has said of the current generation of college students, "they are in desperate need of community, but have no idea how to locate it."  By that, he meant to take seriously all the ways in which your parents' decisions have made it difficult for you to experience community.  They may have moved the family a couple of times.  They may be so busy with work that they omit participation in a civic club or organization.  It is also possible that you have changed congregations - maybe associated with a move, but possibly due to dissatisfaction with the prior church.

Community is not to be confused with a voluntary association.  Clubs are voluntary organizations.  We join clubs in order to be with folks who have a shared common interest.

Community is the collection of folks who find themselves together, and now have to find a way to work in partnership with one another.  Community is a group who are bound to each other; even when they might prefer to be able to go their own way.

We get a glimpse of community, in LCM.  We are a voluntary association, in some ways.  But what brings us into this club isn't a shared hobby or interest.  We came here because Jesus invited us.  And, unlike a club, the other members don't get to decide whether we will belong.  We do belong - because Jesus says we belong.

Learning to get along and to cooperate and to understand that each or our futures is affected by the actions of each of us individually is what will make us do more than glimpse community.  When we do these things, we are experiencing or living into community.

Community is a desirable thing.  Community allows us to weather storms and face challenges.  Community is the preferred state for God's chosen ones.  Let us give thanks for the ways in which we glimpse it, and work to experience it more fully.

Devotion - Tuesday, October 27

I continue to read from Matthew 10, where Jesus sends out the Twelve in search of villages and towns where the good news might be shared.

He advises them to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves."  I found myself meditating on that combination; asking what it means for me.

First, is the part about serpents.  I wouldn't automatically think of them as wise.  They do seem to be extremely aware of their surroundings and are prone to act only when everything is in place.  Jesus may be referencing the cunning nature of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  To be wise as serpents may be a call for us to be patient, and methodical.  Serpents seldom attempt a strike unless they are confident it will be successful.

To be as innocent as doves I can better understand.  Doves are calming creatures.  They are rather low on the food chain, which means they are not aggressive.  I am not sure they could fight off an attack.  They are more likely to cause a fuss in hopes that others will gather around and rescue them.  

So how do these two traits go together?  

I understand the call from Jesus to be one that opens my eyes in ways never before imagined.  I understand the call from Jesus to be encouragement to put others first (even when it means I am taken advantage of.)  To be wise, as a serpent, is to know what is happening, to watch and to analyze and to be insightful.  But we would never use that information or wisdom to exploit the situation.  Instead, we use it to build up the others and to support them in their efforts.

Wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  It is a combination difficult to maintain; but so essential if we are to follow in the way of Jesus.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Devotion - Monday, October 26

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the Twelve.  They are to go to the villages and towns saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Times have changed, but even so I can't imagine walking into a village, standing along the pathway, and proclaiming the message of Jesus.  The best I could hope to do would be to go to the existing churches and speak with them.

Times have changed. But the need for Jesus' message to be shared has not.  In fact, we might say that the changes which have come make it ever more urgent that the story of Jesus be told.  The world needs to hear God's rejection of violence as a way to achieve our ends.  The world must come to see that the true measure of greatness is the compassion we have for the least among us.  

Maybe times have changed precisely because too few of us are loudly proclaiming the good news that the kingdom is at hand.  Maybe times have changed because we lack the conviction that that kingdom is upon us and that there is an urgency to speaking of these things.

I am not advocating for all of us to become street-corner preachers; but I am asking why we have become so timid in our giving voice to that which has been given us.  Something is lacking, in a Christian life which holds on to the gifts of Jesus.  The good news is to be shared and spread around and made active in the world.  It is time for times to change - again.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Devotion - Thursday, October 22

When asked what I do for a living, I often respond, "I drink coffee."  Those coffee visits are firmly rooted in the Sunday morning or Wednesday evening sacramental gatherings; but they are the place were the work I have been freed up to do really occurs.

Recently I was having coffee and the topic involved how to respond to a job offer.  This often happens; job offers are inclined to come your way as you complete your studies.  This particular conversation included talk of the greater good this person wants their job to accomplish.  It was part of their life-long vision to eventually get a job; but they want to make sure that the job is more than a pay-check, that it also made a difference in the world.

My devotional guide sent me to I Corinthians 12 this morning.  Paul speaks of spiritual gifts.  As is always the case with Paul, he speaks of these gifts as an opportunity to  use what God has given us for "the common good."

Here is yet another instance in which the longings of our heart expose the presence of God.  Long before we form the cognitive thought about the large-picture outcomes of our career, there is within us the gifts of God which seek a common good.  

Allowing ourselves to be guided by that Spirit brings us to the place where contentment and satisfaction take on a whole new meaning.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Devotion - Wednesday, October 21

Scripture is the final rule and norm for our life together as Christians.  Scripture is the witness of the early community to the Way of Jesus, and to the debates/misunderstandings which are likely to affect the community which bears the name of Jesus.

In I Corinthians 11, Paul addresses the Eucharist.  He doesn't call it that. Paul repeats the words handed down to him from the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples, then goes on to instruct the young Church as to what the sharing of this particular meal ought to do for them.

In I Corinthians 11, the instructions speak of the way in which this meal is to unite us.  Paul speaks against the practice of some jumping in front of the line and eating their fill - perhaps even before others have arrived!  "If you are hungry, eat at home."  he tells us.

Too seldom do we turn to our bibles in order to be reminded why we do some of the things we do in Church, and why we do them.  When we gather, we gather in obedience to Jesus' instructions.  When we gather, we gather in order to build up one another and to care for one another.  When we gather, we look to the heavens from whence comes our help, but we also look to the side to see the need and the concerns of our fellow disciples.

The Eucharist celebrates God's compassion for us; it acknowledges the gifts of God for the people of God.  It also calls upon us to live out Jesus' life - to care for those about whom Jesus cares.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Devotion - Tuesday, October 20

Winter is coming.  Or least the chill of fall.  I finally broke down yesterday morning and turned on our heat at the house.  This is a bit of a process.  I wanted to check the furnace to make sure it was functioning properly.  I needed to re-set the programmable thermostat so it didn't heat to the temps desired when we had the air conditioning running.  Laura had asked me to turn it on the previous day.  I reminded her it wasn't that simple.

But it really is - that simple.  And after a short crawl under the house; a bit of time interacting with that micro-computer hanging on the wall; and changing filters - our home warmed up.

Winter is also coming in eastern Europe.  There, the refugees of middle eastern wars are huddled under umbrellas.  Heated tents have been requested from Finland, but they are yet to arrive.  There is no way for these mothers to keep their children warm.

"Love your neighbor.." Jesus says.  Showing love to these neighbors surely involves a dry warm place to sleep.  

This devotion is not intended to comfort you or to send you on your way with encouragement.  God's people must express our unwillingness to allow the human suffering going on in the world as a result of war and violence.  God's people must speak of the way of Jesus, a way which does not respond with hate but with an unwavering commitment to justice.

Such a change will end up making things different in those eastern European camps; but it needs to start here, among us.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Devotion - Monday, October 19

After a two week break, we resume our Tuesday night study of I Corinthians this evening.  While Romans comes first in our New Testament, for many I Corinthians is considered Paul's most helpful letter.

I was reading this morning from Chapter 10:14ff.  

One of the issues in Paul's day was eating the meat that had been offered at pagan altars.  This meat was sold as food for the dinner table. Many refused to eat this meat; others saw no harm in doing so.

Paul compares and contrasts two axioms (an axiom is a saying widely accepted by the conventional wisdom of one's culture.)  Paul writes:  "All things are lawful for me."  In Christ there is no law which binds us or holds us.  But, Paul also writes: "Not all things are helpful."  Just because it is okay for me, that does not mean it will be helpful to others.

In our culture, the consumption of alcohol would be the best parallel.  I have no real interest in the currently, someday-to-be-changed-again laws of the state.  But I have a deep and abiding concern about how my liberty could affect others.  

While something is lawful (here we can think of lawful in many categories) not all things are helpful.  Being helpful is more than volunteering at the food pantry or Habitat house.  Being helpful means looking to see how my actions are affecting those whose eyes fall upon me (particularly when I may be unaware they are looking at me.)

Apply to your life the second of Paul's axiom.  Look for the ways in which you could be more helpful.  It might mean avoiding the gossip of others; it could be asking for consideration of the Gamecocks when trash-talk is going on; it may mean asking for civility when political candidates are discussed.  

All things may be lawful; but not all things are helpful.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pentecost 21 - Year B
Mark 10:(32-34)35-45

 A Kingship Like No Other

Even though USC won their game against Vanderbilt yesterday afternoon, Clemson fans are the ones walking around tall and proud this morning.  Did you hear the commentators talking about how convinced they are that Clemson is a strong candidate for a Championship bid?

We are walking proud.  It doesn’t matter whether we are in the sit to the left or to the right of Deshaun Watson, just so long as he stays healthy and gets to sit in that center chair. 

And getting to this place was pretty easy – for most of us.  We have arrived at this place without any of us spending extra hours in the weight room.  We might re-reply the game a couple of times during the week, but none of us are going to look at Miami film in order to prepare for the next opponent. 

We are walking proud – and getting this strut in our step was as easy as asking the lady at the spots shop to sell us one of those orange t-shirts. 

But it hasn’t been that easy for Deshaun, or Keerse, or Alex.  They know the sacrifice and the price it has taken to get here.  And while I am sure they appreciate our support, I do wonder if they ever look around and ask “What do you mean?  WE are having a great season?”

One seldom gets to sit in the chair of the King without putting in the time and making the sacrifice.  It isn’t as simple as being in the right place at the right time, or being the first to ask.  Nor is it merely a matter of picking the right color t-shirt.

Mark 10, verses 32-34, contains what is often referred to as Jesus’ third prediction of his crucifixion.  The first is in Mark 8:31.  The second starts in Mark 9:30.  If you have your Bible with you, you can look at these two sections, along with today’s reading from Mark 10.  Three chapters; three encounters in which Jesus tells the disciples that when they get to Jerusalem all chaos is going to break loose. 

“I am going to die,” he tells them in Mark 8. 

In Mark 9 he adds that this death will come as a result of “betrayal.” 

In Mark 10 Jesus tries to tell them again.

The disciples don’t seem get it; they don’t seem to comprehend.  Jesus tries to tell them, and yet all they can think of is who will be seated, at Jesus’ right hand and his left hand when this is all over.  They want to ride high, but they are unaware of the sacrifice necessary to do so.

This is the exchange printed in the verses printed on the back of our bulletins.  This is the disagreement Jesus has to settle among them.  They are fixated on their own notions of what glory means that they cannot see how different are the visions which draw Jesus to Jerusalem, his betrayal, and his death.  And Mark, the Gospel writer, puts all three of these reminders in a sequence because he knows that it will remain difficult for any of us to grasp what Jesus is saying, and accept it for the Good News that it really is.  Mark knows that we all want to ride high; but few of us will understand that getting there is more about how we live here.

In the first of the predictions of his death, Mark is sure to point out that Jesus says all this as clearly as he possibly can.  Mark 8:31ff is the text.  Verse 32 is where Mark records, “(Jesus) said all this quite openly.”  There ought not to have been any doubt about this – but there was.

            Mark 9:30-37 is the second of Jesus’ predictions.  The key word in those verses is “betrayed.”  It won’t be some accidental, misunderstanding which will lead to all these things happening.  It is going to be very intentional.

But the disciples still don’t get it.  Even after a third clear, unambiguous statement, James and John are so dense that they come to Jesus to ask him if, when all this ugly business is behind them, if they might have the honor of sitting, one at his right hand and the other at his left.

I too often dismiss moral lessons.  Moral lessons are good things.  The moral lesson which will no doubt resound from many a pulpit this morning is that “Nothing worth having is easily obtained.”  And, when that moral lesson makes its way home and into our hearts the world will be a better place and we will be better people.  That is sort of the message I set up with my introduction.

But, the Gospel is trying to make sure that we don’t apply that moral lesson to our lives as if it were the advice of some exercise coach or the latest method for increasing our marketability in the workplace.  This moral lesson, if it is to be reduced to that, is approached only after we have come to realize that the lessons of Jesus begin with a complete shifting of what it means to be the one who sits on the highest chair.

Jesus speaks differently about lords and rulers.  Jesus speaks of a way which calls into question the scheming to be on top.  Jesus tells us that being lord and master, in the Kingdom which bears his name, is to begin and end with the desire to serve.  It is marked with a willingness to give one’s life away.

I am in no way meaning to imply that you don’t “know” this.  And you have probably heard many a sermon on what it means to be the server as opposed to being the one who is served.  What we need to walk away with this morning is the realization of how difficult it is to comprehend the kingship of which Jesus speaks.  We too quickly skip over the sacrifice and begin to talk about the rewards of that sacrifice.  We are James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who give a wink and a nod to the rejection, the betrayal, and chose instead to anticipate what it is that will come after.

Jesus tells them to stop it.  Jesus tells them that nothing comes after, nothing comes above – it is all about serving and sacrificing.

            Sometimes we hear what we want to hear, no matter what is actually being said.  Sometimes we do not hear that which contra­dicts what we desperately want to believe.  Sometimes we are unable to hear even when the words leave no ambiguity.

            It is interesting that in this exchange, Jesus doesn't tell them, "No, you can't have those positions of authority."  Rather, he notes that those spots will be given to those to those for whom it has been prepared.  He doesn't turn them down; rather he works to change their focus.  He wants to move their eyes from the possibility of future glory to the road which lies between here and there.  He wants to shift their view from the seats of glory to the cup and the baptism which is Christ's.

            The only real concern Jesus has is that the disciples do not allow themselves to think there is an easier way than the one he is about to take.  Jesus wants to prevent any notion from forming in their heads which would allow them to believe they can come to those seats of influence by any way other than offering themselves.  "If you want to flank me," Jesus tells his disciples, "you must be prepared to lay down your life for others."

            I have long since given up on being asked to sit at the right or the left of any truly important individual.  The gifts to obtain such recognition are not mine - and besides, I don't have the right kind of clothes for that kind of a job.

            But serving others is something I can do.  It is something I have experienced and understand.  It is in loosing myself in the midst of service that I also get those fleeting images of true calm and tranquility.  Being a servant to others has a power which can only be described as peace.

            That is what the experience of building the Homecoming Habitat house means to so many of us.  It is crazy out there, and there is no opportunity to give much thought to a better place which might someday be mine.

"The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve."
"Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all."
This is the way of our Lord and Master.
It is the way of Peace and happiness.