Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, March 30

As is appropriate for this week after Easter, the lectionary has us reading the Easter story from the various Gospel accounts.  There are aspects of the story which differ, thus giving a fuller understanding of how the first followers of Jesus made sense of the events which had happened in their midst.

At last week's Wednesday gathering, we joined the Jewish students for a Seder.  Dr. Cohen reminded us that in the Gospel of John there is no "last supper."  In that account, Jesus dies on the day of preparation for the Passover.  He is thus linked to the sacrificial lamb.  

This morning I was reading from Matthew 28.  In Matthew, the tomb is still sealed when the women arrive.  They witness an earthquake and the rolling away of the stone.  There are guards present when this happens.  "For fear," they became like dead men.

Matthew addresses what surely became an alternate explanation to the Easter morning events.  The verses speak of a plot to deceive, actually paying the soldiers to say the disciples had come and stole the body.

The events of Easter have many facets and angles.  There is much to be learned and many directives for our lives.  Something earth changing has happened; how could it be retold?  There is so much here, who could claim to give voice to it all in one re-telling?

We suffer from the modern age's insistence on factual information.  There are some events too enormous to be captured in bullet points or PowerPoint slides.  There are some events so life-altering that we need to hear from as many persons as possible how these events have changed their lives.  In each retelling, we might learn something of the event we did not know before.  In each retelling we are sure to see how these events have changed the life of the one doing the retelling.  Easter is that for us - it is a life altering event.  How it has changed and will change our lives is the story needing to be told and retold.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Devotion - 1st Tuesday after Easter

This morning I was reading from Mark 16:9ff.  If you read from a study bible, you will see a footnote that these verses are not included in the oldest copies of Mark.  They appear sometime afterward.

The reason for these "additional" verses (if I may call them that) is clear.  Verse 8 ends by saying, the women "went out from the tomb... and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid."

Not a very glorious ending, all would agree.  On Easter we shouted "Christ has risen!"  But Mark would leave us with a group of first witnesses who were incapable of even a whisper.

In Mark's additional verses. the resurrected Jesus appears.  He makes himself known.  And he upbraids the disciples for their unbelief.  

Which ending of Mark matches your experience of Easter?  Have you noticed a turning of a corner, in the passing from Lent to Easter season?  Or has there been mostly muted silence?  I heard several references yesterday to the "spring break" for local school systems, but I don't think anyone (outside of Church staff) spoke of the day as Easter Monday.

Read Mark 16 today.  Read the older ending, then the newer one.  Consider which matches your life experience.  And I extend once more the invitation to speak to those you encounter about the realities of what happened on this past Sunday.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Devotion - Easter Monday

Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen Indeed!

I do wonder why we only repeat this affirmation on Easter Sunday, and not every time we gather for worship.  The volume and excitement with which it is spoken on Easter morning surely is something to carry forth into every day of our lives.

This morning's reading was from Mark 16.  Upon seeing the empty tomb, the women are instructed to go and tell.  They are to leave the tomb and share what they have seen, what they have experienced.

It is risky and odd and perhaps too much to ask that as you make your way across campus today you would "share" that Easter morning proclamation.  But what a reminder it would be to ourselves and to a world in need should we offer and receive that acknowledgement as we go about our day.

"Christ has Risen!"

"Christ has Risen Indeed!"

Maybe the words won't make it off of your lips, but they can resound in your head and in your heart.  Carry them with you, and have them ready, should the opportunity present itself for you to speak them.  They joy and excitement of Easter will last a lifetime.  May these words resound in our heats every day of our lives.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Devotion - Maundy Thursday

This day takes its name from the new "commandment" that Jesus gives his disciples.  He tells them to "love one another."

If you remember back to ML King Day, I spoke of the difference between "loving" another and "liking" them.  The command to love stretches us beyond those whom we would find enjoyable or fun or even agreeable.  To love means we care for them, regardless of the degree to which we have formed a tight bond with them.

Jesus commands us to love one another.

Perhaps you are like me in that I have experienced this love more often than I have given it.  I am often the recipient of a love that could only have come from God - surely I did not merit or deserve it.  But there it was or is.

I am motivated, by the love which comes to me, to attempt to love in a like manner.  I am motivated; but I need help to act on it.

Let us be to one another that help.  Let us speak to one another about the invitation to love as Christ has loved us.  Let us encourage one another and provide for one another examples of how we love.

The "new" commandment of Jesus has been with us for centuries.  But it is always a new thing when it is practiced.  Let's make it new, today, in our lives and in our world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, March 23

I got home this morning from a trip to Minneapolis.  The purpose of the trip was to discuss with other campus pastors how we do our work and where God is calling us.  We spoke of the changes in information technology and how this impacts you, the students.  We spoke of the growing globalization and the inability to speak of Jesus without also addressing how Jesus talk interacts with talk of Muhammad or Yahweh.

As we were winding down our work, we head the first of the news reports from Brussels.  All but two of us at the meetings knew we would be spending the evening/night at airports.  And we knew airport security personnel would be nervous.

This is also Holy Week.  We should not forget this.  And we should also remember that Jesus dies at the hands of an angry mob, that he takes on himself the violence of a world too self-absorbed to consider the other.

And I wonder - will the world ever be ready to hear what Jesus has to say?

It isn't just those with suicide vests to perpetuate the cycle of violence.  Every angry word and every condemnation of another is an expression of the same short-sightedness.

Whatever Easter means to us this year - I pray it will mean an increased rejection of hate and hate language.  We cannot blame others, we can only change ourselves.  And we must change the way we speak of others.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, March 22

In Mark 11 Jesus struggles with the chief priests and scribes and elders.  The issue is by what authority Jesus is making his claims and doing his teaching.

It seems strange that they would question Jesus, until we realize how often we ask such questions.

Rarely do we accept what another tells us, merely because they tell us.  We live in world were research must lie behind everything that we are told and taught.

Jesus had no authority, by any of the measures familiar to the people whom he encountered.  He had not been to rabbinical school and he had no credentials from a learned teacher.  We have come to accept him and his teachings, but how were those who met him during his earthly life to have seen him the way we see him in our day?

By what authority?  We still ask this of those who speak.  We do not want to be lead astray or be taken as fools.

This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to speak of God and God's word for our day.  We are still being asked whether the news we share has authority and is dependable.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Devotion - Monday, March 21

Where you able to participate in the Palm Sunday liturgy?  Today begins the most important week of the year for Christians.  On this day we acknowledge the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem.  He is welcomed and some even acclaim him as their Master.

This is the day that many had longed for.  It was the day when the one they perceived to be God's anointed comes to the place where God's house is built and where God's priests reside.

The arrival of Jesus is the meeting between what they hoped their future would be and what their master might yet reveal to them.

The celebration is short lived, as we will discover in the remaining events of this week.  

How could this be?

Sometimes what we want our future to be and what God hopes it will be stand in conflict.  Sometimes, we allow our desires to cloud the way of God.

This seems to be part of what happens, during this week, in Jerusalem.  The people were excited that Jesus would do for them all that they had wanted.  They failed to remember that Jesus does what it is that God wants.  

This is the week where we must come face to face with what we have placed foremost in our hopes.  These are the days when we ask if we are hoping for God's future, or our own.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, March 10

Today is my baptismal anniversary.  This is an observance which brings me a great deal of comfort.  On this date, I am reminded that God claimed me as a child and that God has promised to love me and look out for me.  Whatever might change in my life - my identity in Christ does not.

Martin Luther said that when confronted with hardship or when challenged by detractors, it was enough to say, "I am baptized."  Our hosts for our trips to Elisleben, Germany (the village where Luther was baptized) had t-shirts a few years back with these three words printed in bold font.

My baptism does not immediately resolve all of the bumps and hindrances which come my way, but it does assure me that these will not be my undoing, that I will not be overcome nor will I be defined by them.  My identity is sure; my future is known.  I am baptized!

PS:  Spring Break is next week for the Clemson campus.  I will resume these offerings on Monday, March 21

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, March 9

In I Corinthians 12, Paul writes: "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed."

There is the occasional discussion about spiritual gifts, and those of us in mainline, liturgical faith communities often come out looking poorly.  We are not as quick to search for and even identify "spiritual gifts."

But I like where this paragraph in I Cor 12 take us.

Paul concludes by saying "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit."  The first "gift" he identifies is the gift of believing and trusting in Jesus as Lord.

Faith is itself a gift from God.  It is the first spiritual gift which enables us to search for and identify other spiritual gifts.  Without this gift, no others can be lifted up or utilized.

Should you find yourself in a discussion about spiritual gifts, recall these verses and be quick to identify the spiritual gift which God has given you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, March 8

The Gospel of Mark contains a second feeding of thousands.  In Mark 8, there is what might be considered a repeat of the story in Mark 6.  In Mark 6, 5,000 are fed with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish; in Mark 8 it is 4,000.

I would remind you that these stories, of Jesus feeding thousands of folks with just a small amount of food, are in all the Gospel accounts.  This is an indication of the significance placed upon the stories by the earliest of followers.  They knew something significant was revealed about Jesus in these events.

Mark even has two such stories.

We too often live with a false notion of scarcity.  We look at the loaf and we think, "there are only so many pieces."  We are too inclined to get a piece for ourselves (and one for latter in the day when we are once again hungry) all the while ignoring the hunger of those around us.  We do not have the courage to share our bread.

These stories in Mark 6 and Mark 8 will be considered by some as naive.  They will encourage us to look out for ourselves and take care of number 1.  Such thinking invades our culture and too often dominates our communities.  It will not be so among us.  We will trust Jesus to take what we offer, bless it, and return it.  It comes back to us and to the other 3,999 who stand around us.

There is a greater likelihood of our souls shriveling up inside us from a hardening of our hearts that there is of our stomachs collapsing from lack of food.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Devotion - Monday, March 7

I Corinthians 11:1 is a simple sentence.  Paul tells the members of the Church, "Be imitators of me, and I am of Christ."

This is yet another way in which the way of Christ looks different from the way of the dominate culture.  Seldom are we told to be "imitators."  The encouragement is to distinguish ourselves from those around us.  An "imitation" is looked down upon, considered of lesser value.

But Paul's advice to us is great advice.  It is the encouragement to look to one who has chosen the path of God, and then follow them.

Paul is not so much encouraging us to become imitations, but to be imitators.  Our individuality is not compromised or lost in imitating Christ.  Rather, we are more likely to become what Christ hopes we will be.  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sermon - 4th Sunday in Lent

Lent 4 - Year C
March 6, 2016
Luke 15:1-3,11b-32                                                                                                                                       

The Forgiving Father

I have to start this morning’s sermon wondering how this parable made it into the collection of writings so highly treasured by the Judeo-Christian tradition.  There are at least two glaring transgressions committed here.  There is undeniable violations of the laws which are to govern God’s people.  And yet, there are no consequences!  There is no punishment!  In fact, the guilty party comes out smelling like a rose.

  This particular parable does only occur in Luke.  The 15th chapter does contain other parables; and they are also in the Gospel written by Matthew.  But this story about inheritance and pigs and fatted calves only gets told in Luke.  Maybe Luke didn’t know any better.  We are reasonably sure that Luke was Greek, not Jewish.  The tradition tells us he was a physician, not a trained teacher of The Law of Moses.  Maybe he was not as aware as Matthew or Mark of the Ten Commandments and their instructions regarding moral living and honoring of one’s father. 

If you are going to share this story with your children, be ready for some serious questions from them about lessons you are likely to have taught them earlier.

Look at the story.  There are flagrant violations of the moral code so carefully taught in the scriptures.  First, there is this dis-respect by the younger son toward his father.  We all do know the 4th commandment – right?  “Honor your father and your mother”.  How can anyone think that the 4th commandment is being observed when this wayward son approaches his father and asks for his inheritance?  Some of us might help our children with college tuition.  Or maybe a car.  Or possibly the down-payment for a house.  But to come and ask for the whole share of the property that “will belong to me”?  That would certainly push me over the line.  Any child who would do such a thing is surely not to be pitied if the future doesn’t work out well for them. 

And the future doesn’t work out well for this child.  He goes off to a distant land.  And after a period of time he finds himself working for a pig farmer.  He is hungry, so hungry that he considers the food being given to the swine. 

How did he come to such a low estate?  Well, the story gives us opportunity to understand exactly how he ended up there.  In the story, there is talk of other violations of those 10 commandments.  We are told in the 13th verse that he had “squandered his property in dissolute living.”  For the sake of the children in the room, I am glad the writer left out the details.  But we all know what “dissolute living” means, don’t we?  How many of those commandments of God’s do you think this whipper-snapper transgressed?  I would say a fair number of them. 

There is a group of students who meet on Mondays to study the Catechism.  So far, all we have covered are the 10 commandments.  One of the things we have realized is how difficult it is to obey the Commandments, even when they have our fullest devotion and support.  But this kid – who knows what he was thinking.
  “Leave him with the pigs!”  That is hardly punishment enough for all that he hath done! 

The text tells us that after a while “he came to himself”.  Of course he came to himself – he came to see what he had done and how wrong it was.  Let’s be grateful that he came to himself, because that means he will realize that he is getting what he deserves, that he had not right to dis-obey God’s word, and that he is really no better than all those hired hands whom he had looked down on in the days of his youth.

This is a great story.  It identifies all the reasons why so many folks find themselves in a world of hurt.  They just don’t listen.  They just won’t learn.  And they refuse to obey what they have been carefully and clearly taught.

This boy seems to have finally learned his lesson.  So the boy sticks his pride in his tinny-tiny breast pocket and heads back to the home which he had previously abandoned. 

Enough of the sarcasm.  I can tell you are sick of it; and I don’t think I could keep it up much longer myself.  But you do see my point, don’t you?  This parable would be a great moral lesson if it simply ended here.  If the story were over at this point, it would reinforce the reasons why God’s law has endured for 4,000 years and ought to be obeyed in our day and time.  But the story does not end there.  It continues.  And what happens next challenges everyone who wants think or say, “This is what God expects of us.”

What the father says and what the father does in this parable turns on its head every teaching about living a clean life and honoring those to whom honor is due.  None of that happens in this parable.  Everything that one could do to go against the father is done by this child.  Every possible transgression is committed by this child.  Some will point out “He repented and turned his life around.”  And this is true.  But what of the consequences for his actions?  Is there to be no mark placed upon him or lowering of his status in the family, as a constant reminder of his offence and as a teaching tool to others?

Well, no, there isn’t.

Let’s all at least agree that the elder brother is totally and completely justified in his response.  He has every right to be angry and upset.  The elder brother has no choice other than to point out to the father the ways in which his actions are unjust and unfair.

But the father will not be moved.  He remains firm in his joy at the return of his son.  He will not let his previous pious proclamations stand in the way of rejoicing at the return of one whom he loves and will always love.

I really do dislike this story.  I realize it is told to me and about me, as much as it is told to and about those Pharisees and scribes who grumbled about Jesus’ associations.  I attempt to live a moral life and I spend my whole work-week encouraging others to “honor their fathers and mothers.”  Then this story comes along.  And I sort of look like a fool.

The problem we have, is that we are too inclined assume and hope that the Bible will re-inforce what we think is right.  We are too quick to find in any lesson a reinforcement of our own version of a “just-world.”  There is much about the way of God which does support such living and encourage such thinking.  But the exceptions are really big ones.  And the exceptions smack us in the face.

God surely wants us to live good lives.  But there is one thing more important to God than our living proper lives.  God wants every day of our lives to be lived in the undeniable assurance that we are loved; that we are always welcome in his house; and that nothing will prevent God from rejoicing when he sees us limping home with our tinny-tiny hearts bursting.

The purpose of the Christian Church is not be the enforcer of some ancient moral code.  The only reason for the Church to continue is to make known the unsearchable depth of God’s love.

Too often we lose our purpose and we forsake our mission.  We think “there has to be more!”  We worry about answering the follow-up questions.  But that is not our job.  That is not our role.

The purpose of the Christian Church is not be the enforcer of some ancient moral code.  The only reason for the Church to continue is to make known the unsearchable depth of God’s love.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Devotion - Thursday, March 3

Mark 6:34 will remain one of my favorite verses of scripture.

The verse is just before the story of the Feed of the Five Thousand.  This story is one of the few which occurs in all four of the gospel accounts.  It is a story of tremendous importance to the Church and those who retell the Jesus story.

In Mark 6:34 we gain an understanding of what preceded this act.  Jesus has traveled to a lonely place so his disciples might have an opportunity to rest.  The crowd who had been following him also had needs.  So great was their need that they traveled on foot faster than Jesus and his disciples traveled by boat.  As the boat is coming ashore, Jesus sees the crowd, and "he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."

I do have a shepherd.  But often I loose sight of that shepherd and become frightened and risk being lost.  Thankfully, my shepherd looks upon me with compassion, not with disdain.  It surely grieves my shepherd that I get caught up in my activities and lose sight of him.  But when this happens, he sees me with compassion.  He feeds me, even when I should have provided provisions for myself.

Mark 6:34 comforts me in a way that few other verses do.  It also guides me, in my parenting and in my ministry.  It is a constant reminder that if Jesus can be so understanding of my actions, then surely I can be understanding of others.

He does have compassion on us.  He will not leave us to fend for ourselves as if we were sheep with no shepherd.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Devotion - Wednesday, March 2

Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to pray.  I often find myself making the same request.  It is difficult for prayer to be something other than a laundry list of what is on my mind or the concerns which have been expressed to me.

While some might not understand or experience a similar reaction, I find it helpful to "pray" the prayers prepared by others.  As on Sunday, when we make use of such prayers, I find that using such prayers calls to mind aspects of my journey with God which I might otherwise ignore or overlook.

Here is a prayer by Lucy H. M. Soulsby which does this for me:

Lord, grant that each one who has to do with me today may be the happier for it.
Let it be given me each hour today what I shall say, and grant me the wisdom of a loving heart that I may say the right thing rightly.
Help me to enter into the mind of everyone who talks with me, and keep me alive to the feeling of each one present.
Give me a quick eye for the little kindness, that I may be ready in doing them and gracious in receiving them.
Give me quick perception to the feelings and needs of others, and make me eager-hearted in helping them.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Devotion - Tuesday, March 1

I want to do something today that many say you should never do - mix religion and politics.  Religion and politics have to mix.  The so called "separation of Church and state" should never be interpreted to mean that persons of faith are forbidden to discuss political topics or engage in discourse regarding candidates.

You will hear a lot of talk about politics today.  It is "Super Tuesday" in the primary voting process.  Those of us who are SC residents have had our opportunity to vote; now it is the turn for persons in eleven other states to express their choices.

Elections matter.  The candidates may sometimes be accused of failing to live up to their promises, but that has to do with their ability to enlist others who were elected to join them in passing legislation.  Campaigns make promises because most of us only listen long enough to hear a 15 second sound-bite.  The promises are short-hand for what the candidates have written multi-page papers explaining.  But, we don't often read those long documents.

I encourage you to examine how your faith aligns with your involvement in the political process.  How is your devotion to God reflected in the way you vote or how does your devotion affect the tone of your talk?  Civil engagement surely ought to be the first marker of a faithful engagement.  Speaking up and expressing what Jesus would do should be another.

You may feel unprepared to examine how your faith lines up with candidates on the issues being discussed.  In which case it is enough to say to others that you are trying to integrate and that you want to discern how the promises match the hope you find in the words and teaching of Jesus.

Religion and politics do mix.   They must mix.  They are mixed by many others.  Let's make sure that the mixture which reflects our particular religious perspectives is known and registered by the culture and by those willing to serve as our representatives.  More  importantly, let's make sure we are helping one another discern.  It is a sad thing if such important life decisions are made on the advise and counsel of those who do not share our core confessions and beliefs.