Thursday, November 16, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, November 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, November 15

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, November 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Devotion - Monday, November 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon - Pentecost 20 - Year A

Matthew 25:1-13       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Focus on the lamps; ignore the bridesmaids.”

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

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

“Focus on the lamps, ignore the bridesmaids.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, November 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, November 8

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

Allow me to share them with you this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, November 7

In I Corinthians 14, Paul continues to write of spiritual gifts.  He writes mostly about tongues, and prophesy.  In is commentary on these verses, Martin Luther writes that these gifts are given in order that the Church might be built up and unified.  Luther expresses concern about any words or works which might allow the world to point to disharmony within the Church.

A response to my Reformation Day e-devotion raised this concern with regard to my words.  A united Church is clearly what God desires.  

This overarching aim does (at times) find itself in tension with the call to God's people to be prophets.  The one who speaks of God's hope for the world will find themselves disheartened by hatred and bloodshed and violence.  The one who speaks of God's hope for the world cannot remain silent while sisters are exploited and brothers gunned down.

My prayers this morning did not reach a simple and calming end.  Neither will this devotion.  What it may do is give us the assurance that we do not face all of this alone; that others are by our side; and that our fellow followers also struggle to be agreeable and peaceable - while also hearing and responding to the call to speak of God's preferred vision for the world.

We are united - in our resolve to never allow the world to weaken the power of Jesus' message.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Devotion - Monday, November 6

My son was united in marriage yesterday.  I am still on a bit of a high from all of that - so it naturally spilled over into my morning prayers.

I am grateful - for the blessings of God pronounced over this union by Pastor Aebischer, for the collection of persons who came to add their affirmations, for the one who affirmed by son by saying "I do."  I am grateful.

My prayers this morning also included so many of you - those whose weddings I had the honor of officiating, those of you who I am currently discussing relationship and possible marriage, and those of you who long for the affirmation of another's love but find that allusive.  

I hope my next comments do not leave open the opportunity for any of those mentioned above to feel further excluded.

The high that I am on this morning emerged from the mood in the wedding hall yesterday afternoon.  It was a great mixture of folks, from many different sub-sets of society.  For a few wonderful hours, we were all together, in one place, for one purpose.  And it was glorious.  It was what I envision the Kingdom of God to be.

Not that all were Christian, or even persons of faith.  One was a Holiness Pastor; there were three Lutheran Pastors and one UCC Pastor.  But all sampled Jesus' invitation and love.  And, it was glorious.  Regardless of how lonely persons might have felt when they entered the room; regardless of how often they might experience hostility in the wider world; for a few hours there was joy and laughter and utter delight that through God's intervention, we are one.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Devotion - November 2

My undergraduate studies in psychology continue to serve me well in my pastoral ministry.  The courses and concepts aid me in my interactions and often suggest ways to improve interactions with peers, parents, and the world.

This morning's reading from I Corinthians 11 led me to wonder if those studies might also be a hinder.  Paul writes about "spiritual gifts."  Paul writes of actions and thoughts which are only possible as a result of the workings of the Spirit.

I worried that I may be more inclined to find sociological or psychological reasons for behaviors; leaving too little room for the working of the Spirit.

There is never any doubt of the Spirit's presence when the people of God are assembled.  Whether it be a Wednesday night meal, a Sunday  worship experience, or the interactions I over-hear coming from the LCM Lounge - I am continually reminded that these can be explained no other way than to see the workings of the Spirit.  

Observe your world this day, and note the places where you see the Spirit's activity.  It might be in the already-busy-with-my-own-studies classmate who sits by your side and aids you in your homework.  It might be phone call or text message with a simple but affirming reminder of another's care.

The Spirit is active - in our world and in our lives.  We know this; we experience this.  We could do a better job at talking about this.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Devotion - November 1

In keeping with the Liturgical Calendar, allow me to say a few words today about All Saints' Day.

On the Calendar, each day has a saint to be commemorated.  We know that Martin Luther was born on November 10 because he was named for the saint commemorated on Nov 11 - St. Martin of Tours.

As the list of saints grew, there simply wasn't enough days in the year for them all.  All Saints' Day was a solution for this.  While we might miss the honoring of a particular saint, on this day all were honored.  All Saints' Day was a day of obligation - you could not miss mass on this day.

It was on the eve of All Saints' Day that Luther posted his 95 Thesis.  He knew everyone would be coming to church on November 1.

Most of the churches of the Reformation ceased observance of various saint's days, but retained the tradition of All Saints' Day as a way to call attention to the Reformation assertion that all are saints, i.e. equally valued in the heart of God.  Reformation Churches attached to All Saints' a remembrance of loved ones who had died in the past year, sometimes lighting candles for these persons as their names are read in worship.

On this day, my prayer is that each of you will know how much God loves and cares for you.  On this day, I would encourage you to offer prayers of appreciation for the Saints who have kept the Word of God and passed it down through the ages.  Let's celebrate that which has sustained the Church through centuries while we allow the contemporary Church to reinterpret in ways which are helpful and appropriate for our own times.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Devotion - October 31

It is Reformation Day!  This is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation; it is a day to observe and to celebrate.

That which concerned Martin Luther still concerns the members of Christ's Church.  We must always and forever stand firm in the Good News that our worth and value (our salvation) is found in the loving actions of Jesus.  God has claimed us and accepts us as children.  God is grieved when we fail to reflect our identity but God does not take that identity from us.  

Every day of our lives, in more ways than we realize, the "old satanic foe" seeks to rob us of our confidence and of our joy.  Working tirelessly, these attacks encourage us to begin to trust in our own ability to make things right or to accomplish our ends.  But this is not how matters will be settled.  They are put to rest when we allow ourselves to let go and to trust and believe in the forgiveness that God has granted us.

It is Reformation Day?  A day to observe and to celebrate.  This is a day of rejoicing.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Devotion - Monday, October 30

At yesterday's Reformation Brunch, I was asked the question which I am always delighted to answer.  

"When do you think the Church will be united?"

The person asking the question had heard a story on NPR about the Reformation, a story which correctly noted that the issues which concerned the Church (and the Reformers) in 1517 where no longer issues.  "How do we become one Church?"

We are one Church.  

There may be differing styles of worship and there may be various re-orderings of the talking points, but every time we come to the altar and receive the one bread and one body Christ is doing what we sometimes seem incapable of doing.  Christ is uniting us.  

As is often the case, the decades old series of appointed lessons aligned with yesterday's question and my response.  This morning I was directed to I Corinthians 10:14-11:1.  Paul writes: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body."

The Reformation was not a revolt.  It was not a revolution.  It was a Reformation.  The Spirit blew among us and called us to reform, and the urging of the Spirit moved us into action.  But the Spirit of God is never a dividing spirit.  In that same section of I Corinthians, Paul repeats and axiom - "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful."  We are to seek reform, but always and only with a heart which seeds to "build up" the sister/brother and the one communion which we share.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, October 26

"Go therefore into all nations, teaching them all that I have commanded you, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

This "Great Commission" is often spoken in our churches; it is also sometimes worrisome to our church members.  Pastor Jon's discussion last night of Evangelism carried over to my morning reflections and prayers.  And this verse of scripture came to mind.

Jesus commanded us to "love one another."  The Great Commission is to teach the Great Command.  Why would it worry us - to go anywhere - and teach what it means to love one another?  It is a joy to share how Jesus' love has transformed my life; and it is a treasure which only grows when it is expanded into the lives of others.

Our baptism is a celebration of the claim God makes on our lives.  Baptism announces that God has created the cosmos so that we might exist; God has set aside life in the heavens in order to live among us; and God is as present as the wind which blows and the breath which gives us life.  When we baptize we announce that this God is focused on us.

Go therefore - and teach others how wonderful life can be when we love one another.  Go therefore - and assure the lonely and broken as well as the happy and healthy that God is as near to them as their next breath.

This is the opportunity we have and the joy of being an evangelical church.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Devotion - Monday, October 23

As I sat down yesterday morning I thought, "The Gospel is such a comfort to my heart, why are so many of my sermons angry and challenging?"

The text yesterday sent me off into thoughts of how we know what God would ask of us, but we find it very difficult to to it.

This morning I read what might be the most comforting of all passages.  It is Matthew 6:25-34 (the verses are below.)  Jesus tells us how precious we are in the eyes of God, and that we need not be anxious about what we are to eat or what we are to wear.

The message of Jesus is a great comfort.  The Word of God is a light to my path.  The love God has for me allows me to make my way through this world.  I may have items on my to-do list, but at the top of each list is a simple reminder to receive and rejoice in the gifts of God.

This is the message I want to share.  This is the attitude I want to reflect.  This is the state of grace in which I find myself and to which I invite you.

Pastor Chris

PS:  I will be spending the next three days with my sisters and brothers of the SC Synod.  There may not be easy access to internet so I may miss the next two mornings.  

Matthew 6:25-34
'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sermon - 20th Sunday of Pentecost

Matthew 22:15-22           

Asking in Order to Learn

            I began to pay attention this week, to what appear to be questions, but are actually statements of what the person asking the question already thinks, believes, or plans to do.  How about a few examples:

            “Why do we need more student apartment buildings in downtown Clemson?”
            “Are you planning to come to today’s Reformation Festival?”
            Why was Congresswoman Wilson listening in on President Trump’s call to La David Johnson’s widow? And the corresponding – “Why would President Trump tell Ms. Johnson that her husband knew what he was in for?”

            Earlier in the week, the sports talk folks were asking “Why did Dabo allow Bryant to take any snaps in the Carrier Dome?”

            Does anyone ask a question in search an answer?  Heck, even “Would like fries with that?” is a pretty thinly veiled effort to get you to spend more money and buy more product.

            Questions are often, quite often, too often statements constructed in such a way as to allow a squiggly mark at the end.  They are rarely seeking information or insight or knowledge; rather they are intended to entrap or expose or belittle.

It’s not really a question, it is a statement.  We aren’t looking for an answer - we are looking for an affirmation of what it is we already think. 

The Pharisees sent their disciples, along with the Herodians, to Jesus.  They came, supposedly, to ask a question.  But they weren’t interested in learning anything from Jesus.  They came hoping that his answer would justify what they already thought of him.  They didn’t want to learn; they wanted support for their own position.

It has been quite a few weeks since I have preached and therefore I haven’t had opportunity to set the stage as to what these lessons are all about.  We are now in the 22nd chapter of Matthew, for the past three Sundays we have been reading lessons which received their impetus from a question put to Jesus by the chief priests and elders.  They were questioning Jesus’ authority, what right did he have to consider himself a teacher of the people.  Jesus rebuffed them, by a piece of trickery.  He said he would tell them the source of his authority if they would tell him where John’s authority came from.  The chief priests and elders wouldn’t answer Jesus.  As the text states, The argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for they regard John as a prophet.”

The chief priests and elders weren’t interested in knowing the source of Jesus’ authority.  They wanted an affirmation of what they already thought.  The parable of the man who sends his two sons into the vineyard; the story of the vineyard whose caretakers beat and murder the owner’s son in hopes of obtaining the vineyard for themselves; and last week’s reading of the Great Banquet to which the honored guests turn up their noses so that the giver of the banquet sends messengers into the streets to invite the good and the bad to the marriage feast - all of these are told in response to the attempt to discredit Jesus and turn the crowd against him. 

This attempt began with a question, a question posed by those who came to Jesus with no interest in learning from him.  They came only in the hope of entrapping him in his answer - they were trying to support their own positions.

The opening line of today’s Gospel reminds us of all this.  Matthew begins this exchange by acknowledging The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap [Jesus] in what he said.  So intent are they in getting the goods on this itinerant street preacher that they even fall into cahoots with their enemies. 

Note the reference to the Herodians?  The Herodians were the staunchest of the supporters of Roman oversight.  Remember that Rome had been asked to govern of Israel by those who were concerned with the infighting and disorganization of this tiny nation.  The Herodians were a party among the Jews who gladly paid the census tax and were grateful for the order Rome brought to Jerusalem.

Herodians and Pharisees didn’t see things eye to eye.  The Pharisees had gained in popularity with the people because (in principle) they resented and resisted the tax.  While not quite as radicle as the nationalists who publicly refused to pay the tax, the Pharisees were known to be in opposition.  They resented Roman’s insistence that the tax be paid in Roman coins.  They considered it sacrilege to handle the coins which bore the inscription of Caesar, the god of Rome.  The Pharisees and the Herodians were not popular with one another.

Yet, together, they come.  They utter all sorts of platitudes to Jesus and then they ask their question.  But they aren’t looking for an answer; they are hoping for a response which will cause Jesus to fall out of favor with the people.

This next part of the story is tricky.  A commentary brought to my attention a perspective I had previously overlooked.  Advocates of this story as an endorsement of the separation of church and state have repeatedly pointed out that Jesus himself doesn’t have one of the coins.  He asks for one from his questioners.  Their ability to produce one illustrates the gap between what they say and what they do.  They say one should resist paying the tax, resist handling the coins which bear the image of Caesar, and yet they continue to participate (and probably to benefit) from the economic system which they verbally deplore.  Their ability to produce a coin which bears the image of another god exposes their lack of integrity.

I have to be careful, because this text will come up in a few weeks - but it might be Jon’s turn to preach, so why should it concern me if I steal his thunder?  In the 23rd chapter, Jesus is going to summarizes his encounters of the 21st and 22nd chapters.  He is going to point out that the Pharisees and the scribes sit in the seat of Moses.  They have the authority to be teachers of the Torah.  Somewhat surprisingly, Jesus is going to affirm the job they do as teachers of the law.  He is critical of the way they live.  There is a huge gap between what they say you should do and what they do.  They know what Jesus would do - they simply have trouble doing it.  They have confused knowing the correct response with living a faith-filled life.

It is way too easy to confuse knowing the correct answer with living a faith-filled life.  And the gap between accurately teaching the law and living the law exists in our day no less than the times of Jesus.

Does scripture or Christian theology leave any doubt as to whether the poor ought to have access to healthcare?
Does scripture or Christian theology leave ambiguous how we are to respond to the alien among us?
Is there confusion as to where the weekly repeated Apostles’ creed states we pledge our allegiance?
How are we to respond to “Black Lives Matter” or “Me Too” campaigns?

No – those are not questions, either.  They are statements designed so as to allow me to put a swiggly mark at the end.  These are the questions modern-day Pharisees and Herodians might use in order to entrap Jesus (or Jesus’ followers).  These are the questions which expose whether the mob will remain supportive or turn and demand that the one answering be silenced.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, October 19

Matthew 6 speaks of the things we do in secret, the actions which we shield from the sight (and knowledge of others).  It came to mind this morning that the things I worry about others seeing fall into the category of shameful actions, uncharitable thoughts, selfish desires.

But Matthew 6 speaks of giving alms, fasting, and prayer.  Jesus tells his followers to do such things "in secret" so that their actions will be between them and God, rather than between them and their neighbors.

Maybe these words of encouragement are an invitation to consider what lies in the deep crevices of my mind.  Perhaps it is a chance to explore my basic inclinations.

What do you do - in secret?  What is reflected in the actions which are so natural to you that you would never give thought to making sure others were aware?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, October 18

I Corinthians 6:7 raises a challenge to us in our confrontational, litigious society.  St. Paul writes:  "In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you.  Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be defrauded?"

The mood of our society is tilted toward blaming someone else; toward tearing down another out of a false hope of building up ourselves.  St. Paul reminds us that such interaction patterns will never allow us to be the persons Christ calls us to be.

It may not be fair, but it is Christian, to suffer the wrong rather than to insult or defame or strike out against the other.  Jesus calls us to follow; and part of that following is to be the one who absorbs hatred rather than returning it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, October 12

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God."

Each of The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10) is an announcement of blessing.  Assurances are given - each of which is beyond compare.

This morning, I felt the most comforted by Jesus' words regarding peacemakers.

Our nation has fallen into a terrible cycle of confrontation.  We have moved beyond critiquing other's ideas and thoughts to calling them names and ascribing our belief as the motivation of their behaviors.  

Blessed are the peacemakers.

I hope and pray that my calling attention to the state of affairs is received as an effort at peacemaking.  I am not intending to anger any one.

The children of God are called upon, in this season, to bring peace.  This is not to give in to whatever another says or does.  We speak the Truth.  But we do it in a way does not degrade or insult the other.

Of the blessings spoken in Matthew 5 - to be labeled as a "child of God" is assigned to those who are the peacemakers.

Be good children, of God.  Strive every day and in every encounter to bring God's peace into the world.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, October 11

If I planned better, I wouldn't be surprised when things line up as they do.  But, that would mean losing some of the wonder experienced when things do align.

We started a new series in Bible Study last night - Stories in the Bible I ought to know.  The participants shared in our opening they were thinking of Jonah and the whale, or Ruth, or David and Jonathan.  I had selected the story of Jesus' crucifixion.

While we all know the story of Jesus' crucifixion, our reading of it last night brought out many of the bits and pieces which often go unnoticed.  There are many, many little details in the biblical story - each with the ability to stimulate endless discussion.  Studying these can be helpful - and noting which of these stands out in our own memory exposes the theology we prefer.

Last night I attempted to quote a passage from Paul which gives support to the story of Jesus' crucifixion as the story we Christians most need to know and speak.  This morning, my cycle of readings took me there.  It is I Corinthians 2:1-2.  Paul writes: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

Do not shy away from opportunities to speak of God and about Jesus.  You may have overheard persons who seem to know all of those bible stories and a huge amount of church history.  But knowing and telling the story of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is all that is needed.

Every day I attempt to understand and to work out what it means, that Christ was crucified.  I have come up with a lot of eloquent answers and I have read a lot of impressive books.  But every day this story touches my life again and I have to discover how it will impact me.

I don't need to know much more - or anything more.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, October 10

My devotional guide has me reading I Kings, Chapter 21.  Here we find the encounters between Elijah and Ahab, King of Israel.  Figuring heavily into the story of Ahab are the activities of his wife, Jezebel.

Ahab "does what is evil" in the sight of the Lord.  His role as King is used to his advantage rather than being a servant of God and of God's people.  For this, Elijah is sent to speak the word of God to Ahab.

As I read these stories, it is impossible for my heart and mind to steer clear of feelings about the current state of affairs in our world.

God does not chose our leaders in the way that we are taught to believe the leaders of ancient Israel were selected.  And, while our leaders my place a hand on a bible as they take their oath, they are not charged with upholding the teachings of Jesus (or Moses or Muhammad or Buddha).  But I have taken such an oath (in my baptism), and so I want work toward a society in which the teachings of Jesus guide us.  

My heart and my mind wanders during my prayer time.  And my emotions crush my spirit out of concern.  It seems we are rapidly losing the art of respect and honor; the ability to see wisdom in the critique of our opponent.  We hear so little talk about true compassion for the least among us.  I feel as if I am living I Kings.

Some have heard my observation that the American Political Experiment is over.  No one is any longer convinced that citizen elected representatives will guide us as a people.  (Folks don't vote, few are in contact with the members of congress, tweets set policy, and mass demonstrations are the aim of every political ideology.)  I don't know what form of government will replace the current system.  And I fear that the time of transition may last decades rather than merely a few years.  Many will take oaths and swear oaths in the years to come.  I encourage you to remember the promises made at your baptism.  And while other systems may falter, remember that Jesus' followers have stood strong through many changes and that we will also emerge from this one.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, October 5

This morning will my last opportunity to write about the spiritual experience begun last Wednesday and continuing through tomorrow.  We have been on Bowman Field, building the Homecoming Habitat for Humanity house.

I refer to this as a spiritual experience intentionally.  Habitat's roots are in the religious community known as Koinina Farms.  The basic philosophy is neighbor serving neighbor, the message is involving our hands in that service.

It is also spiritual for me because of the number of opportunities to respond to comments like, "Are you a builder?"  "No, I am a preacher."  And then there are opportunities to talk about the Church, about the ministry, about God.  And those conversations are deeply moving.

I often encourage you to talk to people out in the world about your faith.  In reality, I have fewer opportunities to do that than you might think.  I bump into someone at the coffee shop, but I am there for a pastoral visit with someone who is already coming to Church.  These encounters allow me to have a reason to share my faith, and my involvement, and to hear back from folks.  

The replies are tainted by the experience.  Right away, my conversation partner sees that faith is in action.  Right away, they see that the call of Jesus is a call into the world and for the sake of neighbor.  But the replies are amazing.

As I wrap this up, I realize that part of what I want to say is "Thank you."  Thank you for being understanding these two weeks when I say that I need to delay time to visit with you.  Thank you for all the errands you run in order to allow me to stay at the build.  Thank you to those whose financial gifts make it possible for University Lutheran to make me available to the project.  And thank you for your expressions of support and love - I am getting older and these ten days are taking a terrible toll on my body.

We are Church.  We are Church together.  We are Church for the sake of the world.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, October 4

The Sunday cycle of readings took us to Philippians 2 this past week.  I wrote about these verses on Monday.  This morning, the Daily cycle took me to the same section - so I am going to say more.

This is the verse over which I prayed this morning: 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave.

Paul points out that Christ Jesus is "in the form of God."  But, that equality with God was not "something to be exploited."

We have grown in our ability to speak of privilege.  We have come to understand that there are ways in which some of us are already ahead.  I can do nothing to change my skin color, my geographic location, my sexual orientation......  But these things allow me advantages in the particular culture in which I live.  Will I exploit those?

The model of Christ Jesus is to be a servant, a slave.  To be one who empties himself for the sake of those larger commitments.  He would set aside his privilege in order to take on human form, to serve others, and finally to die.

How will each of you respond to the enormous advantages you have?  

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, October 3

This morning I had the joy of reading the resurrection story!  This is one of the section of the Bible with which we are so familiar we think there is little reason to re-read it.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, I do know the story-line; and yes, I remember the subtle differences between the various accounts in the Gospels.  However, there is no story which best lifts my hope and my expectations than these verses.

Somewhat in keeping with my Sunday sermon, this morning's reading reminded me of the role assigned to those initial followers of Jesus.  They are the ones to whom Jesus entrusts the Good News.  They are the persons who will be in the position of telling others what God has done.

I heard a sermon by William Willimon one time in which he talked about the line "but some doubted."  He pointed out how incredible it is that the resurrected Jesus would turn to his rag-tag disciples (remember how many times they messed up during Jesus' earthly ministry) and say to them - "Now it is up to you!"  Some doubted - doubted they were equal to the task; doubted that others would listen to them; doubted Jesus' wisdom for trusting them with such a sacred message.

Jesus does trust us.  And for good reason!  We tell the story well.  And we show the world the depth and power of God's love.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Devotion - Monday, October 2

My Sunday sermons are already too long!  Just imagine how long they would be if I were to share reflections on each of the assigned texts.  That is what Monday morning devotions are for......

The Second reading for yesterday was Philippians 2:1-13.  St. Paul writes:  "If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves."

Those opening questions must be answered consistently - OF COURSE there is encouragement, consolation......  These gifts from God lay the foundation for the humility which allows us to remain united and of one mind.

Admitting that I have not kept up on the swings of the pendulum and surely haven't collected all the latest information - the attempts to divide us over whether athletes should exploit the still-shots of cameras during the playing of the National Anthem should not divide us over the undeniable conviction that if any of our brothers or sisters are feeling frightened then we need to do something to change the system.

There is a forum on Oct 19 about health care options from countries around the world.  The bitter arguments cannot drive a wedge among God's people who week after week pray that those who are sick and ill will receive care.

I will discuss methodology with anyone.  I am prepared to be told that Habitat for Humanity isn't the cure-all for homelessness.  I am prepared to accept that my attempts to bind up the broken might in the end be toxic.  BUT, I will not even entertain the notion that God's people are divided on our mission in the world.  It is impossible to deny that "selfish ambition (and/)or conceit" block our living out that mission.  But God has shown us what is good and right and acceptable.  

We merely need the humility which allows us to understand ourselves as servants - servants of God, and of our neighbors.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sermon - 17th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 21:23-32 

            A man had two sons.  Just because two individuals come from the same gene pool, doesn't mean they are going to be alike.  Even if they are raised in the same family, treated in the same manner, regarded with the same affection, there is no guarantee they are going to behave in the same manner.  Having two sons means that one has two individuals and each is going to do as they please.  It would be simpler if they were the same.  Then you would know what to do and how to handle them.  But each is going to be themselves, acting as they so choose.

            Jesus tells a parable about two sons because he wants to acknowledge the differences with which the children of God respond to God's word.  He wants to acknowledge that among God's children there are those who say "No!" and then live a "yes," while there are those who shout an emphatic "Yes!" only to live a "no."  Just because it is the same God who speaks to us; just because God speaks the same words and interacts in the same manner; it does mean that we will respond in the same way.

            The people to whom Jesus spoke these words had not.  In the crowd that day there were at least two differing groups of individuals.  One group was made up of the chief priests and elders.  Up to the giving of the parable, they are the ones who had felt pretty good about how they had responded.  They were teachers of the Word of God; they were the caretakers of God's story; the spokes­persons for God's commands.  They had definitely said "Yes" to God and they were living in the confidence of having confessed God as Lord.

            But, as Jesus points out, their confession had not been followed up with action.  They had thrown their hat into the ring early; they had joined up with God's people and in fact had taken on the responsibility of inviting others into the family of God.  They had taken the name of the Lord, they had committed them­selves to that word, but as the day had progressed they were not in the vineyard working, they were resting in the shade, think­ing their confession was enough.

            They had not listened to John the Baptist.  In fact, this whole encounter comes about because they came to Jesus, demanding to know upon what authority he taught.  Rather than give them a straight answer, Jesus had promised to answer if they would tell him whether John's message was from God.  The malice of their ways is exposed in their reluctance to respond to Jesus' question.  Matthew records they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd;  for all regard John as a prophet."  So they answered Jesus, "We do not know."

            Those who find themselves in this dilemma were the ones who had said "Yes" to God.  These were the son who was courteous and prompt in telling the father they would go and work in the vineyard.  But they do not follow through.  They must have believed they had given God everything that was called for.

            We see the error of their ways by looking at the other group.  This other group is comprised of folks we had just as soon overlook or ignore.  Jesus describes them as tax collectors and prosti­tutes.  We might call them lawyers and drug dealers.  These were the hated classes.  Tax collectors and prostitutes were about as low on the social ladder as one could go. 

            Remember that the tax collectors were collecting taxes for Rome.  They were collecting money in order to pay the salaries of the soldiers that had been sent by Rome to oversee Palestine.  These taxes were not col­lected and then spent on a public health plan. Tax collectors made it possible for the occupying forces to occupy. 

            Prosti­tutes were more than a threat to an individual's moral character.  Most often prostitution was associated with the worship of the pagan gods.  Interaction with them implied a denial or rejection of Yahweh.

            These people are the first son in Jesus' parable.  Somewhere along the way they had said a "no" to God.  For whatever reason, they had decided to go their own way and do their own thing.  They had rejected the Word which was so precious to those chief priest and elders.  They wanted no part of it.

            But then something happened.  Someone came into their path and they found themselves listening with a renewed hope.  Whereas they had come to think that their "No" was the end of it, a new opportunity was being extended to them.  John the Baptist had spoken of this opportunity.  As they listened to him they had come to believe there might be a second chance, that it might be possible for them to revisit their earlier response and reconsid­er their choices.  John had said it was possible.  He had offered them a sign of this possibility.  In the waters of the Jordan River they had acknowledged their earlier transgression and emerged with a renewed hope.  Thankful for all that God had done, they were now in the company of God's messenger.  They were doing the work the father asked them to do.

            Two children, raised in the same family, regarded equally by the same father, and yet their responses are entirely different.  One believes that making a confession with their lips is enough.  The other understands that the hope of the Father is to be His hands, doing His work in the world.  This child responds, out of appreciation, for all that the father has done.  Regardless of their previous responses, they are now setting themselves about the task of working in the vineyard.

            Which child are you?  Do you think of yourselves as one of the chief priests and elders or are you among the tax collectors and prostitutes?  If you don't like having to choose between those options, I'll break it down for you in another way; is your following of Jesus little more than a confession of the lips?  Or does is a spoken “Yes” supported by action and commitment to the things Jesus would do, where he in your shoes?

            The tax collectors and prostitutes knew that their only access to God was through Jesus' radical word of forgiveness.  On their own they had no right to claim to be acceptable in God's eyes.  It is out of gratitude for that acceptance that they reconsider their "No" and decide to go into the vineyard.  Their giving of themselves is an indica­tion of the appreciation they have for that which God has given them. 

            May we all be like these tax collectors and prostitutes.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, September 28

This morning I share an experience, more than a thought.

Yesterday was Day 1 of the Habitat for Humanity build on Bowman Field.  This is the 24th year of the build.  During the work-day, I encountered a few folks known to me, but a lot of new faces and names worked along side me to build the house.

Last evening, there was a prayer vigil for homelessness.  A group came together from a wide range of traditions and faith communities.  There were Catholics and Methodists, there were Muslim and Jew.  The Orthodox were present, as were the Lutherans.  The group stood by the house and offered prayers for sisters and brothers who find themselves homeless for any number of reasons:  low paying jobs, forced to flee their home country, rejection due to sexual identity, divorce, bankruptcy, etc.

Yesterday, I experienced that slice of the community which sees the need to assist our neighbors and is doing something about it.  Yesterday, I shared in the instructions of Jesus to "do unto the least."  Yesterday, the person I most want to be was allowed full reign.

It was an experience which changes not only what I think about but the very way I think about the world.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, September 27

The foundation of Christian belief and hope is the death of Jesus on the cross.  The basic affirmation of our faith is that God seeks to help us.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus pointed out that lords give orders and demand loyalty.  "It shall not be so among you." he said.  Jesus came to serve, not to be served.

Not often enough do we grasp this life-altering affirmation.  Lives are forever made different when they are touched with an acknowledgement of the distance God will go in order to have us know we are loved and cared for.

This is why I am eager for others to experience the community of faith.  This is why I work to created opportunities for the Jesus story to be told and experienced and lived.  

Everything changes when we come to see the depth of God's love for us.  Everything is possible when we live with the affirmation of God's acceptance.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, September 26

Mark 14 retells the story of Peter's denial.  Three times, he has opportunity to admit that he is a follower of Jesus, and each time he denies.

This story is strangely comforting to me.  If even Peter backs away from his commitment to Jesus, I feel less guilty when I do so.  Strangely comforting.

But is only "strangely" so.  

My denial of Jesus (perhaps like your own) seldom involves lying about my associations or my activities.  It never involves hiding where I spent my Sunday morning or my Wednesday evening.  My denial is most likely to occur when opportunity presents itself to do the Jesus-like thing.  My stepping away occurs when there is ministry to be accomplished, but my feet are tired. 

I see too much denial of Jesus in the push to send sufficient recovery resources to those in the Keys or in Puerto Rico.  I see denial in the rise of hate groups and in the rejection of those who differ from us.

It is tough, not to deny Jesus, in these situations.  It is easier to keep on our blinders and find fault with those who are unable to feed themselves or find suitable housing.

It is strangely comforting that Peter also found it challenging to follow Jesus.  Comforting, in that I know it is not a simple matter but a commitment I must make day after day after day.