Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Devotion - Shrove Tuesday

In the first chapter of John's gospel, we hear the Baptistizer openly stating that he is of no real importance.  "I am not the Christ," he says.  "I am not," he repeats.

What he is, what he tells them he is there to do is to make the world ready for the entry of the Lord.  

All of us (myself chief among them) want to know that we have made a difference, that our lives matter, that we are valuable and important.  Too often we think the path to achieving this notoriety is to stand out and the be one to whom others look.  What gives us greatest value and self-worth is using our lives to point to the very One who is life.

A life which is lost in Christ is a life which finds its rest.  A life lived showing the way to the One who is the Way is a blessing.

On this final day before we begin the season of Lent, may we prepare ourselves for the disciplines which strengthen our faith and our resolve to acknowledge our role and hope in the world.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Devotion - Monday, February 27

The purpose of yesterday's liturgy was to prepare us for the events of Lent.  Yesterday we read the story of Jesus' transfiguration.  He goes on a mountain top and his appearance is altered before Peter and James and John.  A voice from the heavens says, "This is my beloved son, listen to him."

It is important that we hear that message before we enter the season of Lent.  It is essential that we not lose heart as the events in Jerusalem start to unfold.

Jesus isn't going to seem like anyone's beloved when he gets to the city of God's people.  Jesus isn't going to be easy to hear above the roar of the crowd and the decrees of all persons in power.  

Jesus' peaceful and passive nature make him a target and one easily defeated.  It was difficult for even his closest followers to stand by him and continue to speak of the message he preached.

We need courage, in our time, to trust in the words and way of Jesus.  The events unfolding in the world around us make it tempting to reject the words of Jesus and the way of Jesus.  Yesterday's liturgy was wonderfully placed.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sermon - Transfiguration Sunday

Matthew 17:1-9         

                                                                     What can be seen?


Something changes on top of that mountain.  Something happens up there which alters the direction of the journey taken by Jesus and his disciples.  Something up there affects the way Jesus speaks to his disciples and how he speaks of his mission.

Up on that mountain top, there is a vision.  And this vision brings a clarity which is lacking before.

My goal this morning is to encourage all of us to think of the visions which have changed our lives.  I will not accept that you have had none; I will totally support the lack of practice you may have in talking about them.  One of the downsides to the way we do worship is you get talked at and seldom are you taught to use your own voice.  That means you seldom rehearse your stories; it means you compare your stories to the grand ones written in scriptures or eloquently delivered by a trained orator. 

But you would not be here, in this place, on a bright and glorious weekend morning if there weren’t visions in your past.  Visions which conveyed to you the reality of God’s love; visions which convinced you that your life will be better off by spending this hour reconnecting to that which earlier moved you so deeply.

Let me tell you about one such event in my life.

It involves a mentor of mine who died last Sunday.  David Choate was my 4-H agent.  During my youth, Mr. Choate came to my house on countless afternoons to help me prepare my public speeches, to design my tomato research project, and to help my daddy learn when to pick this new variety of apples which the State 4-H leader told us would soon be the only apple the packing houses would buy.

Mr. Choate had more confidence in my abilities than I did.  Mr. Choate would not allow me to accept my lot in life as the hyper-active child of a couple of mill workers and part-time farmers.

I wanted to be just like David Choate.  I wanted to organize 4-H clubs for other kids and take them to exciting places like Raleigh and Winston-Salem.  Mr. Choate had taken me 4-H Clubs in black neighborhoods in a deeply segregated corner of western North Carolina.  He is the one who communicated to me my self-worth and taught me the God given value of every human being.    

At about age 15 I told him I wanted to be just like him; I told him I wanted to try to teach other youths what he had taught me.

My memory is of him driving us somewhere, as I told him all this.  And I can hear him saying, “Well, Chris, that is wonderful.  But you know the one thing I can’t always tell folks is why I do what I do.  Sometimes,” Mr. Choate told me, “I wish I were a preacher, so I could tell them why.”

Something happened in the front seat of that car which made it crystal clear what was to happen in my life.  It was a vision.  It was a mountain top experience.

Do not compare your story to mine.  But allow my story to remind you of those moments or exchanges or visions which have given clarity to your life.   

Do not compare your story to the one we read from Matthew 17.  But allow this story to invite you to recall those moments or exchanges or visions which lie in the path which has brought you here this morning.

Something happens.  Something happened on the top of that mountain and something happens in our lives and as a result we begin to give voice to a conviction which both invites us and frightens us; which claims us and sets us on a course too powerful to be denied.

The retelling of what happened to Peter and James and John is well rehearsed.  These events are recorded in each of the synoptic gospel accounts.  In each, there is a mixture of revelation and fright.  However, in the verses which follow each there is a more direct path to the places where Jesus knows all this is leading.

The description of the events isn’t as crystal clear as we might want to pretend.  Look back at the text and note the actual words.  We are told that Jesus is “transfigured before them.”  That his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.  Most of what I know about the word “transfigured” I know from the bible stories.  Have you heard the word used elsewhere?  Google defines transfigured as “transform into something more beautiful or elevated”.  I am still not sure what Peter and James and John saw when they looked at Jesus.

If Jesus’ face shone like the sun, they would not have seen much.  Polaroid sunglasses were yet to be invited and looking into the sun couldn’t have been a pleasant experience.  The part of his clothes becoming dazzling white I can understand.  One version even adds, “as no one on earth could bleach them.” 

Where do Moses and Elijah come from?  What did they discuss?  And how is it that they slip off without even a good-bye?  A non-named voice from heaven is affirming, but had Moses or Elijah said a few words about Jesus think how well that would have settled disputes with the Jewish religious authorities. 

What happens on that mountain top is not as crystal clear as we would sometimes want to believe.

But what is absolutely clear is the effect this event, this visit, this vision has on those who experience it.  Jesus is transfigured; they are transformed.

Prior to this little trip up the hill, Jesus finds it difficult to get the disciples to focus.  We read today from chapter 17.  Chapter 16 contains stories of Jesus attempting to make sure the disciples know what it means to call him “Messiah.”  They don’t seem to get it.  But after whatever happened on that mountain top happens - they do.

As we prepare to begin our liturgical season of Lent, I want you to practice retelling the events, the visits, the visions which have happened in your life.  What occasions have created in you an appreciation and a desire to love and serve God more fully?  We do not often enough give voice to the stories which set us on the path which has brought us to the place we are today.
 
Maybe your story is not as dramatic as the story told in Matthew 17.  Few (if any) are.  The stories in the bible are always a bit over the top.  I hope I have helped you to realize that even this story isn’t as crystal clear as we too often assume.  A whole lot of living into the story is necessary before it becomes the life-altering occurrence we now perceive it to be.

What are the visions which have guided your journey? 

The dramatic flair given to the story is not the measure of its importance.  What matters is the effect it has had and continues to have in our lives. 

Somebody else was in the car when Mr. Choate and I had that conversation.  I have racked my brain trying to remember who it was.  Whoever it was, they didn’t identify themselves at the funeral on Thursday, and they didn’t go on to become a pastor.  What happened in that car was not as immediately meaningful to them as it was for me.  The significance of an exchange cannot be measured by external indices.  The significance can only be discovered by the effect it has on the person at the center.

Something happens on the top of that mountain.  What happens changes everything.  What happened we may never know.  But we all are basking in the afterglow of how those events changed the lives of those who have lead the way.

Amen.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, February 23

I am slowly getting back on my feet.  I had some oral surgery on Tuesday, and it took a lot out of me.  There are still pain pills in my system, so there may be more than the normal number of typos and stupid errors as I attempt to write to you this morning.

My prayers this day were prayers of appreciation - for Laura.  Over these past two days she has brought me food, tending to the house, kept track of when I needed my antibiotics.  These days have reminded me that none of us are able to make it through live on our own; that we all need others there to care for us and watch over us.

It was good to be reminded of this - given the number of times when I have said these same things to you.  It was good to be on the receiving end, as an instruction for the next time I might be able to be on the giving end.

The notion of an independent and self-sufficient individual is dangerous.  It also erodes the Biblical call into a community where we live our lives intertwined with others.  Jesus calls us for many reasons, but surely one reason is so that we don't even attempt to live solitary lives.

The next occasion you have, let Laura know that her service has not gone unheeded.  And the next opportunity you have, allow another to care for you.  It is a marvelous gift from God.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, February 21

The line which we are most likely to remember from the book of Ruth is the one where Ruth will not listen to her mother-in-law's insistence that she return to her childhood home.  Ruth says to Naomi "Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

There was a word of warning in a sermon preached at a campus ministry conference.  That warning is the too oft expectation that another would devote themselves in this way; that such devotion might be demanded or expected.  Naomi does not demand this of Ruth, she doesn't even ask it.  She instructs Ruth to do the opposite.

It is Ruth who turns to Naomi and makes this covenant.

Relationships are always a series of covenants.  None of us can demand anything from those who inhabit our social circles.  We and ask things, but demanding usually frustrates us all.  What we can do is state what we intend to do, and how we intend to interact.  We can make our promises and be true to our words.  Our example and our clarity of intent is the way we affect and impact others.

Such a course of action will not always lead to the end we hope.  In too many instances, our honesty and offering are exploited.  But we should not loose ourselves in the exchange.  We should not allow the other to take from us our sense of what is right and proper and admirable.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Devotion - Monday, February 20

The cycle of readings directed me to the book of Ruth.  This story is a powerful one.  It is also a great window to many of the customs and realities of life for those who lived in ancient Israel.

The main characters in the book become nomads and refugees.  They are dependent upon their ability to scavenge enough food to eat.  They depart from Moab and return to Judea because they hear that the fields are more plentiful.

This is possible because the followers of Yahweh had heard and were inclined to obey the text we read yesterday morning.  The instruction for the people of God is that we are not to pick our fields clean or to collect the grapes which fall to the ground.  They are to be left for those who experience hunger.

Read with me these next couple of days the story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi.  Give attention to the details of what their life is like.  And give opportunity to reflect on whether this story would be possible in our time.  How do we follow God's directives for sharing the bounty of the land with those who have so little?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, February 16

I worry that last night's LCM gathering might have been too stressful for some of us.  It was an evening packed full of the two questions most likely to lead to restless sleep:

1) What will you do with your life?
2) Who will you be?

The folks from our ELCA Seminaries are very careful to place their questions about career in the context of identity, but the things they talk to us about tend to conjure up those worries about whether we will find a job when we graduate, and whether that job will be fulfilling, and whether we will be able to support ourselves.  What will I do with my life? is an anxiety I too often hear from you.  It is a worry that is real.

But I hope last night's gathering also put an end to such anxiety by lifting up confidences about your ability to decide who you will be.

I had commented on how young Nathan looked to me when I first saw him on Skype.  It was only later that I learned his is a recent, very recent graduate.  He is actually taking a gap year and working with the ELCA Advocacy Network.  His comments to us were not about jobs or careers but asked questions of how we want to position ourselves in the world.  Will we be self-serving and self-absorbed or will we have a eye for others.  Will we focus on the path in front of us to the exclusion of those who lie along the edge of the paths?

We do eventually need to get a job and make a living - so what we do is important.  But who we are is not defined by what we do, and what we do should never become more important that who we are.

The greatest cure for my sleepless nights is remembering (or being reminded) that anxiety about what I do will come and go - but there is never any doubt about who I am.  As a claimed and loved child of God I know who I am.  As a follower of Jesus, I know what I will do.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, February 15

I want to leave open the possibility that the comments spoken to me in so many coffee visits were intended to be respectful, and thus the full weight of the concerns were held back.  What is shared with me is the longing for a community - but the inability to see "church" as a place where such a community might be found.

The comment usually goes something like this:  "I believe, but not in a way which y'all are likely to agree."  The follow up conversation rarely exposes any heretical convictions or thoughts which don't pass through my mind each week.

Somewhere along the way, the Church shifted from being a place where strangers along the road were invited to "Come and see," or "Come and experience," and became a fortress in which guards keep a close watch on the entrance gate.  This should have never been allowed to happen.  And we need to speak up against it happening among us.

Yes - we will seek to teach one another what is said in Holy Scriptures and how centuries of fellow pilgrims have applied those words to their lives.  Yes - we will acknowledge the confessions of the Church and use them as a guide to our own affirmations.  But - but - let's tear down the mistaken notion that unless one toe the line they are not to be considered part of this fellowship.  And, let's make sue that questions and wanderings are lifted up and discussed and are seen as welcomed opportunities to better understand whether the musings of those ancient pilgrims remain helpful.

Come and see.  Come and experience.  Find a place of welcome and a place of safety.  If, along the way, you start to wonder how what God has revealed to you can seem to be out of sync with your perception of what God has said to others, speak of this and be ready for others to concur with your concern.

This is what it means to be the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, February 14

There is very little reliable information about a St. Valentine.  The various legends arise from the 3rd century, though most of them were not compiled for another 900 years.  

There are common themes in these legends.   And many of these legends find a common link in relationships.  It is widely held that Valentine aided couples by officiating at marriages which the state would have preferred not happen.  The oppression of Christians may have included a prohibition against marriage.  Valentine is said to have ignored this and, at his own personal risk, assisted these couples.

Another angle on the same story involves what marriage meant in the lives of these persons.  Married men were exempted from military service.  By officiating at these weddings, Valentine was reducing the number of available young men - a matter which never pleases those sending others off to fight their wars.

One aspect of these legends stands out to me.  Valentine was honored for his willingness to assist and aid others.  It does not seem to be his own satisfaction or his own joy which lies at the root of his actions.  He seeks to serve others.  In doing so, he gains notoriety and he is (in some circles for a period of time) honored for his deeds.

It is in the 18th century when references to St. Valentine were linked to romantic love and its expression in one's most intimate relationships.  These are the associations we are most inclined to hear and to repeat.  How sad that we reinterpret to our own liking the courageous witness of a servant of God.

If you had not previously planned to observe Valentine's Day, I hope you will change your plans.  Look for ways in which you can follow the example of this saint; search out ways in which you can aid and assist others.  Identify opportunities to protect them from oppressors and to make possible covenants in which each life is enhanced and God's will has the opportunity to be done.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Devotion - Monday, February 13

Paul opens his letter to Timothy the way he opens most of his letters:  "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."

God is surely gracious to us, and extends his mercy.  What are to make of the offering of "peace"?

Peace is much more than the absence of conflict.  Peace is something other than avoiding hostility.  Peace involves tranquility and calmness and relief from worries.

Paul opens his letter to Timothy with an acknowledgement of what the truly important things are.  Without grace, mercy, and peace, it is difficult to move to other things.

Let's remind one another (constantly) that God's grace and mercy are ours.  Then, let's assist one another in experiencing the peace which comes from such assurances. We may face stressful realities and there are always emotional demons lurking in the shadows.  We will not be blind to such, but we will remind one another and share with one another the confidence that God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord stand ready to bring that peace which we seek.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sermon - 6th Sunday after the Epiphany

Matthew 5:(20), 21-37                                                
                                                      Righteousness which Exceeds

            "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

            This was the concluding verse to last week’s gospel lesson.  I guess no one wonders why Pastor Jon didn’t make it the focal point of his sermon.

            Technically, this verse isn’t even a part of today’s reading.  So I could have avoided it too.  But then I would have had to address head on what happens to folks when they murder – which Jesus says happens every time we are angry with a sister or brother.  I could have avoided “Unless your righteousness exceeds…” and proceeded directly to a discussion of when an admiring glance become a lustful look.  Or I could have spent this day patching up the lives of those among us who have experienced the heartbreak of divorce; or have entered into a second marriage with someone who has.

            "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

            Don't forget who those "scribes and Pharisees" were.  Their distinction arose out of their adherence to the letter of the law. 

            The scribes were the scholars, the learned individuals who read through the ancient texts and identified every single instruc­tion that Yahweh had ever given. 

            The Pharisees were those lived according to the laws which the scribes found.  They were deeply committed individuals; zealous in their attempts to obey each of the laws.  They became model citizens and active church members.  They were continually examining themselves and striving to make sure they never broke a single one of the stated laws.  They lived lives which approached flawlessness.  They were about as close to perfect as you could ever be.

            This is the control group – scribes and Pharisees.  These are the individuals against whom Jesus says we must compare our righteousness.  Our righteousness is to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.  No wonder our chins drop upon hearing these words.

            I do have some really good news to share with you this morning.  It has to do with the way more recent students of the sacred texts have come to understand what Jesus meant when he spoke of “righteousness.”  Taken into consideration is the style of Jesus’ directives on murder, adultery, divorce and bearing false witness.  Taken into consideration is the placement of these verses, within Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Taking this into account, we begin to understand that Jesus talk of a righteous­ness which EXCEEDS has to do with a righteousness which is born of God rather than a righteousness built up from our own ability to obey.

            The foundation for such an understanding was laid five weeks ago, when we observed the Baptism of our Lord.  That Sunday - which may seem like a long time ago but recounted events only two chapters earlier. In Matthew 3 we hear Jesus speak for the first time about the righteousness which concerns him.

            In Matthew 3, when Jesus comes to be baptized by John, John tries to prevent him.  John points out that Jesus is the spiritually pure one, the one who is the Child of God, so he should be baptizing John, not John baptizing him. 

            But John finally gives in and baptizes Jesus.  He does so when Jesus says to him, "let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteous­ness."  

            “Righteousness.” 

            In the scriptures, there are differing uses of the word "righteousness."  In the New Testa­ment there are at least three.

            First, righteousness is sometimes spoken of as those actions which bring about an increase of justice.  This is probably the way we tend to think of righteousness.  This way of speaking of righteousness would identify good deeds, done to the benefit of God and neighbor.  Obeying the Ten Com­mandments and all those other laws discovered by the scribes would fall into this type of righteousness.  This way of speaking of righteousness does represents our adherence to the word and law of God.  This is most likely the understanding of righteousness which, when it comes to mind, fills us with thoughts of inadequacy.

            A second use of the word righteousness falls into the category of legal language.  It is the prerogative of the judge to declare one "righteous."  No evidence or testimony is neces­sary, the judge simply has the right to declare one as righteous and this becomes their status before the law.  St. Paul insists that this "decree of righteous" is handed out by God to all those who call upon the name of Jesus.

            But there remains this third use of the concept of "righteousness."  Unlike the other two, this righteousness has nothing to do with us or our actions.  This righteousness only involves God.  God alone IS righteous.  God possesses righteousness.  It is that characteristic or trait which makes God - God.  Righteousness in this sense is categorically different from any righteousness which we could ever achieve or be granted.

            It is this "righteousness of God" which concerns St. Mat­thew.  In writing his gospel story, Matthew hinges the whole event upon God's righteousness.  He repeatedly illustrates the inadequacy of our own attempts at righteousness.  In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Phari­sees we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  He then goes on to illustrate why the "righteousness" of the scribes and Phari­sees is worthless. 

            Perhaps one could be successful in abiding by the ancient law, "You shall not murder."   But who is capable of living according to the intent of that law?  Jesus reminds us that the law is more than a prohibition upon the taking of another's life.  It also places constrains upon our anger and insults.  Maybe we can avoid adultery - if by that we only mean certain limited actions.  But who is capable of preventing their eye from wonder­ing?

            Jesus illustrates that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is worthless because you can never legislate away all transgressions of God's law.  The level of righteousness which God desires can never be achieved through our actions.  The righteousness which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees is the righteousness of God.  It is the righteousness given to us in Jesus.

            The gospel story, the good news of God's anointed Messiah, begins and ends with this outpouring of God's righteousness.  It is freely offered to us so that we might possess it and live in its comfort.  As Christians, we gather to sing praises to the God who has done this marvelous and wonderful thing.  Far be it from us to cheapen God's action by allowing our obedience to take center stage.

            I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, unless it is the righteousness granted to you by God, you will never even recognize the kingdom over which Jesus reigns.

            That kingdom, the one over which Jesus reigns, is marked by a grace filled understanding of the goodness and the invitation of God’s righteousness.

Amen.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, February 9

This morning I read from 2 Timothy 2.  Paul is giving advice to the young lad, suggesting ways in which he can serve God and do well among those to whom God has sent him.

One verse struck me:  "Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies;  you know that they breed quarrels."

We are in period of time when there are many, many quarrels going on.  I will refrain from labeling any of them as "stupid" or "senseless."  The emotions behind a quarrel reveals to us that what some may want to dismiss as stupid or senseless is very important to another.  Perhaps simply remembering this will prevent heated quarrels.

Paul knew that quarrels did very little to advance good and productive partnerships.  Paul knew that we are often dragged into contentious exchanges over topics which are not the real matter of concern.

We need to lift our voices, in the public arena, to ensure that the critique includes the question "What would Jesus do?"  As we lift our voices we should ourselves remember that Jesus never failed to see the person he was confronting as a fellow child of God.

Avoid stupid and senseless controversies.  Save your energy and your voice for the opportunities to speak the Word and will of God.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, February 8

The appointed Gospel lesson for today is Mark 10:1-16.  The issue of divorce is discussed in these verses.  This topic will also show up in this Sunday's Gospel.  It is a vexing concern for many; as it should be.

One's approach to this topic should always begin with pastoral concern.  Ask "What is going on in the relationship which does not allow one or both parties to see themselves and the other as a child of God?"  If the ability to see this is compromised, then a relationship has ceased to serve its primary purpose and rightfully needs evaluation.

The theological concern revolves around covenant and promise and assurances of God's blessing.  Christians enter into marriage with the awareness that we are not merely establishing a relationship which brings us joy or happiness or pleasure, we are making a covenant with another in which each promises the other to aid them in their spiritual journey.  A marriage is a partnership in which each is reminded of their status as a child of God; both are strengthened in their living out of their baptismal covenant.  How can we be so deeply engaged in the very core of another's existence and then come to the decision that these things no longer matter?

Re-read paragraph 2.  This does happen.  But probably over time and in small steps and only after years of neglecting the promises which were so prominent in the establishing of the marriage.

Most of you are years away from marriage.  So, you may have already ceased reading.  But I hope you have stuck with me to this ending.  And I pray that you will form an understanding of marriage which anchors all of your relationships in the promises made in support of the other, rather than seeing relationships as something pleasing and pleasurable to yourself.  The dating relationships you are in now set the pattern for marriages you may one day enter.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, February 7

Let's get the disclaimer out of the way first:  The classical writings on how persons live out their faith speak of five unique paths.  Among the five, my most comfortable path is the one that involves service.  So, I write of that path often.  Hopefully not to the exclusion of the others, but I need to remember and remind you of this reality.

Isaiah 58 is one of the sections of the bible which motivate me to respond to God in this way.

In this part of the book, the prophet is looking at the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  The warnings of earlier years were not heard; the people suffered and their religious centers were destroyed; now they are back in Jerusalem and have the chance to rebuild.

Isaiah is giving them instructions.  He is talking to them about how to live their faith and follow the instructions of God.  He talks about fasting. And he says:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke? 
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 

While many will measure the depth of one's commitment to God by the hours spent in prayer; some by the fervor of one's convictions; some by out-of-body experiences; Isaiah asks those who would hear his words to be compassionate.  He would tell us to look out for the lonely and the depressed.  He would have us see that we are doing as God requests when we stop thinking of our own selves and consider the dire circumstances under which others are living.

Too many of the reports which I am asked to complete speak of bible study groups or book groups or career choices made by those graduate.  How do we share the wonderful news that the Good News of God is being shared around tables and over meals?  Where do we celebrate the endless ridiculous messages posted on Messenger - all of which have one simple message, "You are important to me"?

This is the fast that the Lord would choose.  

Monday, February 6, 2017

Devotion - Monday, February 6

Isaiah 57 includes this line:  "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit."

Think of those two extremes.  God is found in the high and holy places.  Of that, few would doubt.  The very nature of God and the name of God and the character of God makes high and holy places the appropriate abode.  We call on God precisely because God is in high and holy places.  From such a place, God is able to see what we are unable to see.  From such a place, God is able to put into perspective the details with which we struggle.

Surely, God is to be found in high and holy places.

But the prophet also speaks of God as the one who is found in the sister or brother who is of a contrite heart and humble spirit.  God is located in the place where an acknowledgement of weakness is admitted and lifted up.  God is there when one is mindful of their very inability to be high or holy.

It may be the very act of feeling far removed from God or unworthy of God's intervention which primes our hearts for God's arrival.  It may be the very emotions of not wanting to pull God down which sets the stage for God's coming to us.

It not may be the case - it is the case - that God dwells In the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite heart and humble spirit."

I will take great comfort from this verse and this wisdom from the ancient prophet.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, February 2

"For freedom Christ has set us free."  Galatians 5:1

Paul tells us that Christ has set us free so that we might be free.  Christ has set us free so we would not need to bear the burden of a yoke.  Christ has set us free so we could know the hope and promise and joy of eve and adam in the Garden of Eden.

Now that you are free, what will you do with your freedom?

This is not a question Jesus asks us - he didn't set us free as a test to see how we would use our freedom.  "For freedom Christ has set us free."  It is a question Paul asks his readers, and it is a question I am asking you.

Now that you are free, what will you do with your freedom?

Maybe you slept a bit latter this morning.  I really hope you did; or that you might tomorrow.

Maybe you allowed your eyes to glaze over a bit when the professor in your 11:05 class scolded you.  Your education is paramount - and that education is too important to be hijacked by one particular line in one of 40+ syllabus you will work your way through.

Maybe you stood up to the voices which attempted to tell you un-truths intended to justify their attempts to exclude or ignore you.  You have the freedom of Christ in your pocket - what ever they are selling is of no comparison.

For freedom Christ has set us free.  All of life's really big questions have been answered and they have all be answered in our favor.  That ought to put a bit of a jingle in your step.  It surely will put a joyfulness in your heart.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, February 1

In Mark 8:11, we read that the Pharisees seek a "sign from heaven" from Jesus, in order to test him.

This is a complex situation and deserves more an eighty word reply.  What I would like to reflect on this morning is the often repeated request "Show me a sign."  I have said this prayer myself.  So I am not belittling any of you.  I join you in thinking about why I lift the request for a "sign," when I already know the preference of God.

Without ignoring those situations which are (like the story in Mark 8), complex and complicated, most of the times I find myself asking God to direct me, I already know what it is that God would have me do.  I don't need a more clear answer from God; what I need is the courage to follow where God is leading me.

The context these reflections might matter.  I have been with my campus ministry colleagues in Region 9 for the past three days.  One of our presenters spoke of this as a "watershed moment" for campus ministry and in the life of the Church.  Our guest speaker (who wasn't part of the discussion about campus ministry) encouraged us to trust that God is present and active.  We have all the signs from God we need.  

Be confident in what God has shown to you.  Never claim to speak for God, but speak with the confidence that God's word has been heard in your life and is reflected in what you are now saying.

We don't need a sign.  We need the courage to follow where the sign has directed us.