Thursday, March 30, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, March 30

My prayers this morning kept coming back to last night's program.  Savannah shared her work at Carolina Behavioral Health, assisting those with mood disorders.

First - I was blown away with her competence.  My prayers included gratitude for the gifts God has distributed among all of you and how effectively you are using those gifts to shape a world in line with God's vision.

Then, I prayed for all of us who benefit from the types of services Savannah is learning.  I am thankful that there so many of us who have had the courage to seek the help of mental illness professionals.  I am thankful for what those counselors and doctors have been able to do.  There are way too many of your classmates who suffer in silence and never seek the aid which would benefit them; possibly save their lives.

Finally, I am grateful that LCM is a community in which so many of us are able to talk openly and honestly about anxiety and depression and obsessive thoughts.  We are not more inflected with these, we are just more honest.  As a result, we can be more caring and supportive.

I continually give God thanks for the opportunity to be among you.  What a blessing it is.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, March 29

There are many references to Jesus as the bread of life in our bibles.  This morning I was reading from John 6.  It is a powerful image - to think of Jesus as the very item which makes it possible to live.

A commentary on these verses spoke of a courtesy extended to most workers - an hour in which to eat their lunch.  An hour long lunch break allows us time to eat our food in a relaxed and renewing mood.  An hour long lunch break might permit opportunity to socialize as we eat; time to sustain our spirits as well as our bodies.

My earlier reference to this as a courtesy may need to be altered to refer to this as a life-sustaining practice.

When we are rushed, we fail to put forethought into what we will eat.  We grab junk food rather than the food which sustains us.

When we are rushed, we grab and gobble.  Who gives thanks for food wrapped in plastic bag?

When we are rushed, we give little to no thought to the significance of the food we are receiving.

The bread of life must be eaten slowly.  The bread of life deserves our thanks and thankfulness.  The bread of life needs to be digested as well as consumed.

Good image - Jesus as this bread.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, March 28

Before we get to Romans 8 (a section of scripture often quoted) we need to struggle through Romans 7.  In these verses, Paul tries to understand where the impulses to turn from God arise.

He says that he does not do the good which he wants to do - but actually does the very thing which he hates.  He says that there seems to be two factions at war inside himself - pulling him in opposite directions.

From where does the inkling to sin arise?  

There is much to study in Romans 7, but for today I would have us remember two things:  First, that each of us and all of us have these same struggles.  And no one of us is stronger than another and thus less likely to fall victim.  Paul is clearly saying that we should not find greater fault in others than we are willing to see in ourselves.  Second, be aware of these two "forces" and their tugging on us and on our hearts.  There is an old wise saying which compares these two forces to bears doing battle.  When a young child asks which bear wins, the wise teacher says "The one you feed."  Don't feed the impulses to turn from God and God's ways.

Be aware of the battle raging inside you - and be sensitive to those for whom the battle is too much.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Devotion - Monday, March 27

Welcome back from Spring Break!   I hope your week was as fulfilling and meaningful as mine.  The week in D.C. provided opportunity to walk along side folks experiencing homelessness; come to a better understanding of the cycle of poverty; visit Senator Graham and Senator Scott's staff; observe Friday Prayers at a Mosque; and do some sight-seeing.  It was a full week, and I was tired when I returned, but fulfilled.

Now, it is back to school, and to classes, and to finishing out the term.

Be serious about your work.  While this degree will not permanently protect you from the forces which pulled down those whom we met in D.C., it will allow you tools to shield you.  Becoming educated, allows us to be more aware and a better participant in the unfolding future of our society.

Set a goal of being educated, not merely getting a degree.  While expertise in a selected field prepares you for a specific career, your years at Clemson are your best chance to encounter and understand the forces which shape the future.

God has given each of us a powerful brain and an open heart.  Use them well, in these next several weeks.  Strengthen them, for the life God is calling you to live.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, March 16

Today is my last communication with you before spring break.  There will be a student e-devotion tomorrow.  

It was some 16 years ago that a car wreck forever altered the life of one of our LCM students.  Death was too close; and the severity of the injuries left permanent effects.  I think about that series of events every spring break.

So, allow me to share a few thoughts with you:

First, do enjoy spring break.  Enjoy the break from studies and deadlines, enjoy the openness of your days and the absence of a tight schedule.   Make sure you return to Clemson and classes rested and renewed.

Second, do be careful.  The 18 traveling with me to Washington, D.C. will need to be on guard in a city with patterns of interaction and behavior unfamiliar to us.  Be careful wherever you are going.

Third, take your bible.  I am never told "I don't want to read my bible," rather the line is "I don't have time." or "I have to do so much reading for class."  Well - here is your chance.  The Sunday lessons in 2017 are from Matthew.  Read Matthew over the break.

In closing, I would also encourage you to use this week as a time to reach out to those who love and support you.  I realize I have convinced a number of you to go with us to D.C. rather than leaving you free to go home - I am sorry for that, truly.  But whether you will be home or not - do make sure that this week includes an acknowledgement of those who stand behind you and with you as you make your way through these years and into the world.

I will be praying for you all.  And I ask that you remember me.  We are united - eternally - regardless of whether we are gathering physically in one room.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, March 15

John 5:18 contains a thought which had not previously registered to me.  In the translation used by my devotional guide, it reads:  "This is why the Jews sought all the more to kill (Jesus), because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God."

First - let's be careful not to identify "the Jews" in this verse with who share the Jewish faith - it really is a reference to the religious leaders of Jesus' day.  Religious leaders tend to take on many of the same traits, in every age and even across religious identities.  They (we) tend to want to hold to the traditions and customs embedded in religious practice.

But I do want to speak of the offence committed by Jesus in calling God "Father."  To do so, implied he thought of himself as "equal with God."

Each time we gather for worship, we pray together "Our Father......"  This way of referring to God was a bold statement of how Jesus wanted his followers to see God - and see themselves.  Let's not loose perspective on how shattering such a vision (such a self vision) really is.

I will remind you in other writings that God is God and we are not.  This is certainly true.  But what is also true is this insistence that Jesus has altered this divide and made it less of a reason for fear.  The child is not the parent, and never will be.  But the child is loved by the parent and the parent's aim is to aid the child in become more like the parent.

As you pray this day, make use of the Our Father.  And consider how this simple address informs and directs our interactions with God.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, March 14

Serving as pastor in an academic community has many joys.  It also has tremendous benefits.  Yesterday, the Philosophy and Religion Department brought Dr. Amy-Jill Levine to campus. I got to hear her talk about Jesus, Gender, and Sexuality.

I have heard Dr. Levine speak before.  And every time I am amazed at how much she is able to catch that I am not.  Things like - there are no names given for the women who feature heavily into so many of Jesus' stories.  Or - we think of the times in which Jesus lived as horrible for women, but Martha is described in the gospels as being the owner of her own home.  And - the woman caught in adultery is not in some gravel pit about to be stoned, she is brought to Jesus in the assembly hall.

As fond as I am at pointing out how many assumptions are made when we read our bible stories, Dr. Levine helped me to realize this is true for myself.  I have read the bible enough that I already know the end of the story, so I skip over some of the details which would challenge me and expose me to assumptions.

Not all of us will be biblical scholars, but each of us can continue to learn what we have learned incorrectly.  Each of us can look with fresh eyes at something with which we have become so familiar.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Devotion - Monday, March 13

I had a wonderful weekend.  Spent most of it at the Biggerstaff Retreat Center with ten or so of you.  The "camping trip" was a bit cold and the rain on Sunday morning made packing up to come home unpleasant.  But it was a glorious experience.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was sitting in the camper and listening to the interactions among the students.  There was conversation, there was laughter, there were moments of quite in which I imaged sharing of concerns.  

I was overcome with contentment; I was again overwhelmed with your sense of community.  

This morning I read the opening lines of Paul's letter to the Romans.  In these, he speaks of being "mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine."  And I tell myself that this is what made Paul a great pastor and what makes this ministry so powerfully - we are mutually encouraged by one another.

My aim is to encourage you, to aid you, to minister to you.  But as time goes by I realize more and more that I am the one sustained by you.  There is a mutual building up which is essential to what we do, which is the foundation to all we hope to offer.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon - 2nd Sunday in Lent

Genesis 12:1-4a & John 3:1-17                                                                       

                                                        Blessings - They Come in All Pains

            I do realize that some of you were not here last Sunday, so I should apologize for continuing a thought this morning which you were not a part of from the beginning.  But as I read and prayed over this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, I kept coming back to one of the points which Pastor Hoffmeyer made in his sermon.  He spoke of the fruitless attempts to find our heart and soul’s desire in that which does not have the capacity to satisfy those longings.  He spoke of the ways in which we are encouraged to spend our time and spend our money attempting to obtain that which will forever be placed just beyond our grasp. 

            He identified the only answer to our prayers.  And that answer is the grace of God, freely bestowed upon us.

            Nicodemus comes to Jesus.  Nicodemus has some pretty basic questions.  Jesus has some answers for him.  But the answers Jesus offers (or at least the way he offers them) do not match with the expectation which brought Nicodemus to Jesus in the first place.  Even Nicodemus, it seems, may be looking in the wrong direction for the thing which he so deeply desires.

            I hope to couch all of this under the banner of confusing short-term satisfactions with eternal solutions.  I am hoping that we might depart this morning with a clearer dichotomy between fleeting accomplishments and genuine rebirth and renewal.  I was moved by Pastor Hoffmeyer’s distinction last Sunday between what it means to be blessed by God as opposed to living a charmed but fleeting life.

            Look again at the 17th verse of John, chapter 3.  It reads:  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  This verse beauti­fully parallels this morning’s reading from Genesis 12.  There, God speaks to Abram, telling him, I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you may be a bless­ing you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  God's blessing does not shield them from the harshness of human existence.  God's blessing provides them with the assurance they will need in order to persevere.  Having been blessed, they become a blessing to others. 

            Abram was indeed blessed.  He is the patriarch to whom three of the world's major religions trace their origins.  Abram (whose name is changed to Abraham, so as to reflect his prominence) is revered as the father of faith for Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers.  He is blessed; his blessing is the root out of which our own blessing emerges. 

            But remember with me the realities of this man's life.  Twice he finds himself in situations in which he has to lie about Sarah being his wife.  Abram and Sarah are wondering shepherds.  Without a home, they are at the mercy of landed lords and rulers.  Abram knows Sarah's beauty will make her an object of desire, that he may be killed so another might claim Sarah.  So they say Sarah is his sister.  Abram is not murdered, but Sarah is taken into the home of another man.

            Abram is blessed.  But remember his nephew Lot, the one who was not satisfied with the harsh pastures of the hills and chose instead to go into the valleys of Sodom.  By the Oaks of Mamre, Abram learns that Sodom is to be destroyed.  It is Abram who has to argue with God - risking his stature in God's eyes - in order to save his nephew.

            Blessed?  Sure he is.  But Abram and Sarah are growing old.  Unable to conceive, Sarah asks her servant, Hagar, to be the mother of Abram's child.  The child born to Hagar, Ishmael, becomes an irrita­tion and a fight ensues which threatens the whole clan.

            Abram was blessed by God - but his life did not always show the signs of what we might call a blessed existence.

            Everything and more that can be said about Abraham can be said about Jesus.  He is indeed blessed:  He is the One acclaimed as God's Messiah.  Is there another whose name is better known around the globe?  The great civiliza­tions of the west bear the marks of Jesus' teachings.  Churches bearing his name can be found on every continent, in practically every nation.  No one is more clearly associated with what it means to be favored by God - but remember Jesus' life.

            While we prefer to imagine it differently, Jesus was only able to attract a very small band of followers.  His message is not that widely accepted.  And his message proves so disruptive that Jesus is eventually condemned by the authorities of state and religion.  When he is taken in to prison, even those who claimed to be disciples abandoned him.  He dies a painful death upon an instrument of torture.

            Even though his life took on none of the forms we would associate with blessedness - Jesus was indeed blessed.  Blessed because God had promised he would be a blessing.

            A blessed life is not a life free from pain and disappointment.  That kind of a life would better be called a charmed life - it is a life marked with good fortune.  A blessed life is something differ­ent - a blessed life is a life lived with the assurance that no matter what I might encounter, God will never abandon or forsake me.

            Earlier I called your attention to John 3:17. I deliberately did so, as a way of causing you to think of John 3:16, without actually needing to read it.  I realize that the association most folks make with John 3:16 is the encouragement to believe so as not perish.  But for me the real power of this verse lies in its opening clause.  The promise of eternal life is preceded with the acknowledgement, For God so loved the world.  It is God's love for us which leads to the birth and ministry of Jesus which results in our salvation.  God's love for us.  God's blessing, coming to us and remaining a part of our lives.

            God's blessings are found among us for God has promised to come and dwell with us.

            If I had a nickel for every time I had wished being a disci­ple of Christ's meant my life would flow more smoothly, I would be a rich man.  But it just doesn't work that way.  At least it hasn't in my life, and it hasn't in the lives of so many others with whom I regu­larly gather for worship.  God does not protect us, set us off from the rest of the human population because doing so would call into question the whole notion of God's love for the world.  God's love results in God coming to be with us - to share our lives and suffer our pains.

            With all due respect to those who are affirming their faith this morning, being active in the church does not reduce the trials and tribulations, the hard­ships and difficulties of one's existence.  Being a part of God's church does not shield us from pain.  But coming here allows us to see the beauty and strength of God's promise to be with us.  Among God's faithful people, we are allowed to see that a charmed life might be nice - but a blessed life is a thing to cherish.

            "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be (blessed) through him." Come, receive God's blessing.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, March 3

John 3 speaks of why some respond well to the Word of God and some do not.  The writer uses the image of light:  "the light has come into the world, but the people loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."

While the degree to which we can identify with these words may vary, all of us understand what they mean.  There are actions or thoughts or behaviors which we allow only when we are alone (in the dark) rather than among others.  It is true, that the darkness is a good cover for that which does not reflect our devotion to God.

So how do we learn to love the light?  How do we live continually in the light?

Perhaps by small steps and tentative attempts.  Perhaps by risking sharing with another (a confessor or trusted friend those thoughts which are so disturbing we seldom share with another.  Perhaps by hearing that living in the light is actually better and then trying it out.  Perhaps by looking back at the darkness and realizing that it has done nothing to accomplish our hope for union and unity with those around us.

No one loves the darkness because they love evil and horrible stuff.  But the darkness is more likely to reach out and grab us and hold us and refuse to let us go.  The light is more passive - it is an offer extended out of graciousness rather than threat.

Come, live in the light!  There is a hymn we sing which includes these words.  Repeat them over and over today; shun the darkness.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, March 8

Today's appointed Gospel text is also the appointed reading for this Sunday.  It is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus.  

I am sure there are parts of the story well known to you.  It is in this exchange that we get John 3:16 - what may be the most memorized verse of the Christian scriptures.  The clarity of that verse aside, most of the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is confusing.  They seem to almost be talking past one another.  It seems at times as if each has their talking points and regardless of what the other says, they stick with what they came to communicate.

There are times when we do tend to talk past one another.  Even the most well worn and rehearsed exchanges can fail to connect or answer the longing being expressed.

Such thoughts occurred to me last Wednesday, as I sat on Cox Plaza ready to extend the imposition of ashes to any who desired to receive them.  The simple liturgical rite of ashes carries the promise of God's forgiveness and the assurance of God's guidance as we move through the difficult days ahead.  And yet, most of those who passed were not interested.  I do not blame them; I am only reflecting on the disconnect between what I was there to communicate and what seemed to be occurring.

(Let me add that many did stop, and I had amazing conversations with folks who didn't know what Ash Wednesday was.)

As Jesus' workers in the world, let's be aware of how disconnected the offer can be from the receptors prevalent in our culture.  As Jesus' workers in the world, let's take upon ourselves the burden of how the divide has come to be.  As Jesus' workers in the world, let's learn to listen better and therefore to hear what is being said to us - and never let what we may be so eager to say drown out what it is that we ought to hear.

Devotion - Tuesday, March 7

One of the comments made Sunday by our visiting theologian has remained with me.  He repeated the bible line, "Repent and believe," and said a more modern day equivalent might be "Wake up and smell the coffee."

Now, there are many ways in which those two phrases are not exact parallels, but there are so many ways in which they are.  It seems helpful, in this Lenten Season, to look at the challenge to "Repent and believe" from as many angles as possible.

"Wake up and smell the coffee" implies that we have been slumbering and inattentive to the events around us.  It implies that we haven't noticed something too important to ignore.  There is also a statement of undetected and yet undeniable reality.  Something is true, and yet we might have become oblivious to it.

"Repent and believe" is John's invitation to notice the thing that God is doing.  Repent and believe was his way of calling out of slumber those who had become inattentive and non-responsive.

There are meanings to repent and believe not included in wake up and smell the coffee, but the parallels are worthy of our consideration.  God is entering our world and our lives and begging us to no longer look upon his creation through the eyes of self-interest.  God has turned the world right side up; putting distrust and hatred of others on the bottom - where it belongs.

"Wake up!"  "Smell the coffee!"  God is doing a wonderful thing in our midst.  Don't fail to notice or become a participant.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Devotion - Monday, March 6

In Deuteronomy 8 there is an interesting note which I remember but had not given much thought.  This is the section of Deuteronomy from which Jesus quotes in yesterday's Gospel Text.  "One shall not live by bread alone."  Moses reminds the children of God that they were given bread in the wilderness, and yet it was something more that provided their security.

As Moses is talking about the years the Israelites spent in the wilderness he reminds them "your clothing did not wear out."  That is pretty amazing - that one's clothing would last 40 years!  Remember that clothing was not a fashion statement and there were no wardrobes filled with colorful options.  Clothing would involve shearing sheep, spinning yard, weaving fabric, and making garments.  Such work is difficult to do as you are living a nomadic life.

It isn't surprising that Moses would need to remind them that their clothing didn't wear out.  I find myself wearing a comfortable pair of jeans without thought to how long I have had them.  We tend not to realize how long we have had a blouse or pair of socks.

"Your clothing did not wear out" is a beautiful statement of God's gentle care for His people.  He was doing for them a very important and helpful thing.  But it is a thing which they might not notice.

How many things will God do for you today?  How many will you notice?  It is a statement of good news that God's doing them is not dependent upon your noticing.  But noticing would be an appropriate step to take.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, March 2

Titus is one of those really short books in the New Testament which seldom comes to mind as we talk about the message of the bible.  

I began reading through it this morning, and in the opening verses there is a statement which both explains many things to me as well as confuses me on a really important topic.

Titus 1:15-16:  To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their minds and consciences are corrupted.  They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed.

I don't like putting people in one box or another, but I do agree with these words from Titus that there seems to be a pre-existing disposition which overrides how a person will encounter the world.  Paul did have a very strong apocalyptic view of the world; there is a "before" and "after" aspect to each of his writings.  Maybe he is correct that there are before and after persons, and they will never see the world the same way.

But why write of such things if it is impossible to move from one box to the other?  Do these words tell us to abandon hope that the corrupt and unbelieving will EVER be able to share in purity? And oh my, how these verses open the door to beginning to determine among ourselves who are the true and faithful ones and who are those who are detestable.  This is a weapon wielded far too often already in our world.

Having said that, it is important (though confounding) that Paul acknowledges those who will speak in the name of Jesus but whose deeds deny that they are following Jesus.  Again, way to easy for us to point fingers and pass judgement on others.

I simply cannot accept that we are locked in one box or the other.  Conversion is possible, and it does happen.  Maybe I need to make greater allowances for critiquing the deeds of others and for asking if these reflect the core confessions of the individual.  Making such an allowance necessitates my being open to a critique of my own deeds.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Devotion - Ash Wednesday

One of my mentors in campus ministry was very fond of reminding us that the Church's struggle is with evil.  Sin, she would remind us, occurs when evil has its way.

Evil is also the enemy which robs many of life when they are too young.

Evil is the root of distrust of neighbor and lack of compassion for the oppressed.

Evil invades our hearts and minds and clouds the activities of both.

During the 40 days of Lent, I will praying for you.  I will be praying that you find new resources in fighting evil.  I will be praying that you are shielded and protected from the onslaught of those impulses which promise physical pleasure but only serve to separate us from the oneness God intends.

I will be praying for you.  And I invite and request that you pray for me.  I would hope you are praying for one another.  Sin occurs when we have allowed evil into our midst.