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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Devotion - Monday, September 25

God's gifts to us are constant; but there are times when their arrival matches perfectly our needs.

This morning, I opened my bible to a long section of 2 Chronicles 6.  When was the last time you read 1 & 2 Chronicles?  I bet it has been a while.  There are events shared in these books which are bedrock to our faith - but there is a lot of names and locations and stuff that can really bog down even the most committed reader of the bible.

Then, you stumble across a verse or two.  And God's Word extends to you a wonderful gift.

2 Chronicles 6 & 7 are about the dedication of the Temple built during the reign of King Solomon.  

When the temple is dedicated, the people gather, and they give "thanks to the Lord, saying, 'For he is good , for his steadfast love endures for ever.'"

"His steadfast love endures for ever."  That is a gift beyond compare.

This gift reminded me of yesterday's sermon by Pastor Jon.  His text was the workers in the vineyard.  Pastor Jon shared with us an invitation to see and to give thanks and to live in the mind-set of a God who is generous and giving and compassionate.

God's gifts come to us every day.  Some days they perfectly match our need.  

A need always present is to know how deeply God loves us and how powerfully God cares for us.

Whatever else happens to you this day - begin the day with the affirmation that God is good, and that his steadfast love toward you endures - forever.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, September 21

I am sure I had noticed it in the past, but this morning as I read Mark's report of the last supper, I was struck by the line, "and when they had sung a hymn."

After their meal, which serves as the source of our Eucharist, they sang a hymn before leaving the upper room and going to the Mount of Olives.  

Hymns are wonderful.  They express what our hearts experience; too deep for our minds to capture and repeat.  Hymns lift our spirits and move us.  Hymns are much easier to remember than paragraphs.  Try to recite Mark 14:12-26; then sing all four verses of Amazing Grace.

This may have come to my mind as a result of our singing my favorite hymn at last night's gathering.  "They Cast Their Nets" speaks of the unsurpassed peace which comes from knowing Jesus; it acknowledges how knowing Jesus sets us at odds with those consumed with personal advancement.

One of the weekend retreat's activities was to discuss prayer.  Many of us spoke of the difficulty of the practice of prayer.  Well, if that is you, then establish a practice of singing hymns.  It worked for Jesus and the disciples on Maundy Thursday.  Surely it will aid you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, September 20

At bible study last night, we made reference to the story of the woman who anoints Jesus, prior to his death.  This morning, that story was in my cycle of appointed readings.

In the Mark 14 story, Jesus is at the home of Simon the leper.  The woman comes and pours expensive oil over the head of Jesus.  When some are critical of this woman's extravagance, Jesus commends her and notes that what she has done will be retold whenever the story of his life is shared.

This story (and the one where another woman kisses Jesus' feet and wipes them with her own hair) came up as we were discussing stories of serving others.  Our text last night was the baptismal promise to "serve others following the example of our Lord Jesus."  The service we do is one of the five gifts of baptism.

And so, by a weird twist of circumstances, this woman's service is lifted up two days in a row.  And so, I feel compelled to challenge you with this baptismal charge.

What will be said (or remembered) about you.  What will be retold?  Service following the example of Jesus should not be seen as a requirement to enter heaven.  As one participant put it last night - serving unites me with others and the the other; it allows me to experience my life as connected.

Connect with others and with the world around you.  Follow Jesus' example and become a servant.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, September 19

Mark 13's apocalyptic vision ends with the announcement of the return of Christ.  Out of fairness to the whole of Christian thought and theology, I realized I should write about "the return."

"The return" does not figure heavily into my personal piety.  As a result, I tend to ignore it, to rarely speak of it.  Mostly because the return of Jesus is too quickly seen as a warning, as an encouragement to action.  It reminds me of the days when we left one of our children at home for the weekend alone and were asked to call two hours before our return. There would be evidence that those final two hours were spent scrubbing and putting things in order.  

I do not think Jesus intended us to make ourselves look busy at the moment of his return.  And I am suspect of a piety which acts in order to "be ready" for this event.

But, out of fairness, I do need to acknowledge (and speak with you) about this aspect of Christian thought and theology.  And, while these words are also my defense I pray they are also my confession regarding a blind spot in my teaching and preaching.

I long for the return of Christ.  I spend most of my days seeking the world which Christ would find prepared and welcoming.  It is not so much the return that occupies me - it is my activity to align the world with the vision Christ has for the world to which he comes.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Devotion - Monday, September 18

Mark 13 is of the same style of literature as The Revelation.  It is apocalyptic.  This style of literature speaks of cosmic battles and end-of-time events.  It is a way for a writer to lift our eyes beyond the particulars of our day to day struggle and to consider the larger issues facing us.

In Mark 13, there is a call to those who are able to see, to perceive what is going on.  The hope is that the events depicted will not come to pass; that the people of God will recognize where things are headed and make a reversal.  Repentance is the word used to describe this reaction.

While I will never take to writing in an apocalyptic style, I do find myself worried about the small steps taken in a direction which is not the way God would have us go.  "Acquiring and preserving wealth" has replaced care for the least among us as a social goal.  Healing the sick has been ignored out of fear of a "single payer" health care system.  "Heritage" is not something to celebrate when that heritage is a hateful heritage.

The small steps we take may not seen to be that significant.  Taken one at a time, they may not be.  But added together they take us to a place we should not go.

God's perch in the heavens allows God to see the great sweeps in history and to see the larger patterns.  This is surely why God motivates some of his servants to write apocalyptic stories.  Reading those stories might help us re-consider the small steps before we take them.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, September 14

2 Samuel retells the story of Absalom's attempt to replace David as King.  The story has many names, and speaks of places which confuse me.  So, if I convince you to read this for yourself, don't get lost in the details.

The emotion I felt this morning arose out of King David's grief that Absalom has been killed in battle.  David had fled Jerusalem out of fear of Absalom's rebellion.  Yet, when Absalom dies David grieves for his son and does not come out to welcome home those who remained faithful to him and those who risked their lives for his Kingdom.

David felt something stronger.

I read of these things this morning, after listening to one of those cable TV news shows last night.  The exchange I observed asked larger questions than we typically hear discussed.  Rather than focus on this piece of legislation or that skirmish among ideologies, the panel wondered about the overall fate and future of this culture.

As people of God, we are always detached from the particular form of government that happens to be in vogue.  Our hearts are with God, not some humanly crafted nation.  But we live in a country and we are to work to align God's hopes with the actions of our society.

As God's people, we need to feel the strength of something stronger.  We must see that the least among us are cared for and that the neglected are neglected no more.

Read these chapters of 2 Samuel.  And see where these words lead your heart.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, September 13

Mark 12:13-27 retells the encounter in which Jesus is asked about paying taxes to Caesar.  His reply is often used by those who want to say that Christians have no role in political affairs.  This encounter can be interpreted many ways.

Jesus asks whose image is imprinted on the Roman coin.  He then says to give to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's.  Jesus trivializes the proposed importance and power of Caesar - appropriately.

We read about Caesar, but there is nothing left of the nation Caesar sought to establish and rule.

Modern day Christians need to be familiar with Mark 12.  And we need to hear the message Jesus shares.  Too often, we allow ourselves to forget the image we bear and the temporal nature of all kingdoms.  We belong to God; not to some current form of government or political ideology.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, September 12

The parable in Mark 12 exposes the treatment given to God's servants.  This is the story of the man who planted a vineyard, and lent it out to tenants.  When he sends servants to collect his share of the harvest, they are first turned away, then beaten, and finally some are murdered.

The owner of the vineyard decides to send his son.  The son is killed.

Many things can be said of God, but this parable says something too important to be overlooked.  God is patient and unwilling to see his "tenants" as the cruel and selfish persons they can sometimes be.  God continues to hope for the best; God expects the best.  Even when those expectations prove to be naive.  God continues to make the sacrifice sufficient to reclaiming and restoring.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Devotion Monday, September 11

I am not sure how I will spend this day.  With classes cancelled and facilities closed, I can't make my typical rounds.  If the State of SC has shout down out of a fear of persons being harmed, should I attempt to get out in this weather and expect others to do so just to keep an appointment with me?

How will I spend this day?

It would be appropriate for me to spend a portion of this day acknowledging the strength of the cosmos.  Biblical writers expressed their amazement at the natural forces.  We too often forget the strength - with our electric lights and concrete structures.  But today we see the strength of God and are reminded of our relative weakness.

A portion of this day is to be given to prayer for those who are being even more affected than me.  Purely as a result of which direction the wind blows, some will lose homes and livelihood.  

I hope, before this day is over, that I will find some small way to communicate to another what happens in my heart as a result of two preceding actions.  It may be a call to family, to acknowledge gratitude.  It might be a letter, sent to a distant friend.  Actions speak louder than words - maybe it will be taking the unused canned items to the food pantry.

How will you spend this day?  It is a day of unexpected liberty.  What you do with it may be a good indicator of what is in the deep corner of your heart.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon - Pentecost 14 - Year A

Matthew 18:15-20 & Romans 13:8-14   

                                                                    Loving of Neighbor

I made it over to the football game last night.  Parking cars in the church’s two lots is a real killer when it comes to actually going to the games.  The students do the work, but I feel the need to be with them.  We get here around 7:30 am to prevent folks from just showing up and parking in one of the reserved spots. 

But I went over last evening.  For a number of reasons.  Among them, to see how our fans would respond to the Auburn fans.  SEC Teams have a reputation – as do some ACC Teams.  And with the hype of previous national championships – I wondered if we would expose our good side, or an ugly side.

Being at peace with those around us means we have to get along – not simply in ideal situations but in the ones that are a little more challenging.  Anyone can be nice, and civil, and welcoming when things are going great. 

 The measure of one who bears the mark of Christ is the ability to be Christ-like in the worse of situations.  Jesus knew that there would be times when our Christian love would be put to the test.  He knew that we would need a lot of encouragement and some sound advice if we were to continue to be the persons that he hoped we would be.

Jesus said to the disciples:  "If another member of the church sins against you."  In what follows, I believe Jesus is giving us more than practical advice on conflict resolution.  It isn't Gospel if it is something we could have just as easily read in an issue of Family Circle.  Jesus speaks of what to do when a fellow Christian sins against us - of how we continue to honor the name and look into the face of one whom we claim as brother/as sister.

It may be helpful to borrow a concept from our second reading for this morning.  If you look once more at that reading from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, in the opening verse, you hear Paul reciting these words:  "Owe no one anything, except to love one another."  "Owe no one anything", he says, "ex­cept to love one anoth­er."  Paul turns love into a debt - a debt which he implies can never be repaid.  In this thirteenth chapter, Paul has just finished speaking of one's duty to the governing authorities.  In the verses which immediately preceded this morning's reading, Paul gave instructions on the importance of paying one's taxes and giving one's support to the governing authorities.  "You do all these things," he says, "because it will enable you to live peacefully in the land."

But then Paul turns his attention to a particular code of behavior, to a set of expectations which apply specifically to those who are followers of Christ.  It is here that he speaks of owing a debt of love.

Those of you who know me, know that I am not inclined to separate the Christians from the non-believers.  I do not believe that Paul is wanting to do this either.  I believe his point to be that in Christ we have been given the opportunity to break free from all those disagreements and divisions.  In Christ, we are presented a model for honorably remem­bering the name and proudly looking into the face of those with whom we have had terrible disagreements.

This isn't a page out of Family Circle, or something that is covered in Psych 101.  The Gospel tells us how we survive the injus­tices which others force upon us, the sins committed against us.

The advice that Jesus gives is good solid advice.  Regardless of whether we are part of the church, the process he outlines can prove helpful.  His proposed first step in conflict resolution is to go to the person, one-on-one and talk the situation through.  I hate to think how many long-standing feuds could have been avoided had the initial parties sat with each other and talked through their differ­ences.  It is good advice, probably found in more than one introducto­ry text book.  But consider for a moment the increased likelihood of success when we not only go to the person - but go mindful of the debt of love owed to them. 

Jesus' resolution principals have as their goal something more than setting aside the conflict.  Successful resolution involves regaining that one.  We do more than settle our differences; we reclaim as sister/as brother the one we have been in danger of ­losing.

Similarly, the second step outlines a procedure by which we are able to reclaim the one from whom we have become separated.  "If you are not listened to," Jesus says, "take one or two others along with you."  The others are not simply individuals who will be inclined to see our side of the story.  They are other members of the church; others who also owe this debt of love - to you and to the person with whom you are having the conflict.

It is interesting to me that Jesus calls them witnesses.  They are witness­es as opposed to say - judges.  There is a difference between bearing witness to a conversation and being called upon to judge between adversaries.  A witness bears testimony to the truth of what tran­spires.  A witness allows us to see what actually takes place.

Before closing out, I feel it is important to call attention to the last two verses of our Gospel lesson.  These are often repeated words, but they are most often repeated out of context.  Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, if any two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my father in heaven."  The context for this comment is this whole conversation on sinning against each other.  The immediate­ly preceding verses speak of binding and loosening the grip of sin.  Surely, where two or three are gathered...(Christ is) there among them.  But it may not be the intention of this often quoted verse to assume that whatever two of us ask for - God will do.  This verse was not intended to be a magic wand, enabling us to receive whatever it is that our hearts desire.  Jesus is speaking of effects of the combined testimony of witnesses.  He is talking about agreement with regard to conflict resolution.

There will always be conflict, and there will be differences of opinion.  Not everyone could leave the football stadium last night, feeling victorious.  When conflict arises, we can choose how we will handle it.  We can allow it to fester and spread, or we can address it and see that it handled properly.  There are any number of guides to conflict resolution and I have read many such articles in Family Circle or Psychology Today.  But, there is a separate set of instructions for those of us who acknowledge Christ as our role model.  We are called upon to face such conflict forever mindful of the debt of love owed to the one whom Christ has also forgiven.  We are, after all, as Martin Luther so eloquently put it – One hopeless soul in the ditch trying to help another hopeless soul out.  Hopeless, that is, unless we accept Christ’s help.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Devotion - Thursday, September 7

The shift from thinking of Jesus as my ticket to heaven and understanding Jesus as the one who models God's hope for the world is a difficult one to make.

I continue to read from Mark 10.  I have come to verses 32-45.  James and John come to ask Jesus for the seats of honor - at his left and at his right.  This provides opportunity for Jesus to instruct the disciples on the way of service; Jesus warns them about self-serving urges and motivations.

Going to heaven is something I look forward to.  And all of the images taught me throughout my life reinforce the goodness of that part of my journey.  The scriptures which direct me toward that glory, are clear in telling me that the pathway of Jesus is one of caring for others and addressing their needs.

It may only be when we make this shift that we come to know the joy which enabled Jesus to endure the cross.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Devotion - Wednesday, Sept 6

Mark 10 contains the story of the man who comes to Jesus to ask, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  After some exchanges, Jesus tells him he only lacks one thing - "See your possessions and give the money to the poor."  This, the man, is unable to do.

I don't want to be one of those pastors who shied away from talking about giving, in order not to offend.  It is very important that we give.  Unless we give, we fail to fully embrace the life Jesus envisioned for his followers.

The closing prayer in my devotional guide reminds us that while money is part of it, it is not all of it.  It reads "Teach me to hoard nothing: love, money, time, possessions."

As impressed as I am when you give your time to attend worship, or Wednesday gatherings, or hand-bell practice, or men's group - giving your time to serve others is what this petition addresses.

And, there is your money.  "It is my parents' money" is the most common reply from college students.  I won't deny that.  But if that money made available to you allows you the freedom to buy an ice-cream or two a week, then there is surely an openness to some of that being used to house the homeless.

The young man is Mark 10 was able to commit himself to the rigors of the law, but he was not prepared to see all of the children of God as his own sisters and brothers.  He could not stop hoarding his wealth.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Devotion - Tuesday, September 5

Mark 10 is a corrective passage of scripture to the way I carry out my ministry.  Serving in an academic community; understanding the need for biblical and theological reflection which keeps pace with the academic studies occurring continually; I tend not to remember Jesus' words - "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

When I was a student, I wrote a piece for our LSM-USA national newsletter.  It was titled "Childlike Faith" and it featured an encounter between my sister and her four year old son.  Carolyn was terribly afraid of snakes.  As we were building her home, there came a need for her to go into the unlit basement.  She stood on the bottom step, trying to look in every crack and cranny.  Scott came up behind her and said, "Don't worry Mama, Jesus will protect you."

The faith of child, which Jesus lifts up, is a faith that sets aside the questions and the worries which too often drag us down as adults.  The faith of a child hears the stories of the bible and connects to the hope/promise/assurance the story was written to convey.

I will not cease teaching and instructing you on theology and biblical history.  But I do hope we will all remember that it is the simple faith - the faith of a child - which allows God's grace to enter and overflow in our lives.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Devotion - Monday, September 4

It may be difficult to notice on the Clemson campus, but today is Labor Day.  The University's failure to observe this holiday isn't a political statement, it has more to do with the disruption of the academic schedule and cancelling yet another Monday of labs - or so I have always been told.

Labor Day is a secular holiday, but there are things the Church needs to say about it.

The work we do is more than a means or obtaining a paycheck.  The work we do is our way of participating in the building of a larger, better society and world.  The work we do is an expression of our calling.

Some jobs can become life-draining.  I do not mean to ignore that reality for too many of us.  But I want to affirm the job done by each of us as one gear and a large machine which achieves the end we all hope for.

In LCM, our Two by Two program is an effort to explore how the work we do emerges from our baptismal promise.  This is but one way in which the Church affirms the ministry done in our daily lives and activities.

While there may be few ways to notice that this is Labor Day, be aware of it yourself.   And find a gap which will allow you to reflect on what it means to do more than complete your tasks - reflect on how what you do makes the creation the "good" place our creator said it is.