Monday, October 22, 2018

Devotion - Monday, October 22

The "Kappa's" are known for their "candy canes".  Pledges must carry them around campus; when competing in step shows, the canes are a part of the act.  The Kappa's were part of the push in 1999 which lead to Clemson Habitat building five houses in a four week period in 2001.

This past Saturday, it was a part of the Kappa's which experienced disaster.  The floor collapsed under them, at their Homecoming Celebration at The Woodlands.

The Chapter's website opening page contains their verse for the month:  "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."  Proverbs 3:5-6.

Bad things happen, even to those who are following God and doing God's will.  There are explanations for events (we are likely to discover that the floor had become weakened, or the weight limit exceeded, or everyone was bounding in rhythm), but nothing answers our heart's desire to know "why me, " or "why now."

The question of why bad things happen dogs faith like no other.  

There are attempts at answers.  And these attempts, do provide an answer for the one who puts it forward.  But no one answer will ever be found.  (Remember our recent reading of Job.) 

The Kappa's verse leaves the answers to God.  Their verse of the month reminds me to trust in God and become comfortable with not knowing all things.  I don't need to know - God knows; and I know God's heart and intentions toward me.

Do pray for those injured on Saturday night.  And share with your classmates the powerful impact the Kappa's have had on this campus.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 22 - Year B


Mark 10:(32-34)35-45                 

                   Serving – Our Experience of Heaven


For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.

You know this line, right?  You have heard it countless time, correct?  And yet, it is a thought or message or instruction which we find difficult to take to heart.

But don’t lose heart – even those who physically traveled with Jesus found it to be a difficult lesson too.

Mark 10 – open your bibles or look at the verses in your bulletin.  (I keep saying, get a Bible app on your cell phone.  There are free copies, but for $9.99 you can get a version that allows you to do a word or phrase or verse search.  If you can’t afford $9.99 come see me.)

The appointed verses for today are Mark 10:35-45.  Last Sunday’s reading had ended at Mark 10:31. Almost the same ending.  Last week the closing statement by Jesus was “(M)any who are first will be last, and the last shall be first.”  See the similarities to “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”?

For some reason, the designers of the lectionary skip over verses 32-34 in Mark 10.  Probably because there is also a redundancy here.

Mark 10, verses 32-34, contain what is often referred to as Jesus’ third prediction of his crucifixion.  The first announcement is in Mark 8:31. The second starts in Mark 9:30.  Check it out, in your Bible app. 

Three chapters, three encounters in which Jesus tells the disciples that when they get to Jerusalem, all chaos is going to break loose.  “I am going to die,” he tells them in Mark 8.  In Mark 9 he adds that this death will come as a result of “betrayal.”  The disciples don’t seem get it; they don’t seem to comprehend.

This is the context (and the outrage) at the request made by James and John to sit at Jesus’ right and at his left.  They are fixated on their own visions of what awaits them in Jerusalem.  They cannot see what Jesus sees and they do not share that draws Jesus to Jerusalem. 

Mark, the Gospel writer, puts these three of these statement of Jesus in a sequence because he knows that it will remain difficult for any of us to grasp what Jesus is saying, and accept it as the way of discipleship.

In the first of the predictions of his death, Mark is sure to point out that Jesus says all this as clearly as he possibly can.  Mark 8:31ff is the statement.  Verse 32 is where Mark records, “(Jesus) said all this quite openly.”  There ought not to have been any doubt about this – but there was.

A little time passes, the disciples come to realize that they are incapable of doing what it is that Jesus is capable of doing (there is a foreshadowing in that phrase) and after he tries to make them feel better about their inability to cast to the demons which Jesus so easily dismisses, he tells them, again, about what will happen in Jerusalem.

Mark 9:30-37 includes the warning that their inability to grasp all this will bring additional hardship and heartbreak. Jesus speaks of being “betrayed.”  He will be betrayed, by the one disciple who leads the guards to him; by all his disciples as they flee. 

But the disciples still don’t get it.  Even after a third clear, unambiguous statement, James and John are so dense that they come to Jesus to ask him if, when all this ugly business is behind them, if they might have the honor of sitting, one at his right hand and the other at his left.

            Sometimes we hear what we want to hear, no matter what is actually being said.  Sometimes we do not hear that which contra­dicts what we desperately want to believe.  Sometimes we are unable to hear even when the words leave no ambiguity.
           
            It is interesting that Jesus doesn't tell them, "No, you can't have those positions of authority."  In the end he simply notes that those spots will be given to those to those for whom it has been prepared.  He doesn't turn them down, rather he works to change their focus.  He wants to move their eyes from the possibility of future glory to the road which lies between here and there.  He wants to shift their view from the seats of glory to the cup and the baptism which is Christ's.

            The concern Jesus has is that his disciples do not allow themselves to think there is an easier way than the one he is about to take.  Jesus wants to prevent any notion from forming in their heads which would allow them to believe they can come to those seats some way other than offering themselves.  "If you want to flank me," Jesus tells his disciples, "you must be prepared to lay down your life for others."

            So often, when we tell the Jesus story we begin with the payoff.  We speak of Jesus as the one who saves us from our sins; as the one who saves us from death and hell.  We talk about “heaven.”  Don't you find it interest­ing that Jesus speaks of one who serves?  It is service, not saving, which Jesus so often highlights.  He speaks of action, not of the payoffs; he describes the sacrifice, not the reward.

            I have long since given up on being asked to sit at the right or the left of any truly important individual.  The gifts to obtain such recognition are not mine - and besides, I don't have the right kind of clothes for that kind of a job.

            But serving others is something I can do.  It is something I have experienced and understand.  It is in losing myself in the midst of service that I also get those fleeting images of true calm and tranquility.  Being a servant to others has a power which can only be described as the peace of God, the peace which passes all understanding.

            I have had such experiences over the 25 years of building those Habitat houses on Bowman Field.  Working alongside the thousands of students, I didn’t give much thought to a better place which might someday be mine.  The opportunity to lose oneself in service is such a sweet gift that I have no worries as to the beauty and joy associated with future gifts.

"The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve."
"Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all."
This is the way of our Lord and Master.
It is the way of Peace and happiness.

Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, October 18

Another story of note in Luke 7 is the washing of Jesus' feet.  In Mark, this woman is referred to as "a woman of the city."  The commentaries tell us this is code for a prostitute.  

Those same scholars would inform us that prostitution in those days (not so greatly unlike prostitution in our time) seldom had its origins in a desire for self-centered living.  When a woman was left with no father or husband or son, there was no social security or community aid.  She would not be able to "get a job" - there were no factories or shopping malls or secretarial pools.  Every contact she had with a male resident of the city drove home for her how hopeless was her life.  Every act also created an opportunity for the uppity-ups to condemn her.

This is the woman who comes to Jesus and cries on his feet, wipes the tears away with her hair, and anoints Jesus' feet with ointment.  This is not a random act of kindness, from an otherwise unworthy individual.  This is an expression of her appreciation for the gift of God which has come near to her amid a life of abuse and neglect and repeated exploitation.

I think it is the desire to feel better about ourselves which too often leads to our finding others whom we can consider less worthy.  Such a desire also has deep roots; roots which grew from worry or anxiety or injuries.  We do not address our insecurities by looking for those who have even more reason to fear their worthiness.  We overcome our fears through the community created by Jesus in which the "woman of the city" becomes our sister.

Who is shunned in our culture?  Are we blaming them for the events in their past which create a prison from which they see no escape?  The woman in Luke 7 may be unique in that she did not allow anger to become hatred and turn into revenge toward those who have created this prison and put us there.  Let's not forget that no one can be a "woman of the city" unless there are men in the city looking for persons to place into those roles.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, October 17

As noted a few days ago, my morning readings are progressing through Hosea.  One of the Minor Prophets, this is a book with which you might be unfamiliar.  I would encourage you to read it.

The book addresses the ways in which Israel has forsaken God.  The metaphor is the marriage of Hosea to Gomer, who forsakes Hosea's care for her in order to chase other lovers.  

This morning I read:
For Israel has forgotten his Maker,
and built palaces;
and Judah has multiplied fortified cities.

One of the marks of those whose possessions are great is the tendency to fortify a barrier around their storehouses.  Those who wake each day and look to God for their survival and their salvation have no need to protect possessions.  They have none; or they don't worry about such things.  But those who have "multiplied altars for sinning," will feel the need to wall of those who might deface or destroy.

From the Prophets (like Hosea) we learn that individual ethics and morality inform the ethics and morality of a people (think society or country).  The actions of the whole are not separate from what drives the individual.  As followers of God, our devotion shows in how we live as a people.

How would you evaluate the culture in which we now live?  What are we building?  Are we seeking to protect "what is ours?"  Or looking for ways to care for the least among us?

Hosea is a short book.  Don't get lost in the names and references (though understanding these can be exciting and helpful).  Read it and learn from it how easily we become seduced.  Read and remember how faithful is the God who waits and pleads for our return.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, October 16

Luke 7 begins with the story of the Roman centurion who comes to ask Jesus to heal his slave.  When Jesus seems to stall, the man says to Jesus, "Just say the word."  He ascribes to Jesus the ability to heal, without hindrances.  He too is a man with authority, and he sees in Jesus the authority to make well those who are ill - simply with a command.

Jesus commends his faith.  Saying it is unlike anything he has seen elsewhere.

"Faith" is the favorite topics of Christians.  We speak of "having faith," "being faithful."  At the Sunday School class this past week we discussed Hebrews.  And I found myself seeing how "faith" becomes the replacement for the Temple and its system of sacrifice.

Faith is what we look for and what we strive for.

All I would want to add is that faith also motivates action.  And, while we would never want to suggest that it is our actions which lead to salvation, we would be well to remember that faith will always give rise to action.  We cannot posses the faith of Jesus and turn a blind eye to the sufferings of our neighbor.  We cannot posses the faith of Jesus and fail to speak out for what it right and just.

Hold firm to your faith.  Allow your faith to inform how you live in the world.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Devotion - Monday, October 15

In Luke 6, Jesus gives advise about building a strong foundation.  He warns against building on sand, where shifting can occur and a collapse may occur.  Build instead, on rock; on something solid.

I commend you for following this advise.  You would not begin your day with a time of reflection and prayer were you not constructing a firm and solid foundation for your life.  As you have realized, the patterns you are starting now will remain with you for the rest of your life.

My morning prayers are often interrupted by thoughts of what I need to get done this day.  But, the mood and attitude of prayer is to say to those things, "You will have to wait.  Right now, I am spending time with the God who created all things and who loves me regardless of whether I accomplish the tasks of the day."  The mood and attitude of prayer reminds me that more urgent than the work I need to do are the people who struggle with illness, with anxiety, with relationships.  The mood and attitude of prayer moves these persons I love back into the center of my life.

The solid foundation upon which a wonderful life is built makes it possible to keep upheavals in perspective.  It is a gift to oneself which will last the whole of one's life.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, October 11

My morning Epistle reading was Acts 21:27-36.  It brought back memories of last evening's discussion.

The reading recounts how Paul was shouted down, accused, and beaten for speaking the word of Christ.  The crowd is his greatest obstacle.  This is also true of Jesus.  It was not only Pilot and the Chief Priests who shouted "away with him!"

The word of Christ upsets the crowd.  The way of Christ does not flow easily with the desires of the mob.

Last evening we spoke of race and race relations.  I was deeply moved by the comments made by you all!  Those voices gave witness to the ways in which hearing the word of Jesus puts us on a different trajectory than the shouts of the crowd.

Being a disciple of Jesus isn't the path to popularity.  But it is the way of the beloved community which assures us we will never be abandoned or left on our own.  Being a disciple of Jesus often results in being shouted at by civil authorities and by devotees of civil religion.  Regardless, it remains the way of Jesus.  And it is our way to his joy and peace.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, October 9

In Luke 5 there is an exchange which begins with a proclamation "Your sins are forgiven," and ends with "take up your bed and go home."

Jesus is speaking to a paralyzed man.  (This is the one who was lowered through the roof into the room where Jesus is speaking.)

When we come before our Savior, we come looking for forgiveness. We speak to Jesus about healing, but it is the fate of our souls which bring us to him.  I am prepared in every instance to proclaim "the forgiveness of sin," but I pause when asked to pray for the curing of disease.  (This is a confession - not an instruction.)

There are many sophisticated reasons why I (and perhaps you) respond in this way.  But we need to occasionally admit that we focus on only part of the story.  Jesus does heal.

I don't know why Jesus doesn't heal every infirmity.  And I am careful not to put God to the test by asking for healing. But scripture is clear about this - and what I can say without hesitation is that God wants what is best for us.  

When you share with me the need you have for healing, trust that I sat aside my sophisticated theology and answers about why bad things happen in the world and go directly to God to ask for restoration.  I may not have an answer to give in the classroom, but in my prayer chamber there is one - I present to God the needs of God's children and I ask God to attend to them.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Devotion - Monday, October 8

My devotional guide has me reading through Hosea.  This is one of the "minor prophets," a designation which often means "seldom read."  

Hosea's life is the prophet's message.  He takes as his wife a harlot.  He care for her, and provides for her, but she continues to return to her lovers.  When children are born, Hosea names them "Not my children."

The allegory of Hosea's life is the way God has picked Israel, and yet Israel has not remained faithful to God.  In today's section (Hosea 2), the wife of Hosea fails to realize it is Hosea who provides her with flax and oils.  She believes these came from her lovers.

Do we fail to recognize from where come our food and clothing, family and home?  Do we take credit for our possessions as if they were something we had earned?  Truly, you do work hard and your efforts merit you many honors, but all this is emerging from a foundation of which you had no part in building.

The Small Catechism reminds us that God provides house and home, food and clothing, and even "daily work."  Remembering this, leads to our giving thanks for these gifts.  Remembering this, instructs us as to how we ought to share that which has first been given to us.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, October 4

I have always been troubled by the story of Jesus' "going home."  I read it this morning, from Luke 4.

When he arrives, there is great excitement.  He is asked to read in the synagogue.  But, by the end of the day, the neighbors of his family are ready to throw him off a cliff.

There is an exchange in which he points out to them how difficult it is to be accepted in one's hometown and among one'e own family.  This leads to their being angry.  And maybe his words point out what is true about going home, even in the lives of those who don't speak such challenging things.

"Home" tends to want to claim credit for us.  "Home" wants to be understood as the soil out of which we have emerged.  This is true - in so many ways.  But there are lots of other influences as well.  Influences which we wish to honor and acknowledge.

I emerged from Vale, NC, very grateful for all that it had taught me.  But I also learned a lot more things once I had moved from Vale to Raleigh and finally to Chicago.  Some of those things helped me to see ways in which those who remained at home (in Vale) were trapped by their not knowing about the wider world.  These were lessons I was eager to share; many of my neighbors were not so eager to receive them.

So much of what I learned in Raleigh and Chicago was about God and the Christian Faith.  This awareness came from my exposure to God's Word and God's servants.  I learned about grace and forgiveness; I learned about compassion and assistance.  God surely could have taught me these lessons while I was still in Vale, but I learned them as I followed Jesus into other places and other settings.  And, I wanted to share what I had discovered about God with the persons I knew the most and loved the deepest.  But, as I said at the end of the previous paragraph, it didn't always go so well

Maybe Jesus' return home is a lesson for all of us.  Perhaps God wants us to find ourselves as we venture out into the world God has made.  And I do think there are some lessons which can only be learned when we allow ourselves to step outside the comfortable cocoons.

Be aware of what you are learning and how you are changing.  Look for every opportunity to share this with those back "home."  But do not be surprised when you find yourself comfortable in a new home, and have the confidence that this new home can be (and will be) as complete and as important to you as the previous one.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, October 3

In Acts 19, we are told that Paul goes to Ephesus.  He encounters a group of "disciples."  As he speaks with them, he realizes they had no knowledge or understanding of the Holy Spirit.  When he asks them, "Into what were you baptized?" they responded, "With the baptism of John."  

This story has always stuck with me.

First, they are referred to as "disciples," even though their beliefs and affirmations differed significantly from those of Paul (and other writers of the New Testament.)  We could learn lessons here about insisting on unanimity of thought among Jesus' disciples.  

Second, there is this whole matter of the Holy Spirit.  It is way too simple a conclusion, but it is a pattern among far too many in our culture to also give little attention to the Holy Spirit. Most of our peers focus on the second person of the Trinity - the one who responds to our desire to know and understand.  The Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) is the one who subtlety guides and directs us; the one who enters us as unannounced as the next breath we take.

We are more likely to be asked "What we believe" than we are to be asked "How do we feel?"  There is a preference (in our culture and among those whom Paul encounters in Ephesus) for what we can say about God over how the presence of God impacts our emotions and attitudes.  Some of what informs my actions in the world is what feels right - what feels like the way God would want me to act.  I don't always have a reason, or a supporting bible verse.  It is the unseen and unpredictable moving of the Spirit within my soul.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, October 2

Being in college is tough.  The pace at which information is given is brutal.  This is particularly true of entry level courses.  These tend to be taught by persons who have advanced training, persons who see these 101 type courses as mere intro to the stuff they really want to teach.  With such a mindset, it is tempting to forget that 101 is a challenge for those who are just beginning their college career.

Being in college is tough.  While we may have brought with us many of the rules and guides of our family, we are left alone to make decisions about behavior and interactions with others.  Those well-taught lessons which seemed so oppressive and overbearing in our latter high school years are no longer being enforced.  And we have to decide how to conduct our lives.

Being in college is tough.

The only hope I can offer in the midst of all this is to remind you that every burden is lighter when it is shared.  The simple act of speaking of the challenges to our friends, to our family, to our campus pastor eases so much of the weight and anxiety.  My morning prayers allow me to share with God the weight on my heart and mind and God is yet to disappoint me.  This is a gift available to you.

Being in college is tough.  Thankfully, we do not face this alone.  We have Jesus.  And we have Jesus' friends.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Devotion - Monday, October 1

I don't choose which verses of scripture I will read each morning.  I did choose, some twenty years ago, that my morning devotion would follow the Two Year Commentary for Daily Readings.

If I got to choose, I might skip some verses.  Like the one for today.

It is the third chapter of Luke's Gospel.  Jesus is just starting his public ministry.  When his word is heard, the response is "What are we to do?"  He tells those who have two coats to give one away.

I can easily say that my accumulation of possessions is much less than .... (fill in the name).....  But the reality is I have multiple coats.  It may rain today.  I may need a rain coat.  I have a green one and a blue one and another for monsoon type rain.

I get up early every morning and read my bible and send out these reflections and my day is off to a wonderful start - I have done God's bidding in such a beginning.

But I have two coats, and two pairs of Chaco's, and three autos.  

I will offer no solution this morning; I will merely state the obvious and ask for your prayers.  And I am promising to pray for you, too.  And together let us pray for those who have no coat.  And maybe tomorrow we will find a way to fix this problem.  But let's not wait for too many tomorrow's before we find that solution.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, September 27

A coffee visit yesterday reminded me of the painful experience of taking college calculus.  I was an Psychology Major.  I had no calculus or pre-calculus in high school.  I was placed in calculus because of my SAT score, which judged one's math skills based on algebra and trig.  Yesterday's conversation reminded me that I didn't even know what calculus was for!  I didn't understand the foundation question of why I would want to know these formulas and equations.

Yesterday's conversation morphed into a similar awareness of theology and Christian belief.  Too often, we discuss what is at the end, rather than what lies at the foundation.  

Later, at last night's gathering, I was asked to help understand dinosaurs and the biblical stories.  Once again I found myself backing way up to speak of the writing of the bible, rather than answer the simple question of "explain these fossils."

I know that this is one of the disconnects between the ministry I offer and the searching of students.  For most of your life, you have been trained to look at the end of the quest.  I tend to want to back up to the beginning.  There are few irrefutable affirmations in my theological construction, and they all serve as roots of what it means to believe rather than leaves which are produced by the tree's many branches.

There is nothing I love as much as aided persons who seek to examine those roots;  my prayer is that I won't frustrate or turn off those who would rather speak of the end result of the work done by the roots.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, September 26

I read the last of the Book of Job this morning,  The long conversations between Job and the three friends is brought to a conclusion when Job confesses his inability to know that which is known only to God.  Job is a righteous person; he accepts that being loved and chosen by God does not mean that he will understand all things or perceive all things.

It is the desire to know that which is known only to God which lies behind the stories in Genesis 3.  There, Eve and Adam act in an attempt to be like God in their understanding.  This is the transgression which separates them even further from God and from one another.

I wish I knew.  I long for the ability to understand.  But I cannot and I will not.  I must accept that God is God and I am not.  There are some things (many things) which I will need to leave in God's hands.  This can be frustrating; it is always humbling.  

But the One who does know is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."  So, that which is beyond me is in good hands.  With this awareness, I am returned to the way of living which existed during my childhood - I innocently and confidently left things with my parents, knowing they would decide and that they would do what was best for  me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, September 25

This morning I read John's account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.  These are the events we associate with Palm Sunday.

One of the parts of that story is Jesus riding on a donkey.

I remember in my childhood years thinking that Jesus' typical mode of transportation was to walk.  To ride would have been a treat!  The festival air of this event was also shown in the paintings that hung in our Sunday School rooms.  There were many happy faces and lots of color!  But the symbolism of Jesus' entry is one of humility.  He is hailed as "King" and "Master," and yet he is not on a powerful stallion that he rides.  It is a service animal; a non-assuming working animal.

The invitation to follow Jesus (the invitation to be like Jesus) is to be humble.  To be a servant, to be a worker.  The eternal benefits to following Jesus are summed up in the opportunity to be known as one who serves, as he has first served us.  There may be no greater compliment for a disciple than doing a helpful act and no one knowing who did it.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Devotion - Monday, September 24

I think it might be helpful to remember that in Acts 15 there is a division in "The Church."  Paul and Barnabas have been traveling together, telling the story of Jesus.  But a dispute arises between them and they decide to part ways.

Church divisions always bring hurt and anxiety, but they are not always of the devil.  Sometimes, they allow two very important perspectives to have central place among the faithful.  By understanding ourselves as one (united in Christ) Church, we have the confidence that God's message is being told best when received as a symphony involving many individual instruments.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, September 20

One of the two by two groups is reading a book titled Sabbath.   It is essential to keep space in our lives for that which isn't already on our schedule. 

How do we respond to those who have an immediate need when our lives are already over filled?

Maintain a sense of Sabbath in your life. It allows you to care for others. It allows you to care for yourself

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, September 19

Acts 14:19 informs us that Paul is stoned by the crowd, drug from the city, and assumed to be dead.

Telling the story of Jesus is not without risks.

We tell ourselves (the whole of the Christian Church tells itself) that we live in a "Christian Nation," so it is no longer risky to tell the story of Jesus.  We want to believe this, and we want to think that Jesus would be pleased with the way we live our lives and the way we tell his story.  

But Jesus tells us how narrow is the way he leads, and Jesus warns us that following his way will bring division in our homes and between our family members.

This is not an encouragement to create strive and separation, but it is an invitation to think about Jesus and about his ministry and ask questions about how we follow the way he walked.  He spoke of those who have two coats while others have none; he shared meals with those looked upon as "unclean"; and he would allow no authority to supersede the authority of his Father.

Paul was stoned and left for dead because he had experienced God's grace and followed the call to live as Jesus' follower.

This is the grace which has laid hold of us, and calls us to follow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, September 18

In the Gospel of John, those events which other gospel writers call "miracles" are called "works."  Jesus speaks of the "works" he does in the name of his Father.

Those who share this particular theological tradition askew "works."  It is something we shun - but only when there is an attempt to link our works with God's act of salvation.

But surely those who have been saved are inclined to show forth the work of the One who has redeemed us!  Let's make sure that our commitment to a theological principal does not blind us to the role God is calling us to take in the world.

I am also asking you to consider this yoking of "miracles" with "works."  Have we become too limited in our ability to see the miraculous?  Do we overlook the "work" of God's servants, because that work involves weeks or months of toil rather than the waving of a wand or utterance of some secret instructions?

Be it far from us to think that we can merit God's love by means of any work we might do.  Be it also far from us to ignore the invitation to do the work which is at hand.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Devotion - Monday, September 17

I continue to read from Job.  It is the aim of this book to be an aid in understanding why bad things happen.

In the book, there are three elderly, wise men who come to Job.  In the opening scenes, they simply sit with Job and say nothing.  From this, a writer by the name of Martin Marty took the title of his book - "A Grief Observed."  Sometimes, the best thing we can do in the face of the unimaginable is simply sit with the one who is grieving and observe.  They are often the one (as is the case with Job) who speaks the words worth hearing.

Toward the end of Job, another voice is added.  This is Elihu.  His words begin with an acknowledgement that he has not spoken earlier, because he is young.  He honors his elders, allowing them to be the ones who express wisdom.

But, Elihu is frustrated.  He has not heard wisdom.  And so he begins to speak.

In the letters of Paul, we hear encouragement for another young adult.  Paul tells him, "Do not let them despise you because of your youth."  As is spoken by Elihu, it is not years which bring wisdom but a willingness to listen and to be truthful.

There are things which we learn over time.  And it takes time (years) to master the content in many of your classes.  But wisdom does not elude you;  do not be fearful of speaking of what you know and what ought to be known.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, September 13

My readings have me in Acts 16.  This is the part of the letter where stories are repeated of those who came to "believe".  Silas and Paul have been set apart, and are traveling to various towns and sharing the story of Jesus.

As I read, I remembered the student lead devotion shared at last evening's gathering.  I appreciated greatly Sam's lifting up of the number of times and persons who struggle "to believe."  

The passage of scripture shared last evening is the one with the confession "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."  This is the tug in which we continually find ourselves.  On the one hand, we are believers - otherwise why even open an email from a campus pastor?  On the other hand, each of us must struggle with the particulars of what others have told us it means to believe, or what it is that they believe.

Above all - NEVER fear speaking of your own struggle, least of all speaking to me about it.

Now, go back to that earlier sentence:  "the particulars of what others have told us it means to believe, or what it is that they believe."

Jesus rarely uses "believe" in his invitation.  He speaks of "follow."  The exchanges he has with those whom he encounters has less to do with the finer points of what it means to believe or what is to be believed and more to do with finding oneself in the company of persons striving for the life and way of living seen in Jesus.

When the fear invades your life over whether you "believe" the right thing or believe it strongly enough, shift the question to "is following Jesus and being among Jesus' followers making it possible for me to live more fully?"

We can talk about beliefs - and we will.  But our aim is to experience the joy and comfort and hope and promise of being among those who know the power and ability of the Jesus story to put us where God wants us to be and where we desire to be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, September 12

As Hurricane Florence approaches the coast, I happen to be reading my way through Job.  

Job is all about why bad things happen.  The opening scene does involve permission being given for Satan (one of only three times in all of the Old Testament where H'satan is personified) to afflict Job.  But the remaining chapters, which are long and tedious reading, delve more deeply into why evil comes into the lives of those who God favors.

The answer to these questions differ; and each of these differing answers are biblically and theologically defensible.  Most Christians fall into one of these responses and never think to consider one of the alternatives.

Some will say, "It is all part of God's plan." Others will insert, "God chastises those whom God loves."  "Free will." is another of the replies.  And so is "One reaps what one sows."

This particular hurricane season I am hearing more about global warming and greenhouse gases and our use of fossil fuels.  The response to the horrors of what may be considered more frequent and more powerful weather events is being attributed to the way in which humans have abused the ecosystem.

I don't know whether your talk with others will end with "Is the game going to be rained out," or if they will include asking "Where is God in all this?"  But in case you do find yourself in the latter, give it some thought before hand.  Examine your thoughts and convictions.  Read Job.  Talk with me.  And if you are looking for a good read, this is the book I love to give folks:  Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy.

Above all, pray for those who are in the path of Florence.  (I sent a note to MUSC, College of Charleston, Citadel, and Coastal Carolina campus pastors that we would gladly house any students needing a place to stay - maybe you could offer a couch for a few days.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, September 11

Today is September 11.

Most of you are too  young to remember September 11, 2001.  If you do have any memories of that day, you certainly don't remember what life was like in this country before 9/11.  So much has changed.  And it breaks my heart, for your sake.

We now seem to live in a world with constant anxiety.  Knowing that we are not insulated or protected from the world's larger battles, we cannot pretend that our ocean borders will protect us.  Fearing "others," we have turned a weary eye to the two neighbors with whom we do share a physical border.

The way of the devil is to point at others.  This is what happened in the Garden of Eden.  9/11 became the permission needed to hate others for who they are, ignoring how individuals live their lives.

So much has changed.  And I am sorry that you will never know a world in which vile words and hateful actions are a part of every day life.

I do not want to minimize the depth of these realities by arriving at a simplistic conclusion.  There is not such an ending.  I will invite you to be honest and truthful and to challenge the forces of evil which seek to isolate us from neighbor and which would encourage us to turn our fear into anger.  We must do as Jesus did.  We must seek a world in which the love of God reigns - and we must live as if that world is already a reality.  We will be scoffed because of our naivete; and we might even be pressed upon for our innocent trust in others.  But such is the way of Jesus.

It is easy to follow Jesus when all is well.  It is another thing to do his will when the power of evil is loose around us.

Make time to pray this day.  Pray for the world.  Pray for those who hate.  Pray for a world in which the promises of God are received by all God's children.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Devotion - Monday, September 10

It is in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called "Christians."  We read about this in Acts 11.  Cyprus and Cyrene are the two who begin to speak of Jesus to Gentiles.  Other early witnesses spoke only to the Jews.  The efforts of Cyprus and Cyrene lead to a great number "that believed and turned to the the Lord."

Christianity has become so thoroughly associated with Western culture that we often forget its origins.  There was considerable debate as to whether Christianity ought to be an add on to Jewish faith.  The earliest followers discussed long into the nights whether a follower of Jesus had to also convert to Judaism.   

The love of God and the truth of God's Word will overcome any human obstacles, but think how differently Christianity might look had Cyprus and Cyrene (and others) not began to include Gentiles.  What if they had allowed the telling of the Jesus story to remain an in-house exchange of how those already a part of the group talked among themselves?

We face a similar question today.  As the Church seeks to understand its role in the world, do we talk among ourselves?  Defining who has a voice and vote before we start a discussion about the mission of the Church and its next steps?

We believe and teach that the Word of God shapes those who hear it and the Church which bears witness to that Word.  Listening and opening the circle lead to great things in Antioch.  Maybe doing the same will lead to great things for the Church in our time.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sermon - 16th Sunday of Pentecost - Year B


Mark 7:24-37
                                                                 All Dogs Go to Heaven

Finally, we have an answer to the age-old question which has bedeviled every parent and pet-owner from the dawn of time.  Yes, it is true, dogs do go to heaven!  Or at least one dog made it, so others have reason to think they might, too.

A “dog” is what Jesus calls this woman.  There is no way to pretend this isn’t what he said.  When she asks (when she begs) that Jesus cast out the demon from her daughter, Jesus says to her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  For all we know, he might have preferred to refer to her using the less-than-socially-acceptable slang for a female dog!  Maybe he shows some restraint; but he still goes at her rather direct.  “Get away from me, you mother of dogs!”

This is not the Jesus we are accustomed to reading about.  It is difficult to image what Jesus is thinking at this point. 

You and I might not understand the geographic references which make this encounter inevitable.  Mark is clear in stating the name of the region in which Jesus says these things.  He is in “the region of Tyre”.  Does anyone know where Tyre is?  Well, it is way up north – further north than any other recorded event in the Gospel narratives.  He is no longer in the heart of Jewish country.  And, maybe for good reason. 

Do you remember where Jesus was in last week’s reading?  He wasn’t in the heart of Jewish territories, but he was closer.  He is in Bethsaida, which just a bit north of the Sea of Galilee.  There, in Jewish country, Jesus is verbally challenged by Pharisees and scribes who had come from Jerusalem.  Jesus has to tell them it isn’t the traditions of their elders nor the convictions of their teachers which will save them.

Perhaps frustrated by these encounters with the Jewish insiders, he decides to “set out and went away.”  And where he goes to is a place where he is unlikely to meet many Pharisees or scribes or high priests or priests of any ilk.  He goes to Tyre.  He goes to the territory of Gentiles (non-believers).

He enters a house, and “did not want anyone to know he was there.”

Here is another strange thing: “He entered a house”?  Did he go to the home of someone he knew?  Or was he invited into a house by the brother of a sister to a cousin who was among his group of twelve?  Or was this house listed as the perfect Air B&B for someone looking to avoid attention while retreating to the region of Tyre?  Is this yet another hint that Jesus as to why Jesus is so insulting to this woman?  His attempts to retreat to a mountain top for solitude had failed – that is how the 5,000 came to a lonely place with no food to eat.  Maybe Jesus is looking for a break, a time away.

And this woman enters the picture.  Maybe that is why he calls her a dog. 

In trying to recast this encounter in a positive light, some biblical scholars say that Jesus was testing her.  That he didn’t mean it when he referred to her in this way, that he was making sure she was all in before he did as she asked.  That may be an acceptable explanation to those who read about the encounter from a distance of a few centuries, but I am not sure it meets my standard for acceptable behavior in the moment. 

If you have ever been present when a mother begged for the welling being of her child you know that such mothers have already been tested and are very close to the breaking point.  There is no ambiguity with regard to what they believe and what is in their hearts.  It doesn’t get Jesus off the hook to say he knew how this would turn out and just wanted the rest of us to learn from her persistence.

Others have suggested this is an expression of Jesus’ humanity.  You know, the divine-human divide.  Two natures; one person.  There are other such stories.  Like the reference to Jesus as a young lad using his divine power to win at a game of marbles.

Where I begin to draw a significant learning from this story is when it begins to teach me something about the very nature of God.  This is a notion upsetting to some – in fact speaking of this in this sanctuary a few years ago got more than a few riled up.  So let me speak more carefully this time, and ask that any part which is upsetting be discussed further when I am not the only one talking.

What if this encounter in the region of Tyre reveals to us a Jesus who is himself willing to schooled as to what his witness and his message will mean to the world?  What if this encounter allows us to see “repentance” not merely as something God seeks from us but something which is the very nature of God?

Jesus’ witness and his message are going to change the world and change the way we live in the world.  It is a simple thing to say that God loves everyone, but it is quite another thing to live out what it means to love those who do not speak the name of God or follow the traditions of God’s chosen people.  It sounds wonderful to say that everyone cares for and looks out for the wellbeing of our neighbors; it is quite another thing to give up our Saturday moving furniture into a new home for one of our Family Promise Neighbors.  The region of Tyre continues to be a region of insults.  And because some of the residents of that region speak poorly about the US, our government is about to cut off United Nations funding for the refugees living in that part of the world.

If dogs go to heaven, there are going to be more than a few unhappy cats.

The invitation to follow Jesus is gentle and calming.  What Jesus wants most for us is a happy and joy-filled life.  Following Jesus puts us on that trajectory.  But the path is fraught with the need to examine and readjust our prior assumptions.

In Tyre, Jesus himself comes face to face with this.

In reading Mark 7, we are brought face to face with it, too. 

It is not the traditions of our elders nor the convictions of our teachers which align us with the will and way of Jesus.  It is the simple decision to follow.  To follow where he will lead us.  And be forewarned - where we are lead is not always where we thought we would go.

Amen.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, September 6

Acts 10 contains a story which resounds with the same message as this coming Sunday's Gospel text:  Christians are not to an exclusive bunch!

In Acts 10, Peter has a vision.  There is set before him a feast of foods orthodox Jews were not to eat.  Peter refuses.  This feast is offered to him three times.  Finally, he hears the voice of God saying, "What I have made, no one can call unclean."  At that same moment, there arrives at his door visitors from the household of a Gentile.  They were sent to ask Peter to come to the home of this man.

The story this Sunday is of a Gentile woman who comes to ask Jesus to hear her sick daughter.  There is some back and forth; but Jesus admires this woman and does as she asks.

We are too fast to allow our gut reactions to rule the interaction we will have with others.  Our brain's quick analysis and assumptions stand in the way of a reasoned response and openness to what might be possible should we wait and listen and see where God is leading us.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, September 5

Clemson University ignores Labor Day.  Classes are not cancelled; professors are in their offices; and staff persons are carrying out their tasks.  

And we all miss the opportunity to reflect on what it means to "labor."

The work we do has meaning beyond earning us a paycheck.  The labor of our hands adds to the creating and maintaining an ordered society in which each of God's children are cared for and valued.  We work to see the common good of all elevated.

Some of us will set our sites on a particular career and move into that type of work.  Others of us will find a job and then discover how it accomplishes our hopes.  What is essential is that we look at our labor with the same eyes as we look at other aspects of our daily lives - how is this reflecting my hope and trust in Jesus?

What we do matters.  It matters to God; it matters in God's world.  Reflecting on such topics matters, too.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Devotion - Monday, September 3

Yesterday was the Tubing Trip.  We load up the van (and 2 cars) and drive over to Helen, GA, and float down the Chattahoochee River. It is a lot of fun.

We didn't pause as often as we could have to give thanks for the river, for the trees, for the blue sky above us.  But it was obvious how much each was appreciated.  The simplicity of "floating along" took away all the complications of daily routines.  I am not among those who want to shout "Put your phone away!"  But that also happened.  

One of the things I noted was the diversity of the folks floating with us.  There were many Spanish speakers.  Persons who seemed to be from India.  And there were two groups whose words reminded me of Swahili I heard in Tanzania.  You get very close to your fellow floaters.  Bumping their tubes, helping them over rocks, listening to their conversations as you float within arms length of their tubes.  In my prayers, I imaged a world in which we all realized ourselves to be floating down the Chattahoochee.  At peace with the world as God has made it; bumping into others - helping them and appreciative of their assistance in getting our tube over the shallow spots and rocks.

We only go tubing once a year. Maybe we should go more.  I hope those who went yesterday will today image their life story somewhat differently.  I pray they will retain the calm and beauty which was God's gift to us yesterday.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, August 30

John 6:16-27 tells the story of Jesus crossing the sea without the benefit of a boat.  (There is a reason for me to speak of that event this way - which you will soon learn.)

Jesus and his disciples are being pressed by the crowd.  Jesus has just fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fish and he fears they will come and take him by force and make him "king."  So the disciples go down to the sea, get into a boat and started to cross to Capernaum.  "It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them."

The wind is against them, and they have rowed for three or four miles.  Then, "they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat."

When this story is told, we are inclined to say, "Jesus walked on the water."  Such reads those sometimes helpful (but sometimes misleading) chapter headings in my digital bible.  But Matthew, Mark, and John (there is no such story in Luke) all are clear that Jesus is "walking on the sea."

The sea has water, but it is more.  The sea was a fearful place for travelers.  Its depths were impenetrable.  The "Leviathan" lived there and devoured whole ships.  There was more worry associated with the sea than simply drowning.

Jesus walks on "the sea."

I always want to acknowledge how simple these email messages are.  There are fears and threats which do loom large and should not be ignored.  I write these email messages in order to point out how some have responded to fears and threats.  That response is to speak of how God has "walked on" these things and proven to us that they can be overcome and kept in their place.

What flaming arrows are coming your way?  What anxieties do you face?  Jesus walks over them all.  And will walk with you.

Pastor Chris

PS.  Let me site my sources for this insight to sea and water.  There is a weekly podcast, produced by two campus pastors.  One of them is Zach, an LCM-C Alumni; Matt is the other host.  It is called "Vinyl Preacher."  I encourage you to listen to it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, August 29

This morning I read John 6:1-15.  This is John's sharing of the events in which 5,000 were fed with five barley loaves and two fish.

There are many things which could be said about this story, but this morning I would speak to you about abundance.  These few loaves and fish did not seem to be enough - but they were.

We are too easily overcome with worry or anxiety with regard to scarcity.  We lack the confidence that we will have enough.  The feeding of the 5,000 is the Church's retelling of it's experience that there is plenty, and even baskets full of fragments to spare.

This story is about food.  Food is very important and may be the thing (next to water) which we need to have.  But the story also lends itself to address other needs in our lives.  It speaks to God's ability to overcome scarcity in other quarters of our life.

I am not naive enough to pretend there aren't real shortages in the world.  And I do not intend to add to the anxiety of those who find themselves lacking.  I offer this story and this reminder that God is prepared and continually looking for ways to provide.  This may be manna that falls from heaven, or it might the aid of a fellow disciple.  Look for this assistance and receive it.  When it is needed in your life, acknowledge and ask that it might be overcome.

God is generous and gracious.  He does provide.