Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, February 20

I have not commented on the horrors which unfolded last Wednesday in Florida.  Please do not think this is because I didn't notice or don't think it worthy of discourse.  But what happened at that school last week was wrong; it was an outburst of evil.

I am grateful to the news sources which have consistently avoided naming the young man who carried the gun.  It is a good thing that I can't at this moment remember his name.  No fame needs to be given - ever.  But my heart breaks for him.  That he felt this was the way to be noticed; that he believed this to be a path which would fill the voids in his life.

Those who were terrorized by these events are surely innocent victims.  Victims of the shooter, but also victims of a society and a culture in which this has become such a common outlet for terrorism.  

Among the survivors of the shooting are many who are becoming vocal and politically active.  I am heartened by their efforts and pray that those who "despise their youth" (I Timothy 4:12) will not be able to silence them or shame them or belittle their voices.  

I cannot simply close my eyes and pretend that we live in a world without violence.  And, when violence occurs it is difficult not to respond in kind.  The Jesus story teaches us that we do not have to return hatred for hatred.  The way of Jesus sets aside our own interests for those of the greater good.

It would be a great world if some could have powerful guns and no such guns were to end up being used to murder.  Bu I can't close my eyes and pretend that that world exists, either.

The pattern of violence on display in Florida last week may be the new norm.  The world has momentum on its side and it is a tough challenge to stop its spinning.  Maybe the political action committees will arrive at a resolution.  

Those who follow Jesus already know how to stop it.  We just need the faith to live it into reality.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Devotion - Monday, February 19

I spent the weekend with a few of our Clemson students, and a lot of high school students.  The event was the 11th and 12th grade retreat for LCY in SC Synod.

In our small group, the students spoke of such events as a safe place, as a place were they are accepted and welcomed.  The retreat was a "no-judgement" zone in which they could be themselves and not face criticism.

I was particularly impressed by the comments of one young woman who said, "High school is hard."  I could see in her eyes the emotion associated with that evaluation.

One of the ways I attempted to make my presence felt was to encourage them to carry the "retreat mindset" back home with them.  To exists, in so far as they are able, in a "retreat bubble" in which they would avoid harsh comments and in which they could continue to practice acceptance and understanding.

But I know this is difficult to do.  Even among the best of persons.

Martin Luther's explanation to the 8th commandment encourages us to "interpret our neighbor's actions in the kindest of ways."  When we find ourselves inclined to criticize or poke fun, we are to pause and remember that the one of whom we are about to speak is also a beloved child of God.

This is a difficult thing to do.  And, sadly, we too often fail.  The sense of "being away from the real world" evaporates and we too quickly become like all the other kids at our school.  But, surely, this is not what God would want us to do.  God would want us to make every encounter a non-judgement encounter.  And God would ask of us to see each of His children the way He sees them.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, February 15

This morning I was reading from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest.  He speaks of God's desire for us.  "It is a snare to image that God wants to make us perfect specimens of what He can do; God's purpose is to make us one with Himself."

The images a child forms of what it means to be a Christian will naturally include morality and a code of ethics.  We are incapable of abstract thought, so we move to a level which we can understand.

Hopefully, as we mature (scripture speaks of eating meat rather than only drinking milk) we will begin to understand that we are striving to something different that obeying a particular set of rules.

Again, from O Chambers:  Christian perfection is not, and never can be, human perfection.  Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship to God .... God is not after perfecting me to be a specimen in His show-room;  He is getting me to the place where He can use  me.

May your Lenten journey affirm your identity as a child of God; might it encourage you to strengthen that identity; and may you become more useful to the God whose purpose is to extend grace.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Devotion - Shrove Tuesday

I don't mean to say that no one is to have any fun during Lent.  The traditions and customs for the Lenten season are intended to be an aid to furthering one's spiritual journey.  We are not to rob ourselves of all joy; but we might use these next 40 days as an opportunity.

Mardi Gras, has become too much of a cultural party, with no connection to its origins nor to the days which come afterwards.  Again, I don't mean to say that having fun is a bad thing.  But it does break my heart to see so many exploiting this day for self-centered reasons.  If the observance of this "Fat Tuesday" were followed up by an equal dedication to the Lenten season which follows, I would be all for it!

As I have done for practically every Shrove Tuesday in my life - I will gather with other Lutherans for pancakes this evening.  We sometimes have parlor games.  We have had talent shows.  In Chicago there were skits - "Feast of Fools" we called it.  The gathering is an acknowledgement of God's goodness, of the fatness of the land and of the rich foods I eat practically every day.  But I also hope it is a bit of a covenant-making ceremony.  Those who come to UniLu's fellowship hall tonight will be saying to one another that we intend to observe these days of preparation and that we would appreciate some support as we do so.  There might even be the request that we remind one another, during these 40 days, of the Lenten journey and our own commitment to the Lenten disciplines.

I don't mean to rob these days of all happiness.  What I strive for is a full and complete revealing of the joy which is ours as a result of being connected to the Messiah who enters our world and shares our lives and dies our death.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Devotion - Monday, February 12

A corner is turned.  Yesterday's observance of Transfiguration Sunday has altered our path and our view.

In the earlier chapters of the gospels, Jesus is traveling and preaching and healing and gathering a following.  In the chapters which follow, he will get serious.  He will begin to tell them about Jerusalem and what will happen there.  He tries to let the know that the powers-that-be will turn on him, and so will the crowds.  He even says that many of them will leave, too.

I have the words of Peter continually ringing in my ears, "Lord, you have the words of eternal life.  To whom can we go?"  My experience of God's goodness is powerful and complete.  I cannot imagine myself not following him.

But I am also aware of how following him means my path is altered and my view refocused.

Every morning I must go through the essential process of lifting to God the things on my list, and then listening for God to comment on each and most often to add other stuff.  Every day I need to critique and re-evaluate the route I had been projecting for myself.  And I need to be looking for mistakes made the previous day which need confession and amends.

I am eager to turn this corner.  I am prepared for the season of Lent to begin.  In whatever way is possible, I hope to assist you in getting ready as well.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sermon - Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 9:2-9     

                                                                     What Do You See?



Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is observed every year; every year.  It is always the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, the final Sunday before the start of Lent. 

I just read the story to you.  I am going to hope you remember what happens.  There is an account of this event in each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke).  John has no accounting, but it is widely assumed this is the reference in John 1:14.  Peter does write about the Transfiguration – in 2 Peter 1:16-18.

Pretty powerful stuff.  And significant to the story of Jesus and his time among the disciples.

We did just read the story.  So I had rather not use precious time to retell it - unless you were distracted earlier and or couldn’t hear.  Are we okay?  Each of you do have a printed copy, in your bible or bulletin.  Keep it open, and you can refer back to is as necessary.

So, it is safe to assume that you have the sequence of events registered: in short-term memory if not in long-term?

Okay.  Then rather than pick at the bit and pieces of the story, what I would like for us to do in these next nine minutes is to ask what impact this story might have on us and the way that we will conduct ourselves when we come down off whatever mountain the experience of Jesus has taken us.

Okay?

Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before the start of Lent.  We will talk more about Lent when Lent gets started – come on Wednesday night and you will get a good introduction.  Transfiguration Sunday is the final Sunday of the season of Epiphany. 

In a sermon a few weeks ago I pointed out that Epiphany is all about “seeing.”  The word in Greek might be more accurately translated as “reveal.”  It is the translating of this Greek word into old French that brings us the current English translation of “Epiphany.”

“Epiphanies” are spoken of in places other than in Church.  There will be mentions of “an epiphany”, or insight coming to someone and leading to scientific discovery.  An “epiphany” may lie at the base of a dramatic change of heart or course of action.

The Christian Church’s season of Epiphany is all about revealing the true nature of the one who is born in Bethlehem.  Help in seeing this scrawny little boy as the Son of God is necessary.  Born to simple laborers.  Born to an unwed mother.  Born in a borrowed outhouse.  A refuge forced to flee to Egypt and then carried back across the border in way as to avoid encountering the legal authorities.  We have a story about him being in the Temple as a child of 10, but there is no mention of his attending Rabbinic school or of his having been advanced in his studies by a qualified teacher.

The Christian Church’s season of Epiphany gives us a chance to see – to see the true nature of the scrawny little boy born in the back-water village of Bethlehem.

At the end of this season, and these efforts, we observe Transfiguration Sunday.  One last try to make sure that we see.  One more attempt to cast a bright spotlight upon one whose identity is difficult to comprehend and whose presence is a challenge to accept.

So, what do we see?  What is revealed? 

Turn to someone sitting beside you.  (Make sure to look for the persons sitting alone who might not have an obvious talking partner.)  Share with your neighbor what is revealed – to the disciples of Jesus, to you – on this mountain top.  I am only going to give you a minute – so start now!

As you depart this morning, you can share your insights – or what you learned from your discussion partner.  What I want to say is that I hope you were more impressed than Peter, James, and John.  They didn’t see very clearly.  And so I pray that you didn’t fall into a similar trap – one which clinches shut their hearts and limits their reactions.

You kept your bibles open – right?  Look at verse 6.  Peter - who is always the one who says what most of the rest of Jesus’ disciples are thinking – wants to build three booths (dwellings/tents).   Already on the Jewish liturgical calendar is an occasion when dwellings are built.  It is called Sukkot – and observed in the fall of the year, around the time of the conclusion of the harvest. 

Peter’s reacts to God’s attempt to reveal who Jesus truly is, by looking for a way to tuck this revelation into a habit and a tradition already popular among him and his fellow believers.

Let me say that one more time:  Peter’s reacts to God’s attempt to reveal who Jesus truly is, by looking for a way to tuck this revelation into a habit and a tradition already popular among him and his fellow believers.

Isn’t there something wrong with his trying to do this?

Isn’t there something equally wrong if we were to attempt to do this?

Transfiguration Sunday comes every year – every year.  It isn’t on the calendar because we aren’t sure if congregants will have remembered the story from twelve months ago.  It is on the calendar to force us to see – to see clearly – the dazzling thing that God is doing – IS DOING, not merely did once upon a time.

Transfiguration Sunday comes every year – every year.  It is an attempt and an invitation to totally and unequivocally reject any attempt to tuck the word of God and the work of Jesus into our pre-existing habits and traditions.

What does it say in verse 3 – “dazzling white, such as no one (no fuller) on earth could bleach them.”  Mark isn’t referring to the efforts of a laundress; he is saying that no one – no teacher, no preacher, no historian, no theologian, no Sunday School Teacher, or no parent – can reveal or expose what God makes known.

Transfiguration Sunday come every year – every year.  And every time it comes we are presented the opportunity to set aside our habits and traditions and assumptions and seek to see, strive to perceive, attempt to glimpse what God wants to make known.

Too often, we skip over Transfiguration.  We allow ourselves to remain stuck in the convictions and confessions which have proven to be so popular among others.  Too often, we pay lip service to Transfiguration.  And we fail to allow the brightness of Christ’s light to expose the darkness of our self-centered and self-serving self-justifications.


Amen.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, February 8

During our program last night, I got some perplexed looks when I pointed out that in the earliest of the early church those who joined also sold their possessions and put the money into a common treasury.  I repeated this, and then made sure to ask, "Do you believe that this is in the Bible?"  Some accounts, in the Bible, are difficult to swallow.

I read another one this morning.  In Romans 12:21.  "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink."  I am not making this up - you can fact-check me!

The culture in which we live attempts to teach us to be quick in our labeling the other as an "enemy" and then opposing them in every way.  We are encouraged to place blame upon the stranger or the alien or the one whose outlook upon the world differs from our own.  We speak of a loosely defined "way of life" as if it were the blessed community itself.

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink."  Paul goes on to point out that in so doing, we place a burden upon the other, a burden of "hot coals," which is the only hope for the evil, the anger, or whatever it is that makes the other oppose us to be burned away and thus the person purified.  It is God, God's Word, and God's Word lived out through us which will allow the other to also come to understand how destructive it is to harbor hatred for any of God's children.

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink."  This is the kind of world I want to live in.  In so far as it is possible, I will live such a world into being.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, February 7

Jacob and Esau are the two sons of Isaac.  Jacob is the younger, but through a series of events, he becomes the greater of the two - something that was not supposed to happen in their day and place.

Among the bible stories you might want to know, is the story of Jacob "stealing" the blessing that Isaac was about to give to Esau.  It is in Genesis 27.

I won't recount the series of events here - I have a different message this morning.  Knowing the story will help you understand my point, but I will not assume you do remember all the details.

Isaac is fooled into thinking that Jacob is Esau.  Isaac then gives his blessing to Jacob, thinking he is blessing Esau.  When the betrayal is revealed, both Isaac and Esau lament that there is nothing that can be done.  The blessing has been given.

A parent's blessing is very important.  Having the assurance of our parent's confidence in us means so very much.  Many of us receive this gift; too many of us do not.  And, when it does not come there is a huge hole in our lives.  I know this from the conversations I have with many of you.  And I lift it up this morning in order to assure you that I am praying for you and for this void.

The story in Genesis 27 helps me to understand that a parent's blessing is a very real thing.  It is not merely some words or some emotions - it is a "thing."  When Issac gives this blessing to Jacob, it cannot be taken back.  It is as if he handed him a precious gem or parcel of land.  The blessing of words is as real as any item we might want to give to another.

The lack of a parent's blessing in our lives is addressed when we gather as God's people.  Our Heavenly Father is ever ready to bless and to affirm.  And, as is true with the blessings of our earthly parents, the blessing of this heavenly parent is also a very real thing.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, February 6

There is a story in John 7 which is often titled "The Woman Caught in Adultery."  This story illustrates how easily we see the faults of others while minimizing our own transgressions.

This woman is brought to Jesus.  The self-righteous persons who expose her guilt point out that the punishment called for in their law is stoning.  They ask Jesus what should be done.  He says, "Let the person without sin cast the first stone."  Slowly, they all walk away.

We can easily see in the lives of another those things which we consider transgressions.  It is more of a challenge to see them in our own lives.  At least part of this is when we look at ourselves we see the complexity of the action or situation.  We know the shades of grey or reasons why things are not as simple as they may seem.  We don't have this perspective on the actions of others.  We can't.  We are not them.  But, as Jesus' words point out we could slow down and think before we condemn.  We could consider the complexity rather than merely respond to that which is on the surface.

There are evil and hateful and inappropriate behaviors.  These need to be and must be condemned.  But not at the expense of compassion and care and grace.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Devotion - Monday, February 5

Hebrews 16 ends with these words:  "Share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God"

We had a wonderful discussion at yesterday's Leadership Team meeting.  It was about service.  Particularly whether serving others is important to who we are as a ministry group.  

The nature of college life makes it way to easy to look to some later time in our lives when we will do things like serve others or share what we have.  This sets up a habit, a habit of always thinking "I will be able to do that later."

The life of a Christian is to be marked by serving others.  Jesus makes this very clear.  Sharing what you have is pleasing to God.  Sharing what you have is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

How can you share your time, your energy, your skills?  How can you share your spirit, your vision of life, your sense of joy?  And getting in the regular habit of sharing your money starts now.

Sharing what we have also reminds us that what we have is a gift from God, shared with us.  As Christians we view possessions as that over which God has asked us to be stewards.  Good stewardship means making the best use of the things God has entrusted to us.

Share.  Share what you have.  And do not wait for some organized service project to be active in serving.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, February 1

I have found myself in several conversations about heaven and hell.  Thankfully, one who overheard a bit of what I was saying to someone else came to me for clarification - about what it was that I had said.  I wonder (and worry) that others might have also overheard and might be confused or disturbed by my quick comments or thoughts.

This will not become a ten page paper on the subject.  But allow me to share a bit.

The lectionary has me reading Hebrews.  I read this morning 12:1-2, where we get these words:  "let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."

Looking to Jesus is a much better way to express my confidence and my hope.  Luther used a word for sin which suggested turning attention to oneself (gazing at their own belly-button.)  

My life in Christ is so wonderful.  Faith has filled me with joy and happiness and purpose.  I will look to Jesus, with the confidence of what he has already done for me and trust that it will be no different when I die.  I might be tempted to take a side-glance or to turn at look at my own navel, but joy and happiness and purpose are clearer when I look to Jesus and trust all things to him.

Heaven or hell is not as large of a concern for me as is finding it possible this day to set aside every weight and sin.