Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, October 31

Micah is one of the "Minor Prophets."  The message of this book is God's call to social justice.  It has several popular verses, including "They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks."  And, "Neither shall they learn war any more."

We forget how often the scriptures speak against violent conflict.  We have learned war so well that we assume it is necessity of life.  We do not hear the call of God as an invitation to live life in a way which is less concerned about protecting what we have and more focused on enabling others to live.

Over time, we all gravitate to those portions of the Bible which reinforce what we want to think it means to follow Jesus;  as time passes, we ignore the parts of the Bible which critique or condemn the sins of which we are most guilty.  This ought not to be so.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, October 30

I don't know what to say about the thought I need to share with you this morning.  The attacks at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh demands that we speak, and I will try.

And let's not forget that that attack was but one of several which happened over the weekend.

At the Mens' Group last night, we acknowledged how rare it is for there to be honest and open talk; how it seems impossible to be heard.  Maybe that is where we need to start - maybe we need to listen.  But, it is tough to sit still and listen to talk which even allows for the labeling of others.

It does seem that those who espouse hate have been emboldened and that they have managed to shift the understanding of what it means to be the victim.  

It is no small thing to pray.  To pray for those who are murdered simply for believing something different than their murderer.  To pray for a generous understanding of who is my neighbor and for a stronger commitment to loving neighbor.  And to pray for a more civil society in which the work and merits of one person are not elevated by demeaning another.

Pray.  Maybe this is a time which will remind us that our work is not sufficient; that only Jesus can cure an illness of this magnitude.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Devotion - Monday, October 29

The devotion guide I follow has started me reading through The Revelation to St. John.  I am likely to write a few pieces about this, so allow me to offer less of a devotion this morning and a bit of an introduction to this book of the bible.

First, it is "The" revelation.  There are not multiple; there are not many.  There is one.  And what is revealed to John is God's victory over evil.  In the mid 1800's, it became popular to read this book differently.  It was transformed from a celebration of how no forces of evil can oppose God into some sort of a prediction of future events.

While God's ability and readiness to destroy those who oppose and harm God's people remains and we are likely to see expressions of this in the future, The Revelation is an affirmation that while John might worry or suffer, God is the one and only sovereign.  The Revelation came as a word of comfort and assurance for John.  It has been a comfort and assurance for God's people ever since.

Now - there are warnings in The Revelation.  Those who thwart God's ways are crushed.  My suggestion is that if The Revelation frightens you, consider why.  Those who drink their wine from bowls don't fare well.  Neither do those who dwell in ivory palaces.  And certainly those who accept as primary any identity other than "servant of God" are asked whether it is wise to speak first of our membership in some social group or ethnic identity or nationality.

The Revelation to St. John is full of images and references which we are unlikely to catch.  Don't get lost in these.  Read for the overall message; read it in one setting.  And I would love to hear your reaction.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, October 25

I have had the luxury of spending the last three days in the company of my SC colleagues.  I failed to mention this on Monday - that I would not be able to send you a reflection these two days.

The bible study leader helped us to hear the words of I Peter.  

I Peter is all about how we see ourselves and how we understand the order of things.  Written to slaves and the unacknowledged in society, I Peter speaks of the order which frees everyone and acknowledges that God sees and knows.  Those who create their own structures are inclined to ignore or fail to see God's way.

This is an appropriate read for us at this time in our lives and in our world.  Sisters and brothers, our culture is forgetting the order God has shown us; the order into which we have been invited to live.

The first and only identity which matters is the name "child of God."  Anything else which might be said about us can only be said AFTER this prime name is spoken.  And yet, in our daily encounters, other titles are given and other titles are given more weight.  

This cannot be so among the followers of Jesus.  When we see the other we see only the presence of Jesus.  When we consider the place of another we know only that they have a place at the communion rail.

It is time for us to learn how to bring along side our southern tendency of not upsetting others our Christian vocation of being the presence of Jesus.

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.


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.