Thursday, November 15, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, November 15

When asked to serve as a reference for one of you, the questions often include one similar to "Accepts critiques well".  I understand why a potential employer would want to know this.  It is helpful to be able to share places where improvement would be beneficial.  Helpful both to the job and also to the person being reviewed.

I was reading Zephaniah 3 this morning.  The prophet says, "Woe to her that is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city!  She listens to no voice, and she accepts no correction."

Among the "one another" sayings of Jesus is "Admonish one another."  Jesus asks this of his followers, so that we might each aid the other in more accurately reflecting the faith that is in us.  Jesus assumes that any of his followers who prefer to know, when their actions/words/attitudes were hurting or harming others.

Accepting criticism - being open to admonish - these are good characteristics to have.

It is tough - even for your campus pastor - to know whether my suggestions to you will be received well.  We live in a world where criticism is too often harsh and demeaning.  We are encouraged to live isolated lives and be subservient to no one.

Do not allow yourself to become like the defiled city in Zephaniah's prophecy.  Be open to and accept and request input from others.  Ask them to help you live the way of Jesus, in which we help one another discover the ways in which our lives to not reflect the faith that is in us.  And we alter the way we act/speak/think.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Devotion- Wednesday, November 14

Happy Thanksgiving!  Today is our LCM Thanksgiving Celebration.  With classes cancelled next Wednesday-Friday, this Wednesday becomes our opportunity to gather and give thanks.

And we do have much to be thankful for.

We have each other.  We have a gathering of persons which becomes a community.  We have a place and a time and a location where we can just show up and there will be others there waiting for us.  We can come every time the doors open, or only occasionally as our schedule permits.  But there will be others there.  And while we may not find ourselves at the center of this sub-grouping or another, we do have a place and we are a part.

We have others.  Others who are looking out for us.  Richard Delap will cook our turkeys tonight.  He started doing this when his daughter was in LCM.  That was about 10 years ago.  We have him and dozens of others who give of their time and energy just so they can be around you and with you as your journey through these years.

We have those intangibles.  Things like peace and joy and confidence.  The community of Jesus is the reservoir out of which these gifts flow.  They are always available.  They are handed out freely and continually.  

Yes, we have many reasons to be thankful.  Thankful for the opportunity to be in college and for the chance to expand our world and our worldview.  And so, we will gather to give thanks.  This evening, and every day of our lives.  God is good and God is good to us.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, November 13

I do enjoy reading The Revelation.  This morning I am in the 14th chapter.  Image after image reminds the reader that God is the one who reigns in the heavens and that God's justice finds its way into the earth.

In reply to one of my less-then-cheerful devotions, a friend replied "Are you alright?"  There have been some troubling days of late; troubling to me mostly because of my deep love and concern for you and your generation.  This friend's email redirected my attention to the affirmations of The Revelation - we may be pressed but never destroyed; we may be injured but never defeated.

The graphic images in The Revelation remind us that the way may be difficult and the opposition strong, but they are no match for God's Word and for God's will.

I don't know the tone of your day thus far, but I share with you the gift given to me this cold and rainy morning - God's angles will proceed from the Temple and from around the altar.  They will carry out God's will and they will bring to us the gifts of the God who loves us and cares for us and provides for us.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Devotion - Monday, November 12

It seems to finally be turning cold.  Fall has been very warm this year; I have longed for cool mornings and signs of frost.

Winter is a season of rest; a time when the tress and grasses can replenish and renew.  Winter is a season of slower activity and a time when the fruit tree isn't expected to be producing.

It is a good time of the year.  For these reasons.

Unfortunately for you, this season begins as you are hitting these last weeks of class.  While the earth is becoming dormant, you are cranking up.  I lament this for you - and realize it may prevent  you from receiving the gifts associated with a season of rest.  So, I write to you of such things.

And I remind you that none of God's creatures were designed to be constantly working.  Each evening's sleep is the most immediate reminder of this.  You have have similar reminders when you become burdened or overwhelmed.  You may long for the rest of a dormant season.

There is no solution I can offer you.  I wish I could give you a ticket to a place of rest.  I will remind  you of the importance of rest and renewal and I would support you as you find opportunities to give your body and your spirit the breaks needed.  At the very least, be mindful of this.  Make one of your walks between classes a mini-Sabbath by observing the dropping leaves and the approaching winter clouds.

It is cool this morning.  A good reminder of how God has made this earth and how God cares for that which has been created.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sermon - 25th Sunday after Pentecost - Year B

I Kings 17:8-16 & Mark 12:38-44   

Giving All That We Have 

            They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation. (Mark 12:40)  Isn’t that a horrible image?  It is the kind of verse I hate hearing, let alone having to read in public and then preach on (or try preach around.)  “They will receive the greater condemnation.”   How is that possible anyway?  Isn’t condemnation condemnation?  What could Jesus possibly mean?

            Considering that the gospel moves immediately from Jesus’ announcement of the greater condemnation to story of the widow and her mite, I would sure be nervous if I hadn’t already figured out what my pledge was going to be for the coming year.  What if I give too much?  Putting me in the category of those who put on a great show and receive that greater condemnation?  What if I put in too little, thus failing to meet the standard established by this poor old widow?  These verses will no doubt be in the back of your mind as you place your offering in the passing plate.  And I would be really careful - if I were you.  Condemnation is bad enough - I hate to think what greater condemnation must be like.  Too much and you might be grouped with the showy scribes, who like to walk around in long robes.  Too little and you may fail the test of the widow’s mite, giving instead out of your abundance.

            Of course Jesus isn’t concerned with our plan for giving.  He’s not actually concerned with the amount we put in the offering plate.  The thing which matters to Christ is what is etched into the fabric of our lives.  That is what he is observing, as he sits next to the temple treasury.  He sees, not the amount of the gifts placed in the pot, but what the gift says about the person who gives it.

            If you watch what people do, you can learn a lot about them.  Observing behaviors reveals to you what a person is made of, how they are put together, what they consider to be important.  Watching differs greatly from making assumptions.  We can make assumptions quickly, but watching takes time.  Observing behaviors over a period of time allows you to see folks commit not only one act but several. 

            We don’t want to jump to conclusions as to how we are to interpret this gospel lesson.  Jesus’ condemnation is not of rich folks.  Jesus is not saying that the wealthy should withhold their abundant gifts.  I have to point out - if for no other reason than the sake of my own livelihood - that much of what God hopes to accomplish in the world can only be accomplished when those of us in the wealthiest quarter of the human population give generously of what we have first received.  So don’t jump to the conclusion that Jesus is condemning all rich folks.

            Don’t make assumptions; don’t jump to conclusions.  Watch, watch and learn, and then comment on what is observed.  This is what Jesus does as he sits next to treasury in the temple.  He watches, he learns and he makes comments on what he sees.

            What he sees allows him to speak of the difference between those for whom God is a sideline or hobby and those for whom faith in God forms the core of their existence.  Jesus observes that many who come into the temple behave as if they could take or leave this whole God thing.  They make no sacrifice unto the Lord; they view their gifts as little more than charity, cast in the direction of the less fortunate. 

            As he is watching all this, Jesus sees the widow entering the temple.  She has a much different attitude.  She comes, bringing all that she has, and presents it to God.  For her, God is no sideline or hobby; God is the one upon whom she is utterly dependent.

            What would Jesus see, learn and comment on if he were to watch us as we make our way through a typical day, or week?  What would Jesus deduce were he to follow the ushers along each row and watched, as each envelope was placed in the offering plate?  It doesn’t bother us too much, to read what went on in some temple in ancient Israel.  But think of the risk of having him look over our shoulders here, today.

            This is not a legalistic question.  Jesus doesn’t watch to see what folks place in the treasury and then calculate whether that gift equals a tithe of one’s income.  Jesus merely watches, sees what we do, and comments on what the gifts say about the giver.  What do our gifts say - about us?
             What value do you place upon your faith?  Do you think of your church involvement as fire insurance?  When we take out a fire insurance policy we figure out the minimum coverage needed so as minimize our premium payment.  Do you think of your gifts to the church as a retainer, similar to that you would give a lawyer so you can have access to their services?  Only in this case we are retaining access to the church should we need a wedding, baptism, funeral or something of the sort? 

            Our relationship with God is not fire insurance.  Our offerings are not a retainer.  Our relationship with God forms the core of our existence or it is of little value.

            When Jesus watches the worshipers place their gifts in the treasury what he observes is the value each person places upon their relationship with God.  The widow’s two copper coins are a powerful statement about her attitude toward the one called Lord.

            I wonder if this widow had heard the story of the widow of Zarephath - the story that we read as our first lesson for today.  In that story the widow is sought out - Elijah goes looking for her.  When he finds her, she is gathering firewood in order to cook her last meal. 

            She does not resist Elijah’s request to feed him first. She obeys, even though she has no reason to trust his promise that the flour will never give out.  She makes him a cake first, and then she feeds herself and her son.

            We are not told how long Elijah stays with this widow - but for as long as he is there, the jar of meal was not emptied, and neither did the jug of oil fail.  So long as she was providing for Elijah, the woman was able to provide for herself and her son.

            The wonderful twist in this story is the way in which God takes care of this woman.  God provides for her by sending to her someone that she could care for.  She provides for Elijah.  She trusts that God will take care of her.  So long as she takes care of Elijah; God takes care of her.

            I think I am about to decide that the greater condemnation is being trapped in the fear that we have to take care of ourselves.  Might the greatest of all condemnations be being alone as we face a bleak future?  If we stand alone in our prosperity, we will certainly feel alone in our distress. The widow of Zarephath did not face a very promising future, but she was willing to take on the burden of caring for another. I am about to decide that the greater condemnation is the fear which leads us to think that our primary task is to take care of ourselves.

            I love the post-communion prayer, included in the Now the Feast liturgy.  It reads, “Gracious Lord, give us courage to share our bread.”  It does take courage to share our bread.  It took a lot of courage for the widow to put her two coins in the treasury. 

I don’t intend to leave you with a guilty conscience this morning - what I really want is to persuade you to pray for courage, for the courage it takes to share.  I remain convinced that those with such courage never experience want.  Like the widow of Zarephath so long as we care for another we are also cared for.  Pray for this courage.  And I promise you that condemnation (the common everyday kind or the kind Jesus calls the greater condemnation) will never come into your life.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, November 8

As we planted our 500th Anniversary of The Reformation Sister Tree last night, I told you one of the reasons was to show our dedication to "hope."  When Luther made his comment about what he would do if this day was his last, he showed his hope in God's providence by replying, "Plant a tree."  We lift up and aspire to a similar level of confidence that God is with us and that God's ends will prevail.

I also shared with you last night how deeply worried I am - for y'all.  I have a few years left on this earth, but you have many decades.  I worry, that those decades might not be as joy-filled and as prosperous as the decades of my youth and young adult life.  

This morning, I woke to the news of another shooting.  Everyone of these hits home in some way; this one because it was in a dance hall adjacent to our Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks, California.  Social media will kick into action in the next few hours and we will know if any Pacific Lutheran students were among the victims.  Pepperdine and CSU Channel Islands are also close by.

I want to avoid the temptation for the tone of this reflection to turn into a call to action.  There are things which can be done and must be done, but that is not what consumes my heart this morning.  I am worried, I am sick, I am heartbroken - for you.  

I planted that tree last night, and I will continue to speak loudly and passionately of my hope and trust in God's goodness and God's grace.  I will.  

I will also assure you that you have my heart and you have my prayers and you have my ear.  My years on this earth are drawing short.  The years with which I have been blessed have brought a confidence and a calm which I will eagerly share with you, should that be helpful to you as you make your way through these troubled times, the endless batter of disrespectful speech, and senseless acts of hatred of others.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, November 7

As I began reading though The Revelation to St. John, I wrote that this book is often misunderstood.  It is a message of hope and promise.

This was illustrated in the verses for today - Chapter 12:1-6.  There appears a woman "clothed with the sun."  She is about to give birth.  Another portent appears, a red dragon, which is attempting to devour her child.  Spoiler alert:  this doesn't happen.  The child is caught up to God; the woman is whisked away into safety.

The red dragon does damage; with his tail he sweeps down "a third of the stars of heaven."  But he cannot touch the child.

Let me say again - The Revelation is a message of encouragement.  The images and sub-narratives fit into this whole.  Those stars which are swept away are a loss.  But the image at the center of the story is untouched.  God's protection is experienced.

What portents are appearing in our day?  What causes us to fret for God's children and God's promise to the earth?  The red dragons are fierce and can do tremendous damage, but the child and its mother are caught up to God.

Do not fear; and do not be afraid.  God is with us and will lift us.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Devotion - November 1

Today is All Saints' Day.  Many congregations will observe All Saints' Sunday this weekend.  All Saints' is a day to fulfill several objectives.

First, among contemporary Protestants, it is a day to remember those who have died in the past year.  There will be lists read and flowers displayed and perhaps even bells rang in acknowledgement of loved ones.  I think of the peer deaths among you - do remember today those high school classmates whose deaths came in the year which is ending.  Others of you have had grandparents who have died.  Their names also need to be uttered this day, along with a prayer of thankfulness for their gift in your life.

All Saints' Day also serves to unite the various saints, some of whom have their own individual feast day, in a common purpose.  The Saints of God are aids and assistants to those who continue to live.  The saints of the Church are working to help us live out our calling to be among them.  There are many saints, but there is but one purpose.

For whom will you give thanks this day?  Who are the saints which have most empowered your devotion and service?  Remember them.  Light a candle for them.  Make an offering in their honor.  Above all, find comfort in the realization that on a future All Saints' Day, you will be remembered and honored and lifted up in the prayers of others.  This is what it means to be one of God's saints and to dwell among them on this earth and in the heaven to come.