Thursday, November 29, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, November 29

There is a weird story in Luke 19:11-27.  It is a variation of the parable told in Matthew 25.  A nobleman gives money to his servants and goes away.  When he returns, he asks for an accounting.

Those who made a profit with the money are given more.  The one who simply protected and preserved the money is condemned.

I call this a "weird" story because it elevates profit making in a way seldom seen in the Gospel story.  This is one of those sections of scripture which challenge my preconceptions and assumptions.  One of the lessons with which I am challenged has to do with God's interest in how we handle money.  In this story, it matters a lot.

Our program last evening was on money management.  It wasn't intended to be a theological presentation or a bible study; it fits into the category of programs aimed at "life skills."  But as Mr. Barry spoke, we came to realize he wasn't simply talking about money, he was encouraging us to see how we craft a life and how that life reflects what is most important to us.

Students are fond of saying, "I have no money." but that simply isn't true.  Your flow of funds may not fit perfectly with the concept you have of those who are out of school and employed.  But you do have resources and you do decide how to use those.  Read Luke 19.  And you are free to challenge the details of that particular story.  But begin to develop an awareness that God is interested in more than  your piety - God is seeking to be involved in every aspect of your life.  And that includes how you handle your money.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, November 28

The ordering of the books of the Bible is an interesting topic.  Christians order the books differently than Jewish communities.  We arrange them so that the final book of the Old Testament is Zephaniah.

Zephaniah is one of the Minor Prophets, and I am not sure it ever comes up in our regularly appointed Sunday morning readings.  I wonder if you have read it?  I know that I have never, ever offered a bible study on Zephaniah.

The reason it is the last book in the Christian arrangement of Old Testament books is the way in which it prepares the stage for the arrival of Messiah.  It speaks of one who will come who presence will signal a return to the glory of Jerusalem.  This glory is in order that the will of God might be experienced by the world.  

There is considerable battle and victor language, but Chapter 12:9-10 speaks of what it means to be the blessed people of God:  "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, to that, when they look on him whom they have pierced they shall mourn for him, as one morns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born."

The way of the world too often seems to be conflict and confrontation; the way of the One to come is compassion and supplication.

I encourage you to read Zephaniah.  Let's plan to make it our book for SCS this Sunday (9:55 am, Spill the Beans).  And develop with the people of ancient Israel a hope for the day when the inhabitants of God's cities will embody the spirit which the Promised One has poured out upon us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, November 27

In Luke 18 there is an interesting story.  As Jesus is passing, a blind man begins to cry out to him, asking for mercy.  The crowd tries to silence him.  Jesus does hear him, invites him to come near, and restores the man's sight.  Then an interesting thing happens.  As the man once again speaks, this time giving glory to God, the people also give "praise to God."

It interests me to wonder how many voices are silenced which if heard might lead to seeing reason to praise God?

The man's intentions and his motivation does not change.  From beginning to end he is calling out the name of the one in whom he has confidence and trust.  What changes is Jesus hearing his voice and Jesus' doing so changes the mood of the crowd regarding this man's message.

What voices do we silence, or ignore?  Which of those voices does Jesus hear?  And how might we change so as to hear the words which are pleasing to him?

There is much encouragement to listen to those who say what we want to hear or have become accustomed to hearing.  How do we hear differently?

It is an interesting story in Luke 18.  One worthy of reading and remembering.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Devotion - Monday, November 26

My prayers this morning reflected the place in which you now find yourself:  You have had a bit of a break, but have started to realize the tasks and hurdles which these next three weeks will bring.  The bit of a break may make you eager for the longer break between semesters.  Depending on how heavy the workload you face, there may be a desire that these three weeks will move at a snail's pace.

My prayer for you is that you will retain enough of the break's mentality so as not to forget the larger matters of life.  Take time to be thankful; and start to prepare for those joyous gatherings with friends and family.  Be conscious of the necessity of building a life; of crafting a meaningful life.

I will also pray that you will realize such a well-crafted life is built one stone at a time.  Attention to the details, to the matter most immediately in front of you is how you arrive at the place of thankfulness and joy.  The things that face you these weeks need to be done.  So do them.

Maintaining such a balance is not a simple matter.  That is where God and faith and spirituality come in.  The practices of the faith community create a mechanism by which we anticipate the struggles and keep them in perspective.  Confidence in the One who Created me and all things allows me to stand firm when the world is swirling around me.

I am glad you are back.  And I look forward to seeing you.  Use me to dump those negative emotions or experiences and come near me when you need a boost.  These are the resources given to me through my attention to the means of grace, and I will gladly share them with you.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sermon - Christ the King Sunday

John 18:33-37    

                                                 Christ the King 

“So, you are a king?”

This is a very troubling question.  Or is it really a statement?  There is a question mark at the end of the sentence, but it seems as if Pilate is reaching a conclusion.  He had previously asked Jesus if he was “the King…”  It is after a bit of back and forth that Pilate again attempts to get to the heart of the matter regarding who Jesus is or at least who Jesus thinks he is.

Is Jesus a king?  
Is Jesus “the” king? 
Is he your king?

Christ the King Sunday is positioned at the end of the liturgical year in order to confront and challenge church-goers to answer this question.  Christ the King Sunday comes after fifty-one weeks of hearing the Jesus story.  In these fifty-one weeks we have gone from looking for a savior, to speaking of a spectacular birth, realizing that many won’t want to follow, seeing the one in whom we were beginning to find hope hung on a cross, receiving the witness of some who saw a resurrected Jesus, and then twenty-six weeks of looking more intently at the stories which flew by too fast between Epiphany and Easter.  Fifty-two weeks.  And now it is time to decide. 

Is Jesus a king?  
Is Jesus “the” king? 
Is he your king?

There is nothing more which can be told you on this Sunday, there is no new information or insight to share.   It is simply decision time.

And I will be the first to acknowledge that it isn’t an easy or simple decision.

It has never been easy, or simple.

The Church has not always had a “Christ the King Sunday.”  It is really a rather recent addition to the liturgical calendar.  Anyone able to recall the year when the “Feast of Christ the King” was introduced?  Well, it was 1925 when Pope Pius XI instituted this observance.  He felt that folks might need help in deciding, or at least acknowledging, who they looked to for their ultimate hope and assurance.

1925 – the mood of the times was one of rising nationalism and autocratic rulers.  Pope Pius XI saw the need for the Church to confront itself as to where it finds its most compelling allegiance.

Understandably, Christ the King Sunday has its critics.  In the most recent years, it has been the need to interpret “King” language.  I realize that most of the sermons I have preached on Christ the King fall into the category of trying to draw a distinction between the types of persons the world identifies as a king and the type of king Christ seeks to be.  The kingdom of Christ is marked by compassion and service, with self-sacrifice and self-denial.  “Christ is no ordinary king!” has been a popular refrain in many sermons.

Another criticism is rooted in the well-worn notion of two-kingdoms.  The critic being that there are kingdoms of this world, then there is the heavenly kingdom.  Preachers fixated on this notion will often minimize our engagement with temporal or present day kingdoms; telling us instead to look to the kingdom to come.  “What does it really matter?” they may ask, “How the kingdoms of this world configure themselves?”

What have you heard, over the years?  Of course, those of us over forty-four years old might remember a time when there was no Christ the King.  It wasn’t until the 1974 COCU Lectionary (forerunner to the Common Lectionary ((1983)), which preceded the Revised Common Lectionary (((1994))) ) that Protestant Churches regularly included Christ the King.  Think about 1974 and 1983 and you can start to understand why most presentations regarding Christ the King were attempts to speak of an alternative “kingdom to come” in the “sweet by and by.”

And thus, we might have missed the challenge inherent in Pope Pius’ efforts; we might have successfully avoided the questions set before us by Christ the King Sunday.

Is Christ a king?  
Is Christ “the” king? 
Is Christ your king?

For the record, let’s acknowledge how confusing all of this was for the earliest of characters.  Pilate knows full well the challenge which Jesus presents to his authority and reign.  Never ever forget that it was on a Roman Cross that Jesus is crucified.  He may be handed over by the Temple leaders, but Rome is the one who condemns him to death.  While it may not have been lawful for the religious types to condemn someone to death, they do it.  Remember the martyrdom of Stephen, in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ Resurrection.  That execution was carried out by the folks in the Temple, without concern for what was legal or lawful.

When Pilate interviews Jesus (our Gospel lesson for today), Pilate asks him “Are you the King.”  I want you to look at your bulletin, and if you have a pen or pencil, I would suggest you go through this reading and everywhere you see “Jew”, strike it and write “Judean.”  One of the difficulties in reading the story in English (even Latin for that matter) is the failure to remember that “Jew” and “Judean” are two separate Greek words.  Pilate asks Jesus if he is the “King of the Judeans.”

The “Judeans,” to Pilate, were the folks with political and social clout living in and around the region of Jerusalem.  The “Judeans,” to Pilate, were a political entity rather than a religious affiliation.  Pilate isn’t asking if Jesus is the spiritual leader of a religious people.  Pilate is asking if Jesus is seeking to be known as the ruler of the people of Judea.

What we know, from having just completed fifty-one weeks of readings from the Gospel of Mark, is that Jesus is a Galilean.  In the north, in the region of Galilea, he has some bumps along the way.  But it when his message comes into the territory of Judea that the religious types began to condemn his presentation of the faith of Abraham and point out how he isn’t living in accordance with the traditions of the Judean Jews.

Pilate doesn’t care. “Pray to whomever you want!” may have been the unspoken thought.  But he won’t tolerate Jesus setting before the residents of his territory those questions which bedevil any who hold power and want to continue to hold power:
Is Christ a king?  
Is Christ “the” king? 
Is Christ your king?

Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the followers of Jesus that ethic identity or country of origin was of little consequence to us.  We are citizens of a kingdom established on Golgotha; our allegiance is to the teachings and doctrines of Holy Scripture and the Creeds of the Church.

The Kingdom of Christ is a kingdom which does differ greatly from the kingdoms of this world.  It is also a Kingdom whose time has come and is as much a part of our daily existence as it will be when we are gathered with the saints of old.

I want you to hear me say that I know it is tough to choose the Kingdom of Christ over the kingdoms of this world.  I will confess how difficult (and at times seemingly impossible) it is for me to choose rightly.  You have called me as your pastor.  You have given me the luxury of studying theology and church history.  In faithfulness to that call and in attempting to share what I have learned, I set before you those three telling questions:
Is Christ a king?  
Is Christ “the” king? 
Is Christ your king?


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, November 20

As The Revelation reaches its ending, the characters in the story join in praising God.  The ultimate joy and happiness comes when they have opportunity to worship.

Remember that it was likely a display of devotion which resulted in John being sent to the prison on Patmos.  What a reversal it would be for him were he allowed to openly and continually give thanks to God.

Our depictions of heaven too often include more of the best of what we like most.  In scripture, the images of heaven are opportunities to give God the glory.

There is something in this which we all need to hear.  We all need to remember that a grateful heart is a heart already full and overflowing.  When I am satisfied, all that remains is giving thanks for what I have received.  Otherwise, eternity is self-centered and self-gratifying - traits which separate us from God and from our sisters and brothers in this life.

Be diligent in your offering of thanks.  Speak openly and proudly of your gratitude to God and of your desire to praise God.  Have a joy-filled and overflowing Thanksgiving Break.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Devotion - Monday, November 19

Jesus gives instructions about giving a banquet in Luke 14.  He instructs us to "invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind...."  He tells us to include on our guest list those who could never return the favor of inviting us to a lavish feast.

We gathered our family this past Saturday for a "Thanksgiving" gathering.  There will be a smaller event this week, but we will gather once more.  Perhaps you are also making plans for a gathering in the days to come.  Who will be invited?

Part of giving thanks is to become aware of our abundance.  Part of looking to God is acknowledging how graciously God has looked upon us.

In a world where we are too often pulled in many directions and seldom have meaningful time with family, Thanksgiving events provide such a break - and perhaps need to be held and treasured as family gatherings.  Certainly this is true for parents eager to welcome you back after being gone for many weeks.

But hear the instructions of Luke 14 and consider the guest lists of  your life.  Where is there room for the poor, the blind, the lame, the forgotten?  You don't have to go searching for them - there are many such persons in your apartment complex, in your classrooms, and in your daily path.  

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.