Thursday, February 21, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, February 21

What a delight it was to have John Wagner as our guest for LCM last night.  As he shared his faith journey, he spoke of a car wreck.  He fell asleep and went off the side of the interstate.  He wasn't injured - because of the exact spot where his car went off the road.  Two seconds earlier or two seconds later and it would have been a different story.

John shared that he credited God with the miraculous path taken by the car as he was asleep.  "I am not sure that to think about those who die in such wrecks.  I will turn to the Pastors."  (Pastor Jon and I were both there.)

Here is what I would say to John - and to all of you.

Such events in our lives strengthen our faith and our confidence in God.  (Read that sentence again.)

It is when we start to extrapolate that we usually get into theological hot water or make statements when call into question the significance of the affirmation brought to us by the event.  It is totally correct for John to speak of how he saw God's hand in the wreck; it would be questionable for John to muse why the car of others did not take a similar path.

Each of us are on a faith journey which is our own.  We should speak (practice speaking to others) of the path this journey is taking.  And, we should not shy away from those events in our lives which strengthen our faith and our confidence in God.  Give thanks for them, and know them as significant milestones in our journey - without trying to arrive at universal statements about them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, February 19

In Mark 11 we have one of the instances where Jesus speaks of what can be accomplished by asking God.  "Truly I say to you, whoever says to the mountains, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe and you will receive it, and it will be yours."

How do you apply this verse in your life?

Obviously, none of us would use prayer in order to cast the mountains into the sea.  We are also mature enough not to use prayer as a way to approach the exam for which we need to study.  But what of other prayer requests?  

February 19 is the anniversary of my sister's death.  Her death still disturbs my faith.  She was only 69; and a deeply loving and caring person.

This devotion is not going to end with a perfect conclusion.  But it will be my attempt to share what I have learned from others.  And by "others," I don't mean my professors at seminary or the Bishops who have given lectures or sermons.  I mean the 90 year old persons, and those like my sister whose struggle with diseases such as cancer made them wise.

A faith which does not lift to God our petitions and prayers is useless.  We cannot receive the grace of God unless we go to God with our greatest heartaches.  It is essential that we ask for mountains to be thrown into the sea.  Those who pray with such confidence bear witness to the results of such prayer.  They speak of how God returned to them and brought them peace.

It is a matter of faith.  And while faith does not insist upon our setting aside logic, this aspect of faith is not logical.  It is much more profound and true than any argument which could be pieced together using our reason or knowledge.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Devotion - Monday, February 18

Another of the "stories you ought to know," is Jesus' entry to Jerusalem.  This morning I was reading this story from Mark 11.

In Mark, Jesus sends his disciples into town to get a "colt, on which no one has ever sat."  This is a clue to the significance of what comes next.

As Jesus rides the colt into town, his followers place their coats on the ground, in front of the colt.  Those who have no coats, cut palm branches from the trees.

When a new ruler enters the city for coronation, there would be built a new road, on which no one had walked.  Jesus' followers create such a road, for him.

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is presented as an invitation prepare the way for entry into our lives and into our world.  How are we welcoming and honoring the one whom is our king and lord?

One of the downsides to the often repeated (and totally true) affirmation that Jesus never abandons us is the opportunity this creates for us to ignore preparations to welcome him into our midst.  We too often fail to make ready and to honor.  

The story in Mark 11 is one we should know, and understand, and apply to our lives.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, February 14

It is in the 10th chapter of Mark's gospel that we get the encounter between Jesus and the young man who wanted to justify himself.  This is the encounter in which he asks what he must do to inherit eternal life.  When the young man insists he has kept the commandments from his youth, Jesus tells him he only lacks one thing:  "Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor."

This, the young man, cannot do.

For 2,000 years, followers of Jesus have struggled with how this encounter applies to their lives.  Are we also asked (instructed) to sell all we have?  The favored answer is, "No.  It was only in this young man's life that his possessions stood between him and Jesus."

Obviously, I have not sold all my possessions.  

But we do need to be made uncomfortable by this story.  We need to ask the difficult questions of whether we depend on  God or if we rest on our accumulations.  Where is it that we find our source of strength, and comfort, and hope?

In a discussion yesterday, I heard the affirmation of placing confidence in Jesus.  In response to my asking what brought them back to church so often they replied, "It is my safe space."  For this person, as with me, there is no where else that I find the unwavering affirmation and universal acceptance.

The young man in Mark 10 lacked the experience of finding the peace of God.  His peace was found elsewhere.  Ths is why he went away from Jesus, sorrowful.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, February 13

I read from Mark this morning the encounter where Jesus makes a small child the example to emulate.  He says, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it".  This is great for kids, but what does it say to adults?

It should say to set aside our continual desire to understand and know all things.  It should say it is okay to allow ourselves to experience something good without dissecting it.  

A child finds themselves happily playing and soaking up life.  A child is not bothered with how this came their way or if it will remain.  A child lives in the moment and rejoices when the moment is good.

There are times and places when we have to be adults.  There are decisions to be made and courses of action to be taken.  Jesus warns us against thinking this is necessary in every moment and every situation.  Sometimes it is okay to simply find ourselves in a good place and to give God thanks for it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, February 12

Isaiah 58 speaks of the fast desired by God.  

I probably ought to start with a few comments about fasting.  This is a spiritual practice which has fallen out of popularity among us.  We hear of it, but rarely do we offer a fast.

Which may serve us well, when we read Isaiah 58.

The prophet reveals how those who fast had turned this into a show of their own piety.  They put on sackcloth and ashes on their heads.  The prophet asks, "Is this the fast God desires?"

This is the reply:
Is not this the fast I choose:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
It is not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh

Monday, February 11, 2019

Devotion - Monday, February 11

Paul suffered with some sort of an ailment.  We have tried to figure out what it was, but there are not enough clues to finally decide.  The most common assumption is epilepsy.  

In the closing verses of Galatians, we find one of the hints.  The book contains these words:  "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand."

Paul's illness or disability is rarely apparent.  He does his work and he carries forth his message.  This is a deeper lessen than "press on through the pain."  It is an acknowledgement that the limitations of our bodies do not define us or our usefulness.  We can learn from Paul not to let obstacles prevent us from doing what God has called us to do.

We also learn much about Paul's talk of God and grace and prayer.  In another place, Paul says he prayed this ailment might be taken from him - but it isn't.  He does not dwell on why God fails to do this.  If God heals as a result of any measure of faithfulness, we would think Paul close to the top of the list, right?  In Paul's life story we learn not to associate the granting of what we want with the presence and prominence of God.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sermon - 5th Sunday of Epiphany


Luke 5:1-11   

                                                                               Crisis


I am going to ask you to make a decision this morning.  I want you to weigh the crisis associated with having too little against the crisis of having too much.  Crises of both types occur in the short story which serves as today’s Gospel reading.  There is a crisis of too little, and there is a crisis of too much.  And I am going to ask you to decide which is the most threatening.

The first crisis is upon the fishermen.  When Jesus enters the picture, they are washing their nets.  We learn later in the story that Simon, James and John are washing their nets because they have no fish to sell.  They tell Jesus, “we worked all night and caught nothing.”  We can’t say for sure whether these fishermen lived paycheck to paycheck, but we could be reasonably sure that it wasn’t a good thing to report “we worked all night and caught nothing.”

We can’t say for sure whether these fishermen were willing to let Jesus hop into their boat and row a little away from the shore because they were hoping for a few coins for their efforts.  But this is a possibility.  Their inability to sell fish and thus earn their wage may have been more than an inconvenience.  Certainly, they can’t endure endless days of work and nothing to show for it.

It was not a good thing – this crisis of having nothing to show for ones labors.  It is in the midst of this crisis that Jesus shows up.

Jesus starts to talk.  The crowd seems to listen.  When Jesus is finished he tells Simon to put out into the deep and let down his nets.  Simon’s response was the biblical era equivalent of “stay in your own lane, bro.”  What could this traveling preacher tell Simon about fishing?  Whether Jesus was insistent, or whether Peter thought “I’ll show you”, the nets are let down.  And then another crisis develops.  This time the crisis is of abundance.  There are too many fish!  The nets are beginning to break!  A second boat is summoned – and then both boats start to sink!  There is a crisis at hand!  A crisis of abundance.

Now.  This is where you get to make a decision.  Here is where I would like to get your opinion.  Which is worse?  The crisis of sacristy?  Or the crisis of abundance?

Not catching any fish was not a good thing.  And if that happened for a number of days in a row, these fishermen might be faced with the thought of selling their nets, and/or their boats, and looking for another like of work.  It is a crisis, to experience sacristy.

But when the abundance came, it is not as if they are no longer in danger.  What if the nets did break?  And fall to the bottom of the sea?  Or what would they do were their boats to sink?  What would happen to them then?

Let’s think about our earlier voting.  Which is the greater crisis?  Too little?  Or too much?

For the most part, those of us gathered here this morning face the latter of these crisis.  We have so much.  We live in the crisis of how to handle abundance.  I do not wish to minimize the struggles and stresses of those who suffer from a crisis of sacristy.  If I were preaching in their midst, I am sure God would have put a different message in my mouth.  But today I am talking to y’all – and to myself – and we are those who live in a crisis of abundance.  And it is a crisis.  No less than the fishermen in our story this abundance it a threat.  Our nets can rip and fall to the bottom of the sea, and our boats could sink.

A campus pastor at a different university spoke this week about the crisis of abundance seen in the lives of the involved students.  These students are bright and gifted and talented and capable of so many things.  If they were not so bright and gifted and talented and capable they would face fewer options as they looked to their future.  But being all those things means they can choose, it means they have to choose – and the enormity of options becomes overwhelming. 

What if I choose the wrong major?  Work in the wrong lab?  Take the lesser internship?  Accept a job which won’t bring me happiness? - - The weight of abundance can rip and sink.

A weird and destructive aspect of abundance is the way it fools us into looking for the one place where abundance is not as apparent.  We have plenty of most things, but we perceive ourselves as lacking in this other thing.  Forgetting huge piles and vast resources, we start to fixate on that which we worry might run short. 

Not always, but often this is money.  My grandmother used to say, “If money can fix your problems, you don’t have real problems.”  She said that from a certain level of abundance – she owned an 80-acre farm, and had five healthy children.  But her point is good to take to heart.

We live in abundance.  And our very abundance too often becomes our crisis. 

In order to protect what we have amassed we develop elaborate protections.  We seek ways to safeguard what is ours.  Added to the monthly expenses is a security system or remote cameras.  When we fill up our houses we rent storage units.  When we can’t keep our huge house clean we hire a cleaning service - but of course keep an eye on the workers that they don’t pocket our pretty, expensive trinkets. 

We live in abundance.  And our very abundance too often becomes our crisis. 

We sometimes refer to our abundance as “our way of life,” and it is.  The way of life most commonly lived by us and our peers is one of plenty and obesity and excess. 

This crisis of abundance is threatening.  This crisis of excess is oppressive.  We are so fearful of a crisis of scarcity that we have failed to see the crisis of having too much.

The pivot point in this story, between the two crisis, is when Jesus shows up.  It is the presence of Jesus which moves the disciples from one end of the spectrum to the other.  There is – of course – something theological to be said about this.  When Jesus comes, abundance is sure to follow.  In this story, that abundance even includes fish.  In other stories, it might include restoring of sight, or the ability to walk.  Sometimes the abundance which Jesus brings is the ability to see ourselves as loved and lovable – as is the case of the woman at the well or wee little Zachaeus who climbs up into a tree.

Where Jesus is, there is abundance.  We can feed and house and provide medical care for every man, woman, and child – if only we were to stop wars and building weapons of war and engaging in disputes about who should be in control.

We should not miss the point in this story when Simon and James and John walk away from their huge haul of fish.  Their crisis of abundance is solved by just leaving their earthly loot behind.
    
Remember your vote this morning.  And muse throughout the week about the crisis which abundance brings.  Pray for those experiencing sacristy, and do something to address their crisis.  Doing so might even begin to reorder your life so as to ease the stress of having too much.

Amen.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, February 7

On the list of bible stories you ought to know is The Confession of Peter.  I read it this morning, from Mark 8:27-9:1.

Jesus asks the disciples who "people" say he is, then he asks "Who do you say that I am?"  Peter replies, "You are the Christ."

The story continues.  It moves immediately into talk of what it means to make such a statement.  Jesus is very clear - it means living (and dying if necessary) in order to be God's agent in the world.  This is more than Peter is ready to hear.

The gospel story tells us that Peter did encounter repeated hurdles as he shared what he had learned at the feet of Jesus.  He was imprisoned, he was beaten, he was told to keep silent.  The way of Jesus is a way which runs contrary to the ways of the world around us.

Peter knew this, eventually.  He came to embrace this, over time.  And he felt it in his own body.

Yet, he never regretted the hardships which being faithful brought on him.  He had come to experience the joy of knowing God's love and the happiness of sharing that good news with others.

The world is no less hostile to the way of Jesus.  Listen to the talk about our sisters and brothers approaching that imaginary line some call a border for some temporary thing called a nation.  Listen to the messages about storing up riches for tomorrow even if that means ignoring the suffering of neighbors today.  The way of Jesus is the way of joy and happiness, but the path leads us through a way which is too often angry and vile.

The Confession of Peter.  Mark 8.  Read it for yourself.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, February 6

I like the story in Mark 8:20-26 where it takes Jesus two attempts to heal a blind man.  He makes the first attempt, asks the man "Do you see anything?" and the man replies, "I see men; but they look like trees, walking."  So Jesus tries again.

How quick we are to assume that the way of God is easy, quick, simple.  We are too often schooled to think when God gets involved everything simply falls into place.  We no longer expect effort to be necessary.

Do not confuse this with talk of God's grace.  That does "come" to us; fall in our laps.

But also don't mistake the gift of God's grace as the end of the story.  There are repercussions of that grace - we are sent into the world.  Our going will involve effort and multiple attempts to achieve our ends.

I am not entirely sure of the motivation for including the story of Jesus' double healing efforts in the Gospel narrative, but I am glad it is there.  It prevents me from being too critical of myself when it takes me a second try to get things right.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, February 5

I continue to read from Galatians.   This morning chapter 4, verses 12-20.

In this section, Paul is thanking them for their care of him.  He is also acknowledging there has been some uncomfortable exchanges.  He asks them "Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?"

There are few tasks as difficult for a pastor than to tell the truth.  Our culture teaches us to "mind our own business," and to "let folks make their own decisions".  Those well learned lessons don't sit well with telling the truth about some behaviors or words or beliefs.  

Too often we ignore those things in the lives of others which impede their ability to show forth Christ.  Too often we remain silent even when we become aware of that which runs contrary to the word and will of God.  It is as if we are more fearful of becoming another's enemy than leaving them in their sin.

The followers of Jesus are to admonish one another.  This is an important task.  It is how we assist one another in their witness.  Rather than become angry, we are to be thankful that another cared enough to point out to us what we had failed to see.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Devotion - Monday, February 4

This morning I was directed to Galatians 4:1-10.  It was verses 8-9 which became the focus of my reflection and the basis of my prayer petitions:

Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods.  Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?

The phrase which stood out is the one I emphasized.  "or rather to be known by God."  The faith of the Church, the way of faith spoken of by Jesus, the faith of Jesus is passive.  We do not work in order to achieve something; we come to understand that something has happened to us!  We are known by God.

Forget for the moment what that says about the possibility that this wording might imply that there are some who are not known by God.  That is a topic for another time.  What the writer of Galatians tells us is we need no longer be on the treadmill of searching and seeking and fear and worry.  The writer almost throws this in as an afterthought.  The phrase is inserted into an otherwise complete sentence.  It seems that lest we forget something assumed to be at the core of our relationship with God, he makes quick reference to one of the foundations on which his current illustration is based.

And yet, we forget this foundation.  We forget and we once again fall prey to the fallacy that we might not have done what we ought or thought what we must.  We turn back to the weak and beggarly spirits.

You are known by God!  Life with that assurance and with the confidence it gives.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 31

Most of us are familiar with the events referred to as "the feeding of the 5,000."  When this story is told in Mark, Chapter 6, it is preceded with a comment on Jesus' motivation.  

Jesus sees the crowd, and "he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."

I hope is it not offensive to you if I point to this verse as the tag line for the work I do among you.  We are all too often like sheep without a shepherd.  We struggle to accomplish even the simplest of tasks; we stumble in the darkness looking for the light; and our hearts are burdened with worries about what we will eat and what we will wear.

But we have a shepherd.  We need not wander.

The presenting characteristic of this shepherd is his attitude toward us.  "Compassion."  We are not a burden, we are not despised, we are not the means to a paycheck.  Compassion.

The feeding of the 5,000 is in every Gospel account.  There is an urgency to tell the story of how present is God's compassion and willingness (let's rename it eagerness) to feed us and help us find our way home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, January 30

I apologize for failing to send out a devotion yesterday, and not giving you a heads up that would happen.  I have been out of town, participating in a retreat for campus pastors in Region 9.  I have been staying up late, and sleeping in.

The Commandments speak of Sabbath, but we don't often enough speak of this gift from God.  It is the blessed rest which allows us to be reminded of the aspects of life which are the most essential.

I have been experiencing Sabbath.  And I wanted to speak of this to you.

It may just be the nature of student life that there is always something to be done.  I can tell you it is also a feature of life for those in their post-college years.  You will only experience Sabbath if you take time for it - you won't be given chances or encouraged by the world to take it.

Sabbath is a wonderful thing.  There is a reason God established this as the theme for the seventh day of creation.  It is as essential to our health as eating well and getting exercise.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Devotion - Monday, January 28

I want to turn to I Corinthians 12 one more time.  We looked at last week's reading on Wednesday, and again at the Directing Committee Retreat.  Yesterday, the second half of this chapter served as our reading.

Paul speaks of the body's various parts and how each part needs another.  He points out that the foot needs the eye, the hand needs the stomach - that sort of thing.

Twice last week I found myself speaking of the particular message of our LCM ministry.  Twice I was helping someone who had been involved elsewhere realize that the particulars of our message are not intended to mean the particulars of another ministry are incorrect.  Twice I found myself saying that only when each of us offers our gifts will the whole Church be the Church.

There is only so much any one of us can know.  We are dependent upon others to know what is beyond our abilities.  When we realize that the foot has a role and that the foot must do that role it allowed the foot to do its thing with appreciation for what the eye can do - but not trying to be an eye!

Maybe it is fear of seeming inadequate.  But why is it so difficult for us to say - this is what I have, and I offer this; the rest of the story and message will need to be told by others.

I Corinthians 12.  A chapter full of wisdom and insight and good practical knowledge.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sermon - 3rd Sunday after Epiphany - Year C


Luke 4:14-21    
Taking the Good News Home

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Something happens; something occurs that morning in the Temple.  Jesus tells his listeners – “Today” this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

One of the great ironies, to me, is way worship is experienced in modern-day congregations.   John Douglas Hall, in his book Why Christian, hits it on the head as he relates the experiences of a college-age seeker.  The young man goes to one congregation whose theology he finds very acceptable.  (Hall never gives a denomination, but you can tell that this congregation is the Lutheran one.)  Upon visiting, the young man notes that he likes what the liturgy and preacher had to say, but he reported “there wasn’t any life in the place.”  No one, at that church, was expecting anything to happen.

The young man visits a different church.  (Again, the denomination is not identified.  It seems to be more on the evangelical side of Christendom.)  “The place was alive with expectation.”  the young man reported.

Now, here is the real irony for me:  our mainline, sacramental churches seem to be dead; while the evangelical variety is looking for something to happen. Again, here is the irony: In an evangelical church, nothing happens unless someone in the pews feels moved to respond; while in a sacramental church something happens every time the gifts of bread and wine become for us the body and blood of Christ.

“Today (the) scripture (is being) fulfilled in your hearing.”  Something is happening; something is occurring. 

A lot has occurred in the gospel of Luke.  We are in the middle verses of Chapter 4.  “4” is a rather low number, so it should be easy for us to infer that we are still pretty close to the beginning.   In the liturgical year we are still pretty early.  I imagine that even the most severe procrastinator among us has finally taken down their Christmas tree, but we are only 5 weeks into the new life which came among us on that marvelous night.  Not that the Gospel story follows chronologically the life development of Jesus.  Far from it.  But, in order to get to the stories of Jesus’ preaching, healing, and confrontations with those who could not accept his message, you need to cover a lot of ground.  That is what we have been doing, by way of our weekly readings, these past couple of Sundays.

We began with the story of Jesus’ birth.  There were two Sundays of readings associated with those who where there with the infant Jesus.  Then we moved to stories of Jesus’ youth – the whole “lost in the temple” experience.  Two weeks ago the theme was his baptism and last week the events associated with his turning the water into wine at the wedding feast served to illustrate that he is indeed something very special. 

A lot of ground has been covered.  Enough so that we are prepared to accept the gospel writer’s assertion that a report about him (has) spread through all the surrounding country.  There is great expectation when he returns to his home town and makes his way to the Temple.

Luke tells us that Jesus reads from the prophesy of Isaiah.  Taken from the 61st chapter of Isaiah, these ancient words had been for the Children of Abraham words of hope and promise.  They listened to them over the centuries with the expectation that one day God would send among them their promised, anointed one.  The people were waiting for that arrival.  Jesus re-reads words they must have heard hundreds of times before.  Then he sits down (sitting is the posture taken by a Rabbi as he is about to instruct the congregation.)  Jesus sits down and rather than launch into a sermon intended to help them understand what these verses meant, he tells them that the ancient words have now been fulfilled.

The people were filled with expectations – but they were not expecting this.  The people came there that day so they might be on hand when something happened, but they couldn’t believe this was happening.  Jesus is telling them that he is the promise.  He announces to them the good news, their release, and the recovery of their sight.  “Today”, he tells them, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

There is a reaction to what Jesus does.  That is the content of next week’s Gospel and Pastor Jon can decide how to deal with it in that sermon.  Suffice it to say that the congregation realized the outlandish claim Jesus is making and they were none too happy about it.  I don’t think Pastor Jon would mind if you read ahead and form your own thoughts as to what that passage means.  For today, I want to keep us on these verses and consider together what it is that Jesus is saying – not just for those in that Temple on that day, but for us as well.  I think what he says, what he does, might shake us a bit when it comes to what we expect.

Jesus assures them that something is happening in that very room, at that very moment.  There is no delay or reason to look to the future.  It is present right there, right then.

There are at least two times in the course of this worship service when Pastor Jon will make a similar proclamation of immediacy.  One has already occurred, the other is yet to come.  Do you recognize them, as they happen?

The first is actually a prequel to our service.  It happens while the pastor is still at the rear of the church.  In response to our confession, the pastor announces, “I proclaim to you that Almighty God, rich in mercy, abundant in love, forgives you all your sin.”  Those words are very carefully crafted and situated in the midst of a reminder that the authority to speak those words comes are a result of a call from the Church of Jesus Christ and it is by his authority that they are spoken.  Never-the-less, they do occur.  And we believe and teach that they are true.  If we are one of those churches whose theology is acceptable yet seems rather dead to a first-time visitor, it can only mean that we have ceased to expect and/or receive the miracle which happens (HAPPENS!) each Sunday by way of a few brief paragraphs, a time for individual meditation, and the pronouncement of the one set aside for the task of public ministry.

You should know where I am going next.  To the Table and the Eucharist.  Sacramental churches, of which ours is one, believe that the bread and wine of Holy Communion does not remain bread and wine.  They become for us the body and blood of our crucified and resurrected Lord.  That miraculous transformation occurs each time we gather around this table and partake of these gifts.   I don’t know how anything more wonderful could ever happen that what does happen here.  It is enough to fill us with expectations.

Some have argued that it is the frequency issue.  “If you have communion every week you start to take it for granted.”  Maybe there is something to that.  Maybe if we are present for a miracle week after week after week we stop thinking of it as such.  Rather than be overwhelmed in appreciation for what God is doing in our midst, we begin to ask God to do something else – something more?  Something we would like to have done for us.  Maybe – but only just maybe.

Anything else which might be done - or which we might seek to have done - would be something of our own design.  It might meet our most recently identified expectation, but it wouldn’t be the thing God has chosen to do.

Those in Nazareth who went out to hear Jesus went with their own set of expectations.  What they got was not what they expected.  What they got, you and I know, was what they really needed; what they had to have.  Their expectations were not met, in part, because their expectations were too low.

A song and dance or a dog and pony show are crowd pleasers and they leave a lasting impression.  But the announcement which shakes the Temple is the one in which the claim is made that God’s promise is indeed being fulfilled, right now, right here.  “Today,” Jesus announces, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 24

This sentence is from the opening prayer was printed in my devotional guide:  We ask only for the grace to use what thou hast already provided.

I do my best to being my personal prayers with acknowledging God and thanking God.  It was taught to me that only after we lift up our praise to God are we in a position to speak to God about the parts of our life which are in need or assistance.  This is the model of prayer in the prayer that Jesus taught us.

God has provided all that we need.  What is lacking is the grace, or the will, or the wisdom, or the courage to use what God has already provided.

As is too often seen in the lives of those who hoard and accumulate excessive wealth, we too operate out of a false fear of scarcity.  There is plenty!  There is enough!  

We ask only for the grace to use what thou hast already provided. 

What need are you facing this day?  Where are the places you are asking God to make his presence known?  Do not stop lifting those to God, but remember to thank God for what has already been provided and to make full use of what God has given.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, January 23

Among the bible stories I would hope you know is the parable of the four soils.  This morning I read it from Mark 4.1-9 (that is a hyperlink so you can read it now.)

In this parable, the sower casts his seed and it falls on differing types of soils.  The types of soils represent the differing types of responses to the Word of God when it is spoken to us.

The soil type which touched my heart most deeply this morning is the one with thorns.  Jesus says these are the folks who are distracted by the things of the world.  Such delights chokes the word and it cannot take deep root.

The reasons why this moves me are complex, but I would attempt to explain it by saying that the cares of the world are also that which drives us to the word of God.  There are too many instances in which the lure of power or success or prominence are entangled in the snake which then turns and bites us.  In pastoral conversations, I hear of how the cares of the world shout so loudly for attention that the word of God and the promises of Jesus don't stand a chance.

This morning's devotion is a suggestion that each of us pay attention to the soil which is our lives.  I understand you have way too much to get done this day and I do understand that there are so many experiences you would love to have during your college years.  But taking a few minutes - perhaps at the beginning of each day - and reminding yourself of your core commitments and your deepest desires could be the best use of those precious ticks of the clock.

Mark 4.1-9.  And in the following verses Jesus offers an explanation of the parable.  Consider how you are attending to the soil onto which will be cast the seeds of God's word.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, January 22

The prophets have a way of speaking the truth across the ages.  They use stories and images and they confront ignorance and idolatry in a way which does not immediately result in the shutting down of deliberations.

In Isaiah 44, the prophet speaks of a ridiculous way to do things.  The character cuts down a tree.  Part of the tree he uses to build a fire.  This fire warms him, and it allows him to cook his meal.  From another part of the tree, the man carves an idol, which he falls down and worships.  The prophet asks how something which the man himself has fashioned can be looked upon as one's hope for deliverance and salvation?

And we would tend to agree.  Wouldn't we?

But what if the prophet retold the story, speaking of something other than a tree.  What if the the raw material were the industrial complex, or winged flight, or the stock market, or advanced knowledge/studies?  The prophet's words point out to us that there are things which we have fashioned with our own hands which too easily become the idols we adore.

As I hope is true of all my sermons, this is not a scolding of anyone for making the wrong choice, it is an attempt to point out a missed opportunity.  The opportunity missed is coming to the water which satisfies all thirst; it is eating of the bread which nourishes our souls.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Devotion - ML King Day

Rev King said he wanted to hold up a mirror, so America could see itself.  When that reflection met our eyes, we became angry. 

Some were angry that a mirror was lifted.  Those lashed out at Rev King.  One shot him.

Others were angry that we had allowed ourselves to become so ugly.  They joined in the marches and they promised to life their lives differently.

Looking into such a mirror today provides the same options.  

White America is not in a position to judge how well we are doing.  If white America to know how it is going, ask persons of color.  Those voices are pretty consistent.  Great strides have been made, but the most difficult steps still need to be taken.  And some of the advances are in danger of being reversed.

What Rev King preached, Jesus had already said.  Every child is a child of God.  All are precious in God's eyes.  Our brothers and sisters are not determined by blood line but by the baptismal waters.  

It begins with confession - confessing how we have been blind to the realities of others, how we have ignored their struggle, and how we have participated (even profited) from an unfair social structure.  It continues with repentance - with looking for even the smallest way in which we can turn our life around and life differently.  If we claim we don't know what we can do, we can start by merely finding opportunities to be in the presence of those who are holding up that mirror.  We too often wait for someone to come to us;  we could go to where they are.  And there we can learn together what steps might be taken.

On this ML King Day, look in the mirror and see with honest eyes.  Discover how you might alter the image.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sermon - 2nd Sunday After Epiphany - Year C


John 2:1-11    

                                                                   Just for the Hell of It

 Most of us have a favorite bible story, or a story we remember, or a story we like to hear.  I am curious whether this story from John 2 is such a story for any of you?

I always look back through old sermons.  On previous Sundays with these appointed lessons, I chose to deal with the I Corinthians reading.  Not sure why.  I don’t have any reason to avoid John 2.  I do wonder if among the reasons is the repeated opportunities I have had to speak to the story of water into wine at weddings.  This story often becomes a favorite, easily remembered, or one we like to hear as couples come before the Church to hear the promises of God upon their union.

John 2:  memorable for a couple of reasons; helpful on so many levels.

These events do take place at a wedding.  Mary, the mother of Jesus is active in this story – unlike her passive participation in the stories retold in Luke’s account or her complete silence in the events recorded in Matthew.  Here, Mary is active and an actor in the revealing of her son’s identity and role.  This story is also significant in that the events recorded here are put in proper perspective by noting that they are the first (but only the first) of Jesus’ signs.

In a sermon a few months ago, I spoke of what happened in the reading as a “miracle.”  Pastor Jon reminded me that while we tend to call them “miracles,” the descriptive word used in the Bible is “signs.”  Miracles – signs.  Perhaps only a slight difference, but perhaps a significant one.  These things which Jesus does should not be confused with a slight of hand or a ripping apart the laws of nature.  The Bible teaches us that these are events in which we are allowed to see something which we need to know.  These are occurrences which serve as a sign. They are “signs” of God – of God’s presence, of God’s love, of God’s grace, of God’s intentions toward us.

In Galilee, at a wedding in Cana, one such sign occurs.  And in this sign there is the opportunity to see and experience God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s intentions toward us.

You know the story.  It has been read to you once again this morning.  What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

It is tough to regain control when a preacher asks and open ended question and begs for responses.  So let’s do that thing where you turn to someone near you and share your answer.  What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

Turn and speak to someone near you.

I have a funny story about this reading.  Zach Parris retold the story to the students gathered over New Years in Memphis, and also put it on the podcast.  Some twenty years ago, an LCM couple picked this lesson for their wedding, and in my sermon that day I offended some of their more straight-laced guests.  I apologize in advance for committing the same transgression today.  But when I think of what this sign, performed by Jesus at the wedding in Cana, tells me – it tells me that God is deeply concerned with the living of a happy and joy filled life.   This sign does not allow someone who cannot see to regain their sight.  This sign does not feed 5,000 hungry people stranded in a lonely place.  This sign – allows the wedding party to continue and the host of the party to avoid social humiliation.  Many of the signs associated with Jesus meet profound human need.  This sign (and here comes the offensive phrase) Jesus does just for the hell of it.

What a wonderful and powerful first sign.  Right away it sets the stage for what Messiah is to do.  This, the first of his signs, communicates the reason for each of his signs.  This signs reveal the assurance God’s presence; they make known the depth of God’s love; they are expressions of God’s grace, and they make crystal clear God’s intentions toward us.

God does not want or demand quivering lumps of rotting flesh!  God seeks children who can find as much joy and pleasure and beauty in the creation as He does.  In Jesus (but not only in Jesus,) God sets aside any concern about the heavens and makes earth His dwelling place.  God does not want or demand quivering lumps of rotting flesh!  God seeks children who can find as much joy and pleasure and beauty in the creation as He does. 

Here is your word for the day:  Incarnation.  Say it with me:  Incarnation.

Earlier this week, and I am not going to remember where, someone was struggling to remember this word – Incarnation.  It means God taking on our form and our lot and being one of us.  Christians do not worship a heavenly being.  Our God takes on our form and lives as one of us.  No physicist or philosopher will be able to explain how it happens, but every Christian Theologian will teach that it does.  It is the full and final expression of God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us.  Out of love for us, God creates us, places in the Garden of Eden, and continues to provide for us from the earth’s plenty even after we transgress.

God is not some angry, vengeful, demanding master!  God is loving and caring.  God’s fight against sin and sinfulness and living in sin is a desire to have us united with God.  This is also a battle God wages because God knows how sin and sinfulness separates us from one another; in truth, how sin separates us from ourselves.

Jesus loves me, this I know.  I know it for many reasons, and today I am reminded by the retelling of the story of the first of the signs Jesus does.  Merely to keep the party going, Jesus changes water into wine.  Simply to help his host avoid social embarrassment, Jesus takes action.

What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

My hope and prayer and intention in this sermon is that it tells you that God loves you and that God cares for you and that God provides for you and that God wants for you a joyful and joy filled life.

This is the word of God.  For the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 17

In Mark 2, Jesus heals a man who cannot walk.  His first words to the man are "your sins are forgiven."  There is a discussion among the religious snobs about whether he can forgive sins.  So, Jesus' next words to the man is for him to stand up and walk home.

This reminded me of one of the speakers we heard while at the LSM Gathering in Memphis.  He is a medical doctor, who is also a seminary graduate.  He intentionally got both degrees - much of his work is helping the Church reclaim its emphasis on caring for the sick and ill.

Charles Wesley was a doctor.  He was successful in this part of his life.  Preaching did not always bring as great a change in his hearers.

Travel and look for hospitals.  Many bear the names of religious saints.  Many were built by Christian communities.

Our speaker pointed out that it was around the turn of the 20th century that the Church stopped being involved in medical care.  Three things happened:  1) Darwin, more the debate that ensued;  2) Modern medicine brought the opportunity for profits, and when there are possible profits who wants the Church front and center; and 3) a resurgence of the non-Christian notion that we are a body/spirit dualism which can be divided, Church was given opportunity to care for spirit, body belonged to others.

Jesus heals many who were sick and ill.  He feeds those who are hungry.  Jesus understood that we are body and spirit and he attends to both.  As his followers, we are to attend to both as well.

In his presentation last night, Marion Fisher lifted up poverty as a Christian cause.  This was a huge part of the work of Rev ML King, Jr.  Caring for the bodies of our sisters and brothers is the story of Jesus.  Read Mark 2.  And then go and do likewise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, January 16

I have been watching the Netflix series "The Good Place."  It is the story of a young woman who dies and is greeted by a host with the news, "You are in the good place."  There are some teaching moments in the plot; but mostly it is entertainment.

One teaching moment is found in the premise.  What happens to us when we die?  Are our acts on earth graded and based on those do we end up in a bad place or a good place?

I read this morning Ephesians 2:1-10.  Paul speaks of being set free from the trap of sin.  Paul does write of eternity and being with God; but his writings do not merely address what comes next.  He is clear that being a follower of Jesus changes life now.  And that change is for the better.

Eleanor, main character in "The Good Place," is the one who exposes that doing the right thing is simply better.  Doing the right thing keeps us in a right relationship with others, with the world, with our creator.  

Paul's writings reveal that it is a trap of the evil one which allows us to think that lying or cheating or stealing or harming will somehow make our lives fuller.  It is a trap!

The way of Jesus is not some arbitrary set of rules, intended to be a buzz kill.  The way of Jesus sets us on a path toward peace, contentment, community.  The way of Jesus is the way to the good place.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, January 15

Today's gospel reading is Mark 1:14-28.  This is one of the places where a person with "an unclean spirit" correctly identifies Jesus.  He cries out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God."

In this instance, it is Jesus who silences the spirit.  He does so by instructing the spirit to "come out" of the afflicted person.  Let's not lose that aspect of the story.

In my prayers, I remembered other instances where the attempts to silence are made by the authorities.  Even the crowd tells one man to stop shouting!

Too often, we seek calm over the changes which Jesus would bring to the world.

Today is the birthday of Dr. ML King, Jr.  (For the sake of convenience, our authorities set the observance for the 3rd Monday of the month.)  Many tried to silence him.

Who is shouting now?  Where are the voices seeking the alterations pleasing to God?  If the calls for justice and fairness and acceptance are silenced by Jesus' acts of healing so be it!  But that is the only way in which silence ought to come.

Who is shouting now?  Do we even hear their voices?  

Monday, January 14, 2019

Devotion - Monday, January 14

We make baptism the center of much that we teach and do.  To speak of baptism as a sacrament is to acknowledge that more happens in a baptism than we can comprehend.  Sacraments are mysterious.  Sacraments are encounters with God.  In a sacrament, God is the actor.

When faced with hardship or temptation, Luther was said to have replied "I am baptized!"

In understanding ourselves as one immersed in the waters of baptism, we place our trust in God and we express our confidence that God will care for us.  To be baptized is to be assured that while the arrows may strike us, they will not pierce our heart.  Remembering our baptism assures us that we may be pressed, but never destroyed.

In this week of the Baptism of Our Lord, it is good to reflect on the significance of our own baptism.  If you can't immediately recall the date of your baptism, this is a good week to find that date and place it on your calendar.  Begin the practice of annually remembering your baptism; hang your baptismal certificate in your room.

"I am baptized!"  What more need I know or what more could I need?