Thursday, May 2, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, May 2

After two decades of sending these devotions, today will be my last.  Finals end tomorrow, and over the summer I will be stepping down from my position with LCM.  

I want to thank you for allowing me to become part of your morning and your life.  Your replies and questions and sharing have kept my faith life full and meaningful.  I will miss talking with you.  I will continue to pray for you, and ask that you would remember me.

This morning I am leaning heavily on what my theology professor taught me.  In a study of The Beatitudes, he helped me to understand "Blessed are those who mourn."  "Only those who have had a meaningful relationship have reason to mourn."  There is sadness only as an aftermath of having been blessed.

Truly, this is what I am experiencing.  

God remains, regardless of what actions we take or the interactions we have.  God remains loving and caring and always at our side.  Why mourn?

Again, thank you.  And God bless you.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, May 1

Daniel is an old testament book known for a lion's den and seldom little more.  Daniel is placed in that den because of his dogged devotion to God.  In that den, he is protected.  He is also put into a fiery furnace, again without any harm coming his way.

The story which surrounds these two events involves Daniel's ability to listen to God and to make known God's will.  Daniel is able to tell the King the meaning of his dream without having been told the dream.  

I was reading this morning from Chapter 2 of Daniel.  And these words stuck with me:
"Blessed be the name of God......
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding."

You have been studying and working very hard to amass the information now being asked of you on final exams.  But I would encourage you to have a bit of Daniel's ability to see these things as a gift from God.  The wise are typically ready to admit their wisdom is not self-obtained.  Those with understanding see knowledge as a precious gift passed on to them from those who have gone before.  

You are wise and possess knowledge.  Use these as the gifts from God intended to aid you in serving God and God's people.  Be aware of the value of this gift and treat it as a sacred trust rather than a tool for personal advancement.

Continue to study and prepare for your exams.  But also give thanks to God for the wisdom and knowledge enabling you to move ever closer to being a college graduate.  Actively look for ways in which these gifts can be used by God to create the world which overflows with God's love and purpose.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, April 30

I love this time of year; and I love this time of day.  The chair where I do my scripture reading and prayers is also the room with the most windows.  We have them opened, during this season.  Outside the window there is a continuous course of birds, singing their songs.

Papa and I were sitting on the front porch, at the end of the day on Friday.  They were chirping then, too.  He and I talked of the individual songs, trying to identify the bird.

There are passages of scripture which ask us to consider the birds of the air.  Those verses encourage us to learn from the birds the extent of God's care.  "They do not fret," so why should we.  Surely God will look after us also.

I can't say I know what tasks or chores or joys lie ahead for those birds.  And I can't say for sure that their day is made lighter by the songs of which theirs is but one.  But sitting in my chair, searching scripture for words of hope, listening to the voices in the trees, my day begins with a greater calm and assurance.

I hope I can remember the sound of those birds.  I want to keep the sound fresh in my ears.  Certainly I will remember these feelings and these assurances of God's continuous presence and oversight.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Devotion - Monday, April 29

There is always more content in the Sunday readings than a preacher is able to cover.  In reading the Gospel I tried to give attention to a thought which was equally deserving of a sermon.  When Jesus comes among the disciples, he says to them, "Peace be with you."  He says it every time he shows up.

This is a significant greeting.

There are many reasons why peace could evade us.  There are so many places in our lives where peace is taken from us.  To have the gift of God's peace is to receive a wonderful thing.

This is a week which could need some "peace."  Remember yesterday's Gospel often.  Think of Jesus' greeting each time the stress or strain of exams starts to rob you of the peace which Jesus offers.

"Peace be with you."  It is a marvelous gift of God and from God.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sermon - Second Sunday of Easter - Year C

John 20:19-31            

                                                                 He “Breathed” on Them 

“When (Jesus) had said this, he breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.”

He “breathed on them”?  That is all they get?  Jesus is about to send them off to start a religious movement which would cover the whole Earth, and he sends them off with such a breath?

Think about how much has been done to equip this batch of college graduates!  Today we say farewell to them and send them off into the world to do their own amazing things.  Think of all the tools and resources they been given?  Consider how much they had to learn and skills they had master before being deemed ready to be turned lose in the world.

I hear about the work of preparing them, as their chatter from the LCM Lounge penetrates the walls and reverberates in my office.  These last few weeks, what I hear talked about often are the engineering students share those pesky senior design projects.  Two of our group were student teachers this semester.  Once again, I fully understand that we do not pay teachers enough and that they work longer hours than any employers ought to expect.  While co-ops are not required for every major, they are in graphic design.  The competition to land a co-op is itself a required developed ability.

It is important, before being sent out to attempt to do an important task that we be equipped and are given what we will need in order to meet the challenge.  This is what a degree from Clemson University does.  But what about those frightened former disciples of Jesus?  Hiding out in an upper room out of fear of what the world out there might do to them.  Jesus isn’t just paying them a social visit, he comes to tell them they will now be the ones to carry forth. 

“When (Jesus) had said (‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’) he breathed on them.”

Is it enough?  This breath?

It takes a lot to be ready to face the world and the world’s challenges.  Not everyone feels prepared in every instance.  The chatter I hear from the LCM Lounge rarely involves being sufficiently prepared to pass the course or get the best grade.  It is a desire to be equipped and prepared for the work to be done in the world.  It is a plea not to be passed on without being given the knowledge and skill to do what needs to be done.  They need to be equipped.  And they want to be equipped.

We all do.

What do you need?  And I don’t mean merely to do the job which holds your place in society.  What do you need, in order to take your place among the current disciples of Jesus – sent into the world to share the Good News?  What might you need to be given?  What might you want to be given, as you are sent, as Jesus sends forth all his disciples?

I do not mean to imply that the breath which Jesus breathed isn’t enough.  In fact, I hope to help us all understand that it is more than enough.

Let’s look at that word – “Breath.”  It is a rather rare word, used infrequently in the scriptures.  Two occurrences in the Latin translations of scripture are in Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:9.

Genesis 2:7 ought to be easy for us.  What happens in the early chapters of the first book of the Bible?  Genesis 2:7 reads:  “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” 

Perhaps more might be given to us, when we are created.  But surely nothing greater could be offered.  (I was sort of expecting an “Amen” when I said that.)  Perhaps more might be given to us, when we are created.  But surely nothing greater could be offered.  There are all sorts of things which might also come, but none of that matters until this first gift is extended and received.

Maybe we would like to have more, before venturing out into the world, but this breath which God breaths into our nostrils is quite a gift.

Let’s add a footnote here – about the epistemology of the Hebrew word for “breath.”  It has the same word which also refers to wind and to spirit.  So those references to the wind blowing where it will and the spirit stirring among God’s people are also linked to this same encounter referred to here as Jesus “breathing” on them.

If you are in the habit of reading my e-devotion, you will know the other reference to “breath”.  Ezekiel 37 was the text for this Thursday.   It is the vision of the prophet in which he sees the valley of dry bones.  He is told to prophesy to the bones – in essence, to use his breath to pour upon them spirit.  The “four winds” sweep through the valley and bone is joined to bone, sinews and flesh are attached.  “And they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”

So, you see, this breath is no small thing.  It is a rather big deal.  And at its going forth, great differences are made.

We may be tempted to think it isn’t much.  Those who wish to scoff could attempt to encourage us to dismiss or insist for more.  But it is enough.  It is sufficient.  Nothing more is needed.

We receive this breath and we experience it.  This breath is shared among us and between us.  It makes possible our words of kindness and compassion.  The air we breathe gives us sufficient oxygen levels to put our hands and feet into action on behalf of others.

Of all the things which might have prepared us for the work Jesus gives us, none may be as helpful as the experience of sharing this breath with one another.  We know why a beloved community enlivens those who are downtrodden.  And we have experienced how Christian community shields us from the world’s attempts to drag us down.   

“When (Jesus) had said (‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’) he breathed on them.”

Having seen how that small group of eleven has grown into a Christian church in every land and nation, we know how well that breath equipped them.

This is way we refer to this annual event as “Farewell and Godspeed.”  While it is painful to say “good-bye,” we know that we are sending forth yet another group of disciples with all they need to accomplish great things in the world.

You faculty and staff took care of that on the academic side; UniLu has done it in the realms of faith and confidence.

You have been “breathed on,” through the scriptures, sermons, and Words of Institution.  Never let worry or fear or anxiety rob you of the confidence that it is enough.  It isn’t all that Jesus will give us, but it is the first gift and it is the gift which allows opportunity for everything else to come your way.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, April 25

The vision retold in Ezekiel 37 should be read and remembered. It is a vision for any who ever find themselves feeling desolate or hopeless or grieved.

The prophet is taken to a valley full of bones and asked, "Can these bones live?"  As the Word of God is spoken to these bones, they begin to come together.  Sinews are attached and flesh.  As the Word is spoken again, breath enters and life is revealed.

The message God instructs the prophet to tell Israel is not to see themselves as desolate or hopeless or grieved.  The Word of God and the breath will come to them, and they will live.

This is a powerful message, for each of us and for all of us.  It is the story of our God and it is the message we should proclaim.  We can hear the promise and we are invited to experience the life and breath which God gives to us at the start of each new day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, April 24

in John 15, Jesus speaks of himself as the vine, the Father as the vinedresser.  He reminds us that unless the branches remain attached to the vine, they wither and die.  He also points out that the job of the vinedresser is to prune the branches, cutting away some so that more fruit might be produced.

Words which certainly encourage if not demand that we remain connected to God.

Which lead to my prayers this morning including petitions of thankfulness for those who share my days and the activities of LCM.  Not every thing we do are overt expressions of our piety.  Yesterday's lunch at CORE is an example.  But every gathering is a reminder of the vine which joins us.

My prayers this morning also lifted those known to us but not among us.  The last thing I ever want to do, as a campus pastor, is be the attendance police.  God's love for us is not conditional and neither is being "included" in the circle of this community.  My prayer is a hope that each has some community providing for them the basic nurture needed in order to face the challenges and events of life.  There are many other places to be reminded of God's care and compassion, LCM-C is but one.  When those known to me are not attached through LCM-C, I do pray for God's assurance they are connected somewhere and that they are benefiting from the shared history and resources of God's people.

The branches are where the vine focuses all its attention.  The branches are where the ends are achieved.  The branches do their part of the work, but they know that the vine will keep them alive and supplied.  There is so much for which vines can give thanks and then not worry.

John 15.  It is a comforting and instructive chapter.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, April 23

In reading John 14, we are once again reminded that the path of faith begins in loving Jesus.  Jesus is speaking to the disciples, when he points out that those who love him are those who keep his commandments.  We follow the way of Jesus because we have seen and responded to the love.

Too often the order of this is reversed.  When presented with the question of what are the marks of a Christian, we think of their behavior or their obedience.  This leads to the assertion that some folks are "more Christian than most Christians," - meaning they show mercy and compassion.  As a child, you were taught to obey.  Long before you knew why it was wrong to play in the street you came to obey your parents' rule not to play in the street.  But we put aside childish things, and we become adults.

As adults, we understand the depth of the love Jesus has shown us and shown for us.  And we respond to that love.

We respond in loving each other.  We show true and authentic care for our sisters and brothers.  This compassion extends beyond our family or tribe - it is freely given to all God's children.

Feel the love of Jesus, coming into your life.  And experience the unimaginable joy of allowing that love to flow out from you and into the world around you.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Devotion - Monday, April 22

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

I hope and trust that you gathered yesterday with the followers of Jesus to share this announcement.  I had the joy of being with many of you, at UniLu.  Thanks to FaceBook, I saw photos of others with family and at home congregations.  What a beautiful sight!

The affirmation of Christ's resurrection lifts our hearts and sustains us for whatever the world might throw at us.  It reminds us of the way of the One whom we follow.  And it is a communal pledge to keep to the way of Jesus and not be distracted.

An attempt at distraction was also sounding across the social media platforms yesterday morning.  The horrific events in Sri Lanka shattered any illusion that whole of God's creation has experienced the "peace which passes understanding."  There is a temptation to revert to the ways of the world, to take up the strategy of violence.  Not on Easter; never on Easter Sunday.

The Christian community will remain united in affirming that those who seek to do evil are no match for our God.  The experiences of yesterday will remind us that the way of Jesus is an front to some and too much for some to accept.  The followers of Jesus will protect the innocent and will never allow the angry voices of this world to drown out the affirmation which has changed our lives and the world which God so loved.

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sermon - Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-12

                                                              No Living Among the Dead 

            Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen, indeed!
            Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen, indeed!
            Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

How many times have you joined in this ancient call and response?  For me, it is sixty-two.  Though I don’t fully remember the first couple of Easter Sundays, I was in the assembly of God’s people when this affirmation was repeated.

There were also two Easters when I had the pleasure of worshiping in the historic churches of Wittenberg, Germany.  There was a call and response, but my German is not sufficient to know precisely what was said.  Though I am reasonably sure it was very much like our American Lutheran tradition.

The only way to reply to the news “Christ is risen!” is to acknowledge that God has indeed done this marvelous thing.

“Indeed!”  The grave did not hold God’s Chosen One and thus the grave will not hold God’s beloved children.

“Indeed!”  The forces of evil attempted to do their worse but they are no match for the power of life which enters us in every breath of renewing spirit.

“Indeed!”  The great quest of human existence has reached its zenith and we are able to know the purpose and reason for our existence.

“Indeed!”  Christ has risen and all the cosmos has been rectified and righted and redeemed.

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

How many Easter mornings have you repeated these affirmations? 
Enough, or so we would hope. 

And how many times have you spoken these affirmations?  Spoken them to a friend as words of hope amid despair.  Or to a co-worker as words of comfort amid turmoil.  Or shared them as words of promise to those whose lives were shaken.  These simple two lines are all we need to hear, all we need to know, in order for all things to be right with the world and in our lives.  Repeating them gives hope, peace, promise.

Why then, do we so often look elsewhere?  Or in the wrong places?  How is it that we have repeated these words for sixty-two, or eighty-two, or twenty-two, or even two years and still we “look for the living among the dead.”

This is the error of those present for the first Easter morning.  They go to the tomb with spices to anoint a decomposing sack of carbon-based cells.  Upon arrival they are greeted by two men in dazzling clothes.  These men pose an appropriate question – for them and for us.  They ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

It is the wrong place to look, for the living.  Why would you go to a place of death and the dead in order to find life?  What would make anyone think they could find life among that which is dead?

I really mean this to be a question for you and me rather than an accusation of “the women” who came to the tomb that first Easter morning – not that they had no way of knowing what was coming.  The question of looking among the dead for the living is followed with, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”  They had opportunity – be it a little less than the opportunities set before you and I.

So, how is it, that the search for the living continues to go on among the dead?

We know – and fully agree – that money won’t bring us happiness.  And yet, most of our energy for most of our days is spent pursuing those dead slips of paper.  (Actually, a US bill is made of 75% cotton and 25% linen.  DEAD cells of cotton and linen.)

We know – and fully agree – that power corrupts and has a corrosive effect on our relationships.  But the fight for the top rung is as fierce as ever.

We know – and fully agree – that being at peace with our neighbor means peace for us.  And yet we erect privacy fences and point our motion-sensor lights in their general direction.

Is it not an expression of death when we fear the sojourner and blame the victims for being on that dangerous Jericho Road in the first place?  Do we turn our gaze in the wrong direction when allegiance to some state-mandated right supersedes dedication to protecting school children from gun violence?

Why do we look for the living among the dead?

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen, indeed!  We know because we have repeated every year of our lives that the way to life and the gift of life is revealed to us – given to us – in the life, words, death, and resurrection of a simple peasant boy born to an unwed mother.

Please, stop looking for life in the wrong places. 

Pastor Jon has been consistent and considerate in asking me how I wanted to observe my “last.”  I told him I didn’t want a whole year of “Lasts” - “Last Homecoming,” “Last Christmas,” “Last Reformation,” “Last Groundhog Day...”  But I did tell him I wanted to preach on my last Easter.  Not because I have anything to say that has not been said before, and said better by others.  I asked for this Sunday that I might simply return to the most basic of all profound statements.  The chorus of voices around the world are shouting this day that Christ has risen.  And in millions of sermons preachers are helping the faithful apply those words to their lives.  As I conclude this, my last Easter Sermon, I want to ask you to make a promise.  Promise me that you will stop looking among the dead for that which is living.

Can you say it with me?  Will you say it with me? 
“I will not look among the dead for that which is living.”

By all means, keep your day jobs.  Provide for your family.  Seek to be the best you can be.  Protect this world from those intending evil.  But never at the expense of failing to know where life is found.  Do not forget the affirmation upon what all meaningful life is built.

Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Sermon - Maundy Thursday

John 13:1- 17, 31b-35                                                 

Love – As I have Loved You

Maundy Thursday takes its name from the commandment that Jesus gives to his disciples on this, the final day of his life.  “Maundy” is the middle English pronunciation of the Latin word for “commandment.”   Jesus calls it a “new” commandment.  But it really isn’t new.  It is the heart of so much of what he has said and lived during his time among us.  Maybe he calls it “new” because this is he wants his disciples to remember, and to do, above all else.   Jesus says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” 

This is the commandment (the maundy) for which this Thursday is known.
“Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  

Earlier in his ministry, when asked which of the previous commandments ought to be considered the “greatest,” Jesus lifts up love of God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.  Jesus is careful to root this “new commandment” at the very heart of what God’s people have been about from the very beginning.  Here, on the last night he will spend with his disciples, he returns to the same theme.  He instructs them that what he expects of them is that they will love.  That they will love as he has first loved us.

To follow this to a conclusion, two points need to be made.  The first has to do with the way Jesus loves.   What is meant when he says, “Love, as I have loved you”?  The second point is to ask the question (the painful question) of whether it can truly be said that we do emulate this love.

First point - the love with which Jesus loved is a love that is giving and self-sacrificing.  Let’s remember that as he spoke these words, Jesus is just hours from being betrayed into the hands of those who would orchestrate his death.  This is the model he gives us for loving.

And we see this model, not only on Good Friday, but throughout his life and ministry.  Remember the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ attempt to withdraw from the crowds.  He tries to get away, to a quite place.  He travels across the sea only to discover that the crowd has rushed around the shore in order to be there when he reaches the other side.

The love with which Jesus loved is selfless and self-sacrificing.  He gives all that he has.

I think about this, whenever we have to work so hard to line folks up for a service project.  Why is it so difficult to find meals for two weeks of Family Promise?  Or one day a month at Our Daily Bread?  For the first time in my twenty-six years, last year was the first when we couldn’t muster up enough support to even attempt the CROP Walk for World Hunger.

We are tired; and we are overworked.  But how much of this exhaustion comes from the tasks which advance our own careers or aspirations?  Are our schedules full because we are seeking ways in which we can be of serve to others, or are they jam packed with the drive to acquire more and more stuff?

The love, with which Jesus loves, leads him to the cross.  Are we willing to follow where he has lead?   Seems doubtful when we can’t even get a handful willing to sacrifice a Saturday a month in order to work on a Habitat house.

I don’t mean to overlook or to ignore the sacrificial acts performed on behalf of family members.  So many of you are caring for ailing spouses or parents.  There is great attention given to the raising of children.  And I have benefitted throughout my time with you from so many of you being willing to assist in caring for ailing members of my family.  Such self-giving acts are certainly a reflection of the love with Christ has first loved us.  We do reflect the love of Jesus when we provide care for those to whom we are intimately connected.  The concern is whether the circumference of our circle of love ends there.

In a separate biblical story, a young man tries to justify his narrowing of the circle of care.  He asks Jesus to define “neighbor.”  In that story, Jesus makes it clear that neighbors are not simply those who own the house next to us or sit beside us in worship.  Jesus speaks of neighbor as anyone we encounter – especially someone who is in need of our help.

We do a pretty good job of loving those whose lives are connected to our own.  It is admirable and honorable to take care of and protect one’s family.   And no one is more popular than the guy next door who helps us blow our leaves, collects our mail when we are out of town, and comes over to ask snoopy questions when a stranger shows up at a time when we are away.  But the circle of Jesus’ love is much wider.  He has compassion on all those whom he sees.  He cries over all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  He dies for the sake of all creation. 

I am coming to the conclusion that it is easier to follow the command to “Preach Jesus” than it is to follow the command of Jesus.  It is simple to believe in our hearts and confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord.  What is hard, what is trough, what really divides the sheep from the goats is when it comes to loving one another with the love with which Jesus has first loved us.  The difficult question, the tough question, the question which embarrasses us is the one which asks whether we are offering to others the love with which Jesus has first loved us.  It is easy to say we love the Lord.  It is another thing all together to love doing what it is that our Lord did.

Devotion - Maundy Thursday

The lesson appointed for this day is Jesus' display of his love for the disciples and his instructions to "love, as I have loved you."  This is a widely accepted instruction, but one difficult to apply to our lives.

The love Jesus displays does, without doubt, set the concerns of others above his own.  

The love Jesus displays does, without doubt, result in reckless behaviors which come back to hurt and harm Jesus.
i have told my children to never, ever pick up someone along the side of the highway.  I have told them to call helping professionals rather than stop to assist a stranded motorist.  We have lots of room in our home, why not invite one of the families involved in Family Promise to just stay with us till they get their feet on the ground?

I raise these examples as my way of saying I share the shame of failing to live according to the command of Jesus which I will preach on later this evening.  It is a tough thing to hear and to do.

On this  Maundy Thursday, my prayer is that you will struggle with applying Jesus' instructions.  Do more than "believe" in the way of Jesus, search ways you can live the way of Jesus.  It isn't a huge leap which gets us to our destination, it is a series of small steps.  Take one.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday of Holy Week

You must abide by the academic calendar.  This year the academic calendar aligns poorly with the Liturgical Calendar.  This is Holy Week, and it is a week so close to the end of the semester that it is impossible to catch a break.

Do the best you can.

There will be other Holy Weeks in your life; other opportunities to move through the events which define our faith and our following of Jesus.  But each Holy Week is an opportunity, and it saddens me to think you might miss some of this one.  

Do the best you can.

Holy Week is a physical re-enactment of the release which comes to us through our Messiah.  Holy Week is a re-occurrence of the lengths to which God will go in order to assure us that we do not need to worry or fret.  Holy Week is a gift, which makes life possible in a whole new way.

Between the demands of these final two weeks of class, find ways to experience as much as you can of this gift.  Seek opportunities to be reminded of the depth of God's love and the extent of God's compassion.  Be of this mind, even if your body has to be in labs or sitting behind a study desk.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday of Holy Week

In John 12 there is a very brief reference to a group of folks who come to see Jesus.  They are "some Greeks," who were "among those who went up to worship at the feast."  Upon hearing of their desire to see him, Jesus announces "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."

Theologians tell us that this exchange signals Christ as something more than the private possession or gift to one people or to one group of people.  This brief exchange acknowledges the role Jesus has in the life of the whole of the creation.  

Those who call upon his name find in Christ the gift of salvation.  Those who lift up his name in their prayers seek to follow his way and to make known his identity and his gift.  But Christ is not our personal possession.  Christ has come to the world - the whole world - and the entire cosmos is altered by his presence.

Give thanks for the faith in you which enables you to perceive and to appreciate;  know that the one whom you speak of in your prayers is Lord of all that exists.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Devotion - Monday of Holy Week

Jesus' entry into Jerusalem causes quite the stir.  In most accounts, it seems as if they whole city goes out to greet him.  In John's Gospel, there is the suggestion of pre-planning for his return to the city of God's people.

Jesus' entry to Jerusalem is an essential part of the story:  it creates the drama of needing to later decide which "king" you will follow.  Will you follow the one, true king?  Or one who poses as a king?

It ought to be an easy choice, right?  One is authentic; the other is fake.  But the trappings used by the fake king are so attractive and they are many of the traits and attributes given high value by the world.  Then there is the matter is stealth - the fake king will not confront you with a direct, life-altering decision.  It is a series of small, seemingly insignificant choices along the way.

Jesus' entry into the city still causes quite a stir.  Jesus continues to expose the choices we make and he allows us to see where those are leading us.  It may be a "small thing" which proves to be the one thing which sets the course of our life.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, April 11

Several of you participated in the interfaith events hosted by the Gantt Center.  I am sorry I could not attend - the calendar fills up too fast.  Over Tuesday Lunch, we were talking about this and there was one part of the conversation which came back to me in my prayer time.

It is the issues of whether the various religious traditions of the world pray to the same God.

The response to which I want to build is this:  I am not prepared to say that all religious pray to the same God, but I my study of scripture would affirm that followers of Jesus are not to condemn the prayers of other traditions.

Jesus speaks of sheep in other folds.  Jesus talks about uniting the nations of the world.  Jesus speaks of a way which maintains and respects the universal vision of God as something unattainable by mortals.

As a follower of Jesus, I will always share the way of Jesus and the words of Jesus.  Were I to turn the words of Jesus into a condemnation of someone who is striving to see the universal vision of God, that would be inconsistent with the way of Jesus.

Following our lunch discussion, I hopped into the Blood Connection Bus to donate a pint.  Jacked up by our conversation, I responded with more detail than she wanted when the young woman taking my vitals asked about "Lutherans."  She said something along the lines of "So, you all are very different from Christians."  Horror!  "No," I told her, "this is what it means to be Christian.  Some have simply hijacked the name."

The Jesus we follow has some very specific and essential things to say.  But none of those things - none of those things - should be used as a stumbling block or impediment to others.  Speak to those who follow other traditions of the unimaginable joy of knowing the love of Jesus and always remember that that love is has not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might have life and light.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, April 10

John 10 is all about sheep and shepherds.  Even the ag students may have limited knowledge and experience with sheep.  They are a symbol for many of us of simplicity and purity, and we often see Jesus depicted as a shepherd.

Sheep are dependent upon a shepherd.  They follow where they are lead.  They learn to listen for their shepherd's voice.  Considering how much they are incapable of learning, that they can learn the particular pitch and tone of one voice is amazing.  It is as if God decided, "If they are only capable of knowing one thing, let's make that one thing the ability to recognize the voice of their shepherd."

You, of course, are capable of learning many more things.  Just yesterday, I was asked what I know about polymers.  I heard there is a special kind of math class for industrial engineering students.  You are capable of learning many things!  And in the excitement of learning those things, you might too quickly move past the most simple of things.  Among the things you are capable of learning, learn to list and memorize the most important things.

Listen for the voice of the shepherd, which is telling you that you do have someone watching over you.  Listen to the words of the shepherd, which warns you of dangers and possible pitfalls.  Hear the words which confirm how much you are loved and that you are accepted.

One of our alumni has an organic farm.  On this farm there are animals.  The one-year old daughter sees the pigs and the cows and the chickens, but stares at the little lambs.  She knows.  Those lambs have something to teach her.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, April 9

"The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know."  Blaise Pascal

Pascal was a 17th century mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic theologian.  Pascal's earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum. Pascal also wrote in defense of the scientific method.  I heard about him first in reading about physics.  Only later did I encounter his contributions to theology.  

He is a wonderful example of blending together a deep interest in this world and how it works.  He delved into the sciences and used his God-given intelligence to understand all that he could.  And, he held to his faith, and his trust, and his confidence in God.  He was able to speak of the primacy of things, each in its proper place.

He integrated that which he learned with that which he believed.

Do not shy away from either, in your life.  Study, learn, discover - all with the full conviction that God is present helping you to unravel mysteries.  Pray, confess, believe - that of which your heart has become convicted.  Bring every aspect into harmony, or at least onto parallel tracks.  One does not need to be abandoned for the sake of the other.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Devotion - Monday, April 8

Jeremiah 24 records a vision in which the prophet is told that God will remain by the side of those who suffer, and that God will see the way of the wicked perish.  This does happen, over generations.  Jeremiah's words are a confirmation of this; his words were a comfort to those who were in the category of the suffering.

We know this to be true.  Over time, we are able to look back and see the evil moods which misguided us a people.  And, in comparison to biblical times, it doesn't take us all that long.

It was only 250 years ago that we thought chattel slavery was okay.

It was only 100 years ago that we did not think women should vote.

In 1960 many thought it wrong to allow back and white to marry.

My prayers confront me with deep concerns for our world.  We are turning in on ourselves and ignoring those who are the least among us.  Our attitude toward strangers has become one of suspicion and mistrust.  We turn on one another with high-powered rifles.  Most houses are built with non-functioning front porches but elaborate back-yard privacy fences.  Health care is advanced, but only available to the few.

My study of scripture reminds me of the way of God and assures me that the way of God will be revealed.  My practice of turning to the Word of God comforts me, I may not see the righting of these wrongs but they will come.  In the lives of my children and grandchildren and great-grands?  It is the work of the devil that we can't see what is so clear in the eyes of God.  But God sees.  And God nudges his children toward sight.  My prayers are not in vain.  God's will will be done, on earth as in heaven, and with God's help that will will also be done through me.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, April 4

There is a predictable (though odd) pattern associated with the ending of time together.  There is a tendency to find fault with the other, in order to lessen the pain of being separated.  It allows us to say to ourselves, "You don't matter that much to me, anyway."

We see this most at the end of break or a weekend home.  Parents get on our nerves, we get on their bad side.  There is an angry exchange as we are loading our car to return to campus.

It also happens between us and our peers at the end of a school year.  

Now, there are legitimate and clear reasons why all the crap we have put up with for months or years needs to boil over and "they" ought to have a piece of your mind!  

But there is also the possibility that the cause of conflict is rooted in how much we have exposed ourselves to the other person(s) and how integral they have been to these months or years of our life.  We worry what they will do with the parts of our lives which hide from most persons but have shared with others.  "Let's have a fight!"  then we can both dismiss what the other does when we are no longer together.

I am attune to this because of my pastoral conversations with you.  I see the signs of separation anxiety.  As I was praying this morning, I wondered how careful I need to be about this as I prepare to step aside from this role.  I am so attached to all of you, that I find it impossible to imagine my life come August.  And it is tempting for me to begin to find fault and to complain about the messiness of the Lounge or having to tell you about an event clearly posted in the E-News.  And what of your thoughts about me?

It is difficult to move ever closer to the end of time spent with another.  There is a predictable (though odd) response to such a stress.  Let us hold firm to the heart of Christ, which allows us to give thanks for the gift which has come our way and to celebrate the way in which what we have had is a preparation for what God will bring to us next.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, April 3

How long can you go (how long do you tend to go) between meals?  My body has become very accustomed to breakfast around 6:30, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6:00.  Much more than that, and I start to pick up snacks.  Snacks are never as nutritious or as filling.

I was reading from John 6 this morning.  Jesus asks why we spend our money for the food which does not satisfy?  He offers the bread from Heaven, which sustains us even into eternal life.

It was around the time you were born that congregations had these big discussions about how often to celebrate Holy Communion.  There was a push  for weekly celebrations; previously communion was offered on Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Reformation, and once every four months if there was too much time between any of these.  The discussion included comments suggesting that too often was not a good thing,

How long can you go (how long do you tend to go) between meals?  How long do you want to go, without receiving the bread which sustains us and assures us of God's presence in our lives? 

As you disburse for the summer, or graduate and move on, you may find yourself in a congregation who does not offer weekly communion.  Find a home in that congregation, regardless of its communion practice.  But be aware of this gift, offered to you as a way of making sure you do not grow hungry.  And perhaps seek the opportunity to be fed as is needful for your own life.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, April 2

As a part of last Wednesday's program, I spoke of how some "sins" are elevated, seemingly to imply they are worse than others.  This is not so.

But this morning I want to point out that in Jeremiah 17, the transgression which seems to be elevated is observing Sabbath.  I want avoid implying that one way of sin is worse, but I do want to draw a lesson from what is written in this chapter of this ancient book of Israel.

Keeping Sabbath is pretty low on our radar, isn't it?  Even when we think of keeping Sabbath, we think primarily of whether we attended worship.  To keep the Sabbath involved much more.  Jeremiah 17 speaks of carrying no burden.  Presumably, such burdens would have been related to one's means of making a livelihood.  To keep Sabbath is to refrain from work, it is to take our rest, it is to give attention to the Word of God (participating in worship is one way to do that), and it means taking notice of our neighbor.  Keeping Sabbath is live-giving.

The refrain I most often hear from you is that Sunday is the day you get caught up on your work.  Sunday is the day you outline the tasks for the week to come.  It is a popular day for group projects.  It would be very difficult for you to turn the tide of your peers and the culture around you.  But try.

Try - not out of some misguided fear that God will zap you if you don't - but so that you might experience the life-giving pleasure of having a time to step away from your tasks and attend to the things which are eternal.  

Monday, April 1, 2019

Devotion - Monday, April 1

The book of Romans is often quoted when speaking of the basic conviction that we are justified by faith, not works.  But in the 7th chapter, there are clear instructions from Paul that "good fruits" will proceed from those who have been reborn as children of God.

The overall discussion of this section has to do with living in relationship with Christ, haven been given this opportunity by virtue of the death of Jesus upon the cross.  In the past we may have produced evil fruit, but now good fruit is possible.

Your fruits will show forth your roots.

I would like to issue a simple challenge to you this day.  At some point before you end your day, be very intentional in saying to another person, "God loves you!"  They are likely to be taken aback, that is what makes this a challenge.  So choose someone you know well.  Someone whom you can follow up with, "I read this morning devotion thing and the writer challenged me to do this and so I thought of you as someone whom I wanted to make sure knew that God loves you."  You also don't need to follow up with anything.  Just say it.

I won't refer to such a simple act as low hanging fruit, but it is a good fruit which is simple and direct.  It is a clear way in which you could put into practice the encouragement of Romans 7.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon - 4th Sunday in Lent

Luke 15:1-3,11b-32                

                                                                   The Forgiving Father 

I have to start this morning’s sermon wondering how this parable made it into the collection of writings so highly treasured by the Judeo-Christian tradition.  There are at least two glaring transgressions committed here.  There are undeniable violations of the laws which are to govern God’s people.  And yet, there are no consequences!  There is no punishment!  In fact, the guilty party comes out smelling like a rose.

  This particular parable does only occur in Luke.  The 15th chapter contains other parables; and those parables are also in the Gospel written by Matthew.  But this story about inheritance and pigs and fatted calves only gets told in Luke.  Maybe Luke didn’t know any better.  We are reasonably sure that Luke was Greek, not Jewish.  The tradition tells us he was a physician, not a trained teacher of The Law of Moses.  Maybe he was not as aware as Matthew or Mark of the Ten Commandments and their instructions regarding moral living and honoring one’s father. 

Look at the story again.  And let’s point out those flagrant violations of the moral code so carefully taught in the scriptures.  First, there is this dis-respect by the younger son toward his father.  We all do know the 4th commandment – right?  “Honor your father and your mother”.  How can anyone think that the 4th commandment is being observed when this wayward son approaches his father and asks for his inheritance?  Some of us might help our children with college tuition.  Or maybe a car.  Or possibly the down-payment for a house.  But to come and ask for the whole share of the property that “will belong to me”?  That would certainly push me over the line.  Any child who would do such a thing is surely not to be pitied if the future doesn’t work out well for them. 

And the future doesn’t work out well for this child.  He goes off to a distant land.  And after a period of time he finds himself working for a pig farmer.  He is hungry, so hungry that he considers the food being given to the swine. 

How did he come to such a low estate?  Well, the story gives us opportunity to understand exactly how he ended up there.  In the story, there is talk of other violations of those 10 commandments.  We are told in the 13th verse that he had “squandered his property in dissolute living.”  For the sake of the children in the room, I am glad the writer left out the details.  But we all know what “dissolute living” means, don’t we?  How many of those commandments of God’s do you think this whipper-snapper transgressed?  I would say a fair number of them. 
  “Leave him with the pigs!”  That is hardly punishment enough for all that he hath done! 

The text tells us that after a while “he came to himself”.  Of course he came to himself – he came to see what he had done and how wrong it was.  Let’s be grateful that he came to himself, because that means he will realize that he is getting what he deserves, that he had not right to dis-obey God’s word, and that he is really no better than all those hired hands whom he had looked down on in the days of his youth.

This is a great story.  It identifies all the reasons why so many folks find themselves in a world of hurt.  They just don’t listen.  They just won’t learn.  And they refuse to obey what they have been carefully and clearly taught.

This boy seems to have finally learned his lesson.  So the boy sticks his pride in his tinny-tiny breast pocket and heads back to the home which he had previously abandoned. 

Enough of the sarcasm.  I can tell you are sick of it; and I don’t think I could keep it up much longer myself.  But you do see my point, don’t you?  This parable would be a great moral lesson if it simply ended here.  If the story were over at this point, it would reinforce the reasons why God’s law has endured for 4,000 years and ought to be obeyed in our day and time.  But the story does not end there.  It continues.  And what happens next challenges everyone who wants think or say, “This is what God expects of us.”

What the father says and what the father does in this parable turns on its head every teaching about the rewards or consequences of living a clean life and honoring those to whom honor is due.  None of that happens in this parable.  Everything that one could do to go against the father is done by this child.  Every possible transgression is committed by this child.  Some will point out “He repented and turned his life around.”  And this is true.  But what of the consequences for his actions?  Is there to be no mark placed upon him or lowering of his status in the family, as a constant reminder of his offence and as a teaching tool to others?

Well, no, there isn’t.

Let’s all at least agree that the elder brother is totally and completely justified in his response.  He has every right to be angry and upset.  The elder brother has no choice other than to point out to the father the ways in which his actions are unjust and unfair.

But the father will not be moved.  He remains firm in his joy at the return of his son.  He will not let his previous pious proclamations stand in the way of rejoicing at the return of one whom he loves and will always love.

I really do dislike this story.  I realize it is told to me and about me, as much as it is told to and about those Pharisees and scribes who grumbled about Jesus’ associations.  I attempt to live a moral life and I spend my whole work-week encouraging others to “honor their fathers and mothers.”  Then this story comes along.  And I sort of look like a fool.

The problem we have, is that we are too inclined assume and hope that the Bible will re-inforce what we think is right.  We are too quick to find in any lesson a reinforcement of our own version of a “just-world.”  There is much about the way of God which does support such living and encourage such thinking.  But the exceptions are really big ones.  And the exceptions smack us in the face.

God surely wants us to live good lives.  But there is one thing more important to God than our living proper lives.  God wants every day of our lives to be lived in the undeniable assurance that we are loved; that we are always welcome in his house; and that nothing will prevent God from rejoicing when he sees us limping home with our tinny-tiny hearts bursting.

The purpose of the Christian Church is not to be the enforcer of some ancient moral code.  The only reason for the Church to continue is to make known the unfathomable depth of God’s love.

Too often we lose our purpose and we forsake our mission.  We think “there has to be consequences!”  We worry about answering the follow-up questions.  But that is not our job.  That is not our role.

The purpose of the Christian Church is not to be the enforcer of some ancient moral code.  The only reason for the Church to continue is to make known the unfathomable depth of God’s love.