October 18, 2017
Have you ever had to make a choice between attending one event over another? I remember that once I had invitations to be in three places at the same time: a wedding, an ordination and a ski weekend. I wanted to clone myself and accept all three invitations for every invitation was heart felt, but in the end, my heart chose one place to be. As we continue exploring the Gospel of Matthew this week, the Pharisees and the Herodians, who are unlikely bedfellows, approach Jesus with a question concocted to entrap him, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” This may not be an invitation to multiple events, but it is a question that determines the heart of the matter. Jesus responds to his questioners bluntly calling them hypocrites. He then proceeds to turn the table as he so often does, saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Now Jesus is not bifurcating the universe into two realms, rather he is making a declarative point: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” The heart of the matter is, “Where does our loyalty lie?” My loyalty on that auspicious weekend of multiple invitations was with my sons on the slopes of Mammoth. My loyalty to God, though, is challenged daily as I seek to live faithfully as a follower of Christ. Do I give to God what is God’s, recognizing that all of who I am and all of what I have belongs to God?
Living God, we are ever thankful for your living word that challenges us to recognize your call and claim on our lives. We admit it is not easy to remember that all of who we are and all of what we have belongs to you. Focus our hearts and our lives on what matters to you! Amen.
October 11, 2017
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Be careful what you ask for, as you may get it?” Sometimes what we think we want is not what we need at all. The chief priests and elders just wanted simple answers to their questions, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority.” Well, Jesus makes it pretty clear that his authority is not from them or the temple hierarchy, but from God. He tells one parable after another that demonstrates that those who fancy themselves in power are not. He even goes on to say some ominous things, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you,” and “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you!” Have you ever asked for something, only to have the tables turned on you? Jesus has a way of teaching us what is really important and it is rarely what our culture says is important. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “God has not called me to be successful. God called me to be faithful.” And faithfulness produces the fruit of the Spirit in and through our lives individually and communally. Henri Nouwen provides some insights for us as well saying, “We have been called to be fruitful – not successful… Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness.” The chief priests and the elders were focused on success and not fruitfulness, therefore Jesus said, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you.” These are words that warn us of the peril of relying on ourselves and our own efforts, rather than on God alone.
Holy One, it is so easy to get wrapped up in what is important to be successful or at least to be perceived as successful. Forgive our reliance on our efforts alone. Humble our spirits producing a willingness to be vulnerable to your will and way for our lives. In you alone we trust. Amen.
October 4, 2017
Do you remember saying to your mom or dad, “Sure, I will do that!” And within minutes you would forget to do what you said you would do. You might have done this with a boss or a spouse or a friend as well. We often make commitments and then fail to follow through, especially when life presses in and is over full. Yet, the parable Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew has more to do with intention than forgetfulness. As David Platt said, “Everything in all of creation responds in obedience to the Creator…until we get to you and me. We have the audacity to look God in the face and say, “No.”” I know that I start each day with good intentions, to love others as God loves me. Yet, a recent experience reminds me that my “yes” is not always a “yes.” I’m preapproved with a significant security clearance for air travel, so when I was selected for a random check on my last trip I was slightly annoyed. But, when I had to wait almost 10 minutes for a TSA employee to randomly check my luggage, my annoyance had escalated. The young man who checked my IPad for explosive residue looked at me with a smile and a bit of enthusiasm and said, “Just think, if you had not been selected for a random check this morning you would have never met me!” What a wakeup call to make my “yes” a real “yes!” Yes, God, I will love others as you love me, even when I am inconvenienced. What wakeup call do you need to be obedient to your commitment to walk with God ever more faithfully day in and day out?
Loving God, you have a way of keeping us honest with ourselves. Open our hearts ever more fully to your power and presence in our lives, so that our “yes” will mean “yes.” Thank you for teachable moments, which draw us daily into your presence. Thank you for never giving up on us. Amen.
September 27, 2017
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, shares these words with the church in Ephesus, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason, I do not cease giving thanks for you.” Yet, a little further into the letter Paul is talking about hostility and a dividing wall. It seems to me there must have been some disagreements within the body of the Christ at Ephesus, given Paul’s emphasis about being one in Christ. “Christ is our peace,” says Paul, “for Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Yet, hostilities seem to easily boil over these days. What do you do when you disagree with someone within the church? Do you seek to see Christ in him or her? Do you remember that the one whom you disagree with is a member of the household of God? The challenge of this passage for us is this: What image of God is made visible through us? Is the God others see through us gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love? Is Christ our peace or is our understanding of Christ something that we fight over?
Compassionate and loving God, forgive our desire to be right at the expense of relationships with others. Humble our spirits and reconcile us one with another, so that those who do not yet know you will come to know of your love through us. Amen.
September 20, 2017
We return this Sunday to the story of the healing of a blind man by Jesus on the Sabbath found in the Gospel of John. The principalities and powers of the synagogue want to know who is responsible for the healing this blind man. Their understanding of Sabbath Law is specific for they say of Jesus, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” I remember standing in the sacred square of the Temple Wall in Jerusalem on a Friday evening as Sabbath, which begins at sundown, was about to begin. I was taking photos, when someone softly touched me on the shoulder and said, “You need to stop, for the Sabbath has begun.” Healing a blind man, taking a photo, all considered work which was a violation of Sabbath Law. Yet, is the letter of the Law what God intended with this commandment? What is the spirit of this commandment, which we first find in Exodus, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.” Jesus leaned into “keep it holy,” whereas the scribes and the Pharisees made a long list given this directive, “You shall do no work.” What does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy? I would suggest it might mean to see the Christ in the other, to see Christ among us bringing healing and wholeness. Seven days a week, even on the Sabbath, Christ is at work among us, keeping all of life holy, for the Lord God said, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Holy One, help us not to get tripped up by the letter of your law. Help us to be holy, to see Christ in the other. Help us to work towards healing and wholeness for all people, not just some people. Holy One, shape our hearts, so that we will walk the way of Christ Jesus seven days a week. Amen.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Peter is obviously fed up with someone in the church. Jesus had just taught the disciples to work things out, when disagreements or hurts happen. Yet, the individual in Peter’s mind has pushed his buttons once too many times and he just wants to be done with the individual. But, Peter has second thoughts and gets up the nerve to ask Jesus a question, “But, how many times should I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven times?” You have probably heard this before, “You hurt me once. Shame on you. You hurt me twice. Shame on me.” Peter obviously believes forgiving seven times is generous. So, Peter’s breath is probably taken away when he hears Jesus say, “Seven! Hardly! Try seventy times seven!” Really? Jesus, are you really asking us to keep forgiving, even if the offense is repetitive? Jesus then goes on to tell a parable that we will explore through worship this coming Sunday about a servant who received extravagant forgiveness, only to turn around and not forgive a debt owed him. Seven? Hardly! No, four hundred and ninety times at the very least! What’s your gut reaction to Jesus’ teaching? Are you ready to forgive and forgive again? Forgiveness is not an easy road, but Lewis B. Smedes gives us some insights as to why forgiveness is helpful to our souls, for he writes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Forgiving God, your mercy is extravagant and your grace is given freely, not once but again and again and again. We confess that forgiveness does not come naturally to us. We would rather hold grudges and exact revenge. Yet, you call us to learn the way of forgiveness. Give us the courage to heed Jesus’ admonition to forgive and forgive and forgive, yet again. Amen.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Why would anyone want to follow Jesus when he describes discipleship this way, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”? What about denial of self is attractive to you? Why would you set aside what you want for what someone else wants? Why would you choose to carry the weight or experience the pain of a cross? The simple, yet complex answer is love. Discipleship is choosing “the risk and reality of pain and loss for the sake of Christ’s love for the world,” writes commentator Susan Johnson. Christ undeniably loves the world, for he willingly laid down his life to show us another way, the way of love. What about us? Do we love the world? Are we willing to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and risk following Jesus into the world, even if it means we will experience the reality of pain and loss? Contemporary Christian artist Brian Johnson sings, “Love came down and rescued me. Love came down and set me free.” We have been rescued from the very small package of self. We have been set free to love others, as Christ loved the world. There is no doubt that discipleship is costly, for we have to deny our wants for the sake of Christ’s love for the world. Yet, the way of love is our only option as a human family, for God’s envisioned future: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Envisioning God, we are in desperate need of help, for wars and rumors of wars are more prevalent then the way of love in our own lives and on the world stage. Help us not to be overwhelmed by the reality of pain and suffering in our world. Help us to simply, yet profoundly love others in the everyday places of our lives. Amen.
Wednesday August 30, 2017
Have you tried your hand at gardening? My husband and I recently planted a few new plants in our backyard around our pond. Our timing was not impeccable though, as we planted the week we had temperatures over a 100 on consecutive days. One plant didn’t take kindly to the intense summer heat that burnt its leaves and limbs. We also had neglected to loosen the soil and the roots around this particular new plant. “Some seeds fell on the path… some on rocky ground… some among thorns… some on good soil,” said Jesus. Only one of our plants didn’t make it and I’m sure the tangled roots, the inhospitable soil, as well as the intense heat had something to do with its demise. I wonder what type of soil your faith has been planted in? Is the soil of your life loosened and cleared of rocks and debris so that faith can take root? Is there ample water to nurture the growth of your faith? Is there shade as well as some sunlight? Are there signs of new growth or is there only deadwood that needs to be pruned? Seeds of faith that fall on good soil bear much fruit. As we explore this well-known parable, found in the Gospel of Matthew this coming Sunday, come prepared to do some gardening in your own life.
Sowing God, till the soil of our lives so that our faith can be firmly rooted in your love. Water our lives with your grace. Cultivate our lives with your living word. Sowing God, thank you for being an attentive gardener, constantly challenging us to produce abundantly with our lives. Amen.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
You are standing in a crowd and all of a sudden you see someone who is literally parting the crowd with her presence, yet you do not know her. You quickly turn to your friend and ask, “Who is she?” Jesus had parted crowds with his presence over and over again. Yet, in our text for this coming Sunday, Jesus takes his disciples away from the crowds to Caesarea Philippi, which is a place of pagan worship. In this place of competing gods, Jesus bluntly asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” How would you answer this question? Who is Jesus to you? In Matthew’s Gospel Simon Peter answered swiftly, saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” What about Peter’s declaration catches your attention? What catches my attention are the words “living God.” The adjective “living” before the noun “God” affirms my experience of the Triune Mystery I call God. Jesus the Christ is dynamic, very present in the midst of my daily experience. I may take notice of Jesus, the Son of the living God in the breathtaking moment of a total solar eclipse or in the simple gesture of a stranger allowing me to go first. When life is awakened within me, in simple and extravagant ways, Christ is very present. As a version of Saint Patrick’s Celtic prayer reminds me, “Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ within me.” Can you hear Jesus asking you, “Who do you say that I am?”
Living God, you go before us even as you reside within us. Open the eyes of our hearts to see you ever more clearly in the midst of our daily lives, for you are a living God, dynamically present here and now! Amen.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Has someone you know ever done something you did not expect them to do? A hurtful word from a dear friend. A word of encouragement from a perceived enemy. Our passage this coming Sunday finds Jesus doing something we would not expect him to do. He ignores the cries of a desperate mother seeking help for her child. It’s as if the woman is invisible to Jesus and we certainly don’t expect this behavior from him. What happens next seems more disturbing though, for Jesus insults the women using derogatory slang. What are we to do when Jesus does not show up or act the way we expect him to act? My sons prayed like crazy for a girl in their youth group who was battling leukemia. They prayed for healing, just as the whole church did. I will never forget their question to me shortly after we heard that she had died, “Mom, how come God didn’t answer our prayer?” God didn’t show up as my sons expected God to do. I’m sure God has not done everything you expected God to do either in your life or in the life of this church. I hope that when this happens, we will all “stay in the game” and wrestle with God, so that we might come to a deeper, fuller understanding of the Holy One we worship and serve. God is with us, yet as Isaiah reminds us the Lord says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”
Sovereign God, we admit we struggle when you do not show up as we expect. This passage in Matthew doesn’t seem like the Jesus we know. Jesus doesn’t ignore or insult. Jesus attends to the least, the lost, the outcast with mercy and compassion. Give us ears to hear and wisdom to interpret Jesus actions, as he encounters the Canaanite Woman. Amen.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
What I love about scripture is that it is a living word. It is not stagnant or static, but constantly a breath of fresh air. This held true for me, as I received the sermon title for this coming Sunday, for Kristi Van Nostran entitled her sermon, “Get Back in the Boat!” The text is Matthew 14:22-33 and the boat carrying the disciples is being battered by the waves. Into the midst of this chaos, Jesus walks up to the boat standing atop the waves. He reassures his disciples saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid is a refrain that reverberates through the whole of scripture. Yet, we all struggle at times with fear. I believe that is why preachers often focus on the willingness of Peter’s risk to get out of the boat, while the other disciples stay in the boat. What brought a new twist, a new living word to this story for me was Kristi’s title! Get back in the boat! Get back in the boat where your fears reside! Get back in the boat and face the chaos of the world around you. I don’t know exactly where Kristi is heading, but I trust we will all hear a new living word that will meet all of us in the midst of our fears. In preparation for this Sunday, you might want to practice getting into your boat and assessing the crashing waves all around you that are causing fear to take root in your life. Who knows what word God will have for you this coming Sunday!
Reassuring One, you do not want fear to take root in our lives. Yet, we admit that it does, especially when we look out at the chaos all around us. Give us the courage to trust that you are with us whether we are in or out of the boat. Amen.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Jesus spat on the ground and made a little mud with his saliva and spread the mud on a man’s eyes. What happens next is nothing short of miracle. A man blind since birth washes his mud caked eyes in the pool of Siloam and miraculously receives sight. Have you experienced a miracle such as this in your life or in the life of someone you know? It may not have been the gift of physical sight, but maybe the gift of a new insight or a deeper truth that opened vistas you had never experienced before. Sue Bender reminds us, saying, “Small miracles are all around us. We can find them everywhere – in our homes, in our daily activities, and, hardest to see, in ourselves.” Of course, Albert Einstein suggested that “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I lean towards everything is a miracle, as I see God at work all around us and even within us. I see miracles in the way that God’s natural creation continually surprises me, like the beautiful orange dragonfly that graced my new pond the first day it was filled! How did it know? I see miracles in the way God connects us to each other, like the pastors of this community who reached out to me when I first arrived. “Where is Jesus,” asked the Pharisees of the man given the gift of sight. I suggest Jesus is wherever we are manifesting everyday miracles in and through our lives. “Bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.” These are the everyday miracles we are to be about!
Healing, restorative God, put some mud on our eyes and wash us in your pool of living water, so that we will begin to live our lives, as if everything is a miracle. Give us the courage to make Jesus visible to others through our lives and the life of this church. Amen.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
When is the last time your temper flared? Do you remember the circumstances? Was your response out of portion to the issue at hand? As we conclude our four-week sermon series on the Book of Jonah, we find Jonah so angry that he wishes to die. Just as he suspected, God was gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love towards the murderous and violent people of Nineveh. Jonah had hoped for Nineveh’s destruction, yet God did not do it. The people of Nineveh repented and God’s grace and mercy prevailed. Have you ever been upset with God? Especially, upset with God’s grace and mercy for someone who deserved damnation? Jonah considered the sins of the people of Nineveh too great to forgive. I wonder, do you have a list of those you believe don’t deserve God’s grace? If we are honest with ourselves, we all have at least a few names on a list, if not those we know now, those we know from the pages of history. Yet, thankfully God is gracious and merciful to all who repent, not just to some. How have you experienced God’s grace in small and large ways? What about God’s mercy? How can we prepare our hearts to be as gracious and merciful as God’s? This week practice extending grace, such as inviting someone to step in front of you in a line. Be merciful to a child or an employee that has broken a rule. Our tempers will flare, yet will we have the capacity to extend God’s grace and mercy to each other and even ourselves?
Steadfast loving God, we stand in need of your mercy. We have not done as we ought to have done. We have left things undone that needed to be done. Give us the courage to repent, to turn back and to follow you. Give us the desire to extend to others the grace and mercy you extend to us. Thank you for loving us still. Amen.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” A couple of years ago my devotional practice was to read the bible from cover to cover again. Every time I have finished reading the bible in this fashion, I stand amazed at the breadth and depth of God’s persistence. We the people, like Jonah, are often found running in the opposite direction of God’s call. Throughout scripture God’s people continually turn away from God or even deny God, only to have God extend yet another chance to be in relationship. Apostle Paul defines God’s second chance this way, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” Not only does God forgive our rebellion, but God invites us to participate as ambassadors for Christ, entreating others to be reconciled to God. Jonah was given a second change to be God’s ambassador to Nineveh. Yes, God is a God of second chances. God just doesn’t give up on us. Not on Jonah. Not on you. Not on this church. This is incredibly good news, because I know that rebellion will happen. The word of the Lord will come to us, but at times we will be too comfortable or too scared to respond. The good news is when this happens God will not abandon us. God’s Plan B will spring into action in hopes that we will grab hold of God’s second chance for us!
Holy God, we are ever thankful that you are a God of second chances. We are thankful that you do not give up on us. Give us the courage to listen and to respond to your claim and call on our lives and on this church. Use even us as your ambassadors, we pray. Amen
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
“Then Jonah prayed.” When does “then” occur for you? Do you pray as your day begins or as it ends or both? Do you pray before meals, giving thanks for the provision of food? Do you pray more often when life seems out of control or when life is smooth sailing? When does “then” occur for you? As you consider your answer, know that prayer is more than words. Will McGill suggests that, “The value of consistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will hear God.” So, prayer is about listening as much as it is about speaking, otherwise how will we ever hear God? Apostle Paul reminds us that at times we don’t even know how to pray, but he assures us that the Spirit will intercede for us. Then in First Thessalonians 5:17 we read this succinct instruction about prayer, “pray without ceasing.” This suggests that our very life is to be a prayer! As we explore Jonah’s prayer this week through worship (Jonah 1:17-2:10), pay attention to your prayers. Spend some time reflecting on the when, the why and the how of your prayers. Also, what is the prayer your life is speaking? As Maria Boulding writes, “Prayer moves us from knowing about God to knowing God.” May your prayers move you from knowing about God to knowing God ever more deeply!
Loving God, you desire a deep and abiding relationship with each of us, yet we are often distracted or just too busy. Give us the courage to listen as we pray, so that we will come to know you, your voice and your ways for our lives and for the life of your church. Amen.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
I distinctly remember my brother-in-law saying to me, “You should be in seminary not me.” My response was quick and certain, “Never!” He calmly responded, “Never say never to God.” Have you ever said, “Never to God?” Have you ever run in the opposite direction of God’s leading for your life? From my vantage point today, it certainly seems like my brother-in-law’s words were the Word of the Lord to me! I may not have boarded a ship to Tarshish like Jonah all those years ago, but I certainly couldn’t fathom leaving my chemical engineering career and the abundant opportunities that still lay before me. I had just come to spend a weekend with my sister and her husband and certainly didn’t expect God to speak a Word to me! Yet, “Never say never to God,” took root and grew into a longing and a call to serve God through full-time ordained ministry. I believe the Word of the Lord comes to all of us in various forms, calling us to respond with our very lives to a need within our community, to a passion that will just not let you go, to a way of life we might never anticipate for our lives. God has a way of chasing after us all the days of our lives, albeit not with a large fish for most of us. God calls us to life that is really life and this life requires us to leap first, while trusting that God will give us wings. God gave Jonah the words he needed to speak to the people of Nineveh. God will be your provision as you step out in faith and respond to the Word God is speaking into your life. A good question for all of us this day: “Are we anticipating God’s Word for our lives?”
Holy God, we want to say, “Speak, for we are listening.” Yet, fear often wells up within us. What if you call me to do what I don’t want to do, like Jonah? This day we offer our fears to you, grateful that you understand. Please don’t ever stop chasing after us in love, for we desire life that is really life and know that this is possible only in relationship with you. Thank you for never giving up on us. Amen.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Our nation will soon be celebrating its Independence Day on July 4th, yet, “What is true freedom?” writes Eugene Peterson as he translates a portion of Romans 6. He writes, “I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing – not caring about others, not caring about God – the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?” I wonder how you experience this freedom Apostle Paul is talking about as translated by Peterson? Is your life healed and expansive in holiness? Living in God’s freedom has led me to things I didn’t know I would ever do – like being a volunteer police chaplain for thirteen years. Although, there were many very intense experiences along the way, the freedom I experienced was losing myself in the moment, so that God could be palpably present through me to the officers and citizens involved. Living in God’s freedom has led me to places where I never expected to go – like Redlands, California and the First Presbyterian Church! Yet, what freedom there has been for me, as I have opened my life and ministry to all of you and this new community. Living in God’s freedom paradoxically comes from letting go and letting God take the lead, as Apostle penned two millennia ago and as the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. and Dr. Bob rediscovered in 1935. My experience has taught me that true freedom comes from letting go and letting God. What’s your experience?
Loving God, if we are honest with you, we must confess that it is never easy to let go and let you direct our steps. Our egos have a strong need to maintain control, even though in reality control is an illusion. Give us the courage to unfurl our clinched fists and offer our lives to you anew, for we long for life that is really life that only you can offer us! Amen.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Do you have a list of scriptures you wish were not in the biblical text? I know there are more than a few for me. I have various reasons for wanting some verses excised, but I especially detest those that make God sound petty, mean or vindictive. I also get annoyed with some verses that are used to declare some in and others out of the church or some worthy of service and others not. These verses are often conveniently used to support one’s own bias and to maintain one’s own power over and against another. Well, this coming Sunday, come prepared for one of those verses we probably all would like excised, for Jesus says to us, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the Prince of Peace! What could Jesus possibly be saying to his disciples and to us? Jill Duffield,Outlook editor, makes plain why we struggle with this particular text, for she writes, “We find this reading from Matthew hard to stomach because we’ve taken our discipleship too lightly and our context hasn’t pushed us to question our cushy Christianity.” Ouch! What does discipleship look like for you? Are there risks involved for you in following in the footsteps of Jesus? Is your Christianity a bit too cushy? I am glad this text did not end up on the cutting room floor. How about you? Wrestling with the text keeps our faith alive!
Sovereign God, we prefer the picturesque manger to the stark reality of the cross, and the image of Jesus as the Prince of Peace rather than as the bearer of a sword. We confess that your living word unsettles us. Give us the courage to stay with the text and wrestle with its meaning for discipleship. We want to follow in your footsteps, even if the way forward is not cushy. Amen.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Schools are out for the summer, but I wonder if you have a memory from your childhood of being sent out of the classroom? Maybe you were sent to the principal’s office. Maybe you were sent out to participate in a school play. Being sent out can be frightening as well as exciting; just ask the disciples! They had witnessed Jesus “teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news, and curing every disease and every sickness,” but now it was their turn. The crowds were just too large. There were just too many people to reach, so Jesus commissioned his disciples saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” The disciples were ordinary everyday people – not a celebrity among them, unless you count the notoriety of Matthew as the dreaded tax collector. Ordinary people sent out to do the extraordinary – “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.” Moved by compassion, Jesus enlisted and commissioned his disciples to help meet the extraordinary needs of the people. Moved by compassion, where will Jesus enlist and commission you to meet the needs of people in our community or around the globe? We are not to remain in holy huddles safely within the walls of the church. We are to be ready and willing to be sent to people and places in deep need of God’s healing love. Where will you be sent?
Loving God, we give thanks that you had compassion on the crowds and commissioned your disciples to respond to the needs around them. Although, we admit we have fears, send us out to be your hands, your feet, and your eyes, which compassionately look out into the world and then go about doing good in word and deed to bless others. Amen.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
I love the honesty of the biblical text, “When they saw Jesus they worshipped him, but some doubted.” I know we have all heard the idiom, “Honesty is the best policy,” but is it? Was it a good thing that the biblical text was honest? I believe so, for doubt is a crucible of faith, leaving room for questions and deeper understanding. In our particular text this coming Sunday, Jesus gathers his disciples to give to them what is known as the Great Commission (Matthew28:16-20): “Go therefore… make disciples…baptize them…teach them.” “Go,” goes against our desire for comfort. “Go,” requires us to venture into places and into relationships that we would rather not. Yet, unless we “Go,” we certainly won’t stand a chance of “making disciples, baptizing them or teaching them!” As David Platt once wrote, “God has not redeemed you to dwell in a Christian bubble.” I know it feels far safer in the Christian bubble, yet this is not the great commission. I know that many doubt their ability to share the gospel with others. If honesty is the best policy, then I need to confess that I don’t believe I have the spiritual gift of evangelism. Yet, that doesn’t get me a pass. Jesus said, “Go,” to all the disciples, not just to those with the gift of evangelism, like Peter. Where is God calling you to “Go,” so that others might learn of the gospel through you?
Commissioning God, if honesty is the best policy, we admit that the “E” word (Evangelism) implied by your command, “Go therefore,” intimidates us. We fear that we will not know what to say, if somebody challenges us. We fear what others will think of us. Quell our fears and instill within us a confident trust in your presence, freeing us to share our stories of your goodness in our lives. Amen.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Have you ever been jealous? Jealousy seems to seep into all of our souls at one time or another. Your first memory might be from childhood, when a friend possessed a toy you knew your parents could never afford. Maybe jealousy happened along the way, when a colleague received a promotion that you thought you deserved more. It even seeps into the church, for jealousy sprouts when someone feels overlooked, while others are called to lead. Moses asked if Joshua was jealous of Eldad and Medad, for they prophesied even though they had remained in camp. Eldad and Medad did not follow the rules. They broke rank. Yet, the Spirit descended on them, just as it did on the seventy who accompanied Moses. The Spirit blows where it wills, sweeping away our preconceived notions! As Apostle Paul says to the church at Corinth, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Where is there freedom needed in your own life from preconceived notions? Where does the forceful wind of the Spirit need to clear away the debris of jealousy? How will the dancing flame of the Spirit ignite your passion for listening to God and responding with your very life? Oh, that all of God’s people would be prophets!
Come, Holy Spirit, come! Yet, even as we read these words our hearts begin to race, for we know we cannot control the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! Free us from our preconceived notion. Free us by igniting our passion for your voice. Free us by sweeping away our fears. Come, Holy Spirit, come! Come and live in us and through us, so that we may be your witnesses! Amen.
Wednesday, May 28, 2017
Have you ever had an experienced an “aha” moment? When something you thought you knew suddenly had a deeper meaning? Or when you had a fresh perspective on something that seemed tried and true? Jesus had been appearing to the disciples and the crowd of believers for forty days. Then we read Luke’s narrative on the day Jesus was carried into heaven, “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Jesus retold his life’s story through the lens of scripture and reminded the disciples that they were witnesses of his story. Imagine Jesus lovingly looking the disciples in the eyes, while passionately saying to them, “You are witnesses to these things.” You, not them! You! How have you witnessed the things of God? What do you do with what you have witnessed? Do you keep the things of God to yourself or do you tell others? On this day, Jesus told the disciples to stay in the city until they have been clothed by the power from on high. The disciples, by the power from on high, became the conduit of faith for future believers. What about us? Are you a conduit of faith for those who do not yet know God? I can’t imagine being an eyewitness to Jesus’ ascension, but I can imagine being an eye witness to the things of God that happen all around us. Where have you witnessed God at work? Share what you have seen with others.
Power from on high, open our minds and our hearts to your palpable presence all around us. Break open deeper meaning and gift us with fresh perspectives on the Christ in each of us and in everyone we meet as we go through our days. You, O Christ, are with us. Help us to see with your eyes and give us courage to bear witness to your work of love. Amen.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
I don’t know about you, but conditional statements always catch my eye and Jesus starts our passage from John 14 this week with the conditional word “if”. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” What commandments is Jesus talking about? The famous ten outlined in Exodus and Deuteronomy or the greatest two Jesus gave to his disciples: love God and love neighbor? What does keeping commandments have to do with love anyways? It seems to me that Jesus is saying to his disciples and to us that if we love God, then our lives will be lived in a particular way. If we love God, then our lives will be shaped by the abiding presence of Christ’s love and like Christ, the embodiment of love, we are to be love with our very lives. Love that crosses human constructed boundaries, like Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman. Love that breaks unjust laws or rules that are rigid without reason, like Jesus healing on the Sabbath in order to stop suffering. Love that forgives even when everyone else is ready to condemn, like Jesus intervening on behalf of the woman caught in adultery. If you and I love Jesus than our lives will be lived in a particular way, not by our own power, but by the power of the Spirit of truth at work within us and through us. If we love Jesus, then we are to be about the work of love.
Loving One, you tore open the heavens and came down to make plain the depth, breadth, height and width of your love for us. Your love for us never ceases to amaze us. Help us to abide in your love, so that your love will abide in us and flow through us to touch the deep needs of this hurting world. Spirit of truth, empower us to love as Jesus loves us. Amen.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and foretold of his betrayal by Judas, as well as Peter’s anticipated denial. The disciples were experiencing dislocation for their imagined future was evaporating. Jesus is talking about leaving, but where? Jesus is talking about the way, but how? In the midst of their confusion Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When life is not as we expect, it is hard for our hearts not to be troubled. We worry incessantly, wasting the preciousness of now. We lose sleep and wake in a fog. swirl in our minds and disrupt every waking moment. When life is not as we expect, we focus on all that seems chaotic, confusing or down right wrong. The disciples could only come up with questions, “Where are you going? Or how will we know the way?” What do you do when life is not as you expect? The prophet Isaiah reminds us to put God first above all, even when chaos rules or enemies of all varieties press in. “When we do,” writes Mark Roberts, “the rest of life will fall into its rightful place.” Could this be why Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled?” If we focus on God – “believe in God, believe also in me,” said Jesus – then maybe we will have the courage to stay present to the moment and trust in God’s provision for our lives. “You know the way,” said Jesus to his disciples. The way is trust God with our very lives.
Sovereign God, it is hard to always trust in your provision for our lives, even though you have been faithful in our past. When chaos reigns in our lives, we often forget to open our clinched fists and our slammed-closed hearts to your mercies which are new every morning, to your love and faithfulness which is steadfast, and to your hope which does not disappoint. Do not let our hearts be troubled, we pray. Give us the courage to trust in your provision for our lives. Amen.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
You probably all recall that infamous cell phone commercial, “Can you hear me know?” In the Gospel of John this coming Sunday, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, as they are challenging a man who claims he was blind but now can see. I can almost hear Jesus saying to the Pharisees, “Can you hear me now?” The answer by the Pharisees is an emphatic, “No!” It’s obvious that the Pharisees don’t know the Shepherd’s voice. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the Shepherd calls his own by name and then leads them out, going before them and showing them the way. The Pharisees refuse to hear and they fail to claim the miracle of healing for this man who can now see. What about us? Are our ears stopped, preventing us from seeing God’s miracles all around us? How do you listen for God’s voice in your own life? I listen to God most often through the practice of journaling, silence and worship in community. What about you? How do we as a church listen for God’s voice? Often the cacophony of sounds clamoring for our attention on a daily basis, drown out God’s still small voice. That is why I find silence to be helpful. Until I quiet myself, I find it hard to hear God’s voice. How might we learn to listen more deeply for God’s voice in our lives and in the life of this church? Maybe, God needs to keep asking us, “Can you hear me now?”
Speaking God, help each of us to discern how best to hear your voice for our lives, so that we may connect with your life giving presence. We confess that our busyness often gets in the way, for we are more comfortable doing, rather than being. Forgive us when we drown out your voice and help us attune our ears, hearts and lives to your ways. Amen.