Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Monday, December 27, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
When Isaiah encountered the heavenly court there in the temple he immediately recognized his predicament. “Woe is me!” he said. “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips…yet my eyes have see the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)! Then a seraph touches his mouth with a live coal from the altar and blots out Isaiah’s sin. He is now worthy to accept God’s call in his life.
In John, a woman is brought to Jesus accused of adultery. The law says she should be stoned to death, but what will Jesus say? Fine, is his response, just let the one without sin be the first to throw a stone. Before long the crowd has departed and Jesus and the woman are left alone. “Go you way,” he tells her, “and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11). I would suggest that like Isaiah, this woman is now worthy to accept God’s call in her life. She has been forgiven and restored to a life in community.
So what are we to say about these things? For one, God alone is the arbiter of human worth and worthiness. How much we matter or to what extent we are “worthwhile” comes from no other source but God. For another thing, worthiness arrives in strange and unexpected circumstances, like a walk in the temple or in the face of a mob. And finally, this sense of worthiness changes everything. Now I don’t believe that Isaiah or the woman lived the rest of their lives without sin, but I do believe that the reordering of their lives by God removes questions of worthiness from the equation. If God says we are worthy, that settles it, no matter what happens next. And that is good news.
Prayer: Lord, walk with us and guide us in worthiness that we may respond to your call with all our hearts. Amen.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
Paul’s words to us this morning may seem a little contrived. “Rejoice always,” he says, “pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
If we didn’t know any better we might accuse Paul of being one of those irritating people who are always just a touch too cheerful, like a morning person in a family of day-break grouches. But Paul had earned the right to exhort others in this manner. Over the course of his ministry Paul was frequently mistreated, beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, and run out of town. If he could give thanks “in all circumstances”…well, maybe we can, too.
But there’s a weak economy, Paul. What do you say about that?
But Paul, I don’t’ even know if I trust God anymore. What should I do?
“Pray without ceasing.”
Paul, get serious. My family life is in shambles, my work is stressful and unrewarding, my health is bad, I am lonely and full of despair. I don’t know what to do.
“Give thanks in all circumstances.”
Can it really be that easy? Well, first of all Paul never said it would be easy to follow his admonitions. But no matter, all of this praying and rejoicing and thanksgiving is the will of God, and God’s will is our greatest source of hope. So maybe the season of Advent is the right time to practice following Paul’s advice. And maybe, just maybe, if we can take the first faltering steps down the road of praise and joy we will find ourselves moving with more and more strength, more and more certainty until our lives really do reflect God’s will more often than not.
So rejoice, pray, give thanks because that’s what God wants from us.
Prayer: Lord, we sometimes have difficulty living with joy and thankfulness. Forgive us, and help us to open our hearts and minds to you at all times. Amen.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
“Let’s be honest. No one ever wished for a smaller holiday gift.” At least that’s what the makers of Lexus automobiles say in their recent TV commercials. Maybe they know something I don’t, but I’ve got to believe they are wrong. According to Luke, of all the people who were contributing gifts to the temple in Jerusalem the one who Jesus pointed to as exemplary was a widow who gave only two copper coins. This was the greatest of all gifts, Jesus said, because she had given “all that she had to live on” (Luke 21:4). She could hardly have afforded a Lexus, but she gave all that she had anyway.
On the other hand, in 1 Thessalonians Paul writes, “…you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another…. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more…” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). And I’m quite certain that Paul is not talking about larger “holiday gifts”. He’s talking about the love of God, the love “that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19), the love that is patient and kind, that bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). No, you can’t park it in the garage or cruise the neighborhood in it on Christmas morning, but it will make your life and the lives of those around you profoundly better. And when the Lexus has found its final resting place in the junk yard, the love of God will continue to sustain and encourage those who share it.
So what is the true meaning of “more”? In reign-of-God terms it means more of ourselves offered to others, and all of the heart, mind, soul, and body given to God. Let’s be honest. No car company could ever pull that off.
Prayer: Lord, help us to love you and to love each other more and more, this season of Advent and beyond. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
I Thessalonians 3:1-13
This time of year seems to highlight those places where community seems to thrive and those places where it does not. Community is a tremendous gift and something to be sought after. It provides care and nurture, regard and accountability to its members. Where there is no community, or where community has become fractured, there is no care, no regard, no accountability. With community men and women are allowed to flourish, without community we flounder. Of course no community is perfect, no relationship is without its faults. But by grace we do can find ourselves in meaningful relationship with others and are blessed by it.
It would seem that Paul considered his relationship with the Christians in Thessalonica to be a real blessing, a true community of faith despite the distance between them. He wrote, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we feel before our God because of you” (1 Thessalonians 3:9)? These were people who had responded to Paul and who had supported his ministry among them. Now he was gaining strength from that relationship, simply knowing that they remained faithful, that they continued in their worship and praise of God.
There are a number of communities, relationships, connections in my life from which I gain strength and support. My family, my closest friends, my prayer group, members of the congregations I have served or am serving, those who respond encouragingly to this blog, and so many others, past or present, help to make me who I am. Had it not been for such folks I might not have come to know God in Jesus Christ, not come to recognize my call to the ministry, not been sustained through the challenges of my life. Like Paul I can not thank God enough for the joy I feel because of these relationships.
What relationships are you particularly thankful for today? Where is community most visible in your life? And where is it lacking or in need of repair? As we await the coming of Christ this Advent season perhaps we could give thanks to God for those around us, whether we consider them part of our community or not. And perhaps we could demonstrate God’s community more visibly in the world. Meanwhile, I can not thank God enough for all of you and the joy I feel because of you.
Prayer: O Lord, you have blessed us each with opportunities for community. Help us to live with love and regard for others, sustaining and supporting your people wherever we find them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The commercials and the ads have been blasting for weeks already, all with the same message: it’s the “holiday season” and it’s time to spend money. It’s a well-known fact that a retail business can make or break its entire year based on its November and December sales. So the official start of the holiday shopping season creeps earlier and earlier up the calendar (Christmas carols in the mall just after Halloween!), and the number of special shopping days proliferates (Black Thursday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday), until Christmas seems to sink under the weight. You are expecting the usual “keep Christ in Christmas” appeal, I know, and that is a valid point. But I think Jesus casts this whole question in a new light in the words of Luke’s gospel.
You know the story. The religious authorities are trying desperately to discredit Jesus. On this occasion they challenge him on the issue of Roman taxes. Is it lawful for a devout Jew to pay them or not? Jesus can see the trap and astutely sidesteps it. “…Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25). Now it is awfully easy for us to hear that teaching and leave it comfortably where it lies, there in first century Palestine. But Jesus’ words will not remain still. They poke and prod at us. Only now it is not an emperor who seeks to control us, it is the commercial and economic pressures that insist that we “render unto” them our attention, our financial wherewithal, our sense of purpose at this time of year. What does Jesus say? Give them what is theirs, but reserve for God that which is God’s.
What might that mean for us? It reminds us to begin and end with God’s good news in Jesus Christ and let the other aspects of the season have what is left over, not the other way around. It reminds us that who we are, right down to our very core, is not consumers, but human beings who stand in relationship to their Creator and to one another. It reminds us that all of us have something to offer God, whether it be our time, our talents, our money, our hearts and minds, whatever, and that giving these things to God is far more important than giving the perfect gift to Aunt Beatrice (with apologies to Aunt Beatrice). And yes, it reminds us to keep Christ in Christmas.
Here’s a challenge. Each and every time you encounter an ad or a commercial or a newspaper insert hawking holiday specials, pause for a moment to give God thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ, and to ask what you might do that day of God. If you accept the challenge you’ll be doing a lot of thanking and praying. But really now, isn’t that the point?Prayer: Thank you God for your gift of Jesus Christ. Help us to see and do your will today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.