Monday, February 28, 2011

At Any Convenient Time

Deuteronomy 4:9-14
If you are familiar with Simon and Garfunkel, you will probably recognize the words to their song “A Hazy Shade of Winter.”

Ahhh, seasons change with the scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won't you stop and remember me
At any convenient time…

God’s words to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy also deal with the passing of time. But God makes a much stronger claim on the people. “…Take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life…” (Deuteronomy 4:9). God’s actions are not to be considered “at any convenient time”, but at all times. “Make them known to your children,” says God, “and your children’s children” (4:9).

Too much is lost in the “busy-ness” of life. Even things that we consider important can become dim and disjointed recollections if we do not hold fast to them. This is even the case in our relationship to God. “What have you done for us lately?” we may ask, not in a snooty way, but because we simply don’t remember. “Take care,” God warns, “and watch yourselves closely…”. God does not forget us; we have got to do a much better job of remembering God and what God has meant to us. Otherwise we may be tempted to stray after lifeless idols or to live with no focus and no purpose. God wants better from us, because God wants better for us. “Take care,” God says. Don’t ever forget.

Prayer: Lord, help us to remain focused on you and to live according to your will for our lives, so that we may experience all of the grace you hold out to us. Amen.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Having a Purpose

2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Few passages have influenced my ministry as much as this one has. I can still remember reading these words while in seminary and having a sense of real purpose. “Therefore,” says Paul, “since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God…For we do not proclaim (or preach) ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5).

Yesterday I talked about the competence for ministry that we receive from God. I quoted a professor of mine who said that only God can make us good enough to carry out God’s will. In today’s reading Paul seems to take that notion a step further. Even when things are not going well, when we are challenged or encounter difficult situations we remain faithful and full of hope. Why? Because the ministry in which we are engaged comes to us from God. It is a gracious gift that provides shape and purpose to our living. We have a place to fit in and a job to do. In response to this gift we, in turn, are called to reject all manner of falseness, all manipulation or deceit and to remain truthful about God’s word, that which we proclaim in Jesus Christ.

We have a purpose. There is a reason for us to get up in the morning and to embrace each new day. As God’s people we are blessed with a message of salvation and grace, one that need not be adapted or adjusted. It is simply to be shared. How will you live our your purpose today? How will you go about sharing the good news? It’s worth thinking about.

Prayer: Lord, your word is truth. Help us to share it with the world openly and with conviction. Amen.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Being Competent

2 Corinthians 3:1-18
At a worship service on the day I was to graduate from seminary, The Rev. Dr. David Bartlett made a profound observation. “You are all good,” he said of the students gathered, “but only God can make you good enough.” That comment has stuck with me over the years in part because it is so freeing. Ultimately it is not up to me to succeed in the ministry. If I do it is because God has given me the talents and the skills to do so. Only God can make me—or any of us—good enough to do what God is calling us to do.

Paul would agree. “…(O)ur competence is from God,” he writes, “who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of the spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). God had called Paul and his fellow believers to a new form of ministry, one based on the new thing God was doing in Jesus Christ. But God had also given them the tools they needed to succeed in the tasks at hand. Only God could make them good enough.

Nor is this claim reserved for ministers. It applies to all who seek to answer God’s call in their lives. Whatever it is that God has sent you to do, whatever role it is that you play, whatever part of the whole you represent, it is only God who can make you competent to carry it out. For this reason we do not lose heart. God’s grace abounds, and by that grace God’s ministry is accomplished, not because we ourselves are able to do so, but because God alone has made us good enough.

Prayer: Lord, help us to do that which you have called us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Peddlers of God's Word

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17
“For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many;” Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence” (2 Corinthians 2:17). When I read these words I am struck with two images. The first, having to do with “peddlers of God’s word” is of a paid spokesperson appearing in a TV commercial for some product. This person may or may not use the product they are speaking about, but they are willing to “peddle” it because that is their job.

This is not Paul’s approach to sharing the gospel. Paul is more like the prophet Isaiah who “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty…” (Isaiah 6:1). Standing in the presence of God and the entire heavenly court, the prophet received his commission to share God’s word with the people. It was not a “job” for Isaiah, it was a calling. He had been chosen and set aside for this particular purpose, just as Paul, centuries later, would receive his call on the road to Damascus. No, Paul was not a paid spokesperson, he shared what he believed, what he knew to be true, what he had learned from God and from others in the faith. And it was in this capacity that he was speaking to the Christians in Corinth.

There are days when I, as a minister, feel a little like a paid spokesperson. But it is on those occasions when I can share my faith as a believer and not as a church professional that I feel the message really come alive for me. How about you? Do you share the gospel like someone earning a paycheck, punching a clock, and dreaming of the moment when you can leave and get back to your life? Or are you motivated by your faith in God through Jesus Christ to share the good news as though it were the most important thing you could possibly do? If you say yes to the first question, you need to reconsider what it means to be one of God’s people. But if you said yes to the second, even if you have to struggle with the challenge, you stand in good company, the likes of Isaiah and Paul, not peddlers, but believers.

Prayer: Lord, keep us from “peddling the word” and help us instead to share freely and fully the joy of the gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yes Is the Answer

2 Corinthians 1:12-22
In his song “Mind Games” John Lennon, the former Beatle, sings, “Yes is the answer, and you know that for sure. Yes is surrender, you gotta let it go.” What Lennon was saying was that the way to peace and reconciliation is through positive actions, affirmations, putting the other first. I think he was right, but only to a point.

Here’s how Paul said it: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who we proclaimed among you…was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes’” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). For Paul it all comes back to the promises of God which are always fulfilled. Indeed, Jesus is God’s way of saying “Yes” to the world in all of its pain and suffering, all of its sin and apathy. It is not an affirmation of the way things are, but a challenge to live to a higher standard, to do it God’s way. Are we forgiven? In Jesus Christ, Yes. Has death been defeated? In Jesus Christ, Yes. Is there reason for hope? In Jesus Christ, Yes. Is God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven”? In Jesus Christ, Yes. In the mean time we are to embrace the “Yes” of God as disciples of Jesus Christ, and live toward peace and reconciliation as best we can. That’s the part John Lennon got right.

In the days ahead, as you engage in conversations at work or school, as you respond to difficult circumstances or are confronted by conflict, give thought to what God’s “Yes” might mean in those situations. And then live that “Yes” as a disciple of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace we will find “Yes” really is the best answer.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live as your people, expressing your divine love to the world and sharing the grace of your gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, February 21, 2011

When It's Good to Cling

Ruth 1:1-14
Normally I think the message of scripture challenges us to move ahead in faith, to accept the new thing that God is doing and to be open to signs that the reign of God is at hand. If this is true then we have an interesting situation in our reading from Ruth today. After the death of her husband and both of her sons, Naomi urges her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their families of origin for she can do nothing for them. Orpah, though saddened, is willing to go. “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). This should come as no surprise, even the first time we read it. If Ruth had left Naomi and gone home to her Moabite family the book would either not exist or would be called something besides Ruth. But beyond that what does this say to us about faith?

First of all, though she “clings” to Naomi, we should realize that Ruth has chosen a scarier path than the one Orpah has taken. Ruth has no way of knowing how things will work out for her in Judah, how she will be received, what she will do. So even in clinging to what she “knows”, she is really accepting what she doesn’t know. Secondly, Ruth’s actions constitute a profound sense of family and community. When she married Naomi’s son Ruth obviously committed herself to his way of life. Even in his death she is determined to remain a part of his family, which in this case is Naomi. And finally, this understanding of community pushes Ruth to think beyond herself to the needs of Naomi. By remaining with the older woman, Ruth indicates a willingness to care for her and to stand beside her.

Sometimes we cling is to idols, those things that we place between ourselves and God. It may be our history, our way of doing things, our own limited perspectives. Ruth was doing none of that. By holding fast to Naomi she was showing a willingness to go where God would lead her. This is exactly what Abram did when he accepted God’s call to leave his father’s house and follow the Lord’s leading. It was a scary proposition. If we are going to cling to anything let it be the new thing that God is doing in our lives, the direction that God is taking us, the community of faith that surrounds us, all the while looking beyond ourselves to bigger picture. This is when clinging is a good thing to do.

Prayer: Lord, help us to let go of what we don’t need, the clutter of our lives, and to embrace the new thing you are doing. Help us to live in community, showing compassion for others. Amen.

Friday, February 18, 2011

All in the Family

1 Timothy 5:1-25
“Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mother, to younger women as sisters…” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). I think it would be easy to overlook this bit of advice without taking it seriously. After all, it makes good sense. Who could quibble with it? But the truth is that family members are not always so kind in the way they speak to one another. In moments of frustration or anger words between parents and children or among siblings can become pointed and unkind, even in the most loving of situations.

But one of the most important aspects that families can offer is accountability. Family is a place were we can be honest with one another but do so in love. You can treat a total stranger with indifference and never see them again. You can act ugly with friends and neighbors and then isolate yourself. But with a family there is always a connection, always a reason to take up the conversation again. It can be tricky, of course. Families are complicated. But so is a community of faith, in case you haven’t noticed. Sometimes we need to get a point across that is unpleasant. Thinking in terms of long-standing, on-going relationships should add balance and maturity to how we interact.

The words from 1 Timothy may sound simple, but like so much of scripture there is a profound depth here. Passages like this one should not be passed over lightly.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live and act with openness and love, within our families, communities, and beyond. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hey, Over Here!

Isaiah 65:1-12
One of our dogs escaped briefly from the backyard this morning. I became aware of the situation when I heard our son calling the dog to come out from under the neighbor’s deck, which she did eventually. Then I read our passage from Isaiah for today and I now have a mental image of God, arms outstretched, calling a wayward people to come home. But the people are more interested in what is to be found elsewhere, among other gods and religions, in places they should not go, so they are slow to respond. “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,” says God through the prophet, “to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that did not call on my name” (Isaiah 65:1).

Yesterday we read about God hardening hearts. Today we encounter God doing anything but. How poignant it is to think of God calling and no one responding. God who wants so badly to claim us and to care for us must first convince US to trust God! On my best days I believe I do think about what it means to seek God and to respond to God’s work in my life. But on those other days I am too much like a wayward Scottie, crouching under the neighbor’s deck, wanting to go places I know I should not go and do things that I know are not appropriate. “Here I am,” says God. “Come home.” And I know that God means it, and I know that in Jesus Christ God demonstrated the measure of divine love once and for all. I’m so glad that God keeps calling, that God remains concerned for us. I’m so glad that there is a way home and that even if we return as prodigals the Father waits to receive us in love and mercy.

God’s hands are outstretched. God’s call is heard throughout the land. May we always strive to respond. May we always do our best to go home.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we wander and seek a false sense of freedom. Help us to hear your call and to respond in trust. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hardening of the Heart

Isaiah 63:15-64:9
I’ll have to admit I’ve never gotten completely comfortable with the notion that God would lead people to actually turn away. But that is what is suggested in our reading from Isaiah today. “Why, O Lord, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you?” (Isaiah 63:17). Nor is this the only such case in scripture. On a number of occasions God is said to harden the heart of Pharaoh against Moses and Aaron (Exodus 8:19 and 10:20, for example). Earlier in the book of Isaiah God speaks of obscuring the divine word lest the people “look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds and turn and be healed” (Isaiah 6:10). Jesus quotes this very passage in explaining to the disciples why he teaches in parables, the meanings of which are not always plain (Matthew 13:14-17).

So what’s up with all of this? Why would God obscure the divine message? It’s one thing to harden the heart of Pharaoh, but why would God wish to lead God’s own people astray or keep them from understanding and returning to God’s ways? Like I said, I’ve never gotten completely comfortable with this idea. But my comfort with what God is doing is not really the point. God has a purpose, and we, as creatures, are not always going to “get it.” If in the course of things God wishes to harden our hearts, if God wishes to keep us from readily understanding or too quickly returning to God’s will, that is God’s prerogative. God is Sovereign. God is above all that is. In the end God’s will is done. In the meantime, as the hymn says, “God is working his purpose out/as year succeeds to year/…nearer and nearer draws the time/the time that will surely be/when the earth will be filled with the glory of God/as the waters cover the sea.” What we can do is live as faithfully as possible, doing the best we can to love God with everything we’ve got and our neighbors as ourselves, leaving divine matters to God, thankful that the coming kingdom does not rely on our understanding.

Prayer: Lord, even when we do not understand what you are doing, give us the strength to live by faith that we may trust you and your will for creation. Amen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Isaiah 63:7-14
Early in the Disney film, The Lion King, there is a conversation between King Mufasa and his young son, Simba.

Mufasa: Simba, let me tell you something my father told me. Look at the stars. The great kings of the past are up there, watching over us.
Simba: Really?
Mufasa: Yes. So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.

Memory plays an important part in our lives especially in our lives of faith. According to the prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel had turned away from God, but “then they remembered the days of old, of Moses [God’s] servant” (Isaiah 63:11). By remembering what had happened in the past the people were able to better understand where they had fallen short of God’s will and to seek God’s forgiveness.

For us, part of the “memory” is bound up in scripture, the stories and teachings collected in the Bible. Some “remembering” is done by sharing the faith from person to person, generation to generation, in the way that Mufasa taught Simba to remember the kings of the past. A profound type of “remembering” takes place during the sacrament of communion when we, as God’s people, are invited to share in the meal “in remembrance” of Jesus Christ. This remembering, this rehearsing of the past is one of the great responsibilities of Christians, as individuals, but particularly as a community. In reflecting on scripture, in attending to the teaching and preaching of the word of God, in telling and singing the great stories of the faith, in sharing the sacrament and inviting others to do so as well, we find strength for our living even as we prepare others to take our place in the future. Mufasa wanted Simba to remember what it meant to be a king. I want my children to remember what it means to have faith in God through Jesus Christ, how generations of their ancestors have been active in the life of the church and have sought to live as God’s people. But before I can share those memories with others, I have to be sure and claim them for myself. And so do you. Remembering leads to better understanding and greater faithfulness. It brought the people of Israel back to God, it can keep us focused as well.

Prayer: Lord, help us to remember your works and your words as we look ahead to your coming reign. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Winning the 'Sin Olympics'

1 Timothy 1:1-17
Being convinced as I am that we are all sinners in constant need of God’s redeeming grace I find the words of 1 Timothy 1:15 to be interesting. “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance,” we read, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…”. Up to that point the message is good news! The purpose behind Jesus’ earthy ministry, his life, death, and resurrection, was and is to save sinners. But then we read the next phrase: “––of whom I am the foremost.” The writer is claiming to be the greatest of sinners, the one most in need of what Jesus was offering. So here is my question. How did he know? Did the writer of 1 Timothy win the “Sin Olympics?” Was there some form of official proclamation? How did he know he was the foremost of sinners?

Of course he didn’t. This is hyperbole, intended to make a point. If God could work through this individual God was capable to working though anyone. And frankly, if there really was a “Sin Olympics” there would be a 3-billion-way tie for first place, because we are all in that boat together. Yet, God continues to find ways of working through us and in us to accomplish God’s will. We have neither stymied nor defeated God’s plan. We have in no way frustrated God’s ability to do what it is that God has set out to do. God continues to work in our lives, despite the sin, despite the shortcomings, despite the unwillingness on our part. “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance!” In Jesus Christ we are forgiven, and we have not had to earn it or even compete for it.

How can this good news make a difference in your life today? Where will it lead you? Can you find a way to let go of your anger at someone else, knowing that if you are forgiven by God they are as well? Can you show greater generosity of heart to others than you’ve ever shown? Can you trust God in Jesus Christ to lead you where you need to be? All of these are appropriate work for today, and all are made possible because we, despite our sinful nature, have been engulfed by grace and granted release from our sins. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, continue to forgive us, we pray, and to lead us toward the dawn of your coming reign. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

On Being Blessed

Isaiah 61:1-9 2
Timothy 3:1-17
There is an interesting connection between our reading from Isaiah today and that from 2 Timothy. In discussing what is to become of God’s people in the future the prophet says, “all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed” (Isaiah 61:9). This is a statement of promise pointing to a time of restoration and grace. And here’s what the writer of 2 Timothy says: “What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Timothy 3:11). What does it mean to be blessed by God? Does it mean peace, with no pain or sorrow? Or does it mean something else altogether? Can it be found in this life, or is it reserved for the life to come?

One answer is to say that God’s blessing is best understood in the life of the one who is blessed. Paul certainly considered himself blessed by God yet he went through times of severe trial and hardship. Elsewhere we read how members of the early church would rejoice at being found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ. God’s blessing isn’t about a life of ease and luxury, it is about knowing that one is claimed by God and set apart for the work of the kingdom. As early as Abraham God also charged those whom God blessed to be a blessing to others. That understanding continues for us today. To be chosen by God is to be set aside for service as much as salvation, and when we grasp this we can begin to see ourselves for who we are: “people whom the Lord has blessed.”

So here’s a challenge for us all today. Let’s each take a moment to consider our lives, to reflect on what it means to be set apart by God for a task, to be in relationship with our Creator. And let’s thank God, even as we endure the pains of life, that we have this calling. For it is indeed a gift.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see the blessings in our lives and to share them freely with others that all may know your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where Are They Now?

2 Timothy 2:14-26
I can’t help but wonder whatever came of Hymenaeus and Philetus. All we seem to know about them is that they had “swerved from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18) and were spreading fall truths about the resurrection. Were they ever set right? Did they repent and return to the community of faith, or did they drift further apart until they were lost completely? We are introduced by name to so few believers in the New Testament that it would be interesting to know for sure what happened to them all.

The history of the Christian faith, of course, is filled with name after name after name of men and women from various times and cultures and nationalities, some who have remained strong in the faith and some, like Hymenaeus and Philetus, who drifted away into false teachings. I am aware that my own faith, my own sense of belonging to God is heavily dependant on those who have come before me, who set a good example for me to follow, and who provided a legacy by which I might be blessed. It was not always easy for them to live in faith, and it has not always been easy for me. But I pray by God’s grace that I may set a good example and help provide a legacy for those who will come after me.

Meanwhile, I continue to wonder about the likes of Hymenaeus and Philetus, what became of them, how they ended up. I hope they were guided back from their error, that they were blessed to be a part of the church throughout their lives. We all have a role to play in the faith. May we strive to set good examples to the glory of God and not negative ones.

Prayer: Lord, may we serve you faithfully, sharing the truth of the gospel and calling others to the joy found in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adders' Eggs and Spider Webs

Isaiah 59:1-21
Today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah paints a bleak picture of iniquity and injustice run amok. God’s people have turned completely away from God, so much so that they no longer perceive God’s presence in their midst. One telling passage presents vivid metaphors for this condition. “They hatch adders’ eggs,” we read, “and weave the spider’s web; whoever eats their eggs dies, and the crushed egg hatches out a viper. Their webs cannot serve as clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make” (Isaiah 59:5-6a). Clearly, even the most basic of needs––food and clothing––have been perverted by sinfulness beyond recognition. There can be no trust and no real community among the people because they have forgotten what it means to be care for one another and to provide for each other’s needs.

Earlier Isaiah has made the point that God has not departed from the people. “See, the Lord’s hand is not too short of save…” says the prophet. “Rather your iniquities have been barriers, between you and your God…” (v. 1-2). The image is reminiscent of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, the story of a planeload of young boys stranded on an island with no adult supervision. Left to their own devices the boys soon revert to a kind of animalistic state of being, full of violence and terror. Isaiah would have us see that when we turn away from God, when we allow our sins and our selfishness to become barriers, we will find ourselves lost in a hellish situation. God’s guidance, God’s presence has never been a punishment or a hardship, it has given us the structure we need to thrive in community, with care and regard for one another. Perhaps this is overly simplistic. But given the choice between doing things God’s way or doing them our way the wise path is always to seek God’s will and to strive for it. Then we are truly free to love one another and to share what we really need.

Prayer: Lord, do not leave us to our own methods, but guide us and help us to make good decisions so that all may share in your love. Amen.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Fast God Chooses

Isaiah 58:1-12
One of the things to notice in reading from the prophets is how there is no separation between the worship of God and the ethical claims God makes upon us. Our reading from Isaiah today is a perfect example. While there are those who seek to worship and honor God with all they are and all they have, there are also others who give very little thought to what God really desires from God’s people, and as a result put little effort into the relationship.

“Is not this the fast that I choose,” asks God: “to loose the bounds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…” (Isaiah 58:6)? If we set about to serve God with hallow rituals while neglecting acts of generosity and of kindness we’ve missed the point. God is not satisfied with such half-hearted response. What God really wants is for us to care for one another, to look after those in need, to remove oppression and injustice from our lands, to lift up the downtrodden and grant peace. If our worship of God does not lead us in that direction then we’ve missed the point. If, however, our worship allows us to turn outward and to meet the needs of our world, to share more generously, then we are following God’s for our lives.

It really is that simple. We can sit in our pew and give lip service to God, or we can allow God to motivate us, to guide us, to care for others through us and by doing so demonstrate to the world the grace of God and the love of God’s people. What sort of fast do you choose? One that you can get through quickly and forget about, or one that touches every facet of your life and the lives of others. If you said the second one, then you are on your way.

Prayer: O God, give meaning to our words and purpose to our actions, that our worship may lead us to serve others according to your will. Amen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Getting Nowhere Fast

Mark 9:30-41
The disciples may have been traveling with Jesus, but when it came to growing in faith they might as well have been standing still. According to Mark, Jesus was busy teaching this followers that, “’The Son of may is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed he will rise again.’ But [the disciples] did not understand what he was saying and where afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:31-32). Instead of considering what Jesus had to say, the disciples had other matters on their minds. “…On the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest” (v. 34). Talk about dense! Jesus is laying out the future, describing his purpose to those whom he has called to follow, and all they can do is fret about who gets to be in charge when Jesus isn’t around.

We’d like to think that given the chance we’d have understood exactly what Jesus was talking about, or at least we’d have known to ask questions. But in truth, how often do we get allow meaningless arguments to distract us from the important matters of faith? And how often do we find ways of taking issue with one another instead of embracing the unity that we find in Jesus? The fact is that we are no better than the disciples. Oh, we may be in motion, but are we getting anywhere? Is our faith growing, or do we simply tread the same ground over and over again?

The answer is that by God’s grace we do find ourselves taking a step forward from time to time, we do grow in our understanding and our insight, we do realize that our faith has developed and that we are not the same people we once were. The Christian faith is a journey, very much like the one the disciples walked with Jesus. Sometimes it takes us places we may not be comfortable going, and other times is may seem to lead us in circles. But is it a journey very much worth taking, because eventually it leads us past the cross, past the empty tomb, right up to the light of eternity. And when we get there we realize we are in very good company.

Prayer: Lord, help us to hear your word and to trust in you, so that we may avoid the angry words and divisive actions that so often tear us apart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Word About THE Word

Isaiah 55:1-13
Mark 9:2-13
I like to talk. Ask anyone who knows me and I’m sure they will agree. But that doesn’t mean that everything I say is important. My words—like anyone else’s—vary in meaning and purpose. We all say a lot of things in the course of a day that are less that significant. Not so with God. When God speaks it is for a reason. “[My word] shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). When God speaks, things happen according to God’s will. The power of God’s word is a common motif in scripture, of course. From the very beginning, for example, God speaks and all creation comes into being (Genesis 1:1ff). In the New Testament John’s gospel sees the creative power of God’s word incarnated in Jesus Christ (John 1:1f).

In our gospel reading or today all of this seems to come together as the voice of God is heard on the mountain saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). Of course this is not the first time we’ve heard God speak in Mark. A voice from heaven is also heard at Jesus’ baptism saying very much the same thing: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). The point is that when the word of God—God’s voice, God’s speech—intersects with the Word of God—God’s Son, Jesus Christ—we should take note. It’s like a giant flashing billboard that reads, “Hey! Pay attention! This is important!”

If we do pay attention we will learn what the disciples seem so slow to comprehend. That Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, set apart for God’s will. That though he will suffer, that very suffering will ultimately reveal his glory, and in his glory we find our hope and salvation. That’s a lot of meaning packed into just a few words, but when God speaks, things like that happen. Are we listening?

Prayer: Lord, help us to hear your word and to live according to your will as disciples of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Something to Strive For

Galatians 5:1-15
Freedom is a tricky thing. Just because we are free to do something doesn’t mean we should. I think we’d all agree on that. I may be free to eat four cartons of ice cream at one sitting, but that would be stupid. I love ice cream, but I’m lactose intolerant so it would make me horribly ill. That’s a pretty limited illustration, but think about the first time you got to drive a car by yourself—no adults with you, just you. What a feeling of freedom! And yet, there were places you should not go, things you should not do, and there were always limits on how fast you were to drive and how the car was to be operated. The sense of freedom did not come with permission to be reckless or irresponsible. The tricky part about freedom, then, is learning how best to use it, and were to draw the line.

Paul was concerned about the members of the Galatians church abusing the freedom of the gospel. Just because they were no loner under the law did not mean they were no longer responsible for what they did. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters;” Paul writes, “only don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13). If you want to use your freedom to its best advantage, Paul is saying, give it away. Concentrate on the needs of others, care for those in your community as though you were a slave in their household. Do this and you run less risk of going astray.

It was probably not what Paul’s readers wanted to hear. To have tasted some sort of freedom and then be asked to give it up—why would they do that? But the point is this: it was in freedom that Jesus Christ died for our sins that we might be saved from death and sin. As disciples of Jesus we must strive to live as he did, not looking out for ourselves, not taking advantage of others even if we have the freedom to do so, but by serving one another in true love and community. Come to think of it, that may not be what we want to hear Paul saying, either. But the truth is that in Jesus Christ we are free to be what God created us to be, which is a loving, compassionate, merciful people. And that is something to strive for.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live our lives, not wrapped up in our own needs, but devoted to the needs of others, so that together we might live in a community of love. Amen.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Yeast of God

(I apologize for missing yesterday's posting, but I was under the weather. I'm feeling better today.)

Mark 8:11-26
There are certain attitudes, certain perspectives that can touch every part of our lives, and often for the worst. If we are not careful we may find ourselves trapped by what we take for granted and not even realize how damaging it is. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand this. “And he cautioned them,” Mark tells us, “saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod’” (Mark 8:15). As was so often the case Jesus’ followers were slow to understand. Fortunately, Jesus’ word remain as a warning for us.

Jesus was using the example of yeast, an ingredient in the baking of bread that, when spread throughout the dough, causes it to rise. That’s well and good. But if our lives are permeated with hypocrisy…or racism, or addiction, or greed, or apathy, or any other of a countless number of negative attitudes, we will find every part of who we are affected. Our relationships with God, our families, our friends, our co-workers; our view of nature and of stewardship; our willingness to accept strangers or to offer hospitality to those in need; our concern for those who suffer; all of these are affected by what it is that motivates our living, the yeast that is mixed into who we are.

So what should we do? Well, instead of letting the negative attitudes guide us through our living, we should turn to what we might call the “yeast of God.” For only when the love of God fills our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we demonstrate love for our neighbors are we able to live as we should, in fullest community. It’s the one ingredient we should strive for at all times. And while it is not to be found on the shelf at the grocery store, it is available to us through prayer, patience, and careful attention to what we say and do.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be motivated by our love for you and one another, and not by the cares of this world or the sins which tempt us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.