Thursday, March 31, 2011

"I AM"

John 8:21-32
It probably would be easy to overstate the connection, in part because they are found in different languages and separated by centuries, but there is an interesting link between our reading from John today and the encounter that Moses has with the burning bush in Exodus 3.

Jesus is speaking to the crowds in Jerusalem and says, “’I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.’ They said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’ They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he…’” (John 8:24-27). Twice in these verses Jesus uses the expression “I am” (which is translated as “I am he” in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible). As you may recall when Moses challenged God over the divine identity, “God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ (God) said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).

Like God’s appearance in the bush that burned but was not consumed, Jesus’ ministry among the people was not easy for them to understand. Like the promise of God to be an active presence in the journey to the promised land, Jesus is establishing a presence among the people as a call to discipleship. Just as God is not universally believed or trusted during the Exodus, Jesus, too, will be condemned by many who will doubt his words and accuse him of sedition. But in each case GOD IS: a guiding, provident hand for the people; a preacher, teacher, and healer; the Savior and Redeemer; the source of light and life. Even now God’s claim remains true and worthy of acceptance. In all the various situations of our lives God speaks to us and says, “I Am.”

Prayer: God, we thank you for your grace and your presence in our lives. Bless us this day as we seek to serve you by serving others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Learning to Speak the Truth

Jeremiah 8:4-7, 18-9:6
Our reading from Jeremiah today continues to decry the sins of God’s people and the indifference with which they have turned away from God. “They all deceive their neighbors, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongues to speak lies; they commit iniquity and are too weary to repent. Oppression upon oppression, deceit upon deceit! They refuse to know me, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:5-6).

At the heart of this particular accusation is that the people have “taught their tongues to speak lies.” This makes sense, too. As children we must learn to crawl and then to walk. We learn to dress ourselves and to tie our shoes. We learn sports and how to ride bicycles. We learn right from wrong and what is expected of us in certain situations. Somewhere in all of this we also learn to use language first speaking, then reading, and then writing. When does it occur to us to speak untruths? When does lying become a part of our skill set? According to Jeremiah’s words the art of lying is something that we teach ourselves, something at which we become adept over time. Once we have trained ourselves to be deceitful it becomes easier and easier to reject the truth and “to rely on the lie.” In doing so we move further from God and further from each other until we are completely set apart by our iniquity and our sinfulness. We may even lie to ourselves while we are lying to one another.

But just as we’ve learned to lie, we may also train ourselves to live in truth according to God’s word. It probably won’t happen overnight. It is difficult work that challenges who we are and the culture by which we are surrounded. But it is worth the effort for it moves us from separation to fellowship. It helps to dismantle the oppression that passes as human interaction, and the webs of deceit that pretend to be communication. We’ve learned to lie, now it is time to teach ourselves the truth.

Prayer: Lord, help us to speak the truth in love and to honor and cherish each other as gifts from you. Amen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taking Sides

John 7:37-52
According to John Jesus was speaking to the people in Jerusalem on the last day of the festival. As they heard him, members of the crowd began to wonder aloud. John puts it this way: "When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, 'This is really the prophet.' Others said, 'This is the Messiah.' But some asked, 'Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?...' So there was a division in the crowd because of him" (John 7:40-41, 43).

This is not the only time in scripture that Jesus is associated with divisiveness. In Matthew, for example, Jesus says he has come to set family members one against another (Matthew 10:34-36). Normally we think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the one who reconciles and reunites. But when we read passages such as those in John and Matthew, accounts where the result of Jesus' ministry is said to be disharmony and disagreement, we may be a bit confused.

To me it seems that John and Matthew are reminding us of the serious nature of the faith. They are not speaking of the sort of sectarian violence that has so devastated parts of the world, or of denominational prejudices that hamper the work of the church. What they are saying is that to truly accept and follow Jesus is neither easy nor necessarily intuitive. To be a disciple takes total commitment and will often lead us to places we would rather not go. If we believe that Christianity is all "sweetness and light" we are wrong. It is hard work, sacrifice, challenge. But if we will remain faithful, and if we will love the Lord with everything we are, in the end we will see the joy of fellowship and community, not in easy human terms, but in lasting, indeed eternal terms. What Jesus has to say may leave us scratching our heads and arguing with our neighbors, but it is worth the effort because it is so vitally important.

Prayer: God, help us to take Jesus seriously, to follow his example, and to take the risks he calls us to take so that we may serve you and those around us in obedience to your word. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Playing Freeze Tag With God?

Jeremiah 7:1-15
There are games that I remember from my childhood with great fondness. At Freeman family reunions the cousins would often play kick the can in the back yard. With my mother's kin we would all play charades, kids and adults. One game that we often played in the schoolyard back home was some variation of freeze tag. If you were tagged by the person who was "it" you had to remain frozen until another player touched you. Of course there was always a "base" where a player would be safe from being tagged.

I thought of childhood games when I read the passage from Jeremiah for today. God is warning the people against their false assumptions. "Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord...'. Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are safe!'" (Jeremiah 7:4, 8-9). It sounds very much like a childish game, with a singsong refrain and even a "base" where the people believe they will be safe from judgment.

But it doesn't work that way, does it? We may make all the assumptions we want, but God's will is not a game. God seeks justice and righteousness and does not accept insincere actions designed to "get God off of our back." So here is a question to ponder today: do we have faith mature enough to do what God intends, or is ours an immature faith that is happy just playing at justice? Yes, we are children of God. And yes, God wants us to live in joy and peace. But that does not give us license to ignore the claims that God makes on us or to make assumptions about God based on our own desires. Freeze tag is fun, but faith is hard work that requires us to pay attention.

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to develop mature faith and to live according to your will all the days of our lives. Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Search for Honesty

Jeremiah 5:1-9
Romans 2:25-3:18
In our reading from Jeremiah for today God has a challenge for the prophet. “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “look around and take note! Search its squares and see if you can find one person who acts justly and seeks truth — so that I may pardon Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 5:1).

Perhaps these words remind you of Diogenes, the ancient Greek, who was said to walk the streets of Athens by day, lit lantern in hand, “looking for an honest man.” Or maybe you are reminded of the conversation between God and Abraham in Genesis 18:22-33 where Abraham urges God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if only ten righteous people can be found there. In either case, the search is in vain. Paul has his thoughts on the matter. Quoting Psalm 14 he tells his readers in Rome that “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10-11).

Not exactly cheerful stuff. But if we are honest with ourselves we will admit the truth. In all of God’s creation there are no sinless people, none. Not you, not me, not anyone. We all struggle with the will of God. We all fall short of God’s intentions for us. And God knows this and wants us to recognize it, too. After all, it is the season of Lent, a time of self-examination, of coming to terms with who we are and seeking God’s help in overcoming our deficiencies. Even though God loves us and wants what is best for us, God remains our judge, the one who holds us accountable. Only in the act of judgment does God’s grace make any difference to us. Not that we are to wallow in our sin, but when we confess to God—even knowing we will be forgiven—we do not take it lightly, either. All of us need God’s help, and in grace God gives it. Not in a meaningless way, but with the power to save us from ourselves. In all honesty we need God’s forgiveness.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see our sinfulness and to trust your forgiveness, that by your grace we may live as your people. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hearing v. Doing

Romans 2:12-24
This is an obvious point, but it bears frequent repetition: there’s a significant difference between calling yourself a Christian and actually living like one. In his letter to the Romans Paul puts it this way, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13). Paul is cautioning Jews who believe they are justified simply because they as a people possess the law of Moses. They should think again. Even Gentiles can be guided in life by a good conscience, he says (v. 14). Those who have faith in God should live out that faith.

Those who call themselves Christians should be prepared to live lives of Christ-like obedience. Those who would be followers of God’s word must allow it to work through them. Attending worship occasionally is not the key to righteousness. Allowing that worship to shape the rest or your life is more in keeping with God’s will. People of faith have received a tremendous gift. The best way to say “thank you” for that gift is to take it seriously and to live as God wills us to live.

Prayer: Lord, may we do more than call ourselves believers, may we also be doers of your word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Healthy Diet of Understanding

Jeremiah 3:6-18
In one way or another each of the readings for today deals with the problem of human sinfulness, but I find a verse in Jeremiah to be especially timely for the season of Lent. God tells the prophet, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). There is a lot to deal with in this short verse. The word shepherds in this case refers to kings or rulers. That a ruler would be “after (God’s) own heart” indicates that they are faithful to God’s will. But God says these rulers will “feed you (the people) with knowledge and understanding,” and that’s the part that I find helpful today.

According to the gospel of Matthew, after Jesus had fasted for 40 days in the wilderness he was famished. Then the devil challenged him to turn stones to bread so that he might have food to eat. Jesus replied, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). This is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, a reference to the manna on which the people fed during the Exodus. The manna was real, a sign of God’s grace. But it pointed to the need to trust God and to listen for God’s word each and every day. One may be well-fed physically, but starved spiritually. In replying to the devil Jesus make the point that spiritual food is every bit as important to a healthy life as bread. Which brings us back to Jeremiah. The rulers of Judah and Israel had not attended to the spiritual needs of the people, had not led them to lives of faithful obedience to God. The people were starving from a lack of “knowledge and understanding.” God promised to change that.

The season of Lent reminds us of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. At this time of year it is important to examine our spiritual “diet,” to be as attentive to it as we are to what we eat. Without the “knowledge and understanding” of God’s word we are left malnourished and unable to live as we should. I challenge us all to be aware of what we consume spiritually so that we may live with faith and trust in God and in love and patience with one another. Bread alone won’t do it. We need God’s word as well.

Prayer: Lord, feed us with your word so that we may do your will. Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Finding God in Creation

Romans 1:16-25
Among theologians there is a difference of opinion as to whether or not one can come to know God through creation—the beauty of a sunset, for example—as opposed to what is revealed in scripture. I don’t intend to enter into that debate, but I do find interesting what Paul has to say in our reading from Romans today.

Paul's purpose is to show that unbelievers have no excuse in denying the presence of God. “Ever since the creation of the world,” he writes, “(God’s) eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). Remember the words of Psalm 8: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them” (Psalm 8:3-4)? There is something to that, of course. What power on earth could ever create the sort of beauty and wonder that we see everyday of our lives? How could there not be a God?

And then comes a tsunami.

If God really is responsible for creation, if God really does bring all that is into existence, why would we as human beings be subjected to such a "natural" disaster, such horror in the created order? The easy way around that question is to say, “I don’t know.” And that is the truth. But there is more to it, for in times of disaster, times of loss and pain, God’s presence is still known, still evident if invisible. Note the concern for the people of Japan that has risen up in the days since the earthquake. Remember the generous acts of kindness shown. Think of the courage and the bravery that many have displayed working to save the lives of others. Consider the ways that science has worked to reduce the damage that may have been done by such a catastrophe in decades past. Yes, nature presents us with horrible events. But God’s grace remains active in the lives and gifts of people like you and me.

In the days since the tsunami someone in Japan has read my blog on a number of occasions. I have no way of knowing who, of course, but I hope and pray that I have offered even the smallest amount of comfort. If I have, then surely that is a sign of God’s grace as well for which I take no credit.

Prayer: O God, bless those who suffer this day with the knowledge of your presence, and open the hearts and hands of all people, that generosity may flow and compassion be shared. Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Do You See?

Jeremiah 1:11-19
Among the gifts given by God to those called as prophets is an ability to perceive things in a way others cannot. Even before he was called Isaiah saw the Lord sitting in the temple and heard the members of the court of heaven speaking (Isaiah 6:1-5). According to our reading from Jeremiah today, the same gift of perception was given to this prophet as well.

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a branch of an almond tree.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.’ The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a boiling pot, tilted away from the north’” (Jeremiah 1:11-13).

Twice God calls on the prophet to take note. “What do you see?” God asks. In the first case Jeremiah sees an almond branch. In the conversation that follows God reveals a pun. The Hebrew word for almond tree is shaqed; God will be “watching” (Hebrew: shoqed) or guiding the divine word to make sure it is achieved. Jeremiah receives this message from the Lord and grasps it’s meaning because of his gift of perception. In the second case Jeremiah sees a boiling pot which is tilted in such a way that it points to the south. As God goes on to reveal, this vision also speaks of events to come. Someone without Jeremiah’s gift of perception might well have missed the meaning, but the prophet comprehends what God is saying.

There are those within the modern community of faith who have the ability to perceive things in unique ways, who can imagine possibilities that would not occur to others. This is not to say they are on a par with the prophets of old, but the church can benefit greatly from their gift. But really, all of us should be challenged by the question, “What do you see?” When we look at a neighborhood do we see opportunities for outreach? When we observe the practices of a congregation do we see ways to make it more open to others, more caring, more accepting? When we take time to note the policies of our state or federal governments do we recognize a greater need for justice? When God asks us, “What do you see?” how do we answer? Jeremiah faithfully shared the word of God as he perceived it. What has God revealed to us, and what will we do with it?

Prayer: Lord give us the willingness to look beyond our own lives and into the world around us, and help to accept the challenges we find there as opportunities to serve you. Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's For Your Own Good

Deuteronomy 10:12-22
Why would God set so many restrictions on humanity, especially on those whom God had chosen to be a holy nation? Why would God be so insistent about how things were to be done? These are questions that sometimes get asked in light of the many commandments and laws that God established? Is it all somehow for God’s benefit? Our reading from Deuteronomy for today offers clear insight into God’s actions. “…(K)eep the commandments of the Lord your God,” it says, “and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being” (Deuteronomy 10:13, my italics).

It may be difficult for us to understand all the factors that lie behind the various laws, but the ultimate purpose of God’s decrees was to safeguard the lives of God’s people and to maintain a community in relationship to God. Dietary restrictions, laws concerning care for the poor, setting aside a day for rest, forbidding the worship of idols and other gods all aid in creating a better life for God’s people. When they failed to live according to God’s wishes the people of Isreal encountered trouble. When they followed the law they found life to be more joy-filled.

The ultimate test of God’s intentions comes in the death of Jesus Christ. That God was willing to take death into God’s own being for our sake is all the evidence we need of God’s love. As my wife says, “It’s easier if we will just to do things God’s way to begin with.” She’s right. Life is better when we accept God’s gracious guidance. It really is for our own good.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live according to our will and in keeping with your intentions, that we have find well-being, and may care for those around us. Amen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Than One Light?

John 3:16-21
According to Genesis 1 God created light on the first day and God saw that the light was good (Genesis 1:3-4). I have to think that in a pre-technological world light was almost always considered a good thing. It provided safety, the ability to work, warmth and much more. But we who live in a modern world know that light, like everything else that God created, can be perverted and made evil. One glance at Los Vegas at night is enough to know that not all light leads to God or to God’s will. That’s one of the factors that makes our reading from John 3 so challenging.

“For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light,” Jesus says, “so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:20-21). The light in this case, of course, is the light of God and God’s will for humanity. But what about all the other lights? As Simon and Garfunkel so famously sang, “And the people bowed and prayed/to the neon god they made…”. Truth is, some light in our world attracts evil like a candle attracts moths. Evil may even covet light, like the glare of publicity or notoriety or fame. This type of light has done little to help Charlie Sheen or many others like him.

So part of the struggle for us is not only living in the light, but determining which light we should live in: the light of God or the light of human sin and ambition. Left to our own choices we would probably all too often stray toward the sinful glare of the neon sign. But this is where Jesus comes back into the story for us. John has already told us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (1:5). By the same token the human glare of sin cannot overcome the light of the world created by God and found in God.

So when making choices in life it is important not only to listen to God, but also to reject the evil that confronts us regularly. May God bless us in this effort.

Prayer: Lord, you have created a good world full of joy and peace; help us to live as you intend us to do and to turn away from false prophets and the glare of sin. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Today's Exhortation

Hebrews 3:12-19
This morning I was struck by a verse in our reading from Hebrews. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Apparently this wasn’t the first time verse 13 had caught my eye because I had already underlined it in my Bible. So what’s so special about it?

I think it is just the turn of phrase we find there that has caught my eye. We should “exhort one another every day” to avoid disbelief and the “deceitfulness of sin.” And we should continue to exhort each other as long as it is “today.” First of all, it is always “today” which is just another way of saying “right now” or “at this time.” Which also means that it never becomes a matter of history or of future alone, but is always set in the current time, the present tense. The community of faith that exhorts one another and holds each other accountable may well be looking ahead to the coming reign of God, and should be mindful of where it has been by God’s grace. But that same community should take care to live and act in the present moment, for as long as there are present moments. This isn’t a matter of living just for today, it is a matter of taking stock of where we are and what is going on, and then responding appropriately.

Exhort one another every day and every “today” as long as there are “today’s.” Be open to what is happening now even as you look ahead to the future and remember the past. Hold the present moment as a precious gift, something to be celebrated and used to its fullness, but always be ready and willing to let the next moment come along, and the next, and the next. For in that way the work of God is always contemporary and fresh, and is always a number one priority of the people of God.

Prayer: Lord, help us to use the present moment as a time for building community and praising your name. In Jesus Christ, Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Biblical Slavery?

Titus 2:1-15
Any Christian who takes the faith seriously must somehow come to terms with the words of Titus regarding slavery. “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters,” we read, “and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to answer back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10). This certainly sounds like a justification for slavery, and it was one of the passages used by otherwise godly people in the southern United States to maintain the practice into the 1860’s.

Was the writer of Titus really advocating bondage? Personally I find it difficult to tell. And my biggest fear is resorting to rationalization to somehow remove this stigma from the Bible. Slavery is more than wrong, it is evil, whether in the homes of wealthy Romans, on the plantations of North America, or in the work camps of the Third Reich. Even if most of the Bible was written at times when slavery was universally accepted, it is still evil. But there it is: “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters…” that they may be “an ornament to the doctrine of God.” It sounds as though God has established slavery.

This is one reason why it is so very, very important to deal with scripture continually, to challenge it and to question it and to wrestle with it. If it really is what we claim it to be, the inspired word of God, then we aren’t going to break it. Indeed, to accept scripture uncritically is a disservice to God and a form of disrespect to God’s word. In the past taking the Bible too lightly has lead us to accept slavery as a divine “doctrine.” What forms of subjugation do we tolerate today because we have not struggled with scripture well enough to grasp its true meaning?

If your only exposure to scripture is a weekly sermon, Sunday School class, and this blog, that’s not enough. God’s words deserve to be ever before us, continually on our minds, so that through prayer and study we may come to better understand God’s will for us and our world. I invite you to join in the effort.

Prayer: Lord, may we find the courage to confront your word, and likewise be confronted by it, that we may better know your will for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Living Like You Mean It

Titus 1:1-16
You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but according to the writer of Titus you certainly can tell by the way a person lives whether he or she has faith in God. “They profess to know God,” we read, “but they deny him by their actions” (Titus 1:16a). I shudder to think what this means for me because I know there are times when I do not display godly living…like when I’m driving. It’s not that I try to run over pedestrians or play demolition derby, it’s just that I lose patience. Getting caught behind someone driving 20 in a 35 mph zone is frustrating to me. So is having someone ride my bumper when I think I’m going fast enough. Timid people in the left turn lane, drivers who slow to look at street numbers, those who dart out in front of me and then drive more slowly than I was going, these are the sorts of situations that get me riled up, and I know that other drivers can tell.

So what sort of message am I sending? I claim to know God and to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I have accepted the responsibility of ordained ministry. But on those occasions when I pound on the steering wheel or shake my head with disdain I am setting a pretty sorry example. I should be more spiritually mature, more forgiving of others the way God is forgiving of me. But…

The challenge is to live as though we really believe the good news of the gospel, to live in a way that bears out what we say when we profess our faith, to demonstrate that we know God and that it has made a difference. Otherwise we are denying everything we say to be true. When the traffic jams of life come along,––as they always do––how will we respond?

Prayer: Lord, help us to be faithful followers and to live according to your will so that others may know your grace and love. Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When Good News Sounds Like Bad News

Ash Wednesday
Jonah 3:1-4:11
As far as prophets go Jonah was hardly the most enthusiastic person God could have sent to Nineveh. Jonah’s unwillingness to carry God’s message is well documented. And it is this unwillingness that casts Jonah’s profession of faith into a strange light.

“O Lord!” he laments, “Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jonah 4:2). Can it really be true? Is Jonah really complaining about God’s mercy and grace, about God’s abounding love? Yes, he is. What it all boils down to is Jonah’s insistence that God is too nice. Why should he, Jonah, proclaim destruction to the Ninevites if God is just going to forgive them anyway? Instead of rejoicing in God’s love, Jonah resents it and crawls away to pout.

Today marks the beginning of Lent, a season of self-awareness and repentance. Many of us will pause today to worship, perhaps even receiving the imposition of ashes, marking us as sinners in need of God’s redeeming grace. Will we spend the day rejoicing that God offers such forgiveness to those who accept it? Or will we find ourselves resenting the “other folks” who God seems willing to interact with? It’s an honest question for us to consider. Are we willing to let God’s good news be good news? Or will we twist it until it becomes a lament over God’s steadfast love?

Prayer: Lord, help us to see the grace you offer as a blessing to us and to others, and may we be led to share it with all people. Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We Are Witnesses

Deuteronomy 6: 16-25
It may not seem like a particularly important point, but in truth it carries tremendous significance. It’s there in our reading from Deuteronomy for today, and we find it in other sections of scripture as well. It is the sense that there are some events in the history of God’s people that are so transcendent that even now, centuries later, we speak as though we were actually present when they occurred.

“When your children ask you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your children, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand’” (Deuteronomy 6:20-21). “WE were Pharaoh’s slaves…but the Lord brought US out of Egypt…”. The exodus then is an event shared by all of God’s people, regardless of when or where they lived. Even we who live millennia later lay claim to the captivity in Egypt and the work of God’s “mighty hand” in leading us to freedom.

We are witnesses. The word for witness shares its root with the word meaning martyr. When we offer our witness to events we do so even at the risk of our lives. So we point to the exodus and say, “yes, we believe that God liberated the people and led them to freedom.” And we who are Christians point to the life of Jesus and say, “yes, we believe that God sent the Messiah into the world to save the lost and to tend the sick.” And when we offer this witness, we take our place among the billions of people who, over the centuries, have given the same testimony, and it is as though each and every one of us have made the journey and seen the ministry and experienced the truth of the resurrection–because, by God’s grace we have! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord give us courage to add our voices to those of the witnesses who have gone before us and of those who will follow after. Amen.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Hebrews 1:1-14
I remember my favorite pair of jeans from my childhood. They were actually green and had large holes at each knee. I thought they looked very cool and that I looked very cool when I had them on. But they finally wore out so much that I had to quit wearing them.

Worn out clothing is the metaphor behind a portion of our reading from Hebrews today. The writer of Hebrews actually quotes from Psalm 102:25-27 in speaking about God: “(The earth and the heavens) will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same…” (Hebrews 1:11-12). These words are very reassuring. The knowledge that God will remain even after creation has worn out lets us see that we will never be alone. Civilizations may come and go, planets may cease to whirl in space, suns may go dark, but God is still there, still sovereign. Like my favorite jeans the earth may become worn beyond use, but still God is!

But the flip side of this statement is also true. Our lives are subject to the ebb and flow of time, to the march of years, but God is not. The one who created us is immune to the various factors that dictate the number of our days. “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8), and not just God’s word, but God’s very self. God continues on long after creation. David Bowie’s line from the song “Changes” is a bit cryptic, but nonetheless apt. “Time may change me,” he sings, “but I can’t trace time.” We come and go, he seems to say, but time continues on. And the writer of Hebrews would surely add that God, who stands outside of time, cannot be fully comprehended or “traced” either.

It all comes back to God, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Redeemer, the one who is and always shall be. Flowers may fade, grass may wither, time may roll on until creation itself becomes like a worn out garment, and yet God remains.

Prayer: Thank you God for the wonders of creation. And though the world itself may dissolve and time cease to flow, we rejoice that you remain steadfast in your love for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

'Lord, Lord'

Deuteronomy 5:1-22
Matthew 7:13-21
Looking back on the years of my childhood I remember a number of things which, due to my upbringing, I assumed to be scandalous. Men with tattoos and women who colored their hair were two of the more notable cases. And there was a subset of misdeeds which seemed to fall under the heading of language. The n-word was absolutely taboo in our house. Saying “ain’t” wasn’t nearly so morally repugnant, but it was definitely something we didn’t do. And then there was “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” In my mind that generally meant saying the words “God” or “Lord” when you weren’t in church, weren’t praying, or weren’t actually talking about God or the Lord. Anything else was a scandal.

Now that I’m an adult—and a minister at that—I look at some things in a different way. I know so many men and women with tattoos, colored hair, or tattoos AND colored hair that I would be hard pressed to quit socializing with them all. The n-word is still absolutely taboo, and the word ain’t still grates on my ears, but I’ve come to a much better understanding of taking the Lord’s name in vain. As we’ve read today, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God…” (Deuteronomy 5:11). Clearly that is not just an in junction against muttering God’s name in anger, though that is part of it. There is also the whole matter of saying, “God wants you to do this” or “the Lord told me to do that” when it is simply not true. (You might as well say, “When God is looking for a new car God comes to XYZ Toyota. Remember folks, XYZ Toyota is the Lord’s choice in auto superstores!” As far as I know God does not endorse consumer products).

Matthew’s gospel offers what I think is a helpful example of what it means to make “wrongful use of the name of the Lord…”. There Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:21). In other words, God’s name is not a secrete password or a magical incantation against evil. Saying “Lord, Lord,” in and of itself accomplishes nothing. What we are called to do is move beyond the vanity of divine name dropping and instead embrace God’s will as vital to the welfare of the world.

Prayer: Almighty God may we live as your people and thereby give glory to your name. Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Such An Odd God

Deuteronomy 4:32-40
Who would do such a thing? That’s the underlying question in our reading from Deuteronomy for today. Or rather, what god has done such a thing? “…(H)as any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself,” we read, “from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” (Deuteronomy 4:34). Obviously it’s a rhetorical question, but we know the answer. First of all, what other god is there? And while our God, the God, could have accomplished the divine will in all sorts of ways, why God chose this particular path is unknown and unknowable.

But what we call the Exodus is an event unparalleled in human history. A weak people, enslaved to a mighty nation, were led to freedom by a stammering messenger. Throughout, God used whatever means were necessary to accomplish the task. Was it really necessary to do things this way? Only God could say, but through the events surrounding the Exodus God became known to the Hebrew people and ultimately made covenant with them to be their God as they were God’s people. To this day, Jews and Christians point to this series of events as a turning point in God’s relationship with humanity; the weak have seen a promise of strength; the oppressed have seen hope of justice; the poor and hungry, the homeless and naked have heard the word of God and rejoiced.

My, but don’t we worship an odd God, one who cannot be second-guessed or fully anticipated, one who reveals only as much as God wishes to reveal, one who acts with mighty power one time but in subtlety and gentleness the next? The Exodus was a moment of revelation and of release. It has led to an ongoing relationship of great importance to us all. But don’t try to fully understand it. It can’t be done.

Prayer: Lord, help us to receive your gift of grace without trying to understand or to critique it, so that we may live faithfully as your people. Amen.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lining Up the Dominos

Deuteronomy 4:25-31
Matthew 6:24-34
Have you ever seen an array of dominos, stood on end, one after another in a long line? If they are set up correctly and the spacing is precise, when the first is tipped It will knock over the next one and so forth. Someone with a great deal of time and patience can create elaborate designs and patterns among the tipping objects. It is something to see. Life has it’s own set of dominos, issues that cause us concern, worry, anxiety. What will we eat? Where will we live? What can we wear? And while these are important questions, none of these ranks as the “first domino.” There is one that should always come first, and that is the will of God.

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” says Jesus, “and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). To put any “domino” ahead of the kingdom of God is to fall into the trap that we read about in Deuteronomy. There God warns the people to avoid idolatry at all costs. “…(I)f you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything…you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy…” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26). To make anything other than God and God’s will the “first domino” is false worship which leads only to hardship and struggle But if God is our primary focus, the “first domino” in our array, then the other issues can and will be sorted out for us.

Don’t worry about what you will eat or wear, worry about who you will worship, said Jesus. Do not make an idol out of anything, God tells the people through Moses, or you will not survive long. It all makes sense. When we are lining up the dominos of life, we should be sure that our devotion to God is first and not somewhere down the life. Then we may begin to live worry-free.

Prayer: Lord help us to get our priorities straight, that we may live according to your will and be freed from the worries of daily live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Who Needs to Know?

Matthew 6:16-23
What motivates us to do the right thing? What is it that prompts actions that are good or kind or merciful? Are we ever pure in our intentions? The Calvinist in me says that no matter what, our deeds are never free from sin. That’s just who we are. Even when we do something noble or Christ-like there is always a residue of sin, like a ring in a bathtub. Jesus knew this, of course, and he cautioned against letting it get the better of us. “Whenever you fast,” he said, “do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show other that they are fasting” (Matthew 6:16).

Fasting as a spiritual discipline is a good thing. But making sure that everyone knows you are fasting is ostentatious, which is a bad thing. Do we stop fasting, do we cease to do those things which aid us in our spiritual journey because it may lead us to sin? No. But we can not pretend there is no sin involved. Instead we do the best we can. “When you fast,” Jesus went on to say, “put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret…” (6:17-18). The best way to counter the sinful inclinations is to keep focused on God, steadfastly, resolutely. If at all possible, let it be between you and the Lord and no one else. God is the only audience that matters.

Sin will always be an issue. It’s who we are. But by relying on God and living towards God alone helps to dissipate the sin.

Prayer: O God, help us to live faithful lives of service, not to be seen by others, but to do your will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.