Friday, April 29, 2011

We Need An Advocate

Acts 4:1-12
John 16:1-15
When I was in about the sixth grade my mother and I attended the trial of a man charged with armed robbery. We had been told by a friend that this particular case would be interesting because the defendant had chosen to represent himself in the proceedings. The man was eventually found guilty, supporting the adage that anyone who acts as his or her own lawyer has a fool for a client.

Our reading from Acts this morning describes the events that take place when Peter and John are brought before the elders and priests of Israel. The disciples are there to explain what they have been saying and doing in the temple. The writer of Acts tells us that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and began to address the gathered leaders (Acts 4:8). It might have appeared that Peter was representing the disciples himself, but in fact he was being guided by God’s Spirit in what he said. Jesus alludes to such in our reading from John’s gospel today. “…It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The early church did receive the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, and it was by this presence that Peter was emboldened and enabled to speak. In other words, Peter had the best council in the room.

We, too, should allow for God to work in and through us. When we are faced with a challenge to our faith, or questioned about what we believe, or overwhelmed by doubt and fear the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is with us providing us guidance and council. We need not depend on ourselves or on what we can prove because we, too, will have the best council possible.

Prayer: Lord, may your Holy Spirit guide us throughout our lives that we may live as your people without fear or hesitation. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Matter of Life and Life

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Acts 3:11-26
John 15:12-27
There is a fascinating theme running through our three readings for today. In Ezekiel 37:1-14 the prophet tells of a valley of dry bones restored to life. This is an image both of resurrection (the raising of the bones) and of inspiration (the granting of breath), one suitable for both Easter and Pentecost. But it also speaks of life before and after death. In the book of Acts we read Peter’s words to the crowd in the temple. Speaking of Jesus he says, “and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14). Here again there is reference to both resurrection and inspiration, for it was by the name of the resurrected Jesus that Peter and John were able to heal a lame man. But again there is an emphasis on life before and after death, because Jesus, who was crucified, is the “Author of life” and the source of life eternal. In John’s gospel we read Jesus’ familiar words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Here Jesus points to his death as the source of life for others, inspiring his disciples to live his message of love even in the face of death because death does not really end life; it leads to resurrection. John’s gospel ties it all together nicely.

It is this last passage that is referenced in the Walt Disney film “The Jungle Book.” There Bagheera the leopard offers this eulogy for his friend Boloo the bear. “But you must remember, Mowgli, ‘Greater love hath no one than he who lays down his life for his friend.’ When great deeds are remembered in this jungle, one name will stand above all others: Our friend, Baloo the bear” (“The Jungle Book,” Walt Disney Pictures, 1967). These are “inspiring words” when offered in the film’s context; Baloo has died––Bagheera believes––while saving the life of Mowgli. But in the original context of John’s gospel they are more than inspiring because they point to the life that comes after death.

The season of Eastertide in which we find ourselves is about more than resurrection OR inspiration. It is about life, and the life that comes after life. It is a time to rejoice that Jesus was willing to die, and to remember that God continued to act, even through that death. Like the valley of dry bones and the man born lame, Jesus, too, was raised up. We may look forward to being raised up as well, may hope in the life that comes after death. And we may thank God that Jesus was willing to die for friends, a term which refers to us. Truly, Eastertide is a matter of life and life.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for your work in raising us up to share in the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Acts 3:1-10
There are times when I have to wonder at the inclusion of certain information in a scripture text. It happened to me with our reading from Acts for today. “But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up…” (Acts 3:6-7a). Peter and John are on their way to the temple for prayer. As they go they pass a man, lame from birth, who is begging for alms. Peter’s response is to heal the man, after which Peter takes him “by the right hand” to help him stand up. My question is why is it important for us to know that Peter lifted the man with his right hand? I assume it is pertinent in some way or else Luke, the writer of Acts, would have left it out.

I’m sure there are some interesting theories about this. Perhaps the right hand was symbolic of the right hand of fellowship being offered by the church to all who would accept Jesus. Perhaps Luke wants us to know that it was not the left hand, which has sometimes been associated with darkness or evil. I don’t know. What I do know is that it is in such details that we find God’s grace played out, in scripture and in our lives. These events didn’t happen in Never-never Land or over the rainbow, they happened on real streets in real cities where men and women sometimes use their left hands and sometimes their right. And God was there—really and fully there. And as we journey into the world today, into a culture that sometimes seems driven by details and statistics, God will be there as well—really and fully there. This is a point worth remembering, a detail worth pondering.

Prayer: Lord, be with us this day in all that happens, reminding us that no detail escapes your attention. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Getting Our Bearings Straight

Isaiah 30:18-26
John 14:15-31
In 1973 singer/songwriter David Essex asked the musical question, “Where do we go from here?/Which is the way that’s clear?” These may have been the questions on the minds of the disciples in the days following the resurrection. Living in a world as challenging as ours, they might be our questions as well. Where DO we go from here as people of faith? IS there a way that’s clear?

Our readings today provide two appropriate answers. Isaiah looks ahead to a time of grace and says, “…when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21). John’s gospel adds these words from Jesus, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Okay, so maybe the answers here are more to the question “how do we go?” than “where do we go?” But they offer the hope that in the days to come God’s people will receive guidance, direction, encouragement, and reminders of what they have been taught.

I think of a GPS device talking to a driver. “Turn left in 200 yards.” Or a coach yelling instructions from the sideline. “Move to the right!” By the grace of God we, too, have an Advocate offering us direction, a voice calling us back from our wayward paths. “Where do we go from here/which is the way that’s clear?” We follow what we know about God in Jesus Christ by the voice of the Holy Spirit. It’s the only true path we have.

Prayer: Lord, guide us by your Spirit that we may walk the path you offer to us. Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

God Speaks--Again!

Jonah 2:1-10
Perhaps it’s an odd choice––especially for the day after Easter—but there is a verse in Jonah that caught my attention this morning. “Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10). What I find so interesting is that, just as it was with creation, God’s word has the power to direct and to guide. According to Genesis it was on the fifth day of creation that God called forth living creatures to inhabit the waters, including sea monsters and the fish that swarm in the oceans (Genesis 1:20-23). Now God speaks to the great fish, causing Jonah the reluctant prophet to be dislodged upon the land.

God’s speech, God’s creative and powerful word, did not become silent when Adam and Eve left the garden. God continues to effect our lives and our very being with speech. Thus, when we refer to Jesus Christ as the Word Incarnate we are reminded of God’s work in the world, guiding great events like wars and exiles, and incredibly minute details, such as Jonah being spewed onto a beach.

What is the word of God accomplishing in our world and in our lives today? How are we, on this side of the resurrections, being blessed by God’s work? I’m sure that being spewed from a fish’s mouth is not particularly appealing, but what it represents is grace-filled and merciful. The fish, like our own sinfulness, might have carried us away, might have left us with no hope. But with a word God is able to dispel the threat and to lead us to solid footing where we may strive again to do God’s will. The word of God is alive and at work in the big events of our lives and the small ones. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, by the light of the resurrection may we see the path you hold out to us, and by your word may we be guided on it. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Be Prepared (Good Friday)

1 Peter 1:10-20
“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). It seems a bit odd that the writer of 1 Peter would tell us to “prepare (our) minds for action.” We don’t normally consider our mind as the active part of our bodies. We may prepare our mind, yes, but for reflection, for intellectual work like students preparing for a test. But here we are told to set our minds to act. The next phrases, though, help us better understand. The actions we are to prepare for are discipline and hope. Think of Jesus in the garden on Maundy Thursday. Though he prayed that his passion might be avoided, he was still willing to follow God’s will with perfect obedience. Certainly that took discipline and hope. Certainly it also required Jesus’ full attention.

We live on the resurrection side of Good Friday, but still we face moments of internal crisis: choices to be made, paths to be followed, fears to be addressed. To live as a Christian means preparing our minds for the struggles of faith, means learning discipline, means placing hope. And all of this requires our full attention. The lights and the sounds of the world may distract us, but we must stay focused on what God is doing or, like so many in Jesus’ day, we will miss it altogether.

On this Good Friday I invite us all to seek the mindset needed to stand firm in the faith. There is a cross just ahead, a tomb and a stone, a silent Saturday to endure. Do we have the discipline to see this through for ourselves? Dare we hope for grace from a man who is about to die? The choices are ours. Are our minds prepared?

Prayer: Lord, help us to prepare ourselves for the events that lie ahead, that in faithful discipleship we may live as your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

You Make Me Want to Shout! (Maundy Thursday)

Jeremiah 20:7-11 (12-13) 14-18
If you recall the 1978 film “Animal House” you will probably remember the song “Shout.” It was an old Isley Brothers number first released in 1959, but it has become an R and B classic in large part because of the film. Its opening line is, “You know you make me want to shout…” Now imagine the prophet Jeremiah whose words have been rejected by his friends and scorned by his enemies, who is himself an outcast in his own nation. If he could, he says, he would cease to speak, stop his prophetic work. But it isn’t that easy. “If I say, ‘I will not mention (God), or speak any more in his name,’” he laments, “then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot’” (Jeremiah 20:9). In other words says Jeremiah, “God, you make me want to shout!” I run the risk of trivializing this passage, but believe me, this is serious stuff. Even if Jeremiah wanted to quit sharing God’s word it would consume him like fire in his bones until he resumed speaking. He simply must go on talking.

Today many of us will gather to remember Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. We likely will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and reflect on its meaning for Holy Week. If we are paying attention, if we are aware of what we are doing and what it means, I really believe we will want to shout, not the Hosannas of Easter just yet, but the news of Jesus’ passion, his willingness to die for a sinful world. How can we remain silent in the face of such a gracious act? How can we not burn with the need to speak? Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, even Saturday of Holy Week are as integral to the Christian faith as Easter is. They are events that need to be shared. And we should be consumed with the need to share them.

I challenge us all to let this day, and the days that follow, move us according to the Holy Spirit, and to respond with an earnestness and honesty that the world seldom sees. Something tragic and marvelous is happening right in front of us. How can we remain silent about it?

Prayer: Lord, help us to speak with clarity to a world that needs the good news of Holy Week. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Whatever… (Wednesday of Holy Week)

Philippians 4:1-13
This may sound odd, but I’m coming to the opinion that belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior is not enough. Faith must MEAN something, must LEAD to something, must AMOUNT to something. I may have membership in a fitness club, but unless I actually show up and exercise it will do me no good. So the question is Where does my faith in Jesus Christ take me? Paul has some helpful words on the subject.

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Paul is speaking as a Christian, but obviously he believes there is more to it that saying lofty things about Jesus. Faith should lead us to truth, to honor, to justice, to purity, to that which does not displease others, that which is commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise. Frankly, focusing on any one of those is likely to take up my whole day, let alone striving for them all. But if my faith in Jesus does not challenge me then I am not paying attention.

At the half-way point of Holy Week it seems appropriate to pause and reflect on the events we are about to commemorate. Jesus offered his life for the sake of the world. If we are willing to put our faith in him, it should make some difference in who we are. If not we may as well believe in “whatever.”

Prayer: Lord, help us to use our faith as a guide to our living. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

All Together Now (Tuesday of Holy Week)

Philippians 3:15-21
Since we can always find reasons to divide ourselves from others—race, politics, nationality, gender, wealth, occupation––the challenge is to find reasons to unite. This is true in society, and—sadly—in the church as well. Fortunately, Paul offers Christians just such a reason for unity. “But our citizenship is in heaven,” he writes, “and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

No matter where we stand on any other issue or factor, we find common cause when we profess our faith in God through Jesus Christ. And that faith has given us a new identity, what Paul calls our “citizenship in heaven.” Seen in this light, how can we allow anything to disrupt our community? And yet we do, over and over again. Doctrine, ordination standards, church governance, personalities, hurt feelings, the church falls pray to them all. And when the church fragments it is less able to live out its calling.

I have experienced conflict in the church. It can cause unimaginable pain as it draws the life out of a community. And while it is always easy to assign blame in such circumstances, to point fingers and make threats, what it needed is a willingness to look to our common faith and to allow Jesus Christ to draw us together. Imagine the power of such witness! Imagine the model we could offer the world! “Our citizenship is in heaven…” Paul tells us. And though the church has always been a victim to its own divisiveness, we may look for the day when our common heritage bridges all chasms and gives us the courage to stand together saying, “Jesus is Lord!”

Prayer: Lord, as we reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, let us be more aware of the sacrifices we can make for one another as a step toward unity. Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bringing Charges Against God (Monday of Holy Week)

Jeremiah 11:18-20, 12:1-17
Palm Sunday has passed. Now we approach the heart of Holy Week and a series of events that are not easy to understand. In this light a verse from Jeremiah seems more than apt. “You will be in the right, O Lord, when I lay charges against you;” says the prophet, "but let me put my case to you. Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Jeremiah 12:1).

Several things about this verse strike me. First, the prophet acknowledges that God is right and will remain so. God’s sovereignty is not open for debate or about to be challenged. It remains a fact, no matter what we say or do. Yet while Jeremiah knows this he still has the courage to “lay charges against” God. Something is troubling the prophet, causing him anger, and he wants God to know about it. “…Let me put my case before you,” he says. And God indeed allows it. And what a case it is, too. Why, asks Jeremiah, do the guilty and treacherous seem to make out so well while the righteous seem to suffer terribly? “You may be Lord of all,” Jeremiah is saying, “but I think you have really screwed this one up. Now show me how I’m wrong.”

As Holy Week progresses we, too, may accuse God of screwing things up. Jesus, the word of God incarnate, will be tormented at the hands of the unrighteous and will eventually die. Is that really necessary? Is it fair? God is sovereign and rules over all. But this can’t be right. And setting Holy Week aside, what about the world today? How much must the good and gentle folks among us suffer? How much must God’s people deal with before God will act? Why do the evil ones seem to do so well and the rest of us so poorly? These are tough questions, but they are fair ones, and God is willing to listen. Then, in God’s own time, we will have an answer, one that involves Jesus’ death, one that reminds us of the love poured out for us from the cross and tomb. Our sovereign God will be in the right. But our charges will not have been wasted because in challenging God we have set ourselves to witness what God is up to. And that is a very good thing, during Holy Week and beyond.

Prayer: Lord, we know you are right, but we are confused and confounded this week. Help us to accept your love and to trust in your work though Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

On Being a Blessing

Jeremiah 29:1 (2-3) 4-14
Romans 11:13-24
Today’s readings include verses from Jeremiah and Romans which remind us what it means to be God’s people. As I’ve point out before, God promised to make Abraham a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). Today we catch a glimpse of what that means.

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,” says Jeremiah, “and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). It does no good for God’s people to remove themselves from the world. Quite the contrary, they are to seek what is good for the world so that the world may be a good place for everyone. This is part of what it means to be a blessing, to challenge others to be their best, demonstrating the mutuality of life in community.

In Romans Paul is writing to Gentiles but speaking about the role of the Hebrew people. “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:17-18). In this case, the ever-widening growth of believers is dependent on a foundation of faith first established in the people of Israel. Abraham’s children are to bless those being added to their number through Christ, not rejecting them but welcoming them into full fellowship.

Christians today stand in this line of faith. It is now our calling to challenge the world to be a place of goodness for all people. We are also to welcome and nurture those being added to our number. In these ways, and others, we demonstrate what it means to bless others even as we are blessed by God.

Prayer: Lord, open our hearts to those around us; help us to care for them and to bless them in your name. Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Cost of Prophesy

Jeremiah 26:1-16(17-24)
There is an account included in the passage from Jeremiah today which, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, is added “to illustrate Jeremiah’s personal danger and fortunate official support” (NRSV New Oxford Annotated Bible 10th ed., p. 1003 n.).

“There was another man prophesying in the name of the LORD, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words exactly like those of Jeremiah…. Then King Jehoiakim sent Elnathan son of Achbor and men with him to Egypt, and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and threw his dead body into the burial place of the common people” (Jeremiah 26:20, 22-23).

Speaking up for God is not always easy. Sometimes it will put us at odds with the culture. Sometimes it will make us seem kooky. Sometimes it will alienate us from friends and family. But the call to be God’s people is not a call to take it easy. God expects more from us. God expects us to risk who we are and what we have for the glory of God’s name, to speak in a strong, clear voice the words that God will give us, and to make sure our actions are consistent with our words. When we do so, when we share God’s message with the world, we act as a beacon of mercy and hope that cuts through the murky atmosphere of apathy and leads others to a better life. What a joyous process in which to be involved, regardless of the danger.

Prayer: Lord, help us to speak your word to the world with integrity and courage that others may hear and believe in you. Amen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Sheep

Jeremiah 25:30-38
John 10:1-18
“Wail, you shepherds, and cry out; roll in ashes, you lords of the flock, for the days of your slaughter have come –– and your dispersions, and you shall fall like a choice vessel. Flight shall fail the shepherds, and there shall be no escape for the lords of the flock. Hark! the cry of the shepherds, and the wail of the lords of the flock!” (Jeremiah 25:34-36).

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…And I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 14-15).

It’s hard to believe that each of these passages is talking about shepherds. How different the descriptions are! According to Jeremiah judgment is about to befall those leaders who have done wrong in God’s sight. Indeed, they will wail and cry but flight will not help them. Their slaughter is about to fall upon them. But John speaks in radically divergent terms. There we read Jesus’ claim to be the “good shepherd” who will “lay down (his) life for the sheep.” The mark of Jesus’ righteousness is that he will give his life for the flock while the leaders of Jeremiah’s day were unwilling to lead the people in the paths that God desired.

When Jesus takes on the title “good shepherd” he is speaking with intentionality. What went on before was not God’s will. But now, in the person of God’s Son, all will be set right. Those who seek God will need only to hear the voice of Jesus to know that he is the Way. As a part of God’s flock we should rejoice for the good shepherd has come to lead us in right paths.

Prayer: Lord, help us to follow the good shepherd who lays down his life for us, and may we live as righteous people all our days. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Urge to Confess

Romans 10:1-13
Where does your faith take you? Does it move you from one place to another? Or does it effect you in some other way? Does believing lead you to do certain things? It should, and in Romans Paul offers one small example. “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved,” he writes (Romans 10:10).

For Paul, that which the heart believes can and should lead to confession, what we usually call an affirmation or declaration of faith. In Presbyterian worship you will often find the Apostles’ Creed or some other statement of faith included in the service. And it is entirely appropriate for this statement to come after the sermon, as a response to the word. God speaks to us, we hear and then, because we believe and seek to believe more fully, we publicly profess that faith, going “on the record” as it were. It is probably the least we could do, to stand with other Christians and say aloud, “I believe…,” but it is significant nonetheless because in doing so we identify ourselves as God’s people.

To believe in the heart is a sign of God’s activity in our lives. To profess with our mouth is to allow ourselves to be moved by what God is doing and to show others where we stand. The urge to confess our faith, then, is another sign of God’s presence, one for which we may rejoice.

Prayer: Lord, may our hearts be filled with love for you and may our voices be lifted in praise. Amen.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Vision Or No Vision?

John 9:1-17
According to John’s gospel Jesus healed a bind man one sabbath day. Ironically, this gracious act of restoring sight for one man caused quite a bit of confusion for others. According to John, “They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided” (John 9:13-16).

The religious leaders were in a quandary. How were they to explain what Jesus had done? Yes, he had performed a miracle, but he had done so in defiance of the first commandment. Was this a good thing or not? As John tells us, “they were divided.” Despite their status as teachers of the law, the Pharisees lacked vision. They had the facts in front of them but they could not “see” what they meant. God was at work reconciling the people to God’s self, but the Pharisees could not even be reconciled to one another, and none of them trusted Jesus.

There is a word of warning for the church in this account. The Christian community may be caught up in wrangling over details, may be divided by a misunderstanding of God’s intent while God goes right on helping others to see and to live lives of wholeness and grace. Do we have vision to live as disciples, or are we blind to the work of God?

Prayer: Lord, open our eyes that we may see! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Who Are You?

Jeremiah 23:1-8
Romans 8:29-39
John 6:52-59
From a Christian perspective each of our readings for today offers insight into the identity of Jesus Christ, who he is in relation to the world and to the people of God. The prophet Jeremiah tells us, “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch… And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5,6). As an ancestor of David and a king of the Davidic line, Jesus embodies the righteousness that God wills. To meet the need of Israel for a good shepherd, one who cares for the flock, God will produce one who lays down his life for others.

Paul adds to this picture of Christ’s nature. “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:33-35). In Paul’s terms it is Jesus who has bridged the chasm between humanity and God. The one who is willing to die for us is also the one who holds us close and does not let go. How can we be condemned if we are loved by the one who judges?

But more than dieing for us, and more than saving us from condemnation, Jesus promises those who believe in him a share in his resurrection. Comparing what he offers to the manna God provided in the wilderness, Jesus says, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6:58).

Scripture gives us many, many more ways to characterize Jesus. But these three are significant. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s righteousness who holds God’s people close and who offers himself to them along with a place in the coming reign of God. Thus we are blessed by the presence of God’s word in our midst.

Prayer: God, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ and for the love and grace that he shares with us. Amen.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Floor Plan of God

Jeremiah 22:13-23
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by…” (Amos 7:8). Those are the verses I thought of when as I read through today’s passage from Jeremiah. “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice…” (Jeremiah 22:13). When we take these verses together it is clear that God has a “floor plan” for our world, for our society, for our lives. We may try to create a legacy for ourselves, but unless we pay attention to God’s will and God’s judgment, we build in vain. If our building materials include unrighteousness and injustice then the structure will be insecure and morally out of plumb.

So who would ever knowingly build such a faulty structure? We know the answer to that question because we ourselves are guilty of the practice. A half-truth here, a blind eye there, a choice made according to expediency and not according to what is just, and pretty soon our lives are leaning precariously away from God’s intentions. The same is true of communities and nations. Taking advantage of others, overlooking the needs of the weak and oppressed, focusing too much on our desires and not enough on what God wants can leave us tottering on the brink of a spiritual collapse. We must work to shore up the structures with justice, to support the walls with righteousness. We must allow God to build through us and not ignore God’s instructions. After all, the floor plan of God is the only design guaranteed to provide for our needs and those of others.

Prayer: Gracious God, help to build lives of righteousness and justice and to reach out to those in need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hunger and Thirst No More

John 6:27-40
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35). This is meaningful verse, one which assures God’s people of eternal wellbeing. But I think we all recognize the spiritual nature of these words. They couldn’t be literally true, right? Jesus must be speaking metaphorically.

And yet these words do speak of real life, of real hunger and thirst, of real bread, and real sustenance. To center our lives on Jesus is to free ourselves from many of the things the world tells us we should worry about. When we are frightened or unsettled we become easier to manage. But if we truly trust in God through Jesus Christ we can let go of fear and live to God. Ultimately all is well. What we eat and drink, the people we interact with, the clothes we wear, and the work we do all become relative to the joy of God’s reign. Life is not easier, perhaps, but it needn’t cause as much anxiety.

What we hunger and thirst for should be the grace we find in Jesus Christ and the opportunity to live as disciples of the gospel. When this becomes our focus life becomes a journey toward fulfillment and away from what we thought we needed.

Prayer: Lord, give us the bread of life that we may life in faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Believer's Cry

Romans 7:13-25
There are passages of scripture that I find particularly poignant due to their truthful display of human frailty. Peter’s realization that he has indeed betrayed Jesus is one of them (Mark 14:72); Jeremiah, weeping for the people of Judah (Jeremiah 8:18-9:1) is, too; and the father who cries out in anguish, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) is another. Paul is also capable of honest emotion. “Wretched man that I am!” he writes. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

I once heard a minister lament, “It isn’t as if I didn’t want to believe what I say…” He left the comment hanging, but those of us who heard him knew what he meant. There are times when we simply do not have it within us to believe, to live in faith, to trust in God. At the bedside of a dying friend, in the wake of a natural catastrophe, at the end of a long and frustrating day we may find ourselves cloaked in doubt and despair. Who will rescue us from these circumstances?

If nothing else, we must recognize that the journey of God’s people has passed this way before. Peter, Jeremiah, the unnamed father, Paul, all of them have cried out in pain, and all of them have been heard. They and countless others have reached a limit in what they could do only to find God’s grace waiting for them. I know that when I am most challenged it is my own strength that fails me. But I also know that God remains active in my life and in yours. The honesty of scripture gives me the hope that soon I will join Paul in affirming, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a). And then I will continue my journey by God’s grace.

Prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Simple Compassion

Jeremiah 16:(1-9)10-21
John 6:1-15
In the reading from Jeremiah for today we find words of judgment and of warning. Because of their sinfulness, following after other gods, the Lord will banish the people from the land (Jeremiah 16:9). The details are gruesome as to what will happen, but tucked in Jeremiah’s account, just after the mention of unburied bodies and unshaven heads, we read, “No one shall break bread for the mourner, to offer comfort for the dead; nor shall anyone give them the cup of consolation to drink for their fathers or their mothers” (vs. 8). Even simple gestures of compassion will cease, says the Lord.

The feeding of the five thousand is one of a few accounts contained in all four gospels. But each gospel writer has a particular insight into the event. John alone provides us with this detail: “One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’” (John 6:8-9). We have no way of knowing whether the bread and fish had been offered freely by the boy, or if Andrew had asked if he could take it. But no matter. This remains a simple gesture of compassion in the midst of a teeming crowd. I’m not sure what I find more important to the story, Jesus’ miraculous ability to feed the multitude, or the offering of fish and loaves by an unnamed boy.

The warning of the prophet was valid, and his word was true. But in the end, when God is at work, acts of generosity abound. Gifts are shared, wounds are healed, lives are changed for the better. In a moment of need someone steps forward and offers what they have, and by God’s grace it becomes enough. It is easy to condemn the church for its hypocrisy, for its divisiveness and its ugliness. But let us never forget the Spirit-filled acts of love that also spring from God’s people. The acts, like the people themselves, are imperfect, but in God’s hand they become limitless expressions of grace. There are those who will break bread for the mourner, who will give a cup of consolation to the one in distress. May we, too, share in this blessed activity, giving what we have to the work of God.

Prayer: Lord, help us to care for those who mourn and to offer what we have to those in need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Fire That Consumes

Jeremiah 11:1-8, 14-17
I talk a lot about Moses’s experience with the burning bush, one that burned yet was not consumed. It was the call of Moses and thus the beginning of the Exodus from Egypt. Yet, in today's reading from Jeremiah the people are threatened with a far different image. Says Jeremiah, “The Lord once called you, ‘A green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit’; but with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed” (Jeremiah 11:16). The sinfulness of the people had transformed God’s presence from a sign of grace—indeed, a miracle––into an image of judgment. The flame by which God had promised salvation was now a portent of God’s coming wrath.

This is a tragic turn of events. But as theologians have pointed out, God’s grace is but another side of the same coin as God’s judgment. Without one, there is no reality to the other. God expects justice, and God will and does hold God’s people accountable for it. But God remains faithful to the promise as well. The fire that consumes will again be the fire that saves. How we respond to God’s call, God’s will, matters. But God remains active in the process.

Prayer: Lord, help us to accept your judgment, turn from our sins, and live according to your will and by your grace. Amen.