Friday, July 29, 2011

Breaking Down the Barriers

Mark 7:24-37

"Then looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened'" (Mark 7:34). These words come from an account in which Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment. But the simple command to be opened is one that means a great deal to me. Why? While I am blessed with hearing and speech, with sight and full use of my limbs, there are many areas of my life that are closed up, shut off. There are days when I find myself angry or lonely or not willing to deal with other people. At times like these I may try to hide behind cynicism or humor. I may simply close the doors of' my mind and try not to think too much. Whatever the case, I long for Jesus to appear at those moments and sigh and say to me, "Ephphatha, be opened."

Perhaps you understand what I'm talking about. Maybe you feel the same way. If so, there is hope for all of us. Jesus desires for us to be opened up; our hearts, our minds, our souls, our very living. And in our openness Jesus wishes us to build community, one open life linked to another and another and another until all people stand in honest and loving relationship under the sovereignty of God. Meanwhile, a good verse to remember and to turn to is Mark 7:34, because it reminds us that Jesus can and does heal and restore, and that in Jesus God was willing a new and abundant life for all.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, touch my life and open it fully to you and to those around me that I may live as a part of the community you are building. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Getting To Know You

Acts 16:25-40
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). These words remind me of so many occasions when I’ve needed courage or hope. At times such as these I find it helpful to turn to familiar words: from scripture, from hymns, from faithful believers. Reflecting on such words allows me to use the hope expressed in them, to claim the faith to which they attest, to focus my needs on the presence of God. I’m sure many of you understand this and often do the same thing.

As a minister, however, I am aware of the fact that many Christians simply do not know the Bible or the hymns well enough to draw on them in times of need. To my mind this is a bit like having a life raft but not knowing how to inflate it. The folks who truly inspire me are the ones who know where to turn in times of crisis. It’s not that they can cite chapter and verse, it’s that they know and are comfortable with what God has to say through the written word or what the church has found meaningful in song.

There is another aspect to the account in Acts that deserves our attention. As Paul and Silas prayed and sang “the prisoners were listening to them.” The hope and confidence that Paul and Silas were able to draw from their tradition became a form of witness to those around them. Here is my challenge to all of you: if you can not recall a verse from scripture by heart, learn one––just one. It could be as simple as “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). Then, once you are comfortable with that expression of faith, pick another to learn and to appreciate. As you begin to accumulate verses you will be filling a toolbox of faith that can be used in times of need. The same works with hymns, or with quotes from religious figures that help to put the faith into focus. If what we believe is really important to us we should learn to express it and to spend our days with it in a variety of ways. Paul and Silas did. Now it’s our turn.

Prayer: Lord, help us to grasp the meaning of your word and to carry it with us as we live so that we are never far from the guidance you offer. Amen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Understanding

Mark 6:47-56
Mark tells the familiar story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee. Unlike Matthew’s account (Matthew 14:22-33), however, Mark indicates that the disciples still did not grasp what was going on, even after Jesus had fed the multitude with just a few loaves and fishes. “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:51b-52). Indeed, it would seem that two miraculous events so close together (feeding the crowd and walking on the sea) would be enough to convince anyone of Jesus’ divinity. But according to Mark the disciples still didn’t get it. Their hearts were hardened and they lacked faith.

I can’t say that I blame the disciples all that much. I doubt I would have caught on any quicker than they did to who Jesus was. So it helps me to learn of their hardheartedness, of their failure to see what was happening right in front of them. If they, the disciples, Jesus’ own followers, were confused then there is hope for me as well, hope that God will stick it out with me giving me opportunities to learn and to grow in faith, to come to a better understanding of who God is and what Jesus was all about. And here is as good a reason to study scripture as I can think of. When we read the word of God we find that we and others like us are a part of the story. We sit with the crowds on the green grass waiting for bread and fish, wondering where it comes from. We find our place in the boat with the disciples, struggling against the wind one moment and terrified by a “ghost” the next. We follow Jesus into marketplaces, seeking to touch the fringe of his garment so that we might be healed of our infirmities. We accept that our hearts are hard, our minds are clouded, our wits are dull, but that Jesus welcomes us all the same and that God claims us.

The events in scripture are not limited to times gone by, they are our stories as well. And in them we find greater understanding and deeper faith, because in them we finally may see ourselves.

Prayer: Lord, open our hearts and minds to hear and to understand your word for us. And help us to live according to your will, for it is in the name of Jesus Christ that we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Something That May Be Of Interest Only To Me

Mark 6:30-46
Look at this verse from the gospel reading for today. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all” (Mark 6:41). After Jesus blessed and broke the bread he had the disciples pass the food out among the crowd. Luke tells the same story in very similar language (Luke 9:16). But in the book of Acts—also written by the author of Luke—we find that serving food has taken on a different perspective. After complaints arise about certain widows not getting as much food as others, the twelve—also known as the apostles—say, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables (or keep accounts)” (Acts 6:2b).

Now we should note that in the gospels the term disciple does not always refer specifically to one the twelve. But notice how some of the individuals who distributed food for Jesus were later so focused on spiritual matters that they were not able to minister in that way for the early church. As the title of this posting implies, I may be the only person to find this at all interesting. But here’s what I think this development in the role of discipleship has to say to us today. What you and I are called to do one day may not be the thing we are needed to do on another day.

I understand that Walt Disney was very concerned that the special effects in his movies not become predictable or stale. “Change the trick,” he would say, “before folks catch on.” For very different reasons what I have to offer the church has changed over the years. I have grown and matured and could not remain president of the youth group forever. Instead I have worked or volunteered as a youth leader, church secretary, substitute sexton, Sunday School teacher, committee member, co-pastor, pastor, interim pastor… you get the idea. At times I have been needed to pass out the food, but at other times I have had to let someone else wait tables while I took on other responsibilities. For all of us, a willingness to do what is needed, to use our talents to their best effect, is essential to a meaningful journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord, help us to serve you as we are needed. Do not allow our resistance to change hamper our faithfulness, but open our eyes to the new things you are doing and the ways we can participate. Amen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reality Check

Acts 15:36-16:5
To its credit the book of Acts does not present an unrealistic picture of the early church. Our reading for today proves the point. “The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:39-40). It really doesn’t matter what the argument was about. It happened, and the author of Acts makes no effort to hide the “sharp disagreement” from us. I think that is important.

I’ve spent the majority of my life involved in the church at various levels and in various ways. It can be a messy place, with disagreements over some interesting things. People get their feelings hurt. Friendships sour. Entire congregations split. It happens, and to say otherwise would be dishonest. Acts makes no attempt to hide the unpleasant truth and as far as I’m concerned that adds veracity to its story.

But shouldn’t the people of God be above that sort of thing? Shouldn’t “church folk” get along, live in perfect harmony, agree on everything? Sure, the church should be a place of joy and of unity, but first and foremost it is a place for real people with real problems—like pride and fear and anger and insecurity. Real people are going to have real misunderstandings. But our very real God is going to be at work nonetheless, and though there will be unpleasantness and turmoil from time to time, there will also be real signs of grace and mercy, opportunities to grow in faith and in love. The church is about moving towards the reign of God. We aren’t there yet, but we really are getting closer.

Prayer: Lord of all, help us to work through our very real disagreements in mutual love and respect, supporting one another even when we see things differently. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Difference Between a Smirk and a Smile

Mark 5:21-43
As we read in Mark today a leader of a synagogue named Jairus sought Jesus’ help in curing his ailing daughter. Jesus readily agreed and was not deterred when the girl was reported to have died. As they arrived at Jairus’s house a crowd stood about literally wailing. But, “When [Jesus] had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him” (Mark 5:39-40a).

They laughed at Jesus? Really? To go from sincere grief to derisive laughter in an instant seems very strange, but when you are dealing with deep and powerful emotions I suppose anything is possible. But what this account really helps us to see is the depth of faith Jairus has in Jesus. Jairus trusted. The crowd laughed, doubting to the point of derision. Of course the little girl was healed and restored to her family. And though Mark doesn’t say we can imagine that the laughter of the crowd soon became a more joyous type.

There are a lot of ways for us to respond to God’s presence in our lives. We can smirk at the “absurdities” that faith often claims, or we can smile with the joy that comes in trusting God’s grace and mercy, even in the most difficult of times. The crowd at Jairus’s house smirked at first, but in the end joy abounded. Given the choice, I’d prefer a smile over a smirk.

Prayer: Gracious God, give us eyes of faith that we may see your work and respond with joy and praise. Amen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Supposed To Be Dead

Acts 14:19-28
For a guy who was supposed to be deceased Paul sure did get around. “But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:19-20). Left for dead by an angry mob on one day, the apostle was on the road the next headed to another town.

But what if Paul had died? Paul was an important part of the early church, of its efforts at evangelizing the world. Would Paul’s death have ended the story? For me the answer comes in the fact that, as he lay on the ground outside the city, Paul was surrounded by disciples. The symbolism of this act is significant. In times of need the community of faith has worked best when it has pulled together and trusted the Holy Spirit to lead on. This time Paul got up but if he hadn’t someone else would have risen to the occasion, someone else would have felt the hand of God leading him or her to do Paul’s work. Look at the times when God has provided or leaders and prophets and apostles to do works of faith. Moses was a runaway sent home to lead his people. Amos was a farmer pressed into service as a prophet. David was a lad who defeated a giant and later became a king. Simon, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen who became disciples. Levi left his tax booth for the same reason. Paul himself had been a dangerous enemy of the faith but was called to take his place in the service of Jesus Christ. Would someone have stepped forward had Paul died that day? Absolutely.

For these reasons and more we should never despair, should never give up hope that God is at work in our world. The landscape of faith may change from generation to generation, death will claim leaders of the church, but as long as God remains at work there will be saints given the opportunity to serve in new ways. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of all time and space, we thank you for your gift of leadership that has allowed the community of faith to move ahead, even in its darkest hours. May we find our roles to play as we live our lives dedicated to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On Spreading Mustard

Mark 4:21-34
To be honest, I wouldn’t know a mustard seed if I saw one. I don’t know how big they are or what size plant typically grows from them, or whether it would be a bush, tree, plant, or vine for that matter. But I still have an appreciation for one of Jesus’ most famous parables about the coming reign of God, Mark’s version of which we read today. “[Jesus] also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade’” (Mark 4:30-32).

Here is the meaning that I find–and which is not original to me–in these words. The coming reign or kingdom of God may begin in the most insignificant of ways. An act of kindness, for example, may seem almost meaningless to the one who performs it but may convey tremendous meaning to its recipient. Not to trivialize Jesus’ image, but think of the number of contacts you make each day, the number of people with whom you interact at the store, at work, at school, on the bus, in person or by e-mail, by text or by Skype. Consider how you as an individual might affect any or all of those people. Think of each contact as setting off ripples through the lives of others. Kindness–godliness if you will–can spread and grow and develop and take new shape all because we choose to reflect God’s love in the world instead of sharing messages of gloom or anger, rumors or innuendo about others and the struggles they may or may not face. Even the slightest gesture or comment may make a great deal of difference in a life, may help to enliven the good news for others while a slightly different word or gesture may impede God’s will from being done.

A mustard seed may be as big as a walnut as far as I know, but as a parable of the coming reign of God it demonstrates the importance of all we do, for at the end God’s will is done and God’s glory shines all around. Do we wish to plant seeds of goodness in God’s field, or are we willing to plant something else?

Prayer: Lord help us to live in such a way that our actions help to spread the good news instead of deterring it. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Give It Some Thought

Mark 4:1-20
Generally speaking, I prefer for prospective church members to take time in deciding whether to join a church or not over those who come a Sunday or two and then make a quick commitment. Why? Let me use a part of Jesus’ parable about the sower from Mark’s gospel to explain.

“And these,” Jesus said, “are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while…” (Mark 4:16-17a). Let me stress that I am making only a general statement here, not one that I believe to be absolutely true in all cases. The fact is that faith is serious business. It does not work best when based on a quick response time or on knee-jerk reactions. Faith deserves thought and, above all, prayer. What is God doing in my life and how can this particular congregation can help me with it? Is this a community of faith where my skills and talents can best be put to use? Am I making a decision on what I wish were true, or what God is really saying to me? These are the sorts of questions that help one develop roots, to find endurance for the ups and downs that every gathering of God’s people will go through from time to time.

This is why I, as a pastor, do not object to a family or an individual taking time to decide about joining a church. God deserves thought and care. Questions like which congregation to join are important. We should try, to the best of our ability, to be planted in good soil so that we may produce much fruit to the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord, help us to consider our lives of faith carefully and not make hasty decisions based on arbitrary factors. And as communities of faith, may we learn to respect and to nurture the thoughtfulness of others. Amen.

Friday, July 15, 2011

National Treasure

1 Samuel 21:1-15

Ever wonder what happened to the sword Goliath was wearing the day David defeated him. Our reading from 1 Samuel today tells us. It was being kept by the priests at Nob, wrapped and stored in a safe place. "The priest said, 'The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you will take that, take it, for there is none here except that one.' David said, 'There is none like it; give it to me'” (1 Samuel 21:9).

It would seem that this particular item, this sword, had already become a national treasure of sorts, or perhaps an object of religious significance. And why not? It marked an important chapter in the history of God's people. It told a story of what was possible, even if unlikely, when God was involved. David, when he was only a boy, had defeated a giant because he trusted in God's strength. What else was possible, even if unlikely, if the people of Israel would trust in the Lord their God?

The artifacts to which a nation attaches meaning say a great deal. But so do the items that we as individuals or families consider important. A family Bible that shows signs of regular use indicates that the word of God is never far away from its owners. What items do we consider indicative of who we are as people? And what exactly do they say about us? It's a question worth careful consideration.

Prayer: God of history and of hope, help us to focus on you and your will for our lives in all that we do. Amen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What’s the Matter With These People?

Mark 2:23-3:6
Our reading from Mark for today includes two incidents that took place on the sabbath day, times when Jesus broke the strictest interpretation of the law against work on the Lord’s day. But surely the only reason we know of these events is that there were some who opposed Jesus. I suppose that plucking grain may have been unnecessary as told by Mark, but it certainly was not “work.” And clearly, as Jesus showed over and over again, God’s mercy transcended the designation of days allowing acts of healing even on the sabbath, and even in the synagogue on that day.

So why would anyone object? Couldn’t they see the good that was going on? Didn’t they get it? Those questions are all fine and good until we start to think about the traditions, customs, ways of life to which we cling, even at the risk of hurting others. Don’t we know any better? Seeing the sin in others is so much easier than seeing it in ourselves. Perhaps that is the real message that Jesus is sharing with us in Mark today.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when our understanding clashes with your will and we refuse to give way. Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Finding the Norm

Mark 2:13-22
How you ask a question can say a lot about your assumptions. For example, here is a verse from today’s reading in Mark. “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’” (Mark 1:18). People were curious about the spiritual practices of Jesus and his disciples. That’s understandable. But notice how they express their curiosity. John and the Pharisees and their disciples fast (which is obviously the way it should be done) but you, Jesus, and your disciples do not fast (which is obviously not the way it should be done). How different the question sounds if we simply turn it around: Jesus, you and your disciples don’t fast (which is obviously the way it should be done), but John, the Pharisees, and their disciples do fast (which is obviously not the way it should be done).

So much of life depends on what you consider to be normal. My cousin grew up using Miracle Whip on sandwiches, but my father hated it so we used mayonnaise on our sandwiches instead. I hate short athletic socks because when I was in school you wanted your tube socks to reach practically to your knee and to have wide stripes at the top. But my kids won’t let me out of the house in shorts and socks that go much above my shoes. It all depends on what you consider to be normal. During this ministry Jesus was offering a new way, a different approach. He didn’t fast when others fasted, he didn’t shun sinners, tax collectors, or prostitutes.

But what about today? Is Jesus’ way the norm, or is Jesus the exception. Where there is a neighbor in need whose example do we follow? If we have a choice between the golf course and an hour of our week for worship to whom do we turn for guidance? Whose understanding of sacrifice, of giving, of service, of obedience to God do we see as usual? Does Jesus represent for us the way it should be done, or what it means to get too hung up in religion?

Finding the norm in life means finding the patterns that offer the most meaning to our world and that lead us to the most faithful manner of living in the here and now. So do we start with Jesus? Or do we find Jesus to be the odd man out?

Prayer: Lord, you alone offer the path to abundant life. When we find ourselves challenged to choose you or to stray after idols, help us to remain faithful that your will might be done in our living. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Simple Gesture

Acts 12:1-17
To me some of the most fascinating aspects of scripture can be found in the smallest details. Take the following for example. Peter has just been saved from prison by an angel of the Lord. His appearance to many of the believers is so astounding that they can hardly believe it and their response is apparently loud and boisterous. Then, we read, "(Peter) motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison..." (Acts 12:17a). Just how crucial is it for us to know that Peter silenced the others with a wave of his hand? All things considered this would seem to be a detail of very little importance.

Maybe, and maybe not. I have said on more than one occasion that writers like Luke (who also wrote the book of Acts) were not inclined to waste words. If they share a detail with us we should be attentive to it. Why then would Peter gesture to quiet the others? For one thing, what he had to say, the news that he wanted to share with them, was far more important than the hubbub they were causing. Peter's gesture told them to hush up. I think it is telling us the same thing. We have a great number of concerns competing for our time and attention. The word of God should not have to be one of them. When the word of God is present we should let go of everything else that is going on.

My senior high school English teacher would sometimes drop a long metal bar in the classroom. The loud clanging was intended to get us to stop talking and to listen to him. The word of God deserves even more attention. Peter's simple gesture told his friends just what it tells us, to listen and hear the good news. God is at work in the world and we've got to be quiet sometimes or we are going to miss it.

Prayer: O God, by whose hand we are guided through life, forgive us when we fail to listen to you. Quiet the other sounds around us so that we may know your will and the good news of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Heart Of the Matter (Sort Of)

Mark 1:29-45
The full range of Jesus’ humanity is on display in the gospels. He is enraged at those who do business in the temple. He weeps at the death of a friend. He is amazed at the faith—or lack of it—of those around him. He wishes fervently to avoid a painful death. In our reading from Mark for today we also find Jesus moved to pity by the plight of a leper. What makes this account all the more humanizing of Jesus is that the word used for Jesus’ emotion has to do with one’s bowels or, if you’d prefer, guts. “A leper came to (Jesus) begging him,” Mark tells us, “and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’” (Mark 1:40-41).

Personally I haven’t often thought about Jesus having intestines. It just never figures into my Christology. According to Mark, though, Jesus experienced a yearning in the pit of his stomach. Incidentally, Luke uses this same expression in describing the feelings of the good Samaritan and the prodigal’s father, so this is not a concept reserved for the Son of God. Nor is it a feeling we generate for ourselves. It is one that springs upon us, from somewhere in the depths of our being as it were. But something must have happened in the centuries since Jesus healed the leper, something to change the notion of pity as associated with the digestive track. Today we are more accustomed to expressions like, “I hate your guts,” or “the thought of it turns my stomach,” or “you make me sick.” All too often pity and compassion are seen as weaknesses, uninvited intruders who distort our efforts at clear thinking and dispassion. How do we tie the gospel understanding of compassion (and Jesus’ response to it) together with the contemporary meaning and make sense of it?

We start with Jesus, who any number of times could have said, “Enough! I can only do so much!” And though he found it necessary to seek solitude for prayer and meditation, Jesus never lost the capacity to care, to be moved by the circumstances of others. Maybe what makes Jesus truly human is that he was truly humane, was truly vulnerable to those around him in ways that we far too often are not. While we might have said to the leper, “Yuck! Get away from me,” Jesus felt the needs of the man so intensely that he was compelled to act, his true humanity drawing on his divine identity to create a miracle. Jesus, then, has worked to correct our understanding or who we are as humans. And though he was healing the leper, maybe it is really to us that he says, “Be made clean!”

Prayer: God of creation, restore in us the true human-ness that you intended so that we might live as your people with vulnerability to those around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Questioning Authority

1 Samuel 17:17-30
Our reading from 1 Samuel today takes place along the lines of the army of the Israelites as they stand shamefaced in the presence of Goliath. No one will fight this imposing warrior, and David, son of Jesse, wants to know why. But his words sound impertinent to his older brother who rebukes him sharply. "David said, 'What have I done now? It was only a question'” (1 Samuel 17:29).

Only a question. How often does a question, innocent or not, stir up trouble or bring issues into focus? When Jesus asked his followers what the crowds were saying about him it could be seen as simple curiosity. Then Jesus said, "But who do you say that I am?" and suddenly the disciples were forced to make some decisions, to clarify what they thought about this teacher and healer. Another time those who opposed Jesus tried to trap him by asking about the legality of Roman taxes. But Jesus turned their question inside out and allowed them to see the fault lines in their own faith. And the question, "Who is my neighbor?" prompted Jesus to share one of the most familiar stories in the New Testament about a traveling Samaritan who meets the needs of a badly injured Jew.

Set next to questions like these David's inquiry seems almost innocent. But we know that at the heart of David's words lay a challenge to the faithfulness of everyone who heard them. Something must be done and we are the people who, by God's grace, are called to do it. Sound familiar? It should. That's the reality of being a part of the community of faith. Things need doing. Isn't it time we got busy?

Prayer: Lord, we have questions, lives full of them. We question our role in the world, we question our place in society, we question our need for your word. We question those around us and their right to exist. We are puzzled by the anger we witness and curious about our own needs. Lord of all, hear our questions and answer them according to your will. But with your answers give us ears to hear and hearts to understand. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Lord of Leftovers

Luke 24:36-53
"While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence" (Luke 24:41). It is tempting to make some significant assumptions based on these few verses. After all, this is an account of the risen Christ appearing to the disciples. And in the face of their wonder and disbelief Jesus goes so far as to ask for food. Can a resurrected person actually eat? Would he or she need to?

We can leave those very interesting questions for another time. What strikes me today is the relative mundaneness of the event - as mundane as a risen Savior can be. Any number of things might have happened, and a number of important things did, but the resurrected Jesus is Lord of more than just the big stuff, the healing and the storm-calming. Jesus is also the Lord of leftovers, of broiled fish eaten among friends. Whatever that piece of fish may have meant at that moment it was still fish. Someone had caught it, someone had cleaned it, someone had cooked it, all in ordinary, everyday ways. And now Jesus was eating it, and the sacredness of the everyday took on a new clarity. Or maybe we can look at it this way, that the same man who fed a multitude with just a few fish ("big stuff") is not above eating a little fish himself ("small stuff").

Whatever may be going on in your life, whatever issues you may face, they are neither too big nor too small for Jesus' attention. Even the leftovers.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, both great and small, both cosmic and earthbound, your love is offered in our most profound moments of wonder and awe and in our seasons of forgetfulness, of disregard, of self-importance. Help us to recognize your presence. Help us to see the sacred potential in every person and event and that we are constantly on holy ground. In the name of the risen Savior. Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Two Roads

Luke 24:13-35
I like to describe my call to the ministry as more an Emmaus Road experience and less a Damascus Road one. Our reading from Luke for today helps me to explain what I mean. As they walked along the road of Emmaus on the day of Easter, two of Jesus' followers were joined by a stranger who continued on the way with them and explained the scriptures to them so that they would see the truth more clearly (Luke 24:25-27). It was only when this stranger shared a meal with them that they realized it was Jesus (vs. 32). Contrast this story with the one from Acts 9:1-9 (also written by Luke) where Saul is knocked off of his horse by the presence of Jesus Christ. This happened on the road to Damascus.

For some the call to ministry (or to the faith for that matter) is a sudden, life-jarring experience that knocks them down before showing them the way they should go. But others like me have a slow, gradual sense of growing purpose that is sometimes best understood in hindsight. ("Were not our hearts burning within us?" [Luke 24:32].) As I look back on my life I can see the hand of God at work guiding me along the path through my parents, Sunday school teachers, mentors, fellow clergy, and many, many others. There are times I wish I could point to a sudden, life-jarring experience, but I also treasure the thought that God has allowed me to grow in faith and understanding in ways that sustain my ministry today and which I hope are of service to others.

Though the roads to Damascus and Emmaus themselves run in different directions, they each arrive at a place where we may know God to be a real presence in our lives and a source of strength for the living of these days.

Prayer: God of Emmaus and of Damascus, of the gradual dawning of faith and of the sudden jolt of understanding, of the journey and of the destination, of the believer and of the one who wrestles, of the community and of the individual, we come to you in different ways bringing with us different needs, different questions, different circumstances. But you await us in all our diversity because you have never been far from us. For this we offer our thanks and praise, this and all days. Amen.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

God's Intent

I Samuel 15:24-35
How can we reconcile the following verses from our reading from 1 Samuel this morning? On the one hand the prophet Samuel is able to say to King Saul, "Moreover, the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind" (1 Samuel 15:29). But by the end of the passage we find, "And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel" (v. 35). It would seem that God, in regretting that Saul was king had changed his mind from earlier in the story when Saul had been chosen.

There are a lot of ways to go with this. But for me, today, it is enough to know that while God is steadfast and resolute in ways that humanity can seldom if ever approach, God also feels deeply about the relationship between God's self and the people God has created. No, God is not prone to whims or to flights of fancy. But God is not unfeeling like a stone or metal idol. What God does is done with purpose. What God feels is honest concern for God's people.

Did God really change opinions about Saul? I don't think that's really the point here. God acted, and God was aware that those actions would carry consequences. Were we, as humans, able to live the way God intended we would understand.

Prayer: God of all creation, you are so near to your people as to share our grief and our sorrow. Help us to trust you and your works that we may live in joy and peace with one another and in right relationship with you. Amen.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Saved By a Basket

Acts 9:19b-31
A future leader of God’s people was to be killed, but before that could happen he was placed in a basket which was used to transport him to safety. Of course I’m talking about the baby Moses. It was his mother who placed him in a basket in the River Nile to save him from death as commanded by Pharaoh. But there’s another future leader of God’s people who also was saved by a basket. We’ve read about it today in Acts, about Saul’s escape from Damascus. “After some time had passed,” we reading Acts, “the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket” (Acts 9:23-25).

Okay, so maybe it’s a stretch, but both Moses and Saul were called away from their previous lives to a form of service that neither had expected. Moses would lead the people out of slavery and on toward the promised land. Saul—later to be called Paul—would become a missionary evangelist for the gospel and an organizer of churches throughout the known world. In each case these men had to prove themselves to skeptics, had to overcome obstacles, had to show patience and determination. That each was saved at one point in part with the use of a basket seems very appropriate.

Scripture relates stories to us that are full of depth and texture. But we should expect that because the overall story is about a real God acting in the midst of real people.

Prayer: Lord, you have cared for us these many years, sharing your word with us through prophets, kings, apostles, missionaries, councils, men and women, young and old. Continue to bless us with your word, for it is the source of our strength and our salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Acts 9:1-9
For many the thought of evangelism, of sharing the faith with others and inviting them to become believers, can cause severe distress. We love the Lord, we say, but we aren’t the types to meddle in the affairs of others. We aren’t eloquent enough to share what we believe. That’s the minister’s job. And besides, all of our friends are members of churches or synagogues already. So we are often more than hesitant to share our faith with others, to evangelize.

Perhaps this makes our reading from Acts today seem all the more disturbing. “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). Why we may not be well motivated to share the faith, there was a day when Saul (later Paul) was more than happy to try and snuff it out. Let’s call it anti-evangelism, spreading the news that Christianity is not to be trusted, adhered to, or otherwise accepted.

I doubt we’d be likely to make the connection, but when we clam up and decline to share our faith with others we are committing a form of anti-evangelism, too. The world has plenty of options to offer, plenty of choices for folks to make in spending their time and money, in sharing their attention. To let the world make its offer without holding out the good news of the gospel as an alternative is the same as breathing threats and murder against the church. At least it can lead to the same results.

Saul was perfectly willing to round up Christians for punishment. The world is willing to snare folks for its own purposes. So why aren’t we willing to offer what we know to be better?

Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to speak the good news and to share your love with all people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.