Monday, December 24, 2012

Which Way?

Luke 1:67-80
Maybe it's the season. Maybe it's because my stress level is running too high. Maybe it's the litany of events that have washed over the United States in the past month. Maybe it's all of these. Whatever the reason, I find myself embracing the words of Luke today, and especially one promise in particular. "By the tender mercy of our God," we read, "the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:78-79). I want to walk in the way of peace, the sort of peace that redefines life, that makes sense of this world, that builds community and overcomes injustice. I want that kind of peace.

But the good news of Luke's gospel for today is not without its challenges. God's chosen one may guide our feet into the way of peace, but we are going to have to do some walking. We are going to have to shoulder the responsibility that comes with being the community of faith, the people of God. We are going to have to do the work of the coming kingdom, follow the will of God, embrace God's call for justice and righteousness. We are going to have to look beyond ourselves and our needs and our wants and "rights" and be willing to do things God's way, mindful of the least among us, the lost and the lonely, those who, like us, are longing for a better world. Perhaps this is what it means to "take the necessary steps." Perhaps it means that we must stand up and begin to exercise our faith muscles once again.

This may not sound much like peace, at least not the peace we are looking for at present. But here is our hope, that by God's grace we can and will find the strength and the courage we need for the living of these days and will, by God's grace, someday find ourselves awash in the true peace that only God can offer. Until then, until that day when Luke's words like those of the prophets come to fruition, we live in the knowledge that we are not alone and that the steps we take, no matter how faltering, will
 lead us in time to the right place. 

On this Christmas Eve, may our lives be filled with love and light, and may our living be directed by and toward the will of God. 

Prayer: Gracious God, guide our feet and open our hearts to your love and grace that in your time we may find the true peace that passes all understanding. In the name of the one we await. Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2012

An Honest Woman

Luke 1:26-38
I admire Luke’s portrayal of Mary when he writes, “But she was much perplexed by (the angel’s) words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). The conversation between Gabriel and Mary should not be passed by hurriedly. It is one of the most transforming moments in all of scripture through which the work of God unfolds. This is as much a call story as is Exodus 3, or Isaiah 6, or Jeremiah 1 and in each of those cases the men in question hem and haw with fear and trepidation. Why should Mary, called to bear God’s Son, be any different? Why should she not be perplexed? Why should she not wonder how this could be true of a virgin? Her questions are honest and straightforward. Her concern is natural. This is a real person dealing with really surprising news. By the time Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” we know that she means it.

May all of us strive for the honesty of Mary, allowing our questions to rise and our concerns to be expressed. God seeks the best that each of us can offer and honesty is high on that list. When we say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord,” may it be with true conviction. May we know that we mean it.

Prayer: Lord, may our minds be active and our hearts alive during this season as we welcome your word into our world and accept the challenges that you give us. In the name of your Son our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Through God’s Stomach

Psalm 50
"If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me" (Psalm 50:12-15)

As the psalmist knows, what God seeks in the divine relationship with humanity is faithful obedience and “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” What God does not seek or need or want from humanity is food, as if the way to God’s heart was through God’s stomach. Offering bulls and goats to God meant nothing without acts of righteousness and justice, without turning to God at all times and responding to God’s word. God does not fall for flattery. God cannot be bought with cake and cookies. God is not impressed with grand assemblies. What God really wants is for us to recognize the grace and peace and love of God that is all around us and to live accordingly.

It sounds trite but sometimes the smallest gifts are the best. During this season of gift-giving and stocking stuffing, of cutting edge technology and luxury items, of commercials on TV promising us happiness if we will simply buy a new car or give someone a diamond ring, it is essential that we stop and consider what it is that God really wants from us and what it is that we really owe to one another. Consideration and thoughtfulness is in such short supply these days, as is concern for the feelings of others. Now is the time to give thought to what it is we offer to God: empty gestures, or our complete attention? Now is the time to think about how we live in community: insisting on our own way, or sharing our best with others and accepting what they have to offer? God is looking for our response. What’s it going to be?

Prayer: Gracious God, may all our thoughts and actions be tuned to your will that we may praise and serve you by living in community with one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Way This Happens, Unless…

Isaiah 11:1-9
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; 
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9). These words from today’s Old Testament reading are filled with hope but also with almost comical imagery. Here is a scene that nature could never recreate: predators and prey, carnivores and herbivores, human children and the offspring of dangerous animals all coexisting in a way that even Disney’s “The Lion King” wouldn’t dare to suggest.

But then that’s the point, isn’t it? It isn’t natural, it isn’t an aspect of life as we know it, it isn’t the way things happen, but it is a parable about that which God is able to do. If we depend on ourselves we will fall short; the wolf will consume the lamb, the leopard will devour the kid, the lion will chow down on calf and ox and not think even once about straw; there will be pain and destruction all over the mountain if we try to pull this sort of thing off. Only God could make it work.

And only God could announce the approach of God’s reign with a baby born to humble parents in an out-of-the-way place and under extreme circumstances. What was God thinking? The arrival of God’s Son in the manger at Bethlehem isn’t natural, it isn’t an aspect of life as we know it, it isn’t the way things happen. If you want to bring lasting change you have to have a bigger stage and a wider audience than shepherds and traveling sages. So maybe the story of the birth of Jesus is a parable of sorts as well. Maybe it reminds us that with God all things are possible. With God love can overcome evil, pain can be soothed with mercy, poverty can be addressed with generosity, hunger can be assuaged with compassion. With God all things are possible and all things find their fullest purpose. So maybe Isaiah’s scene from the holy mountain is not as far-fetched as we may think. Maybe it really is a sign of what God is doing in our world.

Prayer: Lord, may all the world live in peace under your coming reign. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Angel From the Realm

Luke 22:39-53
It may seem like an odd time of year to be reading events from Jesus’ passion, but there is significance in holding the season of Advent, which highlights both the birth and second coming of Jesus, in tension with the events of Holy Week. They are, after all, aspects of the same life. But in reading the gospel passage for today, what really resonates with me is the way that God responded to Jesus’ earnest prayers. “Then (Jesus) withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength” (Luke 22:41-43). Jesus, the word of God incarnate, sought to avoid the death that awaited him and asked God to “remove this cup.” (In faithful obedience, however, Jesus was determined to accept God’s will.) And while God did not choose to change the events to follow, God did send Jesus strength by which to persevere. It came to him in the person of an angel who ministered to him.

There are people hurting in our world today, whether from illness or mishap or from some act of evil, people who may have prayed fervently to have some “cup” removed from their lives. They may be people of tremendous faith in God who live in obedience to God’s will. Yet God may not respond the way that they would like. This does not mean that God deserts them – or us – in our hour of need. We all face challenges and hardships. It is by grace that we discern the presence of God offering us strength to endure. The good news of the gospel is that with mercy God reaches out to those who are hurting, who are lonely, who are neglected, who long for light and peace and joy, who wish to be saved from challenges or tribulations, and in any number of ways God seeks to meet those needs and answer those requests. It may not be what we wanted, but it is always a source of hope.

Prayer: Lord, bless us with the knowledge of your presence in all that we do and give us the strength and the courage we need to face the challenges of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Words of Comfort

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
It is difficult at the best of times to comprehend a tragedy of the magnitude that struck in Connecticut today, but during the season of Advent the death of so many people—most of them children––is even more crushing. And while there is no easy word of comfort that can be spoken to those who grieve, we remember that we live in the presence of a God who has suffered the death of a Son and whose love for us is boundless. Today’s epistle reading includes these words: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

As we struggle with yet another act of intense violence may the dawning of God’s coming reign draw us closer to one another in our suffering even as it draws ever nearer in its proximity. And may the Christmas season be filled with genuine acts of kindness and humility as together we seek the blessings of God for ourselves and one another.

Prayer: Lord, be with people of Newton, Connecticut. Lift them through their grief and despair and give them hope in these days of pain. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Testing, Testing…
John 7:53-8:11
There is a story in John’s gospel that includes the familiar adage, “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” That’s not the exact quote, but that’s how it gets used most often, and I think for most of us it seems to be the point of the story. But there are other things going on here that sometimes get lost in the account. “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him” (John 8:3-6a). There is no question that the woman has done what she is accused of. (In fact she never denies it.) But her sin really isn’t that important to the religious leaders. Actually, their intent is not to administer the law of Moses but to force Jesus to either abide by the law or to publically defy it. The whole thing is a trap with Jesus right in the middle of things.

But Jesus turns the situation around, effectively removing himself from the equation and shining a light, first on the leaders, and then on the woman. “Fine,” he said, “kill her. And the first stone should be thrown by any one of you who is not a sinner.” It must have been some scene, as first the elders, and then the scribes and Pharisees began to slink away, one by one and then in larger groups, until no one was left to carry out the punishment. How could they? To presume innocence at this moment would have been utter hypocrisy. At the very least they had just tried to trap Jesus using a technicality of the law as the reason for arresting him. Once they had shuffled off it left only Jesus and the woman, the one who had initially been identified as a sinner and who never denied it. And finally Jesus is able to turn his full attention to her and to offer forgiveness of her sins while admonishing her to sin no more.

The scribes and Pharisees wanted to make Jesus the point of this story, but Jesus did what the gospel does so often, which is to put the focus on us and on our lives. Where do we stand in all of this? Do we want to force Jesus to do things our way? And if so are we willing to cast the first stone? And what about the sins that we have committed? Are we willing to hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness if they are followed by the call to sin no more? There really is a lot to think about in this story, a great deal to consider. Ultimately, however, it is a story of grace. And perhaps that’s what we really need to hold on to.

Prayer: Lord, help us to accept the light of the gospel as it reveals our shortcomings, knowing that it also grants us your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It’s A Virtue
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
I needed to hear these words today: “And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It isn’t the admonition, the encouragement, or the help that I needed to be reminded about, it is the patience. It’s Advent, and my patience is running low. What a shame, too. This is the season of expectation and hope, of looking forward to what God is doing while celebrating what has already been done. It is a time for preparing and for reorienting. Joy should permeate everything we do; the King of Glory is coming!

But Advent also presents us with more hectic schedules and more complicated calendars. There are family arrangements to work out and money to be spent. There are long lines and short fuses. It is a complicated time of year and I find myself getting antsy about the silliest things. I know I’m not alone. Even good experiences, even kind people, even days filled with good cheer can cause stress, like weddings, for example. As a minister I feel a certain responsibility for this season, to help others experience the joy of Christmas, and that can cause me a good bit of stress as well. And the stress in turn leads to a loss of patience.

But faithful obedience calls for faithful living. As the writer of Thessalonians reminds us, patience is a virtue for which we should strive at all times and with all people. Advent, then, should also be a time for practicing the sort of calm acceptance that the world needs. Lord, I’ll be glad to do all the admonishing, encouraging, and helping that I can, but I’m going to need you to give me the patience that I need, so that I can share your love with others and can live in peace during Advent and beyond. Oh, and Lord, could you hurry up with that patience? I haven’t got all day!

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we are quick to judge and quick to anger, and help us to live in peace with one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Those Who Dream
Psalm 126
Not all dreams are pleasant, which in part explains the tone of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy:

…To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; 
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

If you’ve ever had one of those nightmares that keeps disturbing you well into the next day, even when you know that you are wide awake, you will understand Hamlet’s concern.

And yet we often use the word dream to describe pleasant events, with expressions like “dream come true,” or “dream vacation.” These are experiences, which at their best, may give us a surreal, fuzzy feeling and make it difficult to believe what is happening. Which, of course, is close to what the psalmist had in mind when he or she wrote the first words of Psalm 126: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream” (v. 1). This surreal, fuzzy feeling sort of joy was prompted by the restoration of Israel, the setting aright in the lives of God’s people all those things that had gone amiss. Or was it? Some scholars actually think the passage should be translated in the future tense: “When the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion—we see it as in a dream…” Is this a past reality, or is it one that awaits the people of God in the future?

Frankly it shouldn’t matter. Why? Because God is Sovereign Lord of the past as well as the future, of lives restored, or things set right as well as futures filled made bright with hope and promise. Whichever way we look, forward or behind, we find God’s grace and mercy active and alive. Nor is the present exempt from God’s control. Here, too, God is at work sustaining and leading God’s people.

Do we see God’s work and experience it as in a dream-like state, overwhelmed with joy? Or do we dream of a day when the Lord will set all things right and bring truth and justice to bear? The answer is yes, and either way, the dreams are good.

Prayer: Lord, we bless your holy name for all that you have done in the past; all that you are doing in the present; and all that you will do in the future, for you alone are sovereign. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Walk This Way

Isaiah 2:1-4
The prophet Isaiah shares a divine word about the times to come. “Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’” (Isaiah 2:3). Note the focus of the vision. In those days the nations of the world will turn their attention to God, not to institutions or agencies related to God, but to God alone. And it is in God that the truth will be found. I make this point because I think too often people of faith are tempted to claim authority in matters that belong to God. Who will teach the peoples? God will. In whose paths will they walk? The ones that God has established. Indeed, who is drawing the nations together? God is.

On the one hand this passage should remind us that we all have much to learn from God. No matter who we are or how much we know or how faithful we believe ourselves to be, we simply must remain open to what God is doing and saying and teaching. We, too, should make our way to “the house of the God of Jacob” to seek instruction for there is much that we, too, have to learn. At the same time, this passage also reminds us that God alone chooses who it is that God will teach, will guide, will claim. We do not have the authority to determine who may approach the divine presence. We do not control who is “in” or who is “out” in terms of God’s love. God alone “shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples” (v. 4a). It is God who stands at the center of Isaiah’s vision, and it is God alone who should—who must—reside at the center of our lives.

The vision offered by the prophet is one of hope precisely because it does not depend on human authority. It is only good news because it is God who is at work. So we look forward to the day when God’s will is done, and in the meantime we turn to God for instruction, standing shoulder to shoulder with whoever it is that God has called.

Prayer: Lord, help us to remain focused on you alone, and help us to hear your message of truth and righteousness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Monday, December 3, 2012

In Spite of All the Danger

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
In July 1958 the band that was later to become the Beatles made a record for the very first time. One of the two songs from that historic session was Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” The other was the only song ever credited to Paul McCartney and George Harrison as a writing team. That song is called “In Spite of All the Danger.”

In spite of all the danger
In spite of all that may be
I’ll do anything for you
Anything you want me to
If you’ll be true to me.

I’m fairly confident that McCartney and Harrison weren’t thinking of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians when they penned their song, and yet there are similarities. The Apostle Paul writes, “…in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers…” (1 Thessalonians 1:6b-7a). In other words, “In spite of all the danger” faced by the Christians in Thessalonica, the joy they displayed because of the gospel had become an inspiration to others.

I can only hope that despite whatever challenges I may face, whatever struggles come my way, I will live so as to reflect joy and peace to those around me. It isn’t always easy. I frequently find myself grumbling about even the most insignificant of matters. I fuss and I fume when things don’t go my way. But by God’s grace I also find myself reaching out to others in ways I wouldn’t have expected and touching lives in ways I would never have thought possible. And all the while, I am blessed by those around me and the sincerity of their faith and the joy with which they live.

“In spite of all the danger” –– or at least the struggles and the challenges that we face –– joy, like grace, abounds. And when we are at our best it is because we have become a source of inspiration for one another and the world.

Prayer: Lord, may we each find such joy in your word that our lives become a source of comfort and hope to others as they seek to follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Faith As A Road To Joy

Romans 15:1-13
The Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers, Presbyterian minister and theologian, has written, “If you read a passage in scripture that you believe is telling you to hate or hurt your neighbor, then you have misunderstood it.” I would add a corollary to Rogers thought. If you read scripture and believe it is telling you that faith has nothing to do with joy or hope, you have misunderstood that passage as well. Paul puts it more clearly. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13). Believing in God—the God of hope––is about embracing life in this world and striving earnestly toward life in the world to come. It should never be about fear or subjugation, it should instead be filled with openness and community, light and peace. In short, to believe in the God of hope is to be opened to the joy and peace that only the Holy Spirit can truly offer.

Does this sound too good to be true? Maybe. But that is the miracle of God’s grace, that even in a dark world there are springs of fresh water where those who thirst for something better, something more sacred may drink before moving on in their journey. The mountains are high, but God’s watchfulness is never-ending. And so we believe, and we hope, and by the Holy Spirit we are filled with joy and peace. Our struggles remain, but in God they are struggles that have a higher purpose.

Prayer: Lord, fill our hearts with joy and our days with peace. And if we struggle, may it be with the knowledge that your steadfast love remains with us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Living In Between

Zechariah 13:1-9
Two verses from today’s Old Testament reading caught my attention. “On that day the prophets will be ashamed, every one, of their visions when they prophesy; they will not put on a hairy mantle in order to deceive, but each of them will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil; for the land has been my possession since my youth’” (Zechariah 13:4-5). “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil…” How similar these words are to those of the prophet Amos. “Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel”’” (Amos 7:14-15).

In the first case –– in Zechariah –– we are told that in shame false prophets will turn from their deceptive ways and will deny that they were ever engaged in such work. In the second case, however, –– that of Amos –– one who has come to be recognized as a legitimate prophetic voice rejects the title. Oddly, both Amos and the false prophets of Zechariah ultimately point to agriculture as their true occupation. For Amos, this probably meant that he was not a member of the guild of prophets, that he was a true outsider who was doing what God had called him to do. It was a task he could not avoid yet one he accepted reluctantly. The false prophets, however, would be running away from a deceptive past in which they had spoken, not God’s word, but their own, for they had not received a call from the Lord but lived as though they had.

As one who feels called to preach and to serve the church in a particular way, I take each of these stories to heart. On the one hand I know the danger of sharing a “false gospel” based not on the gospel but on what others want to hear. I also wrestle frequently with the heavy expectations that fall on ministers to function with integrity and honesty. Though I am hardly a farmer, there are days when I would welcome the chance to run away and lose myself in a different line of work. At those times I am comforted by Amos’ words and the fact that someone else has come this way before. On other days I find myself swelled by pride and making assumptions that are clearly not correct. Those are the days when I hear the words of Zechariah as a warning against complacency.

No life of faith is easy, no attempt to serve God is without challenges. We all struggle and we all fail from time to time. But somewhere between the false words of pride and self-centeredness and the true words of God’s judgment and grace we find a path to walk that leads us forward in hope. That is the journey we must seek.

Prayer: Almighty God, by your grace may our words be true and our faith be sustained all the days of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fierce Compassion

Zechariah 12:1-10
There is a common misconception that God, as depicted in the Old Testament, is somehow limited to acts of rage and vengeance. While I would never argue that the Hebrew scriptures present God as merely passive or always peaceful, the truth is that God’s judgment is often a function of God’s grace. Our Old Testament reading for today helps to make this clear. “And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).

To enter into covenant with the God of Israel is to live as a blessing to the nations, even those whose enmity leads to conflict. To be a victor with God is to care for the vanquished and to share in their pain and loss.

Prayer: Lord, help us to reflect your love and your compassion to those around us, in times of peace and times of conflict. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Where Do We Stand?

1 Corinthians 3:10-23
Paul offers a basic truth about the church in today’s epistle reading. “According to the grace of God given to me,” he writes, “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which the church stands, Paul is saying. There is no other criteria, no formula, no beginning or end, no creed or confession, no form of governance or style of worship that lies closer to the heart of the Christian faith; Jesus Christ alone is head of the church which is his body at work in the world.

But this same statement reveals another truth about the people of God, one we sometimes lose sight of in our day to day lives. That other truth is that because Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church, the church is the only gathering, the only organization, the only body or community that finds its being in the Son of God. Many groups may be said to have Christ-like aims. Many gatherings may involve acts of religious devotion. As a minister I have been invited on a number of occasions to offer prayer for city councils, county courts, a state legislature, civic groups, and even sporting events. I applaud this practice, but this in no way changes the fact that the church alone is constituted by and finds its true purpose in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ alone is the foundation of the church; the church alone is Jesus Christ’s body at work in the world: while much about our lives is ambiguous, hazy, unclear, those two facts are absolute. And it follows that to be a Christian one must be focused on God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and at the same time engaged in the community of faith that is the church, for this is the foundation on which we stand.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live according to your will and to serve you as a faithful community of believers. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Of Households and Houses

Zechariah 10:1-12
Among today’s readings I was struck by a passage from the prophet Zechariah. In 10:2 we read, “For the teraphim utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; 
the dreamers tell false dreams, and give empty consolation. 
Therefore the people wander like sheep; they suffer for lack of a shepherd.” The word teraphim is hard to define largely because of its unknown derivation, but it seems to refer to items that served as household gods. This may seem like a minor point, but the prophet makes it clear that at that time God’s people were beset by an absence of sound moral guidance. God’s anger, then, “is hot against the shepherds” (v. 3) –– shepherds being a common biblical image for leadership –– because they have failed to care for God’s flock. This is why the people turned to items such as teraphim and to diviners and dreamers in the first place.

But no matter who we are in terms of our faith, it is far too easy to accuse others of following their own teraphim or of acting as poor shepherds. What we don’t do well is examine our own values, seek out the places where we ourselves fall short. Zechariah was clear: God alone has the sovereign authority to guide God’s people, and it is by turning to God with open hearts and minds that we find our true bearing. But we have got to start by recognizing our own propensity for self-centeredness and moving beyond ourselves.

Years ago my wife and I were struck by the thought that even when people are the most divided there almost always seem to be areas of common ground where God’s grace can be found. For example, think about the question of who should be ordained, set aside for particular forms of service within the church. Some believe that only men should serve in positions of leadership while others believe that leadership roles are open to men and women alike. Others believe that sexual orientation should not be considered in making such decisions within the church. These differences in perspective are stark. Yet virtually no one would deny that adequate housing is essential for all people. God’s household, as fractured as it may be, could find a sense of unity in providing homes — or households –– for the least of those in our communities. If people with various opinions on ordination shared in the work of Habitat for Humanity or the Fuller Center would it solve the question of ordination? Probably not. But it would bring glory to God while drawing God’s people together in service to the world. It might also begin replacing some teraphim — household gods –– with a better understanding of the one true God while also providing for sheep in need of protection.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the courage to turn to you and to live in faithful obedience rather than condemning others for their faults as we perceive them. Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On “Gifting”

Malachi 1:1, 6-14
In the run-up to Christmas, a nationwide chain of department stores is advertising itself as the ideal place for “gifters.” If you want to give the very best presents this holiday season, this company is saying, you should shop in one of its stores. The prophet Malachi, however, has an more important word to say on that subject. “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice (to God), is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong? Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:8). Apparently, there were those among the people of Israel who were willing to offer God second-rate gifts, while giving items of such low quality to other people was out of the question. Never mind whether the recipient of a gift is someone of power or prestige, is there really anyone who deserves more from us than God does? Is there anyone who ever lived who is worthy of our praise and adoration more than the God who has created and blessed us from the very beginning of our lives?

And yet, even in nations where a large percentage of the population loudly proclaims itself to be Christian, the biggest uproar often grows out of what we call our holidays, not our unwillingness to share with God and with those for whom God is most concerned. Holding back from God the very best parts of our lives while lavishing gifts on family members or friends, on co-workers or neighbors, calls our focus into question. “What does the Lord require of us but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?” (Micah 6:8). But God also deserves our time and our money, our talents and our insight, our skills and our wisdom. God deserves generous hearts tuned to service, open minds determined to find reconciliation, open hands exchanging unreservedly the warmth and community that we all need to live most fully. Our failure to do these things, to offer these gifts to our loving Creator, says more about us than we are probably willing to admit.

Would we give blemished or broken gifts to the people on our Christmas list? Perish the thought! Then how could we consider giving anything but our very best, first and foremost, to God?

Prayer: God of grace and glory, forgive us when we fail to give our very best to you and to those for whom you are concerned, and help us to become the generous, loving people you created us to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Turns Out, the Older Brother Was Right

Luke 17:1-10
Remember the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son? Remember how, when his younger brother had come crawling back from a life of dissipation, their father threw the young man a party? The older brother was furious. “Listen!” he told his father. “For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30). If, like me, you have always felt a sense of solidarity with the older brother, then you will probably be challenged by Jesus’ words from today’s gospel reading. “Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'" (17:9-10). To me this sounds a lot like what was expected of the older brother. And this is where the gospel––good news that it is––becomes very difficult for some people––even Christians––to accept.

When have we done enough? Is doing what we are told the limit of God’s expectations for us? Well, as the people of God we are told to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give up our coats as well as our shirts (Matthew 5:38-41). The older brother may have worked like a slave, but that was his job description. And it is ours as well. To live lives of faithful obedience as disciples of Jesus Christ is to put all we are into doing the work of the kingdom, is to recognize that everything we have belongs God and to God’s purpose for it, is to accept the challenge of doing for others regardless of the personal cost. In short, it is hard work. But it is what Jesus did, and it is what our Lord challenges us to do as we follow him. Why would anyone accept such conditions? The simple answer is that we have been called to serve and set aside by God to do things that not everyone can or will do. We’d love to have the party, but it waits for another day. Now our joy comes from realizing that what we do serves the greatest purpose imaginable. We are agents of God’s word set to work in a world that desperately needs good news. We might think of it in terms of slavery, but we might also see ourselves as doing God’s work simply because it needs to be done.

The older brother was right in what he said to his father. But the father spoke a greater truth, one to which Jesus returns later in Luke. If we are to serve God faithfully, we must find our joy in that work. For that work itself produces greater joy than we could ever find on our own.

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength we need to serve you all the days of our lives with everything we are and everything that we have. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Full-Time Praise?

Psalm 148
From the looks of it, praising God is a full-creation job. It is clearly the intent of Psalm 148 to invite all of creation to share in giving glory to its Creator. There are two sections to the psalm: each begins with a call to praise the Lord addressed to certain elements of the created order, followed by a rationale for that praise. So the sun, moon, stars, angels, hosts, waters, and the highest heavens are called on to praise the Lord because it is the Lord who has created them and who has established them (vs. 1-6). Sea monsters, fire, hail, snow, frost, winds, mountains, hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and cattle, things that creep and things that fly, kings and peoples, princes and rulers, men and women, the young and the old are also told to praise the Lord because God’s glory rises above earth and heaven (vs. 7-14). Praising God is a full-creation job.

But praising God is also a full-time job. Clearly the community of faith cannot limit the glorifying of God’s name to just one hour on Sunday mornings. But for a moment let’s assume that a person does attend a worship service each week. That service might average about 60 minutes depending on the place of worship. Then let’s assume this person also attends a mid-week service that lasts about half an hour. That’s 90 minutes a week of praising God. Next lets add an informal prayer time that this person might attend, and let’s say it lasts about 15 minutes, bringing the total to about 105 minutes. Three meals a day begun with a blessing would mean 21 blessings a week at about 1 minute each bringing the total to 126 minutes a week. Bedtime prayers, seven a week at about two minutes each, would add another 14 minutes for a total of 140 minutes. Some folks make a habit of praying in the morning as well, which might add an additional 35 minutes of praise each week for a total of 175 minutes. When it is all added together and some allowance is made for random acts of praise—say, 15 minutes worth a week––we might come up with about 190 minutes.

Wow! 190 minutes a week used to praise God. Pretty good, huh? The problem is, this leaves 9,890 minutes a week spent NOT praising God. In other words, even with all the worship and prayer opportunities that we listed, we are left praising God for about 1.9% of our time. Wow! That doesn’t sound very good, does it? Psalm 148 reminds us that praising God is a full-time, full-creation activity that demands our ongoing and constant attention. Otherwise we are reducing God to a minor aspect in our lives instead of recognizing God’s place as Sovereign Lord of all.

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you alone deserve our praise and our adoration. Forgive us when we fail to honor you in our lives, for it is in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Always Working the Angles

Luke 15:1-2, 11-32
There is something very sneaky about the younger brother in the parable of the prodigal son. He takes his father’s money, squanders it on a hedonistic lifestyle, and then comes crawling back home. But even in these destitute circumstances that he has brought upon himself, the younger brother has conditions. “How many of my father's hired hands,” he asks himself, “have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands’” (Luke 15:17b-19). The younger son has come looking for a job! Even though the father owns slaves (see verse 26), and servitude would have been by far the more humbling offer to make, the young man asks for gainful employment.

I’m not sure, but I think the actions of the younger brother may be intended to reflect the bargains we sometimes try to make with God. We, too, have squandered much of what God has given us; we, too, find ourselves in need of mercy and grace; we, too, find ourselves turning to God; yet we, too, try very hard to make a deal, one that is more advantageous for us. We could accept the lowest level of servitude, because we deserve nothing more, nothing better. But why not ask for a job instead (and would a corner office be too much to expect?).

It’s called working the angles, and it’s what the prodigal son was all about. It’s what we do, too, pushing God to give just a little more, be just a little more forgiving, and a little slower to anger. Like the waiting father of Luke 15, God is willing to hear us out and to give us more than we deserve. How thankful we should be! The challenge we face is to think of God’s patience and generosity every time we pray, “forgive us our debts/trespasses as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass against us.” If God is giving us more than we deserve, even more than our audaciousness leads us to expect, we simply must show the same regard for others and cut each other some slack.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for your endless and abiding love and ask for help in forgiving and loving one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

We All Count

Luke 15:1-10
Jesus offers words of grace in our reading from Luke this morning, though for some, the grace may seem less obvious. “Just so, I tell you,” Jesus says, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Jesus has just told the story of a lost sheep and of a shepherd willing to leave the flock of ninety-nine to go in search of it. The fact that the shepherd is the one looking, the one who goes about restoring those who are lost, helps us to better understand the “one sinner who repents.” God is the primary mover in relation to humanity. God is the one who is calling, seeking, claiming, guiding, judging, forgiving, restoring, and otherwise working out the divine will in our midst. But this is as true for the ninety-nine who have remained in the fold as it is for the lost sheep. None of us may claim a special relationship with God, none of us may assume we are more worthy of God’s love, because it is God who is at work in all cases.

So why bother to seek a right relationship with the Creator? If God is going to come looking anyway, why not take the opportunity to wander off and see what the world has to offer? That sort of temptation will always be there. In truth, we all do our share of wandering. Indeed, if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that we all take turns as the one who is lost, the one who needs to repent, the one who needs to be found while God remains steadfast and active, calling us home and claiming us when we get there. We all count to God––none more than another––which is why God goes looking for us in the first place and why there is joy in heaven when we are found.

Prayer: Almighty God, we ask your forgiveness for our sinful ways. Never leave us alone, O Lord, or we would be truly lost. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Those Who Can’t

Luke 14:25-35
One of the joys of being part of a clergy couple is the conversations my wife and I have concerning scripture in particular and church life in general. Just this morning––knowing that I had not yet posted my blog for today––my wife called the gospel passage to my attention and made a very helpful observation. The gist of our conversation was that in today’s gospel reading, and especially in the two related parables about the half-built tower and the king with too small an army, Jesus was talking about himself. Looking ahead to his passion, Jesus knew that in what he was about to do he would seem like an abject failure. Even his followers would desert him. So Jesus offered these words of warning to all who would listen: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.…So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:26-27, 33).

The one aspect of faithful discipleship that seems most problematic, especially to those of us who live in the western world and who, by global standards, are quite prosperous, is the call to let go of everything, to leave behind all that we hold dear––family, possessions, life itself. If we can’t do that, we will find discipleship to be impossible. If we do not have it within us to build a tower of faithful obedience, if we do not have the strength to wage a successful war against our idolatrous tendencies, if we cannot bear the thought of sharing in Jesus’ apparent failure on the cross, then we will likely turn back and go no further. But if, by God’s grace and with God’s help, we are able to let go of all that holds us back, if we are given the courage we need to suffer the loss of what we call life, then we walk on toward Jerusalem.

The good news is that God alone gives us the ability to respond to Jesus’ claim on our lives, God alone makes of us what we can be in light of the gospel message. God alone inspires us to see beyond the cross, beyond what the world calls failure, and to embrace the new thing that God is doing. Perhaps none of us are truly capable of choosing discipleship as the path we will walk, but with God nothing is impossible.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live as your people, following in the footsteps of faith that your Son Jesus Christ has set for us, that we may let go of all we hold dear and become instruments of your coming reign. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Another Kind of Election

Luke 14:12-24
Jesus told a story about a great dinner to which many had been invited. When the time came, however, the guests made excuses for not attending. “Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.' And the slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room." Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner'" (Luke 14:21b-24). The fascinating dynamic at work here is the way the original invitees are excluded while others, many of whom are what we might call “street people,” are “compelled” to attend. It would appear that in some cases being one of God’s elect is not even a choice we could make if we wanted to.

When reading the full passage, note the stark contrast between those who attend the dinner––what we are to understand as the coming reign of God––and those who don’t. Those who had been invited originally have all found other things to do, other objects of devotion. Land, livestock, a family; none of these are bad things in and of themselves. But when they keep us from responding wholeheartedly to God’s claim on our lives they become idols. Those who do attend the banquet have nothing to distract them, no idols, no ideologies, no prejudices. Nothing deters them from hearing and responding to the good news. Nothing stands in the way of their inclusion into God’s household. While some have turned down the generous offer of salvation, others really are given no choice. They are compelled to come.

It is, I think, an understanding of the doctrine of election that deserves our careful attention. Should we allow ourselves to be blinded by our own possessions or our own perspectives we may find ourselves left out, not by God but by our own doing. Meanwhile, God will fill the coming reign with those who are able to appreciate the joy and the grace it offers.

Prayer: Lord, give us the wisdom to receive your gracious offer of salvation and to live toward your coming reign. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Citizens of Jerusalem

Luke 13:31-35
The gospel reading for today shows Jesus in a moment of great candor. Using the city of Jerusalem as a metaphor for the people of God, Jesus laments their failure to accept what God is doing in their midst. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34).

I think singer/songwriter Paul Simon has done a masterful job of capturing Jesus’ obvious emotion with the song “Silent Eyes.”

Silent Eyes
Watching Jerusalem
Make her bed of stones

Silent Eyes
No one will comfort her
Jerusalem Weeps alone

Ultimately, however, the responsibility to recognize and accept Jesus for who he is rests on all of us, a message that Simon seems to convey in the final stanza of the song.

Silent Eyes
Burning In the desert sun
Halfway to Jerusalem
And we shall all be called as witnesses
Each and every one
To stand before the eyes of God
And speak what was done

Jesus wanted so desperately to comfort and to care for the people, yet he knew and accepted the role he was called to play. What about us? We should hear and share the good news of the gospel. We should gladly welcome Jesus as Lord and Savior. We should live as though the gospel really means something to us, really makes a difference. The tragedy is that all too often we are unwilling to take up our crosses and to follow Jesus. In this way we have become citizens of Jerusalem and witnesses of what has been done. The good news is that Jesus continues to challenge us to hear and to see. Now, how will we respond? 

Prayer: Lord, open our eyes to your grace that we may share the good news with others even as we reorder our lives to your will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Luke 13:18-30
There are passages of scripture that I have become so familiar with and so comfortable using that I forget to consider them in their broader context. Today we have encountered one such passage, a verse often used during the sacrament of communion. "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last" (Luke 13:28-30). The description of those who will gather at table in the coming reign of God, the folks coming from every direction, is bracketed by words of judgment and of warning. Can we really speak of the table of the Lord as a place of universal inclusion when just a verse before Jesus has excluded some from that very table?

Even when God’s word contains judgment, it nonetheless remains a source of grace. God is aware of who we are and what we do and there are consequences to our actions. We are called to a higher standard as God’s people and we are made aware of our responsibilities as disciples. And lest we feel like we are the only people God could possibly draw together into the coming reign, here come people from every direction imaginable, all at God’s request, and turning the whole order of things upside down. Why is this a message of grace? Because this is the message that we have been given to share. These are our words given to us by our Lord and Savior. Jesus continues to cast a wide net and to send us out as well to fish for men and women. As such, we have become instruments of God’s inclusivity.

These verses, taken in context, are an invitation to live more fully into our calling, not in order to win God’s affection, but because in Jesus Christ God’s love has already been poured out lavishly upon us. There is a contrast––a stark one––between the wailing and gnashing on the one hand, and the feast on the other. As faithful disciples we are challenged to live so that others may know the way to the feast and away from the darkness. Grace is serious business, but then God’s love is serious as well, and we are to be serious in our efforts to share it.

Prayer: Lord, you have embraced your people with love and mercy. Help us to live into your calling so that others may know this good news. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

When God Stands For Us

Luke 13:10-17
We often encourage others to “stand up for themselves” when they encounter a difficult situation. What we mean is that they should take their own side or support their own cause with confidence, that they should be more assertive. Our gospel reading from Luke for today offers an interesting variation on that expression. “And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (Luke 13:11-13). The woman in question had a horrible condition that left her bent double. But with compassion Jesus healed her and allowed her to straighten her back. Now, in a way, the woman was “standing up for herself” for the first time in eighteen years. But in truth it was God who, through the work of Jesus Christ, had restored the woman by curing her of her disability. God stood up for the woman; God stands up for us as well.

It happens in any number of ways: through a grace-filled act of forgiveness, by way of a calming sense of God’s presence, with healing, in a moment of clarity as to which path we should travel in life. All of these (and so many more) are examples of God placing the divine mark on our lives and freeing us to live into our unique identity. At such times, our response should be like that of the woman in Luke’s account. We should praise God, acknowledging the gifts we have received, which means that when it is all said and done, we should be ready to stand with God, too.

Prayer: Lord, bless us with your grace and mercy that we may stand upright and may praise you in all we do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, November 5, 2012

God Is Anything But Passive

Zephaniah 1:7-13
There are many ways to respond to God’s presence in the world, but in our Old Testament reading for today the prophet Zephaniah condemns one in particular. “At that time,” we read, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm’" (Zephaniah 1:12). Think what you will about God, but if you assume God is unwilling or unable to act, and if you allow that belief to take root in your life until you become overly confident, you will be judged for your misguided lifestyle. What Zephaniah is addressing is not atheism or even agnosticism. He is speaking to the conviction that God exists but is powerless or unwilling to address human activity. It is the belief in a passive God, and God is anything but passive.

Unfortunately, much of our modern culture is predicated upon the thought that God is inactive, or perhaps even approving of the way we live. I believe this rises from a sort of spiritual blindness that fails––or refuses––to see the hand of God at work in significant ways. What faith knows to be a gift of Providence, complacency takes as a stroke of luck or even the result of one’s own effort. People of faith have a job to do, pointing out the work of God when and where it takes place, teaching the world to recognize divine blessing, opening eyes that are blind to God’s activity, and correcting the world’s complacent vision.

God is active; to assume otherwise is to invite the prophetic condemnation.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see through eyes of faith the work you are doing in our world, and help us to respond with gratitude. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Today my father, the Rev. Dr. David R. Freeman, celebrates his eightieth birthday. I am not only dedicating today’s post to him, but addressing it to him as well. I invite others to listen in.

Psalm 84
Hi Dad, and happy birthday. I’m sorry that I can’t be with you to celebrate the occasion, but you are in my thoughts. One of the readings for today is Psalm 84 which is very appropriate. As you know, I have a great affinity for this psalm and what it says about community and faith. But I don’t think I could have understood these ideas were it not for the way I was raised. Since my childhood, you and Mom have helped me to know the Lord and to trust in God’s will for my life. As a minister, you have led congregations and individuals to embrace the power of God to transform their lives. As a father, you have demonstrated love and patience. The opportunity to witness your faith at work is a tremendous gift for which I will always be thankful.

I don’t remember you using these exact words, but I know you agree with the psalmist’s affirmation, “Happy are those whose strength is in (God), in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (Psalm 84:5). It isn’t about us, the psalmist is saying, not about how powerful we are or how much we can accomplish. It is about us in relationship to God and to one another. It is about the purpose we find when we gather as a community and rejoice in God’s presence. When I am able to grasp this truth, I find that life begins to make more sense. I may not be exactly happy about what I am facing, but in time I find contentment and hope. This is the sort of happiness I wish for you today and all days, Dad, the contentment that comes from knowing that God is at work in your life in real and substantial ways. You and a lot of other people helped to teach me that and I believe it to be true.

So, the very “happiest” of birthdays, Dad, and a sincere word of thanks from someone whose faith you have helped to nurture. Debbie, Lindsay, and William join me in sending all our love.

You son,


Prayer: Lord, bless all our relationships this day, that they may reflect yout love to the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Stirred Up

Luke 11:53-12:12
Imagine the stress that Jesus was forced to live under. Luke offers us a glimpse in our reading from today. “When (Jesus) went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy’” (Luke 11:53-12:1).

Jesus’ enemies were trying to trap him, the crowds were climbing over one another to reach him, and the disciples needed almost constant instruction. The gospel message is one of good news, certainly, but it is nonetheless full of agitation and upheaval. But what would you expect? In Jesus Christ God was not only reconciling the world to God’s self, but was transforming the world, reshaping it into what God had intended. The minute things begin to change, the minute old institutions and old ideas are set aside, turmoil erupts. We see it in our lives and throughout our culture. Even positive change is met with resistance. As Newton’s Third Law of Motion tells us, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” According to Luke, Jesus encountered this phenomenon even as he went about doing the will of God.

We may turn to Jesus Christ as a source of peace, but until we are ready to let go of everything in our lives that we value more highly than our relationship with God we, too, will experience turmoil and confusion. Nor may we simply point to others and blame them. This is as true for you and me as anyone. Even as Jesus seeks to change us, the sinfulness inherent in our nature pushes back. It is only by grace that God is able to move us to the place where we need to be. Thanks be to God for the willingness to stand firm in the midst of turmoil and to lead us—kicking and screaming if need be—toward the coming reign of God.

Prayer: Lord, help us to let go of everything that stands between us and your will for our lives, and help us to willingly accept what you are doing in our midst. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Luke 11:37-52
I love the subtle connections we find throughout scripture. In fact, we have a good example of one today. We know that the author of the gospel of Luke is also the author of Acts, so look at these two passages, one from today’s gospel reading and the other from a familiar account in Acts.

“Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs” (Luke 11:47-48).

“Then (Stephen) knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him” (Acts 7:60-8:1).

Jesus condemned the lawyers and Pharisees with whom he speaking in the very strongest of terms, going so far as to say they had concurred with the murder of prophets generations before. Based on that passage, then, what are we led to think about the man who would later become one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the Church? When first we see Paul (still called Saul), he is witnessing and approving of the murder of a Christian by a crowd made up of lawyers and Pharisees. (Paul was still a Pharisee at this time, as well.) Are we supposed to like Paul at this point in the story? Are we supposed to expect great things from him as an apostle? Hardly! In fact, Luke would have us understand what a devious and dangerous man Paul really was. And yet, when the time was right even this Pharisee had a role to play in the life of the Christian faith.

Now turn back to the account from Luke. Knowing that Paul will one day find a role in the life of the Church, are we free to assume that those to whom Jesus is speaking are beyond redemption? No! If Paul can be converted, so can anyone. Why? Because the Pharisees and lawyers in Luke’s account are figuratively guilty—they act out their approve of the killing prophets long before. But Paul was literally guilty of aiding and abetting in the murder of Stephen. If Jesus can redeem Paul, Luke tells us, then we must be slow in assuming anyone is beyond the redemptive power of God in Jesus Christ which, by the way, goes for you and me as well.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we sin and help us to live as your people, sharing the good news of our own redemption with the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Right Have We To Complain?

Jonah 3:1-4:11
There is a very basic truth about the relationship between God and humanity contained in the closing verses of today’s reading from Jonah. “Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’" (Jonah 4:10-11).

Jonah was in a foul mood, partly because God had spared Nineveh, but also because a bush that God had caused to grow over him had soon withered away. God’s response was decisive. Jonah had done nothing to cause the bush to grow and yet mourned it’s demise. At the same time, though, Jonah was irked because God chose not to destroy a great city containing tens of thousands of people. Indeed, not only was God concerned for the people of Nineveh, God even considered the animals as precious.

To me this passage helps to highlight the inherent self-centeredness with which we struggle. We have a lot of trouble seeing past our own comfort, our own perspectives, our own perceived needs. We so often see the world as us v. them, me v. you, and as a result we refuse to consider that the God who created us is the same God who created everyone else. To demean others, to hope for their destruction—either literally or figuratively—is to ignore God’s will for redemption. When we bemoan the injustice of our lives even in the midst of plenty we belittle God’s providence. When we begrudge God’s desire that all people have life and have it abundantly, we devalue that life.

Jonah was sorry that God spared Nineveh. How sorry are we when those with whom we differ experience grace? And is that really how God wants us to feel?

Prayer: Lord, help us to move beyond our selfishness and to open our hearts and lives to others so that together all people may experience your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Redemption As a Fish Tale

Jonah 1:17-2:10
“Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10). I don’t recall ever preaching from this particular verse from the book of Jonah, but someday I think I may have to. Why? Because I find it to be so reassuring. This one verse, as quirky as it is, tells us a great deal about God and about faith.

For one thing this verse shows God to be Sovereign over all of nature, including large fish. All God has to do is to speak and the fish obeys. Here the Jonah account resonates with the story of creation as found in Genesis (i.e. Genesis 1:3). In each case God utters a word which causes events to unfold, whether large or small, universal or particular, having to do with all humanity or with a single individual. In short, God’s reign is both transcendent and eminent. God is Sovereign.

For another thing this verse makes clear the redemptive nature of God’s work. In having the fish spew Jonah ashore God demonstrates a desire to give the reluctant prophet another chance. (In truth, God has been giving Jonah additional chances all along, from the boat dock to the hold of the ship, from the ship to the water, from the water to the fish, and now from the fish to the shore.) And we should remember that the purpose of Jonah’s mission to Nineveh was to call the Ninevites to repent so that they, too, might find redemption. God’s treatment of Jonah is illustrative of God’s regard for humanity in general. God is redemptive.

Yes, Jonah 2:10 is an odd little verse, yet it carries with it a lot of insight into the nature of God.

Prayer: Lord we glorify you for you alone are sovereign over all creation and in you alone do we find redemption. May your name be forever blessed. Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is God Like Us, Or Are We Like God?

Micah 6:1-8
What sort of lives should we live as we seek to serve God in faithful obedience? That’s a very appropriate question to which the prophet Micah offers two possible answers. We might call the first a human response:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high? 

Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, 

with calves a year old? 

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, 

with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? 

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, 

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
 (Micah 6:6-7).

In other words, if we shower God with gifts won’t the divine favor be poured out upon us? Of course this option assumes that God is like us, susceptible to flattery and prone to self-interest, that God can be bought or influenced by gestures that ultimately cost us nothing. That’s the “God-like-us” option. But Micah offers another, more appropriate response to the question of how we are to live in faithful obedience to God:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; 

and what does the Lord require of you 

but to do justice, and to love kindness, 

and to walk humbly with your God?” (Vs. 6-8).

Call this the “us-like-God” option, the path on which we strive to meet others with the same grace that God has shown us. In the first case, treating God as though God is human, we may as well worship ourselves. But when we allow God to guide us, when we live by what God desires of us, we will find ourselves enriched by the effort and will see the truth of God’s wisdom made manifest. The choice may not always seem obvious, but in so many ways it is crucial that we bend our lives to God’s will and quit trying to make God act like one of us.

Prayer: God of justice, kindness, and holiness, may we live in accordance with your will all the days of our lives and when we fail you, Lord, may we find in your forgiveness the power to try again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mercy In The Neighborhood

Luke 10:25-37
The meaning of the word neighbor is radically challenged by Jesus in our reading from Luke this morning. “’Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke 10:36-37). In Hebrew and Greek, as in English and many other modern languages, a neighbor is either someone who lives nearby (a nigh boor, with boor drawing on an earlier form of the English buan, to dwell) or, in very general terms, a fellow human being. Jesus, in his conversation with a lawyer, pushes well past both the specific idea of the guy next door and the general idea of any other person to provide a godly definition of neighbor: one who shows mercy.

Most of us understand this idea at a rational level. We hear what Jesus is saying, that we should love and care for others regardless of how we are related to them. Where I think we break down is in the practice. “Charity begins at home” is an adage I hear often, even in the church. “We should care for our own first,” we say. Jesus will have none of that. According to him, “our own” are whoever need us. To be a neighbor is to respond in times of duress no matter who may be lying in that ditch. Jesus says that we must be guided by mercy to respond to others, and in doing so create a new community, a new neighborhood.

In these final days of the presidential campaign in the United States, I wonder how Jesus’ radical redefinition of neighbor might affect the way we see those around us. Can it serve to blunt some of the harsher language of politics? Can it allow us to seek common ground where the trend is to vilify and demonize those who disagree with us? Indeed, once we have heard Jesus confirm mercy as the essential criteria for neighborliness can we ever again justify the “win-at-all-cost” mentality that permeates our political process? Here’s a little experiment to try. Imagine yourself in Luke’s account, not as the Samaritan or as the man in the ditch, but as the lawyer who addressed Jesus. At the end of their conversation Jesus instructs him to “go and do likewise.” When it comes to mercy, that’s a pretty clear message. But will we do it?

Prayer: Lord, may we speak with justice but also with compassion this day, so that like Jesus we may sow the seeds of love and kindness and not those of suspicion and hate. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Picking a Team

Micah 3:9-4:5
“For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever” (Micah 4:5). This verse begins with a rather obvious statement, that everyone chooses what god or gods they will serve and ends with a ringing affirmation, that the people of Israel will remain steadfast in their relationship with the God who led their ancestors out of Egypt.

Actually what the prophet Micah says is that all peoples will walk “in the name of” their own god. When I read these words I think of how fans often show support for their favorite teams by wearing jerseys or tee-shirts emblazoned with the team’s logo. Some fans are so dedicated to a team that they become known for that allegiance (and there is no end to the number of teams available to choose from). In sports terms I guess I walk in the name of the San Antonio Spurs or the Tennessee Titans. They are my favorite teams and I show them a certain amount of support and loyalty, I feel a sense of pride when they win games, and I try to keep up with their trades and statistics. But I don’t ever want to be defined on those terms alone. Instead I wish to be known as someone whose primary focus is on “God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth….” I would like to be known as someone who wears God’s jersey, so to speak, and who is attentive to God’s word.

“All the peoples walk, each in the name of its god….” Assuming this is true, whose jersey do we wear? Who do we serve? Who do we follow? If we take the words of Micah seriously there really is no question.

Prayer: O God, may we be devoted in our worship of you and in serving you faithfully. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hey, Over Here!

Psalm 130
"Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice" (Psalm 130:1-2a). The opening words of one of today's morning psalms are a distress signal, an SOS directed to God. They are a plea for help, but also for attention. But what depths is the psalmist talking about? Does this appeal originate from a place in life that resembles a pit, a grave, a chasm into which one might fall and remain trapped? Has depression overwhelmed the speaker and drug him or her down spiritualy if not physically? Or are these the depths of the psalmist's soul? Has this forlorn voice arisen from the very heart, the very innermost corner of who he or she is? Has all pretense of strength fallen away revealing a frightened and vulnerable individual wrestling with issues beyond his or her ability to cope? Is God finally being welcomed into what was once a closed off space? However we choose to understand the imagery, the fact remains that a life in need of help has been opened to the possibility of God's gracious activity. The psalmist knows that God's assistance is undeserved, but the distress is so great and the circumstances so dire that the prayer is lifted up anyway. 

Do you feel weighed down beyond your ability to move? Are you carrying concerns or anxiety in your heart that you feel can never be addressed or dealt with? When I have faced such times in my life I have felt as though my own personal gravity has been doubled or trippled, as though I have more weight to carry than others. And I admit that at those times I too often forget the words of the psalmist, words that are there for me to use as well: "Lord, out of this very deep and lightless place into which I have fallen--or been carried--I call out to you; Lord hear me!" Does God answer, does God respond? Do I receive the help I need? Yes. But then God has been there all along. The psalmist knew that; why else would a prayer of any type we worth uttering? Our depths, wherever they may be, are never so deep, so removed, so private, so guarded as to be out of God's reach. 

So we pray, we cry out, and God responds in ways we cannot always expect. God's presence is what makes our prayers worth uttering. 

Prayer: Lord God, no matter what this or any other day may bring, may your grace be near and may our lives be buoyed by your mercy. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Encouragement At Last

Acts 27:27-44
When my father was a child he found himself losing badly at a board game until, with the roll of the dice, his circumstances improved somewhat. According to the family legend that has been handed down ever since, my father looked up with triumph and said, “Encouragement at last!” Of course, that has become one of the family catchphrases. According to Acts, the ship that carried Paul and two-hundred seventy-five others on a journey toward Rome was rocked by storms for two weeks. It was on that fourteenth day that Paul urged the others to eat, assuring them that they would survive the ordeal. “After he had said this,” we read, “he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves” (Acts 27:35-36). In other words, “encouragement at last!”

Part of the power this story coveys comes from the way in which Paul’s actions point back to Jesus and the last supper. Like those on the ship Jesus, too, was facing a life-threatening storm. But in the face of fear and doubt Jesus took bread and broke it and offered it to his disciples as a sign of hope. Now Paul was, in a similar way, offering hope to those with whom he traveled.

Approaching the Lord’s table during communion is, to me, like standing on a boat in the midst of a raging sea. I know that problems surround all who gather there; I know that the world is full of fear-inducing situations, that it is easy to feel lost and out of our depth. But I also know that the meal we share at the table is a true source of hope and comfort. We need not fear what the world can or will do. We need only trust that God will guide us through the storms. Maybe it is in this act of defiance, this utter trust in God regardless of what the world says, that the church makes its most daring and hope-inducing claims. Encouragement at last.

Prayer: Lord, give you people the strength to live with hope and faith, even as the storms press in upon us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Model Community

Luke 9:1-17
There is a portion of our gospel reading today that gives me a particular sense of comfort. “When the crowds found out about it,” we read, “they followed (Jesus); and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured” (Luke 9:11). Here Jesus was, in a deserted place dealing with thousands of people. And yet, according to Luke, he offered compassion and hospitality to them, making them feel welcome, sharing good news with them, healing them of their illnesses. At this particular moment in his ministry Jesus was offering the gift of community, and he was handing it out by the bushel.

As I reflect on the struggles that face the church today, the issues that split us apart and that lead others to doubt our intentions and our relevance, I can’t help but reflect on Jesus’ offer of community. Could it be that in our desire to claim doctrinal purity, to hold other accountable while insisting that our version of “the truth” is the only one that matters—and I’m saying this to conservatives and liberals alike, to Roman Catholics, Protestants, the Orthodox—could it be that we’ve forgotten the simple gift of community and the power it has to touch lives and to change hearts? Just to sit together, to share each other’s needs and to lift one another’s spirits; to cry and to laugh and to wonder at all the things that happen in life; sometimes this is what folks need, and it is a gift that the church, in the name of Jesus Christ, has to give.

Jesus welcomed others, gave them good news, met their needs, and sent them on their way. Now why can’t we do that?

Prayer: Lord, help us to build community in our world and through our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

When Faith Trumps Fact

Luke 8:40-56
Those who mourned the death of Jairus’s daughter openly ridiculed Jesus when he came to heal the girl. “And they laughed at him,” Luke tells us, “knowing that she was dead” (Luke 8:53). But Jesus did heal the girl, and in doing so he demonstrated that even when we are faced by that which is factual, faith allows us to move beyond, to a deeper level of truth, one that opens up possibilities we might otherwise not consider. It’s hard to fault those who had come offering comfort to Jairus and his wife. The crowd had no reason to expect the girl to recover. Jesus’ assertion that she was only sleeping sounded foolish at best. So they laughed. Considering that up until then they had been “weeping and wailing for her” (v. 52) this was quite a turnaround. What they did not appreciate was the power of God to transform mere fact into a greater truth. A little girl who is dead according to human standards may, by the will of God, rise up and live.

Are there situations in our lives where, based on “the facts,” we make certain assumptions only to find that God still has something new to reveal? Are there those who we dismiss as worthless, of redeeming value, unworthy of our consideration who, by God’s grace, can be raised to a new lives of purpose? Are there circumstances where all the data tells us to walk away, to cut our losses, to move along but where God still has a word to speak? Too often the answer is yes, we have accepted “facts” where God was offering “truth.” But new days bring new challenges and new opportunities. By learning to trust God to be at work in our lives we will find ourselves living in ways we did not imagine possible, sometimes in the face of “facts” that might have led others to write us off.

Even when we “know” something to be factual there is still room for God to work, and at those moments may our laughter be caused by joy and not by derision.

Prayer: Lord, give us faith to see all that you are doing in our world and in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

To Be Continued

October 15, 2012
Psalm 112
It’s happened to me on more occasions than I care to remember. I’ve settled in to watch a favorite TV program, usually a mystery or cop show, I’ve kept up with the twists and turns in the plot, I’ve begun to anticipate the end when the mystery will be solved and the questions will be answered, when, glancing at my watch I realize that there really isn’t enough time left in the hour to finish up the program. And that’s when it hits me, I’m watching the first half of a two-part program. Then the dreaded words appear on the screen: To be continued. I’m going to have to wait another week to see how it all turns out, assuming that I’m actually at home the next week and not out doing something more important. Needless to say I find “to-be-continued” TV shows very irritating.

Oddly enough in his commentary on the book of Psalms, Jim Mays suggests that if we really want to understand Psalm 112 –– one of our evening psalms for today –– we must really begin with Psalm 111. The two belong together, says Mays. One of the several ways that the two are connected can be seen in the last verse of Psalm 111 and the first of 112 which echo similar themes between them. 111 ends with the words, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10). Then 112 begins saying, “Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments” (Psalm 112:1).

Wisdom and commandments, fear of the Lord, praise for God; each psalm uses these and other phrases. It is as fir Psalm 111 ended with the words “to be continued.” And frankly, this shouldn’t surprise nor disconcert us. After all, what is scripture? It is the story of God’s continuing involvement with a chosen people, beginning at the very start, at creation, and running right up to the place where it points to the future, our future. All of scripture is, in one way or another, “to be continued” because God has not and never will cease to be a part of our lives, of our history. God is with us for the long haul, though every episode we might say, and God’s grace abounds throughout. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of all that is, continue to bless your people with all we need to live and to serve you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Now Hear This!

Luke 8:1-15
“As (Jesus) said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’” (Luke 8:8b). I think I had always taken this phrase to mean something along the lines of “think about what I’ve just said and figure out what it means for your life.” I assumed that it was an invitation to consider Jesus’ words and their application to life. If you are able, if you are capable, give this story some thought. But I have come to a new opinion on the matter, one that hinges on how we understand the word “called,” as in Jesus “called out.” Basically this word in Greek means to cry out, to speak loudly or with emphasis. What Jesus was really saying was, “listen up, I’m getting ready to tell you something important,” or “get quiet so you can hear me,” or “may I have your attention, please?” It was not an invitation to weigh his words, but more an appeal to let him speak. Jesus didn’t want to have to compete with the noises of the world, or the murmurings of those who were gathered. He wanted their attention. In fact based on the rest of the text we see that the ability to understand Jesus’ words was not really the point. It was simply being able to hear them. He wanted the crowd to hear.

Jesus still wants the crowds to hear, still wants to be listened to over and above the noise of the world. So many voices are clamoring for our attention, so many sounds are echoing across the landscape, so much is audible to us on a moment-to-moment basis that we have to wonder how much of what we perceive is actually of any importance to us. Jesus wants the crowds, the world, the nations to receive his message and one way that happens is when we take the time to share it ourselves. We’ve heard the word, now it’s our turn to pass it along.

Prayer: Lord, help us to hear your word and to share it with the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Aren’t We All?

Luke 7:36-50
"If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him - that she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39). According to Luke’s gospel this is what Jesus’ host was thinking to himself as a certain woman of the city tended to Jesus during dinner. Jesus, of course, knew the thoughts of his host and responded with a parable about forgiveness. But both Luke and the Pharisee of Luke’s story refer to the woman as “a sinner.” Aren’t we all sinners? Couldn’t this be said of anyone who touched Jesus?

Luke and the Pharisee in the account are using the term “sinner” in a very particular way. Whatever this woman was known for—prostitution?—it was significant enough to set her apart from the rest of her community, like the large “A” that Hester Prynne is forced to wear in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. That much is never questioned in Luke’s story. The woman tending to Jesus is guilty of something that her society does not accept as appropriate. Yet, in reflecting the grace of God Jesus is willing to offer forgiveness to this particular woman anyway, to claim her as one of God’s children, and to lift up her actions as commendable compared to the sparse hospitality shown Jesus by his host.

The point seems clear. We may wish to judge one another, to point out the faults of those around us, to call others to account for their misdeeds, but if Jesus was willing to forgive a woman of her sin—a woman who was without question guilty—then perhaps we should not be in too big a hurry to condemn or judge others. Jesus will always have the final word anyway, and in grace that final word may come as a real surprise to us.

Prayer: Lord, may we who have been forgiven by you, find ways by which to forgive one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Don’t Be Offended

Luke 7:18-35
In our passage from Luke’s gospel for today we read, “And (Jesus) answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me’” (Luke 7:22-23). This is a curious list of attributes that Jesus gives as evidence of his identity. Not the first several, of course. Healing the blind, the lame, those with leprosy, the deaf; raising the dead; bringing good news to the poor; all of these make sense. But what does it mean when Jesus blesses those who are not offended by him?

If we reflect back over earlier sections of Luke we may recall events in 4:18-19 where Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah as a means of inaugurating his ministry. There is some overlap in the sections. Both refer to healing the blind in particular, and to good news for the poor. These passages seem to serve the same purpose. But as a result of his comments in chapter 4, Jesus finds himself driven out of town and threatened with stoning (vv. 29-30). Why? Apparently the crowd that day had been offended by his words. Now, a bit further on in the gospel, John’s disciples ask Jesus to make his identity clear. Jesus points to the work he is doing but makes the additional comment that those who are willing to accept him will be blessed.

Are we offended by Jesus? Does he say and do things that we’d rather he didn’t? Does he push us in uncomfortable directions? In all honesty, if Jesus doesn’t fluster us it probably means we aren’t paying attention. But when we do listen, and when we are willing to hear Jesus’ words as grace and not as an inconvenience, we will find ourselves blessed by the encounter.

Prayer: O God, open our hearts to your word that we may become what you intend us to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

God Has a Name For That

Hosea 7:8-16
In the span of nine verses, God, through the voice of the prophet Hosea, refers to the people of Israel in the most unflattering of terms. “Ephraim is a cake not turned” (v. 8), “has become like a dove, silly and without sense” (v. 11), and has “become like a defective bow” (v. 16). Any of these three descriptions alone would bad enough, but taken together they make for a resounding condemnation. “A cake not turned” sounds very like the contemporary expression “half baked,” which refers to being unprepared or unaware. In scripture the dove is normally a positive sign (think of Noah’s Ark and Jesus’ baptism), but here the dove is characterized as foolish and misguided. A defective bow, of course, would cause harm to the one using it and would not be worth keeping. These are by no means terms of endearment. God is perplexed and angry at the failure of God’s people to honor the covenant and to follow the law, and God has something to say about it.

What can we learn from this passage? For one thing, we are reminded that God’s love, while steadfast and abiding, is not blind. God sees what is going on and is quick to express displeasure. Grace and judgment are two sides of the same divine coin. But it is also helpful to remember what it true of all such prophetic messages. God could have simply walked away, leaving us as to flounder under the weight of our sin. But instead, God keeps the conversation going. Yes God speaks with judgment, but God speaks, God communicates, God’s word is active, and in Jesus Christ that very Word became flesh offering redemption to all who would receive him. So, as silly and misguided as we are, God continues to love us and to guide us in mercy and grace. This is why we are called God’s people.

Prayer: Almighty God, bless your people with forgiveness and with the courage to live into your will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 8, 2012

One God Only

Psalm 82
It may seem odd to find a psalm dealing almost entirely with the presence of other gods. After all, Judaism is the very essence of monotheism and the Old Testament is full of reminders that there is but one God only. Yet this particular psalm speaks as if there were other gods, the gods of nations and of harvests and of seasons, and it is as if these gods were in fact active in human life. Of course at the time that Psalm 82 was written Israel was surrounded by nations and peoples, each of which claimed the existence of other gods –– their gods. How else could they explain the apparent ebb and flow of life than the existence of fickle or capricious deities? In light of these beliefs Psalm 82 takes on an especially monotheistic tone. Indeed, God –– the God of Israel –– is the supreme God and nothing lies outside of God’s sovereign control. “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;” the psalmist declares, “nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince’” (Psalm 82:6-7).

We are far too sophisticated to fall for the notion of other, albeit lesser gods. We know there is only one God. And yet, we can not free ourselves from the sin of idolatry, the practice of setting up items to worship or placing matters of primary concern between ourselves and our Creator. Wealth, power, influence, the value of our own opinions and beliefs: these ideas cause great harm when we allow them to distract from our worship of God. These may be the gods of our age, but when Psalm 82 is read in the light of Easter, placed within a Christian context, it becomes a fresh breeze sweeping away the idols and the gods of our lives, reminding us once again that in Jesus Christ we are freed from our dependence on such false deities and enabled to live in full relationship with God alone.

Yes, God is in control so even the gods of the nations, even the idols of our lives fall under God’s authority. In grace, then, we are able to live as God’s people, confident of God’s love and mercy for us.

Prayer: Lord, help us to cast away our idols and to love you alone with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. In Jesus’ name. Amen.