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.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Glimpse Of What Is Possible

Luke 6:12-26
Three verses in particular stand out to me today from the gospel of Luke. “(Jesus) came down with them,” we read, “and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them” (Luke 6:17-19). There is a universal, all-encompassing sense to this scene. A great crowd of disciples joined a great multitude of people drawn from all over the region, not only from Jerusalem but also from Tyre and Sidon. They came with a shared purpose, to hear Jesus speak and to be healed of what harmed them, and those who were possessed were freed of their demons, and those who were sick were made well. The focal point of all this activity was Jesus and for a few verses at least we are able to see what he is capable of doing. His word and his ministry forged community out of many walks of life; his touch healed and cast out demons; his followers were united as one.

But this scene fades all too quickly and Jesus is left to continue his work, more often than not opposed by the religious and civic leaders of his day. The crowds, drawn together by him at this juncture, will soon be screaming for his death. Even his disciples will turn their backs on him, and the twelve who have just now been called to be apostles will either run away, deny they know him, or conspire to trap him. How quickly the beauty of Luke 6:17-19 is tarnished.

Nonetheless, there is reason to rejoice. Luke has given us a glimpse of what the coming reign of God may look like, a vista of unity and healing, of God’s light drawing all people together and blessing them, a way of living built entirely around the word of God found in the Word made flesh. Luke 6:17-19 is one of those passages we might decide to revisit when we feel a sense of confusion or hopelessness. A song by the band The Police includes the words, “When the world is running down / you make the best of what’s still around.” In this case, in the case of our lives, draped in darkness, and a world which is dappled with sin, the best of what’s still around is the grace of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. The invitation remains to gather around our Savior, to seek his healing touch, to listen to his words, to come to know God better. This glimpse that Luke offers us can and will become a reality.

Prayer: Lord, may we constantly be drawn to your word and be healed of all the harm that confronts us, in this life and in the life to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jesus Couldn’t Wait

Luke 6:1-11
Our reading from Luke for today includes the following: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?’ After looking around at all of them, he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ [The man] did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:9-11). So why did Jesus heal on the sabbath? Why didn’t he wait until the next day to heal the man’s hand thereby accommodating the Pharisees and abiding by the law? Wouldn’t that have accomplished more for the glory of God by giving his enemies less to complain about?

The answer is that Jesus simply could not wait, nor would he allow himself to be stymied by the negative mindset of those around him. Grace - God’s outpouring of love and redemption - is not a commodity to be meted out on a schedule or made available during “normal business hours.” It abounds. It flows. It overwhelms. Healing takes place according to God’s will, not when the calendar says it should. The law said that no work was to be done on the sabbath, so for some this meant that even God was expected to remain inactive. But in calling men and women to a new relationship with God Jesus challenged these assumptions and showed that God could not be confined temporally, physically, geographically, spiritually, or in any other manner. Jesus showed that in God’s coming reign the doors are always open “for business.”

So what restrictions do we try to put on God according to our customs or our understanding? Into what boxes do we try to try to force God’s grace? Do we demand that God meet our expectations while we go about doing what we want where we want? Jesus healed on the sabbath because it needed to be done and because God wanted it done. Jesus could not wait, nor should we. Sharing the grace and love of God for all people is something that we simply cannot postpone or limit.

Prayer: God of all time and space, we ask for the courage to live as your people, embracing your will for the world while defying the assumptions of those who would like to ration your grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New Songs, Old Wine?

Psalm 96
Luke 5:27-39
There is an interesting contrast in two of our readings for this morning. On the one hand the psalmist tells us, “O sing to the LORD a new song…” (Psalm 96:1a), but on the other hand, Jesus says, “And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, 'The old is good'" (Luke 5:39). The convergence of these two verses strikes me as typical of life in our times where that which is traditional and that which is new or contemporary often vie for our attention. It happens in every aspect of our lives, both secular and religious. Think of the music you listen to; what era does it come from? Think of the books you read; are they classics or were they recently published? Do you dress in a “retro” style or are you up to date on your fashions? And when you think of worship do you prefer hymns and prayers from an earlier time in the life of the church, or do you more readily respond to praise choruses and modern liturgies?

But in truth, Luke’s quote of Jesus is not easy to interpret. It may actually be intended as irony used to point out how complacent we may become with what we know until we are unwilling to try something that is new or different. If that’s the case, then Psalm 96 and Luke 5 may be saying essentially the same thing. Yet even here the tension between old and new remains, because while Jesus may be condemning false contentedness, the Psalm, even as it calls for a “new” song, is drawn from the heart of very ancient traditions dating back centuries and calling people to recognize what has always been true: God is King.

Ultimately we are left with the realization that the tension between old and new, between traditional and contemporary, between “the way we’ve always done it” and fresh perspectives is going to remain. But then God is going to remain as well, challenging us to consider both the new and the old as valuable to our lives of faith. The ancient truths about God remain relevant, but how we express those truths bears constant reevaluation. God is doing new things in our midst and they should remind us of the mighty acts that God has performed before. After all, history belongs to God, and we are blessed to be living in it.

Prayer: Lord, may our lives be centered on you alone and may we be open to your work in whatever form it takes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Strange Things Indeed

Luke 5:12-26
The story from Luke today is a familiar one. A paralyzed man is brought by his friends to the place where Jesus is teaching and healing. As the account draws to a close, Luke says, “Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today’” (Luke 5:26).

How interesting that the presence of God in the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus is considered strange by those who witnessed it. To be honest, though, it shouldn’t surprise us. Think for a moment about your own life. What events do you consider common, ordinary, unexceptional? You may be thinking about the errands you need to run or the tasks you need to accomplish at work. Maybe you are considering your housework or your school assignments, maybe your plans for the evening. Whatever the case, I suspect that none of us are prepared to witness an exchange like the one that Jesus had with the Pharisees or his healing of the paralyzed man. And yet, if what we say we believe is true; if God is Sovereign over all creation and present in all we do; if Jesus Christ is Lord of all; if the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in our midst inspiring, guiding, blessing us all, why should Jesus’ actions be called “strange”?

They aren’t, they just fall outside of the normal mindset for most of us. Strange would be going an hour – let along a day – without some sign of grace appearing in our lives. Strange would be no order within creation. Strange would be no kindness in those around us, no gentleness, no encouragement. A world devoid of God and God’s many, many blessings…now that would be strange. Strangeness, it would seem, is in the eye of the beholder, but for the eye of faith, God’s work should be the norm not the exception.

Prayer: Lord, give us eyes to see that your grace surrounds us and sustains us all the days of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.