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.