ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 19, 2021 Scripture: Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Thought for the Day: One of our church members posted a letter Dr. King sent to Billy Graham in 1957 during Graham’s New York City Crusade. In the letter, King wrote:
We are gradually emerging from the bleak and desolate midnight of injustice into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom of justice.
I love the imagery and can imagine those words being offered by King with his powerful pastoral voice and cadence. Yet does it feel to you as if the word gradually was a bit of an overstatement? Does it feel like those words could be written today, yet met with great skepticism by most? I can so easily be sucked into the realm of cynicism and pessimism in so many areas of life. It is understandable why some do. For me, it’s not that I have some strong faith that holds such feelings a bay. It is only by the grace of God, and maybe the ignorance of my own position in life. Maybe tomorrow cynicism will win out, but for today I will echo the words of Desmond Tutu who said, “I am a prisoner of hope.”
Prayer: Could it be that cynicism has kept us from embracing and living your message, O Lord? Could it be that your new day is about to dawn, yet we are staring in the wrong direction, vacantly looking into the darkness of the past? Allow for your light of hope to beckon us. Let us always be those who rejoice in hope, not naively, but with a passion for the new day. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 18, 2021 Prayer for the Week: There is so much we do not understand; so much we cannot comprehend; so many mysteries that remain beyond our reach. O Holy One of the Universe, you are shrouded in that mystery. We look to Jesus, and within him we are to see you. Yet there are questions that continue to confound us. We see death and suffering among those who have lived lives worthy of so much more. At times, there appears to be an unfairness in this life. How can this be when you are love itself, when Jesus himself demonstrated a depth of love far beyond anything this world might have believed possible? Maybe love is the ultimate mystery seeking to be revealed in the lives of those who risk love in the face of hate, disease, injustice, pain, selfishness, grief, arrogance, betrayal. Maybe love does not hold such things at bay, but provides an unrecognizable power to live within a world still in the grip of that which is not of you. Let us never give up exploring the profound mystery of your love. It is our greatest hope. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 17, 2021 Scripture: Isaiah 40:29-31 The Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youth will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Thought for the Day: There is something about that Spirit-infused energy, the energy that comes to us from God. Even the most youthful, those we expect to have energy in abundance, are going to fall flat at one time or another. Yet for those who wait upon the Lord, who pause long enough to actually receive what God is wanting to give, shall find an inexhaustible quantity of spiritual energy. It may not be the same energy needed to run a marathon, but it does provide a life-energy capable of facing the day when hopelessness appears all consuming; enough fortitude to overcome the negativity so prevalent in some parts of life; a sufficient amount of holy vitality to take another step forward when everyone else believes it is impossible.
Prayer: O Blessed One of Heaven, we pause long enough to obtain the life-energy your Spirit shares with the world. Too often we find ourselves a bit too busy to actually receive the gift you are giving, and then we act surprised when we hit the spiritual wall. Let us take a few moments right now to accept and make use of what you provide. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 16, 2021 Scripture: Mark 1:35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Thought for the Day: I am a really bad speller, and when typing fast, I can make a multitude of mistakes of which I can only blame a few on autocorrect. I’m also horrible when it comes to proofreading, especially my own stuff. Years ago, when I used an old manual typewriter for my newsletter articles, I believe it was this passage that I wrote how Jesus went to a dessert place. I think a lot of us offer prayer around dessert, but it’s usually, “Lord, help my temptation.” When the life of faith demands a lot of us, it is necessary to get away and catch our breath. So many people have tried to tell me that Jesus did not really need to rest, he was only providing permission for us to do so. I really need a Jesus who found it necessary to rest his body and spirit, especially after giving so much of self. Jesus knew what it meant to sweat, to feel exhaustion and a depletion of his capacity to give. When you give so much, you’ve got to replenish if you’re going to give more.
Prayer: Let me make sure I’ve got enough within me when much is demanded of me. Lord God, I will need your help to know when to act and when to rest. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 15, 2021 Scripture: Mark 1:21-22 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Thought for the Day: Do you sense a little passive-aggressive behavior from the Gospel writer? Those last words, “not as the scribes,” sound a little like an unnecessary dig. Instead of just being clear about the differences, the author offers a passing jab at some of the religious leaders. I understand it very well. We’ve all been there, at one time or another, with our snarky comment that is left unpacked. Sadly, I see a lot of that these days. There are code words tossed around, and you almost expect to hear the music associated with the villain from a melodrama. Yet often these so-called bad words are really heard negatively only because people do not understand them. And the people using them in a mocking tone do not want others to educate themselves and understand the complexity behind the words. We’ve got to move to a place where we can have intelligent conversations that rise above the uncritical emotional nonsense. Jesus probably did teach differently than the scribes, but let’s have a conversation where we are better able to understand the subtle, yet important differences.
Prayer: Holy God, I always need your assistance when it comes to my fears or my insecurities. They can so easily steer my language away from the grace that should guide all my words. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 14, 2021 Scripture: Mark 1:16-18 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Thought for the Day: I don’t know why, but in reading this passage just now, I pictured something I’d never noticed before. Maybe I am reading too much into the story, but it almost sounds as if Jesus was just walking alongside the Sea of Galilee with no intention of calling disciples. He came across these two guys and, on a whim, asked if they’d like to follow. Previously, it always read very staged, very non-spontaneous. Yet Jesus was driven by the Spirit. It makes me wonder if he got up every morning unsure of what that day would bring, simply going with whatever the day presented. There is something very refreshing about that idea. In my own mind, I often make Jesus a bit robotic and stiff. Yet as I read through Mark’s Gospel, people were brought to him, he stumbled across a strange happening, and he paused long enough for a group to gather with their questions. I’m not suggesting his life lacked purpose, but it appears as if he was very present to the moment and the impact the Gospel of love could have upon that moment. It makes me wonder how present I am to the moment.
Prayer: Provide me purpose, O Lord of Life, yet allow for me to be available to the unexpected situations that might present themselves. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 13, 2021 Scripture: Mark 1:13 Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Thought for the Day: I think most of us would describe Jesus as a pretty put together individual, even some Christian Leadership Books portray him as the stellar CEO type. Yet reread this verse from Mark, and notice that Jesus does absolutely nothing in this part of the story. He is passive or neutral through it all, or at least that’s how the four movements of this verse describe it. Of course, this will soon change as Jesus will begin preaching and acting in the world in the next few verses. It almost appears as if Mark wanted the reader to know how Jesus still needed to be made ready for what was to come. You do not step into the world unprepared, or the world will chew you up and spit you out. Many have suggest this is true in regard to the business world, but it sounds as if Mark wants his readers to understand how it is true when it comes to the life of faith. Too often Christianity is characterized as simple and easy, just believe and the good life will be handed to you on a silver platter. This is why, at least in my opinion, many Christian folks have found themselves sucked into some pretty dark places in the last few years, down some pretty strange paths that do not align with the life of Jesus. For even Jesus, according to Mark, needed some prep time. And if Jesus needed such work, we all probably need it and some refresher courses on a regular basis.
Prayer: May I never be naive, O Spirit of the Wilderness, when it comes to the life of faith and its many challenges. Provide me with opportunities where you make me ready for what might come my way. Above all things, I want to honor you with my life witness. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 12, 2021 Scripture: Mark 1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.
Thought for the Day: Immediately after the baptism and divine affirmation of Jesus, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. The word “drove” in the Greek is the combination of two words – Ek (out) and Ballo (throw). Driven is a pretty strong word, but it may not communicate just how dramatic it was. The Spirit threw Jesus into the wilderness. For Mark, things happen quickly, and they are often extraordinary – one over the top event followed by another. I have a feeling there was some downtime unrecorded by Mark, but for whatever reason, it really wasn’t important to Mark’s telling of the Jesus story. Most biographies, especially those limited by length (by papyrus) don’t include the tedious everyday kind of stuff. This quick movement also creates an intensity as you read it, an energy and movement toward something. And if you know the story of Jesus, you can probably guess where Mark was going.
Prayer: Holy God, my life has plenty of events unworthy of a headline, yet I pray for an intensity when it comes to how I live and embody the Gospel, the Good News of your unconditional love. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 11, 2021 Prayer for the Week: What do we pray for? For whom should we pray? O God, your love-filled vision is needed more than ever, yet it almost feels too little, too late. So many are lost in the echo chamber of their own lostness, listening to their fears reverberate back a permission to believe their anxieties, to glorify their insecurities. We need your love, and not some syrupy sweet, feel good, now let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya kind of love. We need a love that speaks truth to power; tells stories that will lay bare the ugliness of hate; weeps with Rachel for her lost children; confronts the sins of those with power and privilege; refuses to allow darkness to have the final word. Where does such a love exist today? In the church? Could it be found in a baptized band of misfits who cling to the absurd notion of love being more powerful than anything a fractured soul might conceive? Let such a love be enfleshed in acts of justice and uprightness from here to Washington and every other part of this nation. It is our prayer, offered with more than wishful thoughts, but with the self-giving hope and conviction of Jesus Christ. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 10, 2021 Scripture: 2 John 1:8 Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward.
Thought for the Day: I have a Senior in High School, and though we are not quite there yet, I am concerned about the dreaded senioritis, that affliction that seems to leave many looking past the present moment. The first time I ran a marathon, I hit mile marker 23 and thought to myself, it’s just over 3 miles more. I thought I could pick up my pace. Big mistake! I was wanting to get to the finish line ahead of myself, and the last two miles nearly killed me. In fact, it almost kept me from finishing. When we see the finish line or at least feel that it’s not too far away, there is a tendency to forget where we are and all that has brought us to that moment. Today, I went to the grocery store. I would guess that somewhere between 10-15% of the people were not wearing masks. We are not at the finish line yet, and we must remain vigilant for the sake of all, but especially the most vulnerable. Or as 2nd John suggests, we do not want to lose what we have worked for. We’ve got this! We can do this! And by faith, we shall… assuming we understand that with faith comes responsibility.
Prayer: Keep me vigilant, Gracious God! It is not always easy, especially when I feel as if the destination is close at hand. But in this case, life and death are in our collective hands these final months. Keep me vigilant! Amen!