ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 23, 2020 Scripture: Genesis 33:4-5 But Esau ran to meet Jacob, threw his arms around his neck, kissed him, and they wept. Esau looked up and saw the women and children and said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children that God generously gave your servant.”
Thought for the Day: It was this week in 1806 that Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis at the conclusion of their travels. They had been gone for more than two and a half years, and during that time there were many moments when it appeared they would not make it, though in the end, only one member of the expedition actually died during their travels. What must it have been like to return? I imagine it to be dramatic, like moving from one world into another. The new world (St. Louis and home) was in fact the old world, yet after being gone that long, it had to have felt unfamiliar and strange. In fact, Lewis struggled with depression in the years that followed. Returning to what was, even when we are longing for it, is often more difficult than imagined. For Esau and Jacob, the return was better than imagined, yet it was because these two men had changed so dramatically in their time apart. And though the reunion was joy-filled, the two families felt it was best if they went their own separate ways. This pandemic is changing us, whether we recognize it or not. Like Esau and Jacob, the change might be healthy, providing a needed perspective on life. For others, it is a daily struggle that has left them lost, angry and bitter. The path to the post-pandemic world will be more challenging than expected as people will have changed. They will emerge from this time having different priorities and values. I believe we will navigate it, but be mindful that the change in you may not necessarily match the change in someone else. There is going to be a required time of reorientation, a time to explore the old world which will be a new and unfamiliar world in many ways.
Prayer: Teach me, O Lord, to be more gracious. Give me a heart that appreciates how this pandemic has impacted people differently. Change is not necessarily good or bad, sometimes it just is. Allow my spirit to be patient as I grow to recognize the change within myself and others. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 22, 2020 Scripture: Isaiah 32:6-8 Fools speak folly; their minds devise wickedness, acting irreverently, speaking falsely of the LORD, leaving the hungry empty, and depriving the thirsty of drink. As for the villain, his villainies are evil. He plans schemes to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speak justly. But an honorable person plans honorable things and stands up for what is honorable.
Thought for the Day: Yesterday, we ordered dinner to be delivered. I could track it, and at one point it said the driver was in our neighborhood. The next moment, there was no tracking. A few moments later, I got an email saying my food had been delivered which was followed by a request for me to rate my experience. I was hungry, and there was no food at my door. It took quite a bit longer for my food to arrive. Though not terribly thrilled with the service, this was no evil scheme. It was not the sinister work of the wicked. It was a mistake, and mistakes are going to happen. But what happens when people and systems leave the hungry empty and the thirsty without drink? What happens when the poor are discredited with lying words? This is when prophets stand and speak, when the emissaries of the Holy will not be silenced. Listen to their words and do not turn away. Listen and be confronted by their defiant declarations. Prophet is not a vocation relegated to some ancient time. They are among us, faithfully speaking the painful truth.
Prayer: Give me both ears to hear and a spirit willing to be moved if I am part of the problem in our world. I do not wish to be a fool or to participate in acts that leave people wanting. Lord, invite me into the good work of your Kingdom, your holy dream for all creation. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 21, 2020 Prayer for the Week: You are present, O God, to every beginning and every ending. Before our eyes open to glimpse a new day, you are there. After the day has concluded, and we have fallen asleep, you are there. Whether it is the delight of a birth or the sorrow of a death, you are there. The cycle, from birth to death to rebirth, is encompassed by your love. There is no movement within this pattern of life outside of your purview. The dramatic swing of emotional distress can leave us feeling uncertain whether you will remain. Our questions surface amidst insecurities brought on by grief and stress, yet there is no place to which you slip away and pause from being God, no hour in the day when you are no longer aware of where we are in the ebb and flow of life. You are there! You are always there! You are forever present to us. With gratitude in our hearts, we say, Amen!
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 20, 2020 Scripture: Ephesians 4:3 …make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.
Thought for the Day: I just came across these words from John Lennon:
If everyone demanded peace instead of another televisions set, then there’d be peace.
In today’s world, I don’t know if it would be another television set. Instead, it might be a new phone, video game system or some other tech device. The point, though, is well taken. We need to make an effort equal to the effort we give to all kinds of frivolous stuff. For Paul, there was an expectation that the individual members of the community would utilize peace to hold fast to unity. How does Paul visualize peace? I believe it is something very real that exists within both the individual and the body, the community. It is a contentment within oneself that exists with love. So much that stands in opposition to peace is birthed out of discontentment and fear. So many people (and communities) put forth a good facade, but deep down there is no love of self. That pain is manifest in everything that is not the peace of God. If everyone demanded peace with the same passion as they did many other things in life, we would make some progress. But we really need to work on sharing a love that is healing and reconciling, a love that will build a sense of self and bring contentment.
Prayer: You’ve been working on it since the beginning, Lord God, but I’d like to join your good work in bringing peace to this world as I teach and share your love. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 19, 2020 Scripture: Genesis 1:27 God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.
Thought for the Day: Earlier in chapter 1, the writer uses a different verb, to make. It is a different word all together in the original Hebrew language from the word we translate in this verse as created. Here, created, is Bara’. It means to shape or fashion, but it also means: to make yourself fat. I don’t know Biblical Hebrew well at all, and here is an example of why I am so confused when it comes to Hebrew. Maybe, and just maybe, it is how an idea becomes reality, how it becomes three dimensional. In the previous verse, God appears to be speaking to the Heavenly Host as we read, “Let us make humanity in our image…” It was just an idea that God was floating, a brainstorming session with a handful of angels and the Divine Complexity. But then they decided to put some meat on that idea, to plump it up. This is where many of us fall short as we do some of our own dreaming. Too many ideas are never brought to the dinner table to be fattened up. Ok, did I just take the metaphor a step too far?
Prayer: Thank you, Creator God, for taking the idea of humanity and giving us some weight. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 18, 2020 Scripture: 1st Corinthians 8:3 …but anyone who loves God is known by God.
Thought for the Day: You might remember as I do a Sunday School teacher saying when we were young, “God knows you inside and out. God knows every thought in your head and heart.” That might have sounded, in theory, like a wonderful thing. It might have been thought of, by the teacher, as Good News. But as a young kid, if you were like me, there were some thoughts in my head and heart that were not very nice. Actually, there were some thoughts that were not kind at all, some that were not very pure, and then a lot of strange stuff as well. Most all of it was kept inside because we assumed that we were the only ones who ever had such thoughts. And then there was the panic that all our hiding, all our creative concealing might not work with God. Now I think the Holy Other of the Universe, God, must know all there is to know, but I also do not believe that God is shocked or disappointed or pondering whether a lightening strike might be the best response for that one really bad thought. The word KNOW is a rich word in scripture that has less to do with knowing statistics and lists and trivia. It is about relationship, and to be known is to be in relationship with God. God is always seeking the relationship, yet when we choose to love, we are making ourselves vulnerable and available to God. It is there that real faith begins to take shape.
Prayer: As Paul worked to have a community focus on love above all other things, we seek your assistance as we too easily become concerned with stuff other than love. Lord God, we desire for our love to grow, and in that growth, discover new and life-giving aspects of our relationship with you. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 17, 2020 Scripture: James 3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Thought for the Day: It is important to remember that righteousness is not some sort of self-righteousness or pietistic religiosity, but the rightness of God. That is what we believe will emerge from the soil of peace, the well cultivated land of shalom. This is not to confused with some orderly armistice. It is the arduous work of learning who our neighbor is, turning the other cheek, praying for the enemy and working through forgiveness and reconciliation. I’ve always thought that the word Peacekeepers was an oxymoron, as true peace is not something that can be kept or forced. It is something that is chosen and lived. If we want to see any righteousness emerge in our world, then we’ve got some serious work to do when it comes to peace.
Prayer: Let me know the peace of Christ Jesus. Allow for your peace envisioned in the life and ministry of Jesus to reside in my heart and mind. I ask for this, Generous God, as I want my life to be the good soil from which righteousness can grow. Amen.
UPCOMING STUDY: Sermon on the Mount GET A COPY OF THE BOOK TONIGHT
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 16, 2020 Scripture: James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
Thought for the Day: I pray that you have known someone whose works were done with a gentleness born of wisdom. I’ve known some people whose gentleness was born of foolishness. It was a gentleness without purpose or direction. There are some who would point to Jesus and suggest his gentleness was foolishness as it got him killed. But it was foolishness only from the standpoint of those who had no appreciation of self-giving love. Could Jesus have raised an army, used intimidation and threats of violence and smear campaigns to achieve his goal? Some would say, “Sure!” But their wrong! The goal Jesus was seeking, the Kingdom of God, had to be fully manifest in the methods and tools utilized. Acts of gentleness, born out of wisdom and done for the sake of God’s Kingdom, are some of the most beautiful and life-changing experiences. Years ago, I spent some time at Koinoina Farms, a wonderful ministry in Georgia. At the time, the world was in a heightened state of anxiousness and fear. One of the people living at Koinonia Farms was a man who specialized in conflict resolution, and he walked us through some exercises that made me, not only aware of his gentle spirit, but an experience of Shalom – that wonderful Biblical word that means peace, harmony and wholeness. His gentleness was full of wisdom, for he was seeking the Kingdom of God. And because his methods embodied the Kingdom of God, he created a Kingdom moment. I pray that you have known such moments.
Prayer: Being wise and being gentle are hard enough by themselves, yet you have invited them to be fully present and together within me. Holy God, let your gentleness born of wisdom reside within me for the sake of your Kingdom. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 15, 2020 Scripture: James 3:9-10 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
Thought for the Day: Humanity, including those who follow Jesus, have yet to fully understand that to curse, demean, degrade or injure another human being is to dishonor the very image of God. There is no exception to the rule. Period! Last time I suggested something similar in one of my devotionals, I got hate mail. I wish I had the old AOL, except it would say, “You’ve got hate mail.” That way I would know to skip those emails. Sorry, I digress. The point I’m trying to make is how unbelievably challenging these words are. This is Jesus Loves The Little Children, but on steroids. And just putting all my cards on the table, I don’t find this easy just because I’m clergy. We did not take an upper level class on Loving ALL God’s children. It was kind of assumed, while also spending plenty of time confessing our failures. And let’s be clear, loving people as Jesus did is not to sanction or celebrate their mean-spirited behavior. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to go out for drinks with someone who causes your blood pressure to rise or has injured you. Love is on its own level, and though 99% of us will remain a work in progress, we cannot allow the difficult to become our excuse to jettison love for the purpose of making room for hate.
Prayer: Once again, O Lord, I start the day seeking your help. You’ve not made this easy, but I will try my best in the belief that your Spirit will assist me. I will try better than my best in the belief that you will love me even when I fail. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS September 14, 2020 Prayer for the Week (based upon Ephesians 1:18ff): The eyes of our hearts desire to see the hope to which we have been called, a hope of overwhelming greatness, a hope infused with heavenly strength. It is the power for resurrection, it is the power for restoration and healing when life appears lost. There is hope, but too few believe it. There is hope, but so much of the world has chosen to embrace some self-aggrandizing dream. There is hope, but even followers of Jesus have traded it for a worldly vision of dominance. There is hope, and today – with your Holy Assistance – we will once again let it own us. Your hope, enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth – a hope that energized and animated a group of misfits – a hope where those who do not seek to make a name for themselves have given everything away in pursuit of love and justice, gentleness and peace. The eyes of our hearts desire to see the hope to which we have been called, O Giver of Hope. Amen.