June 13, 2021
Scripture: Ephesians 3:1-3a
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation…
Thought for the Day: Today, I will be preaching from another section of Ephesians 3, but I appreciate these words from Paul who has felt the brunt of anger, persecution and betrayal in his work for the Kingdom. When he writes of being a prisoner, I believe it needs to be understood both literally and figuratively. Yes, he had been thrown in prison and would again be jailed in his journeys. It also reflects Paul’s understanding of God’s commission, the calling to be a steward or manager of Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul thinks of himself a prisoner to this work, not as a negative but as a way of trying to communicate the lack of choice he had in this matter. Now understand, Paul wrote often about freedom, and faith requires free choice if it is truly faith. At the same time, there are divine callings that seize us in such a profound way that there does not appear to be a choice. Technically, there is a choice. But so compelled is an individual that all other options appear to disappear. There is only one thing, and one thing alone! Some of the great voices and prophets, both ancient and recent, knew this experience. Some times they were persecuted or even killed for having such a narrow focus. Yet for them, it must have felt as if they were chained to the one task they believed God had put before them. Jesus might have considered himself a prisoner of love. And it was Desmond Tutu who talked about being a prisoner of hope. What part of the Gospel consumes you?
Prayer: Where do my gifts meet the greatest need in this world, Lord God. There is too much suffering, pain and injustice both near and far. There are a multitude of opportunities to serve you. Let me listen for your Spirit, doing so with a discerning heart. And maybe, just maybe, I will find that place where my purpose truly aligns with your purpose. Amen.
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June 12, 2021
Scripture: Matthew 14:22-23
Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone.
Thought for the Day: I picture Jesus standing at the water’s edge, smiling as the disciples float away, yet in the back of his mind he is thinking, “Thank God!!” We all need a break. We all need a little time to catch our breath. Even the extrovert needs to step away on occasion. I remember hearing Fred Craddock years ago talking about clergy who had been complaining to him about feeling exhausted. Fred’s advice for them was simple: Take a nap! It does not specifically mention a nap in the passage above, but I imagine Jesus finding contentment in his quiet prayer time. I see his shoulders relaxing as he didn’t have the constant questions from the disciples and the multitude of requests from the crowd. In that more relaxed state, I picture Jesus dozing off. In a world where too many people define themselves by what they are doing, there is a tendency to ignore rest. Yet studies show how well rested people are the most productive. Even Jesus needed a little break. Make sure you give yourself one.
Prayer: Give me permission to rest, Gracious One, and to find my value in something other than busyness. Amen.
June 11, 2021
Scripture: Ephesians 4:31
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice…
Thought for the Day: Many of the translations of this verse give the impression that we need to put away these unhealthy attitudes and attributes, yet in the original Greek, the verb “put away” is a passive verb. It gives the impression that someone else is removing these things from us, or that we are participants alongside a power outside of us. How much of the stuff listed here in this verse is taking up space in your life? How many of these things have you given permission to stay rent-free in your heart and mind? People who study such things will tell you that clinging to bitterness, anger or revenge has unhealthy implications on the human body. In fact, they cause stress on the very systems that keep us alive. At the same time, we know how such things impact negatively larger bodies like families, churches, communities or even nations. I believe the Spirit is in the business of helping us remove what is destructive and dangerous to our bodies, along with other bodies, small and large, simple and complex. So I guess an important question to ask ourselves is: What am I doing to cling to the very things the Spirit is attempting to remove?
Prayer: Whatever is not of you, O Spirit if Life, does not belong within me. Give me the strength to work alongside your Gracious Presence that is always seeking new ways of bringing health and life to my existence. Amen.
June 10, 2021
Scripture: Deuteronomy 18:10-11
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.
Thought for the Day: I think that first one in the scripture is a fair request, and not one with which most folks will argue. Of course, the rest of this passage has been used to burn or to kill in some other fashion all kinds of people throughout the centuries. I always found it a bit hypocritical for righteous people to burn witches, and to do so using a passage that says, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire.” The people who were burned for sorcery or casting spells were someone’s child. And of course, who were the first foreigners to worship Jesus? They were Magi, a nice way of saying astrologers, or those who interpreted omens or dreams. And here is an important confession – I like the Harry Potter movies, and I bought my kid a magic wand to go with his Harry Potter costume. Of course, the passage never suggests we kill any of those listed here. Christians simply took it upon themselves to finish what they thought God would want. In fact, this portion of scripture was trying to caution this young vulnerable community known as the Israelites when it came to interacting with those who were different. When you are trying to form yourself as a community, it is often easier to do so by saying, “We’re not like those people.” So often tribes and clans and other groupings of people have defined themselves based upon what they were not. It is interesting how Jesus always seemed to form community around the positive, around who he believed they could be. Defining who you are based upon a common enemy works quite well, except that you really do not know who you are. Jesus wasn’t so much interested in telling people what they were not, but inviting them to live as they were created to live – as those who live for the sake of love.
Prayer: May my life always embody what is holy and life-giving, those attributes found in the life of Jesus. Merciful God, continue to encourage me as I explore who you are calling me to be in this moment of time. Amen.
June 9, 2021
Scripture: 1 Peter 2:17-18
Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.
Thought for the Day: Recently a member sent me a publicity piece from Chalice Press, our denominational Publishing House. In it was a snippet about a new book entitled, “True Inclusion,” by Rev. Brandan Robertson. According to the information, Brandon defines true inclusion as:
“The radical embracing and incorporating of all people, in all of their diversity, into every aspect of our lives, families, communities, and societies.”
One word in particular stood out to me in that definition. The word: incorporating. It is one thing for the faith community to embrace someone, and depending on the situation, just embracing might feel like a real stretch. But in rather homogenous churches, to have those who might not fit the local ecclesiological type will often mean those who are different will struggle to be incorporated into the life of the church and its ministry. I have many examples of that very thing happening, and without being incorporated into the life of the church there is never any sense of belonging.
1 Peter is, in my opinion, an example of the early church trying to figure out faithfulness while also trying to placate the Empire and societal norms. First, we read how we are to honor “everyone,” which means everyone. This is a good summary of the Jesus message. It goes on to instruct us to love the family of believers, which included slaves. This is another good rendering of the Jesus message. Yet how do we honor and love someone by telling that individual to enjoy slavery, even if the master is harsh? For me, this is a very good example of where the Bible exists in one moment of time and reveals very clearly the sinfulness of the church in that moment and every moment of time. We can talk a good game about honoring human life and loving people, yet how often do words like honor and love slip from our actions? Our attempt at appeasing the powers and institutions is often done at the expense of the very Gospel we claim to believe. The Bible reveals the sinfulness of the church, not as an example of what we should do, but what we are to loathe with every bit of life and energy we have.
Prayer: Continue to guide me as I navigate scripture, tradition, the failures and successes of the church. Continue to guide me, Holy Spirit, in finding and living your Kingdom vision. Amen.
June 8, 2021
Scripture: Luke 14:1-4
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away.
Thought for the Day: Jesus would not have shown up unannounced, and so we need to understand that the leader of the Pharisees had invited Jesus to a meal. So often we draw these firm lines between Jesus and the Religious Leaders as if there was no positive interaction, but there was. Yet the question Jesus put before some of these Religious Leaders was in fact an easy question. Sabbath was to be honored, but never at the expense of someone in need. They’re refusal to answer was probably complicated, but the complication was rooted in the challenges of dealing with institutional power structures and opinionated people. Have you ever known what was right, but you hedged your response because the relationships or institutional structures were complicated? Did you choose to bite your tongue to simplify your life as you knew that speaking up would require all kinds of time and energy defending and explaining your words? Relationships, whether with individuals are institutional structures, are complex. Yet often our decision to be silent helps to reduce the complications only in the short term. That has probably been one of my greatest learnings in serving the church. Don’t get me wrong, I have chosen silence or a slight linguistic dance move to avoid what could have been an explosive situation. But so often the avoidance has only delayed the explosion. Choosing love and compassion for those who are most vulnerable must always rise above trying to keep others and the institution happy.
Prayer: Provide me a discerning spirit alongside some courage to do what is right, Holy God, even if someone will most certainly be upset. Amen.
June 7, 2021
Prayer for the Week: You are the God of new beginnings, new possibilities, new life, new found hope. We worship in a spirit of gratitude, for no matter what we might face, you do not leave us in the solitude of our circumstance. Even when there is discouragement or pain, you do not forget us or bury us under the weight of guilt. You want what is best for everyone of us, every human being. Your love does not want to diminish the life and promise within us. May the good news of your loving presence embolden the conviction that the final word belongs to you, and not to any momentary distress or disillusionment. Amen.
June 6, 2021
Scripture: John 11:7-8
Then after this Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”
Thought for the Day: This is part of what we know as the Lazarus Story. Jesus has received word that his friend Lazarus is sick, and the sisters of Lazarus have requested the help of Jesus. Lazarus died as Jesus was on his way. But note how Jesus does not avoid potential violence that might be brought against him. He knows very well the risk involved, and there are those who are ready to provide him permission to wait or not go at all. We all have found ourselves in similar moments. It might not have been the threat of physical violence, but there was a risk of some sort. Maybe it was a risk pertaining to our job, a friendship, our status, our comfort level or our way of life. And there was probably someone giving us full permission to avoid the risk. I do not believe we are always to throw ourselves into danger as there is often a better alternative for everyone involved. Yet in this situation, Jesus demonstrates for us how a commitment to the wellbeing of others requires us to no longer look for the easy way out. Where might God be inviting you to walk into a potentially hazardous situation for the sake of someone else’s wellbeing? There will be many who will say to you, “It is not your problem” or “They brought it upon themselves,” yet Jesus politely listened to those kinds of comments and then gave a short lecture on what it means to walk in the light instead of the darkness. And with those words, the path forward became well lit.
Prayer: I may not always have within me the courage to do what is right for the sake of others, but I pray for your Spirit, O Lord of Light, to help bolster enough holy resolve for the doing of what is right when I need to be doing what is right. Amen.
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June 5, 2021
Scripture: Luke 18:1-5
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”
Thought for the Day: So I guess the take away from this parable is praying in such a way that we irritate God and eventually break the divine will. I’m kidding… at least I think I am. Yet what was Jesus attempting to communicate about prayer and persistence and not losing hope? It was Dr. Fred Craddock, the great preacher and teacher of preachers, who reminded his students how parables were intended to stir and provoke the imagination. And simple one line summaries never really work when it comes to parables. Part of the problem with this parable is we assume the character of the judge to represent God, and that our persistent nagging about what is right and just will eventually get the judge (God) to bend toward our requests. I can see that, but what if we allow the parable to flip. What if, by chance, the persistent widow represents God and we are like the judge who really doesn’t fear God or have much respect of people? What if God, parabolically enfleshed in the widow, is that ever present divine voice calling us to do what is right and just in the world? The old reading of the parable leaves us rather passive, sitting back and demanding God take care of the problems. Allowing the parable to do what parables do – to stir and provoke the imagination – we are suddenly the ones who need to make sure we are listening to God’s pestering and persistent voice.
Prayer: Maybe there is more to this parable than I have seen before. Show me, Merciful One, what I have not seen before. Show me something new that might show me something new. Amen.
June 4, 2021
Scripture: Luke 19:1-7
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
Thought for the Day: As I continue to focus on some of the key Jesus stories, at least from my perspective, I share with you one of my favorites. The story of Zacchaeus is so layered with meaning that a preacher could offer a hundred sermons on this text and feel as if there was little overlap. Just now, I am trying to determine which direction to go. There is: 1. The issue of Zacchaeus’ profession (tax collector) which made him a despised individual by most people, especially the poor. 2. The excitement demonstrated in Zacchaeus’ desire to see Jesus, specifically his willingness to climb the tree. 3. There are those very first words Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus, “…I must stay at your house today.” It was not a request. 4. There is the rather non-anxious response Zacchaeus has to hosting Jesus, even though he probably knows deep down that the way of Jesus will confront everything about his life. 5. And then there is the negativity by those who witnessed the interaction Jesus had with Zacchaeus. Where does a person begin? Maybe there is something for us to ponder when it comes to the many perspectives from which one could read this story. There are days when we are Zacchaeus in the story. There are other times when we are the Jesus character. And still other times, when we are sitting around grumbling at the grace shown to someone we don’t believe is deserving. In this moment, where do you fit in this story? Where do you need to stand in the story to see what Jesus wants you to see
Prayer: Continue to invite me into the stories of life and love, O Lord. Draw me into the depth of the story where my life interacts with the power of your Spirit woven into the narrative. Amen.