01-31-19

Scripture: Luke 4:37-38
Reports about him spread everywhere in the surrounding region. After leaving the synagogue, Jesus went home with Simon. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a high fever, and the family asked Jesus to help her.

Thought for the Day: With such amazing popularity, it is nice to see Jesus making home visits when needed. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but when someone becomes famous, and there are so many demands upon his/her time, it is easy to say, “My schedule is overloaded, and though I’d like to do so, I just can’t work it in.” In the case of Jesus, I’m certain Simon and his mother-in-law would have understood had Jesus declined going by the house. But Jesus made a house call, and maybe it was just to get away from the crowd. Or maybe it was to tame the ego a little. I don’t know about you, but I appreciate folks who keep me humble. There are those, and I live with a couple of them, who remind me (not in a mean way) of my many shortcomings every time my self-image becomes a bit too grandiose. Instead of going for the wow factor among the crowd (like a feeding of the 5000), Jesus went into a home where only a few were privy to what occurred. There, he expressed love and compassion to a single person. He might have received a thank you or two, but a standing ovation from the multitude was of no interest to him. Humble service is demonstrated by Jesus in so many different ways.

Prayer: Keep me humble through the example offered in Jesus of Nazareth. Keep me humble, O God of Heaven who chose to be emptied of the divine nature for the sake of creation. Amen.

Can You Bring A Box?

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01-30-19

Scripture: Luke 4:33-34
A man in the synagogue had the spirit of an unclean demon. He screamed, “Hey! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”

Thought for the Day: Unclean spirits and demons seem to recognize Jesus better than his disciples. This is a literary motif used more so in Mark’s Gospel, but we see it here as well. For the first century listener (again, the Gospels were probably read out loud in the context of worship as individuals did not carry around scrolls) would have recognized the cosmic battle between good and evil, light and darkness. But even more so, note how this representative of evil/darkness asks the question, “Have you come to destroy me?” The unclean demon recognizes his fate. Whether it happens now or later, Jesus will take him down. For a people who were under Roman occupation and felt as if their way of life had become taken over by the unclean demon of Roman authority, it was good to hear this acknowledgement by the destructive entity. Deep down, the unclean demon knows there will be no ultimate victory for him. Can you hear the hope offered in the narrative, even to those who cannot imagine much hope? It makes the listener privy to insider information that the Romans know deep down, but refuse to acknowledge.

Prayer: Make me an instrument of your hope. O Gracious God, make my life a window through which others are able to glimpse the hope made real in Jesus. Amen.

Continuing To Enjoy…

01-29-19

Scripture: Luke 4:25-28
And I can assure you that there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, when it didn’t rain for three and a half years and there was a great food shortage in the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of them but only to a widow in the city of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. There were also many persons with skin diseases in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them were cleansed. Instead, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed.” When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. 

Thought for the Day: After interpreting the words from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus expanded the discussion. At first, the people were thrilled with what he was saying, but then things made a dramatic change as he referenced two other prophetic voices, Elijah and Elisha. By telling the stories of these two prophets, he was implying that there was a message for those outside the traditional community of faith. In fact, the prophets demonstrated how God’s favor was extended to Gentiles. When one speaks in such a way that the audience hears of God’s blessings extended to the audience and the audience alone, the reaction is always positive. But extending those blessings and God’s favor beyond the insiders will almost always produce anger and resentment. Jesus was clear in his message, and the people’s response was very clear. They were not happy. In today’s world, why should we assume the Gospel message of love being extended further and further out will be received joyously by those who believe themselves to have some monopoly on love. People have not changed. And among those who have become comfortable with their insider status, the reaction will almost always be negative. In fact, the next verse describes how the people ran Jesus out of town. Love is not always appreciated like we think it should be.

Prayer: Merciful God, let me continue to share your love givens so generously to me. Keep me grounded, so that I am not surprised when love is rejected and kindness is refuted. Amen. 

01-28-19

Prayer for the Week: We explore the holy scriptures in search of what you have done and what has been said about you. O Word of Life that took on flesh, we desire to know you, but if we do not have a starting place in the ancient stories of the faith, we will struggle to know of you and to be in relationship with you. We claim that you are the same yesterday, today and forever. We look to Jesus who is the visible sign of your invisible nature. We read stories of great compassion; we wrestle with parables that invite us to ask difficult questions; we are humbled by acts of true sacrificial love. Allow the witness of these words to spill over us and to engage our hearts and minds. It is not our desire to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be transformed as we continue to renew ourselves for the ministry of Jesus. If our lives at home, the workplace, on social media or even at church do not represent the beautiful life-giving witness of Jesus, then call us to repentance. Challenge us to confess our sins and to seek a new way – the way of Jesus. O Holy God, you do not expect perfection for you are the gracious One. Yet you do not want grace to be an excuse for spiritual apathy. Encourage our faithful discernment that we might see the heart of Jesus and perceive how his life of love is manifesting itself in this unique moment of time. We offer these words of prayer in the name of your Word that took on flesh. Amen.


Can You Bring Some Cereal Next Sunday

01-27-19

Scripture: Luke 4:20-21
Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

Thought for the Day: Notice the movement in the story. Jesus has just finished reading from the scroll of Isaiah. He is standing as he reads from the scriptures, and then after returning the scroll to the attendant in the synagogue, he sits down and begins teaching. It was common for a teacher to sit on the ground, and for his/her students to gather around. Some of my fondest memories of my early years of school was on the rug. I believe it was first grade, and each day the teacher would invite us to get up from our desks and sit on the big rug. The teacher would come and sit on the rug with us. She didn’t bring a chair and sit above us, but with us. There is so much that I do not remember about those early years. In fact, there are things I do not remember from last week, but the connectedness she demonstrated is vivid in my mind. It was there on the rug that she was often passing things around for us to feel or smell or even taste. In that kind of setting, the disconnection associated with someone pontificating from on high disappears. Though I don’t sit on the floor, I like the Forum Sanctuary as it is in the round and the congregation is either at my level or even above me. It feels more intimate and connected. I’ve got to believe that part of Jesus’ success was found in his ability to connect with people on a personal level. 

Prayer: Great God of Heaven, you are the One who chose to come alongside us and to demonstrate the life of a servant by becoming a servant. Your witness has blessed generations and inspired countless individuals who have taken on the yoke of a servant. Teach me anew this day that I might choose the way of my servant king. Amen.

LET US WORSHIP
Jesus and the Spirit

01-26-19

Scripture: Luke 4:17-18
The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed…

Thought for the Day: This is a portion of tomorrow’s sermon text. As you may note, it is Jesus reading aloud the words from yesterday’s Isaiah text. Jesus has been invited to read from the scroll of Isaiah among those gathered at the synagogue in Nazareth. At the time of Jesus, these words were probably 500 years old, and yet as Jesus spoke them, they were renewed and became relevant to his listeners. It is always important to dig deep into the historic context of scripture, otherwise we might make scripture say whatever we want it to say. At the same time, the combination of good critical study and the movement of the Spirit can once again do exactly what Jesus did in the synagogue – ancient words finding meaning and providing purpose in a new context.

Prayer: As we dive deep into the words of scripture, we ask for you to be our guide, O Lord. Open up and reveal for us what the original context and purpose was for those words. As we struggle to understand the history, draw for us respectful and relevant lines between what was and what is. We offer these words in the name of your Word who was and is and shall be. Amen.

SEE YOU TOMORROW
Sunday Morning Worship

01-25-19

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-2
The LORD God’s spirit is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn…

Thought for the Day: This is the mission of the Prophet Isaiah, or maybe it should be understood as a clarification of his purpose. In chapter 59, we read how the Spirit was with Isaiah, and how the Lord had put the divine word in his mouth. As we turn to chapter 61, we find a clear picture of what that word looks like. These are proclamations offered to a people returning from exile, yet things don’t look as good as they had hoped. Despite hearing some pretty harsh and judgmental words in earlier chapters, these words are so full of hope and promise. There are times when it feels as if a single prophet is playing both roles in the proverbial good cop – bad cop routine. There are moments when it appears as if there is absolutely no hope, and about the time you believe there is no hope, hope appears. To me, that sounds a little like life. Some event happens, and though I don’t lose my faith, I begin to wonder. Right after the flood, I was a bit overwhelmed as I know many of you were. But hope seems to always make it’s way back around. In cases when we’ve gone astray or caused great problems, the prophets used hard-nosed declarations to shake us into reality. Once we recognize how we might be to blame, then comes the words of hope – words of good news, the Lord’s favor, vindication and comfort.

Prayer: Whether I am to blame or I am the victim or some combination of both, I seek your gift of hope announced by ancient prophets and embodied in Jesus. Lord God, your Spirit continues to come upon us and move among us. May it provide us a glimpse of your hope, especially when feelings of hopelessness have found their way into our hearts. Amen.

SUNDAY’S SERMON
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me…