01-31-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 31, 2020

Scripture: 2nd Timothy 1:5

I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.

Thought for the Day: This Sunday, I will begin reflecting on the history of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), specifically looking at women in leadership and ministry. Now I have only been a participant in this movement for the last 53 years (about a quarter of our denomination’s full life), but in my experience, women have played a significant role. In fact, our denomination was the first to call a woman to the position of Executive Minister (we call it the General Minister and President which would be our Pope, but with a lot less power). Her name is Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, and she served in that position for 12 years. Her time was followed by the first woman of color to head a mainline denomination, Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, who is currently serving. Our denomination is far from perfect, for even though more women than men are going into ministry these days, a very small percentage of our larger congregations have a female Sr. Minister…though that is slowly improving. I raise this with cautious pride, recognizing how I was shaped by strong women of faith, including my mother, Lois (today is her birthday). I do not remember a moment in my life when I felt a discomfort around the thought of a woman as a leader or minister in the life of the church. I recognize that others are stepping away from denominations where women have been excluded from teaching men or preaching, and so for some of these people, the thought of women clergy is very new. Though as I referenced two days ago in my devotional, the Book of Joel speaks of the Spirit being poured upon both men and women slaves. There is no asterisk next to the word “women” that suggests the Spirit is poured out in a limited way, limiting them to serving quietly behind the scenes. The authentic faith of both Lois and Eunice was the source of the gift that spilled into Timothy. I don’t imagine these women to be quiet or subservient or docile. I imagine them to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered – shaking up the world with the Gospel, with no asterisk suggesting a minor or subordinate role. Thank God!

Prayer: For all those who are Spirit-filled and living the authentic faith, O God, I give thanks. You do not limit your Spirit’s power based upon a person’s gender, only a person’s capacity to receive. Continue to help us make room for whoever you are calling, even when the person you are calling might not fit some historic expectation. Amen.



__


01-30-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 30, 2020

Scripture: Proverbs 20:15

Much gold and many pearls exist, but wise speech is the most precious jewel.

Thought for the Day: In recent weeks, I have been watching some lectures on scientific discoveries from the last couple of centuries and the implication of those discoveries. It makes me realize how little I actually know. Even more so, I have gained a greater appreciation of those who challenged old ways of thinking, put forth what must have sounded like outlandish hypotheses, and then tested them toward recognition as scientifically trusted theories. What we know as individuals is always important, but honesty in regards to what we do not know might be even more important. I believe the wise are those who acknowledge and own what they do not know. And if that is the case, I wonder if the “wise speech” that is “the more precious jewel” is in fact the capacity to ask a good question.

Prayer: May I never become so overly confident in what I know that I forget what I do not know. Merciful and Gentle God, keep me humble even if you need to knock me down a peg or two. Amen.



____


01-29-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 29, 2020

Scripture: Joel 2:29

In those days, I will also pour out my spirit on the male and female slaves.

Thought for the Day: There are as many ideas about when Joel was written as there are scholars trying to figure it out. With that said, I’m not going to add any great insight except to remind you that Joel is considered one of the 12 Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In the New Testament, in the Book of Acts, these words are quoted. In both cases (Hebrew and Greek), the writer take the time, paper and ink to mention how the Spirit is being poured even into the slaves. And even more shocking is how this Spirit spills into men and women equally. Again, this is in the ancient world where slaves were valued as a possession of another human being. Even more startling was how women were considered less valuable the men. So the next time you find it difficult, if not impossible, to think of God working in “that person” over there because of _____ (fill in the blank), be prepared for a surprise.

Prayer: As you are pouring out your Spirit in all the expected places, Merciful God, provide me the eyes of faith to see that other place that no one could ever imagine. I want to see, and in seeing, come to believe in how you value every single person. Amen.



01-28-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 28, 2020

Scripture: Isaiah 43:18-21 (the Message)

Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ – the coyotes and the buzzards – Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.

Thought for the Day: Scripture can often portray the Spirit doing something new, yet if the Spirit is part of the Trinitarian God, and this God is unchanging, then how is there something new? Think with me for just a moment — you are four years old and it is Christmas Eve. What are you thinking? What do you believe? What are your expectations? Now think about how you might have answered those same questions when you were in your late teens. And now, if you are a parent or grandparent, how do you answer those questions? The answers are dramatically different from age to age, yet they are not wrong. It’s all about context, perception and growth. The Biblical writers wrote in a very specific historic context, yet there are places where it appears as if the Spirit is truly alive within their writing as their ideas push outside of the culture context. They ask questions or see things very differently then anyone else at the time. Now we might look at those questions or insights, and find the words to be dated, uninformed or even oppressive from our current context. And they might be. So is the Spirit really doing a new thing, or is the Spirit – in every generation and unique cultural context – working within people’s capacity? Could it be that the Spirit is always doing the same thing, yet from our next place in life or history, we see something entirely new? We might claim it as the Spirit doing something new, and that’s probably ok as long as we are able to leave behind the old and embrace the new…which isn’t in fact new at all.

Prayer: Wherever you are, O Holy Spirit, and whatever you are doing, allow me to relinquish any chains that keep me shackled to the past. It was that past that was once the creative edge of the future, but there is something else making itself known in this moment. Provide me eyes to see and a willingness to follow faithfully. Amen.



01-27-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 27, 2020

Prayer for the Week:

There has always been

There will always be

those who desire to maintain

a high level of anxiety,

fretfulness, foreboding.

There has always been

There will always be

those who call themselves Christian

who preach an imminent end:

– the signs are real!

– the signs are present!

– the signs are now!

They want us to know fear,

and not you, O Merciful God.

They want us to experience fear,

and not you, O Gentle God.

The instrument of choice seeks,

not peace,

but constant

uncertainty and apprehension.

There has always been

There will always be

an alternative voice

an alternative vision

from those who read the scriptures

and find mercy and gentleness.

Those who see in Jesus

a new world already being birthed

through acts of mercy and kindness.

There has always been

There will always be

those who truly believe the words:

Perfect love casts out all fear.

Jesus believed it.

He lived it.

And so shall we.

Amen.



—-


01-26-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 26, 2020

Scripture: Matthew 25:45

Who then are the faithful and wise servants whom their master puts in charge of giving food at the right time to those who live in his house?

Thought for the Day: This is the opening verse from the sermon text this morning. It asks an important question of stewardship? As stewards of God’s resources (those who have been invited to be the care-givers and distributors of earthly resources), are we going to be faithful and wise in regard to the charge that has been put before us? It is a tough question. How much do I keep for myself? How much of my responsibility do I pawn off on others? What excuses do I make? Notice that I used “I statements” in my questions. I was asking myself those questions, and to be honest, I am not always pleased with the answers. What does it mean to be a good steward of all the resources that have been entrusted to me? Of course, acknowledging how resources have been “entrusted” is central to the idea of stewardship. Greater responsibility is given to those who have much, and we cannot go down the road of, “Well I worked hard for what I have!” I don’t find Jesus giving us eligibility requirements for anyone. Instead, Jesus is looking for those who are willing to be faithful and wise in this important work. Will that be us?

Prayer: Let me be a faithful steward with the plentiful resources of life, O Lord. In a world consumed with an attitude of scarcity, let my life represent abundance. And in that abundance, call me to the work of sharing and distributing what you have entrusted to me, but of course, ultimately belongs to you. Amen.



01-25-19

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 25, 2020

Scripture: Luke 12:15-21

Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.”

Thought for the Day: As I have often said, there is no other place in scripture where there are so many first person pronouns clumped into just a few verses. Of course, that’s Jesus making a point. Greed and a self-absorbed attitude are not the way of God, but those last few words are interesting: those who “aren’t rich toward God.” The Greek word we translate as “rich” comes from the root word: Pletho. It is where we get our English word, plethora, which means an excessive amount. In the Greek, it means to fill. Jesus appears to be confronting those who fill themselves with stuff instead of allowing themselves to be filled by God. Is there something in your life – something tangible, something monetary – to which you might be a tad too connected? Does it act like an obstacle that keeps God’s gifts from being poured into you? We probably all have something, yet why is it that we are slow to name it and even more lackadaisical in removing it? What are the well shaped excuses that we tell ourselves? What does it mean to find happiness with less, and only then to discover that we are actually filled in a way that we previously could not imagine? Is there something you do not currently own, but the yearning for it is probably spiritually unhealthy if you were honest with yourself? I was always challenged by the words: Live Simply so others might Simply Live. I cannot agree more, but even taking a step back I must ask: Are we really living if we are filling ourselves with more and more stuff?

Prayer: I yearn to be rich in you, Lord God. I yearn to be filled with your way of love put on display in the life of Jesus. With all the distractions and temptations, I will most certainly need your help. Be my guide. Amen.



_______


01-24-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 24, 2020

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:8

God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work.

Thought for the Day: What does it mean to be on the receiving end of “more than enough of every kind of grace”? First, are there multiple graces? Or do we experience grace differently depending on our life experience or current need? I’m not absolutely sure of the answer, but it appears that however grace is given, it is given with a goal. It is the energy, the drive behind “every kind of good work.” Grace, as the unconditional and relentless love of God made real in Jesus, is the gift that not only transforms us as recipients, but is purpose-giving and motivationally-inspiring. Once you glimpse the immensity of God’s grace, you realize that not only is everyone else included in this gift, but as one who joyously knows it, you want others to experience it firsthand. And sadly, you don’t need to look far to find an opportunity to offer a good work. You are loved beyond measure, so now prepare yourself to be guided wherever this good news might lead you.

Prayer: Continue to encourage my life with every kind of grace, O God, for the work that needs to be done among those who struggle to know they are wonderfully loved. Amen.



_______


01-23-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 23, 2020

Scripture: Acts 5:1-2

However, a man named Ananias, along with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. With his wife’s knowledge, he withheld some of the proceeds from the sale. He brought the rest and placed it in the care and under the authority of the apostles.

Thought for the Day: A few weeks back, I preached on bears killing young people who laughed at a bald guy (2 Kings 2:23). In today’s passage, a beautiful young couple in the life of the early church was struck dead because the two of them withheld some money from the church. As you can imagine, these are passages of scripture that can be used in very manipulative ways in the hands of certain people. When trying to raise money for a big project at the church, do we pull out Ananias and Sapphira to impose a little Biblical guilt or fear? Many have! I am not going to use the text that way, for such a use is an abuse. Explaining this text is hard, maybe even impossible to some degree. Yes, it emphasizes the importance of one’s commitment to God’s vision embodied in the church, but if everyone who withheld a little of their income, stock sells or property investment money were to drop dead there would only be a handful of folks still standing. There are many who will argue, and I think it makes sense, that the story of Ananias and Sapphira communicate how some were giving as was common in the Roman culture – to look good and to move up in prestige – when in fact it the gift wasn’t much of a sacrifice. The story appears to emphasize how the motivation of giving must always be love. Well if we are talking about love, specifically the unconditional and relentless love of God made real in Jesus, then how do you make sense of these two people’s death? Does love strike dead people who are two-faced or a little greedy? What does it mean to speak of God’s relentless love that is always offering a second chance? Could this be a story that is more hyperbole, and like any hyperbole, it is never intended to answer every question? Does it emphasize commitment and motivation with an over the top example that should never be used as a: Look what happens to those who do not give everything? Oh sure, it does encourage some to give more, but isn’t such money tainted by the very nature of the unhealthy motivation?

Prayer: Love is your gift to me, Lord God, and I receive it as a gift. May my life, including all that I have, be used in such a way that I am expressing my gratitude to you. Amen.



01-22-20

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

January 22, 2020

Scripture: Matthew 21:12-13

Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It’s written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.”

Thought for the Day: This story needs to be read with two others stories – first, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem; and second, the sharing of the meal between Jesus and his disciples. These three stories are glimpses of a new age, or as Jesus will say, “…in my Father’s Kingdom.” So often this is read as end of life (what happens when we die), but the Palm Sunday parade is a vision of God’s Heavenly Reign breaking into the human world. The cleansing of the temple was symbolic of what the prophets sought in a new temple, a place where justice and shalom were embodied. And the meal was a hint of the divine feast where love would be the only rule at the table. In Matthew, the only Gospel writer to use the word church (Ekklesia), we find a presentation of what church should look like. His eschatological language (apocryphal, end of time) is less about some sort of cosmic end to existence, but a new age arising within the community called the church. And as Matthew’s image of the church expands in the world – where justice and shalom are made real, and a meal of love invites all – the old passes away as the new takes hold. This isn’t a numbers game of church growth, but a vision of discipleship where the task of the Jesus follower is to boldly embody what Jesus embodied.

Prayer: May the work of our faith community be less about maintenance and survival, O Spirit who gave birth to the church. Ignite our passion for a church that allows others to glimpse the divine reign. Amen.