Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Wednesday, March 30

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
--2 Corinthians 4:16-18

In the midst of our busy lives, we can become worn out by the world. We may even begin to wonder what the point of all of this really is. These words from Corinthians are intended to give encouragement when those cares and concerns arise and to remind us of the promises that are ours through Christ. As you read the reflection below, meditate on those reasons you may or may not feel like what is going on in your life makes sense.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, March 29

“Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
--Luke 21:29-31

We are in the season of renewal and rebirth. Plants return to life, buds begin blossoming, and birds seem to awaken with new songs. Every winter, we witness the sleeping of the world—grasses and plants die, and sounds echo in the hollow of the quiet world. Even then, we know that season is itself getting ready for the new life that is ready to begin.
Vivaldi's Spring

Monday, March 28

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
--Hebrews 11:1-3

There is so much we wish to know about this world—so much we want to have proven or explained to us. Sometimes that is possible, but sometimes we come face to face with something that we cannot prove or articulate. We perhaps understand it on some level, but cannot put it in words. Even more incomprehensible are the things not of this world. Yet those are the things that we hope for, and somehow are able to take in on faith.
I Never Saw a Moor by Emily Dickinson

Sunday, March 27

“The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 6 The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
--Luke 17:5-6

This week we focus on the idea of faith—how we think about and respond to it in our daily lives. In the verse for today, Jesus talks about faith in terms of a mustard seed, which is one of the smallest of all seeds.

As an activity, grab a group of friends or go out with your family on a walk. If possible, try to walk through a place that will have some trees or plants around. As you walk, notice the seeds you find along the way—pinecones, dandelions, etc. Talk or think about what seeds become, how they grow and what they do. If our faith is the size of a mustard seed, what happens to it tomorrow?

Saturday, March 26

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
--1 Corinthians 12:4-7

We have been given many gifts—wisdom, knowledge, faith, and the ability to heal, among others. Each of these gifts is tailored to fit us individually by the Spirit. Often, our gifts inspire wonderful ideas within us, but how many times are those ideas abandoned? How many times to we begin something really worthwhile but fail to finish it? The painting linked below is the back of one of Leonardo DaVinci’s works. As you gaze on it, consider what it means to live your gifts to the fullest.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Hebrews 13:1-2

In 1976, Muhammad Yunus made an amazing discovery while on a walk through villages in Bangladesh. Small amounts of money combined with the efforts of their recipients had the power to change lives. Building on that idea, Yunus eventually created a bank that specialized in microloans to make a difference in his corner of the world.
Grameen Bank

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Daily Devotions also posted here during Lent.

Thursday, March 24

“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
--Romans 5:8-11

Any righteousness we have in God is given to us through Christ Jesus. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve any of it. However, what may we do to live as ones forgiven and redeemed by grace? In the following selection, we hear praise sung to God at the same time we see the story of one standing up for the justice known to be right.
Amazing Grace

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' 40 And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'”
--Matthew 25:37-40

How many times are we actually like the righteous ones in the Scripture above? Do we even see all of the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, or imprisoned of the world? Yet any time we do anything for the least of the family of God, we serve God. As you read this entry, think about those people you may or may not see in the world who both need and deserve the hospitality described above.
Hippo Spotting

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, March 22
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
--Deuteronomy 10:17-19

Our culture can often be one that seeks safety and security for ourselves—often at the unnecessary expense of others. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be careful, but rather that we need to consider if our carefulness is actually helpful or harmful. Are we protecting ourselves, or are we hiding behind that fa├žade so we don’t feel guilty about not doing something that is needed by others? Listen to the classical music player as long as you like. As you do, meditate on those areas of life that we as a society tend to avoid, consider the necessity of this avoidance, and ponder the meaning of hospitality.
Classical Music Player

More Lenten Devotions

Haha. Okay, so I clearly have to get better at posting these over the weekend.

Monday, March 21
“Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”
--Psalm 150:6

If we believe all creatures are made and loved by God, then it only stands that we should strive to love and work to empower everything in the praising of God. So often, though, we miss this point, absorbed in making ourselves more comfortable, whether that’s ignoring a co-worker or silencing an idea, we forget that we are to let everything that has breath shine in praising God.
A Minor Bird by Robert Frost

Sunday, March 20
“Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.”
--1 Corinthians 16:13-14

This week we begin considering hospitality as it relates to righteousness. Many times, it is easy to get caught up in doing what is expected of us for our own selves that we forget we are called to serve one another.

As an activity, find one or two ways you can volunteer your time and talents in this next week. Perhaps that will take the form of setting up a time to work at a non-profit organization, stepping in to help lead worship, working for an after-school program, or some other task that needs your help. Whatever it is, set it up today, and let what you do be done in love.

Saturday, March 20
“You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”
Psalm 51:6-9

As we come to the end of this first week of Lent, we acknowledge that it is not by our own works, but by the grace of God that we are saved. We cling to this truth, that it is God who washes us clean and frees us from sin. As you view this picture series, take time to ponder the work God has done and continues to do in order to make us clean and ready to enter the world again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Devotions for Lent

Today's devotion entry also found here.

“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.”

Romans 14:4-6

One of the great truths of the world is its diversity. We cannot ignore the fact that we—whoever “we” are—are not the only people in the world or the only ones with the “right” ideas. To fully search for truth, we must acknowledge that others find it by different means and in different ways than we do. Paul writes to a diverse group of Christians who must deal with one another, and our world is even more diverse. People around the world seek truth in many ways. Spin this prayer wheel a few times—discover some of the prayers that perhaps shape your quest for truth and consider the ones that may shape someone else’s.

Prayer Wheel

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lenten Devotional Series

I realize I am getting to this a week late, but for all five of you who might see this, I would guess that you've been pretty busy anyway. Part of Lent this year has been developing an online devotional series for the church website. Each week, we will be discussing a particular piece of the Whole Armor of God. This week it is the Belt of Truth. Here are the devotional entries since Sunday, with additional ones to follow on a daily basis.

Thursday, March 17
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
John 14:16-17

All around us, voices of the world tell us what we should be or do. These voices can tear us down and make us fearful in the face of all that goes on around us. God has given us a great gift, however, in the Holy Spirit, which speaks truth and abides with us.

Wednesday, March 16
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Our faith is shared in community with people all over the world—it began halfway around the globe from us. In truth, no matter how far apart we are, we are connected through the body and blood of Christ. We must listen and honestly hear our brothers and sisters in faith when they tell their story, even as we live ours.

Tuesday, March 15
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7

We seek truth. We hunger for the right answer or the real story, and we have anxiety when things just don’t feel right. However, we are given a great gift in the form of prayer, that we may lift every joy, sorrow, hope and fear to God. Whether we pray constantly without ceasing or set aside specific times, we are promised God’s peace guards us. As you listen to Bach’s music, intentionally enter into a time of prayer.
Prelude and Fugue in C Major

Monday, March 14
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.”
Genesis 1:1-3

God speaks, and light breaks forth as the first day dawns. In many parts of our lives, truth becomes overwhelming for us—often grasped only in a moment of awareness. Linda Gregerson captures some of that wonder and truth in her poem, “Varenna.”

Sunday, March 13
“See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good;”
1 Thessalonians 5:15-21

Sundays in Lent will be days of activity designed to be flexible enough to done in solitude or in community with family and friends. This week, we will consider the truth of the world, how we seek it, and what that means for our lives.

As you go through today and this week, be conscious of finding truth by testing unexpected places.

As an exercise in this, try to find three news sources that you don’t regularly go to for stories. For example, if you’re usually a Fox News person, watch CNN, if you utilize American sources, try something international like BBC, if you always read the New York Times, try the Journal Star, etc. Read or watch these sources for the perspectives they present, and expand your information base in the process.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sermon March 5-6

This week's sermon is focused on the Gospel text for the week, Matthew 17:1-9, which can be found here.

Eight weeks. That has been the length of our journey through Epiphany this year. However you’re counting—eight weeks, two months, fifty-six days—it comes out the same. During that time we have traveled from Jesus’ baptism through the calling of the disciples to the Sermon on the Mount, where we are given ironic sayings like “Blessed are you who mourn or are poor…” and difficult ones like “You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world…you must be perfect, just as God in heaven is perfect.” We are told that Jesus comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and that if we are holding a grudge against someone we are to drop everything—including what we may be bringing to worship—and go reconcile with that person before we continue on as if nothing is wrong. We are told there is not a way to manipulate the law to our own desires, but that we are to look at the law as a gift to be listened to in word as well as spirit.

Where is all of this going?

The short answer is to a mountain. In our liturgical year, this season of Epiphany closes with dazzling light on a mountaintop. Jesus goes up this mountain with three disciples—Peter, James, and John—and suddenly is transfigured, transformed, metamorphed, right before them. There is nowhere else to look but at Jesus with his face shining like the sun.

How would one respond to such a sight? There’s no good English word, really, to describe it. What about Hebrew? Hallelujah—praise God.

We aren’t expected to just magically know that this all happened, either. It’s no mistake that Peter, James, and John are there with Jesus—since they have actually been present, they can now stand as witnesses to what has happened and who they have seen Jesus revealed to truly be. If that’s not enough, we have two more of even higher repute for you—Moses and Elijah. The bearer of the stone tablets of the Law that Jesus is sent to uphold and the prophet God uses to denounce Baal are standing there as well.

I may be a little overly judgmental, but at this point in the story I get a little mad at Peter, but at the same time I definitely understand where he may be coming from. I get a little mad at him because here we have Moses and Elijah and Jesus talking to one another.

Do we get to hear what they have to say?


Peter starts talking instead of listening to what they’re saying. Ugh. Okay, I know I sound like a whiny little kid who doesn’t get their way, but really. Is Peter so flustered that he just starts talking and thinking about what he could do to normalize the situation? Maybe. This is something that’s way out of any of our leagues, and in situations that are beyond our control or comprehension, we can sometimes try to grasp a bit of reality, take an action, or just start chatting away in our nervousness.

Peter suggests they stay on the mountain—they’ll make tents for the honored heavenly witnesses and for Jesus. It is good the disciples are there because they can do that mundane task. Peter totally misses the point.

As if in confirmation that there is something else we should be focusing on, a Voice interrupts Peter. This is not just any voice—this Voice is the one that speaks through the clouds, that talks to Moses on the mountain, that says at Jesus’ baptism “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And here again—as if we need further confirmation of who Jesus is—the Voice says it again, confirming Jesus’ identity the same as it did at baptism.

Something is added here, too. “Listen to him.” Listen to him—Jesus’ identity as a teacher and authority is cemented here in the presence of five witnesses—three disciples and two prophets. What does Jesus say? Well, we’ve been talking about that for eight weeks—those ironic truths and difficult commandments.

What will Jesus say now?

The disciples fall down in fear—fear exactly compared to the fear of the soldiers as the earth shook on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. They look up after this wonderful, beautiful, and terrifying ordeal and see Jesus—only Jesus—who remains with them after their hearts give way to fear.

And then…Jesus speaks. The first thing that Jesus says after the Voice of God says “listen to him” is recorded in this next verse. Jesus says “Get up, do not be afraid” and they walk back down the mountain—back to the people and the fate that Jesus and his disciples know awaits him.

Jesus speaks one more time before our reading for today is over—he says the disciples are not to tell anyone of this until the Son of Man has been raised. We could go down the road of whys and what ifs… Why not tell people? What if the world had known? Would Jesus have been crucified? What kind of world would we have now? Is that even why Jesus asked them this? Fortunately, we don’t have to answer such questions. We can look at what Jesus did say here, though, and realize that he knew this transfiguration wasn’t the end of the story. The climax was yet to come—and it’s not the crucifixion for those of you who are guessing. Look again at what Jesus says—not until the Son of Man has been killed but until the Son has been raised. After the dazzlingly brilliant transfiguration, the witness of Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John, and the Voice from heaven, we are told that there is still more than even this.

And as we move forward, through Lent, as we face our mortality, our sinful nature, and finally remember the humiliation of the slandering and death of Jesus, we are given this moment to hold on to—this last Hallelujah until Easter. Our story weaves into this one. We know that—like the disciples—we cannot stay on the mountain or in the church building forever. It just won’t work. Eventually we have to leave if our lives are going to be lived and we listen to Jesus to learn how to live them well. It’s not easy sometimes—we have to face harsh truths and realities we would sometimes rather ignore. But we can remember this story and this moment even as we face them. We can remember that Jesus doesn’t leave when things get scary.

This is who we get to follow.

This person, this man, who is transfigured on a mountain, speaks with ancient prophets, shines like the sun, and is affirmed by God’s very voice—

This person, who says get up, there is more yet to do, says do not be afraid, reassures with a gentle touch, and is there when fear seems to rule the world—

This person, who comes down from the mountain, returns to the people, returns to us, faces the certainty of death with resolve and compassion—

This is who we get to follow. His name is Jesus. Hallelujah.