Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Vigil Sermon--April 23-24

This was preached on the Vigil readings, focusing mostly on the Gospel of John.

This morning is transforming. This morning we started in the dark, with Genesis, at the beginning of time and dawn of creation. We started in the dark, but we do not end there. We have kept watch for daylight to come, and, with it, the promise of new life.

During our waiting and watching we have been retelling the stories of our Christian heritage—connecting with it and remembering how we are in fact a part of it. We've read Scripture and sung hymns to remind ourselves of all that has happened not just this week, but through the course of human history. We've read about our heritage through the stories of the Israelites Exodus from slavery to freedom. We've heard the hope of Isaiah and the faithful confession of the foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar. We've remembered the promises of our baptism through the writings of Paul to the early Christians, and we close our readings with the gospel.

This is the day of good news, the reason we gather. We have lived through the night—through the wait—and day has come at last.

Dawn breaks, and we find we are living in the first day of the week—the day when heavens and earth are created…the day light enters the world. In our reading from John, we again have a story of creation—new creation—on the day when Christ makes all things new. There is an entirely different reality, a glimpse of the Dominion of God.

Three disciples come to the tomb, each with a different message about living in this new reality.

Beginning with the last one mentioned, we have the other disciple—the unnamed one. This person so seemingly vague he is not even named, is the one whom Jesus loved. The marginalized, unrecognized, blend-into-the-crowd disciple is loved by Jesus. He reaches the tomb ahead of Peter, but does not go in. This unnamed one, however, is the first of all to believe. The minor character who has been in the background of almost every scene in this gospel believes first. The extent of his belief is unclear, as it says that he didn’t understand the full meaning of the scriptures quite yet.

Peter stays true to his character throughout the book of John. Peter is the one who tends to honestly make honest mistakes, even when it seems the answer is right there in front of him. Peter is the first one to walk into the empty tomb—he goes and sees, but cannot understand.

Then there is Mary. She is not of the twelve, but she goes to the tomb before any of them. She is first to discover the empty tomb, and will stay the longest. Peter and the other disciple have to be told by her—a woman—that the tomb is even empty. She is the one to discover, and the one to recognize.

Mary is strangely practical in guessing that someone has moved Jesus, but that is not the case. Jesus comes to her after the others leave, but she does not know him until he calls to her by name. When she hears her own name, she is able to turn and see who it is. We then have possibly the most heartbreaking yet symbolic scenes of this story. Jesus tells her that she cannot hold on to him. This person she watched die in the most painful and grotesque way then known, and she cannot reach out to hold him.

In the same breath that Jesus delivers this seemingly heartbreaking news, though, he also tells her why. Jesus has risen—and everything has changed. Nothing is as it was before—from the one-to-one private relationships with the disciples to the conquering of death. Jesus must be shared with the world, not hoarded and kept to the self.

Jesus tells Mary not to hang on to him, but to go and tell the others what has happened. Mary’s responses echo this shift as she calls him “Teacher,” upon recognizing him, and then “Lord,” once she understands.

And so we are here, learning what it means to be connected to this story. We, like the other disciple, are loved by Jesus, no matter how small of a part we may feel we are playing. Like Peter, we may not always understand even when the answer or explanation is right in front of us. Like Mary, we are invited to discover, called by name, but reminded that everything is different now. The tomb is empty, and death is conquered. This is the victory of our God.

Everything is different. We cannot relive what once was—we cannot dwell in the past. We remember it, yes, and try to understand it, but we cannot live it over again, and we would be mistaken to try. We are told that Jesus isn’t someone we can hold onto or hide away for ourselves. He is the risen Lord, the Savior of the World, to be shared with everyone.

We have lived through the night, and light has come back into the world. Good Friday was not the end, but neither is Easter Sunday. Mary is told to go and share the good news, and becomes the first proclaimer of all that this day means—and so the story goes on. Romans records part of it, so do Acts and the rest of the Epistles. Some of it shows up in other letters and history books, and some of it is being lived out right now.

We are connected to this story. This story that stretches back in time and continues through the present to the future—always progressing, always inviting us to look ahead, reminding us that we cannot cling to what was as all has been made new. And this story isn’t just my story or your story, it’s our story, and we live our part together, empowered by the Holy Spirit to say that Jesus is Risen. Alleluia. Amen.

Lenten Devotions

Sunday, April 24
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
--2 Peter 1:16-19

It is Easter, and Christ is risen! Our journey through Lent is over, and a new day has dawned. In the midst of this celebration, steal a moment to read and re-read the words of the apostle printed above, and take time to reflect on the path that has brought us here. If you can, go for a walk at the end of the day and watch the sunset. As the light fades, meditate on where tomorrow’s journey will take you.

Saturday, April 23
“How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is-- for what vanity you have created all mortals! Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of Sheol?”
--Psalm 89:46-48

Jesus has died. Yesterday, Good Friday, those passing by watched as the Son of God was crucified. Today, we mourn with the disciples. Today, we wait. Today, we cry out with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” Today, we are connected with our brothers and sisters around the world as we ask for God’s mercy in the midst of our grief.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull)”
--Matthew 27:31-33

Good Friday—Holy Friday. We remember Jesus’ horrific death on the cross. Recalling Jesus’ life and ministry, we watch and walk with him as he goes to Golgotha. His journey has brought him here. Even when he could have turned back, Jesus continued to move forward—step by step—to the cross. Jesus emptied himself for the sake of all, and today we live through that story as well.
Carrying the Cross

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lenten Devotions

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'"

--John 13:3-6

Foot-washing was a slave's job, if that. More often, people were given water or ointment by a host to wash their own feet after a dusty day of walking. Yet here, Jesus, the teacher, takes on the duties of the slave and gets up from his position at the table to wash the disciples' feet.
Ocean Piano

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”
--Mark 10:14-16

In Jesus’ time, children were worth very little in the world. In our society today, kids have a much higher status, but there are other populations that are ignored as quickly as children once were. Jesus calls attention to how we accept or receive these easily dismissed populations and highlights how much we have to learn from them and how these people see the world and exist in it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Palm/Passion Sunday Sermon--April 17

This sermon focuses on two gospel texts. The Palm Processional reading, Matthew 21:1-11, can be found here. The Gospel of the Passion, Matthew 27:11-54, can be found here.

The sun will rise tomorrow—even if it’s cloudy, there is a lighter/darker split to the day. Air will go into our lungs, and then out again—adding oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. Triangles will have three sides. Water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

We have certain expectations of our world. Our expectations are generally based on past experience informing our present reality. For the most part, our expectations of the non-human world are pretty common and relatively similar. Triangles have three sides, the sun rises and sets as the earth spins on its axis.

Our expectations for ourselves become a little more complicated. They resemble something a little more like potential or ambition rather than fact, and they tend to differ a bit for each individual. Perhaps your expectations for yourself are general ones like filing your taxes each year (like last Friday) or completing your homework assignments or attending church, or perhaps they’re more specific like buying a car next year or reading a book this week or signing up to be a volunteer next weekend. Self-expectations tend to be based on ability and self-awareness.

Then there are those expectations for others—that gets really complicated because these can be based on everything from your perception of that person’s identity and ability to their relationship to you and the world. Expecting a friend to call or a political leader to pass or reject a bill, you get the idea. Expectations are everywhere.

And there are expectations at church this week—Holy Week. Today, we begin what is roughly 7.5 hours’ worth of a worship service this week—or 14 hours depending on how many of the services you attend more than once. There is no communion today because we continue with that part of worship on Thursday. We clearly have expectations that this week will be different from other weeks at church, and today—Palm Sunday—we expect certain things as well—that Palms will be here when we arrive, that we will process with them and that we will hear the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem.

In our story, we discover that the crowds that gathered around Jesus as he entered had their own expectations, too. Matthew’s audience would have been very familiar with what Jesus riding on a donkey and colt into the town meant.

Hearing or seeing this, they would have been able to recall their Scriptures. “He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth…For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will arouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.” That’s from the 9th chapter of Zechariah, right after the part that says “your king comes to you…humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Seeing Jesus riding on these animals, the expectation of what is to come—cutting off the chariot from Ephraim and rising against the empire as a sword—would have naturally followed for this crowd.

Today, we processed with our own Palms as we recalled that story. When I was younger, I loved this part of the church year—waving around the palm, so excited to welcome Jesus. I hope there was some of that excitement and expectation in you this morning as we walked in. Palm Sunday—the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We processed around the church as the crowds did around Jesus—through the church and into the sanctuary. And where do we end up after that ceremony of celebration? Looking ahead and facing the cross.

In just a few days, the tide of the people’s temperament will turn. They will yell, “Crucify him!” and beg for the release of Barabbas over Jesus the Christ. We may debate loudly over who killed Jesus and deserves that judgment, but are we very different from these crowds? I don’t really think so. Take a look at their situation—they change their minds quickly about a public figure based on the influence of their leaders. You can think of tabloids and paparazzi, or, even more seriously, government officials. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t know which politicians voted which way on what bills unless I had that information spoon-fed to me by CNN or MSNBC, and I make choices based on what they say.

Then there are the characters of Barabbas and Christ. One is a known criminal to Rome, which means he may have been physically fighting or wielding the sword as it were against the empire—think Zechariah and expectations again. The other is a quiet person that shows no prospect of overthrowing the oppressive rulers, but will simply die for their sake. How often do we choose those who loudly proclaim to fight on our behalf or wield the power of the sword over those who quietly work for peace or take a hit so that our mistakes don’t affect us? It’s an ongoing human condition based on our expectations.

What are our expectations? The crowds expected Christ to overthrow the government and free them from their oppressive rulers. Outwardly, Christ fails to fulfill the expectations of the people. Yet he goes outside and beyond expectations, even if it can’t be seen at the time, and opens to us a different way of being in and thinking about the world which we are invited to share. Christ doesn’t go to war with the empire at the time to free the Israelite nation—he goes to the cross and wages war with sin and death to free all the nations of the world.

If we are called to follow this example, what are our expectations of ourselves? I’m not talking about taking the blame for something you didn’t do, or passively suffering through something alone, but I am talking about considering whether we settle for just getting by, or whether we expect more from ourselves.

How do we follow through on living in the different realm Jesus has showed us is possible?

How do we offer our prayers, our praise, and our lives in response to all we know we have been given?

Facing the cross, reminded of what is ahead, we can ask these questions. Because we have been freed from the power of sin and death, we can consider how we will respond to this gift of grace through our lives. We may fail, and we may succeed. Jesus has made it possible to try. Amen.

Palm Saturday Sermon--April 16

This week, I had the opportunity to preach at two relatively different services at my internship site. I took that opportunity to actually prepare two different sermons. This one is based on the Epistle text, Philippians 2:5-11.

Philippians 2:5-11

WWJD? What would Jesus do? You’ve probably heard this phrase before—maybe even in a sermon. WWJD was a slogan that became really popular back when I was in elementary school. Everyone seemed to be wearing it on their wrists and using it as a morality measure. When making a decision, you were to ask “What would Jesus do?” and then act accordingly.

It was more than that, though—looking back, it was also a measure of who was “in” and “out” of the loop as a Christian. Wearing one of those bracelets or asking that question—WWJD—meant you were a “good kid” or, even better for some, a “cool adult.”

In our letter to the Philippians today, we see some of that tension of who’s in and who’s out. Paul talks about what people ought to strive for and what they should try to avoid. Now, typical of Paul, he doesn’t address an issue if there isn’t a problem. In the first four verses that lead up to today’s reading, Paul says that one should avoid selfishness, vanity, and conceit while pursuing unity of mind, love, spirit, and purpose. In essence, put aside your arrogance for the sake of a united church body.

One point of clarification should be made here—Paul is not trying to promote a robot-like community where everyone thinks the same thoughts and says the same words. His letters as a whole lift up the richness of variety that comes with utilizing and celebrating the different gifts and opinions of each person in the community. If you’ve ever heard a great piece of music, you might have an idea of what Paul is trying to get at.

Music isn’t made by holding the same note forever, nor is it achieved by playing or singing a single-note melody line. That sort of music may be nice and good, but it takes on a whole new level when harmony is introduced—different notes complementing and completing each other to make them better than they were alone.

It is highly appropriate, then, that Paul uses these next verses to quote what has been deemed by some scholars as the “Christ Hymn.” Rather than using religious slogans or practices to determine who is “in” or “out,” Paul uses this commonly held piece to remind the Philippians what they hold in common and what sort of attitude or motivation should be underneath all that they do—however different they may be. Paul wants them to live in harmony—blending their differences beautifully with a common base.

How does he do this? He doesn’t invoke guilt—nor does he ask what Jesus would do. Paul simply reminds people what Jesus has done, which is probably more appropriate. One of my professors at seminary informed our class that was a better question to ask anyway, since not even Jesus’ closest friends could determine what Jesus would do. Look at our celebration of the entry into Jerusalem today—people are waving Palms and shouting “Hosanna!” expecting Christ to overthrow the Roman rulers. That’s what they thought Jesus would do.

But Paul gets it—he looks at what Jesus has done and asks others to do the same. Jesus had equality with God, yet he did not see this as something to be exploited. Equality with God and he didn’t exploit it?! I get excited if I get an A on my term papers—and I work to achieve them and keep them, and then I tell everyone if I actually get do succeed…and I don’t take an “F” in place of it. Jesus had equality with God and yet humbled himself to becoming human—becoming one of us—and dying on a cross. Dying on a cross—a worse death than most humans can imagine or will experience. That is what Jesus has done.

This text is especially appropriate for today as we remember that triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the expectations that everyone had for Jesus. We are reminded, even as we wave our Palms around, that Jesus wasn’t about earthly triumph or success. In fact, by the standards of the world, what Jesus did looked like failure at the time.

Then we read the second part of the hymn. God exalts Jesus, and at his name every knee should bend. Not just every knee on earth, either, but every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth. And it doesn’t say “your” knee, as though it’s just you and Jesus here, but “every” knee—including yours—so that it’s you and Jesus and each and every person you encounter that is included in this relationship. Again we’re back to that harmonious community. It’s a personal relationship, yes, but it’s more than that—it’s communal, not private, not something you can or should hide away, but something you experience within a larger community that is deeper and more beautiful when it’s brought together with its common attitude of service.

Today we start Holy Week—a week that will continually remind us that Jesus is not about arrogant triumphalism or self-centered achievement. Jesus is someone who went to death on the cross in his humility. We will live through this pain, and we will go deeper into the meaning of it all as the week progresses. Eventually, we will get to Easter, where we find not earthly victory but something much greater.

Christ is raised, and death is conquered. As it says in verses 9-11, God has exulted him, and that is why we confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God.

Looking at this hymn of the early church, we are reminded with the Philippians of our common foundation in Jesus Christ, our redeemer and king. This foundation informs our beliefs, which inform our actions. Paul reminds us of what Jesus has done, the question now is what we will do.

Will we try to live in harmony, asking how we can complement and live for one another while using our own gifts?

Will we try to hide away our gifts, hoping no one will notice?

Will we live for ourselves alone—looking out for our interests?

Chances are, we will end up doing a little of each—we are human, after all. But that is what community is for—remembering who we are and whose we are. We are God’s, claimed in baptism forever, freed from sin, and called to live in harmony as we sing our praises to God with our whole lives. Amen.

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, April 19
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
--John 20:21-22

These verses are full of power. Jesus appears to the disciples—a powerful event in and of itself. Yet that is a small part of this passage. Jesus sends his disciples into the world with the Holy Spirit. What does it mean for us to be sent by Jesus just as Jesus was sent by God?
Hands and Feet

Monday, April 18
“Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’”
--Isaiah 6:6-8

Isaiah’s call story is one that is told and re-told quite often. The seraph cleanses his guilt, and he replies with the optimistic and almost idealistic phrase: “Here am I; send me.” In reality, however, Isaiah’s life was no easy task—and neither are our lives. We have ups as well as downs, failures as well as triumphs. Life can be exciting, terrifying, tragic, comic, and everything in between. As you read through this piece, reflect on what the realistic expectations for your life’s journey are, and consider the importance of living and experiencing all of it.
Oh the Places You'll Go

Sunday, April 17
“As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”
--Ephesians 6:15

Palm Sunday—in the liturgical year, this day marks the beginning of Holy Week, where we as a Christian community will travel from Christ’s joyous triumphal entry in Jerusalem to his death on the cross. We will walk together through the remembrance of the Last Supper to betrayal and mockery until we arrive at Golgotha.

What makes you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace? This week, take time to be mindful of your shoes. Consider how they function to equip you in different ways for different situations. Consider also where they take you and what you do while you wear them.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lenten Devotions

"But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,"
--1 Corinthians 12:18-22

In a society that continually sends out messages of self-sufficiency and independence, it is easy to get caught up in oneself. However, we do not exist alone. Even in our society, we are continually surrounded by people we depend upon for daily living as well as any achievement we may accomplish. From bus drivers who get children to school and adults to work to screaming fans for celebrities, everyone depends on those around them for something. As you consider this picture, think about those things that would be impossible without the work and contributions of many.
Star Power

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”
--Acts 10:44-46

Peter and the other believers are shocked that people outside of their national heritage have been given the Holy Spirit. With our global connections today, it is probably less surprising to us that there are Christian churches in places all over the world. Yet how often do we consider the depth of our connection to our brothers and sisters? Do we even think about those people beyond our hometown, state, or country? Like Peter, we might be surprised to find out who is praying with us. As you read the words from Bartholomew I, consider—really consider—your personal perception of our relationship to the people you do not see every day.
LWF Article

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
--Psalm 51:10-12

In this song, the singer is overwhelmed so much so that words will not do. The singer pleads that God would speak and that they would be receptive enough to listen. As you listen to this music, think about those times that the world may overwhelm you, and consider how you may listen to hear God’s Word through it all.
Word of God Speak

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
--Romans 14:16-19

Words are essential to our lives. They identify objects, feelings, ideas, and help us articulate what we mean. We have the ability to use or misuse this gift of language. As Paul points out in the letter to the Romans, we should be cautious of how we speak and act towards one another. As you read this article, think about the power words have and which ones make for mutual upbuilding.
What's in a Word

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, April 12
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
--Colossians 3:15-16

In this letter, the author calls the people to come together, speaking truth and letting the Word dwell in them. This Word is reinforced in various ways—by teaching, sharing wisdom, being grateful, and singing or experiencing music. As you listen to this piece, allow the music to slow you down and open you to mindfulness of all that surrounds you.
Moonlight Sonata

Monday, April 11
“[God] said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
--1 Kings 19:11-13

God does not always come to us in loud or flashy moments. While those mountaintop “a-ha!” moments can and do happen, God also reveals Godself in the much quieter times. Sometimes, it can be no more than a whisper in the midst of what seems like an ordinary, everyday experience.

Sunday, April 10
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
--Ephesians 4:1-3

Unable to call, visit, or facebook in ancient times, those separated by distance had to write letters as conversations with one another. The apostle Paul and his students wrote to various communities to continue encouraging Christians in their faith lives.

As an activity this week, write a letter—yes, a hand-written, snail mail letter—to someone you haven’t seen or chatted with in a while. It can be a friend, relative, old co-worker, etc. Take the time to make it a conversation. Write about your day, the weather, school, work, whatever. Let yourself reach out to those people in your life and strengthen your bond of peace with them.

Saturday, April 9
“Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”
--Romans 6:4-10

There is a rule in literature that the narrator cannot be dead in the end. This is based in the paradox that if the narrator is dead at the end of the story, there is no way that the story could have been told to the one who recorded it. As you view this painting, take in the magnitude of this new perspective, and realize the leap of faith taken by the artist as you discover who the narrator of this story is.
What Our Lord Saw

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ 28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’"
--Luke 10:25-29

“Who is my neighbor?” Wouldn’t it be nice if that question never needed to be asked? We constantly separate ourselves from one another by our societal classifications—income, ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, party line, etc. What if none of that was an issue? What if we simply brought comfort and aid to all who needed it, knowing that our lives are interconnected through our bond as brothers and sisters of humanity?
Haiti Article

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lenten Devotions

“[Jesus said,] ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’"
--Matthew 11:28-30

So often we can get caught up in the cares of the world, trying to fix things to work out the way we want them to for our own benefit. We get bogged down with all we try to take on, overwhelmed by what we think we need to do. This can break us. However, Jesus gently lets us know that we don’t have to carry our heavy burdens alone. Jesus’ whole story reminds us that we cannot save ourselves, nor do we need to earn anything when it comes to him. In Jesus, we find the rest, renewal, and acceptance that will fix us when we can’t do it ourselves.
Fix You

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Newsletter Article

I will likely need to remove the satirical element before submitting this for the newsletter, since not everyone has my sense of humor, but I did want to find a place to share this as it is.


Okay, I know this sounds like the title to an elementary book report on a pretty non-controversial topic, but please bear with me for a few minutes. I agree that being left-handed is one of the safer minorities of this world. In actuality, most people won’t realize that someone is of the left-handed population, and, if they do, it doesn’t change much. However, there are a few things that I’ve noticed in my left-handed life that I think might expand themselves into a more generalized way of looking at majorities and minorities.

This is my disclaimer paragraph. As is hopefully obvious throughout this article, left-handedness lends itself to satirical statements. I’m not complaining about being left-handed. Actually, I have enjoyed being perceived as more artistic and imaginative than my right-handed neighbors (one of the untrue generalizations that works in my favor). With that, I will continue with these observations about the dynamics of left-handed and right-handed people.

1. Nobody from the majority cares. People who are right-handed generally do not notice lefties until they find out a relative is one or until a lefty is in their way.

2. The minority gets blamed for accidents even when both parties are at fault. Watch a left-handed and a right-handed person eat next to each other and see who makes an effort to stay out of the way and respect elbow space.

3. The world is designed against the minority in order to cater to the majority. Everything—from notebooks to serrated knives—is made specifically for right-handed people. Accidents and ink stains are more likely for lefties due to these designs (see item #2).

4. Respect is denied to the minority and granted to the majority. When was the last time you shook someone’s left hand?

5. The minority is etymologically discriminated against. In Latin, the word for left is “sinister;” in French, it is “gauche;” in Hebrew, it is “shemo’l,” which can also mean unwholesome or unlucky.

6. The Bible can be used against the minority. The tribe of Benjamin was probably largely left-handed as their weapon of choice was slingshots. They were nearly wiped out—a common sign of divine disapproval.

7. Nobody from the majority cares. Even after reading this, are you really going to do anything?

I know that being left-handed is far from being oppressed. However, it is hopefully a way to do some creative thinking about the more serious topic of the treatment of minorities and majorities in our society. I hope being left-handed will raise my awareness of how I act as part of many majority populations, and perhaps this light-hearted list will foster some reflection in your life as well.

Lenten Devotions

“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.”
--Proverbs 14:31

It’s a running theme throughout the Bible. Almost all of the Prophets speak out against oppression of the poor, as does Jesus, and Paul makes sure to inform the early Christians that all are brothers and sisters in the eyes of God, regardless of class or status. Proverbs is straightforward and succinct—packing a brutal punch in one concise sentence. Yet this verse rings true: if you honor someone, you respect the things he or she makes and cares about. As you listen to the story of the Island of Tuvalu, reflect on the ways that we as a society disrespect our neighbors, and how we as individuals have allowed something like this to happen. Where is salvation in stories like these?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, April 5

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. 3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. 4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.”
--Psalm 84:1-4

The words above describe the assurance and even longing the Psalmist feels when thinking of being in the house of God. The verses are not only a proclamation of joy, but are also a declaration of faith in the promises God has given us. As you listen to the Fourth Movement of Brahms’ Requiem, contemplate with the Psalmist the faith in what is to come that is proclaimed so strongly in these few minutes of music.

Monday, April 4

“The tempter came and said to [Jesus], "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
--Matthew 4:3-6

It is not difficult to remember to feed ourselves actual food. Our stomachs may growl, and we realize we are hungry and need food to survive. However, as Jesus quotes Deuteronomy in these verses, he points out that material food is not enough. As we go through this week, we will be considering salvation, both in the world we live in here and now as well as in the one we hope for but do not yet see. Today, think about how you are nourishing your whole self—body, mind, and spirit. Where are those places you are being fed, and which ones still need sustenance?
Joyce Rupp

Sunday, April 3

“‘And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’ 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.”
--1 Kings 3:7-10

When Solomon was faced with a task beyond his comprehension, he asked God to help him learn by giving him the wisdom he needed. We also are often faced with situations we know little or nothing about, yet we know we must face them.

As an activity this week, read a book or article on a topic that is somewhat foreign to you. Visit the library or bookstore and scan the shelves for something unique and intriguing. Seek to gain new understanding and perspective of the world and the people who live in it.

Saturday, April 2

“O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
--Psalm 8:1, 3-4

Part of the gift of being human is our ability to imagine, to dream, to wonder at what we see around us. The Psalmist marvels at God’s magnificent creation, wondering how humans could compare to the brilliance of the space in the night sky. This series of images explores that same sense of awe. Allow yourself to wonder with the Psalmist as you consider the vastness of the universe.
NASA Images

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lenten Devotions

Friday, April 1

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before [God].”
--1 John 3:18-19

“Actions speak louder than words…” “They will know we are Christians by our love…” The clich├ęs could run on forever on this topic—largely because most of them would ring true. It’s so easy to say one thing and do another…or say one thing and fail or forget to act like we mean it. It can be difficult to see the world objectively or creatively enough to know how to love in truth and action, as the verse says. Yet, there are glimpses of this all the time in everything from moments in our individual lives to deliberate projects carried out by large organizations. This is just one of those stories. As you read it, remember the connections we share not only as people of a common church but also as humans able to love, inspire, and care for one another.

Thursday, March 31

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
--Ephesians 2:8-10

So often we try to find our own way to work ourselves into belief or righteousness. We may try to do better or be better than our neighbors. We forget that we are all equal—we are all sinners. We forget that we are saved by grace through faith, and that faith comes to us first and foremost through the Holy Spirit as a gift of God made possible by Jesus. As you listen to this song, be mindful of those times you have failed, but also reflect on the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation we are freely given.
In the Light