Sunday, December 7, 2008

What Kind of People?

Isaiah 40:1-11
Mark 1:1-8
2 Peter 3

Advent 2

Bad news about our economy abounds these days. Once-in-a-generation unemployment rates, one-half million jobs lost in November alone, the big three US automakers in the death throes, record-high mortgage foreclosures, consumer confidence in the dumps, along with myriad other statistics and projections leave us wondering how bad it's going to be and how long we and it can last. At the heart of the volatility in the markets is a crisis in confidence, an awareness of our fundamental uncertainty as to where and when this downturn will end. Looking into such a scary future, we might even wonder whether it will end.

The three lectionary texts for the second Sunday in Advent have in common their assurance that everything eventually comes to an end. Isaiah emphasizes the promise of God that trouble doesn't last always. No matter how intense the trauma or hopeless the prospects, God's infinite lovingkindness insures that those who wait on the Lord have a good ending. Mark's gospel presents the preamble to the whole Gospel's message in that John the Baptizer's presence in the wilderness represented the end of a very long wait for God's people.

But it is the message of 2nd Peter that gets to the heart of the issue for us. After reminding the impatient and fainting believers that God will make good on the divine promise, the author then turns the spotlight on the community of faith: Since we know all of this, what kind of people ought we to be? In other words, since everything, including the world, will end, what do we want to be doing when the end comes?

Beloved, the church has something to offer that our culture at this moment sorely tneeds: a holy perspective. Even when we would want to forget, the message returns to us and like the prophet cries, "All flesh is grass." But the fact that everything on earth is in transition from its seed to flower then back to dust doesn't leave us hopeless; it points us to a more stable foundation. Our own frailty reminds us to seek a God who is neither frail nor fallible and whose word will stand. Grass withers, flowers fall, markets crash, people die, but the Word of our God stands forever. That's good news that we should share.

Sing, "Hold to God's Unchanging Hand"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Sing this Song for You

Psalm 18

One of my favorite films is "Family Man," in which Nicholas Cage plays a high powered Wall Street executive who awakes on Christmas morning to find himself in an alternative life, experiencing what would have happened if he had married his college sweetheart. The rest of the movie is about how Cage comes to value what money cannot buy. One of the turning points comes when he watches a video of himself singing the Delfonics' "La La Means I Love You" to his wife on her birthday. Although his voice would win no vocal awards, the poignancy of the moment derives from his soulful expression of love through the medium of song. There are few things more precious than having a loved one sing to another.

The Psalms, as you are well aware, represent the songbook of the Bible. And although we often think of the Psalms merely as a compilation of praise songs, most of them are more of a mixture of praise, reflection, and lament. Psalm 18 is different though. Titled as a song of David after his deliverance from Saul, this Psalm is a lovesong from a grateful believer to a gracious God. It is more than thank you note for all that God has done. It expresses the relationship between a righteous person and a covenant-keeping God. From the cords of death and the mighty waters to a redeemed life in a broad place, the Psalmist records the reversal of his fortunes that occurred because a loving God "bowed the heavens and came down" (v. 9).

In this season of Advent, we too have reason to sing a song of redemption because our Savior bowed the heavens and came down. We have a reason to pause, even in the midst of the ongoing crises of our lives, and sing a love song to the lover of our souls. Like Nicholas Cage's Jack, maybe observing ourselves singing the song will help us to see what really matters.

Sing, "My Jesus I Love Thee"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shock and Awe

Isaiah 1:18

Sometimes we just need a jolt of awareness to bring us back to our senses. Okay, perhaps I shouldn't speak for other people. Sometimes I just need a jolt to wake me up. The occasion for my renewed awareness this time was the funeral service for Rev. Dr. Ella Pearson Mitchell, a pioneer woman in ministry. Dr. Mitchell lived for 91 years, 64 of them married to her partner in life and ministry Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell. What pleasantly startled me was the testimony of all who knew the Mitchells that she lived, they lived their whole lives - publicly and privately - with the love and goodness of God (to quote her daughter who gave the eulogy) as the foundation. I came away from the service awakened and inspired again to live faithfully.

In Isaiah chapter 1, there is much to shock and shake the people of God. Faithfulness and righteousness are no longer known among them. God is disappointed and angry. Yet within the pronouncement of judgment remains the promise of better things to come, a declaration of God's fundamentally good intention toward the people of God. There is hope; at the end of the purging, right relations and covenant will prevail and righteous acts will be restored.

Where, you ask, is the awe? It is the radiating glow of gratitude and thankfulness in God's people for the mercy that God continuously extends. At the point when God has extended the divine hand and drawn you near again with the steadfast love that drew you to begin with, who could help but stand in awe. I will be forever grateful for another chance, a deeper walk, a new opportunity.

Sing, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee"

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Do Something

Isaiah 64:1-9
Advent 1

Have you ever just wanted God to do something? I know that our theological and spiritual upbringing cautioned us against making demands of God, so much so that we may never have said it out loud. But haven't you ever just wanted to yell, in the midst of a tragedy in life or a travesty of justice, "God, why don't/didn't you DO SOMETHING?"

It was that way for the prophet Isaiah. There was so much destruction, so much pain for his people that his heart cried out for some action from God, the kind of decisive action that God had taken in the paste. The prophet remembers when God's presence had shaken everything, causing both God's people and their enemies to tremble at the reality of Israel's God - the only God who answered prayers. But the nation's dissipation and destruction were now complete. They had transgressed and had fallen to such a low condition that even their righteous deeds were tainted, like filthy rags. Nevertheless, the site of their hope had not changed: "Yet, O Lord, You are our Father." Isaiah seems to remind himself of the covenant relationship that is between them and closes this passage by praying that God will not forget the Israel's is God's people.

In Advent, which begins today, we too anticipate the great shakeup that will come when the Lord returns. But the message the speaks to us from the prophet is that more than just anticipating what God will do, we need to remember the relationship with God. It is not what God does, but who God is in relationship to us that makes the difference. God is our God and we are God's people. While we are waiting, that will have to be enough.

Sing, "Have Thine Own Way"

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Not Even Death

Romans 8:31-39
Tuesday, 8 July 2008

There is a poignant and pivotal scene in the movie The Color Purple, when Celie and her sister Nettie are being forcibly separated because of the evil heart of Celie's husband Mister. As Nettie is dragged away, Celie yells, "Write." Nettie stands up straight and looks past Mister into her sister's eyes, "Nothing but death will keep me from it."

I think of this scene because the issue of disconnection is also at the heart of today's lesson, one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture. The passage is a declaration of love and victory. It reminds us as believers that God has cast the decisive vote in our favor, and because God is for us no one and nothing can succeed against us. Then Paul encourages us to imagine a list of everything that might arise to challenge the God who is on our side. Hardship and distress rear their heads, but fall quickly in a battle against God. Those foes are followed by every other category of challenge that might arise to defeat us by separating us from the love of Christ. The conclusion: Nothing in creation can separate us from Christ's love.

The sisterly love that Celie and Nettie share in Alice Walker's novel transverses a lifetime without contact, the machinations of Mister who withholds Nettie's letters, and even the Atlantic Ocean, joining their hearts even while their bodies are separated. It is a great love, but God's love is greater. And as believers we give thanks for the love of Jesus that has defeated death - a love so strong that not even death can keep us from it.

Sing, "Jesus Loves Me"

Let us pray:
Almighty God, in whom we live and love, we are awestruck by the depth and consistency of your love for us in Christ Jesus. Yet despite our inability to understand it, we rejoice in its certainty. We thank you for the way that living in your love intensifies our ability to love. But most of all, we thank you for your victory over our greatest enemy death and for the eternal love we share because of you. Amen

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Free Indeed

Matthew 11:16-30
Sunday, 6 July 2008

Over the last several days the word freedom has been on our minds. It happens every year on July 4th when this nation celebrates its independence. We are reminded of our unalienable rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" here in the "land of the free and the home of the brave," a place of "liberty and justice for all." Yet for all the importance that the words liberty and freedom conjure, there are also misguided notions of what those words mean, exemplified in the sarcastic words of an errant child justifying her/his disobedience and recklessness with the words "It's a free country."

Just as children often misunderstand the meaning of freedom, especially in their teen years, defining it as the ability or right to do whatever they want, especially the wrong thing, we Christians too sometimes see ourselves as most free when we are least within the will of God. Yet Jesus' words seek to right our wrong understanding of what it means to be free and at rest. The beginning of our liberty is not found in the Declaration of Independence but rather in the recognition of our utter dependence on Christ lovingly to direct us into right paths. Our first step toward true freedom responds to the most blessed invitation ever offered. Jesus beckons, "Come to me." We exchange the yoke of sin which is too burdensome to bear, for the yoke of discipleship which is easy and light.

So much of what it means to mature is to recognize the difference between what seems good and what actually is good. This is true also of spiritual maturity. Lawlessness and faithlessness attract us with their empty promises of true fulfillment and joy, but they leave us ultimately empty and burdened. Embracing the way of Christ, and more importantly, having Christ embrace us leads to true joy and fulfillment. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.

Sing, "Come Unto Me"

Let us pray:
Loving Savior, it is sometimes hard for us to admit how tired we actually are of living our own way. We have been oppressed so long that we struggle to imagine that real freedom and rest are even possible. Grant us in this moment simply to take your word for it. Draw us near to you so that we may be freed by taking on your yoke, by living life your way. Amen

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Paid in Full

Romans 4:1-12
Wednesday, 25 June 2008

I don't pretend to be an economist. I'm just a sister trying to stay afloat in a complex and scary economy. And I'm responsible enough to pay attention to what's going on around me and savvy enough to understand that we are up to our necks in debt and about to go under. I don't just mean individuals. I mean the nation as a whole. Everything about our lifestyles from our cars to our wars costs more money than we have on hand (for the next couple of decades). Individuals are stressed.

Our text for today is full of monetary metaphors, beginning with the distinction between "wages" and "gifts." It is a discussion of Abraham's righteousness and the law, making the most significant point that Abraham's account came out in the black, not because of his work but because of the gift of God. God balances our budgets, takes on our debt, and pays it off. But this fact gives us no cause for selfish boasting since it is not our doing, nor even does it arise as a response to something we have done. All praise and glory belong to God.

Considering the enormous debt that we owed for our sins and the generous gift of God in Christ to pay that debt in full puts in perspective our entire lives. And although the natural economy may often be against us, the spiritual economy is all good. Thanks be to God!

Sing, "Jesus Paid it All"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Without Exception

Romans 3:21-31
Tuesday, 24 June 2008

I had always been a good, even excellent student when I put my mind to it, so when I discovered that the seminary I attended did not give letter grades, I was a bit taken aback. There were only three possible grades, credit, no credit, or credit with distinction. Most people passed and received credit, but few broke through to a "distinction." Even I had some difficulty getting those exceptional grades. Most of the time I just blended in with the rest of the group. I'll be honest; I didn't like that.

There are several points that Paul makes in this section of his letter to the church at Rome, the most important being that no one person or group has an advantage where God's favor is concerned. No one is righteous. No one earns a distinction. And even though the Law had been given to one group of people, because grace is a gift and cannot be earned, knowing or even attempting to keep the law brings no advantage. All who believe have access. Just as all of us, without exception, have sinned, all of us have the opportunity to be set free from our sin through Jesus Christ.

This reality is difficult for us to embrace fully because we humans have a tendency to desire to be exceptional. We like to have an advantage to lord over other people. We like to belong to the right crowd, to be accepted at the right school, to get the best grade. And sometimes we even manufacture symbols of status in the church in order to recreate the sense of distinction or advantage that we had in the world. But we have to remember that to grasp a sense of ourselves as better than others is to misunderstand and even cut ourselves off from the wondrous grace available to us through faith in the only truly exceptional person ever, that is, Jesus Christ.

Sing, "Glory to His Name"

Let us pray:
We confess, God, that our sinful pride sometimes still rears its ugly head as we judge one another and try to create distinctions among us. Help us to remember that just as all have sinned, all have received access to the gift of grace through Jesus Christ - no excuses, no exceptions. Make us aware that our confidence and our boasting can, thus, never be about us, only about you. Amen

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Baptism Matters

Romans 6:1-11
Sunday, 22 June 2008

Although it is no longer the case, as it was during certain eras in Christian history, that the method your church uses for baptism can get you killed, the ins and outs of baptismal mode and formula remain contentious issues within Christianity. Most all us feel strongly about our baptism, especially those who regard believers' baptism as essential. And we will argue vehemently that baptism matters, but we seldom remember what really matters in baptism.

This week's epistle calls our attention to the ongoing meaning of baptism as the preeminent symbol of regenerated life. Having been introduced to the super-abounding grace of Christ in chapter 5, the grace that looks beyond our faults, we encounter the challenge in Romans 6 of living the new life which that grace makes possible. Our death to the old life frees us from its sinful bondage. Our baptism is the rite by which we are initiated into Christ's burial. Having been united in a crucified death, we hope for resurrection in a glorified life. How many times and in how many ways can God tell us that the Christian life is a radical break from what we were before?

So much of the debate about baptism is a struggle to define what it means to come into the door, at the same time that it loses sight of what it means to live in the house of God. Don't get me wrong. Baptism is important enough to take seriously and to handle rightly. Baptism matters, indeed, but it matters because it marks the break between our old, sinful ways and our new, redeemed life. This life is made possible only by and in Jesus the Christ.

Sing, "Take Me to the Water" and remember your own baptism, reaffirming the covenant you made with God and before the community to live a new life in Christ Jesus.

Let us pray:
Life-giving Savior, although for many of us the occasion of our baptism has long passed, the reality of our new life in you remains before us. Teach us how to walk in the newness of life that our baptism symbolized. Refresh us again by a baptism of your Spirit. Make us new. Make us whole. Make us yours. We pray, in Jesus' precious name. Amen

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Who Do You Think You're Talking To?

Numbers 11:1-23
Wednesday, 18 June 2008

I'll admit that I am not always as careful as I ought to be when it comes to my "tone." This has been an issue all of my life, with especially tricky consequences during my teen years when I was speaking to my parents. More than once my parents responded to my questions, requests, and even answers with the their own question "Who do you think you're talking to?" It seems in life that there are times when it's not so much what you ask as how you ask it.

The Israelites' wilderness experience has become more treacherous in today's lesson.

In addition to all of the challenges inherent in the desert, the murmuring in the camp has angered God. The text begins with a description of God's burning anger at the peoples' incessant complaints. Whining, murmuring, complaining, accusing, griping - God simply got tired of hearing it and sent a fire at the edge of the camp to remind the people how bad it could be. Meanwhile, "the rabble" develop a "strong craving." Their appetites create a stirring that God's food ("manna") does not satisfy. Rather than appreciating the miracle of constant food in a desert, they wax nostalgic about their past lives in Egypt. Conveniently, they discount the fact that in Egypt they were slaves, burdened and serving in oppression. All they remember is the scrumptious and diverse foods of the Egyptians.

I have to believe as I read this text that, as is usually the case with the Israelites, their problem is not so much what they want but how they ask for it. How could they forget that God loves them and has borne them on eagles' wings? How could they forget that God released them for a purpose and is leading them to a wide and abundant place? How can they be so focused on the inconvenience of the moment? It's all about the boredom. "Give us meat!" God speaks to Moses and says, "I'll give them meat until they are sickened with it,until it comes out of their noses and ears."

Brothers and sisters, boredom is dangerous, especially when it is accompanied by spiritual amnesia and ingratitude. And when you add to it murmuring against the God who knows, sees, and hears everything, it is only worse. Don't get me wrong, I believe that God cares enough to want to know how we are feeling. We don't have to be afraid to be honest with God. At the same time, we must never forget that God is God. Asking for what our hearts desire is not a sin. Craving the things that belong to the worldly life is.

Sing, "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"

Let us pray:
God our Provider, even though we sometimes live with the deprivations of the wilderness, we give you thanks for freedom from the oppression and bondage of sin. We thank you for the daily bread, the manna that you provide each morning with the dew, to nourish and sustain us in our current state. Keep our minds clear so that we never mistake the world's smorgasbord for a nourishment. Help us to dine daily on the delicacies you provide at your table. Bread of heaven, feed us till we want no more. Amen

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Showing the Love: A Celebration of My Dad

Romans 5:1-11
Father's Day
15 June 2008

I am not much of a holiday person, for reasons too numerous to list but that boil down to the fact that I think the reality of holidays rarely lives up to the hype. Still, I recognize the importance of celebrating the great people and events who have influenced or made our lives possible. Thus, I am offering a tribute to my dad Leonard M. Callahan. My dad was commendable for many things: he was a faithful provider (more than 40 years mining coal to make his family's ends meet); he was an honorable man who was a leader in the community; he encouraged me and celebrated my accomplishments; and he showed me the value of faith and family. In so many ways, I am his child. One thing he wasn't, though, was verbally affectionate. He was of the "old school," a stoic man who believed in showing rather than telling feelings. Day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year, with clockwork consistency he showed his family how incredibly loved we were.

As I read this text from Romans 5, I couldn't help thinking that God too shows more than tells us of God's love. Oh, that is not to say that the scriptures lack verbal expressions that God loves us, but really the way in which God proves God's love is the fact that Christ died for us, so that God could live in us. Far more perfectly than any human parent, father or mother, God daily provides all that we need - new mercies emerge every morning.

I guess my dad really knew what it meant to be a Christian, to love not in word only but also in deed. After all, the scriptures teach us clearly that we are to grow up into the image of our God and learn to be followers of Christ as dear children. We too are called to show the love.

Sing, "Great is Thy Faithfulness"

Let us pray:
Precious Lord, on this day set aside to honor our earthly fathers, our minds center on your unending faithfulness. As good as some of our dads may be, none of them is perfect. And so we remember and rejoice that we have you, even when our parents forsake us. Grant us the grace to resemble you and your loving ways more and more, so that others may come to know your grace and mercy, upon which we so rely. Amen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Not Until They're Filled

Matthew 15:29-39
Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Jesus has completed three jam-packed days of ministry to the multitudes. Among the crowds a catalog of illnesses and maladies have presented and he has healed all of them. The mute speak, the blind see, the lame walk, and the maimed are whole after three days. The kingdom has been proclaimed with word and demonstration of power. The disciples and Jesus are exhausted. It's time for the crowd to go their way and for Jesus to go his. But wait, a stomach growls. Eyes glaze over in the heat. They multitude is hungry.

At this point in the story it would be easy and understandable for Jesus simply to send the crowds away. After all, his healing and restoring powers have ensured that all will be fit and able to work for food when they return home. He has already done more for them than they could ever thank him for. The healings alone represent more glory than they had ever seen in one place. Jesus could simply have sent them away and told them, "As for food, you're on your own." He could have berated them for their poor planning and left them to fend for themselves. But he couldn't allow them to go away hungry because they might not make it home. He had compassion on them.

Beloved,in addition to the realization that Jesus has the ultimate capacity to stretch a few resources into a feast, we observe in this scene that Jesus cares too much about us to let us go without anything essential. And following his example, we understand that our role as his disciples is to hang close enough to distribute the good he provides until everyone is filled.

Let us pray:
Jesus our Savior, you alone are the source of all of our provisions. We thank you for ministering to all of our major needs. We see with new eyes, ear with new ears, understand with new minds. But you don't just handle the big things. You notice the growling of our stomachs and attend to the more mundane things that would cause our strength to fail. Help us likewise to attend to one another for your name's sake. Amen

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Get Out of Your Own Way

Romans 4:13-25
Sunday, 8 June 2008

I have been trying to play golf for about two years. I knew I was hooked the first time I went to the driving range, but I also figured out that because so much of golf is counterintuitive, I needed lessons. So I took lessons. Now the problem is that when I am actually out on the course, I have to avoid being so focused on thinking about golf that I can't actually play it. I have to trust that my muscles will remember what I have practiced. I have to learn to get out of my own way.

Abraham is known as the father of the faithful for a reason. Every success in his life required extraordinary faith because every promise God made him was a promise against all odds. If Abraham had considered his own circumstances, if he had focused on his own body, then he would have wavered in is faith. Rather than focusing on himself, though, he paid attention to the promise of God. Paul expresses it this way, in one of my favorite passages of scripture, "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised." In a word, by centering his attention on God and God's ability, Abraham got out of his own way and into God's plan.

We all have the ability to take ourselves too seriously. We zero in on our own gifts and limitations, our own possibilities and liabilities, and in so doing we actually trip ourselves up. The time has come for us to practice and train ourselves simply to trust God. Thus we can open ourselves up to the miraculous promises of God's working in our lives.

Sing, "Standing on the Promises"

Let us pray:
Loving God, create in us hearts and minds that trust your ability even in the midst of our disability. Allow us to move out of our own way so that you can have your way. We pray, in Jesus' name. Amen

Friday, June 6, 2008

How did I get here?

Galatians 1:1-24
Friday, 6 June 2008

I am privileged to serve on the Advisory Board of The African American Pulpit, the premier journal for reflecting on preaching in the Black Church. During the Hampton Ministers Conference earlier this week, the Advisory Board met over lunch. Included at the table were some of the most prominent and gifted pastors and preachers in the nation, including Hampton's outstanding, anointed Morning Preacher for this year, Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart. On the board, but not present at lunch, are a veritable "Who's Who" within the Black church. After lunch upon reflection, I asked myself, "How did I get here?"

Anyone who pays attention to the writings of Paul will notice that the title by which he refers to himself is that of "apostle." While it may now seem obvious to us that he would consider himself an apostle, since the word literally means "one who is sent" and Paul's life in ministry consisted of a series of journeys orchestrated and plotted by the God, Paul's apostleship was constantly under attack by people who couldn't figure out how he got so much play. As Paul himself notes in our lesson, his identification with the gospel of Jesus Christ came unexpectedly, since he began his career as an ardent persecutor of the church. Nevertheless, the question of his right to preach and of his position as an apostle was not one that could be answered by a resort to any human authority. In a word, Paul established the source of his life and his apostleship not in the will of other apostles in Jerusalem, but in the will of Christ. Paul says, I got here because God sent me.

Beloved, it seems to me that the whole challenge of life is to recognize in ourselves and honor in others the activity of the Spirit, even when it defies human logic or wisdom. Often, I am made to wonder at what God has done and is doing in my own life. Sometimes God sends us into situations that we would rather avoid. Sometimes God send us into situations and others wonder how we got in. And sometimes God opens doors, such as the Advisory Board, that represent unimaginable blessing. The point for us is to understand that in all things, all spaces, all times, and most importantly all of us, God is to be glorified.

Sing, "Glory to His Name"

Let us pray:
Sovereign God, we do not always understand why or how you work with us, but we are grateful for your kindness and grace. When we say that you have brought us a mighty long way, we are not just engaging in idle talk. Now we ask only that we may cease from asking you how we got here and begin in earnest to seek your will for us in this present time and space. Allow, we pray, our lives to redound to your praise. Yes, God be glorified in us, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Heavy Lifting

1 John 5:1-12
Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Occasionally, I go through fits of exercise mania, usually for the purpose of losing weight. For as little as a few days or as long as a few weeks, I faithfully build stamina and strength by applying myself to a regimen of physical activity. And even though I struggle to maintain that regimen over time, I still learn or re-learn something crucial about working one's body, namely, that pushing oneself builds strength. Raising the standard incrementally leads to the wondrous blessing of greater stamina, flexibility, and strength. I can always go farther, stand straighter, and lift heavier things when I build up.

Perhaps the most radical assertion of 1 John is found in today's lesson when the writer informs us not only that our love for God is demonstrated in our obedience to God's commandments, but also that those commands do not constitute a burden for us. Much of the time when we think of God's commandments, we recognize our duty to obey them but we miss much of the joy that comes through that obedience. We assume that God's laws are the curfew meant to disrupt and cut short the party of our lives. In reality, we only think that because we have not been in the practice and habit of obeying God. If we were, then we would realize that God's instruction builds us up, increases our stamina, and enhances our flexibility. In obedience, we become overcomers and victors.

Human life is filled with trials and burdens. Obedience to God's commandments functions as the exercise regimen that tones and hones us so that we can do the heavy lifting of life. Loving God with our obedience builds us up and makes us victorious. Indeed, it is through faith-filled obedience to Christ that we discover what life is really about. For whoever has the Son has life.

Sing, "Trust and Obey"

Let us pray:
We confess, Lord, that we do not always remember that your commandments are for our good. Like unwise children or lazy adults, we drag ourselves along lamenting that your "rules" inhibit our "fun." Forgive us for our folly. Lead us into obedience to your word and way, and thus to the victory that overcomes the world and to abundant and eternal life, in Jesus' name. Amen

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How Deep is Your Love?

1 John 3:18-4:6
Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Many of the worst things that can happen to a car's mechanics happen slowly and silently. By the time the oil gauge lights up on your car to tell you that you're low on oil, most of the time you have been low for long enough to cause real damage to the engine. The same is true for our relationships. By the time the red light appears in them, neglect has already undermined the foundations, and it is often too late for repair. Look under your hood; check your oil. Look into your heart; check your relationships.

Reading 1 John 3, one notices that the church's significant concerns have not changed much in the last two millennia. The relationship with God and with other believers remains at the center. The instruction jolts us. Let us love in truth and in action, not just in word and speech. Much is at stake in this instruction, since the well-being of our entire spiritual life is determined by the depth of the love that we have for each other. If we do not love in action, then our hearts are condemned. If we do not love in action, then our prayers are hindered. If we do not show love, then our spirits are wrong. Only through a life of love can we have the power to discern false spirit. Only when we live in love do we have the confidence that the One who is in us is greater than all that is in the world.

Too often we allow a good show or an eloquent speech to turn our heads. We forget that the test of spiritual vitality is found in our actions not in our words. What we should be asking of ourselves and others is not "how deep is your voice" or "how deep are your pockets" but "how deep is your love"?

Sing, "Bind us Together with Love"

Let us pray:
Loving God, your command that we should love one another is clear. Our failure to live in that love continuously is also apparent. We confess that we have not love one another as we ought, and, therefore, that we have not love you as we ought. Forgive us, Lord, and allow that the power of love in us will show itself to be greater than the power of hatred that is in the world. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose love is unfathomable. Amen.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Now What?

Matthew 28:16-20
Sunday, 18 May 2008

Life is filled with climactic, mountaintop moments that are followed by anticlimactic or underwhelming aftermaths. I remember when I finished my doctorate and after all of those years of hard work, they gave me a piece of parchment. I wondered, "Now what?" Then there are the people who pray for years to get married and have the wedding of the year only to wake up a couple weeks later and look at their spouse and say, "Now what?"

Earlier in Matthew 28, the greatest feat in human history is accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Now on the mountain, his disciples are wondering what comes next. Jesus' words to them remind us of the continual, perpetual purpose of the believer. First, "Go." You cannot stay where you are. You cannot even remain where you are comfortable. Second, "Make disciples." You cannot remain with the group you're in or even with those with whom you are comfortable. God is commissioning you to reach out to every kind of person and to entreat them to follow the Christ. Third, "Baptize." God wants everyone to be initiated into the family. Thus, you are not to baptize them in your own name, nor in the name of your church or denomination. They are to be baptized into the name and the authority of the Godhead. Fourth, "Teach." Everything you have learned from Christ, you are to teach others. Most importantly, "Remember." Remember that Jesus the Powerful One is also Present. Wherever you are, wherever you go, Jesus goes with you, before you, and behind you - even to the end of the world.

The spiritual life is filled with high moments, singular and memorable moments. Baptism, ordination, joining the church, becoming an officer, to name a few. But high moments are often followed by the question, "Now what?" Now that I am saved, what? Now that I am a church member or officer, what? Now that I am ordained, what? The good news is that the what never changes. Better even than that, is the news that Jesus is always the same.

Sing, "If Jesus Goes With Me"

Let us pray:
In the intense moments of your presence, O Lord, everything seems clear to us. But when we leave the mountaintop, we often forget what we are supposed to do and who we are supposed to be. Unsettle us from our places of complaceny and from our comfort zones. Remind us that as we go, disciple, baptize, and teach, we live fully in your call and commission. As we go, make us to remember that you are with us. Amen

Friday, May 16, 2008

What We Shall Be

1 John 3:1-10
Friday, 16 May 2008

There are lots of reasons to love babies, and anyone who knows me knows that I do. They are for our families both the continuation of what has been and the expression of possibility of what we will be in future. Parents hold their children and look into their lovely little faces and project decades into the future, imagining them in their 20s and 30s and on, seeing them as doctors, lawyers, and other noble professions. We don't know what they shall be, but we love it that they exist.

John's epistle focuses on the love of God that we experience in Jesus Christ and the victory it brings. In today's lesson, we are reminded of three matters that should bring us comfort and compel in us righteous service. First, we are God's children. Since 1 John 1 discusses universal human sinfulness, the fact that chapter 3 asserts that God has bestowed on us the love of a Parent and the privileges of being God's children should leave us grateful and in awe. Second, we are not all that we will be and we don't even know yet what that is. We are a work in progress. Finally, whatever we become when Christ is revealed, we should be comforted by and confident in the fact that we shall be like him.

Although we are far from being babies and most of us have become most of what we imagined ourselves to be, it is needful for us to embrace the reality that in Christ we are still becoming what we shall be. That we have not yet arrived, as old as we are and as hard as we have tried, should not discourage us. Even in our journeying, as we recognize that we have not yet reached our destination, we are always fiercely and wonderfully loved. We always have an enduring hope in Christ. And that love and hope are actually reproducing in us the image of Christ as we consecrate ourselves.

Sing, "Jesus Loves Even Me"

Let us pray:
Amazing and Wonderful God, how privileged we are to be called your children. How grateful we are that you see in us more than we see in ourselves and that you are making us over into what pleases you. As we consider the blessed hope of your glorious appearing, renew in us a commitment to pure and faithful living, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Share the Spirit

Numbers 11:24-30
Pentecost and Mother's Day
Sunday, 11 May 2008

Pentecost is for me one of the most important days of the year. It was on Pentecost Sunday in 1997 that I was ordained and the authority to preach and preside over the holy ordinances, such as communion and baptism, was invested in me through the laying on of hands. In that service, other ministers and even lay members extended their hands to signify their belief that God had called and gifted me for ministry. In that service, they share the Spirit.

For many, the text from Numbers may seem an obscure choice for Pentecost. Acts 2 with its description of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the 120 disciples who gathered in Jerusalem following Jesus' ascension is the obvious choice. But the Old Testament lesson expresses something important about the underlying meaning of Pentecost. Moses the servant of the Lord has spent time in God's presence. And the Lord decides to spread the anointing of the Spirit to other elders and they prophesy. Eldad and Medad prophesy in the camp, and some supporter of Moses reports them. Moses in a moment of prophetic utterance expresses his desire and God's desire simultaneously: I wish that all of God's people were prophets and that the Lord would place God's Spirit on all of them. At Pentecost, that is exactly what God did. They were all filled. They all spoke.

Although we do not all share the same offices in the church, we are all supposed to share in the same Spirit. Each of us should drink of the Spirit and be filled. All of us should be clothed in the Spirit and covered. When I see you moving in the Spirit, I know that the reach of God's power is being extended. And I rejoice!

Let us pray:
Holy Spirit, we invite you to work in us and in all who surround us. Pour out you anointing so that we might be filled. Let your power overflow so that even our environment is transformed. Let your glory fill us, in Jesus' name. Amen

Today, I want us to sing "He Looked Beyond My Fault" in tribute to the late gospel singer Dottie Rambo, who was killed this morning in a bus accident on her way to do a Mother's Day performance.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

And I Mean It

Ephesians 4:17-32
Thursday, 8 May 2008

Most of us grew up in homes where our parents' instructions were not in any way optional. When we were given orders, we knew that we were expected to comply. Still, the intensity of the expectation varied from circumstance to circumstance, such that while all commands were to be followed, some of them had a greater urgency. My mom signified this by adding the words "and I mean it" to the most serious of her rules.

While the tone of the letter has be instructive and cajoling up to now, in today's text the message is firmly given. This firmness is indicative of the seriousness with which we ought to take the insistence that the believer must not live any longer in the former way, the way of people who do not know God. Whether we understand all of the intricacies of the theology of redemption or not, we must endeavor earnestly to put off the old way of live, even the old self, and to embrace the renewal of the mind and the new self, which God created in holiness. This theme has dominated Ephesians since chapter 1, which informed us that God chose us to be holy and blameless. Although the grace of God extends abundantly to us, God employs grace as a tool to lead us to the righteous, new life not as an excuse for our remaining as we always have been.

Change is never easy, especially when the change seems fundamentally to alter us. Nonetheless, it is impossible to live as a believer and please God if we are unwilling to be transformed. God is not playing with us. God means it.

Sing, "He Brought Me Out"

Let us pray:
Gracious God, we invoke your holy presence in our lives to effect the work of transformation in us. And we gratefully yield ourselves to the reordering of our priorities and the re-forming of our characters. May we never return to who we once were, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Take Some Steps

Ephesians 4:1-16
Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Some of the most significant moments of childhood occur when children's mental faculties prevent them from remembering; they are left only with pictures, video, and the recounted memories of their elders to show them when they learned to do what grew to be second nature, such as walking. But even if the children themselves do not remember, their parents certainly know the joy of watching the child take their steps, first halting, then sure.

In Ephesians, as in any reasonable argument, each successive point builds on the last. Here in chapter 4, the writer is finally hitting on the practical implication of the theological explanations in the first 3 chapters. God chose us, gave us grace, saved us, and empowered us with the divine Spirit. Now God is looking for us to take some steps. And most of the steps God wants us to take in the process that will end only when we have grown into the full stature of Christ involve our relationships with the rest of God's people. Although Jesus announced in John 4 that God is looking for people to worship God, it is equally clear that God is looking for God's children to love one another. There are leaders in the church to watch out for us as we begin the walk, and even as sisters and brothers in Christ, we act as conduits of blessing for one another.

Unlike the experience of learning to walk as small children, the walk of faith is a conscious one for us. Although we began as babes in Christ, the goal is to grow up and to be no longer children. There will be a time when our walking will become second nature. But just as a child's walking begins with unsteady steps and progresses to sturdy strides, we also have to start somewhere. We may not be all that we should be or want to be, but we can take some steps.

Sing, "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me"

Let us pray:
Grant, O God, that we may be so led by your Spirit and by taught your messengers that we learn to walk worthily. May we grow up into the fullness of Christ, who is our peace, our freedom, and our victory. Amen

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Ephesians 3:14-21
Tuesday, 6 May 2008

When you pray for the people you love, what do you ask God to do for them? Oh, I imagine that there is the usual list including food, clothing, shelter, protection, good grades, a job with benefits, companionship etc. When I think of my younger relatives, especially, I pray for all of these things. But I also know that all of those things could be present in abundance and the person still might not be truly blessed.

The text today is one of the most incisive and poetic in the whole of scripture. I hear it almost as the voice of a parent to a child as well as that of a spiritual leader to a congregation. The leader prays that God will strengthen the saints, that Christ will dwell in their hearts by faith while they are rooted and grounded in love. Most importantly, on bended knee the leader asks that God's people will plumb the depths, embrace the width, reach the lengths, and ascend to the heights of God's love, thereby being filled with God's fullness. But even in this prayer, a leader always commends the church to God, whose power at work in us can accomplish abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God!

Although the word is used at the end of the service, "benediction" does not mean ending so much as blessing. And while we are not at the ending of our transition into Pentecost (and Ephesians isn't over either), reflection on these words of blessing is instructive. Beloved, whatever else you may have or lack, please know that God's power is at work in you, doing far more than you can ever ask or think, for this knowledge is the greatest and most important blessing.

Sing "Sweet Hour of Prayer"

Get out your prayer list and pray that prayer for all on the list. 1. To be strong in God's power 2. To have Christ in their hearts 3. To be rooted and grounded in love 4. To know that Christ loves them. As you close your prayer, don't forget to give God the glory.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Worrying about Worrying

Ephesians 3:1-12
Monday, 5 May 2008

I have known what it means to be loved as a pastor. I say this with humility because it astounds me, but I know what it is like to have someone see my struggle and suffering and then struggle and suffer themselves on account of it. I know how it feels myself to be standing strong in the faith and to have others observe it and wonder how I can do it. And I know what it is like to worry about people worrying about me.

The suffering experienced by the pastor in the text is much more intense than any I could even imagine, but his entreaties to the saints suggest that he too knows what it is like to worry about people worrying about him. The whole reading for today demonstrates his encouraging assertions to the Ephesians that the troubles he endures for the gospel's sake are worth it for him and will lead to glory for the saints. What Paul understands is that the mystery of the gospel that has been revealed to and entrusted in him is far more precious and valuable than the conveniences of this world and life that he has given up. Consequently, he can write from jail to people on the outside and tell them, "Don't worry about me." Indeed, he says that his prayers are not for himself but for them, that they will not lose heart.

As difficult as it may be for us to watch anyone we love suffer, we must always remember that the responsibility for protecting the child of God is God's alone. The call of the gospel includes a cross for everyone, a challenge for everyone, a sacrifice for everyone. So, when you see a godly person suffering for righteousness sake, don't worry about them. God's got them. Instead of worrying, follow their example and give yourself more wholly to the glorious gospel.

Sing, "A Charge to Keep I Have"

Let us pray:

Loving God, we give you thanks for the ties that bind us to one another. More than that, we praise you for entrusting your glorious gospel to us. Help us to trust you with our own lives and the lives of those we love, including our leaders. Allow those of us who are leaders to be filled with passion for your work, such that your people may be built up and your name glorified in us. We pray, in Jesus' name. Amen

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Easter's Fullness

John 17:1-11
Easter 7
Sunday, 4 May 2008

I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out the significance of biblical numbers. But even without such esoteric knowledge, I am aware that the number seven (7) signifies completion or fullness. And it is the awareness of today as the seventh week of Easter, the last week before the change of seasons represented by the feast of Pentecost, that is the object of my reflections this week. What does it mean to experience Easter's fullness?

John 17 almost seems out of place as a text for the last week of the Easter season, since the scene recounted in it occurred before Jesus' crucifixion. The other text, Acts 1, seems far more appropriate to this time of year. Yet I submit to you that the Lord's prayer in John 17 actually teaches us much that we need to know about the purpose of the resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit whose power we will consider in next week's reading. In John 17, Jesus' themes are glory and unity. He asks his Father to restore the fullness of the glory which he shared with God from the beginning. Jesus also intercedes for the disciples, praying for unity. How powerful it is to observe that as Jesus prepares himself to endure suffering and condemnation, his prayer is not for his own strength but for his disciples' oneness. Jesus knows that his death has a purpose that can only be fulfilled when and as his disciples unite.

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we would do well to remember that the goal is never for us to one-up each other in Christian community. We are not called to compete with one another to show who sings, preaches, or prays "the best." Rather, our goal and calling come to fullness as we unite and grow closer. God knows that this is not possible apart from the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God pours out the Spirit which acts as the seal of our salvation and the cord that binds us in love. Celebrating the Spirit and the bond seems a fitting and full conclusion to the Easter season.

Sing, "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" or "Somebody Prayed for Me" (remember that Jesus prayed)

Let us pray:
Thank you, Lord, for the blessings of this Easter season and for the freshness with which we have received it. Thank you for lifting us up in prayer before your Passion and for the Spirit which constantly makes intercession for us. Grant us, we pray, the unity of the faith so that we your church may aptly fulfill all that you desire. May we show our faith in the resurrected Christ by living together in a spirit of unity, in Jesus' name. Amen

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Blood Ties

Ephesians 2:11-22
Saturday, 3 May 2008

Blood is thicker than water, or so the saying goes. Of course the meaning of this adage is that no matter how close or how distant relatives may seem from the outside, the genetic bond should never be underestimated.

This section of Ephesians 2 begins with the reminder that at first all of the odds were against us. Earlier in the chapter, we learned that our actions, our trespasses and sins condemned us until grace found us. Today, we learned that our bloodline was wrong too. We were hopeless, godless aliens and strangers. But the same grace that redeemed us from our sinful actions also provided for us the missing blood link that would bring us near and into the family of God. This time the blood is not from a human progenitor, but it is the spiritual sacrifice of Christ's blood that brings us to God and that joins us together with one another. Christ is our access; Christ is our peace.

The more I interact with church members, that is, members of the body of Christ, the more I marvel at God's ambitious intentions for us. God brings us together from all directions, persuasions, attitudes, affiliations, and inclinations, and then expects us to be more connected to each other than to anyone else, even the people with whom we have more in common. With human eyes, it looks impossible. But Christ's blood is thicker than our differences. And when we focus on Jesus, we discover how true it is that he alone is our peace. He is what makes our relationships with one another possible and positive. Without him, we will always remain strange and alien to one another. In him, the hostility is gone, and we recognize each other as family.

Sing, "I Know it Was the Blood"

Let us pray:
In this moment, O God, we acknowledge how much you have done for us, how often you have provided for us, how consistently you forgive us. And our gratitude leads us to open our hearts to love and fellowship with all of your children. Grant that we may know the peace of God and live in peace with one another, recognizing always that we are one family through the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wanted: Alive

Ephesians 2:1-10
Friday, 2 May 2008

When I think of the word "wanted" two images come to mind. The first image is of the "most wanted" posters that hang in the post office. The other is of "help wanted" signs in the window of businesses. While the circumstances of the two uses of "wanted" are different, they have in common the fact that the one posting the sign is earnestly seeking to fill an opening.

The most remarkable aspect of our new life in Christ is, according to today's reading, the fact that we have any life at all. Although we did not realize it, when we were in sin, we were actually dead. Now we have been made alive. Just as Ezekiel saw the dry bones in the valley come to life when the four winds blew into them, we too have come to life as the Spirit of God has blown into us. But there are two crucial things that we need to know about the new life we have. First, we didn't earn it; it is a gift of God's grace. Second, our new life has a purpose. Although our works could never merit God's life-giving Spirit, when God chose us God planned for us to produce good works.

Isn't it interesting, sisters and brothers, that we went from the condemned ("most wanted) to the valuable ("help wanted"? By God's grace, we have gone from being bound for judgment to bound for glory. Now God is processing us so that God can get a return on the investment that God has made in us.

Sing, "Amazing Grace"

Let us pray:
Gracious God, to be wanted, loved, and redeemed by you gives us life and gives our lives meaning. To be used in your service is our dearest desire. To live in your presence is our sweetest joy. Grant us the grace to fulfill all that you have in mind in creating and re-creating us, though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Ephesians 1:15-23
Ascension Day
Thursday, 1 May 2008

This week classes ended. Most of my students are seniors and for them the ending of this semester very well may mark the end of their formal schooling, at least for a time. But often the ending of one season marks the beginning of another. My students leave Penn with the hope that this ending (graduation) truly is the beginning (commencement) of their productive and successful adulthood.

The text from Ephesians continues the theme of God's purpose in choosing us. As is always the case, we are instructed to turn our vision fully on Jesus Christ. The scripture invites us to see Jesus descending into the grave and then ascending triumphant into heaven. Observing this, we come to know our hope, the riches of our inheritance in Christ, and the immeasurable greatness of his power. Our hope rests in Christ, whom God raised from the dead and who reigns supreme over every other force and power we will ever encounter.

Today marks the church-wide commemoration of the ending of the Lord's earthly ministry with the Ascension of our Lord. Having secured the believer's salvation and hope, Jesus was taken out of his disciples' sight. With the Lord's ascension, we join the disciples in the Jerusalem, where they are instructed to remain during the transition between Christ's ascending and the Holy Spirit's descending 10 days later at Pentecost.

With this first devotional of the 10-day transition period, I am inviting you to join me in reflecting on what we have known of God before and where God would carry us in our next season.

Sing, "My Hope is Built"

Let us pray:
God our Hope, on this day and in the midst of these transitions, we stretch forward with expectation concerning the power that is to come. Help us to release what is past, to be freed from all the things that tether us to this world. We offer our thanksgiving for what we have survived so that we could approach the new beginnings you are offering. Help us likewise to survive this transition and land safely in the glory that is to come, through Jesus Christ our Rock and Redeemer. Amen

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Family Name

Ephesians 1:1-10
Wednesday, 30 April 2008

I remember when it meant something to be a part of a family or a community. I remember when parents would send their children out into the world with the reminder that they represented the family and with a warning not to bring shame on the family name. For those of us who had families like that, our identity was grounded and stabilized, so that even when we veered from the path we still had a fundamental sense of who we were.

Today's text offers us a glimpse into God's plan before time. Before the world began, God chose us and destined us for adoption as God's children. Thus, our foundation in God's love and grace predate the foundation of the world itself. And while we watch the scenes of our lives play out in anticipation of God's final triumph, we already inhabit high and heavenly places in Christ. God has lavished grace on us, redeemed us by Christ's blood, and set us up for a praising and praiseworthy life. Thanks be to God!

A lot of people think that the best incentive for serving God and doing the right thing is fear. I disagree. For me, the greater motivation comes when I ponder who I am and what God has done for me. Gratitude for God's love and grace serves as stronger motivation for living right than does fear of God's judgment and wrath. I just have to remember to uphold the family name.

Sing, "Take the Name of Jesus With You"

Let us pray:
We thank you, God, for having made provisions for us, for having us and our well-being in your mind, even in the design of the universe. May we be ever mindful of the precious gift we have been given and may our lives be worthy of the family name. Amen

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

They Need Prayer

1 Timothy 2:1-6
Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Have you noticed that our nation's circumstances have taken a significant downturn in the last several months? (Some would argue years.) In addition to the protracted war with fronts in both Afghanistan and Iraq, which has substantial human costs, there is a financial markets crisis, accompanied by a steep rise in price for gas as well as essentials such as food. In the election campaign, today's scandal centers on the fractured relationship between a pastor and his presidential hopeful parishioner. The media's description is filled with the image of each of these Christian men throwing the other under the bus. If we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need God now.

Today's text provides an occasion to consider the relationship between the church and the state from the vantage point of the church's primary interests. In an instruction from an elder to a younger minister, we hear that the first priority is prayer. Notice the elements of the prayer to be offered. Supplications represent the prayers that we pray when we earnestly desire something for ourselves. Intercessions are the prayers that we pray on behalf of others. And as bad as the government can be, Timothy also instructs us to offer thanksgiving, to find something even in the messed up government to appreciate. The believer seeks God on behalf of leaders who often do not know that they should seek God for themselves.

I'll admit that when I look at the challenges that we bring on ourselves as a nation and as its individuals citizens, I am not as inclined to offer thanks as I might otherwise be. And yet we are called, even commanded to keep our eyes open and senses attuned to what is praiseworthy and what should make us grateful. This command is for our good, because our own route to real happiness and joy includes gratitude. As for all that is lamentable in the world, our nation, the current president, the candidates to succeed him, and all of the rest of us - well, let's just pray about it.

Sing "O God, Our Help in Ages Past"

Let us pray:
We come to you, O God, on behalf of all people, especially the leaders of our nation. We pray for the President and his Cabinet, for the Congress, for governors, and mayors. We pray for all four remaining presidential candidates: for Clinton, McCain, Obama, and Paul. We pray for Jeremiah Wright. We give you thanks for the opportunity to choose and the right to vote. We thank you for the progress we have made as a nation, even as we pray that your justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream. Grant us the spiritual fortitude to represent Christ's kingdom in this hour, we pray in his name. Amen

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Double Standard

Matthew 7:1-12
Friday/Saturday, 25-26 April 2008

Here's a question for the ages: Why are people so inconsistent? It's a chronic condition among us that we hate in others the same qualities that we allow for or even take pride in in ourselves. And let's face it, much of the time we hold others to higher standards of behavior than we allow for ourselves.

Addressing the human tendency toward hypocrisy, Jesus begins this section of his teaching with a command concerning judgment. Most people reading the text focus on the first clause "Do not judge." Many an errant soul has waved the flag of "Do not judge" as a way of deflecting critique or censure of bad behavior. Yet Jesus is not justifying the wrong that the blatantly sinful person does; he is shining a light on the secret sins of the outwardly pious. And the particular error that Jesus confronts in v. 1 is the double standard. Remember, Jesus does not say that it is never appropriate to remove the speck in your sister or brother's eye, only that you are ill equipped to do so until you have removed the log from your own.

Here again, Jesus reminds us that there are consequences for our actions, that there is an accountability that goes beyond humans and their systems of justice. While our games of hypocrisy may work on people who cannot see what is inside us, there is a God who knows what the real deal is. Just as we cannot be forgiven if we do not forgive, we cannot receive mercy if we are unwilling to show some.

Sing "At Calvary"

Let us pray:
Merciful God, how grateful we are that when our own failure and sin could well have snuffed all possibility of redemption out, you extended your love to us. As we live in community with one another, as sisters and brothers through your blood, help us to extend mercy and grace to one another. Help us to live the golden rule spiritually and do for others what we want to have done for us. Make us consistent and well-formed in our character, we pray through Jesus Christ. Amen

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What are you Looking At?

Matthew 6:25-34
Thursday, 24 April 2008

Being competitive is a part of my nature. Most of the time, I try to use this tendency as a motivation to do more of what is good and right. But occasionally I find myself in the mode of "keeping up with the Joneses." Every now and then I find myself looking at my neighbor and comparing myself to her or him. And you know how that moment of comparison and judgment makes me feel? Anxious.

Our text today is one of the most famous in scripture because it expresses the primacy of the kingdom over every material concern, even for necessary things. Jesus' expression is even more vivid in the King James Version. Where the NRSV says "Don't worry," the KJV says "Take no thought." It's almost startling to read Jesus telling his disciples not to think at all about the very things that most consume our attention. After all, food, clothing and shelter are basic needs. All around us people are stressed about how they will provide for themselves. But Jesus doesn't want us to look around us at our friends and families; he wants us to look at the flowers. When we consider the flowers and the birds, we realize that taking care of ourselves is not our top priority. Our top priority is God's kingdom and God's righteousness.

In this season of economic downturn, when anxiety fills so many hearts and when the desire to show off materially could have disastrous effects on our present and future, it is good to be reminded to look at lilies and sparrows. We cannot afford to let the anxieties of this world distract us either from the security we have in a loving God who provides or from the responsibility God has given us to seek God's reign and justice.

Sing, "His Eye is on the Sparrow"

Loving God, we bring all of are cares and concerns to you. We thank you for the reminder that you care for us and that you have always taken care of us. May we grow in our trust in you and in our commitment to your righteous rule here on earth as it is in heaven. Keep us centered in our purpose as your children; rid us of our anxiety and make us secure in your love. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Valued and Prized

Matthew 6:19-27
Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Most of us have lots of possessions but few treasures. Our possessions we use, enjoy, take care of, but eventually discard. Our treasures are another matter entirely. Those things we polish, appraise, ponder, and set in a place of honor. When we lose our possessions, we are irritated and disgusted. If they are stolen, we feel violated and angry. But when we lose our treasures, we are crushed.

Jesus continues to dig deeply into the human condition with a warning to his followers concerning what is valued and prized. "Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth." Jesus understands that some possessions are necessary for the navigation of life in this world. But he doesn't want his disciples to confuse the incidentals of life with the main point. Treasures, those highly valued and prized parts of your life, should never be material. The material is vulnerable to moth and rust; it can be lost and stolen. It is this vulnerability that makes people inclined to hoard those material things. But Jesus wants his people to know that the temporary nature of material things is the very reason that we should hold no great stock in them, but rather treasure what is preserved and protected in heaven for us. For, where our treasure is, our hearts are there also.

Jesus does not offer the easy way for those of us who want to walk with him. He challenges us to think about what is most special, valued and prized in our lives. If the most precious things to us are earthly, then we are on the wrong path. If we seek what is earthly, then we have our reward already. But if we seek what is heavenly, then we continue to strive.

Sing, "Jesus is All the World to Me"

Let us pray:
Loving God, we praise you for guiding us into this way that leads to abundant and everlasting life. We thank you for directing us away from the materialism and worldly-mindedness that plagues our culture. Continue to remind us to value most the spiritual life and to store up treasures in your kingdom, we pray through Jesus Christ. Amen

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Learning to Pray

Matthew 6:7-15
Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Few things are as irritating as having a person criticize your actions or ideas without offering an alternative. "How could I improve my performance?", you ask. "I don't know; I just don't like the way you do it now." And the only thing worse than having a peer do this to you, is to have a teacher be so unhelpful.

Jesus not only gives his disciples instructions on "how not to pray;" he teaches them how to pray. There is much in the lesson of the "Lord's prayer" for us to consider, but two aspects of the prayer stand out in my reading of it today. The first is that Jesus wants his disciples to pray always for and with one another. Even if I am at home alone, when I say "Our Father," I join myself with all of God's other children around the world and even throughout all the ages. I care as much about my sister's daily bread as I care about my own. I am as interested in my brother's being forgiven as I am in being forgiven myself. In addition to the communal concern that is expressed in the prayer, Jesus also demonstrates God's holistic interest in human beings. Our worship of God's holy name is connected to our prayer for God's will and God's kingdom which is also connected to our need for daily food. Nothing in our lives is outside of God's loving concern for us all.

As we pray, we learn that we are our brother and sister's keeper. We hold each other in prayer as we pray in the pattern that Jesus teaches in contrast to the misguided petitions we would offer without his guidance. We also discover that when our hearts are turned heavenward we see God's absolute provision for all of our needs - spiritual, emotional, and physical.

Sing, "The Lord's Prayer"

Pray the Lord's prayer.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Treasures in the Closet

Matthew 6:1-18
Monday, 21 April 2008

Occasionally, in a fit of cleaning frenzy or to bemoan a change in dress size, I clean out my closet. Although I don't do it often, whenever I do clean the closet, I find items that I had lost or had wondered about - articles of clothing that had fallen off their hangers, jewelry or money in pockets, etc. Odd, isn't it, that when we think of "closets," we imagine skeletons instead of pondering the treasures that are hidden in them?

Jesus is in the midst of his most famous teaching, known as the Sermon on the Mount. Throughout this discourse, the Master instructs his disciples and the listening crowd about the distinction between the follower of Jesus and the ordinary person. Literally and figuratively, Jesus' followers are always called to go the extra mile. But what we are not called to do is to create public displays of piety for the entertainment of the world around us or for the advancement of some personal agenda, such as the praise of people. Prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms all are integral to the spiritual walk, but the audience for those pious acts is God and not people. Go into your room (the King James Version says "closet") and shut the door, and trust that the God who sees in secret will give an open reward.

There is a sweetness about the presence of God that can only be known in solitude. While there is much about the Christian way that is communal, some of our time and energy have to be given to God alone. We know that sharing secrets with a friend builds intimacy and bonds. Likewise, sharing secret time with God in the secret place binds us to God and to God's purpose for our lives. Take the time to discover the treasures in the prayer closet, knowing that the secret of our intimacy will eventuate in open and public rewards.

Sing, "More Love to Thee"

Take the time to pray your own private prayer.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Troubling, Troublesome, Trouble Free

John 14:1-14
Easter 5
20 April 2008

To me one of the greatest gifts that the African American spiritual tradition has given to the world is the ability to embrace the difficulty and tension of human life and at the same time to celebrate the presence and joy of knowing God's presence. Few songs were as effective in capturing this pain and joy than the old chorus "Trouble in my way/I have to cry sometime." Even after you "lay awake at night" you know that "That's all right" because "Jesus, He will fix it after while."

Surely Jesus is aware that trouble waits at the door for himself and for his disciples as he dines with them in the upper room on the night of his betrayal and on the eve of his crucifixion. Indeed, near the end of this extended discourse, recorded in John 16:33, Jesus declares that in the world [the disciples] will have tribulation. Yet in midst of this troubling time, when the one who has been the source of their stability is about to be crucified and the very foundations of their understandings about the Christ and about God are about to be shaken, Jesus instructs his disciples "Let not your hearts be troubled." How does he think that peace in the midst of trouble is possible? Believe in God; believe also in me. Understand that even the troubling times you are now experiencing are the preparation for the way that God is making for your future lives. "I go to prepare a place for you."

News around the world, in our neighborhoods, and even in our homes and churches is troubling. Our own infirmities, vices, and bad habits are troublesome. But our faith in God is strong. When we focus on our trustworthy and faithful God, believing God and the One whom God has sent, then our hearts are blessedly trouble free. The peace that surpasses understanding keeps our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.

Sing "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus"

Let us pray:
O for grace, God, to trust you more. Much in our experience has taught us of your faithfulness and encourages us in our hope in you. Still, the troubles of this world and the traumas of our lives sometimes cause us to forget what our spirits have learned. Today, we recommit ourselves to believing you, in the name of Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice has made a home for us. Amen

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How Will They Know 17 April 2008

Exodus 33:1-23
Thursday, 17 April 2008

I grew up in a church tradition that focused on holiness, on being set apart. The "saints" didn't behave the way the "world" behaved. In speech, in attire, in commitment, in recreation, in everything visible they tried to be an example of the sanctified life. They wanted people to know by looking at them that they were saved.

The disaster of idolatry and its devastating aftermath are fresh in the minds of Moses and the people. But God is ready for them to move on into the Promised Land. In conversation, though, Moses notices that God has not promised that the divine presence will accompany them. Instead, God promises to send an angel, a messenger to fulfill God's will. The problem is that an angel is not God, and Moses knows it. In one of the most poignant prayers of the scriptures, Moses declares that if God's presence does not go with them, then Moses will not go. "How else," Moses asks, "will they know that we are your people, if you are not with us?" It is by God's presence that the people are distinct from other peoples. God relents. In seal of this promise, Moses asks to be shown the divine glory - the weighty presence of God. Although Moses is not permitted to behold that glory, he is given protection in a rock as the Lord passes by.

Our desire as Christians to be distinctive from the world is an appropriate one. But our distinctiveness is not primarily measured in how we dress or what we eat or what we say or how we have fun. It is really the presence of God in our lives and the hand of God upon our lives that distinguishes us from the rest of the world. The world will know that we are Christians by our love, by our light, and by our truth, as the character of God is demonstrated in our character as God's children.

Sing "He Hideth My Soul"

Let us pray:
Lord, we confess that we are not all that you would have us to be. Just as our ancestors in the faith have done before us, we have sometimes failed to honor you. But we pray that your presence will continue to go with us and lead us to your promised land. Set us apart as your people even as you develop in us character and beauty that is more than skin deep, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How Do You Tell the Difference 13 April 2008

John 10:1-10
Easter 4
Sunday, 13 April 2008

Q: How do you tell the difference between a violin and a dog? A: The dog knows when to stop scratching.

This Sunday's Gospel text put me in mind of the style of "How do you tell the difference" jokes. In this joke format two things are compared which have such obvious distinctions that part of the joke is the question itself. Who can't tell the difference between a violin and a dog? Who can't tell the difference between a walrus and an orange? Who can't tell the difference between a shepherd and a robber?

The point the Jesus makes in his discourse about the Good Shepherd is that while the difference between a good shepherd and a thief/robber seems obvious, people can be confused and choose to listen to the latter rather than the former. To remedy this tendency, Jesus describes the activities of the Shepherd in contrast to the thief. First of all, the shepherd's concern is for the sheep's well-being. Psalm 23 remarks that the shepherd leads the sheep to green pastures and beside still waters. Jesus says that the sheep who enter through him will have pasture. The thief, on the other hand, looks out only for the thief's interests. In sum, the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The Shepherd comes to give life. The sheep recognize the Shepherd's voice because it is associated with loving and consistent care.

So, how do you tell the difference between a shepherd and the thief? I don't have a pithy statement in answer to this question, but I am clear that the actions are more important than the words anyway.

Sing "More About Jesus" and/or "The King of Love My Shepherd Is"

Let us pray:

Loving Shepherd, grant us discernment to hear your voice and follow your way, so that we experience the fullness of abundant and eternal life. Keep us safe away from the thief. Fill us with every good thing that comes from your hand, through Jesus Christ. Amen

Friday, April 11, 2008

Enter the Cloud 11 April 2008

Exodus 24:1-18
Friday, 11 April 2008

I have never liked to be left out. I want to know what the conversation is about, what the organization does, what the person behind the facade is like. I don't want to be the only one who doesn't understand the joke. I don't even want to be one of the ones who doesn't get it. But as much as I want to be included, I know that there are some things I cannot understand without being let in and some places I cannot go without being invited.

The section we have been considering from the book of Exodus has been discussing the preparations and conversation that constitute the covenant between God and the Israelites. Have you noticed how often God draws boundaries and limits as a part of the relationship's terms? In today's text, there are various levels of engagement into which individuals or groups are invited. Although all are drawn into the covenant, speaking with one voice their intention to obey the Lord's command and being sprinkled with the blood of the covenant, there are degrees of intensifying closeness, culminating in the last verse of our lesson when Moses is the only one who enters the cloud.

Like the Israelites, we share a common invitation to be cleansed by the blood of the covenant and a diversity of gifts and callings. But what is different is that now we all have an invitation to the space where before only Moses could enter. We are all invited into the presence of God; we all may enter the cloud. The thing is that too often we either miss the invitation or ignore it. Too often we have far more curiosity about each others' business and a far more passionate desire to be invited into exclusive clubs than we desire the things of God. Yet what we get when we enter the cloud is not trivia or gossip; it is an experience of the knowledge that makes life full or actually that makes real life possible.

Sing, "Close to Thee"

Let us pray:
Lord, thank you for the provision of your word and of your blood which make relationship with you possible for us. Thank you for laying the foundation and opening up the way to abundant and eternal life. We pray that you will give us a passionate curiosity to know the things about you that can only be learned through closeness and intimacy. Help us not to be afraid to enter the cloud, though Jesus Christ the Door to all that his holy. Amen

Thursday, April 10, 2008

God Only Knows 10 April 2008

Exodus 20:1-21
Thursday, 10 April 2008

Much of what is really true about us is hidden from the world around us. To be sure, unexpected or difficult circumstances can catch us off guard and cause us to reveal more about ourselves than we intend. But normally we employ mechanisms that keep the real self hidden, so much so that we think nobody sees, nobody knows.

The scene in today's text is familiar to us as the Ten Commandments. After days of preparation and warning concerning the encounter between God and the Israelites, God now begins the discourse that defines God's relationship and covenant with God's people. "You shall have no other gods before me." For a long time, I read this commandment as an assertion of proper priorities: Nothing should come before God. Lately, though, I have been imagining God sitting high and viewing us as if our lives are a performance. With that image in mind, I hear the first commandment as God's expression of what God does and doesn't want to see from us. "I am looking at you and your life; don't parade any other gods in front of me."

There really is no excuse for us to be confused about who our the rightful ruler and deity is in our lives. But even if we are clueless about God, we need to know emphatically that God is not confused about who we are. Even now God is observing our hearts' performances. God is searching us out and can see what's real. God is looking beyond the facade to see who reigns on the throne of our hearts and in our lives. No one else may know how warped, misguided, mean-spirited, haughty, proud, devious, etc. we are, but God still knows.

Sing, "Take My Life and Let it Be"

Let us pray:
Create in us clean hearts, O Lord, and renew right spirits within us. Remind us that you are always looking. Reveal to us the idols that remain and strengthen us to remove them from our lives and thus from before your sight, in Jesus' name. Amen

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Meeting God 9 April 2008

Exodus 19:16-25
Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Although it is a fad among church people to do so, I have never been a fan of proclaiming that "God told me" this or "Thus saith the Lord" that. Don't get me wrong, I do sometimes think that God talks to me, but I have enough respect for and even fear of God that I am careful not to take God's name in vain or attribute to God those things that I suspect may be a figment of my own imagination.

Having prepared themselves for an encounter with God, the Israelites are encamped near the mountain on the third day of consecration, when the earth begins to quake, the thunder rolls, and a dense cloud of darkness descends. God has shown up for the scheduled meeting and announced the divine presence with fanfare fit for the Lord of Hosts. Moses the leader recognizes the signal that it is time for the people to meet their God. As usual, God is the first to arrive at the meeting point, both because God is first in everything and because God wants Moses to have a chance to set forth the boundaries of the encounter before some unwitting Israelite accidentally approaches God in the wrong way. You see, as loving as God is, God has boundaries.

Because God is so kind and has extended the divine hand toward us, we sometimes act as if we forget that God is God. Leaders and people have to learn how to recognize the presence of God in our midst by bringing the right kind of consecrated spirit and observing the boundaries. The word and presence of the Living God are never anything to take for granted or to behave haphazardly around. When we come into God's presence, the proper posture is humility and the proper activity is worship and obedience.

Sing, "O Worship the King"

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we acknowledge and give thanks for the privilege of being in your presence. We thank you for arranging for and showing up first to the meeting places in our lives. As we seek to know you more intimately, grant us the grace of consecrated lives that observe the boundaries you set. Help us to lead others to meaningful encounters with you, in Jesus' name. Amen

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Big "If" 8 April 2008

Exodus 19:1-16
Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Since you're reading this meditation, I suspect that you have already discovered that the price of adulthood far outweighs the perks. I still remember what it was like to wish for the day when I would be an adult, when I could make my own decisions. When I had no responsibility, I longed for more choices. Now that I have to live with the choices I make, choosing is more of burden than I anticipated. Now I know that actions have consequences.

Today's reading comes from my favorite book in the Old Testament, the book of Exodus. Moses has succeeded in leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, into the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land. After roughly two months of freedom, God engages the people in a conversation with Moses as the intermediary. After recounting the loving favor that God has extended to the Israelites, God then makes clear the need for the people to make a choice with the understanding that the choice will have specific consequences. "Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples." No more are they like children to take their blessings for granted. No more can they expect their errors to be overlooked.

Too often we want the privileges of spiritual maturity without taking on the responsibilities. Church people fancy ourselves to be God's treasured possession, holy nation, and priestly kingdom without committing ourselves to obeying God's voice. We want all the perks that God has promised without the investment of ourselves that we are called to make. We are free in Christ to enjoy abundant life, if we trust the leading of the loving God who has borne us this far on eagles' wings. If we obey God's voice the life of freedom and choice is limitless. But that's the big "if".

Sing, "Trust and Obey"

Loving God, we thank you for having freed us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Help us to live up to all that you have promised us through obedience to your will and fellowship in your Spirit. Wash and sanctify us for fuller and more fruitful relationship with you, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen

Monday, April 7, 2008

What Leaders Do 7 April 2008

1 Peter 5:1-14
Monday, 7 April 2008

In the 19th century, Lord Acton offered a despairing assessment of leadership: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." And while my own optimism as well as my sense of a call to leadership urge the rejection of the generalization, my experience with people in power confirms that they can be dangerous in the absence of checks and balances.

Last week when we began 1 Peter, I asserted that the letter represents the activation of the gospel in the life of the believer. And in this closing passage, we see a charge to those in the Christian community who hold positions of authority. From one leader to the others, the writer seeks to convey the fundamental differences between worldly power and Christian leadership. Remember that the church was at that very moment experiencing persecution at the hands of an unjust and unchecked government. They of all people understood the dangerous arrogance that power can engender. Against this backdrop, Peter offered a riff on a perspective that Jesus articulated when he equated leadership with service in the kingdom of God. Note that before Peter asked the church to respect and follow elders' leadership, he instructed the elders to be good for and to the people. Feed the flock; keep watch over them for their souls' sake; be an example. That's what real leaders do.

I often say that all of us are leaders in one venue or another. All of us, without regard to our position in the church, have spheres of influence and arenas of power. I pray that we might be encouraged in those spaces to exhibit the characteristics of caring and humility that distinguish Jesus' people from everyone else. And while it may be the case that we sometimes find ourselves corrupted by power, we would do well to remember that no human power is ever absolute. Indeed, Peter's last words before signing the letter are "To [God] be the power for ever and ever." Great Christian leaders all say "Amen."

Sing, "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name"

Let us pray:
Sovereign of All, we acknowledge your ultimate authority, in heaven and on earth. You are God above all; you reign over all. Allow us to take heed to our charge to serve you and to minister to others in the myriad spaces of our influence and authority. May we always humble ourselves so that we might be accepted by you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Still the One 6 April 2008

Luke 24:13-49
Easter 3
Sunday, 6 April 2008

Disappointment is always uncomfortable, but it is nearly unbearable when you have pinned all of your hopes on one person or one possibility. In the face of break ups, deaths, illnesses, layoffs, failures, shortages, infidelity and the myriad other disappointments humans regularly experience, we all struggle with the choice of what to do next. The most resilient of us hope to hope again.

In the text, two of Jesus' disciples are traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The timing of their journey is curious. It is Easter evening and the news has gotten around that Jesus has risen, but these two disciples do not remain in town even to see him. It seems that the disappointment of his crucifixion, dashing their most treasured hope that he would be Israel's redeemer,is too hurtful for quick recovery even after the astounding and incredible testimony about the resurrection. With their heads down, they head out of the city. While they walk, Jesus appears alongside them. He shows up! Notice his compassion as he hears them out in their sorrow and complaint. Imagine how it sounds to him to hear them speak of their hope in the past tense. "We used to believe that he was the one." But he does not condemn them. The rest of the text is about their healing, the reclamation and restoration of hope. In his teaching and in reaking bread, but mostly in the pure presence of Jesus as he walks with them they discover that he's still the one.

Occasionally, life throws all of us curve balls, and out of nowhere we are struck with crushing disappointment that shakes us to our core. Like the two disciples, we hit the road with a destination in mind but also with a deep unsettledness as we try to regroup and allow an alternative hope to spring forth. In these seasons, beloved, expect Jesus to draw near and walk alongside. Pay attention while he speaks; feel your heart burn with recognition. Jesus may not look exactly like he did before the heartbreak, but he's still the only one to pin your hopes on.

Sing, "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me" or "Abide With Me 'Tis Eventide" (to hear this hymn sung beautifully by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir click here.)

Let us pray:
Blessed Savior, our most fervent prayer is that you would walk with us through the days of our lives and abide with us in the evening. We know that you hear our sorrows and our complaints and that in compassion you draw near to us. Forgive us for speaking of our hope in the past tense. Kindle anew the fire in our hearts and by your presence reclaim and restore our hopes. You are still the only one who can. Amen

Friday, April 4, 2008

How Well We Live 4 April 2008

1 Peter 3:13-4:6
Friday, 4 April 2008

Around the nation today people have gathered to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many are asking questions about the progress we have made toward the goals for which he gave his life. Still others are wondering how the message of love that he preached has been so domesticated by the holiday in his name and the deification of his memory that we no longer see it as radical or him as prophetic. A few are even asking about the circumstances under which he died; most, though, are thinking about how he lived.

Today's reading offers a question that connects forcefully with the anniversary of King's death: "Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is right?" Pause and consider the question momentarily. Recognize that while it is insane that there are people who seek to harm others for doing good, history is replete with stories of evil powers that did just that. Christ was crucified; martyrs were burned at the stake or thrown to the lions; Martin King and others died from assassins bullets, lynchers' nooses, and segregationists' bombs. Addressing this reality, Peter asserted that even when evil forces convene against God's people, what the devil meant for evil simply tranforms into a conduit of blessing. Doing right is itself a blessing, even when it leads to suffering and even death.

Contrary to the misinformation propounded by "prosperity" preachers, God's promise of abundant life is no guarantee that the life of faith will be free from trouble. In fact, the Captain of our faith, Jesus Christ suffered unjustly and died a horrific death. But remembering that his resurrection from the dead is the locus and source of our hope, we arm ourselves to live fully and totally for God and for good while we have a chance. After all, as my mother used to say, it doesn't matter how long you live but how well.

Sing, "If I Can Help Somebody"

Let us pray:
Lord, grant to us the faith and commitment to stand strong in face of opposition and to do good in the midst of an evil and perverse world. May we not be intimidated or ensnared by the wiles of the devil. Rather, fill us with boldness, justice, and compassion so that our living will be meaningful and our blessedness assured. We ask these favors in memory of our faithful ancestors and in the name of Jesus Christ, our Perfect Example. Amen