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

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Where Justice Reigns 3 April 2008

1 Peter 2:11-25
Thursday, 3 April 2008

As a true idealist, I long for and look for the world to be just and fair. I vehemently resent the tendency among people to discriminate against others merely because they are different. In the world and in the church, I observe the ravages of sexism, racism, classism, and countless other insanities, which dishonor some of God's children on the basis of accidents of nature and status without regard to gifts, character, competency, or even call. When I see these things, I just want to scream.

Because of my disposition regarding justice among humans, I was tempted to skip today's text in favor of something more egalitarian and justice-minded than the injunction for slaves to obey their masters. But upon closer reflection I came to regard the text as a critique of rather than an apology for the injustices and distortions that are inherent in human government. The writer recognized that the Roman persecution of Christians was evil, but reminded the reader to follow in the steps of Christ who confronted the powers of this world with love unto the death while trusting that his vindication was in the hands of God "who judges justly." What matters most in the life of the believer is not the sometimes evil and unjust circumstances that confront us, but rather the faithful and consistent witness for good and God that we maintain in the midst of that injustice. When we do what is right anyway, we proclaim that Christ reigns and that in Christ justice prevails.

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, I want to state clearly that the Bible does not require us to relinquish our human rights, to be compliant and complaisant in the face of evil. Indeed, I believe that its teachings provide a mandate to do all within our power to effect just and righteous rule in human government. Still it is good to remember, as our forbears most assuredly knew, that in the midst of injustice here, we can appeal our case to a God whose very name means justice. Martin King understood well the principle that as believers we must always behave honorably so that the message of Christ can be proclaimed in our talk and in our walk. Defeat only comes when we forget who we are.

I won't ask you to sing the hymn, "Once to Every Man and Nation," adapted from a poem by James Russell Lowell. I will simply quote the final stanza, in honor of Dr. King and of all the other great preachers who have quoted over the last 160 years.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
yet the truth alone is strong;
though her portion be the scaffold,
and upon the throne be wrong;
yet that scaffold sways the future,
and behind the dim unknown,
standeth God within the shadow,
keeping watch above his own.

Let us pray:
Grant, O Lord, that we may embody in our relations with others the justice that we seek from others for ourselves. Amen

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fashion Sense 2 April 2008

1 Peter 2:1-10
Wednesday, 2 April 2008

For the fashion conscious,the changing of seasons signals the change of attire. But even those of us who cannot distinguish high fashion from a hand grenade still change our clothes to accommodate the temperature. Indeed, one of the ways that we can tell when a person's mental faculties are diminished is that they wear a winter coat in 95-degree weather or a sleeveless sun dress in the dead of winter. Safety, comfort, taste, and, yes, conformity to culture all dictate to us what to wear and what not to wear.

Continuing the description of the transition from nonbeliever to believer, 1 Peter 2 outlines the attitudes that clash with the life of holiness to which we are called. Funny, isn't it, that the writer's top five list of holiness fashion "don'ts" is not the list most often cited by church people? But even if we don't know it, the truth is that harboring a bad attitude is at least as likely to cause a person to miss the kingdom of God as any other failure or sin. It keeps us from the nourishment of God's word and inhibits our progress in growing closer to Christ. And I haven't even mentioned the havoc it wreaks in our relationship with the other saints.

Beloved, hear God telling us that while we are doing our spiritual spring cleaning, we need to take malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander out of our closets and discard them. We are chosen as God's own people, holy and royal, and we have to dress the part, so that the world will see our light and praise our God. When we were in the world, our bad attitudes fit right in with the ways of the world. But now our spiritual safety, comfort, style, and culture in the kingdom of God make the attire of the world not only out of fashion but downright crazy.

Sing, "Close to Thee"

Let us pray:
God our Rock, attune our thoughts and dispositions to your perfect will. You have called us by your name and invested us with an excellent purpose. Expose and excise those aspects of our inward character and attitude that would block our growth and impede our intimacy with you. Help us to conform to the culture of your kingdom, to embody your style, to reflect your taste and in so doing keep us safe from the ways of the world and the wiles of the devil, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spring Cleaning 1 April 2008

1 Peter 1:13-25
Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Today is the first day that actually feels like spring to me. The breeze is gentle and warm. Even though the weather is overcast, it only reminds that April is known for its showers. The buds on the trees are turning to blossoms. The flowers in my yard that only bloom once per year are in bloom. Something about this season bespeaks new opportunities. It makes me want to get my house in order. I feel like I should be getting ready.

Yesterday's text discussed the trials and struggles that are a part of the human sojourn in a barren season. Today's text reminds us that winter does not last forever. And since the Lord's kingdom is at hand, there are some actions that are critical for believers to engage. Get ready! Prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Remember that the Lord requires much more than a half-hearted attempt at service. The standard is holiness in all your conduct.

I usually find the call to holiness intimidating. But this time as I read the text, I realized that God was not saying "Make yourself holy." God certainly knows that we don't have that capacity. Really what God is giving us is a promise of holiness: "You shall be holy because I am holy." We're supposed to let God's holiness rub off on us, just as child inherits the traits of a parent. Getting our minds ready, bringing discipline to our character, and living faithful lives simply makes room for God to show off the beauty of God's Spirit in us. And remember that unlike the beauty of the blossoms and flowers of spring, God's offer is for a beauty that will not fade.

Sing, "Lord I want to Be a Christian"

Let us pray:
Holy God, quite apart from the signs of the changing of seasons in nature, we are grateful for the changing of seasons in our lives. How wonderful it is for us to see the buds and blossoms emerging in our spirits. We long to be like you, Lord, to have your character and disposition formed in us. Make us holy. Make us faithful. Make us Christians, in Jesus' name.