Friday, September 30, 2016

In God's Hands

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. - Psalm 6:1

Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. - Romans 8:34

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 114; 1 Samuel 20:18-21:9; John 4:39-42

Reggie and Zoe in an earlier moment
of serious scrutiny and jealousy.
This morning was cooler, darker, and chillier than usual when I sat down for scripture and prayer time. So it might not be surprising that both Zoe the cat and Reggie the dog decided they needed to be in the middle of what I was doing. We got into the mode we sometimes do, where I had one hand scritching one pet and the other hand scritching the other. Usually this arrangement seems fine with everybody (though it's a good thing we don't have three pets). But once in a while, there is scrutiny and jealousy. Like brother and sister, they watch to see what attention the other is getting, and if they feel slighted, they demand equal treatment. Pushing, whacking, or chomping may occur.

It's a long stretch from scritching pets to the serious conflicts of life, and a big difference between our couch and the whole kingdom of God. But it struck me, as I read the scriptures for today, how important it is to know that we're in God's loving hands. Psalm 6 and Romans 8 both address situations of suffering and opposition, potentially life-or-death struggles against others. 1 Samuel 20-21 shows the escalating conflict between Saul and David. But there is assurance that God will watch over all. Saul's son Jonathan is loyal and honest, willing to put himself at risk to protect David, who has done nothing wrong. Jesus, in John 4, takes the time to reveal God's life and truth even to people usually seen by the people of God as mutual enemies. Psalm 6 and Psalm 114 both testify to God's ability to deliver people from danger.

Then, in Romans 8, one of my favorite Bible passages, Paul proclaims very clearly that God is at work in the midst of all our troubles, that nothing at all can come between us and God's love, and that in Christ, we have proof that God is not out to condemn us, but instead stops at nothing to seek true life for us. Even when we don't know how to pray or how to handle a situation, God is there, Christ and the Holy Spirit both said to be interceding on our behalf.

Today, I'm not aware of any life-or-death threats against me. Life is comfortable in many ways. But there are always doubts and pains and worries. In my work as a pastor, in a time when the worldwide church is going through massive changes, I try to discern God's way forward, and I also find plenty of forces - within myself, among the people I serve, and all around us from other sources - that work against what seems best and most faithful. Today, it's a comfort to know that I'm in God's hands. I might doubt, or with scrutiny and jealousy wish that God's touch was more obvious. I might imagine enemies where there are really just others who also just seek God's attention, and I might be tempted to react coldly against them. But whatever my response, the promise and truth is that I am in God's hands, and so are we all.

God, help me to live in this moment with you, aware of your care and guidance. Move me to both rest and action when the time is right. Forgive my small ways of thinking and self-centered perspective. Work in me and through me, so that I can notice your hands, receive your love, and announce it to others.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Place at the Table

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

The Lord says, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good." - Isaiah 55:2

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. John 6:27

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 113; 1 Samuel 19:8-20:17; John 4:27-38

Isaiah and both passages from John use the image of satisfying food as a metaphor for the true sustenance that comes from God. All throughout scripture, eating and drinking are connected with God's blessings. The vineyard is a symbol of the growth and fruitfulness of God's people; the banquet table represents the celebration of God's love and grace with all creation forever. In today's passages, we're consistently told that our place at God's table is a gift of grace. It is so precious we could never earn it, and yet it's ours freely because of God's love. We're also told that there is a choice in life: Where will we look for our food and drink? There are all kinds of other possibilities, which require our effort and expense - but they can't truly satisfy our hunger and thirst like God's grace can.

For me, this morning, I'm realizing that this daily time of scripture and prayer is like sitting at God's banquet table. It doesn't take long. And it's the richest part of me day. It keeps me centered, closer to God, remembering who I am, and whose I am, and what I'm a part of, and why I do what I do. It often leads to peace and small or large surprises of joy or insight. This time with God is the energy and foundation for everything else I'll do for the rest of the day. It's blatantly obvious that this is the very best way for me to spend half an hour or so of my time! And yet ... it's so easy to drift away from this habit and spend even more time on mundane things that bring a lot less into my life.

Isaiah asks an important question: Why do we do this? Do we want to be in control, determining for ourselves what we'll do, and how we'll pay for it? Do we put ourselves and our abilities above God, making idols for ourselves? Are we just slow learners? It's worth some time to ponder: Why do I do this? What are my weaknesses in choosing wisely? Where am I losing track of the great value of God's free gift, and turning my back and running after something much less worthy?

But more important than the question, or my individual answer to it, is the persistent invitation from God that comes before and after the question: Come! Receive! Listen! Eat! See! Believe! Live! God doesn't demand that we figure it all out, or get everything right. A place at the table is already set for each of us. Thank you, God! Let me pull up my chair, and sit with you a while, and be satisfied.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reconciling

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:14 (NIV)

God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19–20 (NIV)

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 112; 1 Samuel 18:1-19:7; John 4:1-26

The word and action of "reconciling" is what stands out for me in today's scriptures. In 1 Samuel, we have one example of a fragile, temporary human reconciliation between Saul and David. But God has something much bigger and longer lasting in mind. The other scriptures point to this: an eternal, all-encompassing reconciliation that overcomes all boundaries and barriers, that heals and makes clean, that brings forgiveness and life, that restores relationships that have been broken.

Sometimes it's said that "sin" is a word that has lost a lot of value in today's world. And maybe it's true that we don't connect well with a need to have every small transgression blotted from our record. That kind of approach can lead to a Law-oriented religion that kills instead of giving life. But "sin" is still a category that carries heavy truth, when we see it as a word for the whole problem of human alienation and brokenness, selfishness, and all kinds of evil. For this kind of sin, small corrections won't do. We need God's kind of reconciliation.

God of grace and mercy, forgiveness and healing, thank you for the reconciling work done for all creation, through the cross of Christ's death and resurrection. Send the light and hope of this message out into all the world, that those who are touched by this good news will be reconciled to you and to others, and will become a part of your eternal, all-encompassing reconciliation for all. May we see you at work in small and large ways, strive for your ways rather than our ways that lead deeper into sin, and be living examples of what you can do throughout the world.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Unveiling the Story

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

The Lord said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." - Exodus 33:14

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness. - 2 Corinthians 3:12

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 111; 1 Samuel 17:32-58; John 3:27-36

Today's two verses have to do with the same story. Exodus 33 tells about Moses going back up Mt. Sinai to talk with God and get the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments (after smashing the first tablets in anger at seeing the Israelites worshiping the golden calf). He asks who God will send with him to lead the people on their journey, and he asks to be shown God's ways. God's answer is that it is God's own presence who will go with them. When Moses comes back down the mountain, he has to wear a veil because his face is shining from being in the presence of God's glory.

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul takes up the same story, but in a bold contrast, he says that the glory of this powerful, ancient story of Moses and the Law is nothing compared to the glory of the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. And he says, unlike Moses who put on the veil, those who have heard the Gospel are compelled to share it by going unveiled. The "hope" he speaks of is the promise of justification by grace, written not on stone tablets but on human hearts. And the "acting with great boldness" means taking every opportunity to reveal the truth and love behind this story of grace.

It strikes me that Moses, and Paul, and the other main players in the longer scriptures for today, the psalmist, and David, and John, are all a part of the great story of God being advanced and revealed to the world. At each stage, God is carrying the promise of "blessed to be a blessing" further along. The people who are drawn into the story wrestle with how to live out the scene they find themselves in, in their place and time. What is the story? Where are we in it? What's God's will for us? Where are we headed? And how can I faithfully be a part of the story continuing? Part of the value of reading stories like these is that we see how it can play out in our own place and time. Like people of faith who have gone before us, we are players in a particular scene, called to make the story known to other people, so that they too can play their part.

One of the things I like about this image is that it's consistent with a theme that runs through today's Bible passages. God is the one whose presence makes the difference. God leads, God provides, gives strength, makes truth known, encourages, makes possible the movement of the story. And God is faithful. My prayer is to be reminded and inspired by these stories that God has a role for each of us, and that the truth and power and success of the story are in God's hands, not ours. May we listen, and hear. May the story be written on our hearts. And may it be made known to others with boldness and courage and love.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Direction

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient. - Exodus 24:7

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. - Romans 12:11

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 110; 1 Samuel 16:14-17:31; John 3:16-26

Several of today's scriptures use the word "spirit" to talk about someone being energized or motivated or moved in a certain way. 1 Samuel differentiates between Saul having "the spirit of the Lord" (with "spirit" capitalized in some English translations, and lowercase in others) and "an evil spirit from the Lord." John 3, a few verses earlier, has the well-known passage about being "born of the Spirit," and in today's verses connects that with light and truth and openness, as opposed to evil and hatred and deception. Paul, toward the end of Romans after some powerful writing about the Holy Spirit's work in our lives (particularly in chapters 7 and 8), seems to be talking about our own human spirit, calling for us to be energized by and aligned with God.

It's hard for me to sort out all of these different references to "spirit." I think the ancient world probably understood the word differently than we do today, probably with different shades of meaning between Hebrew and Greek thought. Of all these references to energy and motion, which would we find easy to attribute to God today, and which would we say are just from "nature," or other forces, or our own will? It's helpful for me to think of the word "direction" alongside "spirit." It can mean just a certain orientation, or it can mean that we've been "directed" by a force beyond ourselves. However we interpret "spirit" in the various ways it's referred to in the Bible, "direction" gets to the end result. Which way are we going? Are we aligned with God's purposes, or against? What are some road markers and goals along the way? And how can we use the resources under our power and control to keep moving in God's direction?

There's a lot I don't understand in the world - and in the Bible! But I understand and trust that my life can be oriented toward God's will and purpose, and that God's Holy Spirit does actively work in me to direct me in that way. I don't have to be fully able to explain or understand or navigate through the various "spirits" in the world (even my own!) to watch for that main current of direction, and try to be in sync with it. I thank God for light and truth and clarity, and for the peace and abundance of life that comes from being directed by the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Discipline and Growth in Grace

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you. - Deuteronomy 8:5

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. - 2 Peter 3:18

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 109:21-31; 1 Samuel 15:24-16:13; John 3:1-15

I didn't post on Thursday or Friday this week because I was away for a workshop at Trinity Lutheran Seminary with Kenda Creasy Dean. The topic was youth ministry - by which she means encouraging youth to be active and entrepreneurial in their own ministry, not so much "hanging around in the church basement." So in reading today's Daily Texts, the themes of growth and discipline are bouncing off some new ideas about youth and childhood.

We often assume that youth is something to be navigated through on the way to adulthood, and that it ought to be filled with education and training to that end. I think this attitude is reflected in what we commonly see in the church: that children and youth have formal instruction, up to and including Confirmation classes around 7-8th grade, which they're expected or forced to endure, and then they can stop learning (or, also commonly, stop being involved in any church activity at all, ever again). This way of thinking assumes that adults have "the stuff" that needs to be poured into the young people's lives or used to mold them into a certain form.

But the Bible's way of talking about discipline and growth is very different! The word "discipline" of course is related to the word "disciple," which shows that all of God's people - especially adults! - are to be growing and maturing in God's ways, all their life long. "Growing in grace and knowledge," as 2 Peter puts it, sounds pleasant. The Hebrew word for "Discipline," which is sometimes translated "chastise" or "admonish," sounds unpleasant. But by gospel and law, affirmation and rebuke, or we might say invitation and challenge, God calls forth growth over time.

One key insight from the workshop with Kenda Creasy Dean is that our whole way of encouraging growth in ministry, in fact our whole way of being the church in the world, is changing. One of many dimensions of the change is that our young people are already actively living a new way of being church, although that way is not clearly understood or defined yet. Less interested in preserving an institution, memorizing dogma, finding their place in a rigid hierarchy, they have been placed and prepared by God to be ministers of God's kingdom who are creative, collaborative, and focused on justice and well-being in the real lives of other people. We've reached a point where the youth can teach the older generations! They are not "the future of the church" in the sense that their faith will resemble ours and they will take our places in perpetuating the church as we know it. They are "the future of the church" in being active pioneers of a new way of life, who can train us how to see it and appreciate it and foster it - IF we are willing.

As a member of one of the older generations, I'm coming to see that it's time for ME to be humbled and disciplined, by being a servant and supporter of those who can teach me, who just happen to be younger than me. May I be able to recognize this as both a challenging, sometimes-less-than-pleasant process, and a gift of God's grace for my growth and the growth of the church and the kingdom.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sharing Faith

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. - Psalm 142:3 (NIV)

Blessed be the God who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 108:6-13; 1 Samuel 13; John 1:43-51

Paul's somewhat-confusing praise of God (consoling us, so that we can console others with the same consolation with which we are consoled!) reminds me of a very useful image often used by a church friend named Joe. Joe would talk about the need for "filling our tank," receiving God's blessings, taking time to care for ourselves, resting, spending time in whatever refreshes and renews us spiritually. And then, with a full tank, we pour out that same care for other people. Joe reminded me, and others, that it's not good to let our tank run dry, nor is it good to sit around with a full tank when that fuel could be put to use for others.

I think Joe's image gets close to what Paul is talking about, and I like it because it's simple, visual, intuitive, relatable, and useful. We watch the gas gauge in our cars, and we know it would be bad to run out. We realize that the same fuel is used by everybody else too, and we can sympathize with somebody whose tank is getting low without a chance to refuel. 

Two main differences come to mind. One is that we have to buy the gas we put in our cars, and whenever money gets involved, we think of things as a commodity. Buying gas becomes part of a transaction where we trade our time and effort for money, then trade some of that for gas. We could say that we've earned our gas. Not so with God. Everything is a gift. Pure grace. Every day, God's blessings come fresh and new, and we can receive them if we make ourselves ready and willing. 

The second difference is that with gas tanks, we usually don't have to think about anybody else's tank. It's up to them to earn their own money, watch their own tank, and stop and fill up when they need. It does happen, but i's rare, that I've been called on to buy gas for somebody else who really needs it. Again, it's different with God. God often chooses to make blessings real in human lives by choosing somebody else to bear the blessing. My spiritual tank has been filled countless times by the love and care and kindness of people all around. That kind of fullness isn't meant for me to hoard. Instead, when my tank is full, I'm able to provide all kinds of love and care and kindness for others too.

So instead of a transaction, the filling and emptying of our spiritual tank is part of a relationship where God's love is poured into our lives, and then poured out into the lives of others. It's an act of faith to let our tank be emptied for someone else, trusting that God will refill it and that we won't run dry. And it's humbling, and beautiful, to experience being part of something where we don't have to earn or buy what we need. We're receivers of a wonderful gift, and even better, we're privileged to become givers of the same gift.

God of grace and abundance, thank you for your many blessings and consolations. Guide me in how to rest in you and let my tank be filled. And show me how you would have me pour out my tank in service to someone else, so that they might also be blessed and console.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Anointing

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. - Psalm 23:5

While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way?" But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me." - Mark 14:3-4,6

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 108:1-5; 1 Samuel 11,12; John 1:29-42

Anointing is an act of setting apart, of choosing. In today's verses, anointing is both something done to and done for. In the most well-known of all the psalms, David compares receiving God's blessings to being anointed with oil, and the psalm is written so that everybody can find themselves in it, affirming God's love and care. It can really by my head that's anointed, a table of blessings set for me in the presence of my enemies. We also have God's anointed king, Saul, in 1 Samuel 11-12, at the beginning of his power; and in John 1, Jesus is called "the Messiah (which is translated Anointed)." Then, in the Mark passage, the woman anoints Jesus (a little later, he says this is for his burial) with an extravagant offering of costly ointment. The focus is on her in this story. She does this as an act of love and devotion, possibly anticipating the challenges coming up for Jesus. She is criticized for the way she chooses to devote herself to him. But Jesus stands up for her, and affirms that she has done "a good service."

In our lives, we definitely receive blessings from God. We are anointed as God's chosen ones in baptism, washed with water and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And then what? As David says, those who are anointed now live in the house of the Lord (the way of life of the Lord) forever. As Samuel tells the people, anointing as God's chosen one is to be accompanied by a life lived after God's ways. Jesus calls his disciples to "come and see" and to follow him. The woman in Mark 14, whose name we don't know, shows us how our life as disciples and followers of God's ways could be seen as a pattern of blessings poured out for others. Regardless of what people around us might think, if we are listening and learning and praying and being guided by God, we can use our resources as we see fit to anoint someone else for what God has in store. Who and what will we set apart? Who will we choose to bless, and how?

Caring God, thank you for choosing and anointing me. Help me to receive and appreciate your blessings. And guide me in using what you give for the blessing of others. Let my eyes see clearly the resources you've given me, my heart and mind discern who you would have me attend to, and my hands be faithful in anointing them according to your love.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Getting Into the Story

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

My tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long. - Psalm 35:28

Anna worshiped with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. - Luke 2:37-38

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 107:33-43; 1 Samuel 10; John 1:14-28

In the verses for today and the texts that take us through the whole Bible in two years, we have several scenes where a person gets into the stream of God's story, becoming a part of it, and helping it to continue. The word "prophet" is mentioned in connection with Anna (Luke 2), Saul (1 Samuel 10), and John the Baptist (John 1). The two sections from the Psalms are also about remembering and retelling the story of God's steadfast love. Every one of these scriptures tells about someone who has been abiding in and reflecting on God's story, soaking it up over time. Each one has something like a call story, as an occasion comes along when the story needs to be told, and that person is the one who is at hand and is chosen to tell it.

Today, my mind connects these stories with baptism. Yesterday, it was my honor to baptize another child of God, the youngest daughter of the congregation I serve. She was surrounded by love and support (one of the biggest baptismal entourages I've ever seen!), cleansed and claimed and called in the water and the Word, marked with the cross of Christ forever, and presented with a candle, lit from the Christ candle, that represents her life in Christ shining forth in the world. She has been born into the story. Her mom and dad and the other people around her have committed to making sure she knows the story and her place in it. And in time, there will come her moment to take the role of a prophet, abiding day and night in the story of God's love, seeing in the world where God is unfolding the story in new directions, and announcing this truth to someone who will need to hear it.

And actually, her work in the story has already begun! She has helped me to see again my place in the story, as the one who has traveled this long, strange path into ordained ministry that allowed it to happen that it was my hands that baptized her, and my voice that spoke God's words of promise. She has enriched my faith, and helped me to see God's love in yet another life. And now I hope she will do that for you too!

God of love, thank you for creating your story of grace and redemption and abundant life, and thank you for extending it into my life. Help me to live in constant awareness of this story, and let my place in it be one of the ways you reveal it to the world, one person at a time.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Patiently

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

The Lord said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” – Genesis 15:1 (NIV)

Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. – Hebrews 6:15

Lectionary texts: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

I'm a person who can be very patient in some things, and totally impatient in others. Working with somebody who's making progress little by little, even if slow? Sure, I can be with them patiently for weeks. Wait at a stoplight for more than 45 seconds? Sorry, I have no patience.

It's interesting how the word "patiently" appears in Hebrews 6 today as an adverb; it modifies the verb, showing how the action is done. What was Abraham doing? Enduring. How was he doing it? Patiently.

A lot of Abraham's life, and a lot of life with God in general, is spent looking toward something. Today we have the language of "reward" or "promise" for the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham. Maybe in our own lives we're looking toward something new God has set as a vision for us to work toward, a milestone on the journey, or even the ultimate fulfillment of eternal life. While we live through our ordinary days with that someday in mind, we are doing more than just waiting around. We live actively with hope, instead of putting life on pause until some blessed thing happens. We live life actively - but we do it patiently, knowing that there's more to come, trusting that God's word for us will be fulfilled. And the active life we live is shaped like the promise that's still on the way. Trusting that in the end everything will be as God says, we take action today that relies on God.

God of grace, thank you for patiently transforming our lives over time, and calling us forward to the next step along the way. Help us to live and act patiently too, not despairing, not being distracted, not denying that your milestone is ahead, but living now as you would have us life, in hope and faith.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Children of God

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! 
– Psalm 115:11

Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. – Romans 5:5

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 107:23-32; 1 Samuel 9; John 1:1-13

"Children of God" is the phrase (from John 1) that sticks with me today. At God's initiative, through Jesus Christ, we've been given power to become children of God. I like the becoming language, as we are all "works in progress" along the way. So we rely on faith, trust, and hope; and the love of God poured into our hearts. I also like the image of being God's children. It means close relationships, a place in God's household, inheritance, and a DNA-style link between our hearts and God's. We're blessed to be able to have lives that over time, in a nonlinear way, can come to resemble the life of Jesus. And even before we get to the point where anyone would come close to mistaking us for him, we are loved and accepted as his family.

With this in mind, I'm also struck by two repeated lines from Psalm 107. Four times, the psalm describes the different challenges "some people" have gotten themselves into. In each of these four verses, there is a line very similar to this:
       Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, 
       and he brought them out from their distress.
God's action is described with different verbs (saved, delivered, brought out) but otherwise the lines are identical. Then a little later in each verse, there is this line:
       Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, 
       for his wonderful works to humankind.
The words are identical each time. I don't remember seeing this pattern before, and I think it's unusual for a psalm to have a two-part repeated "chorus" like this. It has the effect of showing that whatever problems are going on in our lives, God has power to see us through it. We are steadfastly loved, and saved / delivered / brought out from trouble, as children of God. And then we give thanks to God, and recognize that along with ourselves, all humankind is included in God's love.

God of steadfast love, thank you for finding us in times of trouble, and for bringing us through it. Help us to put our love and gratitude for you into words and deeds that can remind us, and proclaim to others, who we are in your eyes, and how you treat us.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Jesus Christ, the True Leader

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness. – Zechariah 8:8

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. – Colossians 1:18

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 107:17-22; 1 Samuel 7:2-8:22; Luke 24:36-53

Reading today's scriptures, I can't help but think of our presidential election process. It stresses me out and frustrates me. We have so much emotion and anger tied up with our politics that the stakes seem higher and ever, and so do the levels of bitterness and division and hatred.

1 Samuel 8 tells about a time when God's people wanted to "make the nation great" by following a strong leader. God and Samuel and the passage of time all illustrate how badly this turns out.

In contrast, Luke 24 shows the beginning of the reign of the greatest leader ever. His followers are not subjects in the grip of a strongman, but free people spreading the love and joy of his good news. Jesus pronounces that repentance and forgiveness are to be proclaimed to everybody everywhere - all who are disconnected from God are to be reconciled with God and with each other, one body with Jesus Christ as the head. And his followers are called to be witnesses of the whole story. Here he is fulfilling the entire arc of the Bible so far, finally beginning the kingship of the true divine leader humanity has been needing and looking for all along. His final act in Luke is a blessing, but the exact words are not recorded. Just before that, he tells them that they will be "clothed with power from on high" as promised by God, through the Holy Spirit. So in Christ, power consists not in political or military strength, but in the ability to witness to the One in whom all sin and brokenness is overcome and all humanity is made one.

At a small scale, I take from today's scriptures assurance that my own leadership doesn't have to be strong or perfect or impressive by human standards. I'm just called to be a witness, and my power to do that comes not from me but from God. At a larger scale, I even take some assurance today that the proper perspective on our national and global politics is God's perspective. Every human leader, whether judged good or bad, righteous or evil, is just a small piece of history, brought to power through human choice or through the workings of imperfect human systems. Jesus Christ remains the true leader, the true head of the whole body, through whom God's righteousness is faithfully and powerfully known. May he be the leader we follow above all others!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Covenant

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them. – Jeremiah 32:40

Having been justified by the grace of Jesus Christ, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:7

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 107:10-16; 1 Samuel 5:1-7:1; Luke 24:28-35

In today's scriptures, I love the connection between Jeremiah's promise of a new covenant and the New Testament echoes of what Jesus pronounced as the new covenant in his blood. In Luke 24, the risen Jesus breaks bread with his disciples, and it's in that act that they finally figure out who it is who's been with them all along the road. Titus 3 uses the language of hope and inheritance to show that the covenant, although yet to be fulfilled, has already been made very real in our lives.

I think of small things that lead to incredibly important things. The sacraments of baptism and communion, where a little water, and a little bread and wine, together with the promise and faithfulness of God, lead to lives of holiness and community and purpose. The idea of covenant speaks to both who we are as children of God, and what we can expect as God raises us up. Like an acorn that becomes an oak tree, we children of God's covenant contain the DNA for much more, and we live in an environment where God provides what's needed for our context.

It's up to God, not me or any other human leader, to transform and give new life. God's covenant in Christ, is already at work in powerful ways. We're called to respond with a little faithfulness in small things, and to watch and listen for God's Spirit, in our lives and others', calling us on and bringing our growth. The covenant is everlasting, and it gives us hope.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. – Jeremiah 10:10

It is the King of kings and Lord of lords alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. – 1 Timothy 6:15-16

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 107:1-9; 1 Samuel 3,4; Luke 24:13-27

Today, what comes to mind is the hymn "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise." These verses from 1 Timothy, along with 1 Timothy 1:17, which was part of our second reading in worship last Sunday, paint a picture of God as simultaneously transcendent and immanent. God is both far off, beyond human comprehension, and mysterious, and intimately involved in human life, bringing true power for abundant life. The verses that highlight God's distance from us are surrounded and interwoven with affirmations that God is also closer than we can imagine, and bound up with our own very being.

So what does this mean? I see it playing out in the stories in all the scriptures today. Jeremiah 10 and 1 Samuel 4 focus on God's people having a unique identity as people of the one true, living God; they are surrounded by other influences, but are called to discern and walk only in God's ways. Psalm 107 has a repeating pattern of identifying different metaphors for times when we need God, and proclaiming that God is big enough to be there, and small enough to notice and care and help in each individual situation. 1 Timothy urges the reader to stay faithful in the midst of confusing developments. And Jesus, on the road to Emmaus, in his first resurrection appearance in Luke, has the whole truth and is willing to share it, but also points out how hard it is for his disciples to hear and see. Likewise, 1 Samuel 3 shows the boy Samuel being called by God multiple times, but not "getting it" until his mentor Eli helps him. (And then Eli doesn't understand God's direction until Samuel helps him.)

For our place and time, I find grace in these stories. It's a challenge as Christians, as pastors or church leaders, even just as human beings, to find a way through life that sticks close to truth, honors God, and brings life for myself and others. But it's always been that way. God keeps calling, leading, providing, connecting. So we can keep listening, praying, helping, and trying. We will have trouble seeing and hearing, let alone understanding. We will not know everything about the whole journey. But we can move ahead in trust. We can say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Or, as the hymn says, "All praise we would render; O help us to see!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Helper

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Many are saying to me, "There is no help for you in God." But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. – Psalm 3:2-3

A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" – Mark 1:40-41

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 106:40-48; 1 Samuel 2:12-36; Luke 24:1-12

Today I'm remembering how often the Bible mentions God as our helper. In our culture, the word helper has the connotation of somebody inferior who offers a little assistance. But in contrast, the writers of the Bible mean that God as a helper is the one who makes it possible for us to do what we couldn't do ourselves. God shields, saves, heals, makes clean, purifies, lifts up, even brings life from death.

With God as our helper, we are able to live lives that lead to life and health for ourselves and the world. When God lifts up our heads and helps us to see more than we could otherwise, we have a vision for a new and different kind of life than we could imagine on our own.

God, thank you for being our helper. Lift up our heads so that we can see your way clearly. Make us clean and restore us to community. Lead us to look for life from our risen Lord. And help us to be helpers for others.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Vine Life

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

I, the Lord, am the vineyard’s keeper; every moment I water it. I guard it night and day so that no one can harm it. – Isaiah 27:3

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. – John 15:8

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 106:32-39; 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11; Luke 23:44-56

The grapevine is a powerful metaphor for life with God. Jesus says "I am the vine, you are branches," and calls us to abide in him. From this abiding, life flows, producing fruit that benefits ourselves and others. It's a natural, organic, repeatable process, flowing from the way God provides everything needed for the growth to happen.

Today's verses point to God the Father as the keeper of the vineyard - providing, protecting, producing. What a great gift to receive God's care and pass it on in the form of a fruitful life of discipleship. Abundant life begins with God, courses through us, and overflows on out into the world.

The other texts for today speak about turning points of obedience and faith in God. A failure to abide in God's way that leads to trouble in the garden. A longing fulfilled that satisfies a woman's heart and moves her to dedicate back to God what is most valuable to her. The death and burial of the Messiah, God's Son, and the movements of his followers to figure out what comes next, not yet knowing that Easter morning is just around the corner.

The life of the grapevine includes seasons of rapid growth, times of pruning, harmful and beneficial changes, challenges and joys, unknowns and faith, disappointments and victories. It's a long story, but with God's care, in time there are more blessings than we could ever expect.

Thank you, God, for calling us to be part of the life of the vine. Thank you for faithful care and for fruit that develops from our life with you. Tend to us in all the ways you see that we need, and bring our lives to a point where there is fruit in abundance, for ourselves and for all in need.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cared For

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

You have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! – Psalm 27:9

Jesus said, "This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me." – John 6:39

Lectionary texts: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

A small contrast catches my eye again today. Psalm 27, attributed to David, prays to not by forsaken or deserted by God. But in the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15, Jesus portrays God as a shepherd who will leave 99 safe sheep in order to go and find one who is lost.

The main point of the parable is that God values every person, to the point of giving special attention to those in danger of becoming disconnected or lost. But the detail of the 99 sheep being left behind (forsaken? deserted?) is an important piece of the story, very relevant to the Pharisees who heard Jesus tell this parable after they complained about his presence with "sinners." While we love to hear how God will come find us when we're the lost one, we may feel forgotten or abandoned when we're among the 99.

Sheryl and I have noticed, as we live now with one dog and one cat, and as we lived in the past with two young kids who were brother and sister, that there is a kind of jealousy or need for equal attention to what "the other one" is getting. Probably it's that way with all of us. We should be mature about it as adults, and acknowledge that what's going on when someone else is being cared for is important too, and we would want it to be exactly the same way if the situation was reversed.

But I think there's also something to learn about accepting our concern as it is, without apologizing for it or willing it away. We want to be cared for. We want to know that we matter, that we're loved, that we will always have access to God and God's provision for us. We're made for connection with God, and desiring that connection is a sign that a healthy faith is at work.

God of grace, thank you for caring for us both in times of special need and in times of stability and strength. We may see your hands at work in our own lives, or in the lives of others. Either way, help us to give thanks and live trustingly in your care.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saving, Remembering, Connecting

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions. – Psalm 65:3

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" – Luke 18:13

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 106:24-31; Ruth 4; Luke 23:32-43

Today I'm drawn by the contrast between two voices as Jesus is crucified, in the Luke 23 scene. A mocking voice says, "Save yourself - and us!" A penitent voice says, "Remember me." Both are calling on Jesus to do something. In the end, of course, he does both. He dies, but overcomes death, and saves himself and all the world. He remembers those who have faith in him, re-membering, bringing the power to keep them connected to himself whatever happens, even through and beyond death.

There is a focus today, too, on our own sins and transgressions, shortcomings, times when we have missed the mark. One line in Psalm 106 expresses the sins of Israel like this: "they attached themselves" to false gods. Maybe that's a good way to sum up the concepts of salvation and forgiveness and belonging to Christ. To whom are we attached? To whom do we desire and work to stay connected?

God's love and grace, forgiveness and mercy, life and hope, are gifts of grace. Yet they are gifts that set a path before us, a path of following Christ and staying connected to him. It's possible to stray off the path, forget it, or abandon it entirely. So we give thanks for God who is faithful to us, who saves, and remembers, and stays connected even when we can't.

Thank you for your gifts of life, God. Thank you for the path of repentance and reliance on you. Help us to walk in your footsteps, and receive every good thing you offer, and play our part in witnessing to others to whom you long to connect.

Through

Reflection on the Daily Texts for Friday, September 9:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:2

Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid?" – Mark 4:39-40

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 106:13-23; Ruth 2,3; Luke 23:13-31

When storms, wind, fire, and water are apt metaphors for a time in life, the natural reaction is to avoid them. Run away, sidestep, deny, ignore, distract - whatever it takes to escape having to deal with the pain and suffering.

Yet God's action in these times is the opposite of avoidance. God brings us through the suffering, and the fear and emotional upheaval that come with it.

I greatly dislike the saying, common but generally not helpful: "Everything happens for a reason." That can be taken to mean that God, or the inevitable workings of God's creation, have created an intentional plan to put us in a place of suffering. I prefer the sarcastic comeback: "Sometimes the reason things happen is that we're stupid and make bad choices." But of course, that also misses a large part of the whole truth.

The reality is that suffering happens. It's part of life. And often (not always), when we've been through an experience of suffering, we can look back and appreciate how God brought us through it, and how we've even grown because we had that experience. But that's not the same as saying that God caused it, or brought it about, or allowed it to happen, for the purpose of having us learn a lesson.

For me, it's better to just focus on the word "through." God says, "WHEN you walk through" ... the suffering will not get the best of you. God accompanies us, blesses us, walks with us. God even suffers with us. Thanks be to God for being there, and providing whatever it needs to get us through these times.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Proclaiming and Praising

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Proclaim, give praise, and say, "Save, O Lord, your people." – Jeremiah 31:7

Jesus said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you." – Mark 5:19

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 106:6-12; Ruth 1; Luke 23:1-12

Proclaiming and praising are the actions that come to my mind today. The Jeremiah and Mark verses lift up the value of telling other people what God has done. And each of these verses, of course, comes in the context of a larger story. The longer texts for today also give glimpses into extensive stories. Each story includes some challenges, some despair or other emotional response, some opposition and conflict, and some grace and blessing in God's involvement.

As each story comes to a good conclusion, people are called to proclaim and praise. But what about in the middle of the story, when the situation is not so good, and the outcome is not at all sure? Should proclamation and praise wait? Or can we go ahead in those moments too? What does proclaiming and praising look like, in all those times when we're still living in an unfolding story?

Maybe one of the definitions of "faith" is that we can know and trust that God is "faithful" in these unsettled, uncertain times. The Bible is full of stories and psalms where people in trouble remember - and call on God to also remember! - the history of how God saves people. Maybe even when, like Naomi, we want to change our identity from "Pleasant" to "Bitter" (Ruth 1:20), we can remember that the end of the story may be better than we can imagine. Maybe we can proclaim and praise God preemptively.

God of salvation and healing and mercy, thank you for being active in our story. Help us to trust and turn to you, and to be bold enough to tell about your part of the story, even before we see its ending.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Christ Crucified

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

By his bruises we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5

Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the cross. – 1 Peter 2:24

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 106:1-5; Judges 20:32-21:25; Luke 22:63-71

The cross is at the center of my reflections today. The verses of the day point to the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, and the Luke 22 reading marches him another step along the way. It's been a long time since I've been through a slow-motion daily reading of the passion story like this. More often, I read it quickly, or maybe watch a movie that shows the whole story from triumphal entry through Easter morning in a couple of hours. But this week, it's been a few verses each day from Luke's gospel. The preparations for Passover. The Last Supper. His teaching. The garden of Gethsemane. His Arrest. Peter's denial. Today, the trial by the religious leaders. A slow advance in the story each day makes me think about how it all unfolded for Jesus and his first disciples. Some time of waiting and watching, then another development moving him closer to the cross, each one more wrenching than the last. Then repeat, again and again.

This perspective is helpful in pondering what is "the way of the cross" for us today. Our lives are to be shaped like his, and we're called to come and die, to carry our own cross. In humility and obedience and service, in a life given up for God's purposes, we proclaim Christ crucified in what we say, in what we do, and in how we go about it. When we commit to a certain phase of the journey, it might require time and attention and energy and sacrifice, personal cost in many ways. Sometimes this comes with a weariness and dread. In the larger view, I believe the whole church around the world is being called onto the way of the cross, dying to forms and traditions that we've known and loved, and that have worked well for previous generations in proclaiming Christ. As the world moves, and new generations learn and live and work and serve in different ways, the church that's increasingly made up of these new generations will change too. At this moment in history, church leaders, both lay and clergy, have hard choices ahead as we seek to follow where God calls. The road is difficult, and long, and confusing. No human guides can show us the way. All we know is that God calls us forward.

In such a time as this, it's a gift of grace to be able to recognize and reflect on Jesus' way to the cross. He gives us a model of faithfulness and inspiration. And most of all, he is the way. The thing that unfailingly leads us forward us the cross. We keep Christ crucified at the center of our vision. We follow in his footsteps. We aim for what gives the clearest, most unobstructed view of the cross. We give up whatever else would call us away from walking in his way.

This week I pray for eyes and ears to see and hear the way. I pray for the gift of seeing human needs, so that I can equip myself and others to proclaim Christ crucified, in the language and with the kind of healing required. And I pray for God's guidance through the unfolding steps of the way we walk in today, with the future yet unwritten but already in God's hands.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Connected in Love

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. – Isaiah 54:7

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. – Ephesians 2:4-5

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 105:37-45; Judges 20:1-31; Luke 22:52-62

One of the things I really appreciate about the Christian faith is that it's not about achieving individual exaltation, power, or perfection. It's about staying connected to God in humility, service, and love. Our world is full of ways of life that make demands of us, expect things of us, pay attention only to accomplishments. There's constant stress to measure up and compete.

Certainly it's possible to look at life in the Christian faith the same way, and we make our own misery when we do. But the whole message of the Bible, centered on Jesus, has a different perspective. We are saved by grace through faith. We die to ourselves to find new life in Christ. We give up control and find direction and joy. This is the perspective offered by today's Daily Texts verses - and also by the story of Peter's denial in the Luke 22 reading. Peter gives us an example of losing our way, feeling abandoned and abandoning faith for a moment, failing to let God direct the moment and floundering in self-preservation. And yet, in the long run, this moment makes him stronger. Restored later to his status as someone who does know Jesus, he'll know the meaning of grace and forgiveness, new life from death. He'll be a great witness, not for personal achievement, but for the love and mercy of God in Christ.

God of grace, thank you for loving us no matter what. Forgive us for our failures. And guide us to use those experiences as a way to tell others about your love, helping them to connect with you too.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Soaking Up the Spirit of the Lord

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. – 1 Kings 19:11–12

The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. – 2 Corinthians 3:17

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 105:23–36; Judges 19; Luke 22:39–51

Behind many of today's texts there are stories of violence and conflict and upheaval. The Bible doesn't shy away from telling the true tale of all the ways we can twist ourselves around and cause pain and suffering to each other. But the Bible also offers a way through these times, and an attitude and orientation that can help in the future. The 1 Kings verses and the 2 Corinthians verse offer a glimpse of silence, of freedom, of listening carefully and being aware of the presence of the Lord. The word "Spirit" (in Greek and Hebrew and English, a word that connects with breath and wind and life) speaks to how God can be present anywhere, at any time, guiding us forward to life.

This morning, I sat reflecting on the violent battles and struggles that surface in all five of today's texts. I looked out the window, and my attention was drawn to individual leaves of the oak tree in our front yard, and the activity of the sparrows in ones and twos and threes that belong to the flock that nests in the trees around us. In writing the history of our time, there will also be stories of violence and conflict and upheaval. This week's news is full of blustering among nations and political candidates, refugees from Syria and Latin America, the struggles over a pipeline proposed through Sioux tribal lands. The house I live in is built on land that has changed hands over the centuries through war and treachery. But on that land is the tree whose leaves daily soak up the sunlight for energy, and the birds who find their daily food, and some humans who can rely on the Spirit of the Lord for direction and sustenance.

May we see with clear eyes the realities of violence and injustice and suffering all around us. And may we find freedom and new life in God's Spirit in every time, being moved to keep life coming in every situation, with hope for a future that includes the healing of all people.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Salvation Along the Way

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death. – Psalm 68:20 (NIV)

That evening, at sunset, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. – Mark 1:32

Lectionary texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

There are many aspects of being saved. Many things we need to be saved from, and many things we may be saved for, new ways of life that wouldn't be open to us without saving intervention. God is at work in our lives for this kind of salvation all the time.

My sermon today focused on Jesus' teaching about being willing to "give up" whatever we're attached to that might get in the way of our walk of life as his disciples. Like architects of a tower, or military strategists, we are to sit down and make a plan for the construction of our faith life. Yet the actions of planning and pruning are not the whole story. Our call originates with God's grace, with the understanding that everything good is a gift, given at God's initiative. It's God who gives, and God who teaches how to use what we give, and God who will continue to give. We can rely on God, rather than all the "stuff" we accumulate.

It seems to me that this, too, is a form of salvation. May God's Spirit teach us to travel light, rely on God's grace, and look for God's saving intervention every time we need it along the way.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Way Forward

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. – Psalm 66:12

Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength. – Luke 21:36

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 105:16–22; Judges 18; Luke 22:24–38

All kinds of difficulties are mentioned in today's scriptures. Some are from outside, threats of violence and opposition. Some are from Satan, whose name means "the accuser" or "adversary." Some are of our own making. Some are products of the times we live in, or the context around us.

Through all these difficulties, God provides a way forward. It looks different at different times. It's often unexpected and challenging. We may need to be very alert to notice what God is doing on our behalf. We may even have to change our minds about what "forward" means as we follow God's leading. But scripture is clear that God is faithful, and provides the way. And in John, Jesus says that "I AM the way."

May we see clearly, and be alert, and pray always. May we recognize the difficulties we face, and be able to see and follow God's way forward.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Cup of Hospitality

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Give generously to your needy brother and do so without a grudging heart. – Deuteronomy 15:10 (NIV)

If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. – Matthew 10:42 (NIV)

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 105:8–15; Judges 16,17; Luke 22:14–23

Jesus chooses "a cup of cold water" as a symbol of hospitality, of welcome and support for someone who is doing his work. That image has come to mind for me many times over the years! When Sheryl and I were discerning about whether to start on this path; all through the seminary years; in my various roles in the church; in each congregation I've served; in the communities we've lived in; among the people who helped Sheryl and the kids; from strangers and friends and family  in all these situations, people have given us gifts of hospitality that have kept us going.

Most recently, I thought of this verse as I ran a 5K last weekend for prostate cancer awareness and research. Partway through the run, a group of volunteers stood holding out paper cups of cold water for the runners. In a run that short, on a day that wasn't that hot, we all would have been OK without the water ... but it was encouraging, and appreciated, to have it ready for us. I took a cup from the youngest volunteer, a girl of about nine. I drank most, spilled some on my shirt, and kept running. I hope she also felt encouraged, knowing that giving her time and effort had helped someone.

In the Luke reading for today, Jesus mentions another cup, the cup of the new covenant in his blood, poured out for all of us. Already having been connected with "the lamb that had to be sacrificed" for Passover, Jesus gives the ultimate cup of hospitality. With the new covenant, whatever hunger and thirst we face, whatever exhausts us, whatever human needs we have, God meets us there and helps us keep going.

In this spirit, we continue the race. And we take our place as people who have the privilege of being able to help someone else keep going. May we see those needs, and give a cup of cold water when we can, and encourage and be encouraged.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A People

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

The Lord made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. – 1 Peter 2:10

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 105:1-7, Judges 14-15, Luke 22:1-13

The theme that stands out for me today is the creation of "a people." In English, we read "God's people" as if it says "a collection of God's individuals." I'm God's person, and so are you, and if we happen to be standing in the same room, the two of us are both God's people. But in both the Hebrew of Psalm 100 and the Greek of 1 Peter 2, "people" is a singular noun. God has "a people," a unique entity that includes me and you and also a whole lot of other people who may or may not be standing in the same room with us.

We don't talk like this much in English, especially in America, so it's hard to even get the concept. Maybe it helps to think of "a people" as being something like "a nation" (but without the human borders and constitutions and governments that we think define a nation) or "a family" (but without the restriction on blood or adoptive relationships) or "a tribe" (but without the common association that a tribe has to be in competition with other tribes).

The psalm is proclaiming that Israel is God's people. 1 Peter is announcing that in Christ, the whole group of those who stood outside of and apart from Israel (i.e. "the Gentiles" or "the nations") is now God's people. Both individually and together, we have been gathered up and united as God's new creation.

Judges 14-15 tells part of the story of Samson, and clearly shows how setting one "people" against another leads to conflict and war. There's a game of "who started it?" and different views about who's an oppressor and who's righteously fighting for freedom. In contrast, Luke 22:1-13 sets up the scene of the Last Supper, layered on top of the Passover story with Jesus as the lamb that had to be sacrificed. Human divisions are overcome in him, and in his death and resurrection God creates "a people," one people.

The message of both Psalm 100 and 1 Peter is gratitude. We are a people, one people, God's people. May we see this, and recognize it as a gift, and celebrate it, and proclaim it. And may we live in this unity instead of persisting in human divisions.

My reflections on the Daily Texts

Today I'll be starting a new routine: a brief post about my reflections on daily scripture reading. I've started working with a group of ELCA church leaders who are trying together to create a set of small groups that encourage growth in discipleship. One of the pieces of those groups will be reading the Bible each day and spending a little time in reflection and prayer. The people initiating the groups will post their reflections online, as a way to hold ourselves accountable; encourage other people to keep up with the habit; model a daily discipline of looking for God in our ordinary lives; and offer a starting point for discussion.

The ELCA leaders group decided to use the Moravian Daily Texts, which you can find at http://www.moravian.org/faith-a-congregations/moravian-daily-texts/subscribe-to-the-daily-texts (with an option to receive them in email each morning, and another option to buy the book version) or at http://www.mountcarmelministries.com/daily-texts-devotionals (with a slightly different book version available; this is the one I've used with seminary colleagues and congregations in the past, and still use myself). Each day, there is an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, and a short prayer. There are also two annual reading plans, one that gives daily readings that will take you through the whole Bible in a year, and another that covers the Psalms in one year but slows down a bit to take two years to get through the whole Bible. Thousands of Christians around the world use these texts every day, so you get a feeling of community and support as you read.

Because I was so familiar with the Daily Texts, I was happy that they were chosen for our group. I have a daily scripture-and-prayer routine that has worked well for me, and I was comfortable continuing with that. But I've struggled with the posting piece of the routine! As a pastor, there are so many things that I do for other people that I've come to look at my morning scripture-and-prayer time as my time, something I do for my own connection with God, a time of rest and refreshment and openness that's just for me. I tried the daily posting for about two weeks, but found that it was making me feel that I had lost that time that I need; I was using it instead to get ready for one more piece of life that was for the benefit of someone else. I stopped the posting in order to protect the time.

But later, I came to see it differently. As the group progressed, and we talked about the small-group goal of helping others grow as disciples of Jesus, we saw that there is a need for people to see how we ourselves grow as disciples. Our ways of doing things are the most visible, accessible ways available to others. We certainly aren't perfect, and our ways shouldn't become sacred things carved in stone. But people need to see something to begin with, try out, learn from, and expand on, as they find their own unique ways to connect with God.

This insight helped me see the total reading-praying-and-posting practice more completely. It's not an either-or (either completely for me or completely for others) but a both-and (for both me and others). And I think I can do that. I can let it be my time with God, letting go of expectations of what will come out of it that might be relevant to anybody else. And I can comment on it afterward, getting in the habit of sharing, as if somebody asked, "So, how did it go today?"

So today my time with God changes, and my habit of using this blog changes. If you're following along, you're welcome to reflect with me! And if you'd like to check out the Daily Texts for yourself, I'd be glad to help you do that. I'll try to tag these posts with the "Daily Texts" tag, and anything else I write here will be tagged differently, so you can look for what you want. Thanks for reading.