Saturday, March 25, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 22, Saturday

Today's Reading: John 10:22-42 (NRSV)

Jesus has another run-in at the Temple here.  He plainly states for us, "The Father and I are one." in verse 30.  In response, they pick up rocks to stone him (which was the proper sentence for blasphemy).

In fact, Leviticus 24:16 plainly states, "One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death." (NRSV)

Our actions may shape the intent of how
we use rocks against one another.
However, Jesus begins to ask them about which of the good works are they upset. They respond that his blasphemy is what is upsetting them.  Jesus then quotes from Psalm 82 which also reminds us of the justice we may be omitting from our lives.

We see a strong tie between judging people not by their words alone but by their actions.  Are their words verified by their actions?

If I claim to be a Christian, do I have good works that back it up?  If I read the Bible and pray, am I letting it influence my interaction with my family members, co-workers, peers and strangers?  And how do I handle conflict?

This is an ongoing movement for all of us.  Hopefully, we are moving toward God's will in all these things!

Prayer for the day:

O merciful God, fill our hearts, we pray, with the graces of your Holy Spirit; with love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. Teach us to love those who hate us; to pray for those who despitefully use us; that we may be the children of your love, our Father, who makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. In adversity grant us grace to be patient; in prosperity keep us humble; may we guard the door of our lips; may we lightly esteem the pleasures of this world, and thirst after heavenly things; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

     Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109


Photo by Lisa L. Wiedmeier via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 21, Friday

Today's Reading: John 10:1-21 (NRSV)

We encounter two more of the "I am" statements within today's reading.

Jesus declares, "I am the gate."

and

"I am the good shepherd."

These are important metaphors for people to understand how they relate to God.  The gate reminds us that when we seek a spiritual relationship with God, Jesus is the door through which we enter.  For Christians, this makes perfect sense.  The spiritual life is seen through the lens that is put forward by Jesus Christ.  Many of our practices and beliefs are grounded in the ministry of Jesus.

A thief or a bandit would have their own self-interest in mind.  Jesus has our best interest in mind which is why this is paired with the Good Shepherd imagery.

Sometimes the flock has its own ideas!
I still remember in my first youth ministry job at New Haven when Ken Tobler was the pastor.  When he preached on this passage, he reminded us that many people refer to the pastor as the shepherd of the flock.  He said, "I am not the shepherd. Jesus is the shepherd.  If anything, I am the sheep dog."

He said this to remind us not to confuse the pastor with Jesus.  He also identified the role of the pastor as one who works on behalf of the shepherd.  The shepherd always directs the sheep dog and hopefully that is the case with the clergy.

As Lent is now more than halfway finished, how are we listening for the voice of the shepherd?  Whether sheep dog or member of the flock, in order to listen, we have to be attentive.  Sometimes it means quieting ourselves and being silent.  Others may like to read over scripture in a prayerful attitude.  Regardless of how we listen, I like the promises this passage affords us.

Prayer for the day:

May it please the supreme and divine Goodness
to give us all abundant grace
ever to know his most holy will
and perfectly to fulfill it.  Amen.

   St. Ignatius of Loyola, 16th Century


Photo by Wayne Seward via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 20, Thursday

Today's Reading: John 9:35-41 (NRSV)

As we continue with the theme of spiritual blindness within John, it seems to be closely tied with humility.  The Pharisees who claim to see spiritually better than most, are told they are actually blind.  Their sin remains because they don't actually see half of their sins to begin with.

We might be able to find our inner
"Superman" more often if we acknowledge
that there are times we are more like Clark Kent.
As we consider self-esteem today, it may be that many people do not view themselves as sinful because they do not want to carry around that psychological baggage.  To see oneself as sinful might even prevent a person from living more fully to their potential as a child of God.  And so many eject the concept of sin from their worldview.  They may look at things that need to be corrected in life as errors or mistakes or even simply indiscretions.

Sin seems so heavy after all.

And yet, to acknowledge our own sins seems to be a part of the Christian tradition.  It does not mean that we have to view ourselves as worms.  But it does mean that forgiveness in Christ is also taken seriously.  Sin makes us aware that there are times we are not doing God's will.

Jesus is trying to get the Pharisees to understand this.  They can't see it though and so remain blind.

Lent is the time for self-reflection and this includes our own sins.  It may be that we can only dare to look with the help of Jesus Christ.

God help us all.

Prayer for the day:

Look upon us, O Lord,
and let all the darkness of our souls
vanish before the beams of thy brightness.
Fill us with holy love,
and open to us the treasures of thy wisdom.
All our desire is known unto thee,
therefore perfect what thou hast begun,
and what thy Spirit has awakened us to ask in prayer.
We seek thy face,
turn thy face unto us and show us thy glory.
Then shall our longing be satisfied,
and our peace shall be perfect.  Amen.

    Augustine of Hippo, 354-430.


Photo by tom_bullock via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 19, Wednesday

Today's Reading: John 9:13-34 (NRSV)

Why do the sweetest blackberries
seem to have the biggest thorns?
Have you ever had two competing truths?  It really is amazing how often life can be predicted to go a certain way. We often find ourselves relying on other people to act in their predictable patterns and when they don't, we become offended.

Within today's reading, we see that the Pharisees had two things that they believed:

1)  A person that defies the Sabbath (or at least their understanding of it) is not on the same page as God.

2)  A person that provides spectacular healing miracles could only do so in partnership with God.

So what if you have a person that gives evidence of these miracles and interprets the Sabbath differently?  Something does not add up.

Is it possible that I was misinterpreting the Sabbath?

Well, that couldn't be it.  The miracles must be a sham!

The Pharisees give an excellent example of the human being's stubborn refusal to reinterpret reality if the facts don't line up with our assumptions.  We have all done this in life to some extent.  We have all seen people refuse to address reality and it is sad.  We hope that our own examples haven't been too obvious or public or else it becomes rather embarrassing.

As we consider the miraculous, we are often more skeptical than embracing.  What if we began to reexamine the things around us with an eye toward God?

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, we believe that
'Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.'
May we take off our shoes more times than not.  Amen.

     This prayer was modified from my favorite poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Aurora Leigh."


Photo by Alice Rosen via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 18, Tuesday

Scripture Reading: John 9:1-12 (NRSV)

We live in a cause and effect world.  Even though today's reading occurred centuries before Descartes laid out the scientific method, there was still an understanding that one thing could trigger another.

And so if you believed that illness was a direct cause of sin, this would hopefully be an incentive for good behavior.  This was what most people believed in the time of Jesus.

What happens if you encounter someone born with a malady?  In this case, blindness? The disciples who are under this mindset about sin and illness ask the question of Jesus, "Did this blind man sin or was it his parents?"

This seems rather cruel to our 21st century sensibilities.  We know that illness may be caused by a whole host of issues such as genetics, germs, a poor environment, etc.  Sin may induce illness due to stress factors but it seems like adding insult to injury to make this a regular claim.  With the difficulty to prove, I would not be the one to make this declaration!

Yet, the disciples live in a world where sin results in illness.  They encounter a man born blind and wonder to Jesus, "Who is at fault?  This man or his parents?"

Neither answer comes readily.  To say the man was at fault when he was born that way doesn't make any sense.  If the sin was from his parents, shouldn't they be punished more directly?

So Jesus reveals that neither were the cause.  This is similar to what we find in the Hebrew Bible with the book of Job.  Sometimes illness just occurs regardless of one's faithfulness.

All people eventually get sick.  All people eventually die.

"Farmer's Friend" is not something you would want
in your living room but it indirectly contributes
to your kitchen.
When Jesus states that he was blind so to reveal God's glory is also troubling if we take it the wrong way.  If a person were born blind just so Jesus could make God look good after years of difficult living, it makes God or Jesus look terribly self-serving. Since I don't believe this to be the case, I see it more as God's ability to bring resurrection to a hurting world.

God may not have caused all the chaos in the world, but God can still cause flowers to sprout in the midst of the manure.

At the end of this reading, the man can now see!  And so can the disciples.

Prayer for the day:

Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.  Amen.

      John Newton, 18th century


Photo by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.
 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 17, Monday

Today's Reading: John 8:39-59 (NRSV)

How do you know if someone's influence comes from God or the devil?  That seems to be the crux of the theme surrounding today's reading.

Jesus claims that the authorities are from the devil and they claim that he has a demon.

It ends with Jesus once again claiming the divine name in verse 58.  They are ready to kill him then and there but it is not the right time and so they are unable.

How does one know?  Those opposing Jesus would say that his miraculous power must come from demonic forces because his actions are at times working against some of the cleanliness laws.  These seem rather trite for Christians today because we have lived so long in a culture dismissing them.  But at the time, these were pretty large.  But more importantly, Jesus claimed that they were ignoring the widow and the orphan which prophets often criticized leadership about.

Jesus claims that the authorities are not following the example of Abraham.  As we know, Abraham was faithful - willing to give over everything to God - even the sacrifice of his son, Isaac.  While this was not required, his willingness shows his priorities. Abraham also shows hospitality to strangers which turn out to be angels.  Abraham is willing to argue with God over the innocence of people he does not even know.

Jesus shows that his opposition is looking to kill rather than hear the truth.

Sometimes we are not interested in hearing the truth.  We would go to great lengths to cover it up so that it does not become exposed.  Jesus mentions earlier in the chapter that the truth sets us free.
Sometimes we take more than we need.
But we're convinced we need it!


So in order for us to know whether or not to believe if someone is following the will of God, I always try to ask the question, who will most likely benefit from their actions?  If the answer is someone in need, I would be more likely to say that God is the influence.  If the answer is the self, I am less likely to think so.  Jesus ultimately provides forgiveness for the world and he pays the price to do so.  His ministry pulls in the downtrodden.  He calls those who think they are close to God to re-examine themselves.

As we continue to move toward the cross with Jesus, we may need to examine our own motives to see how often we feather our own nest.

Prayer for the day:

Lord, teach us to understand that your Son died to save us, not from suffering, but from ourselves; not from injustice, far less from justice, but from being unjust.  He died that we might live - but live as he lives, by dying as he died who died to himself.  Amen.

       George Macdonald, Scotland, 19th century


Photo by Julie Falk via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Third Sunday in Lent

Today's Reading: John 8:21-38 (NRSV)

The apostle Paul, whose letters pre-date John's Gospel, used a similar analogy of slavery to sin that we see in today's reading.  So were John's portrayals of the words of Jesus influenced by Paul or was Paul influenced by the oral tradition that was later written down in John?

It might actually be both.  As all of these writings are part of the New Testament, they are a part of our Christian heritage and faith.  As we continue to study the word, we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free as Jesus states in verse 32.

Slavery to sin is a topic that continues to be relevant today.  Sin can be defined in many ways - I like the analogy of "missing the mark" in shooting at a target - the target being God's will for this argument.

As we consider the first commandment (of the 10), we are to have no other gods before the one true God.  As Jesus presented the top commandments, we are to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  I think that loving God, self and neighbor is important.  However, sometimes we transpose God and self so that our will becomes primary over God's will.  This often comes with a lot of justification of how our will really is God's will.   We get pretty good at these mental gymnastics.

When we become self-centered in this way, we become slaves to sin.  As we remain in Christ, we recognize the proper order of things and are free from sin because we are seeking after God's will.

We now have access to all these forms
of entertainment on a single device.
While wonderful, it also means that today's
generation has more temptation for
indulgence than at any time in history!
Addiction to drugs or alcohol has often been defined as slavery.  Any addiction to the desires of the self without proper examination can also be defined as slavery.  This can happen when binging on just about anything.  One more episode, anyone?

This is not to say we should totally deny ourselves. Sometimes we need to indulge a little to enjoy life.  But when indulgence becomes our sole reason for living, life becomes shallow and we wonder why we don't have real joy anymore.  We have become slaves to sin.

The apostle Paul recognized this and he received this from his faith in Christ.  Hopefully, we do as well!

Prayer for the day:

Set our hearts on fire with love of you, O Christ our God, that in that flame we may love you with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength, and our neighbors as ourselves; so that, keeping your commandments, we may glorify you, the giver of all good gifts.  Amen.

    Prayer from the Eastern Orthodox tradition.


Photo by Paul Townsend via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.