Monday, April 27, 2015

Leaving the Gate Open

So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep.  All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep didn’t listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.
                                                         John 10:7-10 (Common English Bible)

When I was a little boy, I had a dog named Scamper who was small, black and white with a mask.  He was a mutt but this didn't diminish his value to me in the slightest.  I loved him very much.

The bad thing about this dog is that he tended to run off when he got outside our yard. We would usually have to chase him down and he thought this was a great game!

Once, Scamper got out when we didn't know it and he wandered off and got lost.  We left the gate open and I prayed for him to be safe and to find his way home but he didn't. Days passed and we didn't see any sign of him.  I became distressed when I went into the backyard and discovered that my parents had closed the gate!  I quickly opened it up again and scolded them for this seeming loss of hope.

My prayers were answered the next day when my mother saw Scamper in a schoolyard playing with the children there.  He must have been surviving on the lunch scraps these kids gave him at recess.  When my mom called him he ran to the car and was so happy to see her.  She took him home and he drank his weight in water and then ate a couple of bowls of food.  She said that he then slept for the rest of the day.

He didn't try to get out of the yard anymore.

"Those gates are gonna swing wide!"
As we think of Jesus as the Gate, I think about this lost dog of mine.  I think about making sure the gate was open to him so that he could return home anytime he wanted.  I think about the unwavering hope of a little child.

This divine metaphor of John's speaks volumes to the human condition.  As in the hymn, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" we sing, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love."

It is comforting to know that the Gate remains open to us even then.

Picture by Albert Bridge [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Importance of Light

Growing up, I spent several vacations in the Pacific Northwest because my older sister lives there.  It was cool touring Portland and Seattle and seeing all the great sites in the area.  We did a lot of hiking.

I brought back actual ashes from Mount Saint Helens in 1980 when they were selling them in Oklahoma convenience stores as mementos.

I heard about the Seattle rain but you have to experience it and hear how they advertise "sun breaks" on the local radio stations which identify when the sunlight will break through the clouds!

As we hear about how dangerous the sun is for our skin, we may sometimes forget that sunlight can also be healthy for us not only physically but psychologically.

There's been a ongoing myth about the suicide rate in Seattle because of the lack of sunlight.  It may not be the most depressed city in America but science has actually labeled the winter blues that some people get as Season Affective Disorder (I'm not kidding, the acronym is really SAD).
What does it mean for us spiritually
to come into the light?

Some people may try light therapy to get them over these depressed feelings.

All of this exploration of light reminds us of its importance to our lives.

Anyone who has face the "dark night of the soul" understands the relief and change of anxiety at sunrise.

As we explore the "I Am" statements of Jesus from John's Gospel this Sunday, we will be looking at "I am the light of the world".  It is interesting that this statement directly follows the encounter of Jesus by the crowd seeking permission to stone the woman caught in adultery.

Was this to expose the deeds of the woman or the intentions of the crowd?  Or both?

If we are seeking to deepen our relationship with God, what does it mean to claim Jesus as our light?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Daily Devotion for Easter 2015

Daily Devotion for Easter Sunday

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mark 16:1-20 (NRSV)

Thus we end the Good News of Jesus Christ.  A man from Galilee who was baptized and taught as a rabbi.  A man who healed people and exorcised demons.  A man who commanded winds and waves and miraculously fed thousands.

A man who ate with sinners and lifted up the lowly.

A man who was not afraid to share what God saw in the religious authorities.

A man who made all the power structures from the Pharisees to the Priests to the Roman government a little too nervous.

Grace is often surprising!
So they killed him.

This should have been the end of the story but it wasn't.

Sometimes we still go to the tomb - the dead things in our lives - looking for Jesus.

We are reminded of the young man in white robes who tells us, "He is not here."

In fact, he is going ahead of you.

As we look back, we marvel that the Divine has been walking among us in this story.  As we look up from our reading, may we realize that Jesus still goes ahead of us; that the Divine still walks among us today.

May we have eyes to see on this Easter Sunday!

Prayer of Jesus:

Our Father, 
who art in heaven, 
hallowed be thy name.  
Thy kingdom come, 
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  
Give us this day our daily bread 
and forgive us our trespasses 
as we forgive those who trespass against us.  
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  
For thine is the kingdom 
and the power 
and the glory forever.  

"The Holy Women at the Tomb" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], 1890 via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Daily Devotion for Lent 2015, Day 40

Daily Devotion for Lent

Saturday, April 4, 2015, Day 40

Mark 15:42-47 (NRSV)

Joseph of Arimathea is an interesting figure.  Mark only tells us that he is a Jewish council member.  Other Gospels indicate that he is a follower of Jesus if only in secret.

Jewish practice as in line with most Middle Eastern practice of the time was to bury the dead within a day of their death.  Jews did not embalm the body and the climate would lend to a quick burial.  To leave the body unburied was abhorrent.  One of the Jewish curses from Deuteronomy 28:26 was:

"Your corpses shall be food for every bird of the air and animal of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away."
Unexcavated Burial Cave,
Bet Shearim, Israel
So Joseph goes to great lengths to care for the body of a man condemned by his own council.  Mark mentions that Joseph was waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God.  Did he wonder about some of the things that Jesus said before his death? Was he feeling complicit through his membership on the council?  Could the burial have served as a kind of atonement for Joseph?

The presence of the body for burial may be important for people to say goodbye.  I don't have any problem with "viewings" at the funeral home before a service. However, the difficulty for me is after we share the message of resurrection and new life, many times the funeral home has been instructed to open the coffin for a final viewing before burial.  There is a long procession as ushers direct you forward whether you want to go and look or not.

The family comes last with children and/or spouse.

It seems as if we are stating by this practice, "I know we talked about resurrection and death being defeated but we were just playing with you.  Here's the finality right here before you!"

It doesn't seem to be a good move theologically for us.

As we go about this final day of Lent, we think about death and our own mortal bodies.

But we also have the hope to come.

I hope you'll find a place to worship on Easter Sunday and see that your hope is not in vain.


When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


Prayer by Horatio Spafford written after the death of his four daughters by sea. 

Picture by Deror_avi (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 3, 2015

Daily Devotion for Lent 2015, Day 39

Daily Devotion for Lent

Good Friday, April 3, 2015, Day 39

Mark 15:1-41 (NRSV)

As we consider the crucifixion, paintings and cinema lead us to imagine the cross towering over the people below.  In all likelihood, the cross lifted the victim barely above the ground.  Jesus would have been stripped naked as first century Jews found public nudity humiliating (verse 24).  The portrayals allow a loin cloth for modesty's sake but there was no modesty provided for Jesus.

The crucifixion as portrayed in Mark is rich with characters: an almost sympathetic Pilate, Barabbas the insurrectionist, the mocking soldiers, the two bandits crucified on the right and left of Jesus, the Roman Centurion declaring belief and the female disciples who witnessed it all.

The elevation or glorification of the cross is
a way that Christians have retold the story,
transforming it from a symbol of torture to a symbol of hope.
For all of these encounters, the compelling figure for me on this day is Simon of Cyrene.  There is something about carrying the cross of our Lord.  This was a North African visitor, pressed into service.  He would have carried the crossbeam as the posts were mounted prior to their arrival and permanently fixed in the ground at the Place of a Skull.  There's no sense of recognition at the initial encounter but we have clues that this particular Simon became a follower after the resurrection.

Mark mentions his sons Rufus and Alexander as if his readers would know exactly who he was talking about.  The name Rufus occurs in Paul's greeting to the church in Rome. Some think that this might be the son of Simon of Cyrene.  We do know that the early Church got a foothold in Cyrene.  It would seem odd to include his name if he would be unknown to the readers of the Gospel which implies a continued relationship with the early followers of Jesus Christ.  Like the Roman Centurion, could being such a close witness to the crucifixion have affected Simon in a profound way?

This is Good Friday.  We remember the death of our Lord and those he met along the way.  We also see that suffering continues today and we may, like Simon, be somewhat complicit (even if unwittingly) in it.

Simon of Cyrene may not have felt he had a choice in the matter of carrying the cross for Jesus.  He may not have liked supporting the execution in this way.  But like Peter who denied Jesus, Simon's participation may have changed him forever.

We can only ask God that we would also let the crucifixion change us in some profound way.

Prayer from Michael J. O'Donnell:

We are reluctant, O Author of Love,
   to set aside our hurt, our anger, our disappointment.
Heal us with your tender touch,
   that we might be cleansed of all unclean thoughts,
   all schemes of revenge, all hope of vindictive retribution.
Open our eyes to the power of love,
   shown to us in the unselfish sacrifice
      of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Prayer by Michael J. O'Donnell, The United Methodist Book of Worship

Picture by By Graeme Darbyshire from Blyth, UK (Alvor Church Cross) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Daily Devotion for Lent 2015, Day 38

Daily Devotion for Lent

Thursday, April 2, 2015, Day 38

Mark 14:53-72 (NRSV)

Jesus had already put the High Priest on trial and found him guilty when he turned over the tables of the money changes in the Temple courtyard.  He had been putting the Pharisees and scribes on trial by flouting the cleanliness laws with whom he would eat. He healed the sick and exorcised demons but he sometimes did this on the Sabbath.  He instituted a new Way of forgiveness that bypassed the rites of animal sacrifice.

Now they would have their say.

Not surprisingly, they condemn Jesus to death.

Normally, the Jewish sentence for blasphemy was stoning.

However, they did not have the authority to kill anyone and so they must turn Jesus over to the Romans and try to convince them that this was a crime worthy of the death penalty.

It is here that Mark interjects the denial of Peter.

His thrice denial of Jesus in this moment of extreme tension reminds us that sometimes our faith is challenged when things aren't favorable.

"The Crucifixion of Saint Peter"
by Jose de Ribera
Many of the early church writings indicate that Peter died by crucifixion roughly thirty years later.  The Apocryphal "Acts of Peter" tell us that he was crucified upside down in chapter 37 but this source was likely written long after his death (possibly the second half of the 2nd century) and this detail of his martyrdom is more legendary than historically reliable.

His earlier denials may have actually strengthened his resolve.  I believe that Peter's life shows us that we can recover our integrity and learn from our mistakes.

The trick as Christians is not only to accept God's forgiveness for ourselves but to remember our own denials when others need our forgiveness.

As Civil Rights Activist and Baptist pastor and theologian Howard Thurman writes, “It is very easy to sit in judgement upon the behavior of others, but often difficult to realize that every judgement is a self-judgement.”

Prayer by Howard Thurman:

Lord, open unto me

Open unto me — light for my darkness.
Open unto me — courage for my fear.
Open unto me — hope for my despair.
Open unto me — peace for my turmoil.
Open unto me — joy for my sorrow.
Open unto me — strength for my weakness.
Open unto me — wisdom for my confession.
Open unto me — forgiveness for my sins.
Open unto me — love for my hates.
Open unto me — thy Self for my self.

Lord, Lord, open unto me!


Prayer by Howard Thurman, 20th Century

Picture by José de Ribera [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Daily Devotion for Lent 2015, Day 37

Daily Devotion for Lent

Wednesday, April 1, 2015, Day 37

When we read this account, I always imagine a kind of Temple guard arresting Jesus - a group with some kind of authority to take him into custody.

We get this idea from John's Gospel which speaks of soldiers and police.  This would give it some official or lawful status within the local government.  But it has occurred to me that if there were Roman soldiers assigned to the Temple, how likely would it have been to arrest someone to take them first for questioning by the religious authorities?  

"Conscience, Judas" by Nikolai Ge, 1831
If soldiers were involved, would they have been mercenaries hired after hours?  Would the Temple have been allowed to maintain their own armed force outside the Roman command?   

It could be that they were simply cooperating together.  But if all we had was Mark's Gospel, it looks more like a lynch mob sent in the middle of the night to deal with someone popular with the crowds.  Jesus asks them about this saying, "Why didn't you arrest me when I was right there among you?"

Fear may keep us from the light of day.  If they were truly in the right, they would have simply arrested him during the waking hours.  

When I think of my own spirituality, I like to think that I'm always willing to meet God on God's terms but I realize that this is more of an ideal.  There are many times when I rationalize what I do as for some greater good.  I'm sure the Temple authorities were thinking, "By coming at night, we won't have a riot on our hands and this will spare people unnecessary injury."

What are those things that we do that we would hide from watching eyes?  How is this a betrayal of our faith in its own right?

Prayer from John Baillie:

God, let me put right before interest,
Let me put others before self,
Let me put the things of the spirit
before the things of the body,
Let me put the attainment of noble ends
above the enjoyment of present pleasures.
Let me put put principle above reputation.
Let me put you before all else.  Amen.

Prayer by John Baillie, Scotland, 20th Century

Picture by Nikolai Ge via Wikimedia Commons.