Friday, March 31, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 27, Friday

Today' Reading: John 13:1-20 (NRSV)

The gravity of Jesus washing the disciples' feet is lost on us today, I think.  Within the United States, we have had a culture of egalitarianism that seems to indicate that social class is passe.  We have moved past Jim Crow laws.  There is not the social taboo on interracial marriage like there was in the previous generations.

This is not to say that things are perfect.  The middle class seems to be shrinking in the United States.  We still have racism that occurs in a wide variety of forms.  It can be restrictive in ways that keep people from realizing their full potential.

But as we consider first century Palestine, honor would forbid a disciple to allow his teacher to wash his feet.  Thus, we have the exchange between Peter and Jesus.  It is not that he did not want Jesus to do something nice for him, it is that it made him uncomfortable in the extreme.  Peter probably felt that he was at fault for allowing it.

Jesus understands convention and disrupts it.  He does this on purpose.  His subversive act of washing their feet forces them to look on other people differently.

I like the perspective of this photo.
We have all ranked ourselves either consciously or unconsciously with others. We probably do this without realizing it as we consider status today.  There are people to which you likely feel superior even if you don't think about it in those terms. For instance, a person that is employed may feel this way toward a person that is not currently working if they are not of retirement age.

Jesus today forces us to reexamine our hierarchies in society.  What does it mean to be Christian?

To serve others develops a dignity of its own.  Service is redefined because our Lord washed feet.

If there is service to another human being in which you would draw a line, you might need to re-read today's passage!

Prayer for the day:

God, help me to empty myself of the pride I may take over others.  
Help me to serve without reservation your fellow children on earth.
May the humility I develop in Christ be a source of strength that wells up in me like a fountain, until I may encounter others with a deep sense of joy, satisfied that we are significantly connected in Christ. And may I find this true no matter their response to me. Amen.

Photo by Rui Duarte via  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 26, Thursday

Today's Reading: John 12:20-50 (NRSV)

Red-letter editions of the Bible highlight the words of Jesus in color.  If you look at a red-letter edition, you will notice that there is a lot more red in John than in any of the other gospels.  As John's writing was later than the other three, we can see the early church shaping how he told it.

While all of the gospels help to define the identity of Jesus, we can see the salvation of the world motif more clearly understood in John.  Within the other gospels, especially in Mark which was the earliest, we see less talk and more action.  Within John, the action such as the raising of Lazarus or the anointing of Jesus or the entry into Jerusalem is punctuated with speeches.  Within today's reading, we see a strong emphasis on the belief of the individual.

In fact, when some Greeks come to meet Jesus, we see in verse 32 that Jesus claims that he "will draw all people to myself."  This becomes a more universal appeal for salvation than a Messiah elevating a single country politically.   What's interesting is that the notation for this verse indicates that other manuscripts replaced the word "people" with "things."  With this simple word change, the emphasis for those early churches that heard this particular text would embrace not only the salvation of humanity but the salvation of creation in Jesus Christ.
This skinny bear is emerging from hibernation.
Its Lenten fast has ended!

How does this change our notion of who Jesus is when we think about him in this expanded way?  We can see how the resurrection and the life come each spring without our tending to it.  What does it mean for us to insert a sense of spirituality into the natural world?

As a follower of Jesus, what is our role in relation to people and creation?

Prayer for the day:

Glory be to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, 
is now and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen.  Amen.

     Gloria Patri, 3rd-4th century

Photo by Micheal J via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 25, Wednesday

Today's Reading: John 12:1-19 (NRSV)

The anointing of Jesus by a woman varies depending on the gospel.  For John, it is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus and it occurs at their home.  For Mark and Matthew, the woman is unnamed and it occurs at the the house of Simon the leper.  For Luke, the woman is also unnamed but identified as a sinner.  Christian tradition often specified her sin as prostitution.  She was also associated with Mary Magdalene by some but this is a stretch since no biblical sources ever give clues to place them as the same person.

For Luke, this act of anointing becomes an occasion for Jesus to show the proper response of people to the grace of God.  Within Mark, Matthew and John, this foreshadows the passion of Jesus as if he is being prepared for his impending death.

The remark of wastefulness also comes within these three gospels by the disciples and identified specifically as Judas Iscariot in John.  If the ointment did cost three hundred denarii, this was almost a year's wages for a worker and so it was no small thing to do.
Jesus responds in John, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."  This comment, which also occurs in Mark and Matthew, seems out of character with the ministry of Jesus that is featured in the gospels.

Some see it as a quotation from Deuteronomy 15:11 which reads, "Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.'"

Even though we associate Palm Sunday
with Passion Sunday, we don't often
realize the political significance
of waving the palms.
Since the suffering of Jesus identifies God with those who suffer, it may be that our devotion to Jesus should be fixed in a missional understanding of how we might open our hands to those in need.  As Jesus makes his entry into Jerusalem, it is noteworthy that Jesus is supported by the crowds who seek to make him their king.  This puts the life of Jesus at risk from the Roman authorities.

In a sense, their anointing of gracious words also prepares Jesus for his burial.  It makes one consider how veneration and suffering may sometimes go hand in hand.

Prayer for the day:

O God almighty, by whom and before whom we all are brothers and sisters: 
grant us so truly to love one another, that evidently and beyond all doubt we may love you; through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord and brother.  Amen.

            Christina Rossetti, 19th Century, English Poet

Photo by Mary Constance via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 24, Tuesday

Today's Reading: John 11:38-57 (NRSV)

We can see the irony in that Jesus giving the miracle of life actually leads to others wanting to take away his.

Of course, John writes his Gospel in light of the First Jewish-Roman War which lasted from 66 to 73 in the first century.  This saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. When the Pharisees and the Chief Priests come together to debate about Jesus, they state in verse 48, "If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place (temple) and our nation.”  This looks like the foreshadowing of things the reader would know had already taken place.

Life is determined even in the midst
of our "ordering" of the world.
It is difficult to interpret great events of life and death. What does it mean to gain a new opportunity for life?  What does it mean when a person receives a second chance that was unforeseen?

Similarly, how do we make sense of great violence and mayhem that some people bring upon others?

The authorities want to commit violence for the eventual greater reduction of violence.  If they kill Jesus, they reason that this will prevent further deaths of innocent people.

John shows us that this is faulty logic.  Through placing this before their tragic history, John seems to be saying that when we are quick to turn to death as a solution, we will reap what we sow.

In contrast, Jesus offers life.  The resurrection of Lazarus is a claim that life in Christ overcomes death in tangible ways.

Our first instinct to the miraculous may not quickly embrace it.  While our reaction may not necessarily be violent to Jesus, we may try to kill off his message of life when we seek to explain it away.  The dismissal is a refusal to acknowledge the reality of resurrection that is all around us.  Because death can be so prominent when we are in the midst of grief, we may hold onto it more powerfully than life.  Death can bind us in ways we may not even understand.

We need Jesus to say to us as well, "Unbind them, and let them go."

Prayer for the day:

Almighty God, the fountain of Life, who has ordained that your children may find life in the way of your commandment, and in the path of your service; we would humbly thank you, not alone for what is bright and fair in our lot, but for the difficulty, the trial, the darkness. We thank you for the doubts that perplex us,—the infirmities that oppress us,—the sorrows that make us to faint and fear; for we know that you will answer the strong cry which these bring forth of our souls after light from you. Oh, grant that we may so endure as to become your children,—that, doubting, we may not despair,—cast down, we may not be destroyed,—sorrowing, it may not be as those without hope; but that, receiving your discipline and preparation in the Spirit of your dear Son, we may make straight His path within our hearts.  We ask it in His name, who is the Light of all people—Amen.

                     Henry Wilder Foote (1838–1889)

Photo by Fuzzy Gerdes via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 23, Monday

Today's Reading: John 11:17-37 (NRSV)

"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Both Martha and Mary say this to Jesus in today's passage.  We empathize with them and many people in their grief may feel the same way.  When we have lost one whom we love, we often feel the absence of God more distinctly than the presence of God.

Most people have prayed for the healing of one we know who has died.  It becomes more difficult when it is for a righteous cause such as for a child or young person who would normally have a lot of living left in front of them.  In these instances, it becomes confusing to us when we may see some healed of their affliction and some pass away.

We want to say, "God, if you had been here, my loved one would not have died."
Sometimes the despair in our lives
is tangible.

Jesus reminds us that his presence goes deeper than this reality.  He makes the fifth of the "I am" statements, declaring, "I am the resurrection and the life."  We embrace this for an understanding of hope that moves us beyond this life and into the life to come. Resurrection and life confront us in our grief.  Sometimes we can only hold onto death because it seems so final and real.  Yet resurrection and life are for both this reality and the life to come.  Living people may experience these things in Christ.

Jesus is moved by their grief and begins to weep in this story.  This is another reminder that when we grieve, God grieves with us.  It is okay for Christians to be sad.  It is okay for Christians to cry at our loss.  It is okay for Christians to grieve deeply because we miss our loved ones.  And we remember that Jesus weeps with us.

Sometimes, we need the resurrection and the life to come to us in the midst of our lives. We need re-birth because something has wounded us within our souls.  When this happens, we pray with confidence for the Lord of life to come to us and renew us and make us whole.

Prayer for the day:

O God, you rule over your creation with tenderness,
offering fresh hope in the midst of the most terrible misery.
We pray for our brothers and sisters whose souls are blackened by despair, 
infusing them with the pure light of your love.
As they curse the day they were born and yearn for oblivion, 
reveal to them the miracle of new birth which shall prepare them for the joys of heaven.

    Adapted from Dimma, 7th Century Irish Monk

Photo by Vandan Desai via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Fourth Sunday in Lent

Today's Reading: John 11:1-16 (NRSV)

This is the second time that Bethany is mentioned in John's Gospel.  The first was in Chapter 1 when John the Baptist is questioned by priests and Levites sent by the Pharisees.  He points to Jesus rather than take any credit for himself.

Bethany is mentioned in Mark's Gospel when Jesus stays there at the house of Simon the leper.  The willingness of Jesus to stay in the home of a (presumably former) leper once again places Jesus in the company of the least of these within Judean society.

This shows that Bethany was a place known to Jesus as well as to his disciples.  I wonder what other stories of Jesus in Bethany are lost to history.

Lazarus is only known within John's Gospel.  His sisters, Mary and Martha, may be better known for their hosting of Jesus in Luke's Gospel when Mary sits at the feet of Jesus while Martha tends to the household duties.

When Jesus uses the metaphor of sleep
for death, it makes one think
about the similarities of the two states
in relation to being awake.
I really like the interplay in today's reading between Jesus and the disciples.  Jesus tries to use flowery imagery about sleeping and finally has to state bluntly, "Lazarus is dead."  John doesn't actually say that Jesus sighs loudly but you can almost hear it as you read the account.

Thomas who later doubts the resurrection backs up Jesus to the point of being willing to die with him.   He is either being sarcastic or faithful.  It is hard to know which.  Maybe both at the same time!

The initial dissent from the disciples concerning the mission of Jesus is a wonderful place to insert ourselves into the story.  When does following Jesus become too dangerous or inconvenient to our own plans?  Do we reluctantly go along with Jesus like Thomas or do we simply decide that we will pick up the trail when it is safer?

Since most Christians are not in danger for their faith in the United States, convenience is the more suitable topic.  With worship coming around once a week, do we ever put Jesus on the shelf while we tend to "more important" matters?  Each of us embraces our relationship with Jesus a little bit differently.  But the way you relate to Jesus should be expressed clearly in your daily routines.  After all, we don't want to stumble but rather walk in the light!

Prayer for the day:

Enable me O God to collect and compose my thoughts before an immediate approach to thee in prayer.  May I be careful to have my mind in order when I take upon myself the honor to speak to the sovereign Lord of the universe, remembering that upon the temper of my soul depends in very great measure, my success.  Thou art infinitely too great to be trifled with, too wise to be imposed on by a mock devotion and dost abhor a sacrifice without a heart.  Help me to entertain an habitual sense of thy perfections as an admirable help against cold and formal performances.  Save me from engaging in rash and precipitate prayers, and from abrupt breaking away to follow business or pleasure as though I had never prayed.  Amen.

    Susanna Wesley, 18th Century, England

Photo by Gregory Williams via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

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  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."


"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  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  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  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  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  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 Used under the Creative Commons license.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 16, Saturday

Today's Reading: John 7:53-8:20 (NRSV)

It is interesting that one of the most beloved stories about Jesus may be apocryphal - along the lines of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree.  The footnotes about 7:53 through 8:11 show us that this story was likely added by an editor to the original manuscript of John.  

It feels more like a story from one of the synoptic gospels in that this is the only place in John where we see the group "scribes" noted.  In Mark, they appear all the time.  Of course, the story could very likely have come from a different oral tradition about Jesus and was inserted by an editor because he or she didn't want this important story to fade into obscurity.  

It does have many of the likely things we would find in a story about Jesus.  

He is set up to be trapped in a test.  He deftly maneuvers out of the trap.  He offers grace to one on the margins that would normally be ignored by the religious authorities of the time.

Of course, the trap comes from Jewish law versus Roman law.  Which is the true law? Jewish law condemns the woman to death.  But Roman law would say that you no longer have the authority to commit this kind of punishment.  It would be similar today in the United States if a church killed a woman caught in adultery.  The people in charge of this church would be arrested and sentenced for murder.

This passage has Jesus writing on the ground.  The footnotes also show that other manuscripts have him writing the sins of each of the accusers in the dirt.  

To be accused by another is a common
human occurrence.  It is amusing in the photo
but is there any real difference for adults?
Can you imagine if Jesus began writing down things like blasphemy, stealing, and honoring your parents?  I wonder if he saved "bearing false witness" for last?  While their setup of the woman may not technically qualify, their intent was not to punish her but to trap Jesus.  These who claimed to be closer to God than anyone had put someone's life at risk in order to get someone else in trouble.  

As their true intent is exposed, they all leave the scene.  

This is a wonderful example preceding the statement, "I am the light of the world."  Light exposes things hidden in the darkness.  So whether this was originally inserted by John or not seems immaterial at this point.  It is a part of the Christian story and shapes us in important ways.

After all, we could all use a little more light in our lives.

Prayer for the day:

Light of the world!
Shine in my heart.  Shine in my life.
When, through my actions, I forget that you are constantly shining, forgive me.
May no one be left to accuse me and may I seek to accuse no one.
And the way that I go will be your way.  Amen.

Photo by Steve Baker via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 15, Friday

Today's Reading: John 7:25-52 (NRSV)

We can see a division of opinion about Jesus within today's reading.  It appears that the authorities were largely against Jesus (outside of Nicodemus) while many of the common people supported him.

There is a definite prejudice against the home of Jesus as we can see from verse 41 which inquires, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?" and verse 52 which states, "no prophet is to arise from Galilee."  This continues yesterday's theme of locking people into our preconceived notions.  It seems we prefer a little mystery in our lives as verse 27 indicates that we shouldn't from which region the Messiah actually comes.  Of course, this is later countered with verse 42 which declares that the Messiah comes from Bethlehem.

John's Gospel doesn't actually identify Jesus with the birth narratives from Bethlehem. We only gain this knowledge from Matthew and Luke.  In fact, this is the only time that Bethlehem is mentioned in John.

Sometimes religious divisions are obvious
through the outward behaviors we adopt.  To us,
the Amish all seem the same but they have
separate denominations as well.
It seems that there has always been division concerning Jesus.  Divisions continue to arise between believers and nonbelievers. But Christians are not immune as division also comes among professors of the faith.  Denominations continue to form over what kind of standards we are to observe.  We continue to split with one another - even among local congregations - over identification of the key tenets of behavior resulting from doctrine.

Maybe we need to remember verse 37 which stands in the midst of this division when Jesus says, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me".  When we have the river of life, it could be that we are more concerned with love of neighbor rather than how that neighbor comes up short.  As Matthew blatantly reports Jesus saying, "Judge not" we see John implying it more subtly in narrative form through today's reading.

Prayer for today:

We ask you, O Lord, for the gifts of your Spirit.  Enable us to penetrate the depth of the whole truth, and grant that we may share with others the goods you have put at our disposal.  Teach us to overcome divisions.  Send us your Spirit to lead to full unity your sons and daughters in full charity, in obedience to your will; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

       Pope John Paul II

Photo by Tony Fischer via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 14, Thursday

Today's Reading: John 7:1-24 (NRSV)

Systems look for balance and when that balance is upset, the system will seek to right the balance, even going to extreme measures.

Jesus has come and upset the balance.  The authorities are looking to kill him to restore order.  John unfortunately uses the term "the Jews" where the synoptic gospels more often break the term into categories such as Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, scribes, etc.  For instance, when it states in verse 13 that "no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews" it is a little misleading to us today.  We have to stop and remember, "But they were all Jews!"  Jesus, his brothers, his disciples, the crowds and those opposed to him were all Jews.

Sometimes we are not always comfortable
with the self-expression of others.
Another interesting point in today's reading is the disbelief of the brothers of Jesus.  This is hinted at in Mark 3:20-21 when his family comes to take him away.  In looking at a variety of translations of this passage, it seems as if his family rather than the crowds were stating, "He has gone out of his mind."  This would certainly indicate disbelief. What is fascinating about this is that Jesus's brother James becomes the head of the church in Jerusalem following the resurrection.

It may be difficult to ascribe greatness to those we know best.  After all, we see them more closely than others.  Sometimes it is difficult to break out of a mold because those we know may implicitly seek to keep us in the mold with which they are more comfortable.  This is not necessarily done out of malice or spite, but is almost done unconsciously.

As we continue in Lent, are there people that you know that you may be holding back in some way?  After all, if the family of Jesus took their time to see Jesus for who he really was, we can cut ourselves a little slack.  But it may be that we need to pray about those we love in a different way.  Let us value their calling more than the balance we've achieved.

Prayer for the day:

Good and Mighty God, we give thanks for the gift of family and friends.  We recognize that abundant life is more abundant because of the loving relationships we share.  We may see your presence in the kindness we give and take with them.  Help us to share the kind of love with them that will unleash your calling upon their lives.  Give us eyes to see what this might be.  Give us words of encouragement that will help bring it to fruition. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ who calls us all.  Amen.

Photo by Flavio Silva via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 13, Wednesday

Today's Reading: John 6:60-71 (NRSV)

Within the early church, there developed a Gnostic or secret understanding of theology that was later declared heretical.  In Gnostic thought, there was a dualism that divided the material things and the spiritual things.  The spiritual was good and the physical was evil.  Sometimes we can see from John's writing how people could have developed this idea.  Specifically, when Jesus states in verse 63, "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless." one can see how this conclusion could be reached.

However, we must see it in context of his speech earlier in the chapter on eating and drinking his flesh and blood.  He is speaking of a spiritual content rather than a fleshly one.  Even so, we see that some of his followers did not continue with him over this teaching.

Jesus is seen as all-knowing as he reveals his betrayer to the reader.

I recognize that I am often like this dog,
simply waiting until I can get my treat.
As I consider the temptations of the flesh during Lent, I have given up snacking in the evenings.  I don't eat anything after dinner (usually I get the munchies before bed).  The flesh urges me to consume but I recognize that this is not required for my survival.  It makes me wonder how often we do allow our physical bodies to control our lives.  We obviously require sleep and nourishment.  Yet we have the ability to look past these things.  Sometimes we need a reset so that we don't simply progress through life enslaved by the flesh.

If the spirit gives life, how am I in tune with the spirit?

Prayer for the day:

Be kind to your little children, Lord. Be a gentle teacher, patient with our weakness and stupidity. And give us the strength and discernment to do what you tell us, and so grow in your likeness. May we all live in the peace that comes from you. May we journey towards your city, sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves, borne serenely along by the Holy Spirit. Night and day may we give you praise and thanks, because you have shown us that all things belong to you, and all blessings are gifts from you. To you, the essence of wisdom, the foundation of truth, be glory for evermore.

     Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215)

Photo by Andrew McGill via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 12, Tuesday

Today's Reading: John 6:22-59 (NRSV)

John certainly has a mystical quality lacking in the synoptic gospels.  We have already seen Jesus use the statement "I am" and today we see the first of the "I am" statements that is connected with a metaphor.

Of course, "I am who I am" is the name God gives to Moses during the encounter at the burning bush.
But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
               This is my name forever,
               and this my title for all generations.
                                                   Exodus 3:13-15 (NRSV)

This title for Jesus often lends
itself in nourishment for a hungry world.
When Jesus states "I am the bread of life" it is designed to draw us to the connection between God and Jesus.  Christian theology states that Jesus is fully divine but also fully human.  The human nature features more strongly in the synoptic gospels while the divinity of Jesus is more prominent in John.

We also see here a strong connection with the Eucharist to which United Methodists more commonly refer as Holy Communion. In speaking of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, Jesus is instructing us in the sacrament.  Even knowing this, when we read about consuming flesh and blood today, it sounds a little weird.  It was certainly as taboo for Jews within Palestine during that time as it is for us.  When I read these words, it is important for me to see them theologically.  I know that eating and drinking our Lord's physical body is not to be taken literally.

So we must theologically interpret how Jesus is the bread of life for us today.  How do we find our daily sustenance in our relationship with Jesus Christ?  What practices give you strength, courage, energy and life?  How are these spiritual practices?  If you don't see them that way, is there a dimension to them that you are missing?

Here's a prayer for the day that was likely composed and used as a communion hymn during the first generations of the early church:

We are proclaiming your death, Lord;
we praise you, Christ, for your holy resurrection.
It is fitting, you say, for us to approach the table
of these ineffable mysteries.
Let us be eager, then, to receive our share
of the spiritual gifts here spread before us;
let us sing with the angels
the triumphal Alleluia.

God the Word, he in the Father's bosom,
was lately here upon the cross as well.
He was laid in a tomb like any mortal
-stooped so low, would have it so;
but on the third day rose again and gave us
O what gift of mercy.

Photo by Tadson Bussey via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 11, Monday

Today's Reading: John 6:1-21 (NRSV)

The miracles in today's reading help to identify Jesus with God.  We begin with the feeding of the five thousand which reminds the Jewish reader of the feeding of the one hundred in 2 Kings 4:42-44 by the prophet Elisha.  John adds the detail of the loaves being barley loaves to the synoptic versions.  The identification of the loaves also helps to pull the listener back to Elisha as they were also barley loaves.
We are like most mammals when it comes
to abundance.  We tend to hoard if we can!
What does this say about our response to grace?

The main difference is that the miracle of Jesus far outstrips the prophet Elisha.

As with the miracle of the water turning into wine, the abundance of the bread also helps to remind the early church (and the current church) about the abundance of grace within Holy Communion.

In the second miracle, Jesus uses the language "I am" in verse twenty which correlates to the name of God from the Hebrew scripture.  Of course, mastery over the sea would be a god-like power that mortals would not exhibit.  It is also interesting to note that the boat moves almost immediately to their destination when they seek to take Jesus into the boat.  This mystical travel would remind the disciples that they are not dealing with the ordinary here.

As we consider this passage for Lent, it is interesting to note that Jesus withdraws from the crowd so they don't attempt to make him their king in verse fifteen.  After this miraculous display, one could hardly blame the crowd for seeking to place Jesus in this role.  However, it also leads one to reflect that when in the presence of the miraculous, people often turn to their own best interests.  Or they turn to what they think are their own best interests.  How could making Jesus the king be wrong?

People seem to be better at telling God what to do rather than listening for what God wants from us.  Let's take some time to listen for God's direction today.

Prayer for the day:

Cleanse our minds, O Lord, we beseech thee, of all anxious thoughts for ourselves, that we may learn not to trust in the abundance of what we have, save as tokens of thy goodness and grace, but that we may commit ourselves in faith to thy keeping, and devote all our energy of soul, mind, and body to the work of thy kingdom and the furthering of the purposes of thy divine righteousness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

     Prayer from the Euchologium Anglicanum

Photo by JamieDrakePhotos via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Second Sunday in Lent

Today's Reading: John 5:30-47 (NRSV)

Monty Python's argument sketch is a classic
in showing that sometimes human beings
actually relish a good debate.
This passage is a Christian apologetic within a Jewish context.  At the time of its writing, Christianity was a definite minority as a break-away sect of Judaism. Seeing it as a struggling viewpoint trying to claim some legitimacy among its peers, one can forgive the overbearing tone.  Now that Christianity is within the majority, we must read this in a different way.

One need not be embarrassed to be a Christian.  However, when we claim a majority, we must also accommodate a different way of speaking with others. An intra-Jewish dialogue is very different than an inter-faith dialogue.  The former is more akin to brothers hashing out a dispute.  One might expect it to get ugly but hopefully, at the end of the day, the love they have for one another will still be evident.

On the other hand, the latter might be more like two strangers coming to terms with one another.  They must approach one another with greater respect because they are not close enough to make certain assumptions.

When John was written, it was more like the former: an intra-Jewish dialogue.  As we read it today, however, we must approach it as an inter-faith dialogue.  While our relationship has changed, the text has not.  Christians would naturally believe that their religion is superior at the very least for them.  But we also have the good grace not to start shouting how much better we are than others.  This comes from our Christian beliefs - how Jesus lifts up the outsiders.  In John's day, the Christians were the outsiders.  We now have to ask, "how does our speech toward others change when we become the insiders?"

As we continue with Jesus toward the cross during Lent, how we express our faith toward others who believe differently is important.  It is important to see the distinctions but it is also important to see where we would see Christ in the other.

The prayer for the day was written by a Jewish Rabbi.  He would not claim any kind of christology within this prayer, but I, as a Christian, see it clearly.  I'm not going to hit him over the head with my belief but I can also say that we have more similarities than differences.

Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and feel the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun be so strong that we will see all people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain, bring forth flowers to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward to heaven.

   Rabbi Harold Kushner, 2003.

Picture taken from the YouTube promo for Monty Python's "Argument Clinic" sketch.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 10 Saturday

Today's Reading: John 5:19-29 (NRSV)

To be honest, I sometimes find myself needing to re-read a passage from John.  He tends to get a little repetitive when we are outside of the narrative and I find I am not really reading it.

If you ever read a red-letter edition of the Bible, you can see the difference in the verbosity of Jesus in John as opposed to the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  However, this does not mean that Jesus is not worth paying attention to in John's portrayal.  It may be that a phrase or particular statement stands out for you in a particular context in your life.  The next time you read it, you may take notice of something else entirely that escaped your attention before.

Sometimes life can seem like a grave and
we need Christ to reset our spirits.
What struck me in particular this time was in verse 25 when Jesus speaks of the dead hearing the voice of the Son of God and living.  Then if you were confused about how literal this might be, he follows it up with those "who are in their graves" hearing his voice.

This could be interpreted as the belief that Jesus "descended to the dead" within the Apostles' Creed. Traditionally, this is seen as occurring after Jesus dies on the cross and before he is resurrected from the dead.

But we are also allowed to perceive this metaphorically.  It may be similar to the vision of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones.  There are times when we are "dead" even in life. There are times when we need to rise from our graves.

Sometimes we may not even realize that there is a cloud over our lives.  We may be a little depressed and not even know it.  However, when we are released from it, we can tell the difference!

May you find the living Christ speaking to you today in a way that gives you life!

Prayer for the day:

The risen, living Christ calls us by our name;
   comes to the loneliness within us;
   heals that which is wounded within us;
   comforts that which grieves within us;
   releases us from that which has dominion over us;
   cleanses us of that which does not belong to us;
   renews that which feels drained within us;
   awakens that which is asleep in us;
   names that which is still formless within us;
   empowers that which is newborn within us;
   consecrates and guides that which is strong within us;
   restores us to this world which needs us;
   reaches out in endless love to others through us.
The risen, living Christ calls us by our name.

Prayer from by Flora Slosson Wuellner featured in The Upper Room Worship Book, (c) 1989 Upper Room Books.

Photo by Snebtor via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 9 Friday

Today's Reading: John 5:1-18 (NRSV)

Jesus heals one lame man in today's reading out of the large number of troubled people who gathered at this pool daily.  The legend as one can see from the footnotes of verse three is that an angel stirred the waters of the pool from time to time.  Popular belief was that the first one in would be healed.

This man had evidently been coming for a long time.  He had no one to help him into the pool when it first bubbled and so he continued to suffer his ailment.

If he had been lame for 38 years, he would have been considered pretty old for this culture.  He would not have been able to keep himself very clean - even by first century standards.

Jesus asks him the question, "Do you want to be made well?"

We could answer that for him - of course!  Who wouldn't want to be well?

Within The Wizard of Oz, the four characters
all journey to find gifts that they already possess.
Except that sometimes we grow comfortable in our lives, even if we are living in miserable conditions.  When a balance or homeostasis is achieved, it may be difficult to alter it even if it would be to our advantage.

We all have observed other people's lives and thought, "If they would just make a small change here or there, they would be so much better off." And yet they don't.

You'll notice that the man's answer to the question is not a resounding "Yes!"  Rather, he makes excuses for why he is not able to get into the pool.  Now they may be very valid reasons but his answer may give us insight.

As we move into Lent, what if Jesus were to ask you this question?

Do you want to be made well?

We all have things that we could work on in our lives.  It might be helpful for us to pray about them today and discern why it is that we have become comfortable with them.

Prayer for the day:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

      Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, 20th century

Photo by the Mraz Center for the Performing Arts via  Used under the Creative Commons license.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 8 Thursday

Today's Reading: John 4:43-54 (NRSV)

Jesus declares in verse 48, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe."  It is interesting that the Greek form of "you" is plural in both instances in this sentence.  An Oklahoma translation of this might read, "Unless you all see signs and wonders you all will not believe."

Because within this passage, John has Jesus speaking to all of us in a way.

We would like to have faith and to trust but it may be that we've been burned too many times to fully trust without proof.

The miracles are a way of God's grace touching the world in a tangible way.  It is interesting that this healing occurs in the same locale as the first miracle of water turning to wine.  The first miracle involves the spreading of joyous celebration.  This miracle moves toward wholeness of life.

Sometimes our natures correspond with
God's nature and we seek to share generously.
It feels good when others respond, doesn't it?
These speak to us of God who wants us to embrace the goodness of this life.  Can we truly embrace this belief if we do not encounter signs and wonders of our own?  Or does our faith allow us to see signs and wonders where others only see coincidences or chance fortuitousness?

This is not meant as a crass understanding that God's blessings come only to those deserving few but that the grace of God spills over into all life if we have eyes to see.

Maybe seeing and believing are mutually reinforcing for us.  One may lead to the other, leading to the enrichment of our lives in a deeper, spiritual way.

The prayer for the day that I feature is from the first century and reminds us of the kind of world in which God is interested:

We beseech you, Master, to be our helper and protector.
Save the afflicted among us; have mercy on the lowly;
raise up the fallen; appear to the needy; heal the ungodly;
restore the wanderers of your people;
feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners;
raise up the sick; comfort the faint-hearted.  Amen.

                          Clement of Rome, First Century

Photo by hasib via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 7 Wednesday

Today's Reading: John 4:1-42 (NRSV)

The Samaritan woman that encounters Jesus at Jacob's Well was likely shunned. Women in that day would journey to the well together in the morning during the cooler hours of the day.  Carrying heavy water at the noon hour as John identifies for us in verse 6 would make a hard chore more difficult.

We find out from her conversation with Jesus that she was living with a man and had already had five husbands.  She had her own heavy burden to carry and it was not water. Likely, the other women did not want to associate with her.  It could be that some were fearful that she might try to take their husbands.  I doubt that she felt very good about herself.

Jesus could have shamed her but he doesn't.

He waits by the well while she becomes an evangelist back in her town.  What would the townsfolk have thought at this woman imploring them to follow her to the well in the middle of the afternoon?

Sometimes the chains that isolate us
are of our own making.  Sometimes they
come from how others see us.
She uses the now-familiar "Come and see" which is a call to meet Jesus in this instance.  Many do indeed see Jesus and he stays with them for two more days.  We may be surprised to find out that Samaritans know how to show hospitality just as the Jews do.  In fact where the Pharisees approach Jesus at night or the authorities overcharge for money changing at the temple, the Samaritans are shown to get this part right.

This would have been a head-scratcher for a Jewish audience.  It is harder for us to see.

The disciples are certainly puzzled by the association of Jesus with this woman.

What does this say about our own expectations when it comes to people?  Certainly God doesn't have to follow our pre-conceived notions.

Who do you know that you would be surprised to find God working through?  If you examine their life, where would you say God is at work?

Sometimes we put ourselves in the place of the woman at the well and that may be appropriate.  But other times, this story reminds us that redemption is available to outsiders.  This is between them and God - they don't need our permission.  And God certainly doesn't need it.

Some days the biggest thing we might do as Christians is to take our disbelief and get out of the way.

Prayer for the day:

God, we believe clinically that you do love everyone.  We believe that redemption is available to all people.  We may have even been surprised by it.  But too often, we are looking for actions in others that meet our high standards and find them lacking.  It becomes easier to see the bad than the good.  God, we may find ourselves saying like the father of the epileptic boy, "I believe!  Help my unbelief!"  Amen.

Photo by Jorg Schreier via  Used under the Creative Commons license.