Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Sound of (sheer) Silence

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-18 (NRSV)

Elijah is one of my favorite figures in the Bible.  In the previous chapter, he has a lot of courage to face down the prophets of Baal when he was so greatly outnumbered.  He trusts in God to see him through and God does not let him down.

That's why this story is so important.  After the dust settles, Queen Jezebel threatens his life because she was a supporter of Baal.

And even though he just had a victorious showdown with miraculous intervention, he fears for his life and heads for the hills.  As an outside observer, we want to shake some sense into Elijah and say, "After all you just witnessed, why would you run?"

But what makes this such a great story is that it shows Elijah as all-too human.  We all have moments of courage and cowardice.  We want to highlight our bravery and sweep the not-so-spectacular moments under the rug.  I would be happier if no one else knew anything about them.
There is something transcendent about
the high places on our planet.

Yet, the Biblical authors share these details precisely so we can connect with them.  To be afraid is to think with blinders on.  When we are afraid, our ability to make good decisions actually decreases substantially.  So Elijah runs away when maybe the best thing for him would be to stand firm in the Lord.

Elijah travels to the same mountain where Moses encountered God and received the 10 Commandments.  He sees a lot of flash in wind, earthquakes and fire but he doesn't perceive God in any of the chaos.  This reminds Oklahomans in particular that God is not sending tornadoes as retribution!

Rather, Elijah encounters God in the stillness following the turmoil.  The New Revised Standard Version relates a "sound of sheer silence."  The King James Version translates it as a "still small voice."  I think I prefer the new Common English Bible which states, "there was a sound. Thin. Quiet."

This reminds us that we can fill up the space in life with a lot of noise.  We can say a lot of words and phrases when we pray.  But maybe the most meaningful communication with God is when we can stop and listen.  When we hear nothing, our faith can allow a connection that is greater than the absence of sound.  It is mystical and it allows us to simply be.

Elijah interprets that God is not done with him yet.  In fact, he is not the only faithful person alive.  God begins to connect Elijah with others so that God's work can take on greater meaning.  But he might not have been able to hear this if he hadn't stopped running and stopped talking.  Good lessons to be learned almost three thousand years later!

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Witness to Resurrection

Lectionary Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32

The context of the world during the early days following the resurrection was very different religiously than it is today.  It is strange to think that the majority of people on the planet had never heard of Jesus.  Christians today often take it for granted that everyone within our culture knows at least some of the basics of our faith.

After all, even non-religious people celebrate Christmas.

How did we go from obscurity to dominant?

Peter mentions in the above reading that the disciples were all witnesses to the resurrection.  Of course, by the time the Acts of the Apostles was written, most of the witnesses to the resurrection were in the third and fourth generations.

Being a witness to the resurrection originally meant "eye-witness" as in "we saw Jesus risen from the dead."  As people heard Acts read to them, "all of us are witnesses," began to take on a different understanding.  They would have seen themselves as a part of the movement.  They are also witnesses to the resurrection because Christianity is a living faith.

The fact that they made this leap of understanding is evident because we are recipients of this faith today - a faith that crossed two millennia and an ocean.  The difficulty for Americans is that we grew up in a culture where the majority were already witnesses to the resurrection.  And so we began to assume that everyone was already part of the story.

This old Sunday school postcard  assumes
that the truant friend is "lost" while the
regulars are "found."  This may not be the kind of
witness we want to project today.
This dampens the urgency of sharing as a witness.  And so this led to the plateau of American Christianity which now finds itself in decline.

What does it mean for us to reclaim our identity as witnesses to the resurrection?  At some point, we must quit assuming that others claim the Christian faith.  The difficulty of sharing the faith is that when we were dominant, Christians sometimes adopted an arrogant stance.

How do we prioritize the sharing of faith while at the same time keeping an air of humility?  I believe it begins with the resurrection becoming a key part of our lives.  This means that the witness is something we don't aspire to do as much as how we go about living our lives.

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Easter Sunday

Today's Reading: John 21:1-25 (NRSV)

Now that Lent has finished, the daily devotions here come to a close.  We have read through the entirety of John's Gospel.  The final chapter reads more like an addition - Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" if you will.  That being said, it seems that most of the very early manuscripts we have of John include parts of the 21st chapter.

The regular order of the day doesn't
seem possible for those encountering
the Living Lord.
I like how the disciples kind of go back to business as usual when they go fishing. Was it all a dream?

It wasn't.  They find Jesus on the beach and he is cooking some fish.

Like Mary Magdalene, they don't really recognize him at first.

I wonder if they felt a little chagrined.  Jesus had told them that they would be fishing for people (although this was in Mark and Matthew) and here they are back to their old job.

The resurrection seems to be saying, "You can't go back to business as usual."

Now that our Lenten disciplines are over, it may be the same for us.  We may leave the scriptures untouched and unread for a time.  Yet while there may not be daily devotions posted here, it is still possible to read scripture daily.  This practice allows us to participate in the resurrection.

The resurrection not only colors the way we read the entire Gospel of John, but it colors the way we live.  Our lives should be changed along with our outlook.

Sometimes we may not really recognize Jesus but this may be due to the distractions which seem rather abundant.  When we set these aside, we too may proclaim with confidence, "It is the Lord!"

Prayer for the day:

God, give us eyes to see the beauty of the Spring,
And to behold Your majesty in every living thing -
And may we see in lacy leaves and every budding flower
The Hand that rules the universe with gentleness and power -
And may this Easter grandeur that Spring lavishly imparts
Awaken faded flowers of faith lying dormant in our hearts,
And give us ears to hear, dear God, the Springtime song of birds
With messages more meaningful than man's often empty words
Telling harried human beings who are lost in dark despair -
'Be like us and do not worry for God has you in His care.


    Helen Steiner Rice, 20th Century

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 40, Holy Saturday

Today's Reading: John 20:1-31 (NRSV)

We have the resurrection!  We are a day early but in order to get all of John finished by Easter Sunday, the schedule necessitated chapter twenty on Holy Saturday.

As we look at this entire chapter, we can see that we have the encounter with the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and then by Peter and the beloved disciple.

Then we have three appearances of the risen Lord.  The first is to Mary Magdalene and then we have an appearance to the disciples sans Thomas and then one where Thomas is present.

As we look at this, we can see how our spiritual lives may have an individual encounter with God in some way as well as one in a group context such as worship.

For our personal encounters, we may want these to last longer or come more frequently. We hear Jesus tell Mary, "Do not hold on to me."  This doesn't mean that we shouldn't seek to encounter God but it may mean that these encounters are beyond our control. We would like God to operate on our time but that is a bit egocentric.  God operates on God's time.

There's something symbolic
about a lighthouse that fits
with John's Gospel!
We see this again as Thomas misses out on the first appearance.  What's interesting is that the other gospels have instances of doubting from multiple disciples and yet John only points out poor Thomas.  I think this story reminds me that different people encounter God in their own time - maybe in God's time which seems to depend on the person.

As we seek to serve the living Christ, it may be that we each have our moments where we don't recognize him or we doubt he is there at all. That is the value of being in a faith community. We lift one another up with a vision of what we could be as a Christian.  We know we are not always there but we can at least see where we are trying to go.  For those that aren't ready yet, we bring them along with us.

You'll notice that just becomes Thomas doesn't believe the way they do, they do not kick him out of the group.  He is still present the next week when Jesus returns.  We hold one another in the faith and sometimes we believe on their behalf until they may come to the faith themselves.

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, even when we are in the darkness of death, our brothers and sisters in the faith remind us that "this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality."  We do this in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This allows our spirits to cry even in the face of grief and loss, "Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  We pray this in the name of the Living Lord.  Amen.

Prayer based on 1 Corinthians 15:53-55
Photo by Louis Raphael via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 39, Good Friday

Today's Reading: John 31-42 (NRSV)

John includes some details of the crucifixion that we don't find in the other gospels. Verses 31-37 have no parallels.  What is it about these specifics that are important for John to include?

The standout for me is the piercing of the side of Jesus to make sure that he was really dead.  Blood and water pour out from his wound.  On one hand, this is a rather gruesome account.  It is almost as if we are adding more insult to the injuries we have put upon Jesus.  But I believe that John has other motives in giving us these particulars.
Blood, life and death
are often mixed together
for us in ways that are earthy
and quite clear.

Some in the early church claimed that Jesus didn't really suffer death but only seemed to suffer.  They believed he was spirit and so this shows that he was really flesh and blood.  For the same reasons, the Apostles' Creed states that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried" so as to avoid any confusion around his mortality.

Some scholars have suggested that the blood and water that pour from Jesus remind us of the sacraments of Holy Communion ("This is my blood shed for you") and Baptism ("I will give you living water").  The sacraments offer new life that begins with the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.

John also refers to Zechariah 12:10 which states,
And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
All four gospels share that Joseph of Arimathea is the one to bury Jesus in the tomb. John adds Nicodemus as a helper who now tends to Jesus in the light of day.

As we consider our own role, it may be that Jesus is safer to tend to when he is dead rather than living.  When Jesus is dead, it is easier to assert our own will.  When Jesus is dead, our faith doesn't have to be challenging but rather becomes a comfort only.

As we think about the death of our Lord on this Good Friday, it may be helpful for us to confess how we have kept Jesus buried in the tomb from time to time.

Prayer for the day:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
take us to yourself,
draw us with cords to the foot of your cross;
for we have no strength to come,
and we know not the way.
You are mighty to save, and none can separate us from your love.
Bring us home to yourself, for we are gone astray.
We have wandered: do seek us.
Under the shadow of your cross let us live all the rest of our lives,
and there we shall be safe.  Amen.

    Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 19th century,

Photo by Canadian Blood Services via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 38, Maundy Thursday

Today's Reading: John 19:16-30 (NRSV)

The crucifixion of Jesus is reported differently in all four gospels.  Verse 17 stood out to me where it states that Jesus carried his own cross.  There is no mention of Simon of Cyrene who is featured in the other three accounts.  It is important to know that the early church interpreted the crucifixion in light of Psalm 22 which allows us insight into the suffering of the faithful.

Verse 18 reflects the desolation of having people cast lots for your clothing.  The shame of public nudity was difficult for this culture and it added to the humiliation of crucifixion.

John fills out the cast of women present at the cross and gives us dialogue with them. John names Mary, the mother of Jesus as being present.  Matthew lists Mary, the mother of James and Joseph and Mark lists Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses. These are likely the same Mary.  This Mary is also likely the mother of Jesus.  When Matthew lists the brothers of Jesus, he begins with James and Joseph and when Mark lists them, he begins with James and Joses.  

We know that James, the brother of Jesus, becomes the head of the Jerusalem church. Could he be the beloved disciple who remains unnamed?  It does add credence to the verse, "Here is your son" because if he was the next oldest, the responsibility for care would go to him.  It is speculation but it is interesting.

Mourning loss is difficult.  It is
somewhat less difficult when shared with others.
As Jesus passes on responsibility for the care of his mother to the beloved disciple, how agonizing would this have been for Mary?  No one wants to outlive their children - this would be a special suffering that she would have to endure and as we read the conversation, you can imagine her anguish.

We know that when we are in the midst of grief, it may be that we can't even begin to think about resurrection.  For those times, it may be that we need to dwell in the grief for a season.  These verses remind us that isolation is not helpful for us when we are grieving.  Family comes together and Jesus sees to it that his mother is cared for.

The prayer for the day comes from the United Methodist Book of Worship for an untimely or tragic death:

Jesus our Friend, you wept at the grave of Lazarus,
   you know all our sorrows.
Behold our tears and bind up the wounds of our hearts.
Through the mystery of pain,
    bring us into closer communion with you and with one another.
Raise us from death into life.
And grant, in your mercy, that with our loved one, who has passed within the veil,
   we may come to live with you and with all whom we love,
   in our Father's home.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 37, Wednesday of Holy Week

Today's Reading: John 19:1-16 (NRSV)

Pilate is an interesting figure.  There is apocryphal material written about Pilate claiming that he converted to Christianity.  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church went so far as to canonize him and now they view him as Saint Pilate.

Some scholars claim that the gospels softened Pilate in order to diffuse conflict with Roman authorities.  With the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, groups might have been hesitant to incur more wrath from the empire.

We know that Pilate served as the governor of Judea for Rome from 26 to 36 AD.  His main job would be to keep the peace and keep the tax dollars flowing back to Rome.  It seems that he was recalled to Rome in 36 after he bungled a riot in Samaria resulting in the deaths of many citizens there.

Within John's Gospel, Pilate is very hesitant to have Jesus killed.  John makes it to be all about the will of the Jewish people.  We do know that people were crucified for insurrection and revolt.  Rome was good about sending a pretty clear message to the populace about what happens to rebels.

Jesus suggests that this is all according to plan.  We have the idea that God wants this to happen or else it would not happen.  The danger in this philosophy is that if we apply this thought across the board and all tragedies are God's will, it doesn't put God in a very good light.

The narrative today makes one reflect on
innocence and guilt.  As we see the response
of the crowd, we must re-think our own
sense of innocence and guilt.
This begs the question, "Did God need a sacrifice for the atonement of humanity or did humanity need a sacrifice to accept forgiveness?"  John implies that it was God's will but this could be because God understands the needs of the people.  For a culture that was steeped in blood sacrifice, the death of Jesus makes sense in a way that may be somewhat confusing today.

Regardless of how we understand the death of Jesus today theologically, humanity continues to show a propensity for violence.  If we think that Christians are immune, we see that American Christians are largely in favor of capital punishment.  The church really didn't bat an eye about the Syrian missile strikes.  This is not to debate the pros and cons of these actions, merely to show that we have a fairly nonchalant attitude when it comes to dealing in death.

What does it mean to go along with the crowd today?  Do innocent people still suffer when we do?
The prayer for the day was written by Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, who was an Anglican leader in Iran.  It was written for the funeral of his son, Bahram when he was murdered during the Iranian Revolution in the 1970's.

Prayer for the day:

O God, we remember not only Bahram but his murderers.  Not because they killed him in the prime of his youth and made our hearts bleed and our tears flow;

Not because with this savage act they have brought further disgrace on the name of our country among the civilized nations of the world;

But because through their crime we now follow more closely thy footsteps in the way of sacrifice.

The terrible fire of this calamity burns up all selfishness and possessiveness in us.  Its flame reveals the depth of depravity, meanness and suspicion, the dimension of hatred and the measure of sinfulness in human nature;

It makes obvious as never before our need to trust in thy love as shown in the cross of Jesus and his resurrection,

Love that makes us free from all hatred towards our persecutors;

Love which brings patience, forbearance, courage, loyalty, humility, generosity and greatness of heart;

Love which more than ever deepens our trust in God’s final victory and his eternal designs for the Church and for the world;

Love which teaches us how to prepare ourselves to face our own day of death.

O God,

Bahram’s blood has multiplied the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls: so when his murderers stand before Thee on the Day of Judgment, remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives, and forgive.

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 36, Tuesday of Holy Week

Today's Reading: John 18:28-40 (NRSV)

Alcoholics Anonymous is for
people who are ready to confront the truth
even though it is difficult.
If Jesus were found guilty of blasphemy in a Jewish court, they could stone him to death under Jewish law.  However, they tell Pilate that they aren't allowed to engage in capital punishment.  Under Roman law, only the Roman government could execute someone for a crime.

So when Pilate questions Jesus, he is not concerned about blasphemy which was not punishable by death.  Pilate is concerned with sedition which could easily bring with it a death sentence.  And so rather than ask if Jesus is the Son of God, he asks him if he is the King of the Jews.

Jesus is coy and speaks of a spiritual rather than an earthly kingdom.  Jesus is about the truth.

Pilate asks the famous question, "What is truth?"

Philosophically if Jesus is the truth, Pilate may be asking as to the nature of Jesus.

Sometimes what is true is painful.

Sometimes what is true is difficult.

Sometimes what is true is beautiful.

Sometimes what is true is more real than anything else we've known.

The people are offered a choice.  Jesus or Barabbas.  Of course, bar = son and abba = father and so we have Jesus (identified as the Son of the Father) or Barabbas (which means son of the father).  One represents truth and the other represents violence.  It is unfortunate how often we side with what destroys rather than what builds up.

Prayer for the day:

From the cowardice that dares not face new truth,
from the laziness that is contented with half-truth,
from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, 
Good Lord, deliver me.   Amen.

     Prayer from Kenya

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 35, Monday of Holy Week

Today's Reading: John 18:19-27 (NRSV)

Jesus is defending himself against formal questioning.  He does not change his story or try to pretend to be someone he is not.  He doesn't deny his identity but basically states, "What you see is what you get."

"You've arrested me for what I've already done and said.  You know it and I know it."

Sometimes when we state the obvious, it is upsetting.  And so they struck him for impertinence.

At this point we know that Jesus cannot win here.  He tells them basically that he's taught what they think he taught.  He says, "If you're hitting me for this, I think you would hit me for anything."

We can see that the injustice is that the trial is a facade.  Jesus knows it and we can see it too.

What is fascinating here is how John plays this scene off Peter's second denial.

What if everyone were so upfront?
So while Jesus never wavers from being authentic, Peter is shown as being false.

As we see the human condition, we understand that it is often quite difficult for us to be truly real all of the time. There are situations where we may be afraid to reveal too much of ourselves for fear of how others will react.

As we consider the journey of Jesus to the cross, we remind ourselves that the suffering we face in this life will only be compounded if we are not honest with ourselves and those we encounter.

Prayer for the day:

Almighty God, Who alone gives us the breath of life, and alone can keep alive in us the breathing of holy desires, we beseech You for Your compassion's sake to sanctify all our thoughts and endeavors, that we may neither begin any action without a pure intention, nor continue it without Your blessing; and grant that, having the eyes of our understanding purged to behold things invisible and unseen, we may in heart be inspired with Your wisdom, and in work be upheld by Your strength, and in the end be accepted of You, as Your faithful servants, having done all things to Your glory, and thereby to our endless peace.  Grant this prayer, O Lord.  Amen.

            Rowland Willams, Church of England, 19th Century

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm/Passion Sunday

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

If you are looking for Jesus hoping for a way out of his path of suffering and crucifixion, you won't find it in John's Gospel.  Rather than praying for release from drinking the cup of suffering, Jesus berates Peter for attempting to keep him from it.

While the synoptic gospels portray a reluctance that is backed by faith (thy will be done), John sees Jesus as in charge here.  Those coming to arrest Jesus even fall over when he tells them that he is Jesus of Nazareth.  These men are not in charge here but allowed to take Jesus under guard.

Peter is able to find comfort by warming
his hands by the fire in contrast to Jesus who
is cold and isolated.
We don't see the disciples fleeing in fear but rather we have an unnamed disciple that seems to follow the proceedings.  He even brings Peter closer and we begin to have his denial of Jesus.

The denial seems to make more sense if they were trying to hide their identities. Wouldn't the guards recognize Peter since he just cut off the ear of the high priest's slave?

For us, it is much easier to follow Jesus when there is no danger involved.  Our biggest concern may be whether to skip worship in favor of the latest event going on.  But if Jesus moves us into situations where our safety might be at risk, we may not be so sure about claiming him.  If we find ourselves fearful of people from other countries invading our space, will we be quick to quote Jesus saying, "you welcomed the stranger and so you welcomed me"?

There are many ways in which we deny our Lord too.  The beauty of John's Gospel is that he reminds us that within the greater story, Jesus Christ is in charge.  This is always a good thing for us to remember!

Prayer for the day:

O Lord my God, I thank you that you have brought this day to its close. I thank you that you give rest to body and soul. Your hand has been over me, guarding me and preserving me. Forgive my feeble faith and all the wrong I have done this day, and help me to forgive all who have wronged me. Grant that I may sleep in peace beneath your care, and defend me from the temptations of darkness. Into your hands I commend my loved ones, I commend this household. I commend my body and soul.  O God, may your name be praised.  Amen.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th Century

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 34, Saturday

Today's Reading: John 17:1-26 (NRSV)

What does it mean for Christians to know God or to be "in Christ"?

Much of the time, I will sign my correspondence with the church, "In Christ," as a way of sharing that we are held together by this bond.

One of the chief reminders of this is the forgiveness that we receive and bestow together as a part of our faith.  When I sign it in this way, I mean it to signify an inclusion of those reading it as if "we are all in Christ" rather than an arrogant way, "I am in Christ so you better listen to me."

Sometimes we recognize that other creatures
are also marveling in life they've received!
To know God means to be awestruck periodically as we recognize God's handiwork in the world.  It doesn't mean to presume a privilege but to convey the humility of the Psalmist who writes, "what are human beings that you are mindful of them?" (Psalm 8:4, NRSV).

As we recognize God and we realize the grace we have received, this does not set us apart from those who don't have this same understanding as much as it connects us to them through our compassion.

We see in John today God going into the world as Jesus Christ (at least from a Trinitarian perspective). As we are his disciples, Jesus calls us into the world to go in the same fashion.  Just as Jesus encounters a suffering world and is willing to suffer in solidarity with all humanity, we encounter a suffering world and engage it rather than shrinking from it.

When we do this, we know God.

When we do this, we are in Christ.

Shared pain is more bearable.  We are hopefully helping the world move past bearable and into life!

Prayer for the day:

May the blessing of light be on you - light without and light within. 
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire, 
   so that stranger and friend may come and warm himself at it. 
And may light shine out of the two eyes of you, 
   like a candle set in the window of a house, 
   bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.
And may the blessing of the rain be on you, 
   may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean,
   and leave there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines, 
   and sometimes a star. 
And may the blessing of the earth be on you, 
   soft under your feet as you pass along the roads, 
   soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day; 
   and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it. 
May it rest so lightly over you that your soul may be out from under it quickly; 
   up and off and on its way to God. 
And now may the Lord bless you, and bless you kindly. Amen.

      A Scottish blessing from http://www.faithandworship.com/Celtic_Blessings_and_Prayers.htm

Photo by Peter Evans via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.  You may read his story of how he got this shot under the "Photo" link. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 33, Friday

Today's Reading: John 16:16-33 (NRSV)

Christians take the long view.

Jesus is speaking about his death and resurrection in today's reading.  The difficulty will not last and the grief will have a stopping point.

As we think about suffering within our lives, we believe that God goes with us during the tough times.  We believe that the sun will rise after even the darkest night.  We are a resurrection people.

Some would say that the Christian world-view (at least where resurrection is concerned) is a kind of glass-half-full understanding.  It is optimistic.

Rain brings renewal.
Sometimes we appreciate it.
I would agree with this to a point, but I would also say that resurrection is more than a philosophy.  It is a belief that God is at work in the world on matter what.

When a child is hungry, God is suffering with that child. Some would say, "So what? The child still dies."

But God remains and inspires others to take up the cause of justice that no one should starve to death.  God connects us in important ways and this has to do with resurrection.  It follows suffering and death in a great variety of ways.

When people turn away from one another, it can come from fear or depression or anger. We cut ourselves off not because of good things but because things are damaged.  Some do so for their own protection.

Resurrection moves us toward connection with one another.  It heals.  It binds up wounds.  It makes us whole.  It brings us joy.

As we continue to move through Lent, we must examine our lives and take stock.  Some of us are in the midst of suffering.  Others are in the midst of joy.  Some may be in an odd mixture of both.  Wherever we are, may we see ourselves in the cycle where God has not abandoned us but goes along with us, giving us strength until we see the rising of the sun once more.

Prayer for the day:

O Lord, give us grace, we beseech You, to hear and obey Your voice which says to every one of us “This is the way, walk in it.”  Nevertheless, let us not hear it behind us saying, This is the way; but rather before us saying, Follow me.  When You put us forth, go before us; when the way is too great for us, carry us; in the darkness of death, comfort us; in the day of resurrection, satisfy us.  Amen.

            Christina G. Rossetti, English poet, 19th Century

Photo features Christina Mallory Chicoraske and was at Canyon Camp in 2007, taken by Kathryn Witzel who has impeccable timing! 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 32, Thursday

Today's Reading: John 16:1-15 (NRSV)

"It is to your advantage that I go away."

It is hard to believe Jesus when he says this today.  How could his absence ever be an advantage?

Of course, he is also talking about sending the Advocate (aka, the Holy Spirit) to us.  If we think about this in the terms of the Trinity, it is like he never left, right?

Okay, maybe it is not quite the same.

This has a feel of growing up to it.  There are certain things that parents do for their children that the kids are better off doing for themselves.

Ducklings imprint on their mother but
they eventually leave the nest!
I recently realized that I was making lunches for my teenagers who were perfectly capable of making their own lunches.  Why was I continuing to do this?  I didn't even think about it until I was frustrated that the younger child didn't eat the sandwich I made and it had to be thrown away.

If I do something for someone else that they are capable of doing for themselves, this can be a generosity.  But if I continue to do it, it may not be appreciated, needed or even helpful.

I think David's first reaction to making his own lunch was, "I'm packing all chips!"

So we get to have a reminder about nutrition but that is helpful for him in the long run.

The bottom line is that I want to raise independent, self-supporting adults.  I think this is the goal of every parent.  The helicopter complex of hovering and doing for our children is based on fear.  I'm afraid for their well-being.  It is also showing a lack of confidence in their abilities.

As adults, we can see how Jesus spiritually wants us to grow up.  As we think about our own maturity, a good litmus test is, "Do we think more about what the church can do for us or do we think more about how our church can be serving others?"

Prayer for the day:

O God, the Redeemer of our souls, and the Comforter of them that mourn, whose will is our peace, and to whom obedience is true freedom; grant me so to be led by Your Holy Spirit, that I may be free from vain hopes and repinings, and from all wrong desires; but may I through patience have experience, and through experience hope, and not be ashamed of hoping in You, our Father and our Friend, whose holy will be done now and for ever.  Amen.

      Rowland Williams, Church of England, 19th Century

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 31, Wednesday

Today's Reading: John 15:18-27 (NRSV)

What's all this hate concerning God and Jesus being thrown around?  As the early church distinguished itself from Judaism, there may have been some resentment as some families may have split on their belief concerning Jesus.  Jewish communities may have seen Christians seeking to sway their flock away from what they would have called the true faith in God.

Wolves are social animals that have
dominant and submissive members not
unlike human families although
people are not always this overt.
Hate implies passion.  You cannot hate something or someone if you are a disinterested observer.  So the hate to which John refers would be the response of someone caught in the middle of a tough situation.  If you followed God one way, and that way was being challenged by members of your own family, you might come to wish that you had never heard of the person responsible.

Systems - whether families or corporations or even churches - resist change.  

Sometimes a system will develop balance whether or not it is healthy.  This may mean that one member of the family occupies the lowest rung on the ladder.  If this person attempts to climb higher, the others may subconsciously seek to keep the person in their original location.  If someone were to then expose these actions as the truth, this truth would be most unwelcome by all but the person on the lowest rung.  You might even hate the person exposing this truth because you undoubtedly love the low-status family member even if you want to keep them in their place.  The hate toward another is because of the shock one may feel when it becomes known that they are mistreating their loved one in this way.

You may hear:

   Why would you say such a thing?

    I only treat you in this manner for your own protection.

   This person has no real understanding of our family and what I go through with you.

Jesus does upset unhealthy balance if we allow him.  The difficulty for many of us comes in figuring out which parts of our lives need a little exposure to the truth!

Prayer for the day:

God, we long for truth.  We know that no one likes to be deceived...even when we recognize that we are the ones doing the deceiving.  Help us to recognize the truth.  Help us to see it even if we are at fault for obscuring it.  Give us the strength to break out of unhealthy situations - even if we are the ones benefiting from them.  We pray these things with the help of the Advocate, who testifies to the truth we find in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 30, Tuesday

Today's Reading: John 15:1-17 (NRSV)

As a child, I can remember gardening in our backyard.  We didn't have a huge garden like my grandmother, but we had enough to be respectable.  There are times when I remember strawberries and cucumbers.  We had pumpkins one year.  We had tomatoes and onions and carrots.  We even had a gooseberry bush that produced only one season but we had enough to make a pie and it was sweet and tart and delicious!

There is a deep satisfaction
when your vine is heavy with grapes!
My favorite was our grape vines.  I liked how the vines snaked up the trellis and the posts that we put in for it.  There's nothing like eating grapes off the vine.

One year in particular we had a bumper crop of grapes.  There were more grapes than we knew what to do with.  We decided to make grape jelly which was not easy because these grapes were definitely not seedless!

It took a lot of work but we made jars and jars of jelly.  However, something was wrong with our recipe because the jelly would not set.  However, it tasted good and so we called it grape syrup and used it on pancakes.

The imagery that Jesus uses of fruit is such that if you've ever raised it, you know that it may not come in the same each year.  You can tend to it at about the same level and this is no guarantee that you will have results.

I think this may be why Jesus uses the image of producing fruit for ministry.  Sometimes we may work and work on a particular individual, showing this person compassion, kindness or helping them with their faith development.  And they may disappoint us in how they adopt the faith for themselves.

Other times, we may give the scantest amount of attention and find that this person is hungry for more!  They grow in their faith at a rapid rate and may even take off without us, leaving us behind!

We're not sure why some produce and others don't.  But our calling is to be faithful.  We are to offer love to the world in a variety of ways.  If we are faithful in this, we must remember that God is a part of the equation.  We believe that God will be faithful as well - maybe not to our preferred timing or liking but faithful none the less.

You can wear yourself out gardening and some years see very little result for your efforts. In contrast, you might see a huge yield that surprises you.  Thus it is with people as well.

Prayer for the day:

Holy and eternal God,
   give us such trust in your sure purpose,
that we measure our lives not by what we have done or failed to do,
but by our faithfulness to you.  Amen.

  Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, A New Zealand Prayer Book.

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 29, Monday

Today's Reading: John 14:15-31 (NRSV)

John introduces the Holy Spirit as our Advocate or Helper.  We receive the Holy Spirit without end.  The Holy Spirit abides in us and we abide in the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be connected with God in this way?

Certainly, the difficulty is that Christians continue to sin.  We would like to move to become more Christ-like in our lives.  We would like to be more forgiving, more charitable in lots of ways, and less fearful or angry or irritable.

But we have not arrived yet at the place we would like to be.  So are we any different than non-Christians?

Certainly, there are non-Christians that are more loving than many of us.  What does it mean to abide in the Holy Spirit?  And how does the Holy Spirit teach us?  How are we reminded of the words of Jesus?

We learn to abide in the Holy Spirit
in peace with one another at an early
age.  It is not always easy to forgive
one another but it is important to practice.
The church has received a bad rap lately. It is not as popular in the United States among the masses.  We've had clergy scandals and churches that seem to focus on themselves more than helping others. The church has become an easy target, especially among millennials who are dropping out at the fastest rate.

Yet, it is within the church that we discover what it means to abide in the Holy Spirit. As the spirit moves among the congregation, we remind one another of the words of Jesus through worship and Bible study.  We try to hold one another accountable although this is easier said than done.  We lift up the vision of what we should be in Christ.  And collectively, just as individually, we acknowledge that we are not there yet.

We remember that Jesus gives us the gift of peace.  This is not a gift that should be overlooked.  It is a gift that we share with one another.  It can only be practiced in community where we get around people that make us angry or irritable.  We practice forgiving one another even when we don't want to.  I believe that this is what it means to abide in the Holy Spirit.

And it may be that we are doing a better job holding people accountable than we thought. This is never something that people find very popular - maybe especially today.

Prayer for the day:

Nothing, O Lord, is more like your holy nature than the mind that is settled in quietness. You have called us into that quietness and peace of Yours, from out of the turmoils of this world, as it were, from out of storms into a haven; which is such a peace as the world cannot give, and as passes all capacity of human beings.  Grant now, O most merciful Father, that, through Your exceeding goodness, our minds may yield themselves obedient unto You without striving; and that they may quietly rise into that sovereign rest of Yours above.  Grant that nothing may disturb or disquiet them here beneath; but that all things may be quiet and calm through that peace of Yours.  Amen.

                     A Book of Christian Prayers, A.D. 1578

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Fifth Sunday in Lent

Today's Reading: John 14:1-14 (NRSV)

We understand atmospheric conditions
and storms are still scary today.  Imagine
what they would have been like before meteorology?
Even before human history began, people sought out the spiritual.  We wanted some kind of connection with God. Much of the time, our perception of the spiritual world was fearful.  Natural disasters were not explained by science but by the anger of the gods.  Illness might in fact be caused by demonic forces rather than germs.

In Jesus, the early church came to identify a human being in which we could know God.  For Christians seeking to know God's will, we look to the actions of Jesus. Although "What Would Jesus Do" became a fad during the 1990's (WWJD bracelets, anyone?), the question does represent the important touchstone for people seeking to be faithful to ask of themselves when facing a decision.

In order to answer this question, one must know what Jesus said and did.  Who did Jesus hang out with?  What customs did he follow and which ones was he willing to disrupt?

If Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we may have mistaken this for something that only holds sway after this life is over.  This may not be entirely our fault as the first piece of the passage is a favorite to read at funerals and is comforting in general.

However, to only see the dwelling places as otherworldly may cause us to miss out on the blessings that are possible through following Jesus within this life.  How else can we account for Jesus saying that those who believe in him will do greater works than he is doing?  We'll never get anything done if we think this only applies on our deathbeds.

As we are only two weeks away from Easter, what kind of significant joy can you grant someone else during this Lenten season?

Prayer for the day:

Gracious Lord, in whom are laid up all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, direct me in the ways of life; remove from me the ways of death.  Give me a soft and meek spirit, that I may help the succorless, and comfort the comfortless.  O my dear Lord, pardon me for the neglect of this duty, and make me to redeem the time with a cheerful constancy—Amen.

      The Penitent Pilgrim, 1641.

Photo by texaus1 via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Daily Devotion for Lent 2017 - Day 28, Saturday

Today's Reading: John 13:21-38 (NRSV)

I never understood how the other disciples let Judas off the hook.  Jesus specifically states that one of them will betray him.  They ask Jesus the identity of this betrayer and Jesus replies that it is the one to whom he gives bread.  Then he dips it in the dish and gives it to Judas.

At this point, I always expected the other disciples to say, "Get him, boys!"  They would then jump Judas and tie him up to keep him from betraying Jesus.

This doesn't happen.  It is almost as if this were too cryptic for them to grasp.  We do see they are confused when Judas leaves.  I would think it would be obvious!

I prefer my evil to be more
obvious like an iconic witch-queen.
When it comes from a friend
sharing a meal, it is far more insidious.
It is important to note that this is not Holy Communion in John's Gospel.  I had to read it over twice even though I already knew that John didn't contain any overt reference to this sacrament.

The story reads as if Judas is possessed by the devil.  This particular detail begs the question, how much personal responsibility should Judas be given for the betrayal if he is possessed?  Is it because of some character flaw or earlier sin that allows Satan to enter Judas?

It is interesting to note that John doesn't speak of Satan entering Peter when he denies Jesus. I take this to mean that John sees that general evil does not necessarily determine demonic possession but that the betrayal of God's Son is a special case.

In essence, John is setting up a cosmic battle between good and evil as we see that the player is not really a human being at all but evil incarnate.  Note that Judas slips away at night and we remember that Jesus is the light that overcomes the darkness.

But not yet.

Prayer for the day:

The right hand of the Lord preserve me always to old age!
The grace of Christ perpetually defend me from the enemy!
Direct, Lord, my heart into the way of peace.
Lord God, hasten to deliver me, make haste to help me, O Lord.

     AEthelwold, bishop of Winchester, 10th Century

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