Saturday, February 27, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 10

Scripture Reading: Galatians 5 (NRSV)

There are many times when I've preached about greed or hypocrisy or love or forgiveness and then have failed to live up to the standards I proclaim.  But I don't quit preaching them because they are true regardless of our abilities to fulfill them daily.  

Like an Olympic high jumper, we are raising the bar past our ability to easily leap over it so that we push ourselves to greater heights.  But an athlete in training knocks the bar off so many times before they are able to make the new mark.  They don't stop trying and continue to have a goal they are working toward.

With this in mind, we see Paul continue to share with the churches of Galatia concerning the Christians from Jerusalem who believe that they should conform to Jewish religious custom such as circumcision.  Paul is disregarding this ancient sign not because he thinks it is evil but rather because he doesn't want it prioritized over Christ.  It is in Christ that we embody the discipline of love.  

Just as the prophets of old despised the outward appearance of religious adoration (when it was false or self-serving), this teaching was epitomized within what it means to live "in Christ."  

So Paul lists today what is to be avoided and he lists what is to be followed.  I find that I try to emulate the Fruit of the Spirit through daily prayer to begin my day.  I don't always get them right but when I set the bar higher, I make strides to get there.

So as Paul continues in his arguments against those teaching the Galatians to capitulate to their traditions, we see his frustration erupt in verse twelve where he states, "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!"  


It is almost that he recognizes his own slip as he writes in verse 15, "If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."

He speaks of avoiding the works of the flesh like enmities, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy.  One might say, "Do as I say, not as I do."

Then he speaks of emulating patience, gentleness and self-control.

Rather than see Paul as a hypocrite, I find it helpful.  Paul got frustrated just like I do!  But he still holds to a better way.  He reminds us, "let us be guided by the Spirit."

This is a reminder we may need daily as we seek to be the best Christians we can be.

Prayer for the day:

Gracious God, make me more loving today - in both giving and receiving love. Give me the ability to find and sow joy each day. May I have peace of mind, body and spirit, such that I become a peacemaker to conflict I encounter. Help me to be kinder to my neighbor in my thoughts and deeds. Grant me a more generous spirit in my perceptions of others so that I may be more ready to share the resources you have entrusted to me. May I be faithful in my daily walk with you, O God, as I seek to love you and my neighbor more fully as Christ has bid me. And as I do trod upon this earth, may I do so gently, leaving places and situations better than I found them. And when those things that are adverse to your Spirit rise up in me, give me the self control to pause and find a better path. I pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who breathed the Holy Spirit upon us. Amen.

Photo by Paula R. Lively via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 9

Scripture Reading: Galatians 4 (NRSV)

Within this part of the letter, Paul is continuing to make the appeal to Gentile Christians that they need not adopt Judaism in order to be faithful to Christ.

Paul speaks of being heirs through the Holy Spirit and uses the image of slavery and freedom.  When he speaks of "observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years" in verse ten, he is speaking of the practices of Jewish fast-days among other seasons that observant Jews followed.  

Halloween costumes are not harmful to
Christians (maybe to dogs - see Batman above)
if they are not used as ways to make faith
in Christ conditional on them!

These are not harmful to the Christian unless they are seen as primary for the faith prior to their commitment to Jesus Christ.  Some Christians avoid secular holidays like Halloween or Thanksgiving out of a more strict reading of this passage.  Others may even avoid secular celebrations of Christian holidays like Christmas or Easter.  As we look at this passage within its context, Paul would likely say that these observations would not help or hinder one's faith necessarily.  If they began to replace our faith in Christ or if they were prioritized over our faith in Christ (such as these observations must come first), then Paul would tell us to throw them out.

When Paul makes the allegory of children of the covenant coming through Hagar (the slave girl) and Sarah (where Jewish people claim their lineage), he switches common understanding and claims that Hagar represents Mount Sinai which is where Moses received the Law.  Paul is trying to say that those who remain under the Law are children of the slave Hagar.  Because Sarah is a free woman, her children come through the promise.  Paul references Sarah through Isaiah 54:1 in verse 27 since Sarah was barren for so much of her life before she bore Isaac.  The Isaiah verse originally referred to the Jewish people who were in exile as the "barren."  

It was originally meant as a comfort to those lost in exile.  Their descendants would eventually thrive.  Now Paul suggests that the Gentiles have become the children of Sarah through faith in Christ.

He is likely making this argument to refute the Judaizing Christians who made the claim that the Gentiles were children through Hagar and thus, subservient to they who claimed their descendance through Sarah.  

This is a further movement of assurance to the Gentile Christians that leaps from the previous chapter's declaration that "there is no longer Jew or Greek" in Christ.  

For us today, it continues to call us to humility.  We are to look at the world and see how God values all people.  For those of us in Christ, we may subtly prioritize ourselves above others from a spiritual sense.  We may not consciously think ourselves superior but it may come through in our interactions with others.  

How do we extend the grace we have received to others?  As we see Paul's radical argument of assurance to a people that were not raised with this understanding of God, we may see that he understood grace only to be effective if you were willing to give it away to others.

This is always a check against current power structures within the church.  They should always be serving those who are not yet in Christ.  When they begin to be self-serving, we are losing the urgency and passion that we see in Paul.

Prayer for the day:

Loving God, we give thanks for the love we have in Christ.  It gives us assurance of your forgiveness of our sins.  Help us to see this as a gift that we do not use up.  May we remember that we are not diminished by others claiming this gift but rather we find greater clarity of identity.  We open ourselves today to re-examine our motives for faith.  We pray these things through this same love of Jesus Christ.  Amen.


Photo by Mike McCune via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 8

Scripture Reading: Galatians 3 (NRSV)

One of the things I've been involved with on and off during my career as a pastor has been ecumenical work. I've served on the Ecumenical Relations Committee of the World Methodist Council which seeks to strengthen the ties between Wesleyan denominations and other Christian bodies.  

In ecumenical work, you must find the similarities - what are the things on which we agree?

If we go quickly to the things in which we disagree, we will likely weaken the ties that bind!

As we look at today's reading, Christianity at this point in history would still be a Jewish sect.  It has not broken off into something distinct in the faith but we see the beginnings of this break in today's chapter.

Paul is not asking Gentiles to become Jewish in order to follow Christ.  He is saying that both Gentile practices and even the Jewish Law are subservient to Christ.  It is a new way of defining oneself.

As we see Paul continue to prioritize Christ over the Law, it is hard for us to understand just how radical it was for the first century Mediterranean world.  It was changing our worldview.

Verse 28 may be one of the most important verses in the Bible and we still struggle with it today:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

This is not to be used to diminish those things that make us unique.  We can still celebrate all of our diversity.  But what it does is establishes our common ground with all of the diversity in the world.  Paul is prioritizing Christ over every category that we could come up with.

For ecumenical work, we start with Christ.  We end with Christ.  We recognize that we are both "in Christ."

Sometimes we find common affection
for those very different from ourselves.

How can we apply this to conflicts in today's world?  While Christianity is not universally adopted, there are Christians involved in most conflicts within the United States.  There are Christians within both major political parties in our country today.  There are Christians within the various factions involved in the debates over race in the United States.  There are Christians within the push and pull over gender issues and how we deal with human sexuality.  

So as we live out our lives in this complex world, we have to ask ourselves, "What does it mean that I am baptized in Christ?"  What is this common understanding of how I relate to God with others.  We often will imagine that "when we all get to heaven" we will discover a harmony with one another.

What Paul seems to be asking is that when we are baptized, shouldn't we be cutting to the chase?

Prayer for the Day:

Blessed God, we value so much our individualism.  Sometimes we may hold it up to such a great value that we lessen who we are in Christ.  We value personal faith in Jesus Christ that comes to us and reaches out to us.  But we may forget that Christ is moving toward us all.   Let us think more deeply about what it means to be "in Christ."  We pray these things in the name of the One who Opens the Hand to us.  Amen.

Photo by Katriona McCarthy via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 7

Scripture Reading: Galatians 2 (NRSV)

We see the drama accelerate as the story unfolds.  Earlier Titus as a Greek (and thus, a Gentile) was not circumcised.  Furthermore, he was not compelled in the faith in Jesus Christ to submit to the knife.  

And so, we see the controversy within the first twenty-five years of our faith.  

In order to be a Christian, do you need to be circumcised?

Certainly if you were originally Jewish, the matter was decided for you prior to your awareness.  But if you were an adult Gentile, like Titus, there were some claiming your illegitimacy before God.  They would have pressured any men to be circumcised - especially if they wanted to pursue any leadership opportunities.

Paul is struggling against this faction and according to his letter, even Peter (Cephas) is wavering on his commitment to inclusion.  This shows us how difficult change would have been.  Circumcision was the original sign of the covenant, commanded by God.  In fact, in Genesis 17:4, we hear God's direct teaching on the subject:

"Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

How does Paul disregard this obvious teaching?

He has prioritized the faith of Christ as what justifies us before God even over circumcision.  This is consistent with the prophetic tradition from Jeremiah 4:4 which reads:

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts, O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else my wrath will go forth like fire, and burn with no one to quench it, because of the evil of your doings.

Do you think God ever mistakes us for ducks?

An outward sign is not as meaningful to God as changed behavior.  So Gentiles or Jews could move forward in this faith.  But it was enough to make many of the faithful sick.  Paul could sympathize in a way because he used to be one of them!

Maybe this is why he gets so worked up - he sees himself in his opponents.

Sometimes we get angry with others because we may feel guilty about the fact that we remember how we used to believe or behave.  It may not even be that the act itself was so bad, but because we have moved away from that position, it seems anathema to us.

We may ask them, "Why can't you see like I see now?"

Prayer for the day:

Blessed God, we give thanks that you measure our lives along a continuum rather than a specific moment of weakness.  We give thanks for this faith of Christ that justifies us.  Yet, we still find ourselves casting a wary eye on others - they may be lacking in some way.  Give us patience as we listen to one another.  Have patience with us as we grow in maturity.  We pray these things in Christ's holy name.  Amen.

Photo by Veit via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 6

Scripture Reading: Galatians 1 (NRSV)

If we were to begin to blindly read Galatians without any foreknowledge of the controversy present in the early church, we might be scratching our heads and wondering where all the drama was coming from!

Paul feels that he must start with an immediate defense of his credentials.  We get the sense that there have been people slandering Paul to these churches of Galatia.  He lets them know that he means business with the image of an angelic messenger presenting a different message and becoming accursed for it!

While he doesn't state it yet, Paul is prioritizing Jesus Christ over circumcision as the sign of God's favor.

Of course, circumcision was not a practice among Gentile males and could be seen as a stumbling block for growing the church.  But it was also a deal breaker for Jews of that day and time.

Paul's own passion about the subject is evident in his reminder that he sought to destroy the early church.  

After Paul is converted, he doesn't go immediately to Jerusalem where the church headquarters were located.  Only after three years of activity does he confer with Peter (Cephas) and the brother of Jesus, James the Just.  

He relates this to show his independence from Jerusalem.

Could we do more to prioritize
Christ in our lives today?
Paul has prioritized Christ and he is unwilling to debate the matter.  In his mind, even if those that would have a greater claim on Jesus through greater proximity of relationship (such as a disciple or a biological brother) - if they would dilute the gospel message, they would be wrong.

He is convinced of the lawfulness of his own theology and is willing to stand up to anyone to proclaim it.  He wants the Galatians to be convinced as well.

Have you ever been convinced of something in your bones and had people tell you that you were wrong?  It can be very frustrating and people can get violent over such passion.

Paul is zealous over as many coming to know Christ as possible.  This is a zealousness that eclipses his previous urgency for the Law.  

If we were to prioritize Christ for people today with similar passion, are there stumbling blocks that the current generation would claim Christians put in their path?

Prayer for the day:

Eternal God, we seek to love you, do your will and follow your commandments.  But we also believe that you are trying to reach others - and probably through our actions.  Help us to look long at what we do and say.  Lead us to discover if our priorities line up with yours.  And where we have grown too hard-headed to consider alternatives, give us new eyes to see.  We pray these things in Christ.  Amen.

Photo by David Smith via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 5

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5 (NRSV)

If you knew your time on this earth were short, would this change the way you act?

I would think that I would try to get everything in order - I wouldn't want to leave burdens for my loved ones.  I would try to allow for closure in my relationships as much as possible so that it would hopefully make the grief easier.

If I had any grievances, I hope that I would forgive those people.

This is the scenario for many in Thessalonica.  They believed that Jesus would return within their lifetime and sought to act as those who would be ready to receive him.

Paul implies that Christians have a
greater social responsibility than most.

Some may have adopted a "why bother?" attitude toward their employment.  There has probably always been a Johnny Paycheck attitude for a portion of the population that would like to tell their bosses, "Take This Job and Shove It."  But Paul encourages them to stick with it because he didn't know (and reminded them they didn't know either) when this return would occur.

Rather, Paul lifts up the Christian way: faith, love, peace, accountability, encouragement, compassion, patience, joy, prayer and gratitude.

I invite you to read this list again.  I'll wait.

Which of these will you focus on today?  

We, too, are waiting but our waiting has more to do with when we can get back to normal.  While we wait, it is good for us to focus on these positive attributes of Christianity.  This will not only make us more pleasant to be around but it will move the world in a direction that is ready to receive Christ (in all of the nuances this can imply).

So as we think about my original question at the beginning, I shared my actions would be:

  • Live responsibly
  • Stay connected with relationships
  • Forgive offense

As I look at this list, I think that maybe we could live that way without receiving a death sentence first.

Maybe that's what Paul is trying to get across to the Thessalonians and the wider church.  

Prayer for the day:

God, we pray for you to increase our faith and grow our love.  Let us know peace.  May we hold others accountable but more importantly, open ourselves up to it as well.  Help us to offer encouragement even if we don't perceive it is needed.  May we find our first response to be compassion when we hear news.  And when we find ourselves irritable, increase our patience.  Allow joy to flourish in our lives and let us always be grateful for all of your gifts.  We pray these things in Jesus Christ who continues to come to us.  Amen.

Photo by Kevin Spencer via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 4

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4 (NRSV)

Today's chapter seems to have a lot to do with relationship.

When Paul speaks of sanctification in verse three, Wesleyans should pick up on this right away.  Our understanding is that God calls us through sanctifying grace to become more Christlike in our lives.  Specifically, here, we are being called to be more Christlike in our relationships.

How do we love God?  And how do we love our neighbor?

We relate to both through our love of ourselves.  We must respect ourselves through the understanding that we have been created in the image of God.  While the church may have gone overboard in its past use of railing against fornication, for Paul's time, there was a wider availability of sexuality in Mediterranean culture.  Some pagan temple worship included orgies or temple prostitutes.  Psychologically, there can be a sense of trying to capture immortality through our sexual expression that is tied to procreation.  Paul's theology moves us beyond this animalistic understanding to place something permanent in who we are spiritually.

We see that when he speaks of the dead in Christ rising first.  We continue on in Christ even after death which speaks to a resurrection theology.  

Sometimes it is hard to love people.
Sometimes we are those people!
Paul bids us to love our brothers and sisters more and more.  This growth of love is a disciplined
approach to love.  Sometimes we speak of love as if we either have it or we don't.  We understand through our relationships with family members that love often takes work.  You might love your parents or spouse or children or siblings through long association but there also might be times when you find bearing with them hard.  We know that in these moments, a disciplined approach to love is needed.

Fortunately, we don't believe that God abandons us to this hard work.  Rather, as we pray to God for help in this area, we find that even dormant love may be renewed.  Sometimes we must pray that we might get to a place where we even want to love to begin with!

But this speaks to that resurrection faith, doesn't it?

Prayer for the day:

Loving God, we seek to follow Jesus.  We know he commanded us to love you and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Help us with our work in all three of these areas.  May we find that our love of each of these spills over into the other.  We pray these things in the name of the One who First Loved Us.  Amen.

Photo by Jill Watson via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 3

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3

With a phone like this, you could
only move as far as the cord would allow!

We've missed seeing each other face to face.  I feel blessed that I've been able to see people through zoom or to carry on conversations through text, social media or email.  I can even call anyone in the US without incurring extra long distance charges on my bill.  Those of us past a certain age may still be reluctant to make those calls out of our area and it comes from a long-ingrained sense of taboo!  

We have so many ways to keep in touch and this has been helpful.

But it will be good to sit down with friends and family once more.  There is something about the physical presence being in close proximity that has yet to be replicated by technology.  Maybe virtual reality will conquer this someday but at this point, we need to gather.

Paul expresses this in today's chapter.  We see how the network of Christian communities was started.  When Paul couldn't be there personally, he was able to send his helpers like Timothy.  And when Timothy couldn't be there, Paul sent out letters.  These were reminders about the faith in Jesus Christ that had just sprung up in their midst.  We know that this church made it - at least long enough to copy Paul's letter and share it with other communities.  

How many churches faltered?  Paul likely wrote many letters we'll never read because those churches may have died out.  They may have adopted practices that were antithetical to what it means to live in Christ.  

But it was communities like this one that must have kept Paul encouraged.  So many times in ministry, pastors see pushback and it can be disheartening.  But when you find faith take root, it makes it all worthwhile.  

I, too, pray most earnestly that I'll see you face to face.  As some of us have gone almost a year without seeing one another, it is good to know that the early church went for stretches longer than that without seeing Paul and they learned to thrive.  As Paul writes, "And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you."  

May it be so for us all!

Prayer for the Day:

God, we long to see one another.  We long to embrace people.  We long to break bread with our neighbors once more.  Grant us your peace as we wait.  Let us hold fast to our faith and find that love has kindled more brightly in the waiting.  We pray this in the name of Jesus who loves.  Amen.

Photo by Billy Brown via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Day 2

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2

As we experience political turmoil in our society today, we are reminded that difference of opinion and resistance of one group by another is a part of living in a larger society.  

Paul has been on the road and mentions his trouble at Philippi.  It is possible that Luke later fills out this story in Acts 16:11-30.  We see that Paul defends himself and has been accused of deceit and manipulation as well as greed and vanity.  This sounds so foreign to us today as we conduct ourselves so much more respectfully!

Slander is the easiest way of countering someone's arguments.  Rather than deal with the content, we tear down the person themselves.  It is not the highest form of discourse by any means but it continues to work well into the 21st century.  

These rules seem archaic today
but were held with seemingly
religious fervor 60 years ago.

We can see how Paul was challenging the basic tenets of Jewish faith outside of Palestine.  And we must remember that Christianity was not seen as a separate faith at this point but a sect within larger Judaism.  If we think about it from a Jewish perspective, you would be living as a minority among Gentiles in this foreign world.  You stand out because of your practices and your diet already.  This would put you up for persecution by the Gentiles you live among.  And now, here is this teacher that comes in and tries to make these Gentiles your equals in the sight of God.  It would challenge your notion of what it means to be faithful.  

Today, Christianity struggles within itself and how it is seen by the Gentiles (unchurched) of today.  There are practices that we may have that seem of utmost importance to some (like no drinks in the sanctuary) that fundamentally do not take away or add to one's relationship in Christ.  It is cultural and it is a respect or reverence issue for some.  But it may become a stumbling block for those who are exploring the faith.

As Paul reminds us, the relationships we form with one another may be more important than the cultural norms we hold onto.  As he tells the Thessalonians, "Yes, you are our glory and joy!"

Where have you once been inflexible in your life on things that now seem trivial?  I bet with some reflection, we can all name some!

Prayer for the Day:

Patient God, we recognize that we often major in the minors.  Help us to name what we are afraid of so that we may respect rather than slander our fellows who may see differently.  Bless our relationships that we might find in them our glory and joy!  Amen.

Photo by jalexartis Photography via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Daily Devotion for Lent 2021 - Ash Wednesday

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1 (NRSV)

The Via Egnatia or Egatian Way
was the main east-west road
running through Thessalonica.
Paul likely trod these steps on 
his journey.  We seek to walk
where Paul walked this Lent.

As we begin our daily devotions for Lent this year, I have decided to read through some of the earliest letters we have in the New Testament by the apostle Paul.  While the letters are not dated, scholars have a strong consensus that Paul's first letter to Thessalonica was the earliest.  It was likely written in the 50's from Corinth.

My plan is to read 40 chapters (1 per day) while not posting on Sundays this year (which are technically not part of the 40 days).  This will take us through 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Corinthians.  On Easter Sunday, I'll finish up with a final letter, Philemon, which is only one chapter long and has a nice resurrection theme to it.

So as we look at today's chapter, it is somewhat exciting to think about this being the earliest Christian correspondence that we have.  The Church is still in its infancy and reminds us that it didn't start without experiencing some major turbulence.

What stands out to me is Paul's use of his spiritual triumvirate, faith, love and hope in verse three.  We see him lift up "work of faith" which wording fits nicely in the theology of the later epistle of James.  If Paul were writing to us today, what would he describe as your "work of faith"?  How does our faith influence our actions?

The "labor of love" to which Paul referred may have been the hospitality they showed to Paul, Silvanus and Timothy when they brought to them the good news of Jesus Christ.  We see that even as they received this news, they began to share it with their neighbors and received persecution for their troubles.  Have you ever felt put upon for trying to help others among your friends and family?

Finally, Paul speaks of their "hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."  We revisit this as we wrap up the chapter with the notion that Jesus will return soon and rescue them "from the wrath that is coming."  They evidently had the spiritual belief that Jesus would be returning within the next few years - certainly within Paul's lifetime.  Of course, this would influence how you lived your life.

Our hope remains in Jesus Christ but I see the second coming differently from Paul.  Certainly, we have had generations of the faithful that have awaited his return.  But it may be that we need to re-interpret what his return means for us.  I have taken the return more in line with our help of the "least of these" from Matthew's Last Judgment.  As we give aid and comfort to the "least of these" we see the return of Christ.  Our spiritual sight may see Jesus in them and hopefully, they see Christ in us through our actions.  

As we seek to share the good news today, this becomes an important work of faith and labor of love.  And our hope remains in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer for the day:

God, as we begin another season of Lent, help us to keep our disciplines for our spiritual growth.  Let them shape us and make us more Christ-like.  In this way, may our witness be seen in a way that is helpful to the world.  We pray this in the name of Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Photo by Carole Raddato via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Longest Lent of My Life

First Sunday in Lent, Year B

Lectionary Reading: Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)

We began to shut down our lives due to the pandemic during the Lenten season in 2020.  Many were thinking at the time, "We'll be back for Easter, won't we?"

And while Edmond First United Methodist celebrated Easter online, there was some feeling that the Lenten season never ended.  Our fast was not from rich foods or various entertainments but rather we entered a fast from our friends and extended family members.  It seems that parts of society have at various times fasted from civility (a little more rigorously than normal).

Now, we have Lent rolling back around starting on Ash Wednesday.  We'll have our service online and this year, it seems that even our imposition of ashes that we were going to have outside will be prevented by inclement weather.  So we'll continue online.

Lent is usually an examination of suffering and how we can be in tune with it rather than ignoring it.  Can we somehow ease some of the pain in the world?  This whole year, our mental anguish has allowed each of us to know more of suffering.  We know grief from the loss of family and friends - both those who have died and those who have moved away.  So a season of examining our suffering has the potential to come across as a little obtuse.  

Rather, this year, I am reminded that our faith can also give us strength to move through suffering.  And this is also what the Lenten season is about.  

I like the story of the donkey that fell in the abandoned well.  He brayed and brayed and the farmer found him and realized what happened.  Because the donkey was old, the farmer thought it would be too much trouble to get him out so he decided to bury the donkey and cover the well so it would cease to be a hazard.  

With several hands to help, they started shoveling dirt down into the well on top of the poor beast.  He began to bray even louder but the dirt continued to fall.  Finally, he started shaking off the dirt on his back, stamping as donkeys will do when frustrated.  As the dirt continued to fall, the donkey continued to shake it off and step on top of the newly fallen dirt.

Pretty soon, the well was filled and the donkey was seeing eye to eye with those who tried to bury him.  With a triumphant bray, the donkey hopped out of the well and trotted off!

As we consider Lent, we are reminded that suffering is a part of life and our faith speaks to it.  We seek to overcome whatever trouble life throws at us and so our faith reminds us to step on the dirt.  

Let's help one another to do this as we help each other live through this pandemic.  

Rather than fast this year, I would encourage you to add a spiritual discipline.  Why not reach out to someone you've missed seeing this past year?  Send them a note - there are so many different ways to reach out to people, I'll leave it up to your favorite.  I'll also be sharing a daily devotion at this site each day.  This year, we'll be reading through some of Paul's earliest letters chronologically one chapter a day.

And of course, this coming Sunday will be the first Sunday in Lent.  Mark's Gospel gives us such an abbreviated version of the temptation of Jesus - basically verse 13 says, 

"He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him."

Then Mark moves on to John's arrest and Jesus' preaching.  

Wait, what?  

I feel like Matthew and Luke said, "Um, shouldn't we fill that out a bit?  Maybe give a little more detail?"

This Sunday, I'll be looking at how Jesus sees the arrest of John the Baptist and relate it to how we respond when loved ones are suffering.

As the dirt falls down on us, let us step up together!

In Christ,


Photo by zenjazzygeek via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Yes, I Know! Quit Talking about It!

Transfiguration Sunday, Year B

Lectionary Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12 (NRSV)

I've always felt sorry for Elisha in this passage.  He knows that his time with his master, Elijah, is short.  He remains with him even after Elijah tries to give him an excuse not to go along.

The other prophets come to them and try to let Elisha know that Elijah is about to leave him.

Elisha responds, "Yes, I know; be silent."

Of course, punctuation was added later and I wonder if the original author would have used an exclamation mark instead of a period at the end of that sentence.  I imagine Elisha being a little snippy with them because he has to later repeat himself.

Elijah seems to be going to two locations to visit with the local guild of prophets in Bethel and Jericho.

Elisha responds in the same way both times.

When we know our end with someone is coming, sometimes we prefer not to talk about it.  This has somewhat to do with denial as a stage of grief.  

If I don't talk about it...

If I don't acknowledge it...

Sometimes avoidance is a coping mechanism.  I've seen people clam up about serious illnesses.  They prefer not to think about it.  We all use avoidance once in a while.

You can only avoid some things
for so long before they pile up!
But Elisha doesn't stay away from Elijah's final ascension into heaven.  The thought in that day was that if you approached God too closely - if you gazed upon the face of God - you would die.  Elijah may have been trying to protect his protégé when he told him to stay put in Gilgal and again in Jericho.  

In fact, when Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah's spirit, we see that Elijah's answer depended on whether or not Elisha would see him taken up.  What may have been unspoken here, is that if it kills you Elisha, you won't receive a double portion!

So even as Elisha doesn't want to talk about his mentor's departure, he stays connected to him.  He avoids it and yet he confronts it.  

Could it be that remaining in the faith helps us to stay connected?  That it helps us to confront those things that trouble us like grief and loss?

We'll continue to look at this passage on Sunday as we worship online together.  I hope you'll join us!

In Christ,


Photo by bandita via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Author or Sustainer?

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Lectionary Scripture: Isaiah 40:21-31 (NRSV)

This passage from Isaiah is pretty powerful.  It conveys the hope that the people of God needed after enduring exile from their homeland.  The chapter begins with a famous word of consolation:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

This is good news for a people that were waiting to experience the freedom to govern themselves.  The theology of the day was that the people had dug their own grave so to speak.  Isaiah indicates as much in the passage above.  The exile was a punishment for Judah's sins.  In this way, large events were seen as judgments from God.  God might use pagan nations in order to teach the people a much needed lesson in compassion.

So the people of God saw this larger event in history as an unfolding of God's work in the world.

Object lessons can certainly get our attention.  They are quite memorable.  But sometimes if we don't understand them in the midst of the greater theology of grace, we find ourselves living in despair.

A sense of justice is that the wicked will be punished in this life and the righteous will be rewarded.  We can look in the book of Proverbs and see lots of verses that ascribe to this:

but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. (2:22)

The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous. (3:33)

The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin. (10:16)

Be assured, the wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will escape. (11:21)

The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand. (12:7)

The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. (15:29)

This is just a quick sample but you can see that the sense of justice has real-world consequences.  The problem with this kind of theology is that we can learn to blame the victim who is already suffering.  The entire book of Job examines this theme.  As we grow deeper in our faith, we can see that sometimes bad things just happen to the unlucky rather than the unrighteous.  

Ecclesiastes mentions this in 7:15: 

In my vain life I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing.

Jesus seems to take up this theme in the Sermon on the Mount where is states in Matthew 5:45: 

for (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

In Luke's Gospel, we hear something similar come from Jesus when he states in 13:4:

Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 

Sometimes the natural consequence
of our poor behavior is punishment enough!

When this accident happened, there was likely the conversation stemming from interpretation of Proverbs that those who died must have been really sinful for this to happen.  Jesus refutes this kind of thinking.  All of us could come up with things that we've done that could lead to punishment.  The trouble with this kind of theology is that it has us looking for sins for which we must atone rather than concentrating on where God has led us to goodness in our lives.

Of course, we need to ask for forgiveness.  We often may need to do better.  But this repentance comes in the midst of the grace we have received.  It is easier for a child to excel in a home with a loving environment rather than one in which the child is constantly berated.  In a loving environment, discipline is tempered with the confidence of underlying support.

We see that in today's scripture.  God is everlasting and God is not the author of their misery but rather is the one who sustains them, raising them up as on eagle's wings.  Let us run and not grow weary.  Let us walk and not faint.  

In Christ,


Photo by sharyn morrow via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.