Friday, January 29, 2021

Leaning into Luke

 

40 As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. 41 Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. 42 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.  Luke 4:41-44

We wind down and wrap up this week where we began – with a pause.  With Jesus going to a deserted place.  Jesus gets a few moments for rest and renewal before the crowd catches up to him.  He doesn’t get a full vacation.  He doesn’t get the full spa treatment and to sit on the beach with a beverage in his hand.  He gets a few moments.

He gets a pause.

Today also marks the winding down and wrapping up of the first month of 2021 – which has felt a lot like 2020.  I think today might be the last day we can return this year in exchange for another, check the back of your receipt for the full return policy, exclusions will apply. 

We need a pause.  Hear this prayer for you:


To be open to the Spirit on this road we are making.

To sense God’s grace guiding, grounding, stirring, shaking.

To let the sacred attend, heal our souls which are aching.

To let God get a word in edgewise on the path we are taking.


Pause in the less-than-perfectness of this moment, let the holy awaken us to a movement beyond what we can comprehend or control. 

I pray today you might have moments of healing and hope; of God’s grace guiding you every step of the way.  And may God’s love be with you now more than ever.  Amen.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

Leaning into Luke

 


38 After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. 39 Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

Two healing stories back-to-back.  We met Simon last Sunday.  In that passage we learned more about his backstory: that he was a fisherman and that Jesus saw something in Simon that Simon couldn’t see in himself.  But before Simon was called to follow Jesus, he apparently invited Jesus over for brunch.  Simon, who we hear is married, has a family member who is sick.  While we can skate right past this detailed, but it is as true as each of our lives. 

In your story, you have had moments and memories of family being sick.

In the last year, we know that over 400,000 Americans and 2 million brothers and sisters world-wide have had a family member die from the coronavirus.  That doesn’t count deaths due to cancer or car accidents or violence.  Grief is woven into us. Recently, I read this poem/prayer by Jan Richardson from 2017 entitled, “ Irresistible Blessing”

This blessing has been walking for a long time, traveling with no map, no signpost, no guide. It has been aching with a heart unbelievably broken and unimaginably lost and immeasurably tired. This blessing does not have it all together. This blessing sometimes wakes up anxious and afraid. This blessing had to be quiet, had to let itself sit in stillness and sorrow, had to let itself stop and rest to allow for joy to become imaginable again and grace to become believable again and the presence of love to become inescapable again. This blessing knows you carry your own sorrow, your own grief. It knows the weariness that visits you, the questions that attend your road. It knows, too, how you keep turning yourself toward mystery, how you keep turning yourself toward hope, how you keep turning yourself toward this world with the beautiful stubbornness by which a way is made. And so this blessing is glad to finally cross your path. This blessing has been waiting for you. This blessing has been watching for you. This blessing has been wanting to see your face, to speak your name, to offer thanks. This blessing meets you with glad welcome. This blessing meets you with persistent hope. This blessing meets you with fierce love that is ancient and present. This blessing comes to you with heart impossibly open and irresistibly drawn and infinitely grateful for the blessing that you bear, for the blessing that you are.

I invite you to pause and re-read these words several times today.  Carry these words within you.  Let them sing to your soul.  

Prayer: God let your word of blessing find me in my need for healing and surround me every hour this day.  Amen.


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


31 He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. 32 They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. 33 In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. 36 They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” 37 And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.  Luke 4:31-37

As we lean in and listen to this part of Luke, we know Jesus was on a preaching and teaching tour.  His words were awakening the Spirit, stirring the soul, causing the congregation to shout, “Amen” and thunderous applause.  And we have only the manuscript of the sermon in his hometown.  Otherwise, we really don’t know the content of what Jesus is saying.  Eventually, we will hear the sermon on the plain.  So maybe he was testing and trying out early versions of that sermon? 

I wish we knew.  But, then again, perhaps the point isn’t what he said, but how he said it and how he made people feel alive and awake to God with them and for them and for others. 

In this part of Luke we get Jesus’ first healing.

Notice that the unclean demon is the first one to witness to Jesus as the “Holy One of God.”  Lean into that tension – that even though people think Jesus is a swell guy who really seems to be able to string a series of words together; it is a demon who is the first to testify to the truth that Jesus has a sacred relationship with God.

The religious folk seem to miss the moment, the movement, and mystery of what is happening.

I wonder sometimes if that is not only true then and there, but here and now.  Am I missing what God is up to?  Am I busy saying, “Amen,” but not letting God fully have control of my heart and whole life?  Am I caught up in the Spirit only to the point that I don’t have to change and can still cling to my plotting and planning? 

Pause with me, lean into Luke, let this story interrupt you and interpret your story.  What response, reaction, reasoning, and rational do you hear in your heart about this story?  What sermon stirs in you as you hold the tension that a demon is the one to witness to Jesus while the religious folk are not being transformed in the same way? 

While such questions are uncomfortable, they help me pause in a way that doesn’t keep me complacent where I am.  They challenge how I can use religion to baptize my own beliefs, rather than let Jesus’ presence change my whole life. 

To be silent.  To let that Spirit interrupt and intercede and inhabit this space with me.  That is the power of the pause that can change everything.

Prayer: God, calm and quiet the part of myself that think I have this all figured out with a healing presence that can continue to change my heart/life.  Amen.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Leaning into Luke

 


20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.


Well, that went south in a hurry.  Talk about a story taking an unexpected twist and turn that can cause your head to spin!  To recap here, yesterday we heard how Jesus fame was spreading.  People were liking his posts on Facebook, his LinkedIn profile was getting lots of attention, and the speaking requests were pouring into his agent.  While we who are convinced that Jesus is someone who follow, who captures our hearts and sings to our souls, lets step back for just a moment – pause – and ask: why? 

“Well,” you reason, “He is Jesus.”

Got it.  But wait, we are saying that after reading and hearing the whole story about the angels at his birth and healing and teaching and death and resurrection.  But much of that hadn’t happened yet.  We don’t know if his neighbors knew about the manger or shepherds.  Maybe they just knew that he was healing and could give a good talk.  So, why again is a carpenter whose childhood, at least within the gospels didn’t seem to deserve much reflection upon, suddenly start gaining attention and affirmation? 

Um, maybe his halo started shining brighter? 

Here is what we do know.  Jesus went down to the river to pray with John.  He waded in the water.  The Spirit blessed him and affirmed his belovedness.  Note that the Gospels are unclear if anyone overheard any of the Spirit’s words.  Then, right after that, Jesus goes off the gird.  He doesn’t post his morning meditations while being tempted in the wilderness.  For forty days no one hears from him.  Then, Jesus comes back and starts a speaking tour in Galilee that gets attention.  We don’t know what he said in those initial sermons, we don’t have the transcriptions.  Luke calls us to a moment when he had returned home, goes to the Sabbath service, reads scripture about God’s liberating love.  And people respond by saying, “Amen.”  And then, Jesus appears to get angry? 

Why?  What in the name of the good news is going on here?

Maybe there was a history here between Jesus and his hometown congregation.  Maybe when they referred to him as, “Joseph’s son” it tweaked something in him.  Jesus wanted them to see him as sent by God, not just the neighbor next door.  Maybe Jesus felt disrespected or discounted?

We don’t know.  There are countless untold stories in-between each word of Scripture.

I do, however, find it fascinating that the crowd is about to toss and throw Jesus off a cliff and he parts the mob like Moses before the Red Sea.  This is a beautifully strange story that should cause us to pause.

Pause to ponder our own relationships with our hometowns.  When was the last time you were back to the place you grew up?  Or maybe you never left.  When was the last time you were frustrated because people saw you one way and you saw yourself another?  When was the last time you found a situation being escalated and grow out-of-control – not just on the news – but something you were a part of?

To let these words sing and settle in your heart this day and come back to it each time you pause today.

Prayer: Pausing and pondering God, help me step into this story in ways that speak and sing to my story today.  Amen.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.  16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4:4-19

This week I want us to lean into Luke’s gospel.  The above words happen right after Jesus’ temptation that we dove into a few weeks ago.  Notice how the Spirit continues to drive and dance into the story.  The Spirit is an active actor/actress in Jesus’ life, this will continue in the book of Acts (which many scholars believe the same author of Luke writes as a sequel).  The Spirit prompts, pulls, pushes, provokes, and persuades Jesus back the region of Galilee, where he grew up. 

How does the Spirit do that?  What does that look like or sound like or feel like? 

Those are great questions.  But there is not, in my experience, a one-size fits all answer to it for everyone who will read this.  Sometimes the Spirit is peaceful…sometimes passionate…sometimes persistent…sometimes patient.  The Spirit can wear a thousand disguises.  But, what tethers and ties all this together is that being grounded and guided by the Spirit is being fully alive and awake.  Often, it is easy to get caught up in the past or future rather than the present moment.  Jesus seems to stay open to the Spirit whether in the desert being tempted or traveling back to the place he called, “Home”.  I think one way to practice such openness is by pushing the pause button several times a day.  Pause after you read this to reflect and respond to what stirred within you.  Pause before lunch to consider the way you are connected to countless people who made the meal you are about to eat happen (earth, farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers).  Pause in the afternoon to see the way the sunlight is shining a light on the grass outside.  Work in pauses into your life rather than rushing and running and racing on to the next thing.  Right now, put in your calendar and set an intention to pause today.

Prayer: God whose first language is silence, help me find moments of sacred stillness to feel Your stirring Spirit in me.  Amen.


Friday, January 22, 2021

Winding Down/Wrapping Up this Week

 



We wrap up and wind down another week of 2021.  I think so much of the blur and fog of life comes from the difficulty we can have to pause; to breathe; to just be in the moment with all it’s beauty and brokenness.  Our minds are hardwired to point out all the less-than-perfectness of everything.  We see the blemishes and what is lacking.  We have been told that pointing out the defects is a sign of intelligence.  I am convinced that contemplation, quietness, can open us to also the beauty in the brokenness.  To hold the wonderful tension of between the shores of optimism and pessimism, seeking God’s grace to guide us between the two. 

As you pause today: where did grace seem most tangible this week for you?  Where did love light up your soul?  Where did laughter erupt, and tears cathartically fall?

As you pause today: where did frustration fume?  Who pushed your buttons?  When did you wish you had a rewind button to go back and try again?

As you pause today: how is this moment, right here and right now, a culmination and coming together of what was, is, and can be?

Take time today to hold these questions.  Take time together to listen to ways your soul offers responses.  Take time today in silence to lean in and listen to how God responds to these questions. 

And may grace and peace and love be with you now more than ever.  Amen. 


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Finding Our Way

 


Amid the brain fog, uncertainty, tectonic shifts of the ground beneath us – as well as the soil within us – we long for stability and solid surface we can stand.  When the whirlwind of the world within and around us feels too much, we long for something we can hold onto or even cling to.  I remember one time I was at an amusement and ended up going on a ride called, “Ship Wreck.”  To be clear, that didn’t exactly sound like the sort of event or experience I wanted to have happen in my life.  My mind was saying, “Um, Wes, perhaps it would be best if you do not do this.”  But there is this thing called, “peer pressure”.  And so, I ended up not only in the line but on the ride because my friends said, “It is just like a big swing.”  Only, it was not.  I really wanted to get off that ride.  And when I did my head was swirling, my stomach churning.  Did you know that they have a medical department at amusement parks with a cot?  I spent some quality time in one after that particular ride.  Good times.

So, what do we do when this heart breaking and soul aching reality is repeated and replayed in our lives?  I have been playing around with the idea of a spiritual compass.  Words that can guide, ground, support and sustain you as you try to decide the next right step.  I see one of those words at each of the points of a compass – North, South, East, and West.  North is a word that guides you.  South is a word that grounds you.  East is a word that supports you.  West is a word that sustains you.  I invite you to do prayerfully ponder this today.  You may want to use the words from Epiphany a few weeks ago:

Kindness                                           Compassion                                       Love

Openness                                          Understanding                                   Laughter

Discipleship                                      Service                                              Depth

Prayerfulness                                     Playfulness                                        Praise

Gentleness                                         Acceptance                                        Imagination

Friendship                                         Contentment                                      Creativity

Courage                                            Confidence                                        Clarity

Strength                                            Thoughtfulness                                  Patience

Forgiveness                                       Tenderness                                        Enthusiasm

Sharing                                             Healing                                              Rejoicing

Justice                                               Mercy                                                Humility

Wisdom                                            Wholeness                                         Wonder

Curiosity                                           Graciousness                                     Flexibility

Generosity                                         Steadfastness                                     Serenity

Humor                                              Vision                                               Thankfulness

Or select your own word for each direction.  I pray that this exercise awakens your soul, sings to your heart, and gives you a place to be/breathe in these days.  May God’s love enfold and hold you today.  Amen.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Prayers for our Country


 

Prayers for our Nation – January 20

Today is the inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.  Our nation faces many, many challenges of the pandemic and polarization; too much anger and distrust; violence and discrimination and pain that has been unprocessed.  As we have heard the past two days from Dr. King. As humans we can give lots of thought to length and breadth of our life, but we can miss the third dimension – height of life.  The call to pay attention to the mystery that is beyond us.  Our connection to the Spirit that abides before and behind us; God’s light within us.  Hear how Dr. King speaks about height:

And I’m here to tell you today that we need God. Modern man may know a great deal, but his knowledge does not eliminate God. And I tell you this morning that God is here to stay. A few theologians are trying to say that God is dead. And I’ve been asking them about it because it disturbs me to know that God died and I didn’t have a chance to attend the funeral. They haven’t been able to tell me yet the date of his death. They haven’t been able to tell me yet who the coroner was that pronounced him dead.  They haven’t been able to tell me yet where he’s buried.  You see, when I think about God, I know his name. He said somewhere, back in the Old Testament, "I want you to go out, Moses, and tell them ‘I Am’ sent you."  He said just to make it clear, let them know that "my last name is the same as my first, ‘I Am that I Am.’ Make that clear. I Am." And God is the only being in the universe that can say "I Am" and put a period behind it. Each of us sitting here has to say, "I am because of my parents; I am because of certain environmental conditions; I am because of certain hereditary circumstances; I am because of God." But God is the only being that can just say, "I Am" and stop right there. "I Am that I Am." And He’s here to stay. Let nobody make us feel that we don’t need God.  As I come to my conclusion this morning, I want to say that we should search for him. We were made for God, and we will be restless until we find rest in him. 

Prayer: Here I am, O God.  Here You are, O God.  Here we are together.  We pray for a lasting peace within us and across our country today.  May God’s grace guide and ground as we face the challenges before us individually and collectively.  Amen.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Rev. Dr. King Day continued

 


We continue today with excerpts of the sermon Rev. Dr. King preached at New Covenant Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, on April 9, 1967 entitled, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”.  Remember yesterday, Dr. King invited you to consider the length of life.  Today we hear about the breadth of life.  I pray you will lean in and listen to these words. 

And a man has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow confines of his own individual concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. This is what God needs today: Men and women who will ask, "What will happen to humanity if I don’t help? What will happen to the civil rights movement if I don’t participate? What will happen to my city if I don’t vote? What will happen to the sick if I don’t visit them?" This is how God judges people in the final analysis. Oh, there will be a day, the question won’t be, "How many awards did you get in life?" Not that day. It won’t be, "How popular were you in your social setting?" That won’t be the question that day. It will not ask how many degrees you’ve been able to get.  The question that day will not be concerned with whether you are a "Ph.D." or a "no D."  It will not be concerned with whether you went to Morehouse or whether you went to "No House."  The question that day will not be, "How beautiful is your house?" The question that day will not be, "How much money did you accumulate? How much did you have in stocks and bonds?" The question that day will not be, "What kind of automobile did you have?" On that day the question will be, "What did you do for others?" And don’t forget in doing something for others that you have what you have because of others.  Don’t forget that. We are tied together in life and in the world. 

I pray you will ponder the beautiful tension Dr. King is articulating and explaining to us about life.  We can get so caught up in stuffing our life with stuff, with our awards and recognitions.  But life, Dr. King is about letting these words of the Spiritual, ‘If I can help somebody,’ be your theme song today. “If I can help somebody, as I travel along.  If I can help somebody, with a word or song.  If I can help somebody, from doing wrong. No, my living shall not be in vain.  No, my living shall not be in vain.  No, my living shall not be in vain.  If I can help somebody, as I’m singing the song.  You know, my living shall not be in vain,”

Prayer: May the words above be my theme song, O God, today.  Amen. 


Monday, January 18, 2021

Rev. Dr. King Day


 

Today is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr day.  On the news you will hear snippets of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” sermon he gave in Washington DC on August 28, 1963.  However, Dr. King preached many, many powerful and profound sermons that should be quoted because of his intellect and insight and inspiration.  This week, I want to share with you portions of a sermon he preached at New Covenant Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, on April 9, 1967 entitled, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”.  I pray you will lean in and listen to these words.

And there are three dimensions of any complete life to which we can fitly give the words of this text: length, breadth, and height.  Now the length of life as we shall use it here is the inward concern for one’s own welfare.  In other words, it is that inward concern that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions. The breadth of life as we shall use it here is the outward concern for the welfare of others.  And the height of life is the upward reach for God.  Now you got to have all three of these to have a complete life. 

(Pause for a moment to prayerfully ponder how those three dimensions are right now in YOUR life).

Now let us turn for the moment to the length of life. I said that this is the dimension of life where we are concerned with developing our inner powers. In a sense this is the selfish dimension of life. There is such a thing as rational and healthy self-interest.  A great Jewish rabbi, the late Joshua Leibman, wrote a book some years ago entitled Peace of Mind. And he has a chapter in that book entitled "Love Thyself Properly." And what he says in that chapter, in substance, is that before you can love other selves adequately, you’ve got to love your own self properly. You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves.  And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself.

And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself.  So many people are busy trying to be somebody else.  God gave all of us something significant. And we must pray every day, asking God to help us to accept ourselves. That means everything. Too many Negroes are ashamed of themselves, ashamed of being black.  A Negro got to rise up and say from the bottom of his soul, "I am somebody.  I have a rich, noble, and proud heritage. However exploited and however painful my history has been, I’m black, but I’m black and beautiful.”  This is what we’ve got to say. We’ve got to accept ourselves.  And we must pray, "Lord, Help me to accept myself every day; help me to accept my tools."

(Pause for a moment to prayerfully ponder the length of your life through the frame of love and acceptance for yourself – with all your beauty and moments of brokenness).

Prayer: God thank you for the length of life, this precious day when I can wake up this morning with my mind set to Your love and Your voice that calls me, “Beloved”.  Let me embrace and embody that word this day.  Amen.


Friday, January 15, 2021

Dr. King's Birthday

 


Today is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday.  I encourage you to go YouTube and listen to a sermon he preached (there are several there).  Or Google and re-read, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.  Dr. King’s words are powerful and as true today as when he first wrote/spoke them.  I am so taken by his opening response in the Letter from a Birmingham Jail to people who were criticizing him and essentially telling him he was wrong.  Dr. King didn’t respond by belittling others, calling names, or throwing verbal punches (as happens too frequently today).  Dr. King sought to answer with words that are thoughtful and challenging.  He writes, “Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

What Dr. King is saying here ties to another one of his insightful quotes: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.  I think about this given the reflections on baptism and temptation this past week.  I recently heard that when we take a stand make sure we do so on soil that can still be tilled and tended.  That is, so often, we stand on ground that we don’t want to touch and won’t let anyone else near.  But soil (both beneath us and within us) is alive.  The soil within us needs to continually be nourished by water.  We can poison the soil (within and around) with words and misuse of power.  We can take soil that isn’t ours.  We can demand that others see our soil, our position as the best. 

It isn’t that we either take a stand or stay on the sidelines.  There are moments we are fully engaged and moments of rest.  There are moments we speak and times we refrain because we are not ready.  And the problem is that we are quick to armchair quarterback other people’s lives and not see how we too have fumbles and unforced errors.  Some may want to discount Dr. King.  Some question his insistence on non-violence.  Yet, for me, I hear his words and find God’s still speaking force moving in what he wrote decades later.  I pray whatever sermon or speech you land on or read, God’s grace would move through you and help you tend/till the ground on which you stand.

Prayer: God wake me up to Your grace; challenge me with Your unconditional love; and let me shine my light in whatever way and wherever I can.  Amen.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Leaning further into Luke


Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:9-13

We all have that desire to be special, set apart or what Parker Palmer calls the temptation, “to be spectacular”.   I will confess I keep ribbons I won for running in a race.  Why?  It isn’t like it was for winning the Boston marathon.  They are in my bottom dresser drawer, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away.  That ribbon is a tactile and tangible thing I can touch and remember I was recognized for finishing first in a local Turkey Trot one year.  I could say the same thing about my diploma or the file I keep of certificates. 

We live in this tension between realizing life is about more than me, but that I am here participating too.  We want occasionally for the spotlight to shine on us and other times that light can be to blazing hot and blinds us.  Or we can end up craving the light so much that we will do anything to get it.  When our kids were toddlers, we had a parenting saying, “Negative attention is still attention.”  That is sometimes our kids would act out just because they knew that could get a response.  I am not sure we outgrow that especially in an age of polarization and social media that gives a platform for us to say things for the sake of getting “Likes” or “Retweets”. 

To know that we are loved not because of our awards or framed documents, but because God’s love is unconditional and unceasing.  Yet, our society doesn’t work that way.  That is part of what all three temptations are about.  The world works one way: get your bread while you can because there might not be enough; use your influence and power because someone else might knock you off the hill; and don’t share the spotlight because you should have it your way. (My thanks to Burger King for that slogan).

These temptations are as recent as our lives and the world we inhabit.  To hold these close and carefully, because too often guilt is the first (and only) emotion around temptations.  But what if, what we have explored this week, could be a truth that sets us free?  Free to realize who and whose we are. 

I pray today you will ponder prayerfully the ways this story of Jesus’ temptations is true in your story.  And may we do so knowing that God isn’t judging us, but inviting us to be awake to the ways, like Jesus, we can feel trapped and tripped up by making our way in the world today.

Prayer: God guide me and ground me with an honest and open heart on the ways I go astray each and every day. Amen.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Leaning further into Luke

 


Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Luke 4:5-7

When I was a kid in the winter we would play, “King of the Hill.”  The premise is simple.  One person is on the top of the snow mound and all the others try to knock that person off so she or he can be the single one at the top.  That game says a lot about our culture.  As adults we play a version of that game.  We notice who has the corner office.  We notice the vacation pictures of others.  We notice who got a new car or looks like they are a step ahead of us.  Parker Palmer says of this temptation that Jesus is being offered “power, not with or for others, but always power over something or someone.”  That kind of power is always hovering and hanging in the air we breathe calling out to us.

Pause…when have you found yourself trying to cling to the top of some hill for some prize?

In what ways does power, the ability to make something happen, cause you to act in less than healthy ways?

Here is a truth about power – it has health and unhealth – and a thin line between the two (or perhaps a tight rope).  I know as a pastor I am afforded a certain power that comes in the form of words and sermons.  I have moments…not my proudest…when those words have caused wounds and hurt and harm.  This not only happened, but it also still happens.  I have power as a parent.  I have power when I drive my car.  What other places do you sense that you have power?  Can you think of moments when that power helped and times it caused harm?  Both are true, which is why I think the gospels call this a, “temptation”.

I encourage and invite you today to reflect on moments when you made use of power over and when you felt powerless.  For example I had feelings of powerlessness on the playground as a child, in adolescents, in the early days of my career, or waiting for the vaccine.  I have heard stories from members when they got older and are told we must move into a facility.  Hold this alongside the one who knows what it is like to try to discern when and where and how to use power.

Prayer: God of source and strength stir in my heart this day, guide my feet as I run this race, and let my words be in symphony with You.  Amen.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Leaning further into Luke


  Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”  Luke 4:1-4

Yesterday, we heard the holy moment of Jesus’ baptism.  Drenched from his dip into the Jordan River, Jesus felt his soul come to life.  Then?  Then, he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Wait.  What?  That is like saying the football team won the Superbowl, instead of going to Disney, they went to the dentist for a root canal.  Feeling saturated and soaked by the sacred should make you soar; not make you sour.  Jesus should have gone on Oprah or built up his branding on social media platforms.  But right after a moment that changed his life with love, he experiences suffering.

There is a deep truth in this moment that reverberates in our own world.

You get that corner office you always wanted…and realize it takes away from family.

You get that new computer…and realize that it really didn’t magically change your life.

You fall in love…and then there is that fight over something you disagree about.

It isn’t either, or; Luke is telling us about the both/and of life.

I find it fascinating that the first temptation is around the most basic need – bread.  Food.  Something to sustain you and stop your stomach from grumbling grouchily.  Our basic need beyond water is for calories to keep our bodies going.  Parker Palmer contemporizes the temptations by saying this first one is to “be relevant”.  We want to feel needed and necessary.  We may dismiss someone saying, “Thank you,” with the reply, “It was nothing.”  But inside our soul glows and glistens when someone notices us.  Our ego likes to be notice and be able to meet another person’s need.  To be relevant…to say or do something that matters…to meet people where they are.  To be sure Jesus will end up meeting people where they are.  He will end up feeding five thousand with bread and fish.  He will end up offering a ritual of broken bread and a cup of wholeness.  But, he will do this not as a magic trick to impress but to offer the bread of life to our souls. 

It is my prayer for you today to be open to the One who claims you not for what you do but because of who you are.  May God’s presence be felt every time you taste water and eat bread knowing God’s grace and love.

Prayer: Open my eyes, O God, to You moving in my midst in beautifully ordinary ways. Amen.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Baptism

 


Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Luke 3:21-22

What is the first image that flows into your imagination when you think of water?

Swimming in the ocean or splashing in a pool.

A drink of water after a morning walk.

Washing your hands…which we are all now experts.

Cooking or cleaning or running the water over grounds for the perfect cup of coffee.

We know that water is necessary of life – for all creation.  Right now, my grass is not as vibrant green because we are not getting as much rain.  Likewise, after working hard, I can feel worn down until that first gulp of water.  Our lives are hydropowered.  And Scripture is hydropowered.  From Genesis 1 where God surfs and sings to the watery chaos to here where Jesus wades in the water for baptism to Revelation where there is a stream that waters two trees of life. 

The story of Jesus’ baptism is a reminder that in our baptism we are claimed as God’s beloved and called to let our light shine.  This is often where people will talk about “purpose” – finding your one true place and why you are here on earth.  My response to that is…you have more than just one purpose.  It isn’t just about finding the one “thing” and doing that.  Such a search for that one spark of your soul can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Rather, what if the purpose is to be fully alive in every moment?  That is one of the messages in the recent movie, Soul, which I highly recommend.  In that movie, one of the characters shares a great story:

“Excuse me,” said an ocean fish.  “You are older than I, so can you tell me where to find this thing they call the ocean?”  “The ocean,” said the older fish, “is the thing you are in now.” “Oh, this? But this is water. What I’m seeking is the ocean,” said the disappointed fish as he swam away to search elsewhere.

We are in the ocean.  We are swimming and surrounded by the sacred.  Like the young fish above, I don’t notice it.  If I see the beauty of a cloud…hear the rhythmic splashing sound of my pool…the birds singing…my dog brushing up against my leg for attention…this delicious cup of coffee.  All that is in this one moment, to notice and enjoy and participate in the holy now of this present moment, that is one of the promises of being drenched in the grace of baptism.

Prayer: Soak and saturate my soul, O God, to be awake to You every minute today.  Amen.


Friday, January 8, 2021

Prayer

 


Guiding, grounding, generous and generative God, we continue to pray for your epiphany light to fall upon the path of our lives and awaken our hearts.  We lean toward Your light in the midst of this midnight of the soul moment in our country.  We are tired, O God.  We are weak and worn and weary from a pandemic claiming too many lives now spreading fast overwhelming our hospitals.  We often pass along our pain in the form of frustration and fanning flames of fear rather than releasing our hatred.  We need Your wisdom, O God.  We need Your strength, O God, that doesn't always make sense to our rational, reasonable minds.  We need a different vision for how we might live as Your people in such a time as this.  So sing to the chaos of our hearts this day.  Awaken us to the starlight of Your guiding grace that we need every moment today.  Call us back to the Epiphany words as truth that we might hold and beheld by in these days.  And lead us home, as the Wise Ones were, by a different pathway than we have been traveling.  All this we pray in the name of the One who renews us every day, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Prayer

 


The events of yesterday were heartbreaking.  With all the emotions that stir within me, lament has often been a faithful way to begin to process what we are experiencing.  Lament is honestly opening ourselves to notice and name our vulnerabilities and fragility.  Lament becomes possible when we have already seen how we are broken.  And once we see, we cannot unsee.  Please pray with me.

God, in the beginning, You surveyed the chaos.  Yesterday, on our screens, we surveyed a chaos unlike any other in our lives.  In the beginning, You engaged and encountered the chaos by calling forth Light.  We need Your Epiphany light to shine in our lives as we try in our own fragile and faithful way to take the next right step today.  In the time of the Exodus, at the watery chaos of the Red Sea, You made a way when there was no human way.  You wept with Your people in Exile when they hung their harps on trees and could no longer sing hymns.  You were there in the Jordan at Jesus baptism, a day that dramatically changed his life with Your claim of belovedness.  Wash over us today meeting us where we are, help us grieve the continued pains of the pandemic, polarization, and personal chaos that swirls in all of us.  Wash over us today with a grace we need.  Wash over us today, in this very moment, hearing the prayers that pour forth in words that drip in disbelief and anger and fear and frustration and lament.  Hear our prayer, O God, meeting us in this valley of shadows this day with the Psalm 23 promise that one day, by Your redeeming grace, we will bathe in still waters of Your realm.   Wash over us, watch over us, wrap around us we pray.  Amen.

May God's presence be with you and with our country now more than ever.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Epiphany Week

 


Happy Epiphany or is it Merry Epiphany?  I always get so confused on the proper way to wish you a holy, awe-filled, and mysterious Epiphany.  I pray you have read Matthew 2:1-12.  I pray you have held in your hands the three Wise Ones.  I pray you are finding ways to stay open to God’s grace guiding and love leading you in these early days of 2021. 

Even though Matthew doesn’t specify, tradition teaches us that there are three Wise Men.  We assumed three because there are three gifts mentioned and it would not be wise to show up uninvited at a home without a hostess gift, right?  (I am joking here).  The church even went so far as to give them names; Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.  Good old Balthazar always the one with a quick joke and Melchior could sing like an angel and Caspar was such a friendly ghost.  Just kidding.

If you Google their names you might discover, “Melchior was the name of a Persian scholar; Caspar was said to have been from India; and Balthazar was the name a Babylonian scholar.  There is a variation on the name Casper, Gasper, which is found in the book, The Acts of Thomas (as in the dude in the Bible who doubted).  The earliest we find these names are in a Greek manuscript probably composed in Alexandria around 500, and which has been translated into Latin.  Just so you know, Syrian Christians name the Magi: Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas

Our imaginations have filled in the spaces between the small words of print in your scriptures.  Our imaginations have written in the margins of our Bibles.  This is good.  What is difficult, even damaging, is when what we as humans have created becomes written in stone traditions that can never be challenged or changed.  Rather, I pray we would continue to let scripture awaken our imaginations and for us to write our own words in the spaces between and the margins of our Bibles. 

For me, I find the visit of the Wise Ones fascinating because people came from afar to worship Jesus and perhaps those who lived next-door didn’t even notice.  How often do I miss the holy hovering, humming, knocking on the door of my heart looking for room?  I find it fascinating that the powers-that-be, Herod, is threatened by a baby?  Really?  Yet, those in power are often afraid of losing power and will do anything to cling tightly to it.  That truth is as current as the headlines you read this morning.  I find it fascinating that the Wise Ones return home by another way.  This year, I long for new roads and new ways of being.  But like the Wise Ones those might not just appear.  We, you and I, make the road by walking.  Step-by-step.  Day-by-day.  At the same time, the road has always been there.  It was paved by someone before us, who we may never know. 

On this Epiphany, I ask you to prayerfully ponder the roads you are traveling.  I ask for you to stay open to God’s revealing presence here and now.  One prayer tradition on Epiphany is to take a star (either a wooden one or one cut out of paper) and write one word on it.  Here is a list to get your imagination going:

 

Kindness                                           Compassion                                       Love

Openness                                          Understanding                                   Laughter

Discipleship                                      Service                                              Depth

Prayerfulness                                     Playfulness                                        Praise

Gentleness                                         Acceptance                                        Imagination

Friendship                                         Contentment                                      Creativity

Courage                                            Confidence                                        Clarity

Strength                                            Thoughtfulness                                  Patience

Forgiveness                                       Tenderness                                        Enthusiasm

Sharing                                             Healing                                              Rejoicing

Justice                                               Mercy                                                Humility

Wisdom                                            Wholeness                                         Wonder

Curiosity                                           Graciousness                                     Flexibility

Generosity                                         Steadfastness                                     Serenity

Humor                                              Vision                                               Thankfulness

 

There are 45 words above.  If you add seven of your own, there would be one for each week this year.  Play with these words.  See which ones sing to your heart and which ones cause you to think, “Meh…not so much.”  Why?  Why do you have the response, reaction you do to these words?  Words create worlds and have meaning within us.  Hold these words.  You may want to write them on stars or a piece of paper or on a Sunday for each week this year.  Let the language of faith guide you and ground you and stir/speak/sing within you this day.  Happy and Merry Epiphany. 


God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

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