Friday, February 26, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 


Today, I want to offer space for you to name and notice your learnings this week.

What was one pain you identified?

What was one balm that seems to help/heal right now?

How did this Spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead, sing to your soul?

What questions do you have?

 

Sit with this hymn, letting the words and melody hover and hang within you and around you.  And may you sense more than a trace of God’s grace every day.  Amen.


Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 


There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the wounded soul

Rev. Howard Thurman once wrote of this Spiritual, “The peculiar genius of the Negro slave [song] is revealed here in much of its structural splendor. The setting is the book of Jeremiah. The prophet has come to a “Dead Sea” place in his life. Not only is he discouraged over the external events in the life of Israel, but he is also spiritually depressed and tortured. [Wounded,] he cried out, ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is no physician there?’ It is not a question of fact that he is raising—it is not a question directed to any particular person for an answer. It is not addressed either to God or to Israel, but rather it is a question raised by Jeremiah’s entire life. He is searching his own soul. He is stripped to the literal substance of himself, and is turned back on himself for an answer. Jeremiah is saying actually, “There must be a balm in Gilead; it cannot be that there is no balm in Gilead.” The relentless winnowing of his own bitter experience has laid bare his soul to the end that he is brought face to face with the very ground and core of his own faith.”

Rev. Thurman help us notice that the balm doesn’t just come magically in the mail like your prescription.  Sometimes it is only when we have laid our souls bare, worn out, and weary that we get the sip of water for which we are so thirsty.  Sometimes our woundedness is an openness, vulnerability, if we doggedly stay hopeful in the hurt ~ which is a spiritual muscle that many of us have not been taught to exercise ~ or that even exists.

I invite you to re-read Thurman’s words and find yourself in them.  Are you like Jeremiah feeling in exile?  Do you feel like you have laid your soul bare?  Do you long for a Spirit to strengthen and sustain you? 

Where have you found a balm in these Lenten days so far?

Where do you continue to search for the Sacred stirring and swirling in such a time as this?

May your reflections and responses to these questions, even if all you can say is, “I don’t know”, open you to the peace and presence of God. Amen.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Melody of Lent


If you can't pray like Peter
If you can't preach like Paul
Go home and tell your neighbor
He died to save us all

Yesterday, we talked about prayer.  Prayer is one of those topics that gets tossed and thrown around.  Beyond saying that you should pray, do we ever try to describe what prayer feels like?  Sounds like?  Smells or tastes like?  Prayer is more than folding your hands and bowing your head.  Prayer is more than a monologue we lob at God.  Prayer is an encounter and experience of the divine.

Re-read that last sentence again, please.

An encounter, a sense that the Spirit is hovering and hanging around.  We trust the holy is near.

An experience, something we can taste or touch or hear or feel.

Of the divine – that God is everywhere.

Prayer happens all the time in our lives.  Prayer can be brushing your teeth, eating, walking, sitting in silence, listening to music, talking to a friend, reading the Bible or a book.  You can fill in the blank of other moments.

At the heart of prayer is attention and intention.

Attention – that you are open to God moving in your midst.

Intention – that you set your gaze toward God to move in your midst.

This is why I suggested listening to music as a prayer practice for Lent this year.  It is a different form, but one I believe we can all find meaning in.  Today, listen again to your piece of music for this week, either the hymn I am reflecting on, or the one you selected.  Slowly savor each note, every word, and then repeat.  Repeat again until the Holy Spirit revives your soul again.

Prayer: Composer and conductor of my life, help me find Your rhythm in this day I pray.  Amen.

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Melody of Lent


 

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work's in vain,

(or I have also seen this second line, “And deep I feel the pain”)

but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

When in the last week did the above words feel like the soundtrack for your soul?  Where do the words above give expression to an experience you are having?  We live in a world where it is easy to be discourage and deep within feel an ache and pain and wonder if what we are doing is making a difference.

Pandemic; polarization in our politics; personal problems that wake us up in the middle of the night for a chat; discrimination all its vast variety of shapes and sizes.  The 24-hour-news cycle perpetuates this sense that there is always “Breaking News”…and that if you don’t know about it immediately, well, then you must not care.  Turn on whatever news channel, there are at least five different stories your brain is forced to process.  The crawl across the bottom (which is a relatively new phenomenon that came into widespread use after 9/11).  On one side are stock updates.  Below that is an ad for the anchor’s interview with this person.  Then, there is the current anchor talking at you sharing detail after detail.

Sometimes I feel discourage and deep within my soul I feel the pain.

So much pain that we might feel paralyzed.  I mean, what can I do about refugees across the world, when in my own community there are people without a shelter and security?  So, we end up writing a check to alleviate some of the weight on our souls/shoulders. 

But I love how the Spiritual spins in a new direction by proclaiming and preaching that it is in prayer that our soul is revived.  Not always by my actions, not by filling my calendar trying to save the world, not by my check book.  By prayer.  Grounded and guided by God.  This Spiritual is a prayer that opens us to the moments we feel dismayed and disheartened and disjointed.  This Spiritual helps us give voice to the truth that live has difficulty and assures us that God is there in the valley every bit as God is there on the mountain top moments of joy. 

Where have you felt God’s comfort and compassion in the last week?  What role does prayer have in reviving your soul?  How can listening to Spirituals/music help?  How does talking with others help?  How does stillness/silence/shutting off the 24-hour news cycle both on the television and the endless loops in our mind help?

I invite you to breathe in God’s love.  Hold that holy presence.  Slow exhale.  Repeat.  Repeat again.  Repeat a fourth time until you sense that Spirit resuscitating and renewing and reviving your soul for today.

Prayer: Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me, meeting me in the midst of the pain, and helping me sense Your presence.  Amen.


Monday, February 22, 2021

The Melody of Lent


 

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul

The theologian Ruby Sales, who at age of 17 marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, has been an insightful voice for generations.  She worked for SNCC in Alabama to advance the cause of Civil Rights.  One of her many profound and powerful questions that she proposes is for us to ponder, where does it hurt?

Right now…where does it hurt?

Within your own body.

Within your heart.

Within your mind.

Within your soul.

Pause for a moment with me, hold this question close.  Because until we name and notice the pain, rather than push it down or ignore it or overprocess it, the pain will continue to throb and rob us of our wholeness.  Until we diagnose and determine that ache that is within us, we will continue to pass it along to others, declaring and deciding that “they” are the problem.  And if “they” would only do what you want, everything would be chocolate rivers and pony rides.  Pain is part of human life, but we tend to numb the pain with endless rushing, running here or there; addictions to alcohol or shopping or staring at phones or anything to distract us; our minds are wired to calculate that the energy it would take to process the pain is too great…so just have another piece of Dove chocolate – after all with a name like Dove it should be holy, right?

The hymn for this week, There is a balm in Gilead, is a beautiful spiritual and salve for the soul in such a time as this.  The words come from Jeremiah, who was a prophet during the Exile.  The Exile was when people were taken from their homes, everything they knew removed from them, they were strangers living in a strange land.  We are now a year into an Exile from the life you knew before the pandemic.  Our normal patterns and rhythms removed from us.  We are strangers now behind masks fearful of a virus that is lurking invisibly and mutating.  We know Exile, it has been our address for the last year.  Our brothers and sisters who are African American, LGBTQ, immigrants know Exile and often feel as if they are strangers in this land of their birth; never really feeling at home. 

We all ache.

We all know pain.

The question is whether we will have the courage to name and notice, process our pain.  Listen to this spiritual, let the music/melody/words provoke and evoke from you prayerfully the places within you that need healing.

Prayer: Let us bathe in Your balm, O God.  Let us be immersed in Your embrace.  Let us be honest about all that hurts within us, we pray.  Amen.


Friday, February 19, 2021

Lent 3

 


When I reach the River Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside.  Death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on heaven’s side.  Songs of praises, songs of praises I will ever sing to you, I will ever sing to you.

This is such a powerful verse.  I am struck by how fears, death, and destruction are put aside awakening a song of praise within us.  I think about how often fear, death, and destruction are part of our lives.  We hear it all the time on the news.  And now with a 24-hour news cycle, you can hear about why the world is going you know where in a handbasket any time you want.  You don’t need to wait to see fear or hear about someone dying or encounter pain, there are countless channels dedicated to telling you.  Or you prefer, you can just refresh your newsfeed on your computer, because the internet will find in any gaps.

I get that the world is not all ponies rides and chocolate rivers.  I get that pain is real.  I know that there is heartbreaking suffering and struggle.  But, we focus a lot of energy there.  So much that we can feel paralyzed, unable to do anything besides reach for another bag of the clearance Valentine’s   candy we picked up at the store yesterday.  I mean, you can’t pass up Godiva at that price! 

I am not trying to be Pollyanna or tell you that everything is going to be fine.  Struggle is real.  Pain is part of this human condition.  Joy is also baked and built into the mix.  We just don’t trust the joy is as real as the pain.  If something good happens, we think it is a trick or won’t last or feel guilty for enjoying a moment of grace when others are hurting.  If we wait for all the fears and death and destruction to finally be ended, we might not ever sing.  But if, in moments when our souls feel their full worth, we risk singing, there is a beauty in that moment.  Moreover, if you risk singing out praise, someone might join you.  And someone else, then someone else.  To be sure, that doesn’t mean everything is fine and dandy.  It just means that we believe in a God who is still at work and still creating and still saying that brokenness is never the last word.  And that truth makes me want to sing.

Holy One, hear my song, my prayer that comes from my heart to Your ears, trusting that You are there in the good times and difficult moments.  That Your resurrection promise of life is a light to my life every day.  Amen.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Lent 2

 


I invite you to listen again to the hymn, Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer.  Listen, lean in, hear with your whole heart the second verse:

Open now the crystal fountain, where the healing waters flow.  Let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.  Strong deliverer, strong deliverer, ever be my strength and shield, ever be my strength and shield.

Healing water that washes over us – renewing and refreshing.  Healing water that supports us and our souls feel buoyed by a love.  Healing water that saturates and soaks our lives with God’s presence.

When have you felt that kind of water?  Maybe diving into a pool on a hot summer day as a kid.  Maybe when you visited the Holy Land and you actually waded in the water of Jordan.  Maybe when you walked along the beach, waves tickled your toes, as you held onto the truth that Jesus called his disciples from the seashore. 

Water flows through scripture.  From the beginning with Genesis to being parted in Moses to a foreign river during Exile in Babylon where faithful lamented/wept to this verse of music reminding us that God loves to splash in the waters of life.

I invite you today to take water, trace the symbol of a cross on your forehead.  Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, would have been traditionally – in a non-COVID year – a service of putting ashes on peoples’ foreheads.  But those ashes, symbolic of vulnerability, frailty and even death, do not erase the baptismal promise of God’s love that was traced on your forehead years ago.  To remember your baptism as you sing about waters washing over you; God guiding you; and God strength supporting you.

Where do you need God’s strength today?  In a meeting or conversation?  In dealing with something that causes your stomach to somersault.  With patience or perseverance or just trying to get through the day without eating all the leftover Valentine’s Day candy?

Name that place you long for God to enter in and sing the second verse of the hymn again as your prayer for today.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Lent 1

 



Beginning of Lent

Today, we begin the season of Lent, which comes from the English word, lencten, meaning “spring season.”  Who says you don’t learn something reading these morning mediations! 

During Lent, I want to open our hearts to holy hymns that sing to our souls.  In particular, I want us to pray the words of our hymns.  You can pray by singing these words or listening to a version on YouTube (I have posted a link below).  I encourage you to listen several times today.

Which words or phrases calm you?  Why?

Which words or phrases leave you feeling restless? Why?

What memories does the hymn invoke or provoke from your heart?  You can always post a comment.

We start with one of my favorites, Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer (or Jehovah).  Here is the first verse to pay attention to:




Guide me, O my great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but you are mighty; hold me with your powerful hand.  Bread of heaven; bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more, feed me till I want no more.

Lent is a season betwixt and between.  In many parts of the country, winter still has snow falling and piling up – thanks to the groundhog who saw his shadow a few weeks ago.  Lent says we are no longer at the start of something, but we haven’t arrived either.  We are in the messy middle, which sometimes can feel barren.  I think about the Iowa landscape I knew as a child covered in snow.  Or how the grass right outside my door in Florida is not a vibrant hue of green, but rather dull and drab.  When we have started something, but don’t see the finished line, we can feel vulnerable – or weak as the hymn preaches/proclaims.  In my weakness God meets me with bread, manna, to sustain me.  I pray that these daily devotionals as we focus on hymns will be like bread, manna, for your soul.  I am grateful for you to journey with this sacred season between what is known and the unknowable future.  I am grateful for the support and care.  I am grateful that at Christ’s table all are welcome and fed with more than a trace of grace we need every day.

Prayer: Guiding, grace-filled God ground me in Your love and sustain me with a presence that I can call, “Peace” every day during Lent, I pray. Amen.


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out,  and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger.  They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.  He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” Luke 8:22-25

I have been on that boat this last year.  The wind and waves tossing my life to and fro.  Feeling like I am racing and running around in all directions.  I have set sail on that ship countless times in trying to respond to the pandemic and polarization and discrimination.  I have tried to manage the sails of worship with one hand while bailing water with a bucket with the other as I try to find new ways of being a pastor in this new time.  I have been on that boat prior to COVID when I read about declining membership and budgets and buildings that we try to maintain.  I don’t have to have been there with the disciples that night to know this story is true.  It is woven into my story.

When has the ship/boat of your life tried to make it through the storm?  Perhaps a relationship that ends in divorce.  A job where you are unexpectedly handed a pink slip.  An illness that wallops you out of the blue.  Or just having survived 2020, now waiting for your turn in line for the vaccine.  Where do the storms threaten and cause your anxiety to spike?  Where do you feel dizzy and disoriented, afraid from all that you are facing?

Our lives are vessel set a drift on the sea.  Sometimes the sailing is smooth, the water like glass.  Other times the waves won’t quit crashing chaotically on us, causing us to feel overwhelmed and underprepared.  I am a bit miffed that Jesus questions the disciples’ faith.  After all, I have doubts that rage and run around my head and heart, especially in the tumult of life today.  I cling to my faith, but it seems so small or inadequate amid the problems that vex us in the world today.  My faith barely helps me get out of bed.  I am not sure I will be moving a mountain any time soon.  But then again, just being up and awake and alert today can feel like a mountainous climb for so many people.

Perhaps faith isn’t always confidence or certainty; faith is the willingness to keep trying and growing.  Faith is acknowledging that the storm is real and I need help.  I can’t save myself any more than the disciples could save themselves.  Mark Nepo says, “No matter what we’re going through, faith in life means believing that there’s always more beyond the condition of our understanding.”  Perhaps, Jesus wasn’t so much questioning the amount of faith, but more that the disciples seemed surprised (afraid and amazed the text says), that Jesus would respond so quickly.  Faith is staying open in the storm for that sacred voice saying to you, “Peace…I am here…I see you.”  May I hear those holy words today.  May we speak them to each other.  May we be willing to be in the boat wit each other, weathering the storm of life today.  For I believe it is in sharing our vessels of life that faith is nourished, nurtured, and we sense Christ’s presence near. 

Holy One, sometimes You calm the storm.  Sometimes You calm the sailor.  Could you do both today for all of us?  Amen.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.  Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”  Luke 8:16-18

Smokey the Bear would so not be happy with the opening image here.  An open flame under a bed?  That is a fire hazard waiting to happen.  And while we are at it, the ending is about as uplifting as Debbie Downer.  So, if you have a lot, here have more the passages suggests on the surface.  And if you are down to your last thread be careful because there is a pair of sharp scissors hovering perilously above you.  To be clear, Jesus probably wasn’t talking about money or stuff we stuff our lives with.  Although, it certainly is the case that the gap between the rich and poor is widening in heartbreaking ways.  Jesus was trying to talk about the truth that once you see, you cannot unsee.  Once you have a thought, you cannot un-think it.  You know this when you toss and turn at night. 

Did you notice how Jesus says, “pay attention to how you listen.”  There are many ways of hearing.  There is the kind of hearing where the words go in one ear and out the other barely leaving a trace.  There is the kind of hearing where your brain holds the words, but they don’t really sink or settle or seep into your soul.  There is deep listening where what you experience, encounter stays with you.  Examples: when I say to my kids, “Can you pick up your sock?”  Then, they walk right past it with nary a care in the world.  There are also moments we don’t have the energy to listen.  Then, there is the kind of listening where I do hear and even comprehend, but it is surface level.  For me, this happens when people read me numbers and my mind struggles to keep them in the correct order.  Finally, when I hear how much pain there is in the world from those who are pushed to the fringe and fray.  When I see tears of our LGBTQ friends or laments of our African-American brothers and sisters.  Or when a woman, who shattered the glass ceiling and got a doctorate, only to never be referred to by her earned title.  Those sit uneasy in my soul. 

How do you listen?  How might you lean toward those you encounter this week?  On this day after Valentine’s Day – to know that you are heard and giving the gift of hearing to others, is one of the most beautiful ways to love that I know.

Lord, listen to your children praying…help us listen as well to You and others.  Amen.


Friday, February 12, 2021

A Pause

 

We wind down and wrap up another week.  I find that after offering you thoughts for four days, it is good to give you space to breathe and be.  Rather than just pile on more words, I pray you will listen to what words are rising and roaming within you.  Rather than more thoughts from me, for you to pay attention to your thoughts.


To give space for you.

 

What new insight or idea came to you this week?

 

What struggle still swirls restlessly within you?

 

What might be that next right step as we move toward the middle of February?

 

May these questions invoke and invite God’s listening, loving presence for you this day and throughout the days to come.

May traces of God’s grace be with you now more than ever. Amen.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:27-31

I wonder who Jesus was looking at when he spoke these words about loving your friend-mies?  Of all the verses in scripture, Luke 6:27 is one of the most challenging.  It is one we quote at others, but I find these words so hard to embrace and embody in these days.  And if that wasn’t enough, which it is, Jesus goes on about blessing those who cure me; pray for those who abuse me; and turn the other check.  Why not just tell me to walk on water and then turn that water in wine!  The lofty language of scripture set the bar high for us to clear in our day-to-day lives.  We are intimately familiar with these words, but often leave them abandoned because they are so difficult to practice in our lives.

Maybe the point isn’t just to give us tasks to do that we can complete, but invitations that take a lifetime to explore.  Maybe the point isn’t that we have gain a doctorate degree in faith but that we are always learners and students.  Maybe the point is not that we reach a point where our haloes glow and glisten, but that we are always needing to grow.  Maybe the point isn’t that we get it at all because grace is never earned or deserved.  Grace is.

On my wall is this quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, ““Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.  No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

May these words settle into your soul and sing to your life this day.  Amen.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles:  Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. Luke 6:12-16

Show of hands…how many of you before you read the passage above could have named all the disciples?  To be clear, my hand is stuck to my side and my head is studiously looking at the ground avoiding looking anyone in the eyes.  Oh, I know a few.  Peter.  Check.  James and John and Andrew.  I am on a roll.  Philip and Thomas, feeling good about myself.  Oh, then there is Judas, Mr. Betray Your Best Friend.  Then, my mind goes blank.  On a good day, I might remember there was a second one named James.  Other times, my mind starts naming the seven dwarfs from Snow White or Smurfs from the cartoon I watched growing up.  Unfortunately, we don’t get a bio on all twelve, we get bits and pieces of their stories.  Unfortunately, some of the disciples, I am looking at you Bartholomew – with the cool name – don’t stand in the scripture spotlight very much for us to get to know them. 

There is a great line from the musical Hamilton asking, “Who tells your story?”  We don’t get to know all the disciples’ stories.  We have this list of their names and know that Jesus saw something stirring in each of their souls.  I encourage you today to speak, say aloud each of the disciples names, even Judas (that is important for tomorrow!).  After each name, pause, imagine, conjure and create a story.  We know Simon/Peter; James and John were fishermen.  We know Matthew was a tax collector.  We know Thomas is the one who gives us permission in faith to ask questions and to seek God through experiences.  We all know Judas.  But dive deeper.  Why did Simon leave his net?  What did Matthew feel surge in him that caused him to get up out of his tax booth?  Why did Judas sell Jesus out?  Who is this Bartholomew?  Hold your insights and ideas lightly and let God’s light shine brightly on the ways the disciples’ stories sing to your story today.

God, You come down to the lakeshore of my soul and call to me to be a partner in Christ’s service; call to ministries of grace.  I pray I will respond with deep compassion, fresh new lines of faith of your grace to trace today.  Amen.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.  The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.  Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there.  Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”  After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored.  But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.  Luke 6:6-11

First the grain and now the healing.  Does Jesus not know how to turn down the temperature rather than elevate the tension in the room?  Why does Jesus keep poking the bear and provoking people?  And what will the children think when he keeps on trampling on the rules we have been trying to teach them?  (That last question was a joke, by the way).

But, this passage causes me to pause and ponder, what would Jesus challenge me on?  What precious peril of righteousness to do I cling to, convinced I am right, which Jesus might call me to let lose my grasp upon?  We all want to have the right way, but Jesus seems to challenge religious understandings, so what might he say about our church?

Those are difficult questions?  But heartfelt ones.  Scripture doesn’t only confirm us, the words of scripture can challenge.  The wisdom I hold onto is the second I think I have scripture understood, I should be sent back to the start, do not pass, “Go,” and do not collect two hundred dollars.  I don’t know why Jesus is trying to push the boundaries of what was kosher and clean.  I do not know why Jesus is provoking people.  I do know that I want to be careful to assume that God is on my side and to stay open to God’s work in the world.  And, if the answer when I read scripture is too often, “Yup, got it all under control.  Nothing to see here.”  There is probably something sacred to see there which might change me.

How might I stretch out my hand, empty my heart, open my life so that Jesus’ wisdom and God’s light of love can shine brighter?

May that question sit in my life and your life today with more than a trace of God’s grace.  Amen.


Monday, February 8, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”  Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?”  Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” Luke 6:1-5

Jesus was out for a Saturday stroll.  He had been to Temple to worship, pray, sing, and even enjoyed a cookie and cup of coffee at fellowship time afterwards.  So, he decided to continue his worship with a walk out in the beauty of God’s creation with his disciples (more on them later this week).  I guess that snack after the service didn’t last, linger for his friends.  Their stomachs started rumbling and grumbling, they saw some grain, plucked/picked some to enjoy a sandwich right there.  When suddenly from out of now where some Pharisees jump out.  Were they playing hide and seek?  Were they hiding behind a wheat stalk?  We know they said, “Caught you red handed!”  Insert frownie faces and fingers wagging here.  Jesus replied, responded by saying, “Well, David ate the Bread that was for God.”  That is what the bread of Presence was.  It was food that was left on the altar in the Holy of Holies in case, I guess, God got hungry?  Only King David one time decided that God was okay with sharing some of the holy manna with him.  Like a friend who reaches across the table at a restaurant with his fork to “test, try, taste” some of your entrĂ©e or snags a French fry from you when you look the other way. 

I believe that scripture has moments of holy hilarity that are meant to teach, tell us something through laughter.  I wonder if one truth to carry from these words is that we can get caught up in rules, regulations, and the right way rather than staying open to God.  Sometimes we are so convinced to the point of complacency with our ways.  Plus, our minds tell us that it is too hard to change.  And, this helps us feel like we are in control.  I felt that with this pandemic and constantly washing my hands as something to cling to in the midst of an invisible virus floating around.  The Pharisees, by the way, are not the bad guys.  They are more like Jesus.  Just like I can be frustrated with those who are slightly different then I am with those who are distant and disconnected and diametrically opposed to my understandings. 

A few insights to ponder:

Where are moments you feel fed literally and figuratively?

What ways do you cling to control so much that your knuckles turn white?

Who might the Pharisee be in your circle?  Those who are close by, who you care about, but who sometimes push all the buttons?

May God’s wisdom guide you and God’s love ground you this day as we let this story speak and sing to our story.  Amen.   


Friday, February 5, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.  Luke 5:36-38

As we wrap up and wind down the first full week in February, Jesus offers a truth that you cannot put new wine in old wine skins.  We know that life has changed and is changing since February 2020.  At this time, one year ago, we were hearing about COVID, but had not fully felt the weight yet – although there was concern hovering in the air.  At this time, one year ago, we had not witnessed the murder of George Floyd.  We had resisted the collective, communal lament that is needed in the face of discrimination in all its heartbreaking, soul aching forms.  At this time, one year ago, we did not think an angry group would break into the Capital in order to stop our elected leaders from certifying the election.

If we knew then what we know now.

Then, again, if we did, perhaps we would not have had the courage to live moment-by-moment; step-by-step.  We cannot fully know the future, it unfolds as we encounter the present moment.  I believe when we prayerfully live in the present, with openness, we are able to find the traces of grace we need for the next right step.

Today, I invite you to take a long view of life and ponder prayerfully:

1. One learning from this last year.  Where are you tasting and sipping new wine?

2. How is that new learning fitting into your life – does it feel like you are putting new wine into old wineskins?

Let the questions above sing to you, soak into you, and let your life respond and react to these questions today.  Lean into Luke and sense the way Luke’s wisdom is seeking to be lived out in you.

And may God’s grace, peace, and love be with you now more than ever.  Amen.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Leaning Into Luke

 


They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”  Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?  But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”  Luke 5:33-35

This is another human moment in scripture.  The religious people are comparing and competing who is being more faithful.  The religious people are trying to prove that their haloes shine brighter and bolder than others.  The religious people are pulling others down to prop themselves up.  What breaks my heart is the previous three sentences are as true today as when Luke wrote down the words above.  Churches constantly compete and compare worship attendance and budgets.  How many new members they gained in the last month?  The boasting and bragging sounds like the pastor thinking s/he is the “Thou” referred to in the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” rather than God.

Part of what I hear Jesus saying to us anew and afresh is that we cannot prove faithfulness.  Not by fasting.  Not be praying angelically.  Not be faithfully writing a morning meditation each day.  Faithfulness, the surge of the Spirit within, is creative and will call us to connect with others.

Yet, hearing this is not easy for us, because we want to think that our way of practicing faith is the correct way.  Recently, I was sharing about different biases we all have from author Brian McLaren.  We have a complexity biases in that we like simple explanation to a complex truth. We can’t see what we are unwilling to see, and we don’t want to be vulnerable.  Also, our brains are wired when something gets too hard, our “logic” tells us to stop and justifies it.  Our brains are comfortable and wants to maintain the neuro pathways that are there.  We are aware that change takes effort and energy to forge new understandings.  This is one reason why New Year’s resolutions are so difficult.

Is there an understanding of faith that might need to be let go of right now?  Is there part of faithfulness that isn’t connecting you to God’s grace?  Is there a place where you feel like you are going through the motions without feeling the movement of the Holy?

Let the questions above sing to you, soak into you, and let your life respond and react to these questions today.  Lean into Luke and sense the way Luke’s wisdom is seeking to be lived out in you.

And may God’s grace, peace, and love be with you now more than ever.  Amen.


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Leaning into Luke

 


After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him,  and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:27-32

Jesus had just healed someone, he headed out of the house where he was at and there is a tax collector.

That ominous sound you hear is because tax collectors were looked down upon and pushed to the fringe of polite society.  The soundtrack that should accompany the words, “Levi sitting at his tax booth,” would be like the theme song to Jaws or what played every time Darth Vader walked into a scene in Star Wars.

Tax collectors were not the heroes or sheroes in Jesus’ day.  The reason was that they worked for Rome.  The money you gave to the tax collector financed the Caesar who thought he was a god.  You felt the weight of the boot of Rome on your neck.  Some scholars suggest that the tax rate in Jesus’ day (between Rome, Herod, and temple taxes) could have been as high as 90 percent.  Ouch.  Suddenly, us saying that we have the worst taxes ever doesn’t hold as much truth.

Jesus goes and calls Levi to follow.  Think of a person you see as a villain, the least likely candidate for Person of the Year…Jesus calls him/her?  Before Jesus preached, “Love your enemy,” he practiced it right here and right now in the passage.  Levi throws a party and all his tax collector friends with their calculators, glasses, and number jokes (like why is six afraid of seven? Because seven, eight, nine – read as seven ate nine.)  When the Pharisees question the company Jesus is keeping, Jesus says that someone whose halo is shining doesn’t need polish.  Someone who thinks s/he has it all figured out, is not going to listen. 

One of my favorite quotes right now is that the more you know, the more questions you have. The more you learn, the more you realize how much you fail to grasp.  Amen to that!  I don’t see clearly.  I make a ton of mistakes and miscues and miss moments of the movement of God’s grace.  Levi and I might have more in common than I care to admit or accept. 

Where in the above description did you find yourself with a new insight or idea?  Where did you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief?  Was there anything above that frustrated you?

Let the questions above sing to you, soak into you, and let your life respond and react to these questions today.  Lean into Luke and sense the way Luke’s wisdom is seeking to be lived out in you.

And may God’s grace, peace, and love be with you now more than ever.  Amen.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Leaning in to Luke

 


17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”  21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”  Luke 5:17-27


The titles that appear in section breaks in your Bible are not original.  The Gospel writers didn’t have chapter titles.  As a matter of fact, if you have ever seen the Dead Sea Scrolls or writings from the time of Jesus there was no punctuation or vowels or even spaces between the consonant letters.  This sentence would look like this: thssntncwldlklkths.  Sort of makes my head hurt honestly. 

Since the titles of section breaks were added later, we have a permission slip to let our own imaginations loose with our thoughts on what a particular passage of the Bible might be titled.  If I had been asked, I might give the section of Scripture above this title:

I get by with a little help from my friends (you are going to be singing that all day long).

Or

Hold up your corner.

Both titles are important.  The first emphasizes that all of us stand on the shoulders of others.  There is no self-made man or woman.  You are who you are because of your family and friends – past and present.  You exist because workers grow food that you buy at the store or restaurant take out.  You drive on roads someone else plotted and planned and paved.  You live in a house, or at least I do, that I did not build.  I was taught by teachers who shaped and formed ideas.  I know what it is like to be on the mat, because others have carried me.  I know I am still carried by the love of family and our church.

And there are moments I try to carry others too.  I do this with my kids.  I do this when someone in our church is grieving or hurting.  I try to hold up my corner in these morning meditations and by supporting causes I believe in.  I seek to hold up my corner in sharing/shining my light where I can.

Healing happens in moments where we support each other, care for each other, and are willing to be supported by others.  Healing is dynamic.  There is a difference between healing and cure.  I can still struggle physically or emotionally, yet at the same time feel like the weigh of the wound is not as heavy because of those around me. 

Where are you helping and who is helping you?

Let the question above sing to you, soak into you, and let your life respond and react to this question today.  Lean into Luke and sense the way Luke’s wisdom is seeking to be lived out in you.

And may God’s grace, peace, and love be with you now more than ever.  Amen.


Monday, February 1, 2021

Leaning in to Luke

 

 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.  Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”  Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  Luke 5:12-16

There is such a humanity woven into this passage.  You have the passionate plea of a person who has suffered, struggled, and deep in his soul longs to be well.  You have Jesus’ willingness to embrace and enfold the one who was hurting (and considered untouchable because of the skin disease) with a tender hand laid upon this Son of God’s shoulder.  You have the gentleman being asked not to share, only to then Tweet out and post to social media a selfie with a before and after.  Insert Jesus shaking his head, muttering and mumbling, “You ask people to do one thing.  One simple thing!”  Then Jesus decided to get away to pray.

A couple of questions:

1.      Where does it hurt today?  Where is there pain that throbs physically or emotionally or spiritually or communally? 

2.      Where do you long for help and healing, long for a loving touch or to feel the brush of angel’s wings with the sacred stirring, supporting, strengthening you?

3.      What Good News of God’s grace can you not but help share?  Where has been that moment where hopelessness doesn’t seem like it has the last word over the last few days?

4.      Finally, do you find the space and place to pause, to breathe and be, to get away and pray?

The power of Scripture is not only for our minds, but our whole lives to encounter and experience.  The power of Scripture is not in these words you are reading from me, but when you let the words from Luke above be embraced and embodied and expressed in your life.  Let this passage read your life today, connect you to this bigger story of God’s love.

Go back to the four questions above, hold them, enter them, let your life respond and react to them.  Lean into Luke and sense the way Luke’s wisdom is seeking to be lived out in you.

And may God’s grace, peace, and love be with you now more than ever.  Amen. 


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