Easter Day Reflection, 2018

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Social change is often derailed because powerful people place their own status and wealth above the needs of others. That’s the dynamic that killed Jesus.

Jesus came preaching the Rule of God; that is, he was seeking a way of life that is in accord with God’s intention for the world. In this way of life, everyone receives daily bread, healing is available to all, and dignity is the birthright of all people. The Romans, who exercised civil rule over Israel, could not accept the way of Jesus. It threatened their position of power, prestige, and superiority; thus, Jesus had to be stopped.

Jesus was also working to build a religious community based on respect, forgiveness, mercy, and love. He wanted a Temple that was truly a place of prayer for all people, not a means through which the religious elite manipulated others. He wanted teaching and practice that flowed with grace, not condemnation. Jerusalem’s religious leaders could not accept what Jesus was doing. His way threatened their positions of prestige, power, and superiority; thus, Jesus needed to be stopped.

The religious and civil leaders wanted Jesus out of the way. To do that, they misrepresented his teaching, made up stories about him, bribed one of his followers, and executed him. That’s how people of power and prestige sometimes respond to attempts at making a safer and more equitable world. For a time, they succeed. But only for a time. For Christ is risen, and with his resurrection, the Spirit of God is unleashed.

And when that Spirit is unleashed, says the prophet Joel, “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” (Joel 3:28)

And the prophet Isaiah speaks of reconciliation among enemies, saying, “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

And the teenager Mary, filled with God’s Spirit, said, “The Lord has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51b-53)

Christ is risen! Alleluia! He is risen from the dead!

And because he lives, young and old together work for the kind of world he desires, a world of peace and non-violence, a world in which love conquers hate, and a world in which healing and grace abundantly flow.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Lent Devotion, Tuesday, March 13, 2018

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James K. Manley’s hymn “Spirit of Gentleness” includes the refrain, “Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness calling and free; Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.”
These words remind us that the Holy Spirit both comforts and compels. The Spirit calms us when we are troubled, but also gets us moving when we are complacent. And the Spirit might lead us to places we would rather not be.
So it was that Jesus had no time to bask in the glory of his baptism. “Immediately,” Mark tells us, “the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (Mark 1:12-13)
Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation is short compared to the versions in Matthew and Luke. It’s so short, that if our minds were to drift for a few seconds, we would miss the whole story. Yet its few words are evocative; and taking time to reflect on them can be rewarding. During the next few days, we’ll take time to do that.

Spirit of God, when we are confused, comfort us. When we are complacent, stir us. Do not allow us to be content with where we are today; instead, give us confidence to follow the will of the Father and the way of the Son. Amen.

Lent Devotion, Friday, March 9, 2018

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When I was growing up, I enjoyed reading “Li’l Abner” in the comic pages of the Reading Eagle. One character in the strip was named Joe Btfsplk (yes, that’s the correct spelling!) He was a likeable sort of guy but was jinxed with incredibly bad luck. The symbol of this misfortune was a dark cloud that always hovered over his head.

Hovering over Jesus’ head at his baptism was a dove; the evangelist Mark writes that Jesus saw “the Spirit descending like a dove upon him.” This hovering dove was not a sign of bad luck, but of God’s presence. This presence did not assure Jesus of an easy or care-free life. The Jesus we meet in Mark’s Gospel faced intense temptations, and experienced sorrow, disappointment, and suffering. The Spirit is not a guarantee of worldly success; rather, the Spirit is the power of God leading Jesus to trust God and love neighbor, even when it is costly to do so.

In Holy Baptism, we receive this same Spirit; not as a magic charm to ward off all that can hurt us, but as a sign of God’s presence in the midst of whatever comes our way.

Father in heaven, in grace you have sent your Spirit upon us, surrounding us with your love. Through the Spirit, strengthen us to live the obedient way that was modeled by your Son. Amen.

Lent Devotion, April 15, 2017

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This Lent, we’ve considered the question “Who is welcome in the grace of God?” It is a question that has been asked for centuries, and continues to be asked today. Over the course of time, my own thoughts on the matter have changed. This change did not come suddenly, but happened over many years. There are folks who I was once convinced were out, but who now I am sure are in.

Oh, I could still tell you the Bible verses that argue for keeping them out. But I’ve also realized there are Bible verses that keep just about any of us out. And I’ve grown to see that the Bible isn’t a rule book to settle all questions for all times; it’s rather a conversation among the people of God, a conversation that is on-going and continuing. Through this conversation, there are new things to be learned. As Jesus said to his disciples the night before he died, “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; . . . he will declare to you all the things that are to come.” (John 16:12-13)

And as I have come to see the Bible in a new way, I have come to see people I once considered to be “out” in a new way. I stopped looking at stereotypes, and started looking at people as individuals.

And in some I had labeled “outsider,” I saw faith in Christ deeper than mine.  And I saw a commitment to the Church that exceeded my own. And I saw love for others that puts my weak love to shame.

In light of all that, I can no longer say, “You’re out; I’m in.”

I found—and am continuing to find—that God’s grace is much larger than anything I can begin to imagine. This inclusionary grace is one of the wonders of Easter.  And for that I say, “Thanks be to God!”

           Thank you, Lord God, for opening our eyes to the vastness of your grace. Amen.

Lent Devotion, March 14, 2017

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Each person in the group gathered at the Corner Donut Shop was saying a few words about herself/himself. Jensi’s great-aunt Elizabeth, in her seventies and a lifelong Lutheran, said the following.

“Many things have changed during my life. When I was born, only men could be pastors; now women are ordained, too. I’ve seen four primary books of worship: black, red, green, and now a different shade of red!  We used to roll our eyes about homosexuals, now we embrace gay marriage and ordination of gays. When I was growing up, there was no one in our neighborhood with a skin color other than white; now there’s a rainbow of colors. And Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs were just words in a book; now there is a mosque in our town; a Hindu temple in a neighboring county; and the most popular pediatrician in our area is a Sikh.

“Those are just a few of the changes in my lifetime; church and society are both very different from when I was a child. I didn’t always take well to these changes. Some of them I angrily fought against. I wanted to keep everything just the way it was.

“But then someone wisely said to me, ‘Sometimes it’s the Holy Spirit who is working the change.’ And I recalled that the night before Jesus died, he said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, . . . he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:12-13)

“So over the years, I’ve come to look at things in a new way. I still have trouble with change. And it’s not always easy to accept people are who different. I continue to struggle with that, and I don’t always succeed. But I keep working at it. I think it’s what Jesus wants us to do.”

God of our changing world, enlighten us with your Spirit, and give us courage to face new times with courage and faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen