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Saturday, October 6

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 47 & 46; Joel 3:9-17; Luke 15:11-32; Romans 4:1-12

I don’t usually carry over a conversation from one day’s posting to another, but I couldn’t resist carrying over my exploration of faith from yesterday’s posting. That’s because today’s passage from Romans brings up one of my favorite theological aspects of my faith. Yesterday, as you might remember, I shared that my definition of faith is that faith is “a relational response to God”. One of my two bedrock beliefs about faith is contained in the last 3 words of that phrase: response to God. As someone who was raised United Methodist, I grew up appreciating John Wesley’s understanding of grace. Wesley talked of five different types of faith; my favorite being something he called “prevenient grace”. Prevenient grace is the grace of God’s that comes before our response to God. Without prevenient grace, we would be totally unable to respond. In essence, this is what Paul is saying when he alludes to Abraham’s circumstance. Today I invite you to look back on your own faith journey and give thanks for the ways in which God was present and working in your life even before you were fully aware of - and able to respond to - God. May those moments of awareness keep us grounded in awe and humility in all areas of our lives. Til next time…

Friday, October 5

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 118; Joel 2:28-3:8; Luke 15:1-10; Romans 3:19-31

Today’s reading from Romans took me back immediately to our Tuesday evening Sacred Grounds conversation, as the focus of the group’s conversation that evening was about issues relating to faith. The verse from today’s reading from Romans that best captures Paul’s exploration of faith is verse 28: “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” What I appreciate about this verse is that it seems to cut through the age-old debate regarding the crux of our salvific experience: i.e. is that experience the result of faith or is the experience the result of works? What verse 28 does is redefine faith so that faith is clearly not a work - something that one has to do or have in order to be okay with God. Rather, Paul’s words invite his readers to think of faith as something else. I have used Paul’s invitation over the years to help me arrive at this basic understanding of faith: faith (for me) is simply a relational response to God. So how has Paul’s words shaped the way you think about faith and its role in your spiritual life? Today I hope you’ll spend some time considering this question. Til next time…

Thursday, October 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 149 & 34; Joel 2:21-27; Luke 14:25-35; Romans 2:27-3:18

There are a variety of challenges we 21st century Christians face in living out their faith. One of the many challenges we face was raised for me near the end of today’s lectionary reading from Luke’s Gospel. Luke 14:34 in the New International Version reads: “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” The question this verses raises for me is, “In the pluralistic age that often leads us to emphasize our similarities with others, how can we Christians maintain our uniqueness – our saltiness, if you will?” In the verses that precede verse 34, a part of our saltiness is our willingness “to give up everything he [or she] has” (v 33). Of course there are many other qualities that contribute to our saltiness: our understanding of forgiveness and our understanding of grace to name just a few. Today I invite you to examine your own life for evidence of your saltiness. As you do so, my hope and my prayer is that God will continue to use us as vessels that will season the world with acts of grace, mercy, and love. Til next time…

Wednesday, October 3

Today's Readings: Psalm 144 & 77; Joel 2:12-19; Luke 14:12-24; Romans 2:25-26

Since this Sunday will be observed as World Communion Sunday, I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about the role Communion plays in our lives. Last night’s community discussion at Sacred Grounds, in fact, focused on this topic as well. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see this morning’s passage from Joel remind us of two essential ingredients of the sort of spiritual experience we have when we come to the Communion Table. The first ingredient of such a spiritual experience comes from verses 12-13. These verses speak of the individual and his or her call to “return to me with all your heart”. Again, the common prophetic theme is stressed that preference is given not to empty rituals (simply going through the motions) but rather the condition of one’s heart (“rend your hearts and not your clothing”). This is the same theme from today's reading from Roman's regarding circumsion. The second ingredient is the community’s role (i.e. “call a solemn assembly; gather the people; sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; etc). In this day and age where it seems the role of the individual is exalted above all else, today’s passage reminds us of the important role community plays in this process of “returning to me”. In these days leading up to World Communion Sunday, I invite you to spend some time looking at the balance between the individual and communal role in your spiritual life. With a proper sense of balance between the two, may each of us be strengthened in these days of return. Til next time…

Tuesday, October 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 75 & 82; Joel 1:15-2:11; Luke 14:1-11; Romans 2:17-24

Last weekend, I was sitting having coffee with a friend who was reading the Tao Te Ching. As we talked, my friend shared a few examples of the simple yet profound pearls of wisdom that were contained within the text. I walked away from the conversation wanting to hear more as I hadn’t read the text of the Tao Te Ching since my seminary days. And then this morning I ran into another piece of sayings that reminded me I regularly have access to another source of wisdom whose truths are every bit as simple yet profound: Jesus’ words in the Gospel texts. Some folks often get thrown by Jesus’ words of wisdom because they often come embedded within larger stories or parables. Consequently, it’s easy to miss the striking depth of those words if you aren’t paying attention. This morning’s passage from the 14th chapter of Luke is a great example of that. The majority of the passage sets up the dilemma of where one should take a seat at a wedding banquet: in a place of honor, or in the last place. At the conclusion of the situation, Eugene Peterson’s The Message translates Jesus’ teaching as follows: “But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself” (Luke 14:11). What wonderful words of encouragement that remind us that one of the keys to a good life is to know both who you are (“be simply yourself”) and who God is (the One through whom “you will become more than yourself”). Those words can certainly help us decide how to face any dilemma – whether a seating chart is involved or not! Today, may we embrace the profound yet simple truth of which Jesus spoke and continue on our journey toward a sense of perspective and wholeness in our spiritual lives. Til next time…

Monday, October 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 63 & 42; Joel 1:1-14; Luke 13:31-35; Romans 2:12-16

I’m sorry about missing yesterday’s post. A 13-hour day full of worship services, a memorial service, a hospital visit, and planning for a memorial service totally wiped me out. Needless to say, I am ready for my Sabbath day (day off) today. In my time of devotion today, my heart connected with the passage from Joel most strongly. That’s because it reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague several years ago in seminary. Let me tell you about the conversation and then back my way into the passage from Joel. Seven years ago I was taking a class on youth ministry, and the visiting professor had us break into small groups and tackle a case study. The case my group was assigned was an issue involving a teenager suffering from anorexia nervosa. Most of us in the group were from white, middle class, mainline backgrounds – so as we talked about the case, our first responses were all about making the necessary referrals to professional caregivers: psychologists, physicians, etc. One of our group members was from a different social and religious location. She asked us a great question: “The referrals and all are totally appropriate and all, but what about addressing the spiritual aspects of the situation?” Her question was a great word of caution about what can happen when we get so caught up in a social science perspective on the world that we forget the role our faith perspective should play as well. That’s kind of what the reading from Joel reminded us. In looking at the collapse of the state around him, I imagine most folks in Joel’s time would have been tempted to do some of the same things we would be tempted to do today: they would have started creating political strategies and forging alliances that could help them rebuild the world as they knew it. Instead, Joel pointed them toward the spiritual nature of their dilemma when suggested a better response in verses 13 & 14: “Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar… Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.” Today, I invite you to explore your own corner of the world. Are there problems or challenges that you face that you have forgotten to consider the spiritual dimension? If so, today’s a great opportunity to start exploring them from a new perspective – from a spiritual perspective. Til next time…