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Sunday, October 21

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 26 & 6; Jeremiah 31:27-34; Luke 18:1-8; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

After spending most of the month reading Minor Prophets like Micah and Habbakuk, today we get to return to Jeremiah. And today’s passage from Jeremiah was especially meaningful to me. You see the reading from Jeremiah picks up what was one of my major learning during my sabbatical experience this past summer. My learning was this. Many mainline churches these days have adopted a second-hand approach toward the spiritual disciples. For instance, instead of reading the Bible for ourselves, we read books written about the Bible by others. Instead of praying or meditating, we settle for listening to others talk about their experiences of prayer and meditation. And instead of helping others face-to-face, we donate resources to help those who help others. Little by little, we have exchanged first-hand experiences of God for second-hand experiences. While we may think this trend is recent, today’s passage from Jeremiah reminds us this inclination has been around for centuries. How do I know this? Jeremiah’s words to his peers. The Message translates Jeremiah 31:33 to read: “They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about God. They’ll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow.” In light of these words, I ask you to consider your own spiritual life. Is your spiritual life constructed on first-hand experiences of God or second-hand experiences? I invite you to take those second-hand experiences, and transform them into first hand experiences wherever possible; and see what happens to your spiritual life. Til next time…

Saturday, October 20

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 98 & 68: Habakkuk 3:1-19; Luke 19:11-27; Romans 7:21-25

Today I glanced at an Internet article about Charles Schulz. It turns out the cartoonist and man of great personal faith, who spent the bulk of his adult life making us smile through his comic Peanuts, suffered from depression and bouts of misery throughout his life. The article reminded me of the information that came out recently about Mother Theresa’s periods of the dark night of the soul. The information revealed how the saintly woman was racked with doubt during many of her years of service to humanity. The authors of the accounts of Charles and Theresa seemed shocked that folks who had a public reputation for one thing (humor in Charles case and faith in Theresa’s case) could be plagued by something quite different (depression in Charles case and doubt in Theresa’s case). As people of faith, however, you and I know that our faith does not eradicate every element of the human experience. Just because we have faith, for instance, doesn’t mean that we’ll never wrestle with doubt, fear, or depression. What our faith does do, however, is affect our experience of those things. A beautiful example of this came from today’s passage from Habakkuk. In the culminating chapter of the book, the prophet names the brutal realities he and his community face. The Message translation of Habakkuk 3:17 notes: “…the cherry trees don’t bloom and the strawberries don’t ripen; … the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted; the… sheep pens are sheepless, and the cattle barns empty…” Sounds like Habakkuk’s bleak assessment of their circumstances was no different than the account any of his peers might have given – faith or no faith. Here’s where things change, however; here’s how he responds to that reality. In the very next verse, Habakkuk cries out: “I’m signing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.” And how is he able to make that leap from one verse to the next? Faith. He said in verse 19: [Because] “I’m counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.” Today, as you find yourself wrestling with very human things – things like Charles and Theresa wrestled with – don’t beat yourself up for being human. Instead, remember Habakkuk’s words and celebrate the fact that we are connected to the One who can help us rise above our human experiences and limitations and see things in new ways. As you begin to do this, get ready to enjoy the cartwheels that will follow! Til next time…

Friday, October 19

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 135 & 115; Habakkuk 2:12-20; Luke 19:1-10; Romans 7:13-20

In just about 2 ½ months, many of us will succumb to the annual tradition of establishing resolutions for 2008. Virtually all of those who make resolutions start out determined to see those resolutions through. And yet by the first week of February, most of those resolutions have been discarded. Why is that? Paul provides a great answer to that question in today’s passage from Romans. In writing of the human will, Paul observes: “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.” The solution to the problem? “So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.” Paul’s words in Romans 7:19-20 remind me once again that we as Christians often struggle to think about God’s law in healthy ways. We often see the laws as if it were designed to be primarily punitive in nature. Paul’s words instead encourage us to think of it in new ways – loving ways – that remind us the law exists to provide an anchor for our lives that would otherwise give way to self-interest and self-gratification. Today, I invite you to think about Paul’s words and perhaps gain new appreciation for the ways in which God lovingly grounds us. Til next time…

Thursday, October 18

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 27 & 141; Habakkuk 2:1-11; Luke 18:31-43; Romans 7:7-12

In working on last Sunday’s sermon on the ten lepers (the story of the nine lepers who failed to return to Jesus to give thanks following their healing and the one Samaritan who did return), I made an interesting discovery. In working with the New Revised Standard Version of the bible that is generally regarded by biblical scholars as the most accurate translation of the Bible, I did a search on the phrase that Jesus used in many of the healing stories: “Your faith has …” I wanted to see how Jesus completed that sentence. What I found surprised me. In two instances, Jesus completed the phrase by saying, “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50 & Luke 18:42) and in five instances Jesus completed the phrase by saying, “Your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34; Mark 10:52; Luke 8:48; & Luke 17:19). Nowhere in the New Revised Standard Version did Jesus say, “Your faith has healed you” or “Your faith has cured you”. This got me thinking about what it means to be healed in new ways. You see, so often when we or a loved one are facing sickness or death and we pray for healing, we find that we are really praying for a return to “normal” or to “the status quo”. But what does it mean to be made well. Is it a return to “normal”, or could wellness be a return to something else? Something that transcends the status quo. Today, I invite you to prayerfully consider what it means to be made whole and how that might impact an area of dis-ease within your life. This might cause you to think about healing in a whole new light. Til next time…

Wednesday, October 17

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 90 & 13; Habakkuk 1:1-17; Luke 18:13-30; Romans 7:1-6

The second half of this morning’s parable from Luke’s Gospel tells the story of the rich young man. In that story the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to prove worthy of eternal life. At first, things seem encouraging to the rich young man when Jesus refers to living a life in accordance with the law. According to The Message translation, the rich young man notes, “I’ve kept them [the laws] all for as long as I can remember.” Then things get dicy when Jesus asks the rich young man to sell of the one thing that matters most to him – his possessions to live a life of discipleship. He refuses. Jesus found the rich young man’s spiritual Achilles heel: the one thing that the rich young man was unable to give up – even for God! Many of us have a similar Achilles heel – something that comes between us and putting our relationship with God first. It may not be money, but it’s probably something: a relationship, status, a job title, etc. Today, I invite you to consider what your Achilles heel is in your relationship with God. Once you find it, do something the rich young man couldn’t do: let go of it and see what happens. You just might be surprised. Til next time…

Tuesday, October 16

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 92 & 99; Micah 7:8-20; Luke 18:9-14; Romans 6:20-23

Once again, one of today’s scriptures reminded me of an experience I had just two days ago within the church I serve. The scriptural passage was Psalm 92:14. In speaking of the righteous, the verse said: “In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap” (NRSV). The verse reminded me immediately of Harry – a 97 year old member of our church who this past Sunday brought with him a copy of the first book he had published recently. He shared with us that he will be finishing his second book shortly and already has plans underway for his third! Harry has taught me well what it means for a person of faith to remain “green and full of sap”. So today I give thanks for Harry and all those spiritual ancestors who have gone before me who have taught me what it means to age not just graciously but faithfully as well. May God strengthen you and I so that we may become a faithful model for those who will come behind us. Til next time…

Monday, October 15

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 146 & 53; Micah 7:1-7; Luke 18:1-8; Romans 6:12-19

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke reminds me of a recent pastor care situation I faced. This morning’s passage from Luke contains the parable often called “The Persistent Widow”. It's called that because it tells the story of a widow who goes to great lengths over a period of time to request justice from an unjust judge. At first the judge ignores her, but because of her persistence in making the request, the judge eventually gives in and grants her request. The parallels to our prayer life are obvious (though Jesus goes out of his way to point out he’s not insinuating God is an unjust judge). The last three weeks I’ve had a great opportunity to experience a vital prayer life through the experience of a parishioner who has been hospitalized with a respiratory issue. While most of us would have become discouraged and pulled back from our faith during such an extended time of uncertainty, this individual did the opposite. He remained remarkably focused and faithful in his requests of God. Even more powerful, during his time of recovery, he went a step further and allowed his requests to morph into a heightened awareness of what God might be calling him to through these circumstances. Today I invite you to think about an area of your life in which a little persistence might pay off (i.e. strain in a relationship with a loved one; a chronic illness; a battle with depression, etc.). As you contemplate that area, remember the example of the persistent widow as you once again turn to God. Your situation may or may not change, but I know of at least one thing that will in this process: your heart. Til next time…