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Saturday, January 12

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 128; Genesis 49:1-2,8-12; John 6:52-71; Colossians 3:18-46

I can certainly empathize with those who first heard Jesus’ teaching as recorded in today’s Gospel reading from John. For as observant Jews, Jesus’ words about eating flesh and drinking blood would have violated their religious and cultural norms. It’s no wonder they cried out, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60 – NRSV). That comment got me to thinking about all of the ways Jesus’ teachings go against our own norms today. How does Jesus’ charge for us to turn the other cheek, for instance, fare in light of our cultural proclivities to endorse things like war and the death penalty? How does Jesus’ favorable use of someone from another ethnic and religious location to make a crucial point (the Samaritan in the parable of the Good Samaritan) compare with our current tendency to vilify those whose racial/ethnic location and religious tradition is different from ours all in the name of national security? Time after time Jesus’ words go against our comfortable norms. Today you might spend some time considering those aspects of Jesus’ ministry that most challenge you; then spend some time with God in prayer/meditation asking for help letting go of your fears in this area. My hope is that you and I will grow in our ability to recognize the words Jesus communicates to us for what they really are: spirit and life (John 6:63). May that sense of spirit and life sustain us - even when embracing the words of Jesus is hard. Til next time…

Friday, January 11

Today’s Lectionary Texts: Psalm 103 & 119:145-176; Isaiah 55:3-9; John 6:15-27; Revelation 3:1-6

In today’s Gospel reading from John, we are given what I feel is an essential detail about the way in which Jesus approached life. It’s a detail that’s easily missed by many folks. Let me set that detail up for you. Today’s passage from John begins by culminating the account of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. It then goes on to characterize the crowd’s response to Jesus’ work. We are told “Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king” (John 6:15 – The Message). And what was Jesus’ response to the crowd’s enthusiasm? Did he hang around to soak up their adoration and praise? No. Instead, the Gospel tells us that Jesus “slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself” (John 6:15 – The Message). That simple element of the story tacked on at the very end reminds us just how important it was for Jesus to spend time alone connecting with God. It challenges us – Jesus’ followers – to do the same. In a hectic world that pulls us in so many different directions, this is perhaps one of the most challenging one of Jesus’ examples to put into practice. And yet I believe it a completely necessary practice to adopt. Today, I invite you not to start planning to set some time aside to do this – I encourage you to actually do it! Enjoy your time alone with God today. Til next time…

Thursday, January 10

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 119:97-144; Jeremiah 23:1-8; John 6:1-14; Romans 3:21-26

It’s easy for most of us to remember a difficult time from our past when God was really there for us. The memory of that moment has probably sustained us many times over the years as it has given us the assurance that God has been there for us when we’ve really needed God in the past. While the thought of God’s activity in our past is certainly very comforting, today’s passage from Jeremiah takes the experience of that memory and urges us to go one step further. It encourages us to take that past experience and project it into the future. In speaking to the Israelites who were in the midst of their own experience of exile - and knowing of their tendency to nostalgically turn back to their days of Exodus from Egypt to draw encouragement - Jeremiah tells the people: "So then, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when people will no longer say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' Then they will live in their own land" (Jeremiah 23:7-8). That passage reminds me of the importance of keeping our relationship with God rooted in not just in one tense (the past tense) but all three (past, present, and future tenses!). Perhaps you are wrestling with a challenging set of circumstances in your life today. If so, I would encourage you to pick up the spirit found in Jeremiah’s words and do two things: first, give thanks for the ways in which God has strengthened and protected you in the past; and second, in the midst of your challenges trust that a sense of return and restoration lies before you. May that knowledge bring you strength and comfort today, tomorrow, and always. Til next time…

Wednesday, January 9

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 119:57-96; Isaiah 63:1-5; John 5:1-18; Revelation 2:8-17

It’s often difficult for folks to identify things in Scripture with which they wrestle. I suppose that’s because they equate giving voice to such struggles with being sacrilegious. If that’s the case, then I guess today I will be sacrilegious. For today’s reading from the Gospel of John includes an embedded piece of theology (from the mouth of Jesus no less!) that I wrestle with. You might remember that near the end of today’s passage, Jesus encountered the man he had cured earlier in the Temple. When Jesus sees the man the Gospel of John attributes these words to Jesus: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14 – NIV). Those words tie into a theological stream going back to Hebrew Scriptures that suggests one’s illness is a punishment for one’s sins. Over the years I have encountered hundreds of folks with a variety of illness ranging from epilepsy to diabetes to bi-polar disorders who – using the sentiment embedded in these words – would have been judged by their peers to be morally suspect. Sadly, this way of thinking has driven many folks away from God. Thankfully over the years we have arrived at a point where most no longer understand illnesses this way. Nevertheless, today’s passage reminded me that often one of the greatest challenge of our faith is to find ways of integrating pre-modern understandings and expressions of the faith into our modern world. Some are overwhelmed by this challenge and chose not to integrate the two – they choose to embrace pre-modern beliefs and ignore modern advances entirely or they embrace only modern notions and completely abandon earlier expressions of the faith all together. Unfortunately, I believe much is lost when we simply chose one over the other. Today I invite you to think about how you deal with this pre-modern vs. modern dilemma. May God’s generous and gracious spirit guide us as we seek to arrive at understandings that don’t just reflect our will and our ways – but God’s as well. Til next time…

Tuesday, January 8

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 119:1-56; Isaiah 60:1-7; John 4:46-54; Revelation 21:22-27

Last Sunday was observed the event in the Christian calendar year known as Epiphany. Epiphany is the time when we recall the magi/wise men’s experience of the star heralding the Christ child’s birth and their subsequent decision to follow the star to see this Christ child. Over the years the word epiphany is one of those words of our faith that has grown in its use beyond the bounds of our religious tradition and entered the vernacular of our society as a whole. These days lots of folks use the word epiphany to simply mean a moment in their life when something becomes clear to them. Because of its popular use in this manner, many of us think about epiphany as if it means simply having an insight. Today’s reading from Isaiah invites us to think about the word in a different way. In the reading, the book of Isaiah told the people of Jerusalem: “… God rises on you, [God’s] sunrise glory breaks over you. Nations will come to your light, kings to your sunburst brightness” (Isaiah 60:2b-3 from The Message). This passage invites us to think about God’s work with and among us as transforming us into agents of God’s light. In essence, we can become the stars that point folks toward the loving, gracious, and merciful God we know so well. Today I give thanks for all the ways you have already served as the embodiment of God’s light for those around you. My continued prayer is that each of us (myself included) will grow in our ability to reflect the radiance of God’s light to all of those on their journeys around us. Til next time…

Monday, January 7

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 4; Isaiah 52:3-6; Matthew 12:14-21; Revelation 2:1-7; Psalm 44

Every once in a while you have an experience that helps you flesh out a piece of scripture with which you are currently grappling. This was certainly the case for me today as it relates to a portion of today’s first Psalm. At the beginning of Psalm 4, you might remember the psalmist cried out: “How long, O people … will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Psalm 4:2). Some might wonder what sort of delusions or false gods the psalmist might be speaking. Of course I can’t speak for the psalmist, but over the last few days I’ve had my own experience of what I think the psalmist might have meant. You see for the past three days I have been vacationing in Las Vegas. I had never been to Las Vegas before, so Mike and I made the trek here last Friday as a late Christmas gift to ourselves. And boy – what an experience Las Vegas is. The strip in Las Vegas represents the epitome of what our American culture seems to value – glitter, glitz, and opulence. I was told that things have escalated to the point where a single acre of land on the Las Vegas strip now goes for between 20 and 40 million dollars! The blinding neon lights, the expanse of marble floors in some of the casinos, the plethora of sequins, and the acres of slot machines all represent to me the sort of delusions and false gods of which the psalmist was speaking. Thankfully, in the face of these delusions I could join the psalmist in giving thanks for the light that outshines all the neon lights combined – the light of Your face (Pm 4:6). I could also give thanks for the joy of reaping the rewards of a jackpot – one made up not of quarters but of a heart full of joy (Pm 4:7). May God help us look beyond the delusions and false gods that unexpectedly appear in our lives and ground us in the one true God with whom we lie down and rest in peace. Til next time…