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Saturday, April 12

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 109; Daniel 6:1-15; John 17:20-26; 1 Peter 4:1-6; Psalm 86

In the days since my sabbatical last summer, some have asked me what my greatest learning was. Most assume my greatest learning was something technical like where to find new forms of music that appeal to twenty-somethings or how to practice sacraments and rituals in ways that speak to post-modernists. It probably would sound impressive to say something along those lines, but if I gave such an answer it wouldn’t be the truth. The spirit of my greatest learning came from the first two verses of today’s reading from 1 Peter 4:1-6, which read in The Message: “Since Jesus went through everything you're going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you'll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.” Let me tell you how this passage relates to my learning from last summer. Like many traditional pastors I was taught that a huge piece of what it means to be a pastor is to assert leadership over a congregation. This assertion means the pastor is expected to step out front and make the necessary decisions in order to “turn things around”. This approach is VERY popular because it’s easy to use. Either you use this system and it works and the pastor is showered with praise and adoration; or you use the system and it doesn’t and the pastor is fired or invited to “move on”. I have one problem with this system, however. In this system it’s the pastor who is out front leading and not the Spirit. No matter how spiritually grounded the pastor is, the decisions in the life of the faith community are still driven by the pastor’s understanding and expression of God’s will. Since I’ve returned from sabbatical, I’ve tried a new way of leading – I’ve tried to step back more and let the Spirit lead. I wish I could say implementing this way of leading has been easy, but it hasn’t. There are things that are tremendously important to me that I’ve had to let go of. I still have plenty of suffering as I continue trying to let go, but thankfully I see plenty evidences of new life and direction that encourage me during my difficult moments. My question for you today is this: when it comes to your life, who is out front leading? Is it you and your will that is out front leading, or is the Spirit out front leading? If you find it’s you out front, I would invite you to sit with today’s passage from 1 Peter in the coming days and see if you might begin to moving away from a tyrannical leader and toward a Leader who promises new freedom and life. Til next time…

Friday, April 11

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 64; Daniel 5:13-30; John 17:12-19; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Psalm 53

During our Tuesday evening emerging worship experience we explored a dimension of the Road to Emmaus story that we didn’t explored last Sunday. We looked at the culmination of the story when the disciples responded to their experience with Jesus in the only way imaginable to them; they went back and shared their experience with the others. This led to an exploration of why it’s so difficult for those of us in progressive faith communities to talk about our faith. The same issue was raised for me in today’s reading from 1 Peter where the author urged his readers to “be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy”. One reason the group figured it’s so difficult for progressive folks to talk about their faith is that they were taught when they were young that sharing one’s faith involved simply sharing doctrine or dogma. A second inhibitor that prevents many progressive people from talking about their faith is the concern that it appear you are dismissing other faiths and other experiences. Of course, we talked about ways of sharing our faith that avoid those pitfalls. I’ll share some of those insights with you in the future. For today, however, I would encourage you to think about your comfort (or lack there of) in talking about your faith. What is it that makes you feel “ready to speak up”? What is it that makes you want to keep your mouth closed? Then ask for guidance to help you arrive at a way of finding your voicing so you too can speak - with integrity and passion. Til next time…

Thursday, April 10

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 73; Daniel 5:1-12; John 17:1-11; 1 Peter 3:13-17; Psalm 101

I had a conversation with a friend named Sharon yesterday that reminded me of a piece of my spiritual journey. In a conversation about spirituality, Sharon said: “I struggle to connect with some political activists because it seems like they are full of bitterness and anger.” I smiled when she said that and then proceeded to share a bit of my story. “Well, I can’t speak for them,” I said, “but I can let you know why I was that way for my first 30 years. You see, over the course of my first 30 years I was struggling to come to terms with myself as a gay man. In the midst of these struggles I developed a survival mechanism for myself. I decided on some level that since I wasn’t feeling capable of dealing with my issues that I would then unleash my energy outside – on the real world. I figured if I could fix them (i.e. get rid of homophobia) then maybe – just maybe - I could find some of the joy and peace that had proven so elusive to me over the years. Around the age of 30 I realized that I had reversed the order: I started trying to fix the external world when I should have started by attending to my internal world first. So I did that; I started focusing on the own healing work that I needed to do. And guess what? I started experiencing some of the joy and peace I had sought after for so long. And with that new sense of peace and joy that I personally felt, I was able to head back to the real world and start working on the problems that were there from before. The only difference was this time I wasn’t trying to “fix the world” out of anger or frustration; this time I was trying to “heal the world” out of a place of love and compassion.” Today’s second Psalm – Psalm 101 – reminded me of yesterday’s conversation. That’s because the Psalm starts out by stating: “My theme song is God’s love and justice, and I’m signing it right to you, God.” Then just one sentence later the psalmist captured my experience around the age 30 when he wrote: “I’m doing the very best I can, and I’m doing it at home, where it counts [emphasis added].” So where are you in your journey toward justice? Are you trying to fix those things outside yourself first in hopes of eventually achieving inner health and wholeness; or are you committed to developing a rich inner spiritual life – a life from which peace, justice and grace will flow out to the world and bring it a taste of health and wholeness? Til next time…

Wednesday, April 9

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 131; Daniel 4:28-37; John 16:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-12; Psalm 141

*** Note: I've had a few readers of my blog comment that they read my daily observations but don't read the passages of Scripture. To make the Scriptures more accessible, I've attached hyperlinks to the texts above. Therefore, if you click on the passage above, it will take you directly to "The Message"'s paraphrasing of today's Scripture. I hope this makes your involvement in this daily lectionary process easier and more fulfilling! ***
In my sabbatical studies last summer, I encountered several individuals who talked about the changes going on within the life of the church today as nothing less than seismic. In fact, one individual compared what’s going on today with two earlier periods in the life of the church: (1) the split between the Orthodox and Catholic communities in the 11th Century, and (2) the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century. These comparisons suggest that the change occurring is truly monumental. “In what ways?” you might ask. “In many ways,” would be my short answer. One of the most important ways, however, lies in how people are re-conceptualizing the role of clergy persons. For several centuries, clergy persons were regarded as being located on a higher spiritual plane than lay persons. As a result they held a great deal of power and sway over their communities. Today, people are re-thinking what it means to be a spiritual leader. The notion of having power over others in the community is being replaced by the notion of the spiritual leader being first among equals. In many ways, 21st Century spiritual leaders are embracing the spirit of the words the psalmist wrote in Psalm 131: “God, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain” (Psalm 131:1 – The Message). I see this as an exciting (and long overdue) movement within the church. “So what does all of this have to do with me as a layperson?” you might ask. Well, each of us is in a position of leadership in some area of our lives. We might be the parent or guardian in a household, a manager at work, a community opinion leader in our neighborhood, or a leader in a community group. If so, today’s Psalm raises the question: “How do you understand your position. Do you envision your position as an opportunity to “rule the roost” or do you find ways of “keeping your feet on the ground” and “cultivating a quiet heart”? As we struggle with the seemingly impossible task of keeping our ego and power issues under control, let us draw encouragement as we remember the closing words from Psalm 131: “Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always!” Til next time…

Tuesday, April 8

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 83; Daniel 4:19-27; John 15:12-27; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Psalm 35

My partner and I are in the same shape that many homeowners across the country are in: the 5 year Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) that allowed us to be able to purchase the home we did 5 years ago will be adjusting this July. Of course we are looking into our options regarding financing. If none of these pan out, there is the reality that our house payments could rise by $200 a month shortly. This situation reminds me of how often we live our lives according to the terms of others. We live our lives according to terms set down by banks and financial institutions; we live our lives according to terms set down by policy makers; we even live our lives according to terms set down by our loved ones. Today’s reading from John’s gospel helps us realize the consequences we face as a result of whose terms we choose to live by. The author(s) of the Gospel quote Jesus as saying: “If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you” (John 15:18-19 – The Message). The question I have for you to consider today is, “On whose terms do you live your life?” Til next time…

Monday, April 7

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 49; Daniel 4:1-18; John 15:1-11; 1 Peter 2:18-25; Psalm 14

One of my strongest memories from my days as an undergraduate student at Pacific Lutheran University was the time I spent in Dr. Philip Nordquist’s classroom. Dr. Nordquist taught a freshman class in a program call the Integrated Studies Program. The was basically a humanities class that covered the early modern period of world history. This was the mid-1980’s so world history still meant primarily Western European history, but I digress. Dr. Nordquist was an amazing figure. He was tall (a former basketball player in call), brilliant, and had one of the driest senses of humor I’ve ever encountered. Dr. Nordquist also had one interesting trait that I noticed over the first six weeks of the class. He never called a student by name in class. He would always either nod in your direction when you raised your hand, or simply look you in the eye and say, “Yes.” One day in late October, Dr. Nordquist asked the class a question and said, “Mr. Peterson, what do you think about that?” I nearly dropped to the floor. I had no clue that he knew my – or any other students’ - name! His simple act of reaching out and calling one of us by name made Dr. Nordquist seem much closer to us. This morning’s passage from the Gospel of John has a similar moment when someone who is often thought of by some as incredibly distant is brought closer. As the passage culminates, the author(s) of John’s Gospel quotes Jesus as saying: “I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father” (John 15:14-15 – The Message). What an intimate way of thinking of our connection with – and to – Jesus. Friends. Today, I would invite you to think about how you would characterize your relationship with this Jesus. What word would you choose to describe your relationship? What would that word say about the nature of your connection? Til next time…