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Saturday, April 11

Today’s Readings: Psalm 46; Isaiah 55:1-11; Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 16

Featured Reading:
Isaiah 55:1-11

One of my favorite aspects of our faith is the way it is filled to the brim with paradoxes. Death brings new life; those who want to save their life must lose it; the last shall be first… the list could go on and on. Today’s reading from Isaiah starts with yet another paradox (or should I say paradoxical situation). The prophet is quoted as saying, “Are you penniless? Come anyway – buy and eat” (Isaiah 55:1 from The Message). My first response when I read those words was to say, “Hey Buster, pay attention! What part of ‘penniless’ don’t you understand?!” Just as I started getting worked up, I remembered a straightforward truth of our faith: the currency we people of faith deal with isn’t cash. So what currency do we deal with? Well, for me – someone raised in a Wesleyan tradition – I would say grace. It’s that very grace that allows us to secure things that at first glance would seem out of our so-called price range. As we await news of the resurrection that will burst forth out of our communities of faith tomorrow, I would ask you to consider this question: “What form of currency do you deal with in your life?” Til next time…

Friday, April 10

Today’s Readings: Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13-15; John 18:1-19:42; Hebrews 10:16-25

Featured Reading:
John 18:1-19:42

Every once in a while, my partner Mike and I find time to get our two Italian Greyhounds out to what’s called a play date. A play date is a gathering of other Italian Greyhounds (and their owners) for a time of fun and fellowship. The play dates usually occur in a kennel or boarding house where there is plenty of room for the dogs to run around. There are usually between 20-30 Italian Greyhounds running around. The very first time we went, I wondered how on earth we would be able to tell the dogs apart from each other since members of the breed look a great deal alike. I also wondered how we would get the dogs to respond to our commands since the breed is notoriously hyperactive and prone to what we human beings would label ADD (meaning their attention span is all of about 2 seconds). When we gathered together, however, my fears were immediately laid to rest - for while our dogs did look similar to some of the other dogs, it was easy to tell our two apart from the others. It was also easy to command our dogs’ attention because they were strongly tuned into our voices. Having spent day after day, month after month, and year after year together; the dogs not only recognized our voices but came when called. What a rush! I was reminded of this experience by today’s Gospel reading – for in the passage, the author quotes Jesus as saying: “I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice” (John 18:37 from The Message). Those words make a great deal of sense for me – for if we spend day after day, month after month, and year after year in the presence of Christ, we are undoubtedly going to grow in our ability to recognize and follow that voice: even if it takes us to our own version of the cross on days like this Good Friday. While you might have many voices in your life clamoring for your attention, I would invite you to spend precious moments each day listening for the voice of God as revealed in Jesus. The more time you spend listening for that voice – the more likely you will be to recognize it: especially at those critical moments of your life when you so desperately need to hear it. Til next time…

Thursday, April 9

Today’s Readings: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; Exodus 12:1-4; John 12:1-17, 31b-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Featured Reading:
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

When I was a child, the local church I attended had a long-standing tradition. On the first Sunday of each month we participated in the sacrament of Communion. That was by no means a bad thing. My only problem with the way we had Communion was that we did it exactly the same – month after month, year after year, decade after decade. I always knew when we were getting read to start the Communion liturgy because the pastor would say exactly the same thing: turn to page 14 in the hymnal and read along with me. As a result of this monotonous approach, Communion was a very dry spiritual experience for me. To use Paul’s language from today’s reading, I let “familiarity breed contempt” (1 Corinthians 11:26 from The Message). Over many years, however, I was able to find beauty and power in the liturgy. I came to see the Communion liturgy not just as something that we were obligated to do once a month whether we wanted to our not; rather, I saw it as a way to “reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master” (1 Corinthians 11:25 from The Message). All of this came to mind for me because today is Maundy Thursday – a day when we commemorate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It’s one of my favorite services of the entire Christian year. I hope you’ll find an opportunity to participate in a Maundy Thursday service that can help you reconnect with the spiritual roots of the practice for yourself. And the next time you have the opportunity to participate in the sacrament of Communion, I hope Paul’s words will stay with you - so that you’ll be drawn not into a dry, repetitive act that you do simply because its that time of the month, but rather into a sacrament that takes you back into one of the formative moments of our faith. Til next time…

Wednesday, April 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 70; Isaiah 50:4-9a; John 13:21-30; Hebrews 12:1-3; Psalm 116

Featured Reading:
Hebrews 12:1-3

Most of us have several aspects of our lives that are always clamoring for our attention: our families, our jobs, our friends, our volunteer work, our hobbies… the list could go on and on. Much of the time we feel as if we’re being pulled in a thousand different directions. As a result of being spread so thin, many of us live in a space where we constantly feel inadequate: always wishing we could tend to something else – rarely being fully present in the moment. So how could we shift the dynamics in our lives and arrive at a place where we can regain a sense of focus? The author of Hebrews suggests how we could do that. “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in,” the author suggested. “Study how [Jesus] did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed” (Hebrews 12:2 from The Message). As you navigate your course through your busy schedule today, keep these words in mind. See if they help motivate you to keep things in perspective and maintain your focus on where the Spirit is leading you. Til next time…

Tuesday, April 7

Today’s Readings: Psalm 71; Isaiah 49:1-7; John 12:20-36; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Psalm 143

Featured Readings:
1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Every political season, I observe a phenomenon that fascinates me. Candidates who run for office go to great lengths to call attention to their faith. In most cases, this means they talk about their Christian faith. The way the candidates talk, it makes it sound as if the Christian faith is synonymous with words like “power” and “privilege”. That’s an interesting way to look at our faith – for it stands in direct opposition to the way Paul talked about it in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. In that passage, Paul wrote: “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27 from The Message). It would be interesting to hear a candidate talk about their faith in this way: “Yes, I am a Christian. But that doesn’t make me better than others. It just means I recognized I needed God’s grace and mercy to help me deal with all of my shortcomings.” What a statement that would be! All of this makes me wonder how you view your call. Do you feel you were called because you were someone special, or do you believe you were called because you were in need of all God has to offer? How you answer that question will go a long way in shaping how you live out your call. Til next time…

Monday, April 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 36; Isaiah 42:1-9; John 12:1-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; Psalm 142

Featured Reading:
Isaiah 42:1-9

If you spend a little time flipping channels on the television, you’re bound to run across a televangelist before too long. Many folks who evaluate televangelists evaluate the quality of their ministry by either the words that are said or the special guests that are included during the program. I tend to evaluate them using two other standards. First, I look at the facility from which they are speaking; and second, I look at the name of their ministry. The facility from which they speak tells me a lot about the values of the ministry. It tells me, for instance, whether they equate being “blessed” with having material rewards. As you might guess, I’m not a fan of the prosperity gospel approach. Second, I look at the name of the ministry because it’s a great indicator of how big the televangelist’s ego is. If the ministry is named after the televangelist, it tells me who is at the center of the ministry. So what’s all of this have to do with any of today’s readings? Well, today’s reading from Isaiah gives us a vision of the One who is to come. That vision goes something like this: “He won’t call attention to what he does with loud speeches or gaudy parades. He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right” (Isaiah 42:2-3 from The Message). While I’m aware these are qualities associated only with the coming Servant (the one whom we Christians acknowledge to be Jesus), I also believe these qualities should be embodied in those who call themselves followers of this servant. As we focus on the culmination of Jesus’ journey this Holy Week, I would encourage you to look for things that tell us not just about Jesus – but things that also tell us about the lives those who would call themselves followers of Jesus would lead. Til next time…

Sunday, April 5

Today’s Reading: Mark 14:1-Mark 15:47

This morning in our faith community we will be reading two entire chapters of the Gospel of Mark – chapters 14 and 15 – during worship. This will replace the sermon. Instead of reading Scripture in its usual manner, however, we are doing the lengthy passage using 14 readers to bring the passage alive. As I pulled together the dramatic reading this week and assigned roles to individuals ranging from Jesus to Pontius Pilate to Peter, something power happened inside of me. I was reminded of a story I heard told in seminary by one of my professors who had spent time in a Greek Orthodox faith community. A young person who had just arrived in the community came to the priest one day and said, “Father, I don’t know if I can stay in this faith community.” “Why?” the priest asked. “Because of those times during service when we say one of the creeds. Those creeds contain things that I personally don’t believe. So I’m thinking I should find a place to worship where I believe everything they ask me to say.” “My friend,” the priest said, “you’re confused. The creeds aren’t about you. They are about the community.” And a lengthy conversation ensued between the individual and priest that unpacked the priest’s assertion in a way that only folks from an Orthodox tradition can completely understand. So why am I talking about creeds this Palm/Passion Sunday morning? Well, the experience of hearing the Passion Story read - not by one voice but by many - reminds me that the Passion Story is not about us individually as well. The stories are narratives that make the most sense when they are connected to – and through – faith communities. And here’s why that’s important. Over the years I’ve seen so many folks wrestle with the Passion Story exclusively from an individual perspective. They spent their time deciding which parts work for them and which parts don’t. They hold onto those parts of the story that work and abandon those parts that don’t. Sadly, by reading the story in isolation, they make the Passion Story about themselves. I believe the Passion Story is much larger than any one person’s likes and dislikes. Experiencing that story in community reminds us of that. Today, instead of leaving you with a question like I often do, I think I’ll leave you with a challenge. And here that challenge is: this week fight the urge to make the Passion Story simply about you. Seek out a community experience of the story – a Palm/Passion Sunday service, a Maundy Thursday service, a Good Friday service, a Great Easter Vigil, or an Easter service - and be reminded of the larger dimensions of the story. It may lead you to uncomfortable places as you are forced to confront dimensions of the story with which you are uncomfortable. But correct me if I’m wrong here, I don’t believe our faith was meant to leave us in places of personal comfort. Til next time…