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Sunday, November 1

Today’s Reading: Ruth 1:1-18

It seems so appropriate that today (All Saints Sunday) we hear a portion of the story of Ruth – for I can’t think of anyone who embodies the quality of a saint better than Ruth.

So what qualities or characteristics make a saint?

Well, there are lots of ways to answer that question. One of the more obscure would be to say a saint is a person who helps you see the world differently. Let’s use the opening verses from the book of Ruth as an example.

In the world in which Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi lived, women were seen in one-dimensional terms. Their value lay in their ability to produce - and hopefully care for - a family. Apart from that, their value was minimal. That’s why when Naomi lost her two sons – she released her surviving daughters-in-law to move on. “Why would you come with me,” Naomi asked the women. She asked that question because she couldn’t see why any person in their right mind would stay with her!

Thankfully, Naomi had Ruth beside her: someone who could see the value and sacred worth within Naomi (despite the fact that she was well beyond her reproductive years). Because Ruth was able to see Naomi’s sacred value, eventually Naomi came to see her value as well. That’s one thing saints tend to do –help individuals see others (and perhaps even themselves) differently.

On this All Saints Sunday, I would invite you to look back over the course of your life and see if there are any Ruth-like figures in your life. As you remember those saints in your life, pause to give thanks for them and the ways they opened your eyes in new ways. Til next time…

Saturday, October 31

Today’s Readings: Psalm 63; Nehemiah 4:1-23; Matthew 13:31-35; Revelation 7:(4-8) 9:17

I remember years ago during one of my seminary classes we had a discussion about why people come to church.

Some folks come to church, one classmate said, because they were raised in the church; over the years attending worship has become a habit. Other folks come to church to find a place of love and acceptance another classmate said. Another classmate added that some come to church in order to find a place to exert power and control over others.

In today’s psalm, the psalmist offers another reason why folks come to a place of worship. “God – you’re my God! I can’t get enough of you! I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts. So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in your strength and glory” (Psalm 63:1-2 from The Message).

My question for you today to consider is this: “Why do you seek out opportunities to worship?” Til next time…

Friday, October 30

Today’s Readings: Psalm 84; Nehemiah 2:1-20; Matthew 13:24-30; Revelation 6:12-7:4

When I was younger and would hear people talk in ways Nehemiah talked near the beginning of today’s passage from the book of Nehemiah (i.e. “I hadn’t told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem” in 2:12), I would have rolled my eyes and said, “There goes another religious fanatic. Why doesn’t such a person admit it was their own idea they simply pushed off on God?”

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve paid more attention to the calls (another way of saying God put something within my heart) that have occurred in my own life.

So how do I decide if something is a call versus simply a good idea that I had?

A big portion of it has to do with how things play out. Let me give you a powerful experience I had of receiving a call.

When I was called to attend seminary in 1998, I had no idea how I would pay for the education. I was also confused because I knew gay men wouldn’t be ordained by the denomination to which I belonged at the time. But something in my heart pushed me to pursue the experience despite my overwhelming reservations.

By the end of my third year of seminary, however, I had not only received scholarships to cover the full cost of my education – I had been called to serve a local church and was in the midst of the ordination process within a denomination where my sexual orientation wasn’t an issue!

So, Craig, are you telling me that when God calls you to do something (i.e. puts something in your heart) that it means things work out easily?

I wish! What I am saying is that from my experience when God calls me to do something I have enough resources to pursue that path before me - no matter how many obstacles lie in the way. PLEASE know that when I say resources I don’t mean superficial things like money – I mean the more important resources like courage and faith. That’s how I know the difference between things that are simply one of my own clever ideas versus something put in my heart by God.

Have you had an experience of having something placed in your heart – something you thought you could never do but did? If so, give thanks for the power of that experience. If not, keep your heart open for the possibility of such a thing happening. Til next time…

Thursday, October 29

Today’s Readings: Psalm 116; Nehemiah 1:1-11; Matthew 13:18-23; Revelation 5:11-6:11

In the days following the Enlightenment, the notion of confession began to fall out of favor. That’s because folks wanted to celebrate all of the wonderful things human being were capable.

I can certainly understand the desire to do that - for I believe that human beings ARE wonderful creations who are capable of amazing things like love, compassion, and understanding.

In the midst of those celebrations, however, I believe it’s important to remember those other aspects of ourselves that are not quite so wonderful: things like our pettiness, our greed, and our propensity for violence. It is only by recognizing (dare I say, confessing) these things that we can achieve a fuller understanding of ourselves.

Nehemiah knew the importance of confessing his shortcomings. That’s why in today’s passage from the Hebrew Scripture Nehemiah said: “… I’m including myself, I and my ancestors, among those who have sinned against you” (Nehemiah 1:6 from The Message).

So how comfortable are you with the notion of confession. Are you comfortable doing what Nehemiah did and own up to your shortcomings, or would you rather skip over those shortcomings and exclusively focus your attention on your good traits? Til next time…

Wednesday, October 28

Today’s Readings: Psalm 96; Ezra 6:1-22; Matthew 13:10-17; Revelation 5:1-10

One of the things I treasure about The United Church of Christ is its wisdom in authorizing ministries that are “outside the box”. Take my friend Peter Sawtell, for example. Peter is an ordained ministry in Denver, CO who is the founder and Executive Director of an organization called Eco-Justice Ministries (EJM).

Among EJM’s primary purposes is to help churches “answer the call to care for God’s creation.” Peter’s ministry has increased my capacity to appreciate the ecological dimensions of many passages of Scripture. Today’s reading from the psalms is a perfect example of this.

Before I met Peter, I would have read a passage like Psalm 96:11-12 – a passage that reads “Let’s hear it from the Sky, with Earth joining in, and a huge round of applause from Sea. Let Wilderness turn cartwheels; animals, come dance; put every tree of the forest in the choir” – and received those words exclusively on a poetic level. After meeting Peter, however, I have grown to appreciate the power of what it means to be in relation with a God that draws all aspects of creation in a wonderful celebration of this thing called life!

As you move through your day today, I would encourage you to pay more attention than usual to the natural world and see if you can find glimpses of the celebration of which the psalmist spoke. Til next time…

Tuesday, October 27

Today’s Readings: Psalm 12; Ezra 5:1-17; Matthew 13:1-9; Revelation 4:1-11

I learned an important lesson about human behavior (my own included) when I began teaching right out of college. I learned how common it is for people who need to hear something to tune it out because they are not ready to do so.

When it came to classroom behavior, for instance, I would see a couple of students talking disruptively and I say, “I need everyone in the classroom to be quiet right now.” The other students in the classroom who weren’t talking would hunker down and look at me while the ones who had been talking continued to do so. Other times – when I was giving an assignment – I would make a point of standing near the desks of those who were chronically late turning in their assignments and say, “Remember, the assignment is due next Tuesday at 9:00 AM.” And guess whose assignment would be late? The student I made of a special point of trying to communicate with. Ugh!

Over a period of time, I realized that these situations were modern embodiments of Jesus’ famous tagline to many of his parables and teachings: “Those who have ears, let them hear.” A tagline we encountered at the end of today’s Gospel reading. It doesn’t matter how young or old an individual is, or what the topic is (English or a teaching of Jesus’) – the key element in getting a point across to another person is the person’s ability to hear what is being said.

Perhaps there is an ongoing issue in your life that you have been turning to God for guidance. It’s been a while and maybe you’re still struggling to find some clarity in your process of discernment. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to ask yourself a question based upon Jesus tagline: “When it comes to this issue do I simply have ears, or have I opened myself to hearing?” Til next time…

Monday, October 26

Today’s Readings: Psalm 62; Zechariah 1:7-17; Matthew 12:43-50; Revelation 1:4-20

While most folks are familiar with the notion of the phrase “biological family”, many outside the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community are not familiar with the phrase “family of choice”. The phrase arose because many members of the LGBT community have either been disowned or ignored by their biological families. As a result, many members of the LGBT community create an intimate group of friends around themselves that functions much life a family. Hence, they become one’s family of choice.

While some may think of this as a distortion of the word, one would be mistaken to assume the word family has only one meaning. In today’s passage from Matthew, for instance, we have a passage whereby Jesus himself redefines the notion of family (“the person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother” – Matthew 12:50 from The Message).

So how would you define family? Whatever form the word family takes for you, I would invite you to take time today and give thanks for your family. Til next time…

Sunday, October 25

Today’s Reading: Mark 10:46-52

Rather than post the full text of my sermon’s on Sunday, I’ll just highlight the theme I raised in the sermon. That’s because my sermons don’t really fit the concept of the blog as they were meant for a different medium.

In exploring today’s passage, there was one piece of the text that jumped out at me. That piece had to do with Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus’ request for mercy. In hearing the request, Jesus asked, “What can I do for you?”

I find that question fascinating. That’s because from first glance at the text, Bartimaeus’ need was obvious (i.e. the restoration of his sight).

So why would Jesus ask that rather obvious question?

I believe it’s because of the way Jesus engaged those in need. He didn’t make assumptions or try to foist healing on someone. He waited until the person was ready.

Today, I would ask you to search your heart and see if perhaps there is a pain you are carrying. If so, listen for Jesus’ haunting question: “What can I do for you?” and ask yourself this question: “Have I reached the point in my life where I am ready for that healing to occur?” Til next time…