In Due Season

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S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 3:

1

There’s a season for everything

    and a time for every matter under the heavens:

    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,

    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,

    a time for killing and a time for healing,

    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,

    a time for crying and a time for laughing,

    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,

    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,

    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,

    a time for searching and a time for losing,

    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,

    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,

    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,

    a time for loving and a time for hating,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

O (Observation): King Solomon (supposed author of Ecclesiastes) sought wisdom from God – above all else. God granted Solomon wisdom – a double-batch of it, since he didn’t request strength or riches.

Solomon seems almost morose. Like life isn’t worth living after all. What’s the point? You live, you die. And what is different? Almost like asking: “So, universe…now that Michael is gone…what’s different?” The universe says: “Um…who’s Michael?”

A (Application): Maybe Solomon’s take was different. Maybe Solomon’s main learning was this: don’t take yourself too seriously, and enjoy life!

All things will happen. We don’t know when or how. Just don’t think the world revolves around you. Good will come and good will go. Bad will come and bad will go. But God will remain. God will see us through it all. For God dwells with us.

In the meantime, be excellent to each other!

P (Prayer): Lord, remains with me / us. Amen.

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The Hero’s Journey

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S (Scripture): Psalm 73:

13 

Meanwhile, I’ve kept my heart pure for no good reason;

I’ve washed my hands to stay innocent for nothing.

14 

I’m weighed down all day long.

    I’m punished every morning.

15 

If I said, “I will talk about all this,”

    I would have been unfaithful to your children.

16 

But when I tried to understand these things,

    it just seemed like hard work

17 

    until I entered God’s sanctuary

        and understood what would happen to the wicked.

18 

You will definitely put them on a slippery path;

    you will make them fall into ruin!

19 

How quickly they are devastated,

    utterly destroyed by terrors!

20 

As quickly as a dream departs from someone waking up, my Lord,

    when you are stirred up, you make them disappear.

O (Observation): The psalmist writes this psalm as from an individual’s perspective. It was common for the early readers of these texts to understand the “I” as a “collective ‘I’.” As in “we all know / can relate to what you are saying.”

These verses take the reader on a journey of sorts from the world as it is, to the world as it can / should be as a follower of God.

The psalmist is expressing displeasure at the fact that they are getting a raw deal: they’ve tried to live as God wants them to live, but things aren’t going their way…the wicked seem to be winning. And the harder they try to make sense of things, the more difficult the challenge is to live God’s ways.

But the journey is not over.

The psalmist enters God’s sanctuary and it dawns on them: the wicked will be dealt with by God! The psalmist need not worry! In the emptying of the psalmist’s self, God fills the void! In this moment is a death and resurrection.

This rebirth causes the psalmist to live life with a new orientation: God will devastate the terrors and the wicked. Whether those terrors are people or evil or discouraging thoughts…God will deal with them! I need not worry!

And I am changed! Thanks be to God! Now, time to get back at it.

A (Application): The verbiage below about the Hero’s Journey was summed up extremely well in this website called “Explorer-X.” Here is some of the text from that site:

In his first book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell identified a thematic process of personal and communal transformation that permeated all of these stories that he called ‘The Hero’s Journey.’ He described it this way:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder (where) fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

More than anything, the Hero’s Journey is about growth and passage. The journey requires a separation from the comfortable, known world, and an initiation into a new level of awareness, skill, and responsibility, and then a return home. Each stage of the journey must be passed successfully if the initiate is to become a Hero. To turn back at any stage is to reject the need to grow and mature. 

You and I are the heroes in our own journeys. We are not the ones who cause the change in ourselves, but we do change. Our God leads us through the changes, accompanies us through death and rebirth of our lives, and God sends us back into the world with a new set of eyes…a new orientation. Much like the journey of today’s psalmist.

We are the heroes. We are changed. We live in hope.

P (Prayer): Lord, carry us through the journey of life! Change us! Make us not afraid! Make us people of hope! Amen.

Giving and Receiving

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 8:12 A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly. 13 It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. 14 At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. 15 As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little. (Ex 16:18)

O (Observation): Paul was great about getting the churches to support one another in his time. He reminded them that giving was to be done joyfully, and not out of obligation alone.

The outward focus is key here. Giving finances away to a place where you actually couldn’t really oversee the expenses was a challenge for sure.

Also note that Paul is not wanting folks to live in poverty so that others can live a plush lifestyle. He does all of this for the sake of equality. That when they are in need the others might give to them and support them.

A (Application): Over the last two decades the trend has been for congregations to retain more money within our individual churches, but less to larger missions work or to the larger denominational bodies. Paul focuses on the outward giving as important!

The ELCA has experienced this trend to be true. More money staying at the local level of the congregation and the congregation doing more local mission work, too. The trend is a struggle, since money given to our synod (our four-state region of GA, AL, MS, and TN) supports our staff who then support our congregations (think redevelopments, congregational vitality training, mission starts, etc). And in our region, half of all monies that go to our synod passes through to the ELCA, which then supports our candidates for ministry and seminaries, our teaching and worship resources, our global missions, etc.

All of this occurs not so that some might be more poor and others might be more rich. We do this so that we can share and come close to attaining equality.

A good example is this: The 2019 entering class at my alma later (Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) will have all tuition paid for!!!! (They still need to cover housing and food and such, but what a great blessing!). I didn’t have that luxury, but perhaps you can start to see what Paul saw. You give now, so that you can receive later.

The church that receives a candidate for pastor with little debt load might have an easier time calling that pastor. If that pastor had a huge debt load, that pastor might need to seek a larger church that has more margin for pay, or a church that could work out short-term loan assistance. You can see how the challenge perpetuates.

In all, Paul encourages us to give, with no restraint. Except this: be joyful in giving, and know that this is for equality…you will receive.

P (Prayer): Lord, you make us joyful givers. Help us to celebrate this. Amen.

Redemption and Renewal

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S (Scripture): Psalm 69

34 

Let heaven and earth praise God,

    the oceans too, and all that moves within them!

35 

God will most certainly save Zion

    and will rebuild Judah’s cities

    so that God’s servants can live there and possess it.

36 

The offspring of God’s servants will inherit Zion,

    and those who love God’s name will dwell there.


2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12 So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

O (Observation): In the Old Testament and in the New…God is at the center of redemption and renewal. Life for the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity was full of despair and despondency. No one had hope of ever getting back to a state in which God was present and active. But the psalmist was that voice of hope for God’s people. A prophetic voice amidst the challenge. God’s people – the descendants of God’s people of the day – would know God’s power. This is the eternal promise of hope for every generation.

Paul also speaks specifically of a personal and yet collective hope. We are each experiencing the indwelling of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Even though our bodies and brains can only withstand so much in this world, our hope lies in what the body and brain cannot destroy: Christ’s dwelling within us.

A (Application): Though our bodies and brains may fail, our faith lives on. This gives us hope to carry on, no matter the challenges ahead.

As a pastor, I know I need this word today. I almost skipped the devotion today, because I had more of “God’s Work” to do this morning. But stopping and intentionally sitting today, digging into God’s word…this is precisely where I needed to be. (Yes, this is God’s Work, too ?And I hope this word inspires you today to figure out: What in me is dying? What is being reborn?

My confidence and effort were lacking of late. That is dying so that Christ might give me strength this day to do what is necessary to do the hard work of discipleship this day for me.

Happy digging!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide our efforts and sustain as we die a little each day, that Jesus might be born in us more this day and every day. Amen.

Christ in Us All

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God.

Proverbs 20:27 The breath of a person is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inmost parts.

O (Observation): These two verses from very different times and situations bring forth the image of God dwelling in our very being. God is with us. God is in us. All have the ability to receive the Christ, who is already in us. The revealing of the Christ from within us makes sense as our very breath is like the lamp of the Lord. The lamp guides our way, from the inside out.

As Christ dwells within us, we cannot help but see the Christ in one another. As such, we start to treat one another as if we were interacting with the Divine Trinity itself.

A (Application): So what does all of this mean? It means that we get to see the Christ in one another. Seeing Christ in one another means seeing the hope of forgiveness in one another. The evil ones and the good ones. All are imbued with the Christ nature, for we are all one in Christ. We are all cut of the same cloth (as some like to say).

This means forgiveness is possible. This means that the chance of forgiveness and reconciliation is very high. This means that when we look on one another, we have hope to be forgiven or to forgive.

And when we cannot forgive, perhaps we hold on to the hope that the Christ dwelling in the other is still holding on strong. Even if we must let a relationship go.

Christ in us. Christ guiding us. This is my hope.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us always…from the inside out. Amen.

One in Christ

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 1:21 God is the one who establishes us with you in Christ and who anointed us. 22 God also sealed us and gave the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts.

O (Observation): Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. He is reminding them – once again – of their being “in Christ” together.

Paul really taps into the sense of oneness. He picks up on Jesus’ notion that as the Christ freely dwells in each believer, they act as if they are one! Living in different cities? Still one! Former Greek or former Jew? Still one, in Christ!

This means that they can be free to share with one another and welcome one another should they travel. Or share financial obligations.

A (Application): How many of us sense the Oneness? I fear many of us are so individually minded that we have a hard time sensing the oneness.

I have to look out for me and mine. That is a survival instinct that all of us have. But we are also imbued with a sense of oneness through being in Christ together.

Jesus is the foremost example of what it means to be in Christ. He shows forth the full expression of Christ: chosen, gifted, servant, loving, beloved.

We are all given these same gifts. Or we can stifle these gifts.

When we share, when we love, when we allow ourselves to be cared for…we are showing how we are in Christ with one another.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us of our oneness in you…amen.

Stay Humble

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S (Scripture): Proverbs 16

18 

Pride comes before disaster,

    and arrogance before a fall.

19 

Better to be humble with the needy

    than to divide plunder with the proud.

O (Observation): Nuggets of wisdom are hard to withdraw and apply to the Gospel, but these verses remind us of a great gift for all who are a part of God’s Kingdom: HUMILITY!

Jesus never sought the spotlight. He relegated himself to the company of the poor and the outcast. In this way, he fulfills the wisdom of God.

In this affiliation with the poor and outcast, Jesus gives hope to the hopeless.

A (Application): Hanging out with the poor and outcast reminds you that we are of one humanity. Things start to level out in your mind. When only hanging with the rich and privileged, you sense a break in humanity that separates the “haves” from the “have nots.” And if we keep folks separated, we can elevate ourselves and give ourselves power over others who are powerless.

We break our humanity and fail to see the inherent goodness in all people, who were created good…whom we have labeled bad.

Stay humble.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us humble. Amen.