Adapting.

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S (Scripture): Ezekiel 44:4 Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple. I looked, and suddenly the Lord’s glory filled the Lord’s temple, and I fell on my face. 5 Then the Lord said to me: Human one, pay close attention! Use your eyes and ears and listen to all that I say to you concerning the regulations of the Lord’s temple and all its instructions. Pay close attention to the access to the temple through all the sanctuary portals. 6 Speak to the rebels, to the house of Israel, The Lord God proclaims: Enough of your detestable practices, house of Israel! 7 You made my temple unclean because you brought into my sanctuary foreigners who were physically and spiritually uncircumcised.

O (Observation): God continues to reveal a prophetic word to Ezekiel. These words are focused on the Temple that is to be and how God’s people went astray in the Temple before.

God’s people allowed those who did not follow God to enter the holiest of God’s locale on earth. God never wanted to be separate from the world. However, God’s people were called to centralize their faith journey around a place – The Temple.

God’s people were called to gather in this place to renew their hearts and minds, to be reminded of God’s love, to be reminded that forgiveness happens with God.

Yet God’s people took advantage of God’s grace, allowing for the Temple to be run by people who followed other gods.

Those who did not fear God were not circumcised. In this case, God refers to those uncircumcised physically OR spiritually! That’s a big deal. God has moved from a purely physical circumcision – common enough for males – to a spiritual circumcision. In other words, regardless of one’s gender, one could be considered holy simply by being through a change of the heart, saved by grace through faith.

A (Application): Times change. Our expression of faith changes over time. Our faith used to be expressed simply by showing up to worship, giving offering, attending Sunday School and the like.

Nowadays, faith is lived out less and less in the sanctuary and more and more in the streets and in the home. The home was always to be a place of faith formation, but we have gotten used to faith being “taught” by professionals.

The scary part these days is that we don’t know what faith formation looks like anymore, since our old measures are no longer valid. Attendance at church on Sunday morning and robust committees are no longer the central point of Faith formation. They are still important, but how that takes shape is different now.

As mentioned in Ezekiel, a spiritual circumcision is now the norm. And that is harder to see. In that case, we move to different clues about the faith of others. We look to see how a person of faith bears fruit in the home, in the work place, in their volunteering, amongst strangers and such. These are harder metrics to track down.

We are grateful that we can adapt to faith formative practices and embrace the Spirit’s movement in our world today. God sends prophetic visions to us so that we can wrestle with what God is saying to us and how we can respond in faith.

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is up to in our ever changing world.

P (Prayer): Lord, open our eyes and ears to your saving grace. Amen.

Ever-Present Grace

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S (Scripture): 2 Peter 3:11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be? You must live holy and godly lives, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. Because of that day, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

O (Observation): Peter is getting on everyone to be ready for the coming of the Lord. Perhaps folks have started to wane in their commitment to Jesus; many think the days are dragging on. Shouldn’t Jesus be here by now? Perhaps, but maybe one day to us is a 1,000 years to God? What if Jesus doesn’t come back for a really long time?

Peter suggests we be ready nonetheless.

Peter speaks of fire bringing forth the new heaven and the new earth. Sounds quite scary! Is fire the path to a new heaven and earth? A purifying fire?

A (Application): I never quite get the fire and brimstone speeches of the later parts of the New Testament. Folks who speak of exhortation (like today’s piece) seem to like to use these texts in ways that describe Christianity as a “be saved or die” ethic.

Folks who lean mostly on these texts create a new Law. They treat this new Law as the Gospel. They think saving power lies in the “believe or die” approach. They think Christianity is about making sure people believe exactly the right things.

The truth seems to be that our call is to keep on reminding one another of the grace of God, and to try not to take for granted the beautiful gifts of our baptism and the grace offered at the Table. We have God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ. No need to squander it!

So, let us tell others of this kind of love that our God shows to the whole world. Let others know that they are encompassed with God’s Grace.

God will do the judging, not us. God will refine our hearts and minds, so that we might more clearly see the deep, deep value of God’s Grace freely offered and freely given.

Stay humble, my friends! Stay humble.

P (Prayer): Grace-filled God, remind us of your love and grace in our places of mission this day. Amen.

My Feeble Attempts

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S (Scripture): Psalm 119

153 

Look at my suffering and deliver me

    because I haven’t forgotten your Instruction.

154 

Argue my case and redeem me.

    Make me live again by your word.

155 

Salvation is far from the wicked

    because they haven’t pursued your statutes.

156 

You have so much compassion, Lord—

    make me live again, according to your rules.

O (Observation): The psalmist is giving thanks to God throughout this psalm as one who praises God for giving the Law. The Law / Torah / Instruction is indeed for God’s people in order for them to show what God’s redeeming love looks like on earth.

God’s Word truly brings life. Correction at times, but mainly, life.

A (Application): I always struggle with words of scripture that has us promising to follow God’s word as if we could. We can love God’s Word and call it “life-giving,” but we cannot follow it completely.

In the best light possible, I can say that I have sung songs and made faith claims, knowing all too well that the words I say and songs I sing are but a feeble attempt – at best – for me to return to God the love given to me, already.

And so I trust in God, through faith – a gift of the Spirit.

P (Prayer): God, you know I love you, feebly at best. Now, help me love others. Amen.

A New Heart

Bishop Yehiel Curry, Metro Chicago, ELCA

S (Scripture): Ezekiel 36:23b When I make myself holy among you in their sight, 24 I will take you from the nations, I will gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your own fertile land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one, 27 and I will give you my spirit so that you may walk according to my regulations and carefully observe my case laws. 28 Then you will live in the land that I gave to your ancestors, you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness, and I will summon the grain and make it grow abundantly so that you won’t endure famine. 30 I will make abundant the orchards’ fruit and the fields’ produce so that you will never again endure the shame of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and no-good deeds, and you will feel disgust for yourselves because of your sinful and detestable practices. 32 Not for your sake do I act. This is what the Lord God proclaims. Let that be known to you! Be ashamed and be humiliated because of all your ways, house of Israel.

O (Observation): God has spoken for quite some time to Ezekiel. Ezekiel heard how God’s people have erred and how God’s people experience exile and humiliation. God was letting God’s people out on their own, since they seemingly had no need of God anymore.

What God’s people received was mockery from their surrounding countries. Worse, God was being mocked by these people: “These are the Lord’s people, yet they had to leave his land.”

So, not because God’s people are sorry or have shown good will, but because God saves God’s own name, God renews the covenant with the people.

Hear God’s promises:

  • I will take you from the nations, gather you, bring you to your home lands
  • I will cleanse you
  • I will give you a new heart / spirit
  • You will be my people
  • I will be your God
  • I will save you
  • I will make your fields abundant

God doesn’t make it easy, the Law still stings and reminds us our errors. Yet the goal is humility, not humiliation.

So, with renewed hearts, God’s people – humiliated and downtrodden – are given hope with a new heart and spirit.

A (Application): How many times have I missed the mark? How many times has my skin color or my male identity gotten in the way of justice for my neighbor?

I had two great things happen in my life yesterday:

  1. I paid off my $50,000 in student loans. (Been paying it since 2007, when it was closer to $79,000.)
  2. Bought a new (used) van, with cash.

My wife and I were able to do these two things due to the sale of our home in middle TN.

While those things are great and happened yesterday – and I am humbled – I also experienced something greater yesterday.

I attended the Reformation worship service at the Lutheran Theological Center in Atlanta, a seminary of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. I was only one of about 2-3 white folks in attendance. Bishop Yeheiel Curry (Metro Chicago Synod, ELCA) gave a rousing sermon about the church’s opportunity to be reformed by God – from Church as it is into Church as it should be.

After worship, I took part in a conversation on the ELCA’s apology to people of African descent for being complicit in the Church’s participation in systemic racism.

I was the only white person in the room. A friend asked, “How do you feel about being in the minority?” Wow. I told him I was humbled and excited. I was glad to be in a room in which I could hear the voices of those who have been oppressed for so long. I was honored to be with brothers and sisters unafraid to speak the truth in love.

I contributed to the conversation, briefly, to thank them for this time together and to remind that someone like myself is listening and acting. My actions are about truth-telling. Letting my little corner of the world know that I do not tolerate racist acts (when I am aware). The best way I know is to lift up historical truths of racism until other white people can identify racist systems in their own lives.

I also told them that the renewal of my heart and mind in this most crucial work of dismantling racism comes from God, who woke me up, and is continuing to wake me up.

I have felt shame, but I have also felt love.

I am weak, but then I am strong, for in my weakness, Jesus is taking stronger hold of me for the sake of mission, and transforming me.

Jesus takes our weaknesses and burdens and makes us whole. With renewed hearts and minds, we share this grace, knowing that we are God’s.

May God be given the glory in our daily reformations.

P (Prayer): Lord God, know our hearts and minds and renew us again. Remind us that you never let us go. Amen.

Purpose and Humility

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S (Scripture): Ezekiel 29:13 The Lord God proclaims: At the end of forty years, I will gather the Egyptians from among the nations where they are scattered. 14 I will improve their circumstances and bring them back to the land of Pathros, the land of their origin. Egypt will be a lowly kingdom there. 15 Out of all the kingdoms, it will be the lowliest. It will never again exalt itself over the nations, and I will make it small to keep it from ruling the nations. 16 The house of Israel will never again bring guilt on itself by faithlessly turning to Egypt for help, for they will know that I am the Lord God.

O (Observation): You gotta know what’s going on in the whole text of Ezekiel to know what’s going on in this particular text.

This book is about God sharing with the prophet Ezekiel that God’s people have been unfaithful and that God would will be bringing destruction to Judah and Israel for a season. God never gives up on them, but does allow them to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness.

Now, as God is letting God’s people go through a time of correction, God notices the other nations scoffing at God’s people. That doesn’t sit well with God. So God turns to the surrounding nations (of which Egypt is one) and says, “Uh, uh. Nope. You don’t get to talk about my kids like that. Y’all ain’t been so good yourselves.”

So, as God turns to Egypt and condemns them for their mocking posture, God throws in a little “you ain’t gonna be a temptation to my people ever again” nod.

Finally, after acknowledging that Egypt will not be a temptation for God’s people ever again, God brings the grace again: after 40 years (aka “a long time”) God promises to bring together the Egyptians once again. Quite an act of grace! And yet, they will still be considered lowly. So as not to be haughty again.

A (Application): I have not posted consistently throughout my entire transition away from my call as the parish pastor of Advent Lutheran Church, in Murfreesboro, TN, to my current call as Assistant to the Bishop for Formation and Communication for the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA. My family and I now live in Tucker, GA, as a result.

I have felt scattered. Yet I have also felt God’s call to be brought back together. We are reunited with family and friends from the Atlanta area. We have been graced by the people of this church – the body of Christ.

In my current position – serving the Church – I continue to focus on how God can use me as a resource for the people of the Church. I remain humbled by God’s power over the nations and powers of this world that will try to distract me from my call to serve.

And when I get off track and too self-centered, God will remind me of how God corrects the nations and powers of this world. God will bring me back to my center and grace me with vision and a time table within which I can work and live and play.

May God continue to bless all who serve the Church, that we might be a place of welcome for all who wish to know how God is calling them to serve the world and to be a blessing for others. For we all have a purpose and need to be reminded of that purpose again and again.

P (Prayer): Lord, God, you direct us and humble us. Help us to serve you by serving our neighbors. Amen.

What Can You Do To Me?

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 13:1 Keep loving each other like family. 2 Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it. 3 Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place. 4 Marriage must be honored in every respect, with no cheating on the relationship, because God will judge the sexually immoral person and the person who commits adultery. 5 Your way of life should be free from the love of money, and you should be content with what you have. After all, he has said, I will never leave you or abandon you. 6 This is why we can confidently say,

The Lord is my helper,

    and I won’t be afraid.

What can people do to me?

O (Observation): The people of God give encouragement to those who believe. Living as if grace matters is key to the exhortation of God’s people this day. The word of grace comes at the end of this snippet. Jesus will never abandon you. As a result, all who believe know that Jesus will never abandon them. You can take my car, my stuff, my people, but what can you do to me? Nothing. For with God, we are never alone.

A (Application): We have so much to which we prostitute ourselves. (Hat tip to Ezekiel 16 for that imagery, btw.)

How easily we forget that God is with us.

Tomorrow, my son has surgery to repair his torn labrum in his shoulder after dislocating it a few weeks ago. He is in fair health and very athletic. Just a freak accident during football practice.

Now, we await surgery tomorrow. I’ll be sitting on the other side of the great divide. I will be receiving care from others via prayers, acknowledgments, and visits from family. (Actually, Dylan will be receiving these, but some will feel for us as parents : )

We will be hanging with Jesus in a sense, as the prayers and visits during surgery and / or in the days following come to us. We will receive hope in the one who shows us that we are already in relationship with God and the Spirit.

World, what can you do to us? Well, a lot, yes. But really. What can you do to us? By faith, we have Jesus as our exemplar and our hope.

We need nothing else.

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for showing us the way and for reminding us that we are enough, because of you. Amen.

The Temptation that is Actually Bitter, Not Sweet

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 12:14 Pursue the goal of peace along with everyone—and holiness as well, because no one will see the Lord without it. 15 Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people. 16 Make sure that no one becomes sexually immoral or ungodly like Esau. He sold his inheritance as the oldest son for one meal. 17 You know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected because he couldn’t find a way to change his heart and life, though he looked for it with tears.

O (Observation): God’s grace comes to all. Lead with it. End with it. Without leading in grace, people won’t see God’s grace for them. When others are leading with bitterness, people will not only receive bitterness, but they will then act bitter towards others.

A (Application): We are called to lead with joy, not grasping on to the nice shiny object in our faces, like Esau. He wanted that quick thing – a meal, forsaking his blessing.

We don’t need that quick fix. We have the grace of God to sustain us and fill us!!!

What is the shiny thing you are trying to get a hold of? Who around you is helping you to look at God’s grace, instead of the bitter reward of earthly gain?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to look to you, not just to ourselves. Amen.