A True Welcome

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 9

But the Lord rules forever!

    He assumes his throne

    for the sake of justice.

He will establish justice in the world rightly;

    he will judge all people fairly.

The Lord is a safe place for the oppressed—

    a safe place in difficult times.


Those who know your name trust you

    because you have not abandoned

    any who seek you, Lord.

O (Observation): The Lord is a safe place for the oppressed. The psalms were written at many different times throughout the history of God’s people. Some were written in times of peace. Some were written in times of great struggle and adversity. This Psalm reflects one of those times of great adversity.

But a ray of hope keeps God’s people from despair. They trust that all who are oppressed and seek the Lord will find a home with God.

A (Application): The oppressed of our day are many: LGBTQ+, immigrants, those who receive abuse, mentally and physically challenged people, and more. The Church was known as a place of refuge for a long, long time, choosing to aid the oppressed in all places.

My hope is that all churches can be places of refuge for the oppressed, once again. May churches be places where all are welcomed with a true sense of welcome, not a bait and switch type of welcome. Just welcoming folks for who they are is the first and vital step to help them know that God wishes to have a relationship with them.

The challenge to change (or not) may come later on when one understands that grace is what saves us, not our own acts of penitence.

May the Church be a place of welcome for all oppressed people. Just as they are.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see others as you see us. Help us to welcome all. Amen.


How’d That Happen?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): John 6:16 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading.

O (Observation): Jesus just got done feeding the 5,000 and they wanted to make him king. So Jesus got out of there. They didn’t get it.

The disciples were hanging out in their boat, waiting on Jesus. But a storm came up and drove them off the shore – without Jesus! (Oops! Sorry, Jesus…the rope broke : )

That didn’t stop Jesus. He just walked on the water to go out to where the boat was – in the middle of the lake!

Night time. Storm. Wind. Chaos. The makings of quite the scary story – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, as well.

The disciples still don’t know what to make of Jesus, yet…

And to top it all off, as things settle down in the boat, and they are ready to head to the shore – Voila! – there they are…on the shore of their destination.

How’d he do that?

A (Application): How’d that happen? What went right? Where did we go wrong? Every church leader I know asks these questions, hoping to make an impact for God’s Kingdom.

We reverse engineer things to try to figure out the right formula. And then we replicate over and over again. But the only constant I see is “change.”

We are never the same people in more than any one instant. So that means whatever we lead has to be lean and flexible, so that the vision and mission can exist without too much structure. Yet, some structure is helpful along the way.

The Holy Spirit works in many and various ways. In meetings, while you’re driving to work, while you (individually or collectively) are at your wit’s end. The Spirit works in our midst.

Just ask the disciples in the midst of their spiritual turmoil. How did Jesus do that thing with the walking on water and the boat being at the shore? Only God knows.

How do we do the Church on earth? Just do it! Let God Lead! Enjoy the ride!

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and make us wise to your commands. Amen.

Abuse of Power in the Church

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Matthew 21:28 Jesus said to the chief priests and elders: “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’

29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.

30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.

31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first one.”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.

O (Observation): Scandalous words from Jesus! Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you! And he’s saying this to the church leaders…folks who have dedicated their lives to perpetuating God’s Church on earth!

The story Jesus tells points to people who refused God’s Word, but follow Jesus, because they (the tax collectors and prostitutes) see that God (in Jesus) is actually a good thing and a good way to be in the world. Those who say “yes” to God’s Word, but perpetuate systems of oppression (like the chief priests and elders), are not doing the will of the Father.

Jesus lures them in with this tale. The church leaders hear this story and believe that they are the ones going about the vineyard work. Jesus begs to differ. Jesus sees their work as dismissing God’s love for the world, in favor of a love only for the Jewish people and rites and rituals. Jesus reminds them that God’s work and love was always for all people.

A (Application): Where do you see God in the world? How do you sense God’s presence?

If someone senses God differently from you, is that bothersome to you? Does that encourage you? If you’re bothered by someone else’s way of connecting with God, are you jealous? Are you upset, because they don’t see it your way?

This is essentially the problem of the church leaders in Jesus’ time. They know God a certain way: rituals, purification rites, etc. Jesus – being God’s presence on earth, Emmanuel (“God with us”) – has little use for the rites and rituals.

So, he changed things. And we all know that in church “change” is like a certain 4-letter word : )

What was important to Jesus was the work of God’s will, not the rites and rituals that excluded folks.

So, Church, where do we need to work on welcoming, and not just pushing others away? And in cases where we have pushed others away, where do we need to ask forgiveness and work towards reconciliation?

How can the Church be a healing presence, and not just a harmful one?

P (Prayer): Lord, be a healing presence for all of us – perpetrator of harm and receiver of abuse. Amen.

Little Children, Love One Another

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end…13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

O (Observation):  Paul understands that while many spiritual gifts are available to us, the greatest gift of all is love.   Some may speak in tongues, some may interpret tongues, some may prophecy…but nothing, no gift, is greater than love.  

A (Application):   The beloved author of this Gospel, John, is said to have preached late into his 90’s, mostly in the area of Ephesus.   Jerome (an ancient church historian) writes that in John’s late years, when he became too feeble to speak for long, John would be brought into a worship space or someone’s home on a mat.   And he would say this:   “Little children, love one another.” And then, without any further words, he would be ushered out.  

This small encounter, just these 5 words, would be repeated by John, week after week.   Finally, his disciples asked him one day, “Why is it that week after week you share only these words: ‘Little children, love one another’?”  And John replied: “Because it is enough.” 

If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is: “Little children, love one another.”

Yes.  It is that simple.  

Love is evangelism.  Love is stronger than words or theologies or doctrines.   Love is what brings us all together. 

May you, little children, love one another.  

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to love.  Amen. 

The Hardest Part About Being Christian…

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

O (Observation):  Paul encourages Jesus’ followers to acknowledge the work of the Spirit in their midst.   Everyone has a gift of the Spiritnti share for the common good.   Gifts of the Spirit are not made for the individual, but for the whole community.   And no one should be jealous of another’s gift, for we are all working towards the common good.  

The one Spirit gives these gifts for God’s people (and thus, for the benefit of the whole world).   

A (Application):  The hardest part about being a Christian…is other Christians : )

We are one church, one body, despite our differences and despite our theologies: we are on in Jesus Christ.    We don’t want to acknowledge this, quite often, especially when our political leanings take control of our frontal cortex : )

We want our religion to fit into our boxes that we have constructed.   And if anything is outside of that, we dislike it or dismiss it.  

When we see others using a spiritual gift that we don’t have, instead of celebrating, we typically wonder why we don’t have that gift? Or why that other person is “showing off.”  (I don’t think people are showing off when they use their gifts, that’s just our perception, quite often.)

So, let us celebrate our ONEness in Christ Jesus.  

May you own and use that gift of the Spirit for the common good.  

May you celebrate when others use theirs.  

P (Prayer): Lord, what is up with these spiritual gifts and all the division?   Help us, O Lord, to be one in practice and spirit.  Amen. 

Down in the Pit

S (Scripture): Psalm 22

11 Do not remain far away from me, for trouble is near and I have no one to help me.

12 Many bulls surround me; powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.

13 They open their mouths to devour me like a roaring lion that rips its prey.

14 My strength drains away like water; all my bones are dislocated; my heart is like wax; it melts away inside me.

O (Observation):  This psalm is often applied to Jesus, as a foreshadowing of his suffering and death.  In fact, Jesus utters the words of verse 1 of this psalm (“My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”)

Given its original context (applied to King David while his enemies are pursuing him), the reader can sense the desperation in the tone of this text.   The author (David?) truly feels despair, but trusts that somehow, God is still with him in his greatest moment of need.  

A (Application):  If we see a theme throughout the arc of Scripture, we see that God is with those who seem to be outnumbered and fearful.  God is with the marginalized and oppressed.   God wishes for all to call on Him, especially in times of need.

God doesn’t wish for anyone to feel outside of salvation, yet over time the Church (whether hundreds of years BCE, in the 1st century CE, or even today) finds ways to ostracize and build walls to separate the saved from the rest.  

This doesn’t mean that I support “anything goes” in terms of holding people accountable for their actions.  Rather, I mean to say that anyone and everyone is not far from salvation.  From the best to the worst (only the Lord can judge this) we are able to call out to God to save us.  

And sometimes, while down in that pit, when nothing seems to be going right, you just might find some gold buried down there.  You just might find that friends call on you, or maybe you finally let your guard down and trust completely in the Lord, or someone calls you or sends you a card out of the blue.   In those moments, may you know that God is with you, much more than we can be.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, pick me up when I am down.  Amen. 

Seeing in a New Way

S (Scripture): John 4:19 The [Samaritan] woman said to [Jesus], “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”

O (Observation):  One can focus on many parts of the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at a well.  Today, what grabs my attention – my kairos – is the focus on the locus of worship.  

The Samaritan Woman is confused by Jesus’ presence at this particular well.  She says that the Jews are to worship in Jerusalem, yet Jesus is saying that one can worship outside of Jerusalem.  Jesus says the locus is not a “WHERE,” but a “WHO.”   And that “who” is God the Father, who we worship in spirit and truth, for God is greater than just one earthly location. 

A (Application):  We can get caught up in our places of worship…our church buildings.  In fact, our congregation is paying off a small building loan which we used to make some major repairs.  And we are gathering funds for future building needs. 10%of what we gather will go to the ELCA Disaster Response program, too.  We are doing our best to be good stewards of this physical space to gather people to worship, learn, and serve others.  But we can cling too closely sometimes, too.  

When someone grows up in one place and doesn’t see the world (or even other regions in the same country) one can become biased towards a certain set of beliefs or traditions.   Those beliefs and traditions, when challenged, are hard to let go of.  We feel like we lose something of ourselves if we don’t hold on to those original beliefs and traditions.  And in a way, our identity is changed (which isn’t ALL bad).

The Samaritan woman had cause to be concerned and challenged by Jesus.  We have cause to be concerned when something spoken challenges us…but that’s not always a bad thing.  

From the letting go of some of our baggage comes new life.  Transformation is something that opens us up to seeing God anew.  In fact, our long-held beliefs could be holding us back from seeing what God is up to in our lives this very day.  

We worship God in many ways and we let God challenge our beliefs to open us up.   

What is the latest challenge for you?  What are you letting go of?  What have you let go of lately?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see anew.  Amen.