America, America

Photo credit here – and a great article that addresses the win-win scenario of citizenship in America.

S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us so that the Lord’s message will spread quickly and be honored, just like it happened with you. 2 Pray too that we will be rescued from inappropriate and evil people since everyone that we meet won’t respond with faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful and will give you strength and protect you from the evil one. 4 We are confident about you in the Lord—that you are doing and will keep doing what we tell you to do. 5 May the Lord lead your hearts to express God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

O (Observation): Paul and crew are encouraging the people of God in Thessalonica to continue to seek God’s will and to do God’s will. Even though evil still abounds, Paul prays for protection from evil ones. Seems to be that even though God is present, that doesn’t stop evil ones from working against the people of God.

Paul’s message is clear: keep up the good work, people of God, for the Lord leads your heart and gives you Christ’s endurance. That endurance does not demand retribution nor fairness. That endurance is based on faith in God alone.

A (Application): So an article has come up recently regarding White House reps saying that the poem adorning the Statue of Liberty was for Europeans, originally. And a movement is afoot to vet folks so that only those who can “stand on their own two feet” should be allowed to seek citizenship in this country.

America was a place where people could go when people were oppressed or simply wanted freedom. The times change and I get that. But one thing that is a constant guiding light to this world is that we are a country that is full of promise.

That promise is eroding. We are becoming more and more selfish. We are looking to our own needs first, instead of helping others to succeed…like it’s a zero-sum game. Win-win scenarios exist! We just get lazy and think, “If you win, I’m gonna lose. So instead of helping anyone else, I’m gonna get mine.” How selfish is that?

Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ looks not to one’s self , first, but last. Being nourished at the table in worship, confessing and receiving forgiveness, sharing the peace in worship…these rituals remind me that Christ is our center and sets us free from selfish desires in order to help us look to our neighbors in need.

May God help us to fight the evil that is around us and seeks to change our hearts for the worse. Help us to look outwards, that we might see that God already is taking care of our hearts and minds.

P (Prayer): Lord, help make Americans care again. Amen.

Advertisements

Seeking Refuge

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 9:23 

The Lord proclaims:

    the learned should not boast of their knowledge,

        nor warriors boast of their might,

        nor the rich boast of their wealth.

24 

No, those who boast should boast in this:

    that they understand and know me.

I am the Lord who acts with kindness,

    justice, and righteousness in the world,

        and I delight in these things,

            declares the Lord.

25 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will deal with everyone who is physically circumcised: 26 whether they are Egyptians or Judeans, Edomites or Ammonites, Moabites or the desert dwellers who cut the hair on their foreheads. All these nations are really uncircumcised; even the people of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.

O (Observation): God is dealing with God’s people much in the same way disappointed parents deal with their children: truth and love.

God is reminding all of God’s people that they have noting to boast in, except this: that they know and understand God (insofar as one can “know” God, that is).

God reveals God’s self as loving and merciful. When we disobey God, God’s frustration does show through, but always in the hopes that our behavior changes.

God’s people (and others who wishes to be in God’s favor) would circumcise themselves as a sign that they followed God and God’s ways. This was a commandment from God to Abraham. This was a sign of faithfulness to God.

But God says even those who are circumcised physically are not really circumcised towards a change in behavior. They are circumcised in ritual alone. In other words, their hearts are not changed to live with faith alone in God. They still veer towards the gods of this world.

A (Application): God’s frustration rests in the fact that all the things we trust in this world are fickle and change nothing.

So we, who are Christian, are called to trust in God. We are called to lean on God alone: not in knowledge or resolve or riches.

With that said, I point you to a statement by the bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA, on the ELCA’s decision to become a “sanctuary church denomination.” (Click here for that statement. I beg of you to read that, then come back to this devotion.)

Much has been said on various news outlets about our denomination’s stance regarding this declaration. I beg of you to consider today’s scripture reading and consider God’s call for God’s people to be faithful not to a political party or to our wallets or to our “safety,” but rather to be faithful to knowing God and listening for God’s call to walk alongside and to serve our neighbor in need. It’s a simple as that.

P (Prayer): God, we seek refuge in you. Help us to help those who seek refuge in body and spirit. Amen.

Freedom!

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Jeremiah 2:

20 

Long ago I broke your yoke;

    I shattered your chains.

    But even then you said, “I won’t serve you.”

On every high hill and under every lush tree,

    you have acted like a prostitute.

21 

Yet it was I who planted you, a precious vine of fine quality;

    how could you turn into a wild vine

        and become good for nothing?

Jeremiah 3

12 Go proclaim these words to the north and say:

Return, unfaithful Israel,

        declares the Lord.

I won’t reject you,

    for I’m faithful,

        declares the Lord;

I won’t stay angry forever.

13 

Only acknowledge your wrongdoing:

    how you have rebelled against the Lord your God,

        and given yourself to strangers

            under every lush tree

        and haven’t obeyed me,

            declares the Lord.

14 

Return, rebellious children,

        declares the Lord,

    for I’m your husband.

I’ll gather you—

    one from a city and two from a tribe—

        and bring you back to Zion.

O (Observation): Jeremiah is God’s prophet, called upon to remind God’s people of the err of their ways. Not a fun job, but a necessary one.

Why necessary? To be reminded that God’s people were made for more than themselves. God’s people exist to give God praise and tell others of the freedom in the life of God.

You may not get what you want, but you will get what you need. Peace and security in God are the most reliable gifts one can have, even in the face of a warring world with shifting alliances.

The word of grace remains. God is faithful and stands ready to welcome back all who err.

A (Application): Every Sunday, we begin our liturgy with the Confession & Forgiveness. We are reminded of God’s presence and are humbled by our admittance of wrongs done, known and unknown. Words of grace and forgiveness accompany this liturgy, giving us hope for a new day.

As followers of our God, we are always welcomed back to a faithful and loving God. God never waivers in love for us. The love of God prompts us to respond in love to our neighbors in need, whether they be gay or straight, black, brown, or white, male, female, or transitioning.

We all can come back to God who wishes us to remain faithful and to use this grace to bring others to know God. And when we fail at this, God welcomes us back in anyway, encouraging us to embrace the freedom from the tyranny of gods in this world, and to live for God alone.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to be a follow the call to freedom in You! Amen.

In God We Trust

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Isaiah 46

1

Bel crouches down; Nebo cowers.

    Their idols sit on animals, on beasts.

The objects you once carried about

    are now borne as burdens by the weary animals.

They crouch down and cower together.

They aren’t able to rescue the burden,

    but they themselves go into captivity.

Listen to me, house of Jacob,

    all that remains from the house of Israel

    who have been borne by me since pregnancy,

    whom I carried from the womb

    until you grow old. I am the one,

    and until you turn gray I will support you.

I have done it, and I will continue to bear it;

    I will support and I will rescue.

To whom will you liken me and count me equal

    and compare me so that we are alike?

Those who pour out gold from a bag

    and weigh silver with a balance

    hire a metalworker; then he makes a god.

They bow down; they worship;

    they carry the idol on their shoulders and support it;

    they set it down, and it stands still,

    unable to move from its place.

If one cries out to it, it doesn’t answer.

    It can’t save people from their distress.

O (Observation): Isaiah – God’s prophet – speaks to God’s people who are struggling with influences of foreign gods – many of which are made of bronze, or wood, or other inanimate objects.

How can it move? Oh…it can’t. How can it save? Oh…it can’t.

Yet God’s people get fooled into thinking that these “gods” are salvation.

A (Application): We think, “Thank God we don’t do that! Of course we don’t worship other gods…”

So, what is a god? Luther says that anything in which we look to for hope and in which we put our trust. More exactly, it states:

“Thus you can easily understand what and how much this commandment requires, namely, that one’s entire heart and all one’s confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else.”

How much do we trust in our money or ourselves or our intellect? How much do we depend on our identity as friends of powerful people or our position in our places of work?

We have lots of gods in this world.

May we look to the one true God who created heaven and earth and empowered those who follow this God to love and serve all people on this earth.

Whether in death or life, we trust in our God. Whether in times of stress or peace, we trust in our God.

And when we don’t, for we will stray, may we know that God is bigger than our brokenness and that God always leaves the door to grace wide open.

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for providing for us and empowering us to be your Kingdom workers here to share your love and mercy with all people. Amen.

Children!

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Isaiah 44

1

But now hear, O Jacob my servant,

    Israel whom I have chosen!

Thus says the Lord who made you,

    who formed you in the womb and will help you:

Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,

    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,

    and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,

    and my blessing on your offspring.

They shall spring up like a green tamarisk,

    like willows by flowing streams.

This one will say, “I am the Lord’s,”

    another will be called by the name of Jacob,

yet another will write on the hand, “The Lord’s,”

    and adopt the name of Israel.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,

    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

I am the first and I am the last;

    besides me there is no god.

Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,

    let them declare and set it forth before me.

Who has announced from of old the things to come?

    Let them tell us what is yet to be.

Do not fear, or be afraid;

    have I not told you from of old and declared it?

    You are my witnesses!

Is there any god besides me?

    There is no other rock; I know not one.

O (Observation): Today’s word proves once again that God has always been about loving the world, not just one nation. God identifies with Israel, and promised – in ages past – to see God’s people become numerous and to be a blessing to the world.

Some would be children of Israel already. Some will be identified through the name of Jacob – also a part of God’s family. And yet others will wish to have the name of “The Lord,” like one adopted by God.

Through adoption or through being raised in the faith, God’s love is open to all.

A (Application): So many people that I know are disenchanted with the Church. Too much hypocrisy. Too many scandals. Too much fake-ness. Too much judgment.

And who can blame them. They are right to lack faith in the Church. They are right to be upset.

Yet our faith resides not in the Church, but in the Lord. The Lord is our strength. The Lord is the one who adopts us and calls us “Children.”

Our hope is that as the Church, we can reclaim the goodness of our God who accepts us and loves us as we are…and continues to work on us our whole lives long.

May we see a reformation in the Church once again, that we might embrace the message of grace and justice for all the earth.

P (Prayer): Lord, move us to holy discontent with regard to the status quo. Help us to live into our identity as members of the body of Christ, gifted differently for the sake of serving this whole world. Amen.

Trust in God: So Simple, so Difficult

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Isaiah 30:

1

Doom to you, rebellious children, says the Lord,

    who make a plan, which is not mine;

    who weave a plot, but not by my spirit,

        piling up sin on sin;

    setting out to go down to Egypt without consulting me,

    taking refuge in Pharaoh’s refuge and hiding in Egypt’s shadow.

Pharaoh’s refuge will become your shame,

    hiding in Egypt’s shadow your disgrace.

    all will become shamed because of a people who can’t assist them.

They are no help; they are no profit;

    rather, shame and disgrace.

19 People in Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. God will certainly be merciful to you. Hearing the sound of your outcry, God will answer you.

23 God will provide rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food the ground produces will be rich and abundant. On that day, your cattle will graze in large pastures. 24 The oxen and donkeys that are working the ground will eat tasty feed spread for them with shovel and fork.

O (Observation): God gives both correction and mercy. God guides people, reminding them that their earthly notions of protection are feeble compared to God’s reign.

Hide in Egypt’s shadow? Not gonna help!

Hide behind earthly armies? Futile!

But what does God’s mercy look like? Like a parent who cares for their crying child. Like rain for the seeds planted. So that an abundance comes forth from the ground – satisfying animal and human alike.

Trust in God’s mercies, not your own schemes, people of God…

A (Application): Trust in God. Sounds like a cop out.

Does that mean we don’t make plans? Certainly not!

Trust in God means to do the most loving thing you can do in any given moment. This is trust, because doing the most loving thing means we may be putting ourselves at risk: our finances, our physical or emotional well-being, our safety, our plans…

Trusting in God is a TALL order. It’s not for the faint of heart.

If you struggle with this, you are not alone. Just recall the words from Isaiah 30. Hear how God tells the people that their schemes of this earth are pointless, futile. Instead, God, who can move mountains, can and will work together all things in great love for you and me and all of us. This can be a win-win situation.

Trust in God. Let others in. Let the Spirit move you this day.

P (Prayer): God, help me listen to you and trust in you. Amen.

What are Your Values?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Ephesians 4:29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. 30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.

5:1 Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. 2 Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.

O (Observation): Paul instructs the Christian community he established to honor God with their lips and lives. They have been forgiven and set free from the standards of the world – pride, envy, anger – and have been given something else to live for: love, kindness, compassion.

A (Application): I wonder if we as a Christian community can find ways to speak in support of our refugee brothers and sisters AND find ways to do it without assuming other people share our values. This is the crux of Christian engagement in the world.

How do we show Christian love when others don’t share our values? What do we do about other Christians who don’t share our values?

I have a hard time dealing with people who don’t share values of love, kindness, and compassion. They say they are being compassionate, but typically that means being compassionate towards their own self / community.

We are good at looking at others and saying that THOSE people have something screwed up internally, but when WE are at fault, it is usually something beyond our control. Or we just deny fault of any kind.

May we find that all of us receive forgiveness from the faults we possess. May we find grace and compassion are the ways forward.

P (Prayer): Lord, helps us to see that you are our source of grace, and that all of us need it to be sustained. Amen.