Responding to the Call

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 5:4 No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron.

5 In the same way Christ also didn’t promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him,

You are my Son.

        Today I have become your Father

O (Observation): The call to serve the people of God comes from God…even for Jesus. Aaron served God’s people by communicating with God and bringing the people’s joys and concerns to God. Also, for the sake of order, priests throughout the ages have spoken to God on behalf of God’s people. They offer contrite hearts to God.

Eventually, we have seen God’s desire more clearly. We no longer need sacrifices – Jesus made sure of that. God never needed sacrifices, just a people willing to admit their brokenness.

A (Application): Instead of sacrifices, we bring our collective broken heart to God. And priests help us to do that.

Who are our priests? These are people of God who sense that called has called them to carry these broken hearts and help them to connect to God. These people who are called by God to be priests are also acknowledged and accepted by the surrounding community. In other words, that call is both internal (sensed by the individual) and external (verified by the God-follower community).

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America, that process of discernment is aided by what we call the “Candidacy Process.” If you are sensing that your baptismal call is leading you into service of the Church, check out our resources on the ELCA website.

And if you do sense God’s call, let me know…I’d love to help you process that a bit.

Here’s my number: 615-617-9697.

P (Prayer): Lord, in our baptism, you call us. Help us to respond to your call. Amen.

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Ash Wednesday – A Contrite Heart

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S (Scripture): Psalm 51:

16 

You don’t want sacrifices.

    If I gave an entirely burned offering,

    you wouldn’t be pleased.

17 

A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.

    You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.

O (Observation): The psalmist realizes that no amount of offering will please God. Rather, the focus is on being contrite – being honest with one’s own brokenness and admitting that self to God.

A (Application): Admitting our brokenness means that God has an entry point into our lives. When we lie to ourselves and make believe all is well, we are essentially telling God that we are just fine (yeah, right) and no change is needed.

On Ash Wednesday, today, in many churches, we will gather in our worship spaces to recognize that our lack, our brokenness is what binds us together. God knows this lack, for Jesus was on the cross, knowing what it means to feel separation from God.

In that loss, we have room for God to enter our being, and remind us that while we will be returning to the dust, we can rest assured that our rest is Christ.

So, we mark ashes on our foreheads, but always in the shape of the cross.

A cross of ashes.

Death and new life.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to make room for you! Amen.

Wait For the Lord

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S (Scripture): Psalm 31

21 

Bless the Lord,

    because he has wondrously revealed

    his faithful love to me

    when I was like a city under siege!

22 

When I was panicked, I said,

    “I’m cut off from your eyes!”

But you heard my request for mercy

    when I cried out to you for help.

23 

All you who are faithful, love the Lord!

    The Lord protects those who are loyal,

        but he pays the proud back to the fullest degree.

24 

All you who wait for the Lord,

be strong and let your heart take courage.

O (Observation): Being courageous in the face of adversity, this psalmist finds hope. Hope not from within, but hope from The Lord.

Knowing the love of God, especially in a time of great turmoil, brings hope. No outside circumstance can imprison one’s hopes and dreams.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be one of God’s people of Israel, cast out into Babylonian captivity. Perhaps the hope of this psalmist was forged in the heart of one of God’s people forced to live in a Babylonian bungalow.

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

A (Application): What are you waiting for? Do you feel alone? Do you sense hope? Hopelessness?

The range of emotions is endless when waiting. A family waits over 6 hours while a loved one is undergoing serious surgery. A young family awaits word on whether or not they are approved for their home loan. An expectant mother awaits word on whether she will need to have a c-section or be able to give birth naturally. Waiting. Waiting.

The counsel I have (coming from today’s Scripture, not from me) is this:

Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Take heart. For the Lord will carry you through whatever may come.

(Here is a link to a meditative song based on Psalm 31:24. Take a moment. Be still. Listen.)

P (Prayer): Lord, make us know of your steadfast love. We cannot wait alone or be strong alone or take heart alone. Give us your Spirit and surround us with loving community. Amen.

Spiritual vs Religious

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S (Scripture): Psalm 51

15

Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth will proclaim your praise.

16

You don’t want sacrifices.

If I gave an entirely burned offering,

you wouldn’t be pleased.

17

A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.

You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.

18

Do good things for Zion by your favor.

Rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.

19

Then you will again want sacrifices of righteousness—

entirely burned offerings and complete offerings.

Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

O (Observation): The psalmist is living in a time that is after Jerusalem has been sacked by foreign powers. Perhaps the people of God see this as part of the fact that they have steered away from God. But the psalmist knows that – even while in their time of trial – God still listens.

The Law guided God’s people as they transitioned from slavery in Egypt into living in the Promised Land. But somewhere along the way, God’s people lost sight of the purpose of sacrifices.

The sacrifices were a way of acknowledging that God is sovereign and rules over all. The produce of the land and the animals sacrificed all belonged to God already. The sacrifice acknowledges that the individual is giving to God what is already God’s.

God’s people lost sight of these things…to the point that the psalmist recognizes this: If God doesn’t have all of me – my broken spirit – then God doesn’t need my animal sacrifice. God wants my heart and contrition, first.

Then…having given my broken spirit to God, who can heal me…then, and only then will God go back to accepting my sacrifice.

A (Application): Are you Spiritual or Religious? This question popped up a few years ago as people started leaving “The Church” in search of something that truly affected their lives for the good. The Christian Church in America had perhaps become more religious – focusing on rites and rituals and putting forth truths and knowledge between “right and wrong” – and had become less concerned about the spiritual aspects of our lives – like having a heart receptive to loving God and neighbor, discerning one’s purpose, discerning God’s presence in the world. In other words: just follow these steps and you’re “in.”

The Church is great at rituals and rites and declaring truths…and pointing out others’ wrongs. Has the Church become a place where we only foster these practices?

What about the Church raises the Spiritual aspects? Are we finding meaning and solace when we worship and gather? Are we sensing what direction God is leading us?

Seems to me that the Church can be both Spiritual AND Religious. The hard part is that to be both, it takes a contrite heart, a broken spirit, as mentioned in today’s psalm. The positive aspects of Religion include being connected to a larger body of people, being connected to God, and being connected to traditions that are meaningful and remind us of our connection to God. The Church can be spiritual by reminding us that God is present in and around us. And perhaps when we start drifting too much into the “religious” category, without regard for the “spiritual,” maybe it is time to step away from the rites and rituals…and find ways to BE with God. That can start with a humble heart.

P (Prayer): Lord, you know our Spiritual and Religious selves. Gather us in to see how we can find meaning and insight in our rites, rituals, and traditions. Amen.

From Head to Heart

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S (Scripture): Matthew 7:28 When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching 29 because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts.

O (Observation): Jesus finishes up the Sermon on the Mount. The crowd reacts to Jesus’ message (beginning in Matthew 5). The impact of this message on the people is this:

“He was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts.”

Jesus speaks in a way that he is not just parroting what God desires. Instead, Jesus fully embodies God’s will and message as he speaks to the crowd.

A (Application): So often, Christians will parrot and repeat messages. This is a good first step in faith formation. One must know the basics of the faith.

Many Lutherans I know that are 50+ years of age recall that Confirmation consisted of much memorization. Some had to memorize the entire Small Catechism, some had to remember parts of it. Or Scripture.

What they are supposed to do with that memorization was up to them.

The move from the head to the heart is the most difficult distance to travel. That is what Jesus has done. He has moved our faith toward its original intent: a law and a Spirit that dwells in our hearts. This is why Jesus seemed to teach with authority, because the Law and Spirit reside in his heart.

As I help our young people prepare for a life in the Christian faith, we focus less on memorization and more on learning how to embody the faith and how to discern what the Spirit is saying. We talk about where we have seen God in our lesson, or in our lives. We share that “kairos” moment and ask one another to give their feedback into the other’s kairos. We discern, together, what God is saying for that person and what God would have that person do. The individual takes the lead, but the surrounding community gives feedback to help the individual decide what God is saying.

Jesus taught with authority, because he and God are one and because Jesus knows the Law in his heart. May we know such union with God that we might speak with gracious and humble authority in our own lives…that we might help others to know our peace and our desire to seek peace and justice throughout the earth.

P (Prayer): God, move our faith from our heads to our hearts. Amen.

A Broken Heart


S (Scripture): Psalm 51

15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

O (Observation):  David confesses to God that out of all of the earthly riches he holds…none of that can be as pleasing to the Lord as David’s own broken and contrite heart – a heart broken by David’s own wrongdoing.  

I don’t think God wants brokenness, but in this psalm, we see that the divine mystery encourages us to approach God not with position or power…but with an empty heart.   

“Contrite” means “feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt.”

A (Application):  Lutherans talk a lot about guilt.   And rightly so.   

We don’t dare come to God with our “good deeds,” lest we start to think that our ways are good.  Now, that sounds pretty morbid…I know.  But the point here is that while we do indeed do good things, and we can celebrate them, when we come to God, we come with broken hearts, for God alone is good.  

Living out God’s grace and mercy are good things.  We are called to show God’s love to our neighbor, and do good deeds, for “faith without works is dead.”   

But what do we bring to God?   What is pleasing to God?   Is a heart full of pride something God wishes?  I think not.  

Here is a story from a recent Richard Rohr daily email that is helpful:  

An old story goes like this:  A proud young man was being interviewed by a potential master.  He bragged about his understandings of life and philosophies.  The master listens silently and begins to pour a cup of tea. He pours and pours, and when the cup is overflowing he keeps right on pouring. Eventually the student notices what’s going on and interrupts his monologue to say, “Stop pouring! The cup is full.”

The teacher says, “Yes, and so are you. How can I possibly teach you?”

The same holds true for our hearts.  Full of pride, we have no need for God.  Instead, let us empty our hearts in humility and brokenness and seeks God this day to fill our hearts once more with grace and mercy.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, may you fill my broken heart this day.  Amen. 

#Servanthood

 

 

S (Scripture):James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

O (Observation): Harsh words here, from James.   However, he does point out the nature of our faults: looking to our own desires.  

A (Application): It’s all about me!   This is the world we live in…but it doesn’t have to be.  As a child of God I am reminded (and I’m called to remind others) that this life is not about me, but how I can be a servant to my neighbor.  First shall be last, last shall be first.

Jesus is our example and redeemer.  We know what serving looks like (washing feet, feeding the hungry, etc.) and we are free from the worries of sin, so that we can go and do that service for others.  

I’m serving students at Middle TNState  University these days by being present and talking with them and building relationships.  And I try to go for pure reasons, and not just for selfish desires.  Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t.  In either case, Jesus promises to be present.  That gives me hope. 

What about you?  What selfish desires have you bumped up against?
P (Prayer):  Lord, clear our hearts and minds and fill them with the posture of a servant.  Amen.