Middle Tennessee Tornado & Hope

S (Scripture): Exodus 12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month will be the first month; it will be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole Israelite community…

O (Observation): Notice where I cut off the text? I didn’t even get to what God was instructing the people to prepare for and to do. Why? To highlight the importance of this: God establishes commands and ritual for God’s people…for the sake of the world.

God was about to establish the Passover, a ritual that would be a way to establish a remembrance of God’s activity in the world.

As God’s people enacted this ritual, they were given hope for a new day. They were given a way forward when all hope was lost. This newly established ritual would encourage God’s people to always remember that day!

God would lead God’s people into freedom. And all would know that God makes good on God’s promises to be with those who need God the most.

A (Application): In the wake of the Middle Tennessee Tornadoes on Tuesday, March 3, at 12:45am est, we started to hear of the devastation – including the deaths of 25 people – across areas of Middle Tennessee, including Nashville, Mt. Juliet, and Cookeville (and the surrounding Putnam County area).

Talk about a need for folks to see hope.

My prayer is that as the people rally around to support those in need, they see the face of God in one another.

I know we will see ritual as a way to be reminded that God is with us, even in the wake of this natural disaster.

The people of Middle Tennessee will be supported and we will carry one another through the pain and suffering, with an eye towards the future. A hope that will envelope us. A hope that will guide us into a day. A hope that will bring us together.

And maybe one day, through ritual, through worship, we might look back on these days ahead, and see God’s hands and feet at work through all of those who will volunteer and donate funds to the recovery efforts forthcoming.

May you be at peace, people of Middle Tennessee. We will grieve with you. We will walk with you. We will mark these days as holy moments in the midst of devastation.

And we will see the face of God in one another.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us the strength we need to come together, to bear one another’s burdens, to share hope. Amen.

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Nashville (before and after)

Abundance Now

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S (Scripture): Matthew 14:15 That evening Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

16 But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.”

17 They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.”

18 He said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves apart and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. 21 About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten.

O (Observation): Scarcity. Too little. Not enough. Yet, miraculously, enough. How? Through Jesus’ blessing.

I love how Jesus turns the emphasis away from himself when told they would not have enough to feed the crowd. Jesus tells them, “You give them something to eat.”

So Jesus takes what is given – 5 loaves, 2 fish. Jesus blesses that. And that is enough. That is abundance.

A (Application): How often do we think: I don’t have enough time / money / power / influence?

Jesus tells us to bring to him what we have. Let Jesus bless what we do have, instead of bemoaning what we don’t.

Then go and make a difference in the world. Go and see to it that others know from where your abundance comes: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lived and died, who defies the logic of this world and brings to bear the strange economics of grace and abundance in the midst of our world of scarcity and brokenness.

P (Prayer): Lord, open our eyes to the abundance of gifts set before us and in us. Amen.

Living in Abundance: Hope for Refugees

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S (Scripture): Genesis 41:12b “We described our dreams to [Joseph], and he interpreted our dreams for us, giving us an interpretation for each dream. 13 His interpretations came true exactly: Pharaoh restored me to my position but hanged [the baker].”

14 So Pharaoh summoned Joseph, and they quickly brought him from the dungeon. He shaved, changed clothes, and appeared before Pharaoh. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, but no one could interpret it. Then I heard that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.”

16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It’s not me. God will give Pharaoh a favorable response.”

O (Observation): From whence has Joseph’s interpretive gifts come? From God!

Joseph has been through trauma after trauma, but God’s promise to God’s people is kept alive through God’s faithfulness to Joseph.

Even after Joseph has been wrongfully imprisoned for two years, God is still working through Joseph, still interpreting dreams for Joseph.

And Joseph still believes God is with him. So, Joseph keeps on keeping on.

A (Application): The daily challenges I face seem like nothing compared to having one’s freedom taken away. Joseph is an example, but we also have plenty of modern-day examples of freedom being taken away.

Refugees seeking asylum is one example. They wish to flee their countries for a better chance at life. Yet, we – as Americans – are denied the chance to walk alongside many refugees these days, since our country’s leaders think the better choice is to close off the borders…acting as if the best in this world are already inside its borders, and we don’t need “you” here thank you very much.

The truth is that many are scared. We are scared because we see a limited way forward. If more people are here, taking our much needed resources, then what are “we” left with?

We imagine a future of scarcity. Joseph could have lived that way, too. Afraid. Scared. Yet Joseph had faith that God would lead him and the people of God into a blessed future. He didn’t know what it would look like sitting behind those prison bars, but he believed that God’s promise was bigger and stronger than anything he could have imagined.

And you know what? Joseph was right… because God is faithful.

P (Prayer): Jesus, you walk with us, always. Remind us daily of your grace and your presence. Amen.

God’s Covenant with Us

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S (Scripture): Genesis 15:7 [The LORD] said to Abram, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”

8 But Abram said, “Lord God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?”

9 He said, “Bring me a three-year-old female calf, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He took all of these animals, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds. 11 When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off. 12 After the sun set, Abram slept deeply. A terrifying and deep darkness settled over him….

17 After the sun had set and darkness had deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. 18 That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from Egypt’s river to the great Euphrates, 19 together with the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

O (Observation): This is one of the most intriguing covenants to explain, because of its very practical nature and because of the lengths God goes to show that God will make good on God’s promises.

At this point, God has already promised to Abram that he and Sarai that they would be established as the ancestors of a great kingdom and of a great many people. Yet, to this point, they have no offspring and Abram questions God’s resolve.

God’s response: Take the goats and others sacrificial animals. Kill them and spilt them in two. Lay the two halves opposite one another.

At this point, if two people were making an agreement, they would both pass through between the two halves of the animals – first one person and then the other. What they are effectively saying is: “should I break my part of the covenant, may I be as these animals that have been split in two.” This is a very serious agreement.

In Abram’s case, notice that Abram does NOT pass between the two halves. Only this “smoky vessel and fiery flame” passes through the animal halves.

In other words, this covenant between God and Abram / Sarai is ALL ON GOD to fulfill.

The Lord alone can make this happen…and eventually, fulfilling all righteousness, does make it happen. God’s people come from the line of Abram and Sarai. Bringing to us, Jesus, Savior of the world.

A (Application): As I venture around the 4 states of our Southeastern Synod of the ELCA – GA, AL, MS, and TN – I have the blessing of engaging with our campus ministries.

Yesterday I met with the good people of Tyson House – a joint Episcopal / Lutheran campus ministry – at the University of TN – Knoxville.

I saw young people and pastors working together to BE CHURCH the most faithful way they can.

They feed those who need food. They spend time in retreat. They go out for coffee or ice cream. They gather for worship and study, which grounds them for the work ahead.

And in all of this ministry they – and in all campus ministries – strive to know that God promises to be with them.

Be blessed people of Tyson House!

P (Prayer): Lord God, please remind me this thing called Church is always supported by You, our hope and stay. Amen.

Hope for the Narrow-Minded (like me)

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S (Scripture): Matthew 1:20b An angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:

23 

Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,

        And they will call him, Emmanuel.

O (Observation): The Gospel writer quotes Isaiah, who first encouraged King Ahaz not to worry about his fears of neighboring countries who might attack him. Isaiah pointed toward a pregnant woman and gave a wonderful illustration: by the time that woman gives birth, your worries will be over.

In this case, the angel comes to Joseph and puts his fears to rest. Mary will bear a son and he will be the Savior.

In both cases, God sends reassurances to both King Ahaz (in Isaiah) and to Joseph. God will guide our path. We can be people of hope.

A (Application): How often do fail to see the options God can lay out for us??? We usually believe the only options we have in life are those that we create for ourselves.

King Ahaz thought his only option was to align with foreign powers to protect God’s people. Joseph thought the only path forward was to separate from Mary.

Both Ahaz and Joseph were too narrow-minded. Remind you of anyone? : )

God is in the options. Take a look around. Get someone else in on the situation to help you gain a new perspective. God is there.

Next time you see only one way forward, think again…see what God might have in store.

Remain open for the option.

Let this new year be filled with options from God!!!

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see past our narrow point-of-view. Amen.

Blessing Amidst Challenge

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S (Scripture): Habakkuk 3

17 

Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom,

            and there’s no produce on the vine;

        though the olive crop withers,

            and the fields don’t provide food;

        though the sheep are cut off from the pen,

            and there are no cattle in the stalls;

18 

I will rejoice in the Lord.

        I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance.

19 

The Lord God is my strength.

        He will set my feet like the deer.

        He will let me walk upon the heights.

O (Observation): Empty-handed (no figs, no olives, no sheep, no cattle). Without these things, one has no fresh food, no oil, no clothing or milk, no meat to eat. Perhaps these things could also be sacrifices.

Even though the material goods are not present, and food seems scarce…the prophet praised the Lord. I will rejoice, says the prophet Habakkuk.

Trust that God will guide him…that God will steady his feet, like that of a deer (sure-footed and steady). God will watch out for this faithful one, and set them on high ground, a position of surety and comfort.

A (Application): Our natural inclination is to praise God when things work out and say, “Yay, God! You’re awesome!” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what happens in the reverse?

If life is going terribly wrong, do we blame God?

Is God the cause of all the good and the bad we experience?

God does promise blessing, but not in a “you’ve been good all year, so here’s a nice gift” kind of way. The blessing comes when we return God’s gift of love back into the world. When we give, when we seek justice, when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…then blessing comes. The blessing is not always status updates or financial or material gifts. The blessing is a life oriented towards God and neighbor.

With that in mind, we see no ending in the blessings to come. With all of this in mind, we can start to see God and the world the way in which Habakkuk sees it: Though challenges exist, we praise God, who will deliver us.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, we thank you for your love come down to us in Jesus. We thank you for our hope and faith in You, Almighty One. Help us, despite our high or low circumstances, to see you as our reason for hope this Advent and Christmas season. Amen.

The Faithful Gathered ‘round

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S (Scripture): Revelation 7:13 Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”

14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. 15 This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, 17 because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

O (Observation): The image of countless folks standing before The Lamb’s throne is quite overwhelming. This picture is one of comfort, since so many had been persecuted by the powers of the world.

In a time of terrible persecution, God’s people were sent a word of hope: those who have already died in the faith are gathered around God’s throne; none are forgotten; all are comforted.

A (Application): This image of countless gathered around God’s throne is one that has brought comfort to so many over the centuries. This who are persecuted will be remembered by God.

God seems to adapt the type of images we need and knows when we need images of comfort and images of challenge.

God challenges us to know that Jesus’ coming will be swift and that we must be ready, living our our faith daily. Yet, as in the time of great persecution of God’s faithful, God also gives images of great comfort – like today’s image of the faithful robed in white.

God afflicts the comforted and comforts the afflicted.

Where do you fit in today???

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into comfort or challenge…you know what we need this day. Amen.