In Hot Pursuit!

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S (Scripture): Psalm 23

5

You set a table for me

    right in front of my enemies.

You bathe my head in oil;

    my cup is so full it spills over!

Yes, goodness and faithful love

    will pursue me all the days of my life,

    and I will live [a] in the Lord’s house

    as long as I live.

[a] – or, “return to”

O (Observation): This text is an iconic one. Maybe not in the version of the Common English Bible, like I have posted here. The King James version is more likely well known, overall, but this version picks up on two central factors: “pursue” and “live / return to”.

God is all about allowing us the space to worry and fear, and yet God is still present. Not that God wants us to fear…God simply gets the fact that we are still broken as of yet.

And so, God does two things: God’s justice (or goodness) and mercy (or faithful love) don’t just follow us for the rest of our days, like a little puppy on a leash. No! God’s goodness and faithful love PURSUE us for the rest of our days. This is different than simply following.

And we don’t just live in the House of the Lord. The footnote reminds us that we will come and go in this life. And throughout our days, we will wander, but we will always have the Lord’s House to return to.

A (Application): So many times, our faith comes of the rails. We panic. Anxiety kicks in. And we my have a true mental health issue wrapped up in this. But I also believe that this passage today could be part of our response to the pressure and anxiety we place upon ourselves.

Typically, when a deadline looms or we have to get the house cleaned up, we quickly realize that it’s not going to get done by itself, or we may not be able to do the exact best job we have ever done.

We forget that God’s faithfulness is PURSUING us in the midst of our challenge. We forget that we can return not just to the Lord’s house (like a church), but we can simply return to the Lord’s dwelling / presence. For whether or not we are thinking about God, God is certainly thinking about us…

P (Prayer): Gracious God, forgive us, redeem us, pursue us! Help us to know if 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.

Missional Communities

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, together with the church that meets in their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters greet you. You in turn should greet each other with a holy kiss. 21 Here is my greeting in my own handwriting—Paul.

O (Observation): Paul’s letters – making up a large portion of the New Testament – are a treasure for us. These letters help us to catch a glimpse of the goodness of God. God’s Spirit flows through Paul, who goes on mission. God’s Spirit flows through Prisca and Aquila (and their whole household).

The household was the setting for the early church. Followers of Jesus were not worshipping in cathedrals or pews or temples. Instead, God was with them on their journeys and in their homes. The home would host 30-50 people. They would read what Scriptures they had. They would all share food and eat together…including bread and a cup of wine.

A (Application): More congregations are extending the Sunday conversations by having people meet in one another’s homes. There, they share personal stories, read Scripture, and rally around a mission (volunteer at a local school, work with a homeless shelter, connect with Muslim folks in our community).

The mission is the core identity marker, as God’s people serve in the community. Having the mission as the identity marker allows us to ensure that the group does NOT become just a club. Instead, the mission drives the community and the worship this community does.

And it can all be done from someone’s home.

Where relationships can be built, and hopefully, thrive.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into mission work we can be proud of. Amen.

A House Divided

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S (Scripture):

2 Samuel 2:4 Then the people of Judah came to Hebron and anointed David king over the house of Judah…8 Meanwhile, Abner, Ner’s son, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 There he made him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, and Benjamin—over all Israel. 10 Saul’s son Ishbosheth was 40 years old when he became king over Israel, and he ruled for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. 11 The amount of time David ruled in Hebron over the house of Judah totaled seven and a half years.

John 6:63b Jesus continues: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” 66 At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.

67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”

70 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

O (Observation): God is no stranger to adversity…to God’s own house divided.

In the case of 2 Samuel 2, Saul has been defeated and animosity has grown strong between Saul’s people and David’s people. The people wanted a king! They got one. In fact, when the first one (Saul) tried to rule apart from God, God dismissed him by anointing another king: David.

Both David and Saul were anointed. So, who should the people follow? Alliances formed and split the people of God. The northern kingdom, Israel, followed Saul. The southern kingdom (Judah) followed David. And thus, God’s people continued in their own “Civil War” in which God’s people continued to kill one another.

As for Jesus, one of his own hand-picked group of 12 will wish to have Jesus killed. At least, he will be willing to “sell out” Jesus to the thugs who wish to have him silenced / censored.

The result? More death…in fact, the death of Jesus himself. And in his wake would come the bursting forth of the Spirit.

Both of these stories remind us that God is no stranger to adversity and that we are sustained even in the midst of adversity and overwhelming odds.

A (Application): Today, I am struck not by own adversity, of which I have very little. I am struck by the adversity of those whom our American society places on the fringe.

People of color.

Women.

Disabled.

LGBTQIA+.

Indigenous People of America.

And so many more.

My friends of a more “conservative” bent think me ridiculous. How can I be so pathetic? How can I be so soft? “Everyone has equal rights.” “I’m not responsible for <insert group here> not getting that job / getting elected / getting that home loan / etc. What people did 50, 100, 250, or more years ago is not me.”

Instead of keeping our house divided, perhaps we could look to the ways that we can all contribute to make this world a better place. If that means using my white, male privilege to help others, then that is the course. I say this, because I have looked around and said, “God, why don’t you do something?” And God says, “I did. I created you!” Oh…dang…

What do I do with that???

What do you do with that???

P (Prayer): Lord, guide me and sustain me. Amen.

Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway?


S (Scripture): 1 Chronicles 17:1 When David had settled into his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I am living in a palace made from cedar, while the ark of the Lord’s covenant is under a tent.” 2 Nathan said to David, “You should do whatever you have in mind, for God is with you.”

3 That night God told Nathan the prophet, 4 “Go, tell my servant David: ‘This is what the Lord says: “You must not build me a house in which to live….
10b “I declare to you that the Lord will build a dynastic house for you! 11 When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He will build me a house, and I will make his dynasty permanent. 13 I will become his father and he will become my son. I will never withhold my loyal love from him, as I withheld it from the one who ruled before you. 14 I will put him in permanent charge of my house and my kingdom; his dynasty will be permanent.” ‘”15 Nathan told David all these words that were revealed to him.

O (Observation):  This is not the first time we have heard of God establishing David’s house.  We hear of this promise in 2 Samuel as well.

God has been satisfied to live in a tent, wondering with God’s people, up until now. Now that David wishes to establish a home for God, God quickly replies with the fact that God will now establish a dynastic house of David; through his offspring. 

From my commentary: Here the word “house” is used in a metaphorical sense, referring to a royal dynasty. The Lord’s use of the word here plays off the literal sense that David had in mind as he contemplated building a temple (“house”) for the Lord. In the translation the adjective “dynastic” is supplied to indicate that the term is used metaphorically.

As much as David would like to further establish God’s Kingdom…God’s got this under control.  And not only that, but God will now choose to work through a fallible human…and we will see God’s grace provide a way forward.  

A (Application): How do we do this discipleship thing?   How can I move forward?  What can I achieve?  

A lot of times I sense that my job is to keep moving forward.   That I need to take the right steps at the right time.  That I need to “build a house for the Lord.”  

And yet, repeatedly, I am reminded that my efforts are no match compared to what the Lord has in store.

So, the effort is good, but it’s not the answer. Instead, I am to repent, answer the Lord’s call, then move forward, having best discerned that call.  I work with close friends and family to help me determine those calls (small and large).

Should I call this person?  Visit that person?  Read?  Study?  Write?  Create a new ministry at my church to reach college students?  Run home to spend time with family?   The questions and calls are endless!

Thanks be to God for our ability to lean on one another and to discern together wha God has in store for us.    

How do you discern?  With whom do you take time to check in and discern?

P (Prayer):  Lord, heal us from our need to “have it all together” and lead us boldly into the night, taking our hand as we do so.  Amen.