Encouragement

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 10:19 Brothers and sisters, we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, 20 through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, 21 and we have a great high priest over God’s house.

22 Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.

23 Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.

24 And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. 25 Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.

O (Observation): Gathering together to remember God’s activity and to remember what has been done. God frees us from the idea that we must save ourselves. God frees us from thinking we need to live individually, to make it in this world, independently from one another.

God frees from the notion that we must work harder to be free – we are already free.

And so, we have the capacity to do good and to hold on to hope – not because we make our own way, because a way has been made for us.

A (Application): we are free. We always have been. We just blinded ourselves to freedom. We think we need to make it apart from God and apart from one another to prove something. We don’t.

Now that we are free, let us be beholden to one another.

Let us encourage one another out of joy and hope.

How can you encourage others this day?

P (Prayer): Lord, bring me folks today to encourage me. Amen.

Jesus Changes Everything

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 8:1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have this kind of high priest. He sat down at the right side of the throne of the majesty in the heavens. 2 He’s serving as a priest in the holy place, which is the true meeting tent that God, not any human being, set up. 3 Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. So it’s necessary for this high priest also to have something to offer. 4 If he was located on earth, he wouldn’t be a priest because there are already others who offer gifts based on the Law. 5 They serve in a place that is a copy and shadow of the heavenly meeting tent. This is indicated when Moses was warned by God when he was about to set up the meeting tent: See that you follow the pattern that I showed you on the mountain in every detail. 6 But now, Jesus has received a superior priestly service just as he arranged a better covenant that is enacted with better promises.

O (Observation): God’s people are trying to reconcile why God established multiple covenants. The author concludes that the covenant of placing the Law on our hearts has been good, but is imperfect…not because God is imperfect, but because we are. The covenant is placed on us in our broken world.

In Jesus comes the better covenant because it has better promises with it.

A (Application): We are broken and frail. Our political systems are based on win-lose scenarios, our economic systems are based on greed, our Christian religious systems are based on proving others wrong and damning them for it.

How to be a Christian in the world today?

With Jesus. Only with Jesus do we move forward.

We move forward in ways that help us towards win-win solutions in politics, seeking the uplifting of our political enemy. We can see that our economy can help us sustain those most challenged, by helping us to be generous towards the least of these. We can begin our conversations about Christ with love and compassion and empathy FIRST, showing God’s love for all people.

These are counter-cultural moves. The Hebrews author sees that God can and does work in and through the person of Jesus. And Jesus changes our practical everyday lives!!!!

We seek to help others. We seek to give. We seek to uplift.

This is the change of Jesus being my hope and salvation. My priest who intercedes for me.

What changes your life?

P (Prayer): Lord, guide me in all my ways. Amen.

Doubt and Despair

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S (Scripture):

Lamentations 1:9 

Zion’s gates sank into the ground; he broke and shattered her bars;

her king and her officials are now among the nations. There is no Instruction![b]

Even her prophets couldn’t find a vision from the Lord.

10 

Daughter Zion’s elders sit on the ground and mourn.

They throw dust on their heads; they put on mourning clothes.

Jerusalem’s young women bow their heads all the way to the ground.

Hebrews 7:26 It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens. 27 He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. He did this once for all when he offered himself. 28 The Law appoints people who are prone to weakness as high priests, but the content of the solemn pledge, which came after the Law, appointed a Son who has been made perfect forever.

O (Observation): Today’s texts remind us of two very different points in the revelation of God and God’s overall story. In Lamentations, God’s people sense that God – in the form of Instruction, or Torah – has “left the building” so to speak. Their understanding of God’s presence was wrapped up in the physical presence of God in the book of Instruction and in the Temple, neither of which were present any longer (at least not perceived to be present). God’s people begin their Babylonian exile.

Fast forward to God’s story post-ascension of Jesus, post-Acts. Now we have a God being understood as a priest forever. But not just any priest. Jesus is now the priest forever. Nothing can separate God’s presence from God’s people now. For our priest is perfect, now and forever.

God is always “in the building.”

A (Application): In our heads, we get what the Hebrews text is speaking to. In our hearts, we can get mired down in the world of Lamentations.

THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR US!!!

No shame is found in doubt or despair. As we discover (and re-discover) the story of God’s people, we are constantly being reminded that God’s people have (and will) experience moments or even seasons of doubt or despair.

How do we recall that our priest – Jesus – speaks to God for us, giving us freedom to act out of grace? We gather around the story as individuals and as community. We worship together. We serve together. We find ways to build relationships and ways to give to God and neighbor. Here, we rediscover God’s presence.

The story of God includes you. You are made in God’s image. Remember that this day. Remember that Jesus intercedes for you and brings your prayers to God. Jesus encourages you and me and all that seek grace.

Turn to God. Do so in community. See the grace flow.

P (Prayer): Gracious Jesus, sing for us, speak for us, when we can do neither. Amen.

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.

The Call

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S (Scripture): 2 Timothy 4:I’m giving you this commission in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearance and his kingdom. 2 Preach the word. Be ready to do it whether it is convenient or inconvenient. Correct, confront, and encourage with patience and instruction. 3 There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered. 4 They will turn their back on the truth and turn to myths. 5 But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances. Endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the good news, and carry out your service fully.

O (Observation): Paul commissions Timothy for ministry. He gives him instruction, guidance, boundaries within which to do his ministry. The grace has already come in the form of a call to particular ministry. Now, the living out of that grace confronts Timothy: preach, be ready, correct, encourage, keep control. Above all, do the work of the good news – whether convenient or inconvenient.

A (Application): WOW! What. A wonderful reading as I turn a page in my life this day. I’m getting into my first full day of work as an Assistant to the Bishop in the Southeastern Synod. This will not be something I take for granted, nor will I take this calling lightly.

I will take Paul’s encouragement, knowing that this call is a continuation of God’s call for me in the Church.

May God bless us as we embark on this new journey together.

Many thanks to my mentor and leaders from my youth, young adult, and college and seminary years. Many thanks to the congregational members and friends whom I have served. I hear God’s voice through their caring words and wisdom. (Whether I was able to comprehend those words or not.)

May God be with us.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, you call us to ventures in which we do not know the ending. May your wisdom and guidance be with us. Amen.

The Poor, The Downtrodden

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S (Scripture): 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Brothers and sisters, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life that is not in line with the traditions that you received from us. 7 You yourselves know how you need to imitate us because we were not undisciplined when we were with you. 8 We didn’t eat anyone’s food without paying for it. Instead, we worked night and day with effort and hard work so that we would not impose on you. 9 We did this to give you an example to imitate, not because we didn’t have a right to insist on financial support. 10 Even when we were with you we were giving you this command: “If anyone doesn’t want to work, they shouldn’t eat.”

O (Observation): Paul (and those who wrote using Paul’s name) was big on using the Law to guide and direct behavior in Jesus’ followers. He was a Pharisee at one point, critiquing God followers when they broke from the Jewish teachings and customs.

Paul was always good at challenging folks. Having been transformed by an encounter with Jesus, he understood, anew, that grace puts one in a stance that requires a person to love God and neighbor…even in the most dire of circumstances. And since Paul was a person of great challenge – to himself and to others – he also fought hard to make sure no one took the Gospel for granted.

So, if you can work, then work. If you can put food on your table, then the right thing to do is to work so you can put food on your table. Don’t take advantage of other folks’ generosity.

We are subject to no one; yet we are subject to all. If you need help, ask for it. If you can help yourself or others, do it. Both are valid ways of living.

A (Application): Some like to use these words of Paul today to make an excuse for not contributing to the needs of the homeless. They think: why can’t these people work for themselves? Earn their own way? Paul says this is the way!

I say we should challenge folks to find a way to use their God-given gifts to make the world a better place and to put food on their own table. Yet, the judgment does not belong to you or to me as to another’s abilities (or lack thereof). Each one must judge for themselves.

How do we teach this in a way that encourages all to work for their own sake, without using this as a judgment against others?

The easy thing to do is to say, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!” Didn’t Jesus go around healing people, loving all people, and reminding us to sell what we have and give alms?

Surely we can use our gifts for good in this world. Surely we can have compassion for those who cannot mentally or emotionally hold themselves accountable. Surely we can use our gifts to walk alongside those who have trouble figuring out how to make a new life in this country.

Perhaps in showing compassion to those who have trouble figuring out life, those who received help will one day have the means to help someone else. Perhaps being the example of uncoerced generosity will lead to others being generous, as well.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us generous hearts. Amen.

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.