To the Earth’s Guardians on Maundy Thursday

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 47

God is king over the nations.

    God sits on his holy throne.

The leaders of all people are gathered

    with the people of Abraham’s God

    because the earth’s guardians belong to God;

        God is exalted beyond all.

O (Observation): The people of God assume that all people will eventually praise God. All will praise God for God is sovereign Christ over all the earth. Not a dictator, but a benevolent ruler, seeking the good for all people.

The people may not all be unified in belief or allegiance, but they will all recognize God in some form or fashion, because all belong to God.

A (Application): It’s been a minute folks. I have not posted in over a month, I think. I am happy that Holy Week is my venture back into this possibility of promise and praise of our God.

I am weary, as most of us are these days.

I celebrated my 19th anniversary with my lovely wife, while we are locked down at home. I stay busy working from home, equipping our ELCA congregations in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. I teach my children when they get stuck with schoolwork, and I try to not annoy my wife too much : )

We are all weary. This week, today, in fact, we remember Jesus gives a true example of what it means to be a servant-leader. A servant-leader will get down on a knee and do something as lowly as wash feet. Will give fully of their self, even to the point of pouring one’s self out completely. This is Maundy Thursday.

This example is why people will flock to our God, why all the earth’s guardians will bend their knees. Not out of compulsion or force. Rather, the earth’s guardians flock to our God, for our God is a just and benevolent God, who – in the form of Jesus – first bent the knee to serve us.

Blessed Maundy Thursday, folks. Be well.

P (Prayer): Lord God, you first served us. Help us now to use that example to serve others. Amen.

Service with a Smile

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Isaiah 42

42 

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;

    he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,

    or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,

    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;

    he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed

    until he has established justice in the earth;

    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,

    who created the heavens and stretched them out,

    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it

    and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,

    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,[a]

    a light to the nations,

    to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

    from the prison those who sit in darkness.

O (Observation): The Servant of God. A strange combination of quiet, strength, hopefulness, and compassion.

The Servant is an agent of God. An agent in this sense will bring God’s hope and joy to others.

Those who need God’s hope and joy the most are those who are imprisoned or blind or more simply, those in search of justice.

A (Application): This Servant is considered a foretelling of Jesus by many Christians. I tend to agree. These verses are indeed quoted in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 12) in response to the questioning of who Jesus is. This Servant is the one who is proclaimed as the one to bring justice. For Jesus to be this Servant ties together the history of God’s people throughout the ages.

Jesus was always to come. After all, Jesus is the Christ in the flesh, in a particular time and place in our history.

The concept of the Servant gives us hope that we don’t always have to be the strongest or the bravest or the brightest on our own. In fact, we have one who exemplifies peace and justice and hope. And when we need strength, God is the one who will provide it.

What we seek these days is justice. What we hope for is strength to act for our neighbors in need. What we are reminded of is humility along the way.

Let us be bold in seeking justice, but let us do this in a way that honors God and and bring dignity to all people.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to serve as your Servant serves you. Amen.

To Serve or to Be Served

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Luke 22:24 An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest.

25 But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. 27 So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

O (Observation): What?!?! What about our status? What about our status as leaders? How are we supposed to lead the church if we don’t hold any authority?

Jesus is confusing things once again…leadership in the church has worked, so why change the view?

Well…has it worked?

Perhaps a view of servant-leadership is in order.

A (Application): On a weekday in Spring 2003, I went into what is known as my Entrance Interview to start my process into becoming a pastor in the ELCA. I talked a lot about all of my church experiences and what I’ve done to deserve this opportunity to serve the Church.

A gruff, pipe-wielding man by the name of Rev. Dr. Tom Ridenhour (who would later become my preaching professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) said to me: “I’ve heard a whole lot about ‘me’ and ‘my’ and what ‘I’ve done’ and very little about ‘what God is doing or what God has done.'”

<insert long, awkward, quiet pause…and me starting to sweat…>

Dr. Ridenhour continues after the pause with: “…but I look forward to having you in my classes at seminary…”

(“phew!”)

Well, I learned that day (and I’m still learning) to want to be the one serving, and not the one at the table. How about you?

P (Prayer): Lord, remind me that service to neighbor is as meaningful as being served. Amen.

Servant-Minded

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Matthew 20:25 Jesus called the disciples over and said, “You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. 27 Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave— 28 just as the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”

O (Observation): Jesus turns the idea of “status” on its ear. The worldly issues about status don’t work in God’s Kingdom. Instead, to become great, you lay down your own ambitions and seek to serve someone else.

How is that helping your own cause? Jesus seems to be thinking upside-down and backwards. … Well, maybe that’s exactly what the Gospel is about: shifting around our priorities and letting go of status altogether.

A (Application): How many times have you tried to network, only to feel subservient? Like you were there to serve everyone else, and felt like you were just a pawn in someone else’s game? Why is that? Is it about a negative self-image? Is it because you think serving others is your calling? Is it because you see others as better than you?

We play lots of mind games with ourselves. When we are in a room in which someone feels they must have the upper hand, our sense of pride swells up and we don’t want that other person to walk away feeling superior. But something about humility and serving our neighbor kicks in. Do we let them just walk away thinking they have the upper hand? Do we remain poised in a “ready to be your servant” kind of mind frame? Doesn’t that mean the “other person” wins?

How frustrating is this thing called faith? The first will be last / servant of all?

That just doesn’t feel right, does it? And it doesn’t make sense, right? What is the end game? Ah… now that question changes everything.

What do we assume about the goal of the Christian life? What is the assumption about being a servant? Is it bad, by default? Is the Christian life about winning and losing?

(There you go….more questions than answers today…)

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us servant-minded in our approach to life today.

Abundance – Giving & Receiving

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 144: 9 I will sing a new song to you, God.
I will sing praises to you on a ten-stringed harp,
10 to you—the one who gives saving help to rulers,
and who rescues his servant David from the evil sword.
11 Rescue me and deliver me from the power of strangers,
whose mouths speak lies,
and whose strong hand is a strong hand of deception,
12 so that our sons can grow up fully, in their youth, like plants;
so that our daughters can be like pillars carved to decorate a palace;
13 so that our barns can be full, providing all kinds of food;
so that our flocks can be in the thousands—
even tens of thousands—in our fields;
14 so that our cattle can be loaded with calves;
so that there won’t be any breach in the walls,
no exile, no outcries in our streets!

O (Observation): The abundance found in God is described here by the psalmist – an abundance beyond joy, beyond measure. Hope springs eternal for the follower of God.

A (Application): The hope and abundance found in God comes in many forms. We hope our sons and daughters bear fruit in their own special ways. We pray that our storehouses are filled and that our jobs bring abundance.

This is our hope. Reality sometimes does not match this hope, however. But this still remains our hope. That all will be fed and that all who have need will be satisfied.

In the meantime, we will feed the hungry, we will gather together and do our best to make sure all are fed and that none have need.

In my church setting, we work with the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, Roots for Refugees & Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, The Journey Home, Coldest Nights Women’s Shelter. These are some ways in which this psalm is coming to fruition for many people who have need in Murfreesboro. And this is also helping us to see our need to be humble, broken, and filled with the Spirit.

May we be God’s hands and feet this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to be another person’s abundance. And help them to be our abundance. Amen.

“I Would Plant a Tree…”

  

S (Scripture): Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, 50 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, 51 and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

O (Observation):  Jesus is gearing up his followers to be ready for his second coming.   He has been telling his disciples that his own death is pending, but that one day he will come back.  And in the meantime, his followers are to be ready for his coming again.  

What does Jesus want for his followers, while he is gone from this earth?  For them to be serving, caring for each other, and the world.  This is how his servants will act.  This brings blessings beyond measure…beyond what we deserve. 

A (Application):  Martin Luther is reputed to have said, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.”  The validity of that quote is in question, but the sentiment still holds true.  This is something “like” Luther might have said.   Why?   Because of scripture verses like Matthew 24:45-51.  

Luther was very big on going to the sources – the scriptures – relying less on tradition than scripture itself.  

In this case, we can focus on two things:  vocation or fear.   I choose vocation.   Why?  I think focusing on the blessing and joy of following a calling allows me to sense my baptism sparking my motivation for doing good in the world.  I choose not to focus on the fear, for fear only motivates out of anger and lasts but a short while.   Following a calling lasts a lifetime.   

(A caveat about fear: as a parent, I can get angry at my children for doings things that put them in harms way.   That may be Jesus’ motivation here, too:  keep the disciples from hurting their souls.)

These are Jesus’ words, so the difficulty is how to emphasize the threat he makes.  To be cut in two?   Really?  Perhaps this is the expression of Jesus’ disappointment.   

But I tend to lean on the promises of blessing found in planting a tree, inviting my neighbor over for a meal, cutting my beighbor’s grass, etc… even if the second coming were to happen tomorrow, for that is the constructive piece of this warning.  

Don’t wait!   Listen, today, for what God is saying to you!   Then, discern what does God want you to do?

That all starts with taking time each day to listen to the Lord.   How is that going for you?  Do you need encouragement?   Do you need help?   

Look at the Tools Section of this blog for a starting point.  Read 1, 2, or all 3 suggested texts for the day.   Journal on your own.  Comment on this blog.    Find your niche that works for you, so that you, too, can dig daily into the scriptures, and hear the Word of the Lord.  

Blessings to you, faithful servant!

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us all to find our callings, by spending time with you, daily.   Help us to serve our neighbors, joyfully, regardless of the day of your Arrival.  Amen.  

Power and Strength

  S (Scripture): Matthew 21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those following kept shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

O (Observation):  Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus Christ seems to have been written to a Jewish audience, to Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah foretold.   Jesus embodied the descriptions of the Savior, but his ways of embodying the covenants was slightly different than what the people wanted to see and hear.  They wanted a mighty warrior, like David…but they got a humble servant-leader, instead. 

Coming into Jerusalem on a donkey was part of the fulfillment of an Old Testament scripture (Zech 9:9).   Shouts of “Hosanna” are roughly equivalent to “O Lord, Save Us!”  And the phrase, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” was a phrase that had become a Jewish liturgical phrase, giving praise to God. 

But there would be more to come…more that would separate, rather than unite God’s people.  Who would be believe where Jesus was headed?   

A (Application):  Turmoil in the wake of Super Tuesday is apparent to me.  We are unsure about our political leaders and future.  House of Cards seems more and more like reality than fiction.  Like we want power and strength ONLY.  

In whom do we hope?  Human cunning and strength?  Who is our Savior?  A political candidate?  Jesus?  

We are but a shadow of who we will be, this side of heaven.   We know only in part, now.  But one who came as a humble servant-leader calls us onward…calls us to follow Him – Jesus Christ.  

Trust in the Lord to carry us onward, despite our failings and shortcomings.  Let us shout “Hosanna!” to Jesus Christ, as he continually approaches our lives.  

P (Prayer): Lord, I have put my trust in others. Help me to put my trust in you alone.  Amen.