In Due Season

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S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 3:

1

There’s a season for everything

    and a time for every matter under the heavens:

    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,

    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,

    a time for killing and a time for healing,

    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,

    a time for crying and a time for laughing,

    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,

    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,

    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,

    a time for searching and a time for losing,

    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,

    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,

    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,

    a time for loving and a time for hating,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

O (Observation): King Solomon (supposed author of Ecclesiastes) sought wisdom from God – above all else. God granted Solomon wisdom – a double-batch of it, since he didn’t request strength or riches.

Solomon seems almost morose. Like life isn’t worth living after all. What’s the point? You live, you die. And what is different? Almost like asking: “So, universe…now that Michael is gone…what’s different?” The universe says: “Um…who’s Michael?”

A (Application): Maybe Solomon’s take was different. Maybe Solomon’s main learning was this: don’t take yourself too seriously, and enjoy life!

All things will happen. We don’t know when or how. Just don’t think the world revolves around you. Good will come and good will go. Bad will come and bad will go. But God will remain. God will see us through it all. For God dwells with us.

In the meantime, be excellent to each other!

P (Prayer): Lord, remains with me / us. Amen.

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Words, words, words

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S (Scripture): Psalm 64

1

Listen to me when I complain, God!

    Protect my life from the enemy’s terror!

Hide me from the secret plots of wicked people;

    hide me from the schemes of evildoers

        who sharpen their tongues like swords.

They aim their arrow—a cruel word—

    from their hiding places

    so as to shoot an innocent person.

    They shoot without warning and without fear.

They encourage themselves with evil words.

    They plan on laying traps in secret.

O (Observation): The psalmist prays for God’s protection, giving great detail as to how the enemy is preparing for an attack: their tongues will be like swords, cruel words will be their weapons!

The psalmist trusts in God to tangle up the enemy, to ruin the plans of the enemy.

Maybe that is comfort enough.

A (Application): Sticks and stones, right? Our parents always said this…and yet what wars are we in? Word wars!

News cycles consistently quote our nation’s leaders, and on social media we tear one another apart over the words we use to explain ourselves and our positions.

Yet, in the end, the most important issue is relationships. Relationships with friends and those with whom we disagree is the birthplace of peace.

We pray that God would guide our words so that we might establish a constructive path forward towards peace, towards truth-telling, towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

P (Prayer): Lord, guise my words this day into the way of peace. Amen.

Gifted by the Spirit

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:4 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. 8 A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, 9 faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.

O (Observation): Paul’s famous words here echo through the ages. We – who are in Christ – are gifted. (Yet we cannot forget that others can be gifted, too!)

Paul is hearing that the followers of Christ in the churches he’s established are competing with each other or are showing disdain for those with gifts that different from their own.

A (Application): These verses are typically used when we install officers, council members, or other volunteers at church. We all share our gifts together for the good of all. The same Spirit leads us. The same Spirit equips us.

Are you finding yourself grateful for the gifts you’ve been given, yet also showing disdain for those with other gifts? Are you jealous?

Or are you in a place to appreciate the breadth and depth of how God has equipped you and those around you to build one another up to love God and neighbor.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to know you are equipping is all. Amen.

Speaking a Different Language

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 2:12 We haven’t received the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit so that we can know the things given to us by God. 13 These are the things we are talking about—not with words taught by human wisdom but with words taught by the Spirit—we are interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 But people who are unspiritual don’t accept the things from God’s Spirit. They are foolishness to them and can’t be understood, because they can only be comprehended in a spiritual way. 15 Spiritual people comprehend everything, but they themselves aren’t understood by anyone. 16 Who has known the mind of the Lord, who will advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.

O (Observation): Paul teases apart the ways of speaking with people who have been transformed by the Spirit compared to those who have not been changed by the Spirit. To speak in ways that call on people to share with one another and to give is not normal. That does not compute for someone not transformed by the Spirit.

Having the mind of Christ makes a difference!

A (Application): So much of what we argue about these days generates from our differences in our spiritual lives (or lack thereof). We can not argue for social justice policies with people who have a spiritual background different from ours (if they even have a spiritual background).

And a spiritual background causes us to have a spiritual vocabulary.

So what do we discuss when we use different vocabulary and language?

How about human life?!

The value of each human life. The potential for goodness and health and well-being. The potential for damage when we insist upon our spiritual vocabulary over and against someone else’s vocabulary.

In America, we are a people who claim that every person here has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Maybe we can find a common language…a spiritual Rosetta Stone, if you will. I believe that was what Paul was striving to be. A living stone. A loving Rosetta Stone…so that spiritual and non-spiritual alike can converse.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us listen. Help us speak. Amen.

Conversation, Not Judgment

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S (Scripture): Romans 14:13 So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. 14 I know and I’m convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is wrong to eat in itself. But if someone thinks something is wrong to eat, it becomes wrong for that person. 15 If your brother or sister is upset by your food, you are no longer walking in love. Don’t let your food destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 And don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong. 17 God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval.

O (Observation): Paul encourages Christ-followers who have different opinions about customs to NOT let the customs get in the way of growing the community of faith. He’s not saying one should become a doormat and let other’s opinions reign…you can defend your position. And in that conversation go the way that brings peace, joy, and righteousness.

A (Application): So…don’t judge someone. Get to know why they are doing what they are doing. Hopefully, the conversation will be one in which both parties can understand the other party’s view-point. Ultimately, peace, joy, and righteousness need to be the markers against which our actions and thoughts are measured, not just our feelings or passion.

In Christ, we have one who guides us by example. In the Spirit, we have a companion to go with us to help us make these conversations happen.

P (Prayer): Spirit, guide us into the way of peace, joy, righteousness. Amen.

God’s Math

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S (Scripture): Romans 8:5 People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. 6 The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace.

O (Observation): Paul relates how the Spirit brings new life to folks, and how selfishness leads to death. The Law alone didn’t satisfy the desire God has for new life in people, because we are selfish! When we think mostly for our own good, we fail.

Yet in Christ, the Spirit is now our guide. The Spirit is in us, yet beyond the reach of sin. How? Christ’s death and resurrection, in bodily form, has overcome the power of sin.

A (Application): God is good. God wishes only life and peace for us, but we find ways to mess that up. Our selfishness pokes its ugly head up and snatches away life-giving actions and words for others.

We like to think that the world is made up of only so much good, and that if we give enough away, we won’t have any for ourselves.

I think new life in the Spirit actually creates more goodness! How do I know? Well, when I give my time to a service project, I feel “full.” I may be exhausted physically or mentally, but spiritual, I’m overjoyed.

God’s math just works differently.

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

The Use of Sacraments / Ritual

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S (Scripture): Romans 4

7 

Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven,

        and whose sins are covered.

Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord.

9 Is this state of happiness only for the circumcised or is it also for those who aren’t circumcised? We say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 So how was it credited? When he was circumcised, or when he wasn’t circumcised? In fact, it was credited while he still wasn’t circumcised, not after he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that comes from the faith he had while he still wasn’t circumcised. It happened this way so that Abraham could be the ancestor of all those people who aren’t circumcised, who have faith in God, and so are counted as righteous. 12 He could also be the ancestor of those circumcised people, who aren’t only circumcised but who also walk in the path of faith, like our ancestor Abraham did while he wasn’t circumcised.

O (Observation): Paul dissects the point at which their spiritual father (Abraham) became righteous. Was it before or after he was circumcised.

Yes, Paul is still ranting about circumcision. Why? This issue was just the most prominent of MANY issues that divided Christians that were formerly Jewish from those Christians who had no Jewish background.

Paul points out that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness BEFORE he became circumcised. In this way those who are circumcised AND those who are not have Abraham as their spiritual ancestor.

In making this point, Paul makes something else even more clear: our external responses (like circumcision) do not dictate whether or not a person can have faith in God.

Persons of faith need not throw away customs, nor do they have to adopt them, in order to respond in faith to God’s grace given to all people who wish to receive that grace.

A (Application): As Christians, we have certain external markers that declare grace to us: namely, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. I’m big fans of both. HUGE fans of both : )

These “means of grace” (as we call them in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) remind us of God’s gracious Spirit being poured out into our very beings. This Spirit joins us to the body of Christ, and gives us grace and forgiveness to live out our lives in hope.

These means of grace, however, remain external signs. Sort of like what circumcision meant for Abraham. Not exactly, but close.

Baptism remains our way of joining to Christ’s body. In baptism we are marked with the promised Holy Spirit. I wonder, though, what the non-Christian journeys through when they look at the Church? Are we using Baptism as a means of pushing others away? Or are we inviting them to consider – first – becoming a part of our community. Then, after a time of deliberation, continue to encourage these persons to consider being baptized…to show that on a particular day and time, in a faith community willing to love and support one another, that the Spirit has joined them to the body of Christ.

Personally, I see everything to gain in Baptism and Holy Communion. The old self being washed away for the new life in Christ to come forth. Yet our journeys are not all the same.

More can be said regarding Communion, but I digress.

Let us not use the Means of Grace as a means to divide us into classes (the Baptized OVER the non-Baptized; those who attend worship or commune weekly OVER those who attend worship and commune once or twice per month). Let us, instead, focus on the joy that comes from these means of grace, such that those who do not yet know of these gifts might be inspired by the Spirit to receive them gratefully. And if not, that we not disparage them, but instead, meet them where they are in their faith journey.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us grace, that we might share it bountifully with others. Amen.