I Am My Own Harshest Critic

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S (Scripture): Psalm 25

Make your ways known to me, Lord;

    teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—

    because you are the God who saves me.

        I put my hope in you all day long.

Lord, remember your compassion and faithful love—

    they are forever!

But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing.

    Remember me only according to your faithful love

        for the sake of your goodness, Lord.

O (Observation): What path to take? How will God see me? These are the questions the psalmist asks this morning.

How will God aide me in my daily walk?

How will God remember me?

May grace lead me home.

A (Application): How will I be remembered? How will I know if I’ve taken the right path?

I definitely resonate with this Psalm. I try to take stock of where I am and where I’ve been. I ponder my future as an individual and as a husband and as a father.

When I make decisions, I try to imagine my future self looking back at my present self and ask: is this act or decision praiseworthy?

And so I critique myself. And I’m pretty harsh.

So the Psalm reminds me of the way I hope God sees me and all of us:

But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing.

Remember me only according to your faithful love

Amen!

P (Prayer): Lord, give me strength to pursue the right path and the grace to forgive myself. Amen.

Open the Windows and Doors to the Autumn Air

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S (Scripture): John 4:19 The [Samaritan] woman said [to Jesus], “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”

26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”

O (Observation): Usually this story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well draws me into Jesus’ witness of crossing boundaries for the sake of the Gospel. And indeed, this does occur. And yet, a new thing has caught my attention in my reading of this lesson today.

Worship.

Where does it happen? The Temple, of course!

Of all the things she wonders about, worship (and where to worship) is important to her.

Jesus opens up the expanse of proper worship. Worship is not about a place, but an orientation towards something. In this case, the orientation is towards truth and spirit. God is released from the confines of the Temple, for “God is spirit.”

The Temple served a purpose for a time. The people wandered in the wilderness until a settlement was established. Organic moved to organized. But then the organization grew and became complicated – it got in the way of worship and mission for God. And the Samaritans, for example, were not welcome to worship with the Jews…thus producing a stumbling block to the movement of God’s grace in the world.

A (Application): Stumbling blocks. We (the Church) are good at creating stumbling blocks for others. Yet we are also so close to opening up the doors and windows to allow the refreshing autumn air into our homes and places of worship and more.

Breath it in! The crisp, fall air. God is up to something. Can you feel it?

Meet someone new lately? Catch up with an old friend? Or do you find yourself wrapping up tighter and tighter, pulling yourself away from the world?

We are all in different places. But I would invite you to be aware of the places in your life where God is trying to pry open your heart to experience the Spirit’s presence.

Maybe at the water fountain? The coffee station? The lunchroom? Where is God showing up and shaking things up?

P (Prayer): Lord, show us that you are here with us. Amen.

Prophet: Rejected!

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S (Scripture): Mark 6:1 Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.

4 Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” 5 He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 He was appalled by their disbelief.

O (Observation): The Son of God…unable to do any miracles in his home town. Jesus’ home town folks…incredulous, disbelieving. And because they doubt, most are not healed. Jesus was just never gonna be enough for these folks.

They saw Jesus grow up. They know his parents. They know his siblings. He can’t be the Son of God.

A (Application): How many times do we doubt? How many times do we dismiss, out of poor logic or sensibility? How often do we belittle?

Jesus’ hometown folks have a notion of who Jesus is supposed to be. We have notions of who Jesus is supposed to be. We have vision of what worship and belief should be.

When things don’t fit that mold, we have difficulty moving forward. This happens to all of us. No matter what you prefer, some things will just not fit the mold in your mind or mine. And in the wake of that discussion, we hopefully walk away with the idea that we are still worshipping God in a way that can be beneficial for all of us (even if we lay down our lives along the way).

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in worshipping you. Amen.

Scaffolding of our Faith

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S (Scripture): Exodus 25:10 Have them make an acacia-wood chest. It should be forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. 11 Cover it with pure gold, inside and out, and make a gold molding all around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Make acacia-wood poles and cover them with gold. 14 Then put the poles into the rings on the chest’s sides and use them to carry the chest. 15 The poles should stay in the chest’s rings. They shouldn’t be taken out of them. 16 Put the covenant document that I will give you into the chest.

O (Observation): As God’s people are learning to make their way through the wilderness and to the Promise Land, they are given explicit instructions on how to build this ark – this location for God’s presence in their midst.

These instructions for the ark are extremely precise. Why such a big deal?

Well, God’s people are literally wandering in the desert / wilderness. They have spent generations as servants in a foreign country. Even though they kept their stories and traditions alive while enslaved, they were not prepared to worship God in a corporate way. Building this ark was a way to prepare for what God was going to give them: the 10 Commandments.

This guidance was important, because God’s people needed some direction and stability. They have been wandering and needed explicit instructions to follow, in order that they might be given a clear sense of purpose.

Build this. To these specifications. “Trust me,” says God.

A (Application): Yesterday, I preached a sermon about how we build “scaffolding” around the things we do as a church: customs, traditions, theology, etc. I mentioned that the scaffolding, while helpful at times, can be restrictive. We can start to focus more on the scaffolding and less on the gift of grace around which this scaffolding resides.

Yet, in times of great unrest, guidance and scaffolding are EXACTLY what we need. This scaffolding helped God’s people in their days following their emancipation from Egyptian rule.

After the death of a loved one, you need your family and work and structure around you to allow you some healthy paths forward, that you might be able to grieve without falling apart.

When adding a member of the family – through birth or adoption – you start living into new norms, and any structure you have around your time of growing together can be very reassuring and a relief.

The direction and scaffolding around you or your faith life can be helpful, indeed. I simply ask that you discern whether that structure is bringing new life or inhibiting new life.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us guidance and wisdom to know when to follow the script and when to improvise. Amen.

Rituals and Relationships

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S (Scripture): Hosea 6:4 Ephraim, what will I do with you?
Judah, what will I do with you?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that vanishes quickly.
5 Therefore, I have attacked them by the prophets,
I have killed them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth like a light.
6 I desire faithful love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned offerings.

O (Observation): God’s people are getting a heaping of The Law, they are being shown where they have fallen short of honoring God. In God’s address to the people who claim the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their God, we hear God naming God’s people as a vanishing morning cloud. God’s people show up, but vanish. God’s people appear, then disappear. They claim to be faithful to God, but go away when they desire affirmation or healing.

Faithful love and knowledge of God. This is what God desires most – for people to know their God. Instead, God’s people find a way to focus on the rituals, with empty hearts. Seems God would rather have a relationship than a ritual. Or maybe, better yet, the relationship would be the focus of the ritual.

A (Application): Do you and your friends have a special greeting or handshake? I know that sounds very middle school, but do you have routines with friends or even family members? Like, do you take your shoes off when you go in their house? Do you go right to the kitchen to grab a snack or a water?

When you leave, do you honk your horn a certain number of times? Do you have a prayer or some other send off?

If any of the above apply, I hope you consider that your rituals likely occur, because you have a relationship with one another.

In the same way, God wishes for our worship rituals to be reflective of our relationship with God. God’s people of Old (in Hosea) still showed up for worship with burnt offerings, but they had very little stock in their relationship with God. When trouble came, or a need for healing, God’s people would quite often turn elsewhere for hope.

In Jesus, we have God re-establishing a relationship, and this time, the relationship is clearly with the whole cosmos! All people are invited to receive God’s mercy and be transformed by God’s grace.

Next time you worship, hear the words and focus on the relationship God wishes to have with you (or maybe you know that relationship is already there). For many of us, that relationship is made firm in our baptism. As a Lutheran, I have lived my whole life long knowing that God reached out to me to establish a relationship with me in my baptism, and has brought many others around me (friends, family, pastors, church leaders, etc.) to remind me of our relationship. And from this relationship comes the many rituals in which I am blessed to partake.

Peace!

P (Prayer): Lord, I thank you for establishing a relationship with me, and helping me to see that our relationship with you and one another on earth are central to who we are as your followers and your witnesses to all the earth. Amen.

A Lamp Shining In a Dark Place

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S (Scripture): 2 Peter 1:19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
O (Observation):  Peter reminds his followers (and readers) that they have a special advantage of having been witnesses (or at least heard it second-hand) that Jesus Christ is the glory of God incarnate – God in the flesh.  

This advantage will give them more cause to be hopeful, to be as a lamp shining in a dark place.  

Recalling this truth of God in flesh, Jesus Christ, bringing about salvation and overcoming the power of sin and death, is something to be reminded of time and time again.   

Recall this truth, Peter reminds us.  And in remembering, the light will shine in the darkness    

A (Application):   “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  We sang that today at the ELCA Youth Gathering training event in Houston, TX, this morning.  This is a reminder that we are the light and that we are called to carry the light into the darkness of our communities and into the darkness of our own lives.  

As a participant and one of the many leaders for the ELCA Youth Gathering, I have been reminded time and again, that God is our light and our life, and in God we love and move and have our being.  One can’t help but recall all of this when surrounded by 30,000 fellow church members.  

And from that pilgrimage experience of the ELCA Youth Gathering, we see that we are called to shine the light of Christ in the dark places: by caring for others, by listening to our neighbors, by coming together to worship on a regular basis.  

Who has been the light in your life?

When have you been a light -bearer to others?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to let your light shine through us at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston next summer, and every day.  Amen.  

Why Worship?


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S (Scripture): Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.

O (Observation): Paul teaches a clear ethic of love and forgiveness.  Caring for one another is at the heart of Paul’s words.   Be kind to one another, not just for your sake or the sake of the one you interact with…but for the Lord’s sake, as well.    

The word of Christ must dwell in you, richly.   Not only Jesus himself, but also songs and scriptures.   Paul calls his people to constantly remind themselves of the forgiveness and mercy that God has shown to God’s people throughout history.   In recalling theses words through song and readings, Paul reminds his folks that they will be close to the heart of God…and doing God’s work. 

A (Application):  Every week during worship, in our liturgy, in our songs, in our readings, we recall God’s saving acts of forgiveness, love, and mercy.  Many don’t realize, but the liturgy in Lutheran worship is steeped in the words of scripture.   We know much more of the scriptures than we give ourselves credit for.   Folks might not be able to recall chapter and verse of some of the scriptures, but it does enter their hearts and minds.   And it enters the hearts and minds of our little ones, too!   This is why we love having our children in worship with us.  

We can learn a lot during worship, but for Lutherans, worship is not just a time for learning.  Worship is also a time for absorbing God’s dynamic presence: through symbols, through sacraments, through hearing and reading God’s word directly, through singing hymns and psalms, and though God’s word proclaimed and prayed.   

We sing and proclaim and share God’s peace with one another, all for God’s glory.  This practice is then carried out into the world.  We gather weekly to be reminded of who and whose we are.  We are then equipped and sent into the world to love and serve our neighbors. 

Worship shapes us.   Worship is not just for “me and Jesus.”   Worship transforms the rest of our lives…until we gather again, in God’s name, to be reminded of who and whose we are.   

May we capture this sense of grace and share it in the world today.  

P (Prayer): Lord, gather us in, equip us, send us forth to serve.  Amen.