Weekly Devotional: Thanks-giving this Thanksgiving

Thanks-Be-To-God1For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  

-1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NRSV)

Long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth and celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621, and long before Abraham Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving holiday in order to try and facilitate a drawing together of the Northern and Southern states following the Civil War, and long before Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for our national celebration of Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November, people of faith have known what it is to “give thanks.”

At the center of both the Hebrew faith tradition that is formative for our Christian tradition and at the center of our Christian faith is the idea that we are invited, encouraged and, in some cases, commanded to offer our gifts, praise and thanksgiving to God. Take a few moments to read the Psalms and you will find countless offerings of thanksgiving to God. Spend a few minutes reading the letters of the Apostle Paul, and you will find peppered throughout the pages words of thanksgiving and praise.

In recent years those specializing in the study of health and wellness have determined that “gratitude” can transform our hearts and our lives. Taking a few moments at the beginning or the ending of a day to reflect on your life and count your blessings, or list those things for which you are grateful can lift your spirits, stave off depression, ease an angry heart and propel you toward altruistic living.

As Christians we have as the central liturgical action of our worship the “Eucharist,” a Greek word that means “thanks.” The first action of the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion is found in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, the first mention of this last meal of Jesus with his disciples in all of scripture. In later years the church titled this portion of our remembrance, “The Great Thanksgiving.” So, “giving thanks,” is part of our DNA. This activity of giving thanks to God is something that keeps us both humble and proud: Humble in that we realize that all we have comes from God who is within us, between us and beyond us and proud in that we belong to God and are God’s children.

As you gather around your Thanksgiving table this week, I hope you will remember how important it is for us to live a life of deep gratitude and then commit to spending a few moments each day in praise and thanksgiving to God for all the gifts you have received. I believe that simple action will transform you, living in ways you cannot even imagine. Come to think of it, that would be something to give thanks for, wouldn’t it?

How can I say thanks enough for all the gifts you have given to me, O God? So, I ask that you received my humble thanks knowing that I will overlook so much of what you have offered. Receive my thanks, O Tender God, such as it is. Amen.

P.S. Don’t forget. This Sunday, November 29 marks the 1st Sunday of Advent. Why not challenge yourself to make worship a central part of our weekly living by being in worship each Sunday of Advent. It can change your life.

Weekly Devotional: There’s No Place Like Church on Sunday In Times Like These

newsbibleJesus came to Nazareth and went to the synagogue, stood up to read, and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”                     – Luke 4.16–19 – NRSV Adapted

No doubt the events of these last few weeks have shaken our world to the core: A Russian plane brought down by a homemade bomb. Bombings in Beirut. Multiple terrorist attacks in Paris. Planes forced to land. Of course, as we might expect, there are now retaliatory strikes that are taking place in Syria. We might also expect the knee-jerk reaction of some of the governors of our states to reject Syrian refugees. That, of course, flies in the face of the Biblical instruction to care for the widow and the orphan.

This Sunday, November 22, is the Sunday designated by the church as Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the church year signifying to those of us who call ourselves Christian that we are again at an ending that will give way to a beginning, the coming Season of Advent that prepares us for the birth of Jesus Christ. This Sunday is a chance for us to ask ourselves important questions about our role of co-creating with God. It is time for us to ask, “What does it mean to be a Christian in a world that is falling apart?”

Long ago Jesus preached his first sermon and knew that the answers to a broken world were not in seeking revenge or taking sides, of painting the enemy as inhuman or creating more violence. Instead, Jesus preached about a world in which the poor, the hungry, the oppressed and the imprisoned were given new life. Jesus knew that in that by doing that work we, too, would be given new life and hope. Jesus knew that this was the world God envisioned when God said, “It is good.”

So, if you are desperate for hope, then I invite you to go to church. This Sunday churches all over the world will proclaim that in the midst of violence and despair that God’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth will prevail. Those present in church this Sunday will be called upon to rise up and bring about God’s realm by feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, visiting the prisoner, doing justice for the oppressed, welcoming the stranger and caring for the widow and the orphan. In short, if you are looking for answers in a broken world then I invite you to consider living and doing the things Jesus proclaimed.

As the United Church of Christ proclaims, “Be the church!”

Holy One, still my fears, give me courage to do the thing before me that will make a difference in my corner of the world. Help me to be your person and I will give you the thanks and praise. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Doing our Best is Worthy of Our Respect

yourbestisperfectBe perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Abba, who is God, is perfect.                                                                     -Matthew 5:48 (NRSV)

I had an “ah-ha” moment this week as I prepared for the Extravagance online book study that I lead each Sunday evening. The scripture passage we were going to discuss was in the Gospel of Mark, 12:28-34. The passage is the one in which Jesus once again discussed the Greatest Commandment, to love God and neighbor. As I read and contemplated the passage I began to realize that so often we, as Christians, impose an expectation of perfection in our living.

We grow up believing that somehow God will not accept us if we do not do things perfectly. I believe this kind of thinking has caused many a person to condemn themselves and others. This idea of working our way into perfection has caused many to throw up their hands and leave their relationship with God and the church altogether. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. The work of our redemption has already been realized for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, in fact, from the beginning of scripture where God saw that all of creation, including us, “was good.”

So what are we to do, especially in light of the scripture above where Jesus tells his disciples, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Abba, who is God, is perfect.” How can we meet the expectation of being perfect as God is perfect without feeling like complete failures since we know that perfection in this life is next to impossible?

Perhaps we need to consider the words David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, offers us. He writes, “‘Perfect,’ in this case, stems from telos, the Greek word for ‘goal,’ ‘end,’ or ‘purpose.’” The sense of the word is more about becoming what was intended, accomplishing one’s God-given purpose in the same way that God constantly reflects God’s own nature and purpose. Eugene Peterson’s The Message gets closer to the mark, I think, when he translates it, “You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity.”

Given that insight, perhaps we can re-frame the text and say, “Do your best, in all circumstances.” Each day will be different based on our life circumstances, our health, our spirit, the people we encounter, the work we have to do. Still, we can hold the idea in our hearts that God invites us to “do your best” each day, living out our unique God-given identity. Then, at least it seems to me, you will be perfect because you will be living a kingdom life. That is Good News for me, and I hope it is for you as well.

Loving God, remind me with each day and each breath that I can live into the perfection to which you call me simply by doing my very best each day. That way, may I be yours completely and give you thanks in how I live and move and have my being. Amen.


Weekly Devotional: Let’s Be the Church that Reaches Out to Others in Love

Reachout33Awe came upon everyone, . . .. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.                                                                                                                             -Acts 2. 43-46 (NRSV)

Today, we read more and more about the decline of the church. We hear that the Baby Boomers are leaving the church and the Millennials aren’t even interested. Pastors and lay people have tried everything they know in order to win the hearts of people for the way of following Jesus. Even with the recent visit of Pope Francis I in the United States and his obvious great popularity, the Roman Catholic Church in America is seeing a decline in attendance and active ministry.

Clearly, if the church is going to continue to exist, much less thrive, and have purpose and meaning for our world, there is work to be done. I don’t, however, believe that the answer is in catching on to the latest church fad or fashion. After all, many churches have tried to lure people back to church by getting rid of all signs and symbols of church, including the ancient liturgies. Many brought in rock bands and praise music. That didn’t work. Now the trend is back to the ancient practices of the church as we hear from Millennials that they like the “smells and bells.” Some pastors have even gone so far as to adopt the edgy, gritty, “colorful” language and look of the coming generations. I suppose that any of this can be good for God’s people if it is done with integrity and authenticity.

But as I look at the church of Jesus Christ in America and in the world today, I’m convinced that the church needs to do what it has always done . . . follow Jesus. The church has, for centuries, followed Jesus into the hearts and homes of those who need love the most. The church has fed the hungry, clothed the poor, visited those in prison, and, as the scripture tells us, had all things in common; sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds, broke bread and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.

So, let’s “be the church” and remind people who the church really is. Oh, not that there haven’t been problems along the way, but that for more than 2,000 years the followers of Jesus have changed the world. Don’t believe me? Then consider this.

I’ve noticed that this week the Roman Catholic Church is running ads inviting Catholics to “Come Home.” Maybe it’s time we all offer that invitation. Won’t you join me this week and reach out to someone you know who needs a place to belong, who needs a purpose for their living, who needs more than anything else in the world to know that they are loved so that they, in turn, can love others. It may not change the world, but it will change their lives and yours. Come to think of it, that kind of generous invitation will change the world, one heart at a time.

Holy One, remind me just how good you are, and help me to follow in the way of Jesus, offering generous hospitality to others along the way, and I will give you the praise and glory. Amen.




Weekly Devotional: It’s Not Too Late To Make A Difference


God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them, reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”        Genesis 1. 26 – The Message


On Tuesday, September 22nd, Pope Francis I will come to the United States for the first time in his papacy. Pre-trip information indicates that he will address issues about immigration and climate change. No doubt climate change is high on his agenda in light of his recent Encyclical Letter, “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.” You can read the letter here.

This week I began reading a book entitled, What’s The Least I Can Believe And Still Be A Christian?: A Guide To What Matters Most by Martin Thielen. The first section of the book lists ten things that Christians don’t need to believe, and the first chapter is that Christians don’t need to believe that, “God Causes Cancer, Car Wrecks and Other Catastrophes.” Thielen points out that it is our tendency to blame God for the catastrophic things that happen in our lives. Often we hear television preachers say that one group of people or the other and their sins have caused a catastrophic event, but it isn’t just they that think that way.

Just this morning, I was listening to the news and heard an official in the community of Hildale, Utah, where flash floods swept away two vehicles and sixteen or more people died, say, “This was an act of God.” I suppose we say those words because it is what is part of our insurance culture. We buy insurance, and some things are covered, except for “acts of God.”

Still, Thielen’s point is that we ought not to blame God for things we have brought on ourselves, and I just have to believe that so much of what is happening in our weather patterns has been brought on by our careless polluting of the Earth.

In today’s news, we learned that fires burned out of control in California and floods have swept away cars and vans in Utah. If you dig a bit deeper in your news you will also find stories about the shrinking polar ice caps, rising sea levels, droughts, floods and more.

The thing that baffles me is that people would rather blame this on God than take responsibility for doing something about it. If we consider the opening story of creation in the Bible, we learn that God created the Earth and all that is in it and made human beings responsible for that creation. If you continue to read that ancient, ancient story, you will discover that not only were we made responsible, but we are to be co-creators with God, bringing about God’s realm on the face of the earth.

I’m not sure why we are so silent about this important issue. Clearly Pope Francis I is not being silent. I hope you will join me in supporting the Pope’s efforts in not only raising our awareness of this issue but also doing something about it. If you haven’t already, join me in signing this petition that supports the work and voice of the Pope as he makes his trip to the United States. You can sign here.

It is not too late to make a difference. Let your voice and your actions be heard and seen. Because when we do that, we truly glorify our God.

Holy One, help me not sit silently by as we destroy this, your creation, our Earth. Help me, O God to speak and to act, taking responsibility for creation as you have created me to do. And may your Spirit help me in my resolve. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: We’re Called to Love—Especially When We Don’t Want To

Love MLK enemy friendYou have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Abba, who is God in heaven.”                                                                                                   Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)


This week’s news included that County Clerk Kim Davis was released from jail in Kentucky with the admonition from the judge that she is not to interfere with the issuance of marriage licenses to same-gender people.

I have to confess I was disappointed. As a lesbian, who is legally married, and as someone who believes that Davis is violating her vow to uphold the Constitution of the United States, I felt that the judge was “going easy” on her. I worried that it was because of the crowds of people standing outside the courthouse supporting her, or that politicians like Mike Huckabee had joined the fray. I found that I was having feelings of anger and resentment toward Kim Davis, the politicians and the people who support her and even the judge.

And then I thought, “Why?” Why am I angry? Why do I want someone to spend time in jail? Okay, I disagree with her. I don’t like that she used her position to prevent Lesbian and Gay people from obtaining legal marriage licenses. I am disappointed that she has now, for so many people across our country, become the “face of Christianity,” when I feel, in the deepest places of my heart and soul, that her view of Scripture and of the Christian faith is far from what I understand the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to be all about.

But if I am honest with myself, I have to look carefully at what Jesus taught, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The truth is that I don’t want to love those who have persecuted LGBTQ people. I don’t want them to be given the grace of being “let out of jail.” I don’t want them to be the “face of Christianity,” when I have such a different view of what it means to be a Christian.

Still, in the end, I think I’ve got to, we who call ourselves progressive/liberal Christians. If we truly want to take the name “Christian,” we have to find a way to love in the face of hate, have compassion in the face of injustice, and have hope in the face of marginalization, oppression and violence. And, we have to commit to being present, working for justice, speaking for those who are marginalized and oppressed and to do that without name-calling, hate mongering, and wishing ill on our enemies. I can’t say that I’m happy about all this, and I don’t for a moment think it is easy, but it is essential if we are going to ever make a change in our society and our culture, and . . . if we are ever going to truly follow Jesus and receive the blessing he offered when he said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Abba, who is God in heaven.”

Holy One, show me the way. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Let’s End This Season of Violence

stop_the_violence_by_tigresuave11-d6dhcnwThe Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

– John 4:9-10 (NRSV)

In the wake of two law enforcement officers’ deaths, Lt. Joe Gliniewicz near Chicago, and Deputy Darren Goforth in Houston, as well as others across the country, there are people beginning to speak up in support of our law enforcement officers. A movement for people to wear blue ribbons was launched this morning in Mansfield, Texas, where families of the police department will give away blue ribbons this evening. I certainly support that action.

Still, as I watched the report out of Mansfield this morning, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the people making the ribbons were white. There was not a Black person nor any Latinos or Latinas. That was a visible picture for me of the continuing divide of culture and race in our country. I also could not help but think that there are still so many white Americans who continue to operate without the slightest inkling of the white privilege so many of us enjoy.

I don’t know about you but I have to agree with the words of the central character of Cold Mountain, a novel by Charles Frazier. Inman, a Southerner pressed into service to the Confederate Army, said, “I believe God grows weary of being called down on either side of this war.”

I don’t know about God, but I believe most of us in our country grow weary of yet another death, be it Black, Latino/Latina or white, or any other race or nationality, law enforcement or civilian.

And when I am confounded, as I am currently about this situation, the continued violence and racism at the heart of it, I cannot help but turn to the teaching of Jesus, the only place I know to go. And there I see Jesus confronting the powers and the principalities of his day, the Roman oppressors and the Temple leadership. But I also see Jesus actively reaching out to people who are different than him, even those who are life-long enemies of the Jews. In the scripture of the woman at the well, Jesus visits with a Samaritan woman. Because of his culture and his gender Jesus was “supposed” to avoid Samaritans and avoid speaking to women. Still, he “sees” her, speaks to her and offers her living water.

I just have to wonder that if we followed in the way of Jesus, speaking up against injustice for those who are marginalized, seeing and speaking with those who are of different races, cultures, nationalities and economic status, if we, too, wouldn’t be given living water in the form of new relationships, new insights, new hope. If you’re in Dallas, you can become a part of the conversation at Dallas Faces Race, www.dallasfacesrace.com, and I’m sure if you are somewhere else in this country, you can find a similar place to be part of a necessary conversation and necessary action.

If not now, when? If not us, who? Now is the time to end this season of violence for all people, all of us who are all children of God.

Holy One, turn your face to us, so that we might face the realities of our broken world. Give us courage to stand, to see, and to speak to those who are “other” to us, so that we all might be given your living water. Amen.