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.


Weekly Devotional: The Faith of a Pelican

pelican-dive-3Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge God, who will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

My family and I are in Galveston for a vacation before school starts. Now, I will be the first to confess that the water of the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston Island is not the most beautiful I have ever seen, nor is the beach, but Galveston is a wonderful city, and there is something special about sitting on the beach, listening to the waves, feeling the warm breeze and watching the birds—the seagulls, the sandpipers and the pelicans. I’ve always been enamored by the pelicans that fly gracefully over the Gulf of Mexico.

Perhaps my fascination is because of the ancient story of the mother pelican as a symbol of Christ. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with her beak, to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. Another version of the legend was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life. You can see, given these legends, why the early Christians adapted it to symbolize Jesus Christ.

On this trip, however, I noticed something else. As I watched the pelican glide over the water I noticed them fishing. I love to watch as they dive from the sky into the water. Bam! They hit the water and go under. Now, the Gulf of Mexico, particularly here in Galveston, is not the clearest water. In fact, even with a diving mask on you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Still, the pelicans dive, perhaps not knowing what is there. Or, perhaps, they see what we cannot see, or sense what we cannot sense, the fish that they seek. I can’t help but see this as a symbol of faith.

In the ancient Hebrew language the word for “faith” actually translates as “trust.” This means that faith is not an intellectual ascent of some theological premise, but an act of trust in God. So, our faith is about, as the writer of the Proverbs tells us, trusting in the Lord with all our heart and not relying on our own insight. Perhaps we can take a lesson from the pelicans, trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, minds and souls that God will provide for us and be with us and show us the way, even when we cannot see where we are going.

Holy One, I can’t, you must, I’m yours, show me the way. Amen.

-a prayer attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero

Weekly Devotional: Grace-filled Language

words_matterLet no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

-Ephesians 4. 29 (NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but lately it seems to me that the public discourse has spun out of control, that there are no boundaries on words and their use to bully, belittle and blame. Or, maybe, this isn’t a contemporary problem since both ancient Hebrew Scriptures and even the words of Jesus have cautions about how we use our words.

For example, the writer of the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes warns us, “Do not let your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake; why should God be angry at your words, and destroy the work of your hands?” (5:6)

And the writer of the Gospel According to Matthew tell us that Jesus instructed, “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (12.36-37)

Evidently the ancients had just as big a problem with the use of words to harm and hurt, as we do today. I suppose it feels like a greater problem today because we hear it so readily through our 24/7-news cycle and through the phenomenon of the Internet and social media.

I just can’t help but think of the words of Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks in the movie Saving Private Ryan, who said, “I just know every time I kill someone, I feel further away from home.” And I can’t help but think that we are killing each other with our words, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally, in the case of bullying that has played a hand in our children killing themselves out of despair. And every time we do that we move further and further from our home in God.

I think it is time that we hold our politicians, business leaders, professional athletes, movie stars, and music moguls and even ourselves accountable for the words we use that do harm to others. Let’s call for a boycott on words that bully, belittle and blame. Instead, let us heed the call of the Apostle Paul to build each other up with our words so that we may give grace to those who hear them.

I’m in, what about you?

Holy One, You brought our world into being with a word. I pray now that you would help me to use my words to build up your people and your creation on this good earth. Amen.    

Weekly Devotional: Children of Abba Love Their Enemies

imgresJesus said, “You 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 5:43-45 (NRSV)

This week the long awaited announcement came that the United States and other countries have reached an agreement with Iran that will curb their nuclear development in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Since that moment, the airwaves have been lit up by reports on the reaction of American politicians. We have heard little of what other countries that are part of the agreement are saying with the only exception being the leadership of Israel. We have only seen briefly that the people of Iran are celebrating the decision. Not so in America.

Politician after politician has been featured on the morning, afternoon, evening and late night new deriding the President and the Secretary of State for their part in bringing about an agreement that has been in process for 10 years and that is designed to ease tensions in the region and stop Iran’s progress in the development of nuclear weapons.

Now, I will confess that this is a very complicated issue, and that I am no more qualified to discuss the intricacies of the diplomacy that brought about the agreement any more than I am qualified to talk about the agreement itself, particularly since I haven’t read it. Still, it is interesting to me how many of our American politicians, particularly those running for public office, have shouted to the housetops that if they are elected they will immediately undo the work that has been done, not just by the United States, but with our global partners as well. And I’ll wager that they haven’t read the agreement either. In one interview Secretary of State, John Kerry said, “What is the alternative? Bomb Iran? Some people want us to do that.”

As I said, I’m not qualified to speak about this complicated topic, but I like everyone, can have an opinion. So, I am someone who seeks to faithfully follow the teachings of Jesus, and it occurs to me that Jesus did everything he could, including sacrificing his own life, to bring about God’s realm on the face of the earth. To state the obvious, violence, war, and bombing were not a part of his agenda. Jesus made it clear in more than one of his teachings that we are to love others, and not only others, but even our enemies, even the people and the country of Iran.

I, for one, am glad for the agreement, and I pray and will pray each day that this will mark a shift in the regime in Iran, that a greater peace will be achieved and that over the next few years wise leaders will emerge in Iran and in our country and in all the countries of our world who will value peace over war and destruction. That may not happen, but shouldn’t we at least try? For those of us who follow Jesus, it would seem that we must try, no matter how hard it is. It will always be easier to make war than it is to create peace, but woe to us and to our children and to our children’s children if we don’t try to find our way toward loving our enemies and doing good to those who persecute us.

Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.