Weekly Devotional: Taking Out the Trash, Letting in the Light

sunrise-high-definition-wallpaper_113544245What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.                                                                                                     -John 1. 4 & 5

 

I relish the turning of the seasons, particularly this time of year as the days begin to lengthen. Early one day this week, I was outside putting out the trash bin. It was that time of the morning just before dawn with the sky turning lighter in the east. As I stood there looking at the sky, I noticed that my neighbors a few doors down still had their Christmas lights on their back yard fence.

I thought to myself, “How silly is that. They still have their Christmas lights up.” However, as I thought about it, I wondered if they simply didn’t have time to take them down or if maybe they were just being lazy. Then it occurred to me that perhaps something had happened in their lives to prevent them from taking the lights down. Then I thought, “What if they just like the lights?” What if, for them, the lights are a sign of hope in a dark, dark world? And what if the lights just bring them joy and a smile at the beginning or end of each day?

Of course, it was not lost on me that I was in the midst of taking out the trash. I couldn’t help but think about how, as each new day begins, you and I have a chance to welcome the light, the Word, into our lives, and that light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Each day, whether or not we’re busy, or overwhelmed with the circumstances of our lives, we get to “take the trash out” of our lives because of the promise of God’s light shining in the darkness to transform our lives and our living.

This Sunday, February 7, marks the end of the Season of Epiphany. This Sunday, we get to remember again that Jesus went up on a mountaintop where he heard a voice, reminiscent of the voice at his baptism say, “This is my Child, my Chosen, listen to Him.”  And then Jesus’ entire countenance was changed and became dazzling white, a light shining in the darkness. And it was that encounter on the mountaintop that saw Jesus through the darkest moments of his life.

So, thank you, neighbors. Thank you for keeping your lights up on your back yard fence. Thank you for the reminder that even though our days and lives may be filled with darkness, the light of Jesus Christ continues to shine as each new day begins.

Holy One, open my eyes, my mind, my heart to see your light shining in the darkness. Fill me with that light so that I may be a light in your world to those most in need. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: “Turn Within and Know the Truth”

truthOkay, I’ll confess. All the political tongue wagging that is going on, especially now that we have moved into 2016, mesmerizes me. Well, maybe mesmerize is not the right word. Perhaps a better word is anesthetize. And I don’t know why I am surprised that once again it all comes down to name calling and finger pointing. I don’t know why I thought it might be better this time. Call me an optimist, but I keep hoping that someday, some way our politicians will rediscover the art of thoughtful, measured, respectful dialogue. Alas, not this year.

It is interesting to me that everyone so easily slips into name calling, blaming, judging, and vilifying others. It is, after all, much easier to do that than to carefully consider the role you might play in a problem, or to thoughtfully discover a better way to solve problems than to blame someone else.

I recently read a quote by Robert Adams that says, “The only freedom we’ve got is not to react to anything, but to turn within and know the truth.” I have a sense that we could all use a full measure of turning inward to discover the truth. Of course, Robert Adams wasn’t the first to discover that important discipline. I believe that Jesus, as he prepared to be taken a prisoner of the Empire, to be jeered at, flogged, and crucified, knew that it would take an extreme presence of mind to face all of that without using violence of words or actions to save himself. So, what did he do? He went alone to pray, to turn inward toward the truth and draw close to God. And I believe it was that time in the garden that steeled him to be God’s person, a person of peace and justice rather than hate and violence.

Jesus did not blame others; he did not call them names or judge them. Instead he offered forgiveness of the highest order. He actually lived and died the Great Commandment by loving God and his neighbor, even though it cost him his life.

Would that we had that kind of wisdom, to go deep within to find the truth. One time Jesus told the disciples that the whole realm of heaven was within them. Perhaps that is where we need to begin to look if we want to change the climate of these mean days.

Holy One, give me the strength and courage to look deep within myself for your truth and then turn outward to love my neighbors just as Jesus taught and lived. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: “Get On Your Marks, Get Set…”

starting-lineStart by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.                  –  St. Francis of Assisi

It occurs to me that one of the things happening in the psyche of people everywhere is a sense of malaise, or what therapists would diagnose as dysthymia, an ongoing low-grade depression. And why not? It sometimes feels as if our world is falling apart, that evil is winning the day. You know what I’m talking about: war, violence, politics, environment, poverty, guns, hate, etc.

All of this, I believe, leads us to hunker down, practice avoidance (read that as binge-watching the latest television series), self-medicate (read that as eating, drinking and working to extremes), and general waiting, hoping for things to get better (read that as sticking our heads in the sand like ostriches syndrome). In the United States, we who have enough to live on often go about our daily lives as if everything is okay and nothing is wrong. That is, of course, until an act of violence shatters our lives in a mass shooting or environmental catastrophe that “just could never happen in a town like ours.” And, so I get how that kind of avoidance living seems to be far better than constantly putting ourselves “out there” trying to make a difference. It is like trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon.

But consider the words of Bishop Oscar Romero. He wrote, “It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us . . . We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning . . . an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

So, as hard as it is, I invite all of us to consider taking the words of St. Francis of Assisi to heart: “Start by doing what is necessary.” Go to work, feed your family, help your children with their homework, clean the house, buy the groceries, pay the bills. “Then do what is possible.” Do something that changes your corner of the world for good: write a letter, volunteer to help someone else, play with your children, have lunch with someone who is old, sign people up to vote, participate in a river cleanup, write a poem, join a non-violent protest, give away some of your money or belongings to someone in need, feed the hungry, care for the poor, visit someone in prison, give a cup of cold water to a child. And then, suddenly, you will be “doing the impossible.”

A prayer from the words of Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund:

Dear Lord, be good to me, the sea is so wide, and my boat is so small. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Listen, Learn, Love, Keep

goodconversationAnd Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.”                                                                                   – Matthew 23.23

We have entered the meantime, a “mean time,” an election year, and even before the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2015, the vitriol had already risen to new heights. And I’m afraid we are only seeing the beginning of the worst of it. If you’re like me you probably are careful to watch your conversation with family and friends, so that it doesn’t migrate to opinions about politics. That, of course, is the safe and easiest thing to do.

Recently I was reading an article that invited us to try something else. The article suggested that instead of arguing our point of view, we should listen carefully to the point of view of our opponent, ask questions of wonder and facts, and engage the conversation from a point of learning something instead of arguing something. This is a much harder path to follow.

Following that suggestion, we can expand it to an additional way of getting through this mean season by listening carefully for the voice of God. Okay, well, perhaps you will not hear God speak in a human voice, but there are ways to hear God’s voice. One would be to listen carefully to the teachings of Jesus. Our Christ taught us that we are to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, give clothing to the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison. (Matthew 25.35-36) In short, Jesus asked us to care for the least, the lost, the lonely and the last, those who are most marginalized in our society.

Jesus also pointed to the leadership, both civil and religious of his day, and called them hypocrites for saying one thing and doing the other. I love the passage above because Jesus says that those (who, by the way, can also be us) who profess to be “o so holy” are actually neglecting the weightier matters of doing justice, loving mercy and being faithful. So, what is a person to do, one who wants to love God, wants to do justice, just wants to be a good person?

In one word, listen. Listen to family and friends who have a different point of view than you. Listen to ALL the politicians as they offer their views of what is best for our country. Listen for the voice of God in the midst of the vitriol, name-calling and easy judgments. See if you might actually discover something new, or better yet, discover who it is that is really asking us to do the work of God in the world by doing justice, loving mercy and being faithful.

I don’t know but I think, at the very least, it will lower your blood pressure, and at the very most it will draw you close to God and the truth of God’s hope for our world.

Holy One. Help me to stop and listen carefully to others, both friend and foe. Help me also to seek your voice above the noise. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Now More Than Ever…

comeandseeIn this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us . . .                                             –  1 John 4:10 NRSV

In 1927 James Weldon Johnson, a leading American author, educator, early civil rights activist and prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance wrote a series of poems entitled God’s Trombones. In the opening words of the first poem, “The Creation,” he wrote:

And God stepped out on space

And God looked around and said

“I’m lonely

I’ll make me a world.”

I have often pondered those beautiful words, that God had a need that only could be met by creation. What a great love God must have had for the creation God brought into being. That love was again expressed in the birth of Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate in about a week’s time. God chose to come into the world, to dwell with us, to become one of us in order that we might come to know God, grow close to God, enter into relationships with God.

I don’t need to tell you that we live in a world where love seems in short supply these days. All the more reason to remember that our God, who created all things, breathed life into creation and into each of us loves us with a great and lasting love.

Now more than ever our world needs love. Now more than ever God need us to be the love of God, revealed in a tiny child’s birth in Bethlehem to be made manifest in each of us. Now more than ever God is counting on you and me to be the hands and feet, the life and love of Jesus Christ in the world. Now more than ever we need to re-discover the truth that, In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us . . .. Now more than ever, God is counting on you and me to be the fulfillment of God’s love in the world. Let us answer our great calling to end God’s loneliness and be God’s people once again.

And here’s the thing: nowhere else will you hear the story of God’s love for us and for creation, God’s presence with us told again and again than in worship on Sunday. Nowhere else will you sing the songs of God’s love, hear the word of God’s love proclaimed and be filled with the gifts of God than in worship each Sunday. Nowhere else will you be encourage and empowered and inspired to be the living presence of God in a hurt and broken world than in church on Sunday. So, take a bit of time from your busy schedule and enter into the presence of God in worship this Sunday. Then wait, watch and wonder about God’s presence at work in our world. You may well be amazed at what you discover.

Loving God, in this Holy Season of Advent as we prepare for Christ to be born once again into our hearts and our world, prepare me, even now to be the living presence of God’s love in the world. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Mystery Solved, “Christ is in You!”

christ-in-you1This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but God wanted everyone to know this rich and glorious secret. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.

-Colossians 1:27 – The Message (Edited)

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Colossae, makes a startling statement, “Christ is in you!” Do you hear that? The real and transforming presence of the living Christ is within you. So, during this holy season of Advent, when we sing, “O come, O come Emmanuel,” when we invite Emmanuel to be “God with us,” we are inviting the presence of Christ to be with us and within us.

Can you grasp this mystery? You and I have within us the love, grace, hope, mercy, forgiveness, vision, dreams, peace, justice, compassion and very life of the Christ Child within us. And do you know what that means?

It means that at any point in any day, at any moment we have the capacity to be the living, breathing, tangible presence of Christ to others. We have the ability to be the manifestation of love in the world. And if we ever needed love for our world, we need it now.

As of Thanksgiving Day, November 26, we have entered the busiest season of the year. As of the beginning of 2015 we have entered a mean season, and violence, terrorism, hatred, judgment, vitriol and fear seem to be the order of the day.

You and I can change that. You and I have the ability to be the presence of Christ to others, and I believe that can change others, can change our world and can change us.

As we sing the ancient hymns that welcome Emmanuel, God with us, I invite you to commit during this season of Advent, and into Christmas and the New Year and on through Epiphany, to be hope, to be peace, to be joy, to be love in the world in how you act, in what you say, in what you do. There is a world that is desperate for your presence and the gift of Jesus Christ that you, and you alone, have been gifted to bring to this hopeless and hurting world.

Now is the time. “The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you.” In you!!!

Holy One, remind me that Jesus Christ dwells in the deep places of my heart, soul and mind. Now let me use your strength within me to share the presence of Christ, the hope, peace, joy and love with everyone I encounter this day and every day. Amen.

 

 

 

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.