Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 41

Psalm 41:1-13

Key Verses: 41:1-2

“You, Lord God, bless everyone who cares for the poor, and you rescue those people in times of trouble.” CEV

Caring for the poor is important to God. Throughout the Old Testament people are praised for taking care of those who are struggling and reprimanded for not doing so. In fact throughout the prophets the peoel of God are chastised more often for not caring for the poor, the orphan, the widow and the foreigner than they are for idolatry. The fist sign of unrighteousness is disregard for and mistreating those who are weak and vulnerable.

Here the Psalmist tells us that God takes care and looks after those who take care and look after the poor. Then the Psalmist asks God for mercy and forgiveness for his own sins. He is admitting that he himself has not lived God’s standards when it comes to treatment of the poor. AS people seeking to be the kind of people God is calling for us to be we too need to be willing to admit when we fail to pay attention to the needs and concerns of those who struggle financially as well as those who are oppressed and mistreated in our society. We like the Psalmist can call for others to live up to these standards even as we admit that we fail at doing these very things and work to do better.

We begin to work to do better by listening to the voices of those who are struggling and tell us they are oppressed, by hearing their stories and working to not only change our own actions, but call for others to join us in our efforts and then together work to dismantle the systems and practices in our society which are the root of their struggle and oppression.


Thing to Think on

In what ways do you fail to live up to God’s standard which calls for us to uplift and take care of the poor, the orphan, the widow and the foreigner?

Can you take time to “listen” to someone else’s story today by hearing what someone who says they are struggling  has to say or read an article which articulates someone else’s struggle?

What can you do to make a change in your life to better support those who are struggling? How can you work to call other Christians to join you in this Godly pursuit?


A Prayer for Today

         Lord, I hear your Word. I see that you call me to take care of others, to listen to their stories, to hear their voices and to work to help make their lives and their situations better. You tell me that it is sinful when I do not. Help me to not participate in this kind of sin. Help me to be righteous in matters such as these. Reveal to me how I can work to be better myself. Show me what I can do help make things better in my society. And challenge me to invite others to join me in pursuit of your righteousness in this way. - Amen


Monday, June 22, 2020

Manna For Today: Psalm 40

Psalm 40:1-17

Key Verses: 40:9-10

“When your people worshiped, you know I told them, “Our Lord always helps!” When all your people met, I did not keep silent. I said, “Our Lord is kind. Our Lord is faithful and caring, and saves us.” CEV

“Our Lord always helps.” “Our Lord is kind. Our Lord is faithful and carrying and saves us.” When I was growing up it was common for people to stand up and share how good God had been in their lives. Every week someone would speak about how a way in which they had seen the grace, the mercy and the goodness of God at work in their life in the past week. Sure some would stand up and speak of blessings long gone, but there was an unwritten rule that one should really be sharing about something which happened in that last week or so. Hearing the testimonies of others gave me examples so that I was able to learn to pay attention to the ways God works in our lives on a regular basis. And it gave us a language of thanksgiving which allowed us to be able to share with one another the ways God was being good to us.

This is not so much a practice in the Churches I have pastored over the years. It is not our habit to share with one another the ways God is good to us. We have lost the language we once had. And in losing the language I wonder if we have lost the ability to pay attention, to notice all the ways God is good to us. We are unable to share all the ways God is good to us because we no longer see all the small ways God’s goodness, mercy, and grace fill our lives.

Anything that is good, anything that is beautiful, anything that brings you joy, anything that bring laughter into your life, anything that brings a smile to your face, these are ways God is reaching into your life. These are the ways the Lord’s goodness is being made manifest in each of your days.  God is good! We just need to take the time to notice.


Thing to Think on

As you go through your day, take time to notice all the small ways God’s goodness can be seen.

Take time to share one of these with someone else today.

Try to make it a habit to let others know how God is blessing  you each and every day.


A Prayer for Today

         Lord God. You are good. There are so many good and beautiful things in my life. Help me to take notice of how you work in the mundane places in my life. Help me to see how much goodness and beauty you with which you fill my life. Teach how to be thankful. Teach how to share your goodness with others. Help me to proclaim your righteousness, your goodness and your mercy to all who will listen. - Amen


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Beginnings: Genesis 21:8-21

Hagar’s Story

Our story is the story of Abraham; the story of Sarah. The story we like to tell is story of a promise, of an impossible child, of a blessing, of the creating of a nation out a hopeless situation. It is a story about God bringing fertility where there was only barrenness; the story of faith; the story of a miracle, the story of a God who provides, who protects, who leads, who transforms. The story we like to tell is the story of a man who trusts, and the story of woman who is named and blessed, who laughs and then bears a child called laughter. That is OUR story.

THIS is not our story. THIS is the story we never tell; the story we want to forget. The story we wish was not there. THIS is Hagar’s story and her story is, well inconvenient.

This is the story of Hagar and Ishmael alone in the desert; abandoned by their family and cast out by our matriarch and patriarch whom we revere. She is out of food, and she has run out of water. She has nowhere to go and no one to whom she can turn. She is at the end, not just her wits end, or the end of her rope, she is at The End. She has no alternatives, she has no opportunities, she has no choices. This is the end; for her, for her son. She is: Alone: in the desert without anything to sustain her; absolutely and completely alone.

So she takes her son, she puts him under a bush and then goes a little ways off, puts her back to her son, because she cannot bear witness to his dying. As she sits there, back toward her son, far enough away that she cannot hear his hunger cries, she too begins to wail.

And how did we get here?  Is she cast off because she has done something wrong?  Is she banished because she has committed some heinous crime?  No she is sent away because her son was laughing and playing with Sarah and Abraham’s son, Isaac, at Isaac’s party.

Why is she here? She is here because Sarah and Abraham decided to take God’s promise into their own hands and find a way for Sarah to have a son w/o actually HAVING a son. She is a here because she is a slave; she is Sarah’s slave. She is here because they decided to use her as a surrogate to gain a son for themselves but then once Ishmael is born, Sarah and Abraham do not accept him as Sarah’s son. He is here because Ishmael is treated as her son and hers alone.

So let’s back up for a second. Let’s go back to Heron. Heron is where Abraham and Sarah are originally from. While in Heron, God comes to Abraham and promises Abraham that he will be the father nations. All Abraham has to do is trust God and go to the land where God will lead. So Abraham packs up all his things and he and Sarah, follow God across the desert in search of the place to which God will lead.

On several occasions over the following years, God comes to Abraham and renews this promise in varying ways. God promises that Abraham and Sarah will have a son. God promises that he will father a nation. God promises Abraham’s descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky, or the sands. God promises Abraham will be a blessing, that the world will be blessed through him.

But it does not matter how many times God promises, or in how many different words, Sarah does not have children. Not one, not even a girl. So Sarah and Abraham decide to take matters into their own hands and do what they believe is the only culturally responsible thing, for a woman of Sarah’s standing, who is barren, to do. She has her slave girl, Hagar, serve as a surrogate, to bear the son for her. And I reiterate what I said last week, the Old Testament never directly condemns polygamy but whenever polygamy enters the equation in the OT, it never goes well, not once. This is just the first time in a long line of stories which show us how many ways polygamy can go wrong.

Also slavery! Although we see instances of slavery in scripture, it is never portrayed in a positive light. In fact the formative narrative of the the Israelite people is a story of them being released from slavery. Slavery is never seen as a good thing any where in scripture.

And so we come back to Hagar (I should also note that neither Abraham nor Sarah call her by name throughout scripture). So Hagar actually gets pregnant, Sarah gets upset. Sarah goes to Abraham and complains, to him telling him that she does like the way Hagar looked at her. “Abraham, I don’t like the way that woman is at looking at me.”  And Abraham deals with it in a responsible fashion, by saying, “She’s your slave girl, you can do with her what you want.”  Yep, he eschews his responsibility toward the pregnant mother of his own child and allows his wife to “do with the slave girl as she wills.” And what Sarah “wills” is to mistreat Hagar. The pregnant Hagar does not take kindly to the abuse and flees.

It is by a well along the road, where God finds her and calls her by her name. God gives her the dignity she deserves, as a human being and says what the word which neither Abraham nor Sarah say, God says the word, “Hagar.” God tells Hagar to return to her mistress, that she will bear a son and he will be the father of a nation. God extends the promise given to Abraham and Sarah to Hagar. Hagar will also be the mother of a nation. And she calls God, the God who sees, El-Roi. I should also note at this point in scripture God has not been named.. Hagar, names God even before God reveals God’s own name. She names God the God who sees.

When no one else in her life values her enough to call her by name, when she has no advocate, God steps in and brings value to her life. God names her and sets her worst fears to rest. Her and her child will not be destroyed they will live, and they will thrive. God gives to her a promise of descendants and of a nation. God gives her back her dignity. God sees her, when no one else does.

Hagar returns to Sarah and Abraham and bears them a son, named Ishmael, which means God hears. God heard Hagar when she was fleeing and frightened, God heard Abraham and Sarah and finally gave them a son. God heard. For a while they probably believe that Ishmael is the child of the promise. Sarah and Abraham have a son who socially counts as theirs. And it seems that this must be the way that God’s promise can be full-filled, after all God has promised Hagar that this child will be the father of a nation. The promise associated with Abraham and his son. The trio moves forward, Sarah’s cruelty and Abraham’s negligence seemingly forgotten.

But that is not the way the story ends. God comes to Abraham and tells him that THIS is not the way. God did not intend for Abraham and Sarah to use Hagar in this way. God intends for Abraham and Sarah to have a child of their own. And God fulfills this promise. Despite the odds, overcoming her barrenness, and in spite of her age God allows for Sarah to bear a son and they name him Isaac which means laughter.

And things seem to go well for a while, that is until Isaac is weaned and they throw a party to celebrate. While at the party Sarah sees Ishmael playing with Isaac. What is interesting here, is the word, in the Hebrew, has its root in the word “to laugh.”  So Ishmael is almost literally laughing with the child of laughter. And Sarah sees this and instead of being happy that the two boys get along so well, she gets agitated. She becomes afraid that since Ishmael is technically her son, he will be treated as the firstborn and that he will inherit instead of Isaac.

Sarah goes to Abraham and insists he throw that slave girl and her son out of the camp, “because I will not have him inheriting alongside of my son.”  Sarah does not even acknowledge him as her son, or even as Abraham’s son, she does not even acknowledge that technically he is the firstborn, perhaps not wanting to remind Abraham of these facts.

Abraham is deeply disturbed, but being assured by God that Isaac is the child of the promise, Abraham feels free to give the boy and his mother some bread and a skin of water and send them into the desert. But the desert is huge and a loaf of bread and skin of water do not go very far and soon they find themselves alone, in the desert, with no provisions.

The people of God have failed. They have tried to take God’s promise into their own hands; they have mistreated and abused another human being. They have disregarded her life and disrespected her as a person. They act in ways that neglect their responsibility toward her and her son (toward their son). They cheat her son out of his rightful place in the household and steal his inheritance to give to their other son. And when her usefulness no longer suits them they send her away; out of sight, out of mind. To them, she is disposable.

Let me clear, we cannot clean this up AT ALL, Abraham did not give her enough provision to make it to anywhere. Abraham did not send her away with the hope that she could find another family; some kind hearted people who would be willing to take in her and her son. He did not direct her toward Egypt (the country of her birth) with the expectation that she could make her way back there and start a new life for herself and her son, perhaps find her own family. He gave her just enough food and water so that she and her son would be far away when the two of them died of exhaustion, dehydration and exposure. If he does not see it happen then perhaps it does not happen. If a woman and her son die alone in the desert, where nobody can see them or hear them, do they really die?

But God is El-Roi, the God who sees, and God the one who hears. God sees!  God hears! And God shows them a well and provides for them and they both survive.

And this is Hagar’s story, the story we don’t really like to tell. The story we would like to hide away, to leave in the desert under a bush out of sight, forgotten. This is the story where the people of God fail, and fail again and then try to cover up their failure. They try to hide it.


Sometimes the people of God do things that are wrong; participate in societal systems that are wrong, treat others in ways that are wrong.

This is Abraham, the father of faith, the one whom Paul commends for his faith, telling us that it is Abraham’s faith which makes him righteous. Abraham and Sarah could be described as many things, when it comes to Hagar, but righteous is not one of them. Let’s face it they act sinfully toward Hagar in almost every way. They do not treat her as a human being. They treat her as an object which can be used, abused and thrown away when it no longer has value, when it no longer serves its purpose, when she becomes inconvenient to have around.

When it comes to Hagar, Abaham and Sarah fail, and have failed not just once but over and over again. Hagar is punished for their failure and in doing so, they fail again. The first fact we must face in Hagar’s story is that there are times when God’s people fail. They fail to do the right thing. They fail when they participate in culturally appropriate activities. They fail when they do not stand by what they do. They fail when they are jealous. They fail when they are afraid. They fail when they see other human beings as disposable. Too often, and more than we would like to admit the people of God fail.

The truth is we fail and sin in our failings more than we like to admit. And sometimes, even saved and sanctified Nazarenes act in reprehensible ways toward other human beings. We ourselves, personally, act inappropriately toward others. We turn a blind eye, look away, and deny its happening, when people around us are misused or abused. It is easier to ignore these stories; to forget them and think of them their stories, other people’s stories that have nothing to do with us.

It would be easier to think of Hagar’s story as someone else’s story, since the people of God do not trace their heritage back to Hagar. It would be so much nicer for us for us to come to believe that their story, whomever they are, story is not OUR story. So what does it really matter? We want to think as Abraham and Sarah thought, “out of sight, out of mind.”   We come to believe, “if I don’t see it happen, then it must not be happening”, or even, “I am not actually aware of it when it happens, then I am not responsible for it happening.” But this is not their story. This is OUR story.

When we turn a blind eye to abuse; when we try to ignore the people all around us who are being misused; when we participate in culturally sanctioned activities and systems which do harm or allow abuse to happen to other people, when our words tell half-truths about the lives of others who are being victimized, we are Abraham and Sarah.  When we find that we are participating in systems and paradigms that allow other people to be abused, misused, and enslaved, we are being Sarah and Abraham. We are throwing Hagar and her son into the desert so they can suffer somewhere far off where we cannot see them and remain unaware of what is happening to them.

Let us be better than that!  The people of God ARE better than that. We cannot call ourselves the children of God. We cannot call ourselves Christians and turn a blind eye or stay silent or even participate in the abuse of other human beings. Let us stand up and say, “No,” when we are witness to a person being harmed in anyway”  Let us stand up and say, “No,” when we realize we are participating in culturally sanctioned activities or benefitting from long standing systems which crush and demoralize other people, let us do our best to extricate ourselves from these things. Let us not continue to prop up systems and common practices which bring harm to others. Let us be better than Abraham and Sarah, let us not us not fail as they did. Let us truly be the people of God! Let us remember Hagar, let us tell her story and let us not allow this to continue to happen! Let us tell Hagar’s story.




Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 39

Psalm 39:1-13

Key Verses: 39:1-2

“I promised I would watch my steps so as not to sin with my tongue; promised to keep my mouth shut as long as the wicked were in my presence. So I was completely quiet, silent. I kept my peace, but it did no good. My pain got worse.” CEB

Guarding our words, being careful with our actions is hard. There are so many words we can put in the world, hurtful words, false words, harmful words. When we are hurting, when we are angry, when we are confused, when we ourselves are hurting, it is that much easier to regret the words we say, the words we type. Sometimes keeping silent is the best choice. Not spewing forth hotheaded, unchecked words, saying things we may not mean and cannot take back. When we do speak, when the pain inside is too much and we cannot bear to hold it in, the words we speak are words spoken to God. When we cannot be silent the first words we speak, the first words we use are words of faith, words of reliance on God. When we need to speak, when words are the right course of action, as Christians our words should first be filtered through the righteousness, the goodness, should be tempered and honed by the character of God. Sometimes silence is the only language which should be spoken and other times, when words are necessary, when silence will not do, we can only speak that which speaks to the justice, the righteousness, and the goodness of God.


Thing to Think on

What does remaining silent look like for you?

Are there times when you wish you could take back words you have written or spoken?

What kind of words do you need to speak to God today?

If you need to speak what would you say?

If you took those words to God first,  how would filtering your words through the character of God change what you say?



A Prayer for Today

         Oh, God, I can so many things. So many things can be said. Sometimes I say them without heed to what it is I am saying? I do not think about the ways, as a follower of Jesus Christ, my words and my actions tell others about you. When I am hurting, when I am angry, when I am in pain, whenever I am tempted to speak without heed; whenever I may speak and sin in my speaking, help me to keep silent. Help me to hold onto  my words and be careful which ones I use, how I use them and to whom. Lord, help me to discern when silence is the proper language. But also when words need to be spoken, should be used. Help me to choose them wisely to use words which speak to your justice, which help proclaim your righteousness and work to make your kingdom manifest.  Teach when to speak and what to say. - Amen


Monday, June 15, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 38

Psalm 38:1-22

Key Verses: 38:4, 8-9

“My wrongdoings are stacked higher than my head; they are a weight that’s way too heavy for me. I’m worn out, completely crushed; I groan because of my miserable heart. Everything I long for is laid out before you, my Lord; my sighs aren’t hidden from you.” CEB

None of us like to admit when we are wrong. When we knowing or unknowingly work to do harm against another; when we intentionally or even unintentionally participate in activities and systems which are at their core set up to put some on the winning end of things and other on the losing. Some of us walk through this world as the beneficiaries of these systems and unwilling, unwitting participants in the harm those systems do to others. When I begin to think of all the ways the very way I go about my life can and often does do harm to others, I am over whelmed. I understand the overwhelming crushing feeling the Psalmist has when faced with his own sins, his own wrong doings. It is too much for me, the weight is too heavy! It is all too much!

I am a good person. My longings my desires are for God. I call out to God and seek to do the good of the Lord in all my days, with all my ways. And it is hard to face my failings. What can I do in the face of systemic racism. I myself work to do no harm to others. But it is not enough. It is too heavy for me! I need God to not leave me alone with the weight of it all. I need God to be here with me, to not be far from me. I want to be better. It is only when God is my salvation, when God is my redemption that I am able to face it. It is only through the power of God and God alone, that I can move through this, move past it all, make headway and make a change for righteousness and justice.  


A Prayer for Today

         Lord, God I am a person of unclean lips and unclean actions, among a people of unclean lips and unclean actions. I fail to be the person you call me to be. I do not wish to do harm. Help me when I do, unwittingly, unknowingly and in my ignorance. Teach me. Do not allow me to continue to be unknowing and do not allow my actions to unwittingly do harm. It is my desire to serve you, to be the person you have call me to be. You call me to justice and righteousness. Show me how I can work for your justice and live your righteousness in my life. Bring your salvation to my life, bring your redemption to all the places I go and to all the things I do. – Amen


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 37



Psalm 37:1-40

Key Verses: 37:1-3

“Don’t get upset over evildoers; don’t be jealous of those who do wrong, because they will fade fast, like grass; they will wither like green vegetables. Trust the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness.” CEB

It has been a hard week. I have read and re-read this Psalm over and over again, unsure what to say, unsure how to respond to it, to things happening in my own life as well as in the world around me. It is hard to not be upset over evildoers, and over broken systems which harbor and propagate evil even when “good” people are within them. It is so hard to stand back and watch as weapons, the Psalmist mentions bows and arrows, and it would be easy to think metaphorically about them but there in these last weeks actual weapons have been used against the weak, the needy, as well those who are desperate and rightfully angry.

How do I be still and wait for the Lord, when people are being misused, abused and murdered before our eyes? How can we let go of anger and leave rage behind? Does it really only lead to evil? It sounds like an aphorism from Star Wars! All this has already led to so much suffering.

Yet, in the midst of it all I know I can trust the Lord. Evil will not reign forever. God will act and justice will shine like the noonday sun. Evil will wither and die. God will move and God will act. In the midst of it all one person can feel so small, so insignificant. What can I do? I can do good. I can live in this land and live righteously. I can live the righteousness of God, I can let God’s justice be the rule of all I do. I can examine, my own actions, I can be honest about my own biases. I can plant righteousness, nurture justice and farm faithfulness. I can work to grow the good things of God in my life, and seek in all ways, I can, to bring God’s will to bear on the world around me. What can I do in the face of overwhelming brokenness and evil? I can trust the Lord and can be a farmer all that is good and right and just. 


Thing to Think on

Does anything the Psalmist has to say in this passage bother you? What bothers you about it?

What do we do when God promises that evil will not continue but it seems to never die?

What does it look like for you to trust God right now?

What would farm righteousness look like in your life? What does it look like for you to do so today?

A Prayer for Today

         Oh, God, it is too much! Evil continues to infect our world. It has made the very systems which are supposed to protect us sick. There seems to be no cure and the vaccine is too far away. Come bring your miraculous healing to us today. Heal our land, heal our government, and heal our systems. Heal the very systems of our society. We have waited patiently, we have tried to fix this on our own for too many years, it is obvious we cannot do this. Good people on their own cannot do this. Heal our land! Bring your healing, work a miracle among us, oh Lord. I am waiting for you. And as I wait, help me to wait patiently. And I as wait patiently help me to farm goodness and righteousness and your justice in any small way I am able. Show me how I can live your healing in my own life. Lord work your healing in my own heart. - Amen 


Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Speaking God - Genesis 1:1-2:4 - A Trinity Sunday Sermon

Introductions are important. Upon first meeting a person most of us make evaluations about who they are, and what they are like. We weigh those evaluations against who we are, what we believe to be important and what we like. In other words when we meet someone for the first time, we usually decide whether we like them and whether they are worth our time in the first few minutes. It in is in these first moments, when we make evaluations about a person, and we decide whether or not to pursue continued encounters based on the things we learn at our first meeting.

First impressions are usually important, and most of us intuitively know this. We have before us this morning the first verses, the first chapter (and some change) in the book of Genesis which is the first book in the Bible. And it is here where we have our first encounter with God. This is our first glimpse of “who this God person is anyway.”  It is in these words when we are first introduced to God and we have our first glimpses of who God is.

So then who is this God, whom we meet here “in the beginning”? Who is this God? The one who the ancient Hebrews worshiped? Who is this God? Who sends the Son, the Word into the world? Who is this God? Who we as Christians praise? And the answer is This God is the One who speaks into the chaos of pre-creation and the whole world comes to order; the lights come on, the turbulent waters are stilled, the land rises, the lights separate one from another, the day and the night become, plants grow, fish begin to swim, birds take flight, and creatures begin to creep along the ground. And then in one final act of creation, reaches down in the newly made dust of creation and forms humans, male and female God creates them.

The first thing this God does, though, is speak, and creation becomes. The Word of God makes things be- make them become. The waters calm, the lights shine, the seas part and everything that swims in sea, flies through the air, and all that moves along the ground fills the world. There was nothing but chaos and turmoil, God speaks and all becomes order and life. The Word of God is unleashed and the world, along with all that lives on it and in it, is. The God we meet in this first encounter is a God who speaks creation into existence. God speaks, and makes it so; God’s Word goes out and it is so. God speaks . . . creation happens.  All that God says, is, and becomes. This speaking God we encounter in this passage is a creating God, a God who moves through God’s Word. God creates in God's speaking. 

The creating God, is a God who speaks. But creation is not the only language God speaks. Not only does God speak creation, but God also speaks and names creation; the basic building blocks of our world. God names the day and the night. God names the sky, the land and the sea. God speaks and creates. God speaks and meaning is given. The Word of God brings light and brings order to that light by separating it from the darkness. God names the darkness night and the light is named day. There was nothing but the chaotic nothingness of pre-creation and then there was something and it was ordered, but not only was it ordered, but it had meaning. It had identity, it was day, it was night, it was something, and that something meant something, it had a name. They were not meaningless, nameless somethings that simply existed; they were something; day, night; land, sea. There was chaos and darkness and into the the chaos and darkness the Word of God brings order, and meaning, and identity. The basic building blocks of the natural world not only become, but immediately God gives that something value. God names.

So here we are, we have wandered into the party that is pre-creation and we meet “this guy.” And it does not take long for us to figure out this is not just “some guy, you know,” this is God and who God is matters and what God says is important, God’s Word does not merely make things happen, the Word, makes things be, and become. But this God person does not just speak meaningless things, like so many we might have met at any number of parties we have been to, this One's every utterance has meaning and value. With the very things this One says, not only are things brought into existence, but they become, and they become not just meaningless things, but they become somethings. The very Word of God gives order, meaning and identity to the world, into which God speaks.

But once God’s start speaking God does not stop and everything God has to say is worth listening to, worth paying attention to, because God declares to things that they good. Creation, order; meaning and identity are not the only words God knows. God speaks to creation. God sees the light; the land, the sky, the sea; the plants that grow; the Sun, Moon and stars, the creatures of the sea, the air and the land; God sees everything and then declares tells them one by one they are “good” and then in the end, sees it all together and stands back like an artist just finishing a painting and says, “This is good, all of it, is good.”  You are all good! It's all good. Each time God creates, God looks at it, and all God sees is goodness. God sees it all and it is all good. Every last thing created, every last one. All of it is good, because God says so.

This seems like such a small thing to us, of course it is good. Why would God create something that was not good? God created it, of course it is good. But this was something important for the ancient Hebrews to hear. They were surrounded by the voices of the cultures around them, whose gods did not declare creation good. For them the world, and everything upon it, were a were a byproduct of divine conflict. On one side of them were a people who said the world was nothing but the mud and yuck that was flung about when two of their gods fought with one another. On the other they were told that all creation was just the aftermath of a battle between the god of war and the evil god of chaos, which the god of war won and then split open the carcass of his enemy and laid her out forming the earth and everything up on it from her broken body. Needless to say when the most popular beliefs all around are that creation is a rotting corpse or the muddy battlefield that remains after an epic battle, they did not believe that their gods thought much of the earth and the creatures who walked upon it. Into these bleak views enters the God of the Hebrews who says, the world, all of creation, is not a byproduct, or a corpse. It was carefully created by God, on purpose. God did not look upon creation with disdain or dissatisfaction. God declares each part of creation good, and then declares creation as a whole, good. Our God is a good God, a creating God, who created good things, purposefully, and with love.

Our God starts speaking and keeps on speaking. When God comes down to God’s final creation, humans, God does not merely speak and we become so. God says to God’s-self, “let us.” Let’s do this. Let’s create something different. Something that stands out against all the rest of what I have created. Let’s make a creature in our own image, let it in some way be like us, let it reflect who we are.  God did not speak us into existence as the light and the land was created. God did not call for the land or the sea to bring us forth, God stops and says to God’s-self, let’s do this. Our creation is different. We are a product of careful consideration about what God wanted to be the climax and the pinnacle of creation. We are carefully and lovingly created. We are the beings that hold God’s image and likeness; we are a reflection of this speaking, creating God. And we like all the rest of creation are declared good. At creation, in the heart of our being, we, like everything else God created are good. All of us are good, every last one of us, male and female, all whom God created, we are all good, we are all carefully and lovingly created, and we all, every last one of us bear the image of the eternal, creating, speaking God. Who makes sure the first thing we hear when we awake to the newly created world, is that we are good. God declares us good! This is how God begins communicating with us.

The Word of God speaks creation into existence, gives it meaning and identity and declares it good. The God we meet in creation is a loquacious God, because God is not done speaking. God begins creation by speaking. God's Word is what brings forth creation and gives it meaning. Once God creates, God stops merely just speaking. As soon as there is something with whom to communicate, God begins speaking to. God does not just talk at, God communicates with creation. God is a God of relationship, as soon as there is something with which to have a relationship, God is reaching out in the foundational building block of all relationships, communication. God speaks to the land and the sea and the sky. God speaks to the light and the dark. God speaks to the fish of sea, the birds of the air and the creatures of the land. And ultimately God speaks to us, as the beings, who bear God’s image; God reaches to us in relationship from the very beginning. Our God speaks, but God does not just talk to hear God's-self speak. God talks to, and in doing so, is seeking to be in relationship with.

The God we are meeting here in passages is not only a speaking God, but is a God of communication, a God of relationship, a God who is continually reaching out beyond God's-self, ultimately reaching out to us. God wakes us into creation with communication. From the beginning God has always wanted relationship, relationship with creation, relationship with the creatures of the land, the air and the sea, and ultimately relationship with us.

Our communicating God has so much to communicate. There is so much God has to say to us. God tells creation and climatically us, that we are good. God also gives permission, invites creation to be a part of the creating process. God tells the waters to bring forth creatures, calls for the land to bring forth first vegetation and then to bring forth animals. God's creation is invited to join God in the very act of creating, “bring forth” God says to the land and to the sea, and together they bring forth fish and birds, all the plants of the earth and all the animals that walk upon it. God tells the land to bring forth animals, to bring forth many different kinds and for them the different kinds to become more numerous, and to multiply and to fill the earth. They are to grow and change and continually become.

Then, when the animals have been created, God speaks directly to the animals and God blesses them and tells them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the sea, and the air and the land. God first says this to all the animals, of the land, of the air, and of the sea, and then blesses humans and says the same thing to humanity. God invites all of creation to continue in the act of creation; to bring forth, to make all the creatures of land and air and sea, and for those creature to become more and different kinds and for the kinds to multiply, to become and keep on becoming, to fill the land, the sea and the sky.

I think God found joy in creating and joy in the creation, standing back and looking at it all made God happy. “God saw everything God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Creating brought joy to God, it made God smile, and being a god of relationship, God wanted others to join in this joy. So God invites the world itself to participate in creation, to join in the joy, to participate in the happiness, to smile. God wants Us to share in what is bringing God joy, God wants us to know what it is to bring something forth, to make something.

God invites us to be creating beings. Be fruitful and multiply, create. Make things; make more of your selves. Whenever we do something and stand back and find joy in what we have done, every time we make something and see that it is beautiful that it is good, we are participating in the joy God is inviting us to participate in here. Every time we hold a newborn baby and find joy in her hands, her feet, her eyes, we are joining in the joy of creation, we are catching a glimpse of God in ourselves in what we have done, in what we have created. “I made this!” Are the words of a proud creator. When we find joy, happiness, pride in the good things we make, we are answering the call of God in creation, when God calls for us to “bring forth,” “to be fruitful,” to multiply.” All of it is heeding the words God first spoke to us in creation. 

God wants us to be a part of it all, to find joy in what God finds joy, to be made happy by all that makes God happy, to be made to smile in the same way God was made to smile. So our very communicative relational God invites the land, the sea, the animals and US to bring forth to participate in creation. To be a apart of the continuing becoming that is the ongoing, growing and changing, multiplying world all around us, to participate in the ongoing-ness, to grow, to nurture growth, to change and produce change to multiply and fill the world with the joy of every growing, changing producing creation.

So here we have our introduction to God and what we find is a speaking God. The very Word of God is what brings all creation into being. Our God speaks and things happen, they are, they become. The Word of God is powerful, but not only is it powerful but it is meaningful. It brings meaning to all of which and to whom it speaks. The Word of God names creation, names the land, the sea and the sky, gives order, meaning and identity to our world. And our God invites us, and the world around us to join God in the creative process, to bring forth, to be fruitful, to fill, to multiply, and to add to this growing, changing, and productive world. God invites us to join in the joy of creation. Our God is relational, continually reaching out to us, communicating with us desiring to be in relationship with us. The God we meet here at the beginning is a talkative God, who begins speaking and does not seem to stop, but unlike that guy at the party who we just can’t seem to get away from, because he just keeps talking and talking, everything God has to say is worth hearing, it has meaning and brings meaning to the world around. The words God says invites us to join God in what brings God joy and are words which affirm our goodness and shows us, we all, every last one of us has value and meaning in this world. God’s Word tells us who we are, tells to whom we belong and they tell us who we look like. Every word that comes out of the mouth of God is worth listening to and should be heard. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 36


Psalm 36:1-12

Key Verses: 36:5-6

“But your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies; your faithfulness reaches the clouds. Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains; your justice is like the deepest sea. Lord, you save both humans and animals.” CEB

The Psalmist paints a picture for us of a world which does not go untouched by God. A world that is made up of the very attributes of God the foundations of the mountains, the bedrock upon which we all walk is God’s righteousness. We all live in the shadow of the righteousness of God. As God’s people we are to be like valley pools reflecting that righteous so all the world can see it in us. Living right, acting right, speaking right, loving right – reflecting the very character of God at all times in all things.

God’s steadfast love, God’s faithfulness, is in the air we breathe. Each time we breathe in we experience that love. What does that even mean we the cry of those who are desperate, is, “I can’t breathe!” So many are suffocating right now, how can we extend God’s loyal, steadfast love to everyone? No one should be unable to breathe in God’s life giving breathe. It was imparted to us all on the day of our creation. God’s steadfast love is all around, filling the very air we breathe to deny anyone that breath is to refuse them what was given to them by God at creation.

God’s justice, which is what those who have been denied the breath of God’s steadfast love are asking for, is as deep and wide as the ocean. We live on a blue planet because our planet is literally covered by its seas. God’s justice is what covers this earth, colors this earth. The picture the Psalmist is painting is one in which the entire earth is covered and colored by God’s justice only happens when God’s love is lived out, when the very laws of the heavens are made manifest in the hearts and lives of God’s people. The systems must be redeemed and transformed just as individual lives are transformed. First lives are transformed and then the world is transformed in and through transformed people. When we all love like God loves, when we agents of God’s steadfast love, righteousness and justice, transformed people can then dismantle the broken systems and then they too can be redeemed. First the hearts and lives of individuals are transformed, and then the make up of our world can also be redeemed, the foundations of our societies, the heart of our laws, and the fabric of our systems will begin to reflect God's righteousness, be covered in the deep unfathomableness of God’s justice and the very steadfast love of God will fill the lungs of all, and we will all able to breathe deeply


Thing to Think on

 What does it look like when the world is painted with God’s love, God’s righteousness and God’s justice?

What does it look like when all are able to find refuge under God’s wings?


A Prayer for Today

          Lord, so many can’t breathe right now; so many are unable to experience your justice, or your love. How then can we expect your justice to be known? What do I do? What can I do? How can I be transformed by you into an agent of your love, righteousness and justice? How do I live in such a way that I can help your redemptive work in this world? How do I live in such a way that the very fabric of my society, the foundations of the land in which I live are redeemed in turn? Shape me, change me into a person who reflects your holy character, who then goes into the world shaping and changing the world to also reflect your holiness. Let it be so, let it become so. - Amen



Tuesday, June 2, 2020

John 20:19-31: The Giving of the Spirit

This particular day in the life of the disciples, thus far, has been a long, roller coaster of a day. And the day’s not even over yet. It is the third day after Christ’s crucifixion. Early this morning Mary went to visit Jesus' tomb. But she came back fairly quickly, with a strange tale about the tomb being empty, “Come and see! What can it mean?” she said.

At this point Peter and John participated in a foot race to the tomb (which John won btdubs). They both returned confirming the woman’s tale. The tomb was indeed empty, Jesus' body was gone. Only Mary had stayed at the tomb to mourn this crushing new loss. When she finally returned she carried an even more fantastical tale about meeting a man, she mistook for a gardener, who turned out to be Jesus. “Jesus is not dead.” “The tomb is empty, because Jesus is not dead.” “He is alive!” “He has risen from the grave!” She kept just kept repeating over and over again,

Now it is evening and the believers are locked behind closed doors. Those who have gathered are made up of more than just the twelve (which would almost but not quite be an allowable gathering in these times). But the group is actually quite a bit larger that; there are the women who have been with Jesus throughout his journeys, along with several others who have come to believe, such as Lazarus and Nicodemus. This whole group is hiding behind locked doors.

What was going on behind this locked door? The passage tells us they are afraid. What kind of fresh danger is awaiting them? Could those who plotted to have Jesus killed, be even now plotting to come after them? What do they think happened to Jesus’ body? Do the Jews blame them? Will the Jewish leaders come after them demanding they turn over the missing corpse? What will they do when the body can’t be produced? And finally what do we do with Mary’s tale? Has she gone completely mad with grief? Did she see Jesus’ ghost, if so what would that even mean?  Can they, possibly, even remotely think to believe her? Do they dare hope that what she has said is true? What if she is telling the truth? What if Jesus is alive? What if the Messiah capable of conquering even his own death? If Jesus is really alive, where is he?

As they are attempting to process all that has occurred over the course of the past three days, the past week even, their minds cannot help but be dark and stormy seas of chaos and confusion. So much has happened since they arrived in Jerusalem just a week ago. They must be experiencing so many conflicting emotions. It all is swirling around inside of them threatening to overcome them. And then like the icing the craziness cake you have Mary's impossible tale. They are drowning in a whirlpool of the emotions, as they seek to make heads or tails of it all, suddenly Jesus is, right there in the room with them – standing right there. What are they thinking in this particular moment? Their dead, but now alive Messiah, just appeared in their midst.

“Didn't we lock that door?”

“How did he even get in here?”

“Whoa, wait he is really alive –  Mary isn't crazy!”

“Well, that's a relief.”

“Wait, wh. . . He is alive. He is here. I mean right here.”

All Jesus says at this point is “Peace be with you.” And then gives them proof he is exactly who he appears to be, who he seems to be, who they dare wish that he is. He allows them to see the holes in his hands and the cut in his side. He is the very same Jesus who died on the cross, which means he is the Jesus who has risen from the dead. They can see beyond a shadow of the doubt, which has been engulfing them all day, through undeniable proof that the man who stands among them, is Jesus Christ himself, raised from the dead, just as Mary had told them he was.

Then he says it again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus' words and Jesus' presence are there to give them relief, to calm their spirits, to allow them to be still within themselves and know, truly know that he is indeed alive. This is not supposed to send them into a tailspin; this is not to bring chaos into the turmoil within them. What he does here does not bring fear. Jesus has returned, and appeared among them, to bring them peace, the peace which only the God of universe, the creator of all things can bring to them, the peace only the resurrected Savior can impart.

With these four simple words not only are the turmoil and tempests within them calmed, but they become a sent people. For John, in the moment they become a sent people, they become the Church. In John’s understanding of the gospel it is in this moment, this ragtag band of disciples and believers gathered fearfully in that locked room, are no longer simply followers and disciples of Christ, they are the people sent by Christ, they are the Church. In this moment of sending, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you send,” they become the Church. And just like that the Church is birthed.

The meaning of what it means to be the Church is right here. The church is not this building. The Church is not what happens when we are together in one place (although, granted doing so is important), the Church is people who believe in and know the resurrected Christ and are sent into the world by that same Christ. In the Gospel of John, this is the “great commission,” This is John’s “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” moment.  This is John’s “you will be my witnesses,” speech. Jesus sends them into the world to teach what he taught, to live as he lived, to proclaim the resurrection to all who will listen. In this moment they become the image of God in Christ for the world; reflecting the Savior and their God in a world who truly knows neither. 

At this point it would be so easy to just jump to, skip the next bit, because although the whole middle part of this day was the most confusing, difficult part for these early believers to go through, this next part of the passage is probably the most difficult for us as modern believers. So although jumping right over this whole bit and proceeding to the part about Thomas would be easier, not to mention a whole lot of fun. Anyway I am going charge right on ahead and take this next part head on. This next bit is difficult because it is hard to deal with the fact that John tells Jesus’ story completely differently than other three Gospels. Most importantly he tells the story differently than Luke, and how Luke recorded events in his gospel and then in Acts. And we really like the way Acts tells it. And that's OK. We can like the way Luke records things better and we may even believe his way is more historically accurate one. In doing so we cannot ignore John or discount the way John tells things. The way he represents the events is no less true or valuable to the Church.

Whew, here we go. After Jesus has calmed their fears, brought them peace, and declares them to be a sent people, he breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Yep, that’s right, the newly resurrected Lord instills the Spirit of God within his followers, the newly declared Church on the very same day as his own resurrection.  This not the traditional way we are used to hearing about the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, which in Acts happens on the Day of Pentecost. John relates the story “a little” differently; with Jesus giving the disciples the Spirit when he appears among them on the evening of his resurrection.

In John’s gospel, Resurrection Sunday is a big day. In John’s mind this is the one day changes everything forever. It is the day of the resurrection, the day when Christians become Christians, because it is the resurrection after all which makes us Christians. It is also day on which the Church become the Church, by being sent by the new resurrection Lord on Easter evening. Finally, it is also the day when the Church receives the gift of the Spirit, and the Church becomes the Spirit filled community of believers which will thrive and grow and spread to the far reaches of the earth. You know, the Church as we all know it today.

John truncates the events and piles all the important things here on the day of the Resurrection, because for him is THE DAY, the day that really matters.  It is the day which changes everything. So here when John recounts the events of the Resurrection, he puts all the most important things on Resurrection day.

So, Jesus breathes on the disciples. The newly declared, sent Church receives the Spirit. The words, which John uses to describe these events, are the words of creation. On the final day of creation God reached down into the dust and formed a human and once God had finished creating the human, God leans over and breaths into the human, bringing the human to life. It is when God breaths God's own breath into humanity that all humans gained life.

The language John uses here on the first day of the resurrection of the Christ is the language creation. This is the first day of the new creation and Jesus Christ breathes life into his followers, into the Church, life. Here on the evening of the resurrection new creation has begun, this day marks a new beginning not only for Jesus Christ, and for the Church, but for all creation. Just as was done on the day humanity was created, life is given. This time, new life is breathed into the Church, reconnecting us to all who we were at creation; filling us once again, in a new way, with the breath of God.

Jesus is giving us a chance to begin anew, in him. Through Jesus, we are brought close to God in a way we have not known since the Garden. When Jesus breaths on these first Christians, they are filled with the very breath of God, the Spirit of God flows within them. It is God's own breath which gives the believers in the resurrected Christ life. Through the infilling of the breath the resurrected savior humanity is able to regain the hope, lost in the Fall.

The new life we find in Jesus Christ is found in the life giving Spirit.  Through Jesus Christ, our relationship with God is renewed and strengthened; we get a new start, a fresh life, a new beginning. We are re-created, we gain all that was lost in the Fall, we gain relationship with our God, we gain the ability to be God breathed people, who are inhabited by the very Spirit of God; living our lives reflecting the love of God and sharing that love with all those around us. We are able to live as we were created to live.

So ok now that we are all “ok” with John telling the story of the receiving of the Holy Spirit differently, we come to the next even harder bit. *deep breath*

As God breathed people we gain the power of God's own infilling, the power of the re-created life. The breath of God gives us the power to gain proper relationship with God, but as a Wiseman once said to a Spiderman, “with great power comes great power comes great responsibility.” The power gained in the God-breathed life has responsibilities as well.

The responsibility of the power is the power to forgive. Jesus tells us that whatever sins we forgive on earth will be forgiven. We are given the power to forgive; to see the faults in those around us, and forgive them. To turn to others and extend to them the forgiveness we ourselves have received from God. *another deep breath*

Ok we have the power, nay the privilege to extend God’s forgiveness, Christ’s forgiving power to those around us. But there is a flip side to every coin. Jesus also says any sins we retain, will be retained. This sounds like the ultimate power, which can be horribly abused. To refuse to forgive one who is seeking forgiveness! But this is not a power, which Jesus is giving us, which we can wield however we wish. This is a warning, a caution. Be careful to be abundant with this forgiveness, extravagant even. As people who are seeking to live as Christ lived, we are to be people of forgiveness but not retention. Jesus gives us the power to forgive and to not forgive. But we must know that when we do not forgive it means just as much as when we do forgive.

We can choose not to forgive but we are called to forgive as freely and generously as God forgives. Our forgiveness of others is a direct reflection of the forgiveness we know in God. Others will first know the love and forgiveness of God in how we love and how we forgive. When we choose not to forgive we are reflecting to those around us that God does not forgive.

And where ever we do not forgive others, that kind of un-forgiveness will be shown to us. God will retain what we retain. The measure which we use will be used on us. So we are to forgive as freely and boundlessly as we know God forgives, retaining nothing against others, as God has done with us.

 So our first response must always be forgiveness. We are to forgive because we have the power and the responsibility to forgive as Christ forgives. This is an extension of God’s love which God has shown to us. We, as Christ’s life breath, still living and moving on this earth, are to be Christ’s love and forgiveness here on earth. We love where Christ loves, and we forgive where Christ forgives. It is through us that those around not only know the love of God, but it also through us that they know of the forgiveness of God.

It is here, we, as followers of Christ receive the Spirit. It is here we become the Church. It is here that we learn what means to BE the Church. It means that we are a sent people. A people sent into the world by Christ, by God; sent into the world to love AND to forgive.