Friday, June 30, 2006

30 June 2006

We end this week with more on the Word of God from "Gravity and Grace" by Joseph Sittler.

Luther declared that the mother who teaches the child about the goodness of God, who is the shepherd of all children, is as much a doctor of the Word of God as is the archbishop of Mainz. So when the preacher preaches on "the Word of God," he or she might not quote Scripture. When one declares the presence and the grace of God, the Word is being preached. During the 10th and 12th centuries, when virtually no one could read, how did the church continue? The people didn't read Scripture; in fact, many priest didn't either. So they didn't preach Scripture. what they taught was the celebrative worship of God through images and liturgy, hymnody, acts of devotion and tradition. So the church lasted without Scripture.

Today there are so many people who are fixated on the "book" and on every "word" in the "book" that it has become more elevated than the gift it brings to us - the presence and the grace of God. What happens at that point is that the Book becomes a book of charms and almost magical powers. How the words are laid out on the page is more important than the witness to the life to which it points. People are getting so caught up in the vehicle of transmission that we do not see that gracious God to whom we give praise in our worship. Luther's point about the teaching of a mother and how that brings to the child a vision of the goodness of God makes her a doctor of the Word of God must be heard. In addition, I would also say that the mother must also be one who has heard of this God to whom the Scriptures give witness. She must know this presence and grace as she passes on the story. Otherwise, just like every other person, we tend to avoid this witness and fall into storytelling that simply suits us. That is dangerous with or without the Book in hand.

Connection: We are not simply readers of the story from the Word of God, we are storytellers whose telling becomes a witness alongside the Scriptures and is much needed for we are all called to speak of this God of ours who is present and leading us.

From generation to generation, O God, your presence is made known among us through your saints who are not afraid to witness to your Reign of Glory and Love that continues to be present among us and calls us to step in and participate in its life. We give you thanks for the way the Word makes it to our hearing and then grabs our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

29 June 2006

This picks up directly from Joseph Sittler's reflection from yesterday in "Gravity and Grace."

There developed a body of literature written by a people who had been made a people by that force, and their writings are called the Word of God. The ultimate meaning of Word is not a document; but the documents were preserved by the ancient Hebrews and the early church because they testified, they bore witness, to the force of the Word. The people had experienced it, and they were transformed by it.

The book in my backpack stacked next to this book by Sittler is called "Struggling with Scripture." In so many ways today, some people are trying to come to terms with what we teach about the interpretation and how that interpretation has an impact on how the faithful come to life today. Too often, we overlook this force that moves and creates and changes and whips up life. Rather, there are too many of us who get so caught up in the printed word that we lose some of the Spirit and Life that the written word attempts to unleash for us. So caught up in every dot and dash and comma and single word or even a singular thought, we sever ourselves from that transforming force of the Word that literally shakes up our lives and attempts to move us beyond ourselves. The wonderful storytelling of the Scriptures takes place because the story - no matter what the writing style or literary unit or historical perspective - is able to grab us and show us a dimension of the creative force of the Holy Spirit of our God. We must be willing to struggle with Scripture and take it for more than words on a page that cannot offer us many ways of seeing the Reign of God in more and more brilliant ways. Even those "words" written in stone tell much more of a story for us and for our lives than the few words etched into those stone tablets. I must remember to always pray for those folks who must keep the "word" in such a fixed fashion that it is not able to breathe new life among us.

Connection: It is fine to wrestle with the Scriptures and it is just as important to wrestle with what others say it means or says to us. In that "dialogue" we once again confront a new reality.

Your Spirit breaks through the many ways we attempt to hold your word in place and prevent it from breathing new life and new thoughts and new ways among us. Blessed Lord, from the many witnesses of your power for life we pray that our hearts will be thrilled and awakened to a new dimension of your Reign. Amen.

Monday, June 26, 2006

28 June 2006

More on the Word of God by Joseph Sittler.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). What do we mean when we refer to the Word of God? Primarily we do not mean Scripture; there was a Word of God before there was any Bible. The Hebrew term for word, davar, does not primarily mean something we say or write; it means that the creative force of God himself goes out of himself to do something.

Reading this comment makes me wonder about how limiting it is to see the Word of God as simply the words in the actual texts we have. I know that is our starting place as people of the Book...but even though the canon of the scriptures is closed, does it mean that this creative force of God is stilled? I don't think so. In fact, as I dearly hold on to the great stories within the Bible, I also find that new stories about the work of this God are unfolding around us and if the "book" wasn't closed in the formal decision-making fashion of the past, the book would be ever expanding. God is continuing to go "out of God's self" and doing things among us. Sometimes there are folks who don't like to hear that. They want a more contained and controllable God, I guess. I always try to remember that there needs to be an ongoing dialogue between the Word we have in print and the Word that keeps acting up among us. In the context of that dialogue - when we are not too anxious about what might come of it - miracle happen...lives are transformed...people are born again. The Word of God carries a power that we sometimes fear because it doesn't let our set-in-stone world remain there anymore. And yet, God's Word continues to be a living cornerstone for all of us.

Connection: Sometimes it would be good to think about naming the actions of the day as a part of the Word of God and the creative force that goes with it. No need to wait for a grand event either!

Lord God, it is in the tossing and turning of your creative power that your people continue to cross over into your unfolding Reign. There may be days when we grow tired of crossing over and being pulled into possibilities for life. When we are so tired, be our breath of fresh air and new life. Amen.

27 June 2006

More on the Word of God from "Gravity and Grace" by Joseph Sittler.

Who is God? Scripture does not answer the question. It's a rather shocking thing to recognize, but Scripture at no point defines God. Rather, it says, "I am the holy one, I am the one who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, delivered you from captivity, called you by name, made you a people, constituted you an elect nation, a holy priesthood." Or, "I am the one who before the mountains were brought forth, I was. What ever happened, I did." God in Scripture is not the one who is but the one who does. This is a functionally definition of God, not a dictionary definition.

It takes the whole story to bring this God of ours into some kind of dynamic picture. I didn't say bring God into "a picture" because this picture is greater than any canvas. God is always more and always taking us in to view more and more. Many times, the same themes are played over again and again...and yet they work -- in new ways for new days. I'm not threatened by those who say they do not believe in God...or they want some proof. On the other hand, I'm not interested in those who say they have the "proof" finding bones or hearing voices or maybe a piece of the ark. I will go by what is said about the acts of God in the midst of a ongoing stumbling people. I will go with that God who speaks to Job about the foundations of the earth and the walls that hold in the seas. I know that sometimes, those walls will not stand as they are...they will give way to the wonderful natural ways of creation that separate land, push currents beyond the boundaries we like, and then make for new configurations of this grand creation. I trust that in the midst of all of this, our God moves with us. There may be no dictionary definition of God but there sure is a whole tapestry of images and acts woven together within Scripture and around us.

Connection: As I say so often, let's spend some time today simply taking a few deep breaths and then do it again. There is so much more to life than our own little world. Sometimes intentional breathing helps me make a connection to the rest of the fantastic reality through which we journey - at times alone and at times with others...but always with the one who puts it all together.

Creating Lord, your vision is grand and your actions help us to see how life can be within your vision for life for all of us. We pray that you will continue to inspire us to see your holy will that is ready to continue making all things new. Amen.

26 June 2006

Again we continue with Joseph Sittler writing in "Grace and Gravity."

We humans are made for each other. The meaning of the Adam and Eve story, in particular the introduction of the figure of Eve, is not simply to say that it takes two to tango. But the Eve story communicates to all of us the meaning of the German proverb, "Ein Mensch ist kein Mensch." A solitary person is no person; personhood is relation and presupposes another for its actualization. God made a helpmate for Adam. Helpmate doesn't mean a sublieutenant; it simply means that which is necessary for wholeness. On this point Scripture is very clear - and unique - in its perspective.

I was at my mother's funeral last week and noticed, once again, how we are truly meant to be people in relationship. I use this word as Sittler uses it above. We are human and truly human within the relationships around us. In fact, that is what helps us to be drawn out of ourselves. I would also say that being in relationship helps to pull us away from being so turned-in-on-self. I would then add that it is even more important for our relationships to be those that spread us across the many boundaries and barriers we find placed between us an others. One of the blessed wonders of our humanity is that we can continue to be expanded with the help of others. When we enter into a new relationship, we find another part of ourselves. This is a characteristic of humanity. Unfortunately, we have this strong desire to resist any relationships that may appear to be outside of our domain or our clan. This happens in many ways. We are still human when we live divided lives, but the quality of that humanity is diminished and does not shine out as brilliantly as a humanity that is free to relate to the whole world...and therefore, our whole being.

Connection: It does take energy to reach out and relate to others we do not know or around whom our comfort level is not high. Then again, the energy we receive in those relationship restores us to new life...again and again.

Come, O Spirit of Life, and send us into the depths of our humanity and pull us into relationship with the wideness of your blessed Reign and into the fellowship of your presence in the midst of us. Amen.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday, 23 June, 2006

Text: James 1:9-11

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

This is not the only time that the writer of James will lay it on the line for the rich. It is also interesting that as we are reading sections of James in worship, the people who select the texts have neatly bypassed these words. It is not just the rich that catch it from the writer. It is the way that some have of being rich. When our security comes from our wealth...when we use wealth to selfish ends - that is the problem. What we need to remember is that when we have wealth, we are the last people in the world to think that we using it to selfish ends or counting on it for our security. That is why the words of prophet bite so hard. They look and then tell it like it is - truth is more important than letting folks follow false gods - such as wealth. Our question (for most of us are in the area of the rich in comparison to the majority of folks) is how we will look at and how we will use our wealth. The community is very important to James. Naturally this potentially dividing power (wealth) within the community must become a uniting power. For the rich it means a constant vigil. Staying alert to the many ways our wealth takes hold of us. It is probably a good idea to have friends within the church ( not just friends) who we would invite into our lives to help us see our loyalties and evaluate how it is that we use our money. That is both a hard saying (for who does that) and it is also a freeing statement (for it is the beginning of an honest look at ourselves and what controls us).

Connection: Taking an inventory of what we have and what we can potentially have is important. Taking a look at how much energy we spend on money focused toward me and then the money I let go for the welfare of others is a daily exercise we each can do. Today is always the time to begin looking at what is enough...and how free do I become as I am more and more in touch with that simple reality - enough. Then what can I be doing with the rest?

Creator of all things, you give us the wealth of the world to manage and you place the bounty of the earth before us that we would be the caretakers of all things. Remind us of the gift of your creation and as you share this gift with us may we be as sharing and graceful as you continue to be with us. Amen.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Thursday, 22 June, 2006

Text: James 1:5-8

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

In the events of the day that seem to test us it is good that we are able to keep in mind that the wonderful wisdom of God - that is, God for us! The writer is not telling us to ask for some kind of mythical wisdom that will give us great abilities to control of and move our world. Rather, we are considering here the wisdom to trust what God has said about us and live then as though that is the truth. It is a wisdom that takes stepping into the day trusting - not doubting. It is wisdom to see our place as God's beloved right in the middle of the everyday stuff of this day. Others, without such wisdom, move through the day absorbed in their own world and therefore, they are dependent on what they are able to do and what they are able to make of themselves. The wisdom to see God's favor makes for a vision for life most are unable to see - and therefore their is no peace.

Connection: Remember, God's foolishness (to love the world unconditionally) is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. We are not out to conquer the world - we are invited to love the world and through that invitation, there is a life that will come forth for us in all times and places. May we have the wisdom to see that life and live within that foolishness.

O God of endless Love, how often you enlighten us with your grace-filled Word. You invite us to trust in you alone and then you expect that we will indeed trust. Strengthen us that we may had over our day to you and live within your blessed Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

21 June 2006

*** A note from John... Yesterday Al's mother passed away. He requested that I let everyone know that after today's new devotion, we will continue with the archived devotions for the rest of this week. ***

Having been witnesses to the election of the first female presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church in our country, this piece by Joseph Sittler is a fitting word for us. (from "Gravity and Grace")

Interestingly, no writer of antiquity whom I know anything about ever said, "There is neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28). Aristotle didn't say it; Socrates didn't say it; Plato didn't say it; Solon, the Greek legal authority didn't say it. Nobody in the antique world until St. paul ever expressed such a concept of an absolute erasure of sexual differences.

It would be easy to go along with the fact that nobody in antiquity ever said anything like this. We can dismiss it with 'that was then.' Unfortunately, I do not think we have such courageous writers and speaker today. Just look at some of the reactions to the election of Bishop......... We are still afraid to speak the new language of the Reign of God that brings about new realities that cannot be controlled by what has been and what tries to be the ruling force in life. Already in writing of Paul's words, there is an air of authority that does not come with an argument that will win over the great multitudes or even a strong majority. But...Paul writes it. No matter what comes later to try and shut down those liberating and gracious words of Paul...this is not going to go away. No matter what kind of fear and anxiety that arise among God's people when words of this vision are spoken, the wideness of God's Reign and its amazing journey of life will prevail even among fear-filled and less than adventurous saints. We are a part of a resurrection people who cannot be contained within the barriers of what has been.

Connection: The Spirit pulls us into life beyond our expectations and sometimes, we actually see evidence of such pulling power...even when it is contrary to the prevailing winds. But remember, this Spirit is the wind that brings new things and new thinking and new life into existence. Don't be afraid to be pulled by it today.

Spirit of New Life, how refreshing it is to be nudged by your gentle breezes. And yet, we all know how frightening it can be to be blown off our life positions and stumble into that which is beyond our comprehension or control. Come, O Breath of Life. Amen.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday, 19 June, 2006

Text: James 1:2-4
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

Sometimes things connect without much intention. Last week I was quoting Paul Tillich abouut "joy" and here in these opening verses from James, "joy" reappears. When we stand within that wonder-filled place in which God's affirmation, God's "Yes" to us, sinks in, we are able to stand in whatever trials may face us. Tillich said, Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous YES to one's own trur being. I would emphasize that there is no greater YES than the one offered to us by God for it is a YES that is not based on anything we have done or anything we plan on doing. It is the beginning YES that will also be the ending YES. With that kind of affirmation, we can be held up and in being held up in the middle of our trials, we do develope a sense of endurance because we can always go back to God's YES for us in each new moment - even in defeat...therefore we endure into the next moment! Maturity in the faith is not a issue of the amount of faith I have. Rather, it is the simple acknowledgement of the the place that is my starting point in any day and any moment - God
's YES. Where it would be easy to fall into the trap of evaluating myself trying to figure out how I can somehow make more of myself in the middle of my life, maturity in the faith reminds us to stand in the place that we are and that will be enough - we will lack nothing. In that place, we may just be the best gift to the world around us.

Connection: Testing of our faith takes place in each and every encounter of our day. It is not as though there is a "evaluator" looking down at us and throwing "tests" in front of us to see how we will do and then grading us on our performance. Rather, each moment of our lives are filled with the opportunity to live as blessed children of God - to be followers of Jesus in the Reign of God - now. There is no scorekeeper...this is not a game. RAther than ask ourselves what we must do...we would find ourselves more in tune with our status as God's children to simple ask "how will I be me - God's beloved - in this moment." Then, with a leap into who God promises we are in God's sight, we face any trial the day may bring. Each opportunity to be God's beloved.

Loving and Gracious God, in your Son, Jesus, you gave us a vision of life embraced by you and lived joyously in your name. Remind us throughout this day that it is you who will be our sustaining and comforting way of life for us as we encounter each and every aspect of our life within your blessd Reign. Amen.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Thursday, 15 June, 2006

Since I was going to do one week with quotes from The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich, this is the final quote and I just to something on vitality.

Vitality, the power of life, is correlated to the kind of life to which it gives power. The power of a person's life cannot be seen separately from what some medieval philosophers called "intentionality," the relation to meanings. A person's vitality is as great as her/his intentionality; they are interdependent. This makes a person the most vital of all beings.
...Vitality is the power of creating beyond oneself without losing oneself. The more power of creating beyond itself a being has the more vitality it has....Only humanity has complete vitality because humanity alone has complete intentionality.

I think of acts of justice and mercy and loving kindness. We must be intentional about such acts. Such action takes getting up off of our seats or letting ourselves look into the fullness of life outside of my "own world." In fact, many actions in life make our lives vital. They can be most simple and common marks of the day. Yesterday, I was moving along my street and up ahead cars were parked on both sides of the street. As I approached, there were two cars approaching from the other direction. I'm a real nut about safety and speeding on Berwick Blvd. so I stopped just short of the parked cars and blinked my lights so that the oncoming cars could move though the tight spot. It was a tiny intentional act. I can have an impact on my world. And yes, I can also have a negative impact as I move into my world and attempt to do something of meaning. Here is where our stories of faithfulness come into the picture. They can provide us with a vision for life from which we step off into the grand and mundane parts of our lives. Jesus' movement toward Jerusalem is more a picture of his intentionality than it is a "prediction of the future." The power of life, the vitality, he exercised made for deliberate encounters along the way. If we are intentional about the welfare of all people - even our enemies - today does become an adventure filled with vitality no matter what comes our way.

Connection: Applaud every act of loving kindness and thank God for the many opportunities we have in this day to actualize the power of life, our vitality, in all that we do. If we are intentional people as we are people whose lives are directed toward meaninful content, then even a note written to someone in our life can be vitally important. Today, let's give ourselves the opportunity to think of the people whose lives we admire - they like each of us start as a person of God in this day. Now, what will be the shape of our vitality.

O God of every new day, you continue to call us forth from ourselves and into relation with the world around us. May we be the caretakers of life who look after the welfare of all and engage our world with your love active in our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wednesday, 15 June, 2006

Text: The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich

Here are a few pieces on fear and anxiety and I may put in a few small notes for clarification.
Anxiety and fear have the same "ontological (
as in "being") root but thery are not the same in actuality.
...Fear, as opposed to anxiety has a definite object, which can be faced, analyzed, attacked, endured. One can act upon it, and inacting upon it participate in it - even if in the form of struggle. In this way one can take it into one's self-affirmation (note: as in when we defeat a fear...we affirm ourselves). Courage can meet every object of fear, because it is an object and makes participation possible...
One can say that as long as there is an object of fear love in the sense of participation can conquer fear.
But this is not so with anxiety, because anxiety has no object, or rather...its object is the negation of every object. (another author calls anxiety "dread" and that really works for me. I may dread going forward to do something or go somewhere and yet I cannot put my finger on the "thing" I dread or over the thing over which I am anxious. Tillich would say it is as basic as the possibility of non-being.)
Now, here the important piece I want to use for today.
Anxiety strives to become fear, because fear can be met by courage. It is impossible for a finite being (you and I) to stand naked anxiety for more than a flash of time. (Tillich goes on to say that those who have - call it "the night of the soul")
This horror is ordinarily avoided by the transformation of anxiety into fear of something, no matter what.

Now what do I want to make of this. Failure, can be one of those anxiety producers. It is for me. And yet failure is not a concrete object. It comes and goes and attacks my heart with threats of defeat and uselessness... Therefore, in the face of such anxiety, it is very easy to let myself point a finger - at them or at a "structure" for now I have someone and/or something to occupy my attention. It also puts me in the middle of a game in which I can call up every ounce of courage needed to fight this person or those people or that kind. Just think of young Hitler coming out of WWI. Devastated at the loss of the war and anxious about the affairs of the German people and how things would turn out after such a humiliating defeat, what a better time to point fingers and blame and, in essence, create an enemy. Now, with the use of active rhetoric with decisive words of blame and concrete solutions to the problems in the land, Hitler can muster up in the people a "foe" and with that, the unified and glorious rebellion that will make things right again. Find a scapegoat and we will be able to give people and ourselves, a way to call forth courage and then we can paint that effort with language of salvation and promises of victory. I don't know about you, but I can be one who quickly searches for an object toward which I can turn my anxiety or dread rather than learn to face the "dark night of the soul."

Connection: Be an observer today. Watch for signs of people's longing to turn anxious moments into opportunities for blame and finger pointing. The workplace and the corridors of schools are filled with such movements. Remember though, it happens within a "flash of time."

Abiding and loving God, let us rest in you alone so that we may face the anxieties that can grab our hearts and turn to you before we turn our world into objects from which we can run or to which we can run to do courageous battle - even unto death. Remind us of the peace that comes in you alone...teach us to rest there so we can see the world with your eyes. AMen.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tuesday, 13 June, 2006

Text: The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich

Courage is self-affirmation "in spite of," that is in spite of that which tends to prevent the self from affirming itself.

...anxiety is the state in which a being is aware of its possible is not the abstract knowledge of nonbeing which produces anxiety but the awareness that nonbeing is a part of one's own being.
Tomorrow a distinction between fear and anxiety.

It is not easy to affirm oneself. In fact, all of us - if we would let ourselves touch this reality - would find that much of what we do is tied up within the constant pursuit of some way to be affirmed. And yes, it means we put ourselves out there and attempt to be someone and do something that will give us a pat on the back - an affirmation. Most often, the path to the affirmation of our lives has to do with what we have been able to accomplish. And yes, there is risk involved every time we attempt to "do something" to have our lives affirmed. And yes, since there is is risk, it takes courage to "go for it." The Good News is the announcement that we are affirmed...completely, definitely, forever - no conditions. We are invited to live as though that is in place -trust it. Courage is then our living as though we trust that God has claimed/affirmed us and living just as we are "in spite of" whatever the world may throw up against us. Remember this though, we often throw some of the biggest challenges to our self affirmation up against ourselves...we can be one our greatest source of our anxieties.

Connection: How does Matthew' s Jesus say it? "Consider the lilies...consider the birds of the air..." If we are, and we are, the treasure of God's creation, nothing can diminish that reality. Our essential worth remains even when we faulter and when we are evaluated by others and ourselves as being less than. Today, when will we give ourselves at least a few moments to remind ourselves of the greatest affirmation that is possible for us is that - we are God's children - always. Then, will we let ourselves live with it for awhile - in spite of...everything that wants to deny it. When will you let yourself do that today?

O God, in Jesus you have given us the vision for life that trusts in your word for us...and that alone. Let your Holy Spirit remind us of our place before you that gives us the life we live in the face of all things that come into this day. Teach us to be courageous as we learn of your love for us. Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Monday, 12 June, 2006

Text: Again from: The Courage to Be Paul Tillich

The affirmation of one's essential being in spite of desires and anxieties creates joy.
...Joy accompanies the self-affirmation of our essential being in spite of the inhibitions coming from the accidental elements in us. Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous Yes to one's own true being.

Rather than a presentation of a surface smile, joy is the innermost reverberation of our contentment with being who we are and who God claims that we are - God's beloved. Maybe it is when the bells toll in our mind as we come to know we are worthy and we see that this worth is able to motivate a life within us no matter what the presses in upon us. In a consummer oriented world in which we are continually hounded about how much better our lives will be if we had "this or that" or lived "here or there" (the list goes on and one), there is a truth about our the very core of our being that calls us to let it rule us rather than being ruled by the desires and powers of the day. God's unconditional declaration of our status as God's beloved, is a word that cannot be subverted by any other news within our world. From that essential declaration, that is a joy that makes our lives vitally available within this day and free to be truly who we are.

Connection: Easier said than owned. But own it. "I'm baptized!" Sometimes such a simple reminder as that can inspire us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to love this person God loves and therefore dance within a bit of Joy-filled affirmation. Today may be a time to remember this not only for ourselves but for others...we are given the gift of life that can remind others of their worth and the joy it can bring for them.

Lord of all hopefulness and joy, keep us grounded in the truth that is your love for us. When we face the temptations of the day that attempt to move us to trust in the lies of our desires and anxieties, send your Holy Spirit to touch us and ignite a spark of your new life within us. Amen.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Friday, 9 June, 2006

For the next run of days, I will be using quotes from the book The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich. It could be that it is more for me than anyone else - we shall see. Eventually, I was planning to move into the letter of James. We are reading parts of it on Sunday morning and it is full of interesting ways of looking at life in Christ.

The courage to be is the ethical act in which a person affirms his/her own being in spite of those elements of his/her existence which conflict with her/his essential self-affirmation.

There are many voices that attempt to tell us we are not worthy or beloved - just as we are. If you are anything like me, it takes a great amount of energy to shut out those voices and live out of this essential self-affirmation that comes most powerfully as we hear it from our God. This is not affirmation because of what I have done, it is affirmation that has no tag on is a freebie. To be courageous is to be...this essential self - beloved - even as there may be nothing concrete to affirm this self. I always think of the little child who, when loved and securely held and able to trust, seems to bounce and to exude a springtime of life that is fresh and bright and confident. Such an affirmation of one's self can, as Tillich notes, make for the courage to live/be in spite of those elements of hers/his existence which conflict with who we are! To speak one's make a point even when it is likely to be a "out of the ordinary" act contrary to the prevailing winds of society's actions, takes courage. Jesus life of love - unconditional love for all - was for those of us who call ourselves his followers, a life of courage that we often try to "spiritualize" away into another world. When the very core of our being is that statement of worth that cannot be damaged, controlled, removed or broken - for it comes from the very creator of all that is (all "beings") - then we are gifted with hopefulness. Because God says this about the very core of who we are - nothing can take that away. So in hope of what will always be (we are God's beloved) we act within that beloved state. When we do that, I think we will be displaying what is called courage.

Connection: Be a courageous lover today...of self...of others...of those close at hand - friends and enemies. Pray for each other that we can be for each other a reminder of the bold lives given to all of God's beloved.

Creator God and Ground of our Being, hold us as we enter this day. Hold us and then send us out as your beloved that we may become known in this day as children of the one who creates all things as good, good indeed. Amen.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Thursday, 8 June, 2006

Text: Galatians 6:11-18

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised - only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule - peace be upon them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

And the letter comes to an end. The world enslaves us to all sorts of ways to "make it." The simple notion that we must succeed or the understanding that we must look or act a certain way in order to be worthy to be here...are examples of just such an enslavement. The mark of circumcision on the people of God was a good thing. It was for the men (remember men counted) a forever reminder of the relationship between God and this small band of people. But in Christ, the mark - as good as it is for some - is not important as a way that a person can say to others "I've made it" or "I'm one of the ones!" For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything. What is something? The new creation - God's loving grasp of all. God gives it up for God's people. God goes all the way for us that we may come to know the place we hold in God's presence - before we have ever done a single thing in our lives. Status is given to us. Identity is given to us. Before any other word or any other action - the whole world (you, me, all the powers that be) is crucified and as Jesus is raised from the dead to new life...we too live now in the middle of a creation that is new - for it is not limited by the rules of how we can "make it" or how we must make it. Paul ends this letter with a a simple note: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit brothers and sisters. Amen. Nothing else but that - it is enough to make for a new creation.

Connection: We all want to "make it" in one way, shape or form. Unfortunately, what are we willing to do, what actions are we willing to justify, what conditions must be met for that to take place. What is the cost to ourselves and to others when it is not enough for us to be God's Beloved? Then again, how does this identity of being "in Christ" change the way we enter into a world that is trying to "make it"? Today when we try to "make it" how can our God-given status "beloved" redefine our actions and bring us day by day within this gift of life called "a new creation"?

Creator of all things lead us into this day as your beloved children. Remind us, within the push & pull of this day, that we stand with your beloved, Jesus, and with him we walk from the cross each day into the life that comes from you alone. Amen

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Wednesday, 7 June, 2006

Text: Galatians 6:6-10

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. Do no be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity,let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

In writing on these verses, one commentator makes this note which I find to be encouraging and wise. He writes: "Judgement is simply getting what you deserve. God's judgement is not vindictive, but a reaction to the human's action; in that sense love removes judgement." Again, the way of loving others - both in the family of faith and outside the family of faith is encouraged. It is our life...It is what we is what is to grow among us.

Connection: We are always urged to love in the face of any situation and in any time. It is the most difficult way to be alive today and yet it is the greatest gift given to us for the living of this day. Think of it as the power to live today without conditions on our living. We can be loving - vulnerable and available - and no one can take that from us.

Great Teacher and Eternal Spirit, we give you thanks for in Christ you have invited us to walk more fully in your ways. Guide us this day and move us by your power to open up our lives to those we encounter along the way. Amen.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Tuesday, 6 June, 2006

Text: Galatians 6:2-5

Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Yesterday, Paul noted that we need to restore those who are "detected in a transgression" with what he calls a "spirit of gentleness." That was a word more for those who are to restore than those who are to be restored. There is a life among the followers of Jesus that is constantly making community life a wholesome and graceful environment. It takes the work of each of us to make a community thrive with peace and love and mercy. Bearing one another's burdens is another way that we are pulled out of the self-indulgent lives that can come to us so easily. The law was set up so that there would be just such a life among us. The love of Christ moves us into a radical notion of being neighbors and friends. When you think about it, a commandment like "you shall not kill" includes, as Martin Luther would note, the fact that we are to look after the well being of our neighbor. Don't simply resist the temptation to kill, be moved to care and protect and safeguard our neighbor. No law can make us do that! takes this Spirit that Paul says will shape our living. Therefore, be concerned with our own life and how our lives are engaging the lives of our neighbors with acts of love, mercy, peace, & forgiveness. This life called "following Jesus in the Reign of God" is not a personal journey of self-improvement. It is a journey into the very depths of community and the relationships that come into being as we learn to love one another.

Connection: We can be loving. We can "bear one another burdens" and we can participate in the joys that come to life in the midst of a people whose lives are bounded together in love. One of the gifts we can offer to this day is that we are each a gift of the promise of our God to be present with the world. We can be a loving gift to this day.

Lord God of this day, be our encouragement and our food for life so that in our actions within this day, your merciful touch will be felt by those around us. Help us to see how beloved we are in your eyes and how that status is the character of our lives. Amen.

5 June, 2006

Text: Galatians 6:1

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.

This one verse has an interesting and important twist to it all. Actually it is not a twist in relation to what Paul has been saying in the letter, rather it is a twist in relation to how most people would deal with someone who has strayed/transgressed/tresspassed. Most often, we would ask, "What are we going to do with them - the one who has trespassed." But Paul does not make his focus that person. Instead, the others of the community are the ones to whom Paul brings a word - a good news word. The work of the community is to bring the "one who has strayed" home...bring him/her back...restore. In a world still in love with the law as a way of keeping people in line ( as in either do it like this...or this will happen to you) Paul attempts to speak to a community in which the grace of God and the community of love is the standard of care and well being. In gentleness...bring them home! Rather than tearing them down...rather than making a list of ways they must act to "get back" into the community...rather than turning to a manual of gentleness - bring them home. In that way, the brokenness of the community will not be involved in a further broken mess in which more an more people will be tempted to act out of a sense of "self-indulgence." I think we all know what it is like to be caught up in the meanness, finger-pointing, & warring madness that can take place when we are trying to make sure that this "so and so" pays for what s/he has done. In a community of love, zero-tolerance is not always the way to make the community whole again. Our gentleness and concern that is a gift of the Spirit, can fashion a life in which the community lives with a sense of respect and honor of one another.

Connection: I know it is very easy to turn to the law of "either - or." I especially know that as a parent. I know that there is a need for orange barrels and other marks of an orderly community. I also know that within the community of Jesus' followers, there is another way to live when we or the people around us step "out of bounds"...and it is not an easy way to go. Putting love in action may just be the biggest task of this day. And yet, the promise is that we bring love into the actions of the day by the power of the Spirit - whew!

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow into our lives this wind of hopefulness and love that fills us with the life you have given to us as the beloved of God. Take us by the hand and lead us to the forgiving and peaceable Reign of God that is a gift to us for life. Amen.

Friday, June 2, 2006

2 June 2006

In writing about how saints are to equip themselves Joseph Sittler asks this very obvious question.

Just who are these saints? Here again is a word that has become almost stylized by 1500 years of Roman Catholic usage. In the New Testament, "the saints" refers to those who have heard and obeyed, who have had their lives inwardly transformed by what they have heard and believed in the community of faith. Luther has a wonderful sentence about the saints: "To be a saint is to be a forgiven sinner."

Rather than having us reach up to be saints, God reaches down and makes us saints. For me, this fundamental difference in regard to how the Roman Catholic church views saints and how Lutherans view saints is one reason why I am now Lutheran. There are saints with lives we would consider faithful beyond what we might see in our own lives or others. And yet, God has already made us saints through the water of baptism. No special actions on our worthwhile or significant heroic acts of faithfulness...just water and the word of promise from our God. It is that action by God that inspires people to live as though God's word is indeed the power to transform and make things new. There need not be a certain criteria that is filled in order to be a saint. The only miracle in my life has been how God continues to forgive me and send me and equip me to trust a vision for life that promises life. That word transforms me. It transforms in ways you may not be able to see...and yet it transforms me without end.

Connection: So saints of God, how will this day take shape knowing that from the beginning you are forgiven and loved by God and that is how the day will close?!?

Praise to you, O Gracious and Loving God, for we are given a gift that not only has the power to calm our souls but also the power to bring to life a bit of the love that you have offered to us. Keep us living fresh within your promise of forgiveness and hope in you alone. Amen.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

1 June 2006

In "Gravity and Grace" Joseph Sittler writes about what it is to equip.

We think of equipment as that which we need to do the thing we want or ought or are called to do. However, that is only half the use of the word. If we think of equipment that way, we're thinking of something added on to ourselves. Equipment - katarismos - in Greek - is also used to mean an internal nurture, an internal formation that matures one's competence for an appointed task. To equip the saints refers in part to certain things that God's followers must add to themselves, as in the great passage, "Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:14). These are equipments provided by the Lord of the church, by the faith. But the other meaning of the word says to nurture; that is, to cultivate.

Often I hear people talk about what they do not have or what they need in order to be a better this or a better that. I must admit I do the same thing. If only we had the right equipment, we could be so much better than now. In some cases that is quite true. We do need equipment to get some things done and done well. If we don't have it...well. Then on the other side, we are each equipped with skills and abilities but they need to be brought out...enhance...perfected...and simply used. I look at my own gifts and talents and wonder why I do not nurture them more than I do. Or maybe use them in a new way so that what I am able to do...I will do with great ability. Then again, there are plenty of areas in my life in which I have come to the resolve that I am not the one who will be called upon to do some specific tasks. I am not equipped and I don't want to be. In those cases, the equipment that is needed by me is another person. When we talk of equipping the saints, we are talking about helping people nurture their gifts and expand their equipment and then...put it all to use...share it...give it up the body..."inwardly fulfill".

Connection: Too often I become a bit flustered when I am "found out." That is, when people notice what equipment I do not have and what little bit I have in a certain area of life...I do not use. I think the appropriate action in these cases would be to simply say yes and find how else it can be done...and done well. Unfortunately, I often take my deficit as a comment of how bad I am or worthless...and neither is true. I am not equipped. What equipment do you bring into this day? What needs to be nurtured and what needs to come in from outside?

Giver of All Gifts, too often we hinder the work that can be done because we do not understand that you gift the whole community of saints with the skills and equipment needed to be a powerful part of your coming Reign. Help us to see beyond our own abilities and lives and appreciate the many gifts that surround us and give us the wisdom to ask to be open to changing our lives in order to use more of the gifts of your grace. Amen.