Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Thursday 1 March 2007

Today we venture into the bit of history that demonstrates what can and does happen when Christianity is taken on by the empire. Cornel West says this goes back to the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine and what then became the wedding of the church and the empire.

As the Christian church became increasingly corrupted by the state power, religious rhetoric was often used to justify imperial aims and conceal the prophetic heritage of Christianity... The corruption of a faith fundamentally based on tolerance and compassion by the strong arm of imperial authoritarianism invested Christianity with an insidious schizophrenia with which it has been battling ever since. The terrible merger of church and state has been behind so many of the church's worst violations of Christian love and justice - from the barbaric crusades against Jews and Muslims, to the horrors of the Inquisition and the ugly bigotry against women, people of color, and gays and lesbians.

Though West give a much to simple glimpse at what happened around the time of Constantine, he is making such an important point about how two very different power merged and the power of empire used the power of the message of Jesus to continue to build its base. The cost was the abandonment of what he calls the prophetic legacy of Jesus Christ. It is as though the church gave the name of Jesus over to the state - like in a business merger. The church then becomes a guarded community that exists at the will of the empire. But in addition, it becomes more and more difficult to draw lines as to what is empire and what is church. I can remember when the expression "ugly American" was used to describe U.S. travelers overseas. Well, in the history of empire, we have earned (unfortunately) the description of "ugly Christians." Why? For one thing, the church was so blended with empires as they came and then left the world scene, we did not manage to keep ourselves within that prophetic tradition that is most often contrary to the ways of empire. One of my little forms of protest goes like this. I went to a college whose mascot was a "Crusader." In a day when we are trying to rid athletic teams and colleges from using terms like "Indian" because it put Native American Indians in a bad light, I want to protest the use of Crusaders by Christian institutions. It ties us into an identity that is an embarrassment to the life of the church and may even demand our repentance. Unfortunately, the church becomes a part of the values and exclusive life of the empire and we give the empire our blessing - what an odd predicament in which to find ourselves.

Connection: Some days it is worth our time to practice a little exercise. Try to pick out how often the values of the empire (that's us folks) are made to sound like the values of the Christ...and vice-versa. Then, comes the task to untangle them to see who is leading whom.

Lord God, our history is mingles with the powers of this world and at times it is so difficult to understand what power leads us and guides us. Through all the ages, we ask that you keep our minds on Jesus even as we must turn from the voices that attempt to use our Lord as a tool for the growth of empire. Amen.

Wednesday 28 February 2007

Today we move to Cornel West's comments on The Crisis of Christian Identity in America.

In regard to fundamentalist strain of Christianity in the U.S. West notes: exercising an undue influence over our government policies, both in the Middle East crisis and in the domestic sphere, and is violating fundamental principles enshrined in the Constitution; it is also providing support and "cover" for the imperialist aims of empire. ...this fundamentalism is subverting the most profound, seminal teachings of Christianity, those being that we should live with humility, love neighbors, and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Therefore, even as we turn a critical eye on the fundamentalisms at play in the Middle East, the genuine democrats and democratic Christians among us must unite in opposition to this hypocritical, antidemocratic fundamentalism at home.

West is not saying Christians should not take part in the political arena of our country. Rather, he is directing us away from a particular manner in which he sees Christians attempting to move into that arena and thus into the role of supporting what he calls imperialism and the expanse of empire. Many of us heard the language of these elements of Christianity in our country when we heard the rhetoric of "lock and load" in reference to Christians getting ready to take control of the country through political means. Though it was written off as just a way to tell people to "get ready" to get to work, wrapping the flag around the cross - or using the cross as a way to hoist up the flag - was disturbing. I was most disturbed because Christianity was being used out of character. Like the drumming up of support for the crusades, the basic image and teaching of Jesus are left along the roadway as the vigilant crusaders of our day press on the conquer an enemy of the "faith" even when these crusaders are letting go of the faith they profess. One of the great tasks we have before us in the upcoming years is to watch how Christianity will be used to garner power and influence in order to make an impact in the country and the world that does not resemble the Christ - at all.

Connection: Listen how the name of Jesus and his life/death/resurrection are used by political and religious leaders. The bravado of imperialism can often be picked up in it. When that can be heard, make note - for even the people who do not depict Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. are starting to use it...because they sense it works.

In the midst of all the powers of this world, O God, we long for your vision of shalom to bring us all down to the field of new life in which our love and care for one another is more powerful than our fears that make us want to subdue the other side as we grow in power and prestige. Amen.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tuesday 27 February 2007

Today we will be expanding on the third of the "three crucial traditions" (Socratic commitment to questioning, Jewish prophetic commitment to justice, tragicomic commitment to hope) - all of which I see in Jesus. From Cornel West in "Democracy Matters."

In the face of cynical and disillusioned acquiescence to the status quo, we must draw on the tragicomic. Tragicomic hope is a profound attitude toward life reflected in the work of artistic geniuses as divers as Lucian in the Roman empire, Cervantes in the Spanish empire, and Chekhov in the Russian empire. Within the American empire it has been most powerfully expressed in the black invention of the blues in the face of white supremacist powers. ..."The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from its a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism." This powerful blues sensibility...expresses righteous indignation with a smile and deep inner pain without bitterness or revenge.
...the essence of the blues: to stare painful truths in the face and persevere without cynicism or pessimism.

We all know that it is so easy to feel completely out of place and undone by the power of the status quo that is able to simply march on and ignore the needs of those who are not at the controls of such power. But within this tragicomic hope, more is to be seen. Life is to be seen. The reality of what is around us is seen and experience and yet we are invited to see more - to see beyond to what is not yet in place and what may not be in place in our lifetime...but we sing on! I wonder if in the time of the writing of the book of Revelation - when the "empires" of the world were oppressing the early church - if the church was already learning to sing the blues. I remember watching a video of Wyatt T. Walker. He spoke about the difference between the blues and gospel music. For him, gospel music stuck to the story of the Christ and how that story was a bedrock of hope in the most hopeless of situations. If I remember correctly, the blues were on a parallel but separate branches of the same tree that would be considered the secular gospel. In both branches there was resistance and there was a word to carry the people into and through the day. We already know that gospel music was used to carry folk through the oppression of empire with the promise of a land of freedom and life - even when evidence was not great. Tragicomic hope.

Connection: Sing on! "When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down. When I was sinking down, sinking down. When I was sinking down, beneath God's righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul..." In the face of what comes - even the worst of the day...sing on. Personally, I think we see some of the tragicomic in "The Daily Show."

Lord, be our rock when we are not sure what will keep us afloat through this day. Before we turn sour and begin to hate the world and everyone around us, help us to sing and to laugh within the vision of your promises. Amen.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday 26 February 2007

Today we will again be expanding on the "three crucial traditions" (Socratic commitment to questioning, Jewish prophetic commitment to justice, tragicomic commitment to hope) - all of which I see in Jesus. From Cornel West in "Democracy Matters."

In the face of callous indifference to the suffering wrought by our imperialism, we must draw on the prophetic. The Jewish invention of the prophetic commitment to justice - also central to both Christianity and Islam - is one of the great moral moments in human history. This was the commitment to justice of an oppressed people. ...based on the belief that God had imparted this love of justice because God is first and foremost a lover of justice.
Prophetic Judaic figures appeal to us as individuals to join in transforming the world as communities... Prophetic Judaic figures also target the sole reliance on the force of power. Aggressive militarism is false security - a mere diversion from attending to the necessary domestic policies of compassion that can "heal your wound" (Hosea 5:13).

The world is not something we are to attempt to possess or put under our control. This prophetic tradition sets before us a task that insists that we give up control for the sake of assisting and aiding others. That is not merely by way of a program of good deeds. This is a view of the life in the world that attempts to recreate the society so that the injustices that spring up quite naturally in our political systems will have to deal with resistance for the sake of the people who have no power and are often forgotten or run over. This prophetic tradition inspires us to not simply walk by anymore. We are taught to walk with open eyes and to then have the will to do something about the injustices we see and to begin to heal the wounds of those injustices. In West's book, he tries to point out how imperialism has lead us down a dangerous path in the world. In many ways, imperialism only seeks justice as a way to make inroads into a community. This kind of justice is temporary and it is self-centered. Whenever the goal of our action is to get something back for ourselves we tend to use others -individuals or whole nations- as objects along the way to our goals. That is an act of injustice in itself.

Connection: It is not easy to be comfortable in our world and have ears and eyes to notice injustice around us. We really have to bend a bit closer and pay more attention to even the smallest acts of the day. It is like reading a story for another storyline that is not so obvious. It is a necessary exercise.

Lord, you call us to be watchful so that as your beloved children suffer under the weight of others, we will begin to speak up and protect those in need. Guide us in the ways of peace so that we will see the whole vision of your shalom - a peace with justice for all. Amen.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday 23 February 2007

Yesterday we started looking at Cornel's book "Democracy Matters." The title may not sound like something for a devotion...but hang on...the Church can benefit from spending time with it.

Expanding on the "three crucial traditions" (Socratic commitment to questioning, Jewish prophetic commitment to justice, tragicomic commitment to hope) - all of which I see in Jesus.
In the face of elite manipulations and lies, we must draw on the Socratic. The Socratic commitment to questioning requires a relentless self-examination and critique of institutions of authority, motivated by an endless quest for intellectual integrity and moral consistency. It is manifest in a fearless speech - that unsettles, unnerves, and unhouses people from their uncritical sleepwalking.

Often I speak of the "powers that be" or the "empire." These are not merely political. They can also be religious. In many ways such powers often suffer from a lack of truth-telling in order to keep things just as they are or to turn the world into a position that is more favorable to a few. In the face of such powers, we must prayerfully question the assumptions that begin to run the world even as we are not willing to go in the way they lead us. I find it to be necessary that our questioning involve our own actions, motives, and dreams. Without such a critique, we all know that we are so easily pulled into great rationalizations as to why we do or do not live along the way of Jesus. In fact, this is a good time to submit that without living in a community that questions and being a part of that critical experience, we will justify lives contrary to the grace of our God in Christ, Jesus, and we will enter those lives acting as though we do not smell. Truth is we do and we will smell. The questions help us to unveil that which is able to stick up the life of the individual and the community. We will do well if we are able to maintain a community life that is willing to question the way we are moving...and then to walk together along the way of the cross and into life beyond our ways.

Connection: West notes that in Plato's Apology, Socrates says: "Plain speech is the cause of my unpopularity." And yet, it is into this kind of plain speech we are invited to move today.

Make us fearless when we speak, O Lord, so that we will work together to face the truth of your Reign and also face the many ways we attempt to live on its boundaries or in other lands that we claim to be of our own making. Grant us the peace of your Holy presence Amen.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thursday 22 February 2007

Thanks to Vicar Mike for taking the lead on the devotions during my vacation. Today I will be turning to another resource for our devotions - Cornel West's "Democracy Matters." I think he brings a voice to the task we have before us as religious people in our country and our world.

Three crucial traditions fuel deep democratic energies. The first is the Greek creation of the Socratic commitment to questioning - questioning of ourselves, of authority, of dogma, of parochialism, and of fundamentalism. Vital also is the Jewish invention of the prophetic commitment to justice - for all peoples - formulated in the Hebrew scriptures and echoed in the foundational teachings of Christianity and Islam. And indispensable in addition is the mighty shield and inner strength provided by the tragicomic commitment to hope. The tragicomic is the ability to laugh and retain a sense of life's joy - to preserve hope even while staring in the face of hate and hypocrisy - as against falling into the nihilism of paralyzing despair.

This will preach...and it probably will turn up in a sermon. When I first read West's explanation of these "three crucial traditions" I kept saying, "Yes!" In part, it was because I do not have the ability to do all of them. I know people who are great at the Socratic commitment to questioning. I love it when they keep going because I often don't have the questions ready (I'm an introvert) when they are needed. Then there are those who are able to keep in mind the great traditions of the prophets who are constantly aware of the presence of injustice when everyone else seems to be quite content with what is taking place in the world. I must say that I can personally resonate with the term "tragicomic." It is an odd term...but what a necessity in life. To "retain the sense of life's joy" is such a gift to offer to a community of faith - to any community. Rather than being swallowed by the sense that all things are futile...that nothing matters...that we must get what we can because all endeavors are futile, there are some who are able to live boldly and with good humor and brilliant life. I think of the Italian director who acted in "Life is Beautiful." There, in the midst of the Nazi death/labor camps - humor and boldness of life continued. We can be so much more than the hate and fear and closed-off lives that seem to be able to pressure us into something less than the promises of the Reign of God. West is able to get my blood flowing.

Connection: The face of God's Reign has several sides to it. That is why I find it so necessary to watch for those who are able to bring those gifts to life that I am rarely able to contribute. In the meantime, we press on through the day.

Come, Lord of Life and Creator of What is Yet to Be! Come and inspire us! Come and move us! Come and take us by the hand and put our hands into the hands of others so that we can walk together into the life you have promised. Amen.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Today we conclude our brief exploration of Psalm 139 with its final verses . . .

(23) Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts (24) See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

The psalm concludes with an invitation for God to know us all the more personally. As we have worked our way through the psalm, we have seen just how well God knows us and our ways. These final verses express that this knowing is a welcome knowing. We welcome God to know us fully, both the good and the bad. Even though this knowing might not always feel comfortable, we have faith that the depth and truth of God’s concern means that God knows exactly where to lead us. We do not just wander aimlessly in the desert of life, but are children of God being lead through the wilderness from death into life.

Connection: Where might God be leading you?

God of truth and life, know me. Know me well enough to see where I might find life. Pick me up when I fall, and hold me fast in your loving embrace. Walk with me Lord, wherever I go, whether in the dark valleys or the bright mountaintops. Guide me in the ways that you know will bring me life. Amen.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tuesday 20 February 2006

Today we reach the verses of Psalm 139 that I always have the hardest time relating to . . .

(19) O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—(20) those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! (21) Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? (22) I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

I always have a hard time when I read scripture that deals with smiting enemies and things like that because I believe God to be loving and merciful. But then again, the psalms aren’t theological dissertations on how we should act; they are prayers about how we feel. Sometimes we want nothing more than for the evil forces in our lives to cease. We want the irksome people who would lead us down dark paths to stop taunting us, we want those who would use us to go away, and we want those who speak ill of God to stop trying to tell us God is something other than what we know. However, this doesn’t have to mean that we want them smote by the hand of God. We can acknowledge that all these things can and do lead us from God, and that we hate it when things and people lead away from God’s goodness. Sure, we might treat these people as enemies, but we also strive to love our enemies.

Connection: What forces in your life try to lead you away from God and destroy your life? Can you hate the fact that they make your life difficult, yet care enough to acknowledge and face them with God’s grace and truth?

Almighty God, there are many forces in this world that would draw us from you. Grant us wisdom to know the difference between your goodness and those evil forces. Help us to resist them and give us the grace to change them. Amen.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Monday 19 February 2007

We continue again this week with Psalm 139 . . .

(17) How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (18) I try to count them - they are more than the sand; I come to the end - I am still with you.

God does a lot of things that we don't understand, and God does a lot of them in ways we don't expect. Who would have ever thought the best way to make people free would be to have our creator become like the created and die? God doesn't always work in the way we think God should, and it is probably for the best. However, saying that we simply don't understand shouldn't be a convenient answer for why bad things happen. True, we don't understand all the bad things that happen or their sources, but we do know that God's thoughts are more numerous than the grains of sand along the oceans. With so many weighty and wondrous thoughts, we can be sure that God must have some great ways of helping us deal with all the bad stuff that for whatever reason comes our way.

Connection: Think or a time or a number of times when you believe that God exceeded your expectations. How did you think it should work out at the time?

Prayer: God . . . Wow. You created this world from chaos, you created me, and you even became human and died so that I might live more fully. I don't understand it all or why you'd do it for me, but thank you. I'm sure there are many things that I don't really understand, and I don't expect you to make it so I can understand them. So, I ask that you just help me to trust you and your love. Thank you so much. Amen.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Friday 16 February 2007

Today we reflect on my favorite verses of this psalm . . .

(13) For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. (14) I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. (15) My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. (16) Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

From time to time, we joke with each other by saying that God broke the mold when one person or another was made. But we aren't carbon copies of each other cranked out of some mold God has. Instead, God has knit each of us together in our mother's wombs. God knit each one of us before the world even knew us, knew who we are and what we will become. Knitting is a very personal thing. Each length of yarn is fed through the knitter's hands, and every part of us comes through the hands of God. Imagine God knowing what will become of us like knitters know what they are making. Each loop and knot has a place. It is true that not every length of yarn, not every attribute we possess, is perfect. However, the weak stitches, the off-color yarn, and the slight variations in pattern are as much a part of us and hold us together as do the wonderful parts. Remove one stitch, and the whole thing can come unraveled. We would not be who we are without both the wonderful and not-so-wonderful parts. But despite our imperfections, we still serve the purposes for which we were created. Some even say that imperfections are the hallmark of genuine created work. What wonderful works we are.

Connection: Imagine yourself being knitted together by God. What are some of the stitches that were used to put you together? How do each of those stitches affect what God envisioned you would become and would do?

Masterful Creator, thank you for knitting me together. Reveal to me what you so purposefully envisioned for my life, so that the beauty and function of your work might be known to all who see me. When strained by my weaknesses, hold me together that I do not become unraveled. Amen.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thursday 15 February 2007

We continue exploring the words of Psalm 139 . . .

(11) If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night," (12) even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

I must begin by confessing that I can be of a bit pessimist at times. It is easy for me to say things like, "This just figures," or "That's the way my life always seems to go" (especially when it comes to the traffic lights that I'm convinced conspire against me). Sometimes it seems more satisfying to live in the darkness of our cynicism and easier to simply say the world is headed in a dark direction. But even if the world were heading into a dark age, it wouldn't be dark in the eyes of God. Wherever God's children are, there is light. Whenever God's love holds power over things like frustration, failure, and death, there is light. It is easier for us to live in the darkness because in the darkness we don't have to act on what we see. Thankfully, we are not people of the dark, we are people of the light.

Connection: Our eyes take a little while to adjust to seeing light in the midst of darkness. In what part of your life do you feel like your eyes are still adjusting? If darkness is as light to God, what do you think God sees in your darkest places?

Brilliant God, reveal to us the light you see in us and in those around us. Open our eyes to see what you have made, and make us lights to your people so that they might also see and praise you. Amen.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Wednesday 14 February 2007

We continue today with our journey through Psalm 139.

(7) Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? (8) If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (9) If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, (10) even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

Where can we go that God wouldn't be? Clearly the psalm says there isn't such a place. I find it reassuring to know that God is with us wherever we each find ourselves in life. Sometimes we become full of ourselves and feel that we don't need God, that we need to get away from the limits and burdens we convince ourselves God puts on us. Yet even when we believe we can go it alone, God is with us, waiting eagerly to lead us. At other times we can feel so cynical and alone that we begin to believe there is no good in this world and there is no God in our lives. Nonetheless, even when we feel overwhelmed by the things we can't control, God is there. God's power transcends time and space; God's love transcends the complexities of our lives.

Connection: Think about the time when you felt most distant from other people, from the world, and even from yourself. Where God was in the midst of it?

Transcendent God, abide with me. Whenever I flee your presence, stay with me until I'm able to follow you again and stay with you. Wherever I go, transform that place into your heavenly kingdom, that I might be surrounded by your love and feel it as surely as if your hand holds me fast. Amen.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Tuesday 13 February 2007

We continue today with our journey through Psalm 139.

(3) You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (4) Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. (5) You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. (6) Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

As we plod through the paths of our lives, it is comforting to know that we are not alone. Our experiences, both good and bad, are not just our own. God walks with us. God's hand is there on our backs encouraging us when we don't want to go on, holding us back when we want to foolishly rush forward, and reaching out to share our greatest joys and sorrows. Yet God is present in our lives in more than just a metaphorical sense. God surrounds us, behind and before, with people and other wonders of creation so that we might know of God's nearness. That great cloud of witnesses to God's love always surrounds us, and sometimes we cannot help but simply marvel at how near God truly is.

Connection: Keep your eyes open for moments when God's goodness and nearness comes over you, whether it's in the sight of falling snow, conversation with a loved one, or spending time with the people who share their daily lives with you. Sometimes these moments don't need any analysis, but are best spent simply in awe of God.

Wondrous God, we know that you show your love for us in so many ways. Thank you for sticking with us through the good and the bad and for showing your love to us through all that you have placed around us. Use us also to surround others with your love. Amen.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Monday 12 February 2007

While Pastor Al is away on vacation this week and part of the next, I (Vicar Mike) have the opportunity to share my thoughts with you through these devotions. Instead of taking over Pastor Al's series from Colossians, I thought I might share my favorite psalm with you, Psalm 139. We begin today with the first few verses of the psalm . . .

(1) O LORD, you have searched me and known me. (2) You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. (3) You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (4) Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.

When I hear these words of the psalm, I think about God knowing me in ways that I can only wish that other people would know me, ways I wish that even I could know myself. God cares about more than just which paths we take; God knows and cares why we do the things we do. God sees the inner tensions going on in our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodies that guide us in this direction or that direction. While I imagine God wants us to take the right paths, we can be sure that God understands why we don't always take them, sure that God understands it is easier said than done. I find comfort in recalling that God knows that our sometimes foolish actions do not mean that we are totally self-absorbed, completely misguided, and entirely uncaring about what God wants for us and for this world. I'm also glad that God knows the love inside of us as we happen to plod along the right paths.

Connection: As you find yourself going down one path or another today, take a moment to consider what it means that God is just as much concerned with what led you in that direction as God is concerned about where you are headed. Remember that God cares to know you because God loves you.

God of wisdom, you know where we are headed and all those things that have lead us down this path. Thank you for coming this far with us and caring to know us so well. Walk with us and use that knowledge to guide us in your ways. Amen.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Friday 9 February 2007

The week ends with another piece from Colossians.

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (3:12) Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive. (3:13) Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (3:14) And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. (3:15) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Well, the Christ is the reality into which we have been placed as the baptized. Therefore, let that One who rescues and delivers and bring life out of death live within us as though we are a part of his glory. The way to do that is as a community. One to the other...we take care to bring each of us into the fullness of the promise of God. When I have the opportunity to look out over the congregation as we sing in worship, I find myself encouraged as I view others singing. It is as though through the words of those hymns, the melodies, the harmonies, and the hearts of those who are singing or listening, we "admonish one another in all wisdom." When we use the word admonish it often is in the spirit of correcting in a harsh way. But I find that in our singing we give each other vision and encouragement and hope as we each become mindful of the Christ who dwells in us. I've seen people cry...sing with broad smiles...belt it out as though they want all creation to hear the news...and some who simply listen to the whole witness of those hymns. We encourage one another and that is so very important.

Connection: We have with us one who will not forsake us and one who will continue to bring us more fully into the Reign of our God. Today watch to see who will be a part of that Spirit of life for you.

Blessed Lord, how wonderful it is that you bring us others to bear witness to your presence. How wonderful it is that in such simple actions as our singing your Reign pours down around us and on us to carry us into a new dimension of your beloved community. Amen.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Thursday 8 February 2007

And again, we continue our movement on through the third chapter of Colossians.

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (3:12) Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive. (3:13) Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (3:14) And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. (3:15)

The life of the body of Christ is one of healing wholeness. It is a peace that goes beyond our understanding and yet it is a promise of what will be. When we are baptized in Christ, Jesus, we entered into a life through death. Part of that dying was and is a dying to the warring madness that so often serves to separate and break us apart. Even though we so often and so willingly go that warring way, we are reminded of the creative and reconciling power of the Christ who seeks to make us people who overcome our divisions rather than make for new ones or deepen old one. Probably a good first step in that journey of peace ruling among us is to be thankful for this life that is open to us. I love how we have moved through these verses and here at the end of verse 15 there is the simple reminder: be thankful. Yes, the world and our lives may be on the bring of war and brokenness but we have been called to be a part of a new body - a new reality - a new life. You and I have been called into this existence that is continually being made whole in the midst of our brokenness. Nothing can be better for us than to simply be thankful. Giving thanks to our God helps us to remember the gift given to us and the part we play in the world as that gift continues to be unfolded.

Connection: Here's something to think about - be thankful. Who knows what that will turn into as we go through the ordinary events along the way.

Blessed Lord, make us a thankful people through the power of your Spirit. There are so many times that we forget to give thanks or to even see a reason to be thankful. When we come to see how you give us this day as a gift, no matter how it goes, there is always a beginning point for our thanks and it is you promise that you abide with us. Thanks be to you, O God. Amen.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Wednesday 7 February 2007

Today we continue our movement on through the third chapter of Colossians.

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (3:12) Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive. (3:13) Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (3:14)

As you can see, we are slowly moving through these verses. Each verse adds a new page to a book about who we are to be with one another. That may be one of the most important aspects about being a follower of Jesus - we are people involved with other people - we are called into community - we live as though the living dynamics of the community are as vital as the dynamic way our individual bodies work. Love is what brings unity to the whole. Love as one person notes re-unites the separated and brings back into living form relationships that once were dead or disabled. Once there is the miracle of forgiveness alive within the community, love presses on so that we now move closer to one another. Love makes us available even when we do not want to be. Love move us into a position of vulnerability because we risk opening up to the other as though the other will do the same. That isn't always the case. But when people who are separated are re-united, it makes for "beautiful music." Whenever two voices can come together to sing the same song - even though the voices differ and the parts differ also - we begin to hear how differences that risk to be together create a harmony that we may never have believed could exist. So, we are invited to put on this love - show it - have it be out there - let it be seen without partiality. When that happens, the great possibility of lives being bound to one another -re-united- becomes a reality and the community enters a newness of life.

Connection: We have to wear that love in order for people to see that we are open to new relationship or that we are open to new pathways within a relationship. This is not a simple smile. It is a willingness to risk ourselves in the relationships of our lives with such a commitment that the other can see our intentions and our hope.

Lord of Love, by your grace you show us love that is beyond us and love that is always for us. Though we have many ways of living outside of this realm of life, we all still long to find space within our lives to begin to love again and again. By the power of your Spirit, increase in us the courage to reach out to those around us and begin to overcome the powers that work so hard to keep us separated. Amen.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Tuesday 6 February 2007

Again we move on through the third chapter of Colossians.

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (3:12) Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive. (3:13)

This is getting tough. Forgiveness means we are a part of a new reality. And yet, I know too many cases when I will not venture into the "land of forgiveness." I can come up with any number of reasons why I will not go in that "land" with some people. Unfortunately, it is always nothing more than a good excuse to make me feel good about what I have or have not done - why I stay out of the fullness of the life within the realm of forgiveness. If this forgiveness was like forgiveness as I know it, then it can be limited and divided into categories based on how much forgiveness is enough to offer to this person or that one. In this text for today, the qualifier about forgiving each other is the manner in which the Lord has forgiven me.....ahhhhhhhhhh! To be quite frank, I won't go there. I cannot let myself go to such a loving length to forgive and begin the day as though the offense that leads into a need for forgiveness is gone. Wow! I don't know about you, but I have a bag full of these offenses. I also know that I let them limit my life with some people. Therefore, I persist in my separation from some folks. Having said that, I have just defined sin - separation from one another. I'm in the middle of it...sometimes I'm just fine with it...sometimes I know it is a crushing blow to me and you. But rather than forgive and dwell in the strange beauty of forgiveness and the life that comes when the separated are united, I...hold back. What's that all about!?! Am I afraid of what could become of a relationship? Am I afraid of the vulnerability that is demanded of those who forgive? Am I so protective of the controls I want in my life that forgiveness seems to threaten to tip me and the controls on our heads? Yes...probably all this and more. And yet...we are told that forgiveness is a part of the "holy and beloved" people. Finally, it must be pointed out that within the community of God's people, the vulnerability and risk of living within the domain of forgiveness must be a part of each of our lives - it is not just me who forgives....we forgive. Within that sense of community, forgiveness really is a shared adventure.

Connection: A question to bring into this day may simply be: how can we help each other live within this "land of forgiveness" as we move along the way. How do we help one another be courageous and bold within the presence of our Lord's gift of new life?

How precious is the forgiveness that is showered upon us, O God. When there is nothing else we can see within our lives and we have stumbled more than we can bear, we are lifted up by your grace and you begin again to shape us a people born again into the land of your promises for new life. Thank you for the daily reminders of your love and the power to be refreshed and renewed. Amen.

Monday 5 February 2007

This week we continue in chapter 3 of Colossians.

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (3:12)

As is always the case with those who follow Jesus, we begin with that which is true and unseen and eternal. Our beginning point for life is the God who calls us into new life. We are God's chosen ones because it is what God does. We are God's chosen ones and with that goes the descriptive words holy and beloved. There may be many days when we do not feel holy or beloved and there may be days when we look at our actions and they are any but holy and beloved. And yet, in Christ, our God makes us just as this - holy and beloved. That is at the center of the new life that is handed to us. If that is the reality in which we enter this day, then our lives are able to be opened up in a new way. We will not have to face today afraid, protected, guarded, and self-absorbed. Rather, we are able to be seen by those around us as compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Paul says it so well as he uses the image of being clothed in such character traits. These are not always traits we fit into easily when we are living a life that is turned-in-on-self. In fact when our brokenness and separation from God and one another rules us, we are too busy participating in the idolatry of self - that we cannot even think of life that is compassionate. And yet, as God's chosen, we draw from the clothing of the Reign of God. This image becomes life that is available to us whenever we dress up.

Connection: So, dress up today. Dress up in the wardrobe that is available to us for it has been given to us - a no cost and within the hope that we will boldly wear in out into this day.

When you dress us up in the clothing of your Reign, O God, our lives become a living witness to the great gift of life that you have in store for all your people. Give us the courage to dress up and live anew. Amen