“Does not meet expectations…” -Daily Office Reflection

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March 21st, 2017: Week 3 of Lent

(Psalm 78; Jeremiah 7:21-34; Romans 4:13-25; John 7:37-52)

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

John 7:37-52

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law-they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’

We carry certain expectations with us about people. Some might actually call these expectations prejudice–and they would be right. We all do it. We bring our own ideas of who someone should or should not be, how they should or should not act, and, more generally, how the world works.

In this passage, the Pharisees have a strong prejudice against Jesus. Well, they actually have several! But, the one that comes the fore in their view of who the Messiah is supposed to be. “No prophet is to arise from Galilee,” they say. Nathan says something similar when he first hears of Jesus from Philip: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip (John 1:46). Later on, people will say use more coded language about Peter and John, calling them unlearned, ordinary men.

But here’s the thing: what they are experiencing does meet their expectations. In fact, they both exceed and disrupt them. Jesus is obviously a prophet. He is healing and growing in favor with the people. He is speaking profound truth about God. But it is upsetting the stats quo, threatening the political, social, and religious influence of the Pharisees, temple police, and others. So the response? Disparage the leader and his followers as ignorant, backwoods, and even accursed. Because this doesn’t fit our framework (the framework we happen to benefit from, by the way!)

In your life today, are there places where you would be quick to say, “God couldn’t have anything to do with that or them!” or “Can something good ever come from (insert backwoods/disparaged place here)?” Or could we even disparage entire groups of people for “going along with it” like the Pharisees did–calling them accursed and ignorant. Do you derive power or significance from being able to hold yourself over and against others; obviously knowing better than them? Could it be that God’s work around you actually makes you very uncomfortable by breaking apart your own categories and ways of thinking about God?

God’s invitation for us today is to “Come and see,” when our expectations are not being met or followed. The question is not “Is God at work here?” but rather “How is God at work here?” And the answer may have more to with God’s work in our own prejudiced hearts than anything else. Will we respond? Or will we hold fast to our “principles”, rules, or guidelines and miss the movement of God right in front of us, disparaging people along the way?

 

 

 

 

 

“Let me dwell with you in this place” – Daily Office Reflection

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Third Week of Lent
(Psalm 80; Jeremiah 7:1-15; Romans 4:1-12; John 7:14-16)

Jeremiah 7:1-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.

Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh.And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.

“God is here.” This is a phrase we often use in holy moments or in worship gatherings. It is a way of calling attention to God’s presence amongst God’s people; Jesus being true to his promise of being in the midst of his people. While leading in corprpate worship this last weekend, I recounted a conversation I had with another pastor in the area (who also happens to be a scholar on the Holy Spirit and Worship) about why we need to pray prayers which invite God to be with us. “Isn’t God already here? Why do we have to ask God to be somewhere where God is already present.” He responded by saying, “We don’t have to…but, as God’s children, we get to.”

In light of this passage this morning, it causes me to reflect: is God really present in those places where we simply assume God’s presence? Might it be  that God could be absent?

This is the accusation and correction brought by Jeremiah to God’s people. You oppress the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. You have pledged allegiance to things or ideas or beings that are not God. You continue to break the commandments with license, trusting that the Temple is more of a place for you to come and be comforted in these sins than it is to truly offer worship to God.

Could it be that God is withholding God’s presence from our times of gathered worship, and is instead inviting us to “amend our ways” and act in justice toward one another. Next time you are tempted to say that a worship service didn’t move you or connect with you, perhaps consider your relationships, your desires, and your neighbors. Assuredly, this will create space and need for God to dwell in your midst.

Is God present? Have you invited God to be present? We get to, and God is respectful, often not coming to parties to which he is not invited and which are not about his ways.

 

 

 

“We are prophets of a future (and a past) not our own…” Daily Office Reflection

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March 7th, 2017: Week 1 of Lent

(Psalm 45; Deuteronomy 9:4-12; Hebrews 3:1-11; John 2:13-22)

In reading both the OT and NT readings today, I was struck by the idea of legacy. The Hebrew people were about to step into the land, and were tempted to think it was because of their own work or righteousness rather than God’s grace. The writer of Hebrews wants to convey the importance of Moses and Jesus in the story of God, the former being in the house (or the house) and the latter building the house.

The words of this prayer came to mind immediately. It is a prayer that is attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, though he likely never said it. It was read at a commemoration service by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw. Romero was shot and killed during the civil war in El Salvador while presiding over the mass in a hospital. He was a huge advocate for the poor and pushed for an end to violence in his country. Here is his prayer:

Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along The Way

 It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

We are prophets of a future not our own… And I would add, we are beneficiaries of a past not our own. We can walk into the land because God is the one who is preparing a way for us, even in spite of ourselves.
There is a sense of liberation which can come when we resign ourselves to the fact that our holy obligation is faithfulness in living where we are, when we are.
Were you to come to terms with your limitations today, what would it free you to “do, and do very well?”

“It was because the LORD loved you…”-Daily Office Reflection

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March 2nd, 2017

Lent (Psalm 37:1-18; Deuteronomy 7:6-22; Titus 1; John 1:29-34)

Deuteronomy 7:6-11

6For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you-for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10and who repays in their own person those who reject him. He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him. 11Therefore, observe diligently the commandment-the statutes, and the ordinances-that I am commanding you today.

Here, as Moses is giving a very long sermon and retelling the law to the people of God (nom0s=law, deutero=second), he is preparing them to enter the new land. This was a new generation of people who would be seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver the Hebrew people.

And he reminds them of their roots. They were not chosen by God because they were powerful or numerous or gifted. They were chosen out of pure love and faithfulness. They are a part of a story that started well before them with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And the story will continue on beyond them as well (a thousand generations!).

Today, I needed to be told again (deuteronomied?) that God loves me because God has chosen to do so. I don’t bring anything that impresses God, so I don’t need to shy away from God when I feel I have failed or am weak. I am a part of a people who are deeply loved by God because God decides to do so and has a plan to bless the world through us. What makes us special and valuable is that we are with God and we are loved by God.

How could we respond to this good news today, that God loves us before we do anything or bring anything? I know, for one, it affects my disposition of obedience. As I enter this time of Lent and follow through with my commitment for fasting and abstaining, I am very aware that I am earning nothing with God. Instead, I am creating more room to experience God’s love and to obey with delight, knowing I am perfectly loved. My response today is one of intentional praise and thanksgiving for God’s perfect and abiding love.

How do you want to respond today?

“…and the darkness did not overcome it.” -Daily Office Reflection

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February 27th 2017

Epiphany VIII (Psalm 25; Deuteronomy 6:10-15; Hebrews 1; John 1:1-18)

John 1:1-18

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a fathers only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me. ) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.

Today, I am really appreciating the overlap of the Gospel and Epistle readings today. They both are paradigmatic for why I am specifically a Christian–a follower of Jesus, and simply generally spiritual or theistic. Taking these two passages together, Jesus is not simply a great teacher, prophet, or social revolutionary (though he is all of those things). Jesus most clearly reveals God by being God with us. When we want to know what God is like, we look to Jesus as “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

But there is something more specific about this Jesus and how he reveals God: he is light shining in the darkness. A light which, itself, enlightens. A light which engenders change, the ability to become daughters and sons of God, and to actually become light to this world.

The fact that darkness has not overcome light is very good news for us: this is the story of Jesus at work. Many of us have become more and more aware of the darkness in our world, and even in ourselves. There are days for me where it feels like the darkness is crowding out the light; that darkness is winning. There are days that feel more like Good Friday or Holy Saturday, than Easter Sunday–where the reality of death and loss and the powerful winning still seem to hang in the air. But light has overcome darkness, particularly in the work of Jesus.

As people of the light, our hope is not that, hopefully….someday….light will overcome darkness. This is not Christian hope. The light shines (as in…right now) in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Our God, as seen in Jesus, is the light which still shines in the world. Darkness cannot overcome light because it tried and failed at the death and resurrection of Jesus. So today, when we feel like darkness is winning, we can remember that we are Easter people. We are people of the light. We are free to shine with confidence and hope, knowing that darkness has been defeated. And, perhaps, this is how the world will continue to see God in the world. When we, nevertheless, shine…we reveal who God is in Jesus: a light which has not and cannot be overcome.

 

“But I still my soul and make it quiet…” Daily Office Reflection

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February 23, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 131, 132; Ruth 2:14-23; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; Matthew 5:27-37)

Psalm 131

1O LORD, I am not proud; *

I have no haughty looks.

2I do not occupy myself with great matters, *

or with things that are too hard for me.

3But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast; *

my soul is quieted within me.

4O Israel, wait upon the LORD, *

from this time forth for evermore.

My only thought this morning is simply this: could we take time to set aside our occupation with the great matters of the world and simply be still with the God of all? I know I need to. And at a deep level, I desire that sort of intimacy with God. 

For today, I resolve to quiet my soul, abandon solving the problems of the world, and simply be quiet and comforted by God. I resolve to relish my status as a child today. 

‘Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’- Daily Office Reflection

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February 22, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 119:145-176; Ruth 2:1-13; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17; Matthew 5:21-26)

 

I was so taken with this part of Ruth’s story this morning:

Ruth 2:1-13

1 Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.’ She said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ 3So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you.’ They answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’ 5Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ 6The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, ‘She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.” So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.’

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ 10Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’ 11But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ 13Then she said, ‘May I continue to find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.’

Ruth is an alien in a foreign land. She has come from Moab to Bethlehem with Naomi. They have nothing left. They have lost family and provision and are going to the only place they know to go for sustenance and refuge.

So Ruth decides to take advantage of the opportunities available. She knows of Boaz, a kinsman to her husband. She goes to the field, gleaning what is left over. This, of course, was a common practice for the poor, the widow, and the foreigner. And Ruth certainly fit the bill. And she hopes that someone may end up showing favor to her.

The example of Boaz in this passage is fascinating. He notices her and asks about her. No doubt there were plenty of people gleaning the field, so much so that they could become invisible to the owner of the field or even the other workers.

He also then approaches her, bestows dignity, and welcomes here continued presence, even at his own expense. Boaz calls her daughter and invites her not only to continue to glean, but offers above and beyond from his own resources.

This is overwhelming for Ruth. She breaks down and asks, “Why have you shown me such favor? Why do you even take notice of me?” Boaz’s response is simply this: “I have heard and know your story and I want for God to bless you.” And Boaz is being used by God to bless her!

Today, whether we realize it or not, we have the opportunity to love the foreigners in our midst. This not about political positions. This is about noticing and loving our immigrant neighbors, many of whom are much like Ruth. They have experienced great loss of family and resources even before coming to our place. They have deep needs: physical needs, a need and desire to work, a need to be noticed and loved, and a need to be valued and included. In short, our immigrant neighbors need the exact same things we all need.

I often say that to love someone is to at least know them. This is what we all want, isn’t it? Have you taken the time to get to know the stories of your neighbors? Have you taken notice of the new family that has moved in down the street? Have you taken steps toward those who may be experiencing heightened fear during this time and offered your love and support?

What would it look like today for you to bless the foreigner among you?