Though we are not meeting face to face, we remain united in Christ in whom we dwell, we continue to be the Church, the body of Christ, called as witnesses to the Gospel. May we be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit as we engage in devotions and study.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
Are you content?
Rest in God
“That little bird has chosen his shelter. Above it are the stars and the deep heaven of worlds. Yet he is rocking himself to sleep without caring for tomorrow's lodging, calmly clinging to his little twig, and leaving God to think for him.”
We all know how important sleep is for our bodies and minds to rest, to rejuvenate in order that we might wake refreshed and strengthened for the next day. Sleep, however, can sometimes be elusive, especially when we have many things on our minds. Falling asleep can be difficult when our minds are still churning away. Or, if we do manage to nod off peacefully, we might be awakened in the wee ours with thoughts assailing us. Certainly, I have had that experience throughout my life, but especially during these past six months.
Perhaps we must be more like the trusting little bird about which Luther writes by entrusting God with all of our worries, fears, thoughts, ideas, and concerns as we lay our heads upon our pillows. In our hours of sleep, there is nothing that we can accomplish, so we must let it do its job of refreshing and restoring us. One of the best things we can do when our minds cannot slow down is to pray, to open our hands releasing all the stirrings of our minds into God’s care. Even if we should wake in the night, we can commend all of those things back to God asking for peace until we are able to greet the new day.
Caring God, there are so many things that are pleased to keep us awake at night. Help us to release all those thoughts and concerns into your care during times of rest in order that our bodies, minds, and souls might find refreshment and strength as we greet the new day. Amen.
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Saturday, September 26, 2020
Are you content?
“The secret of contentment is the realization that life is a gift, not a right. Next to faith this is the highest art - to be content with the calling in which God has placed you.”
Life is a gift. We know this well, especially when we become ill and come close to death or when we are faced with the death of someone we know and love. Each day that we are granted, each breath that we take is a gift. Sometimes, in the ordinariness of our daily schedules and activities, it is easy to forget just what a wonderment life is. It is only when that breath, that life is threatened that we are reminded of how precious it is.
Luther speaks about contentment. How difficult it can be to find contentment. Perhaps that is because of how we take sometimes take life for granted; how we become accustomed to certain things in our life, including our health and just expect that everything will always be that way. Or, we become dissatisfied with our life. Luther reminds us to regard life as gift, and if we do that, then we should realize that wherever God has placed us, whatever God has called us to be and do is good and right. We can be content with that.
Holy God, we give you thank for the gift of life, for the blessings that you grant us every day. Help us to not take it for granted, but be content in what you give us and call us to be and do. Amen.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
What has lifted your spirit today?
“It is pleasing to the dear God whenever thou rejoicest or laughest from the bottom of thy heart.”
During these last six months, because of the pandemic and everything else that has made the headlines, it has often been difficult to rejoice or laugh. Yet, Luther is likely correct in saying that it is pleasing to God to do so. It is also good for our own well-being, including that of our bodies. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”
Those of you who know me, know that I love to laugh. I have sometimes had to remind myself of that recently, and with greater intent, turn my mind to things that are humorous – whether it’s a movie, or reading, or finding things online. I wondered if you might not enjoy doing the same thing. So, I looked for things that might be appropriate and found a site, “Church Bulletin Bloopers.” (Maybe we can recall what bulletins are even though we haven’t been using them for a while.) Note that I have cut and pasted these, so if there are typos, they were already there. Now, I’m sure that Donna Ihlenfeld wouldn’t have ever made any of these mistakes.
“For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery down stairs.”
“This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come forward and lay an egg on the alter.”
“The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.”
“Thursday night: Potluck Supper - Prayer and medication will follow.”
On a church bulletin during the minister's illness: GOD IS GOOD - Dr. Hargreaves is better.
“The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.”
There were many, many more on the site. I will share one more from my own congregation. We had served a chicken casserole for some banquet or gathering. There were leftovers, so we put them in the freezer and advised the secretary to put a note in the bulletin saying that the casserole was available for anyone who wanted some. She listed it as “frozen children casserole.” (And that was before computers with spell checkers.) We can all help in lifting each other’s spirits by sharing a quip or two.
Loving God, we give you thanks for giving us a sense of humor. Help us, even during trying times, to find ways to rejoice, laugh, and lift the spirits of one another. Amen.
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Monday, September 21, 2020
What are major distractions for you?
Gospel and Law
“Those who lapse from the Gospel to the Law are no better off than those who lapse from grace to idolatry.”
Yes, we do have laws to keep our society, our lives ordered, but if we are honest, not all laws are kept by any of us in every instance, even when we don’t consider ourselves “criminals.” There’s letting the speedometer creep up 5 or 10 miles over the speed limit, slow rolling through stop signs, crossing against the lights or in the middle of the block where it is prohibited, just to name a few of the more obvious. We sometimes fall short in following all the rules.
When it comes to Law and Gospel, we are talking about the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments. Luther new that full well the burden of the Law in his own struggle with sin, confession, and trying to do appropriate penance. Try as he might, there was no way that he ever felt that he could either live up to the Law or do enough to make up for his sin. In some sense, his constant attention to trying to keep track of wrongs and atone for them became a kind of idolatry. Perhaps that happens with us, too, both in relation to our own sins, but also as we tally and want reckoning for the sins of others.
In his awakening to God’s grace in his study of the Apostle Paul’s letter, Martin found the Good News, the Gospel, casting new light on the Law, as well. We understand by societal laws the difference between the letter of the law and its intent. So it was for Luther. He once said that the Law serves as a mirror so that we can see our dirty faces and understand the need for a Savior and the gift of God’s grace. So, while the Law has its place in showing us how to live, Luther knew that there was no way in his/our humanity that the Law could be observed to the letter. That’s where grace comes in.God’s forgiveness and mercy through Christ are what cleanse our faces and allows us to shine with the glory of God. It is by living in grace, then, that we are freed and motivated to live the best manner of life that we can.
Faithful God, we give you thanks for your gift of the Law as it shows us how to live, but also how much we need forgiveness through your Son. We are grateful, also, for your grace that abounds when we fall short, a gift that frees us to journey on doing the best we can to your glory. Amen.
Sunday, September 20, 2020
What are major distractions for you?
Luther singled out his dog “Klutz” (Tölpel in German) once as an example of concentration:
“Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish or hope.”
Wow, can I relate to what Luther is saying. There are sometimes that I just cannot seem to concentrate whether in prayer, or study, or meditation. Myriad thoughts race through my mind, feelings churn inside, and there are more than enough external distractions that keep me from what I should be doing.
Recently, especially with all the news that we are hearing – wildfires, hurricanes, civil unrest, COVID-19, political battles – there seems to be much more opportunity for distraction than concentration. And yet, with everything that is going on, the need for prayer and consulting God’s Word is ever more important. And so, like Luther, I long for the ability to concentrate, to be more diligent in making connection with God. I also know, however, that God, through the Holy Spirit who knows us intimately, knows what is in our hearts and hears our intercessions before they are on our lips. That’s a give that brings me encouragement and comfort.
Gracious God, we give you thanks that you hear us and know our needs, spoken and unspoken, often before we realize or express them ourselves. Help us to remain faithful to our study and prayer that we might find strength and direction for the day. Amen.
Saturday, September 19, 2020
What feelings are you experiencing today?
Feelings vs. God’s Word
“Feelings come, and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving. My warrant is the Word of God, naught else is worth believing.”
When it comes to feelings, especially more recently, we can have a roller coaster experience. We can tumble between joy and sorrow, hope and despair, wonderment and taking things for granted, assurance and fear, and all emotional places in between. All of the ups and downs, twists and turns can come at us in rapid succession, often leaving us dizzy within ourselves.
Our feelings, our emotions, are indeed gifts from God, and yet, if we allow only our feelings to guide our day and determine our actions, we may find ourselves taking a wrong turn along the way. For example, if we are angry and we immediately act on that anger, we may end up doing ourselves more harm than good. Or, if we lapse into apathy, taking things for granted, we might miss great blessings from God’s abundant grace, or miss opportunities to extend God’s love and mercy to others.
Luther reminds us that feelings are transient, even deceptive in nature, so we need to rely on God’s Word to speak to our hearts and minds. When we take time to consult God’s Word as we ride the emotional roller coaster, we will find direction, confidence, hope and assurance for the day.
Almighty One, we give you thanks for your Word. As we read and hear the scriptures, may your voice speak to our hearts and minds that which you would have us receive. Amen.
Friday, September 18, 2020
How do you feel protected?
“You should be certain that angels are protecting you when you go to sleep. Yea, that they are protecting you also in all your business, whether you enter or leave your home.”
Reading Luther’s quote, I was taken back to my days as a Brownie. There was a song that we would sing:
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me my Lord.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me
Now I lay me down to sleep.
Angels watching over me my Lord.
Pray the Lord my soul to keep,
Angels watching over me.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me my Lord.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me
If I die before I wake.
Angels watching over me my Lord.
Pray the Lord my soul to keep,
Angels watching over me.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me my Lord.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me
Of course, there are also echoes of the common bedtime prayer I prayed when I was a child. I’m not certain how comforting the words, “If I die before I wake” are as a little one, maybe not even now as an adult. We want so dearly to cling to life. And yet, the promise that whether we live or die we are in God’s protection is something that can bring us assurance.
The Greek word ἄγγελος (angelos) translate “angel” means messenger. God is watching over us, sending angel messengers to surround us in all of our activities – sleep, work, school, leisure, going out, staying in. My guess is that the angels’ job can be a tough one considering some of the things we humans say and do. And yet, God loves us enough to watch over us, to put people on our path who help us discern what is right and good, folks to encourage us in our journey from the time of our birth to the day of our death, beings who speak God’s word into our ears in guidance. Angels are watching over us.
Heavenly God, we give you thanks that you are always protecting us, sending angels to watch over us in all that we say and do. Help us to open ourselves to their presence. Amen.
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
What “sin” most tears at your heart?
Christ Given for Sinners
“Labor diligently when your conscience is thoroughly afraid with the remembrance of your sins past, and the devil assails you with great violence, going about to overwhelm you with heaps, floods, and whole seas of sins, to terrify you and to drive you to despair; that then I say, you may be able to say with sure confidence: Christ the Son of God was given, not for the righteous and holy, but for the unrighteous and sinners.”
As stated several times before, Luther struggled mightily with his own sinfulness. He also believed that he battled with the devil who, being the great accuser as well as tempter, would throw Martin’s transgressions back in his face as a reminder of how he could never measure up in God’s eyes.
It was only after his in-depth study of Paul that he began to understand God’s grace. He wanted nothing more than to share his discovery with others who also struggled with sin. In his teaching and preaching, he urged them to dwell not upon their sins, but upon the grace of God and God’s righteousness that we obtain only by God’s hands and not our own attempts at atonement.
We know the long-lasting effects of hanging onto sin, both ours and that of others. Yet, we do not have to. While we all fall short, we also all have the option of forgiveness; receiving God’s grace for ourselves and extending that grace to others. It is the heart of Christ’s incarnation.
Gracious God, we give you thanks for your son’s life, death, and resurrection for our sake. Help us to know your grace, mercy, and love both for ourselves and others. Amen.
Monday, September 14, 2020
Where do you see/find Jesus?
“To find Christ in such poverty, and what his swaddling clothes and manger signify, are explained … that his poverty teaches how we should find him in our neighbors, the lowliest and the most needy; and his swaddling clothes are the holy Scriptures; that in actual life we should incline to the needy; and in our studies and contemplative life only to the Scriptures; in order that Christ alone may become the man of both lives and that he may everywhere stand before us.”
When Jesus took on flesh, he did so, not as a person with riches, not as one who came from a family of nobility, not as one of military might, but to a lowly maiden and a common carpenter. One wonders what Mary really pondered that night. She, a young girl of no notoriety had given birth to God’s son, yet not in some splendidly arrayed room surrounded by attendants, but in a humble setting. What in the world was God doing?
It was in Jesus’ incarnation that God proved a divine presence with and for those who were on the margins – “the lowliest and the most needy.” Jesus was born, not in a place of ease and comfort, but in a humble feeding trough among the animals. What the world might have expected from a Messiah had been turned upside down. That is how God speaks to the world, by turning things upside down. If we are to honor Christ, we do so not by idolizing the rich, but by tending to those who are poor – poor in resources, poor in health, poor in spirit.
Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, strips of cloth. Luther suggests that Jesus’ infant attire are the holy Scriptures. At one point, Luther talked about the Bible being the cradle of Christ. In other words, God’s Word is what holds Christ, even the Old Testament, Luther would add. Wrapped up in Scripture are the character, teaching, and grace of Jesus. If we use God’s Word as our guide for life, we cannot go wrong. We will be taking Jesus with us into everything that we say and do, including our care for others, especially those who are outcast, oppressed, victims of injustice, and all who are in need.
God of Incarnation, we give you thanks for your son whom you sent to become one of us through his birth as a lowly child into a family of little notoriety. Help us to remember to be humble in our own words and work as Christians, relying on your Word as we tend to the lost and least in the world you so love. Amen.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
What is one your heart today? Bring it before God.
“God wants us to pray, and he wants to hear our prayers-not because we are worthy, but because he is merciful.”
What a gift we have in prayer. There are many who wonder what good prayer does. Does God really hear us? Do our words make a difference? Can our prayers really change God’s mind?
Luther talks about God’s desire to have us pray and that God wants to listen, to hear what is in our minds, on our hearts. So often, we pray because we think that all things depend on our prayers, but everything really rests in God’s mercy. God has no reason to change God’s mind, to bring about what we ask, to answer prayer at all other than God’s love for us, God’s mercy toward us. God wants to be in relationship with us. Just like we share some of our deepest concerns, or yearnings, or fears with a trusted spouse of dear friend, God wants to hear those things from us.
No, there is no guarantee that, while God can God will answer prayer in the way we expect or desire any more than some of our earthly confidants would do. And yet, when we trust that God hears us, just laying down things before God in our petitions, our intercessions, can bring great comfort and relief. Prayer is truly a gift that God has granted us.
Holy God, thank you for being merciful, for hearing us when we pray. May we find joy, comfort, guidance, and strength as we lay our inmost selves before you. Amen.
Thursday, September 10, 2020
What has challenged your faith today?
“Where faith is not continually kept in motion and exercised, it weakens and decreases, so that it must indeed vanish; and yet we do not see nor feel this weakness ourselves, except in times of need and temptation, when unbelief rages too strongly; and yet for that very reason faith must have temptations in which it may battle and grow.”
Well, I would guess that through the course of these recent months – a pandemic, violence in our streets, vitriolic political conversations, along with the usual daily challenges – our faith has been tested. It is in the times of need and temptation that we so often find that it is only our faith that can and will see us through, because we find that our own efforts and powers are insufficient to deal with the issues before us. We discover our weaknesses. On top of it all, we often find ourselves in places of fear, or maybe even doubt, that only compound that acknowledgment of our own helplessness.
The Apostle Paul talks about finding strength in our weakness. Luther seems to have grasped that idea. It is when we come face to face with our own lack, our own inabilities, that we have no other strength than our faith. In our dealing with the temptations and needs before us for which we have no answers within ourselves, it is our faith alone that can bring us through, and in the process of the “battle” our faith is strengthened. As we overcome through faith, we learn, we realize that our faith can and will see us through not just this time, but in all times of need.
Faithful God, we give you thanks for the gift of faith. Help us, especially in times of need and temptation, in our weakness, may we exercise that faith that it may give us strength and encouragement in all that we face. Amen.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Lay whatever is heavy on your heart before God.
Being a Sinner
“Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that anything that I thought or did or prayed satisfied God.”
Luther tried to be the best monk that he could possibly be. He tried to pray all the right prayers, follow all the rules, confess all his sins, and yet, he never felt that he measured up. Try as he might, he felt that God was not pleased with him or his efforts. He did, indeed, have a disturbed conscience, to the point of making himself ill.
Praise God that he discovered, in his own study of the scriptures in their original language, that we are justified, not by what we do or don’t do, not by what we say or don’t say, but through faith alone. It is God who justifies us – forgive is all of our sins, known and unknown.
It is always desirous to do well in the eyes of God, but not for the sake of earning our own salvation. Because we continue to fall short, sometimes even when we are trying to do good, we need to rest in God’s grace, God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness. Our doing good, doing things that are pleasing in God’s sight are the result of knowing God’s grace first and foremost.
Loving God, we may try to “do good,” to please you and still fall short. Forgive us and help us to remember that it is only by faith, by your grace, that we are made righteous in your sight. Amen.
Monday, September 7, 2020
Open your hands to release and to receive in prayer.
“No man should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one may help another. If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will”
Sometimes, when dark thoughts assail us, when temptations seem relentless, it may feel like we are alone and that Satan is ready to overtake us. It’s not always easy in such times for us to reach out in help and hope. Yet, that is exactly what being the church is to be – a ministry of care centered in the Word of God.
While we may not be able to reach out and physically grasp the hands of another during this time of physical distancing, our hands can be joined spiritually in prayer. When we have those times of difficulty and need come across our doorstep, we are not alone. We have brothers and sisters in Christ upon whom we can call to share in God’s word, to be in mutual conversation, and to pray with and for one another. Even when we might not have the words, another will, and that person is only a phone call, an email, a text away. All we need do is ask. God will hear and honor what we pray, and does not leave us forsaken.
Listening God, help us, in times of need to know that you have gifted us not only with the power of prayer in ourselves, but also through the intercessions of others on our behalf. Let us not be shy about asking others to pray for us, for you will hear them. Amen.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
What is one image you have of God’s love?
God’s Love Like that of a Mother
“You say that the sins which we commit every day offend God, and therefore we are not saints. To this I reply: Mother love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on a child, and so the love of God toward us is stronger than the dirt that clings to us. Accordingly, although we are sinners, we do not lose our filial relation on account of our filthiness, nor do we fall from grace on account of our sin.”
When I read Luther’s words, “Mother love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on a child,” I couldn’t help but go back to my own childhood. I know that during this time of washing our hands and sanitizers, this might seem strange, but there was a cleaner that was very powerful and ready at hand – a mother’s spit. When getting ready to go somewhere and a mom was gathering up the children, checking their knees and faces, there was a “What were you eating?” followed by a thumb licked by her tongue to erase the shadow of food from around a little one’s mouth, or a “Where have you been?” with a Kleenex or hankie moistened by her saliva cleansing the dirt or blood from skinned knees. I know. It sounds gross. It was, but it did the job, and moms continued to love us as dirty and skinned up as we might have been.
Just think, that if our moms did that for us, how much more God does for us by forgiving our sins, washing us clean of all of our filth. No matter what we say or do, when we fall short, God is there to clean us up. It may not be with saliva on a thumb or tissue, but rather with the waters of our baptism that wash us afresh every day, drowning our old self to begin anew. God also tends to our scabs, our wounds that have been inflicted over the course of our lives that we might find healing and wholeness. We continue to abide in God’s grace.
Mothering God, we give you thanks that in and through all things, even when we fall short, you continue to love us, forgive us, and heal us. Amen.
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Recall a favorite Bible verse. Why is it a favorite?
Power of God’s Word
“Nothing helps more powerfully against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts than occupying oneself with God’s Word, having conversations about it, and contemplating it.”
When we look around the world today, we would gladly declare certain actions or people as “evil” or as coming from Satan/the devil. I’m not certain that it is our job to judge evil vs. good, but the one thing that we can do in the face of what may seem evil, even when it might be within ourselves, our flesh is to read, study, contemplate, and have conversations about God’s Word.
Granted, there are times when going deeper into God’s Word may only bring about more questions, more self-reflection, more wondering about our own sinful nature, but if we ponder fully the extent of God’s Word, we find the remedy for that which ails us. One benefit is the assurance of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness for all of us. Another is the example of Christ. While we are not Christ himself, we are created in his image, the image of God, and can follow in his ways, his teaching, his actions for the sake of the world. We are also given encouragement that though we fall short, God will honor whatever it is that we can offer in Jesus’ name for the sake of God’s mission in the world. In the Word, we also are given the assurance that God is always with us and will not forsake us. All of that helps us to stand powerfully against the devils, the world, and our own flesh.
Almighty God, we give you thanks for the scriptures that are your Living Word. Help us, particularly in difficult times to call upon its power to uphold us, guide us, assure us, and encourage us. Amen.
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Recall some of life’s challenges.
“Suffering is the school in which God chastens us and teaches us to trust in him so that our faith may not always stay in our ears and hover on our lips but may have its true dwelling place in the depths of our hearts. Your grace is now in this school.”
Writing to the Elector John of Saxony, who was deathly ill, Luther clearly conveyed how God uses tribulations, suffering, and pain to draw us nearer to God and make us more like God. While I don’t believe that God necessarily created suffering to test us, surely God can use the suffering, the consequences of our human choices, to teach us and to grow us in faith. We can quote scripture and have all the academic theological conversations we would like, but the most effective lesson is learned is likely in the school of suffering.
When I recall all the different trials I have faced in life, in all of them, there eventually came a realization that despite my best efforts, my greatest knowledge, I didn’t have the power on my own to change things, but that it was God’s presence with me that would see me through. Things might not have turned out the way I had wished or expected. I experienced hardship and sorrow, but they didn’t have the final word. As I came through the challenges, my faith and trust in God grew, and God was able to use what I had experienced to teach me about how to move on, to help others when they are in need or suffering. And so, while it may not seem so as we are going through it, God’s grace will meet us there and see us through.
Faithful God, we give you thanks that in the midst of our suffering, you are there with us to see us through. Help us to grow in faith and love toward you in all circumstances by your grace. Amen.
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Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Who is a saint?
“When I was a monk I often wished that I might once see the life of some saint or holy man.” (Luther then shared that he imagined such a saint living in the wilderness, abstaining from meat and drink, and living only with roots of herbs and cold water. Luther counters this works-based imagery with gospel imagery.) “But now in the light of the gospel we plainly see who they are whom Christ and His Apostles call saints: not they who live a single life, or observe days, meats, apparel, and such other things, or in outward appearance do other great works, but they which believe that they are sanctified and cleansed by the death and blood of Christ. So Paul everywhere calls them holy, the children and heirs of God. Whoever then believes in Christ, whether he or she is man or woman, bond or free, is a saint; not by his own works, but by the works of God.”
Luther, after discovering the idea of being saved not by one’s own merit, but only through faith in Christ, also expanded his idea of calling or Christian vocation. He realized that it wasn’t his devotional life lived in a monastery, nor one as an ascetic out in the wilderness who observed particular rites or a special way of life or dress that mattered. It was those who were sanctified and cleansed through Christ’s death. Those are the ones whom Paul refers to as saints.
We are all saints...and sinners. No, we don’t do everything right. No, we don’t all wear holy robes. No, we may not always seem to have the proper words to pray or to preach. Yet, by God’s grace, we sinners are forgiven and made righteous. It doesn’t matter our gender orientation, our station in life, the color of our skin, our political persuasion. As we profess our belief in Christ, God is active, redeeming us, setting us apart, making us holy for the work that God has called us to do.
Holy God, we sometimes think that it takes someone “special” to do the work of proclaiming the Gospel, or that “saints” have to fit a particular mode. Help us to remember that while we are still sinners, you sent your Son to die for ALL us in order that we might be forgiven and made righteous, holy children, saints in your sight. Amen.
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Monday, August 31, 2020
Open your hands and release any burdens to God.
Justice of God
“Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” Now, “the whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.”
During Luther’s young adult years, even after he had entered the monastery, he viewed God as totally angry and vengeful, with God’s justice viewed as punishment. Martin drove himself to confess every sin, tried to purge himself from sin, even to the point of personal injury. It all moved him to resent God more and more. That was, until he studied the letters of Paul and discovered that it was not about what he did in confession, nor what he did in acts of merit or atonement that mattered. It was God’s work that would save him, free him from sin by grace through faith, and open the doors to a freedom that he hadn’t known before, one filled with God’s mercy, love, and grace.
So often, we forget that it’s not about us. We think that we are the ones with all the power to do good, to earn our merit in life, and to atone for what we do when we mess up, but that takes God out of the picture. God created us to be in relationship with God and with one another and to live out our lives with free choice. Sometimes, we mess up. Yes, we may have to live with the consequences of our actions, but God still loves us, shows us mercy, and forgives us. If God does that for us, we are then freed to do that for ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we don’t try to make beneficial changes in our lives, or don’t to do better in our care of neighbor, but that we can’t let the ways in which we fall short to weigh us down, even immobilize us. We are free to open ourselves to mercy and grace.
Gracious God, often the most difficult people to forgive is ourselves. Help us to know that when we fall short, we can lay all that we do and are before you knowing that you will care for us in love, and by your mercy show us grace in forgiveness. Amen.
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Saturday, August 29, 2020
What keeps you from speaking up when you should?
“O great God! The souls committed to your care, excellent Father, are thus directed to death. For all these souls you have the heaviest and a constantly increasing responsibility. Therefore, I can no longer be silent on this subject.”
This quote is from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. Luther became concerned about his own parishioners who believed that if they had purchased letters of indulgence they were sure of their salvation. He saw the injustice of the practice, how it encouraged those who had little in the way of financial resources to spend what they had in fear. His witnessing of the church’s exploitation of those living on the margins was more than he could stand. He had to speak out.
We have a great many people in our society who live on the margins, who are victims of prejudice, injustice, and oppression. The systems and institutions with which we have grown so comfortable, so accustomed, are the same systems and institutions, much like the church in Luther’s day, that are exploiting, oppressing, and even killing people emotionally, spiritually, and physically, whether they are people of color, people who have mental illness or substance abuse issues, or are victims of all kinds of stereotyping and prejudice. Their souls are directed to death.
How long can we be silent? What keeps us from speaking? Lack of words? Fear? Jesus told his disciples many times not to fear as they carried out their ministry. So it is for us. The Holy Spirit will give us utterance, and Jesus will be with us. We need the courage and strength to allow and follow the Spirit’s leading.
Holy God, there are so many whose souls are directed to death by the oppressive and unjust systems and institutions by which we live. Give us strength, give us courage to speak out as advocates and agents of change in and for the world. Amen.
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Thursday, August 27, 2020
Reflect upon what it means to “do good.”
“It is easy enough to do good once or twice, but to keep on doing good without getting disgusted with the ingratitude of those whom we have benefited, that is not so easy.”
I think that Luther knew about what he was saying. He probably had many people for whom he “did good,” but for whatever reason – fear of retribution, fear of the church, or simple ingratitude – did not say thanks. Yet it did not keep him from continuing to teach and preach, to advocate for the poor and the children. Was it easy? No.
It reminds me of Jesus who healed ten lepers with only one who returned to thank him. Jesus probably healed many who didn’t thank him, who after receiving his healing touch just walked away without a care, and yet he continued in his ministry to the crowds, caring especially for those on the margins. Was it easy? Probably not.
When we do good, it is wonderful to receive thanks for what we do. In fact, sometimes it can be our motivation for doing good. Often, in congregations, we “do good” for others in hopes that they will become members or support our churches. Yet, when we continue to do good for others and don’t receive the thanks that we think that we deserve, when they don’t fill the pews as we hoped or expected, we can become resentful and quit doing good, or if we do continue to do good, we do it grudgingly.
We don’t know what happened to the nine lepers who were healed but didn’t return to give thanks to Jesus. Were they truly ungrateful? Did they just forget to thank him? Did they get so caught up in the excitement of being healed and wanting to share it with their family and friends that they went hastily on their merry way? Did they return sometime later, but couldn’t find Jesus to thank him? Did they still realize, at some point, what a gift they had received and praised God? It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus in the long run.
When we help people, we do it because it is what Jesus calls us to do in love for our neighbor, not for a personal pat on the back or some kind of gain. We do good in faith that whatever we offer God will use according to God’s purpose whether we are thanked, whether we know the ultimate outcome or not. It indeed may not be easy, but it is what we are to do.When we realize that God is using what we do, regardless of the thanks we personally receive, then we find the gratitude – God’s faith in us.
Benevolent God, you bless us to be blessings to others, not for our own glory, but for yours. Help us to continue to do good, even when we don’t receive signs of thanks in return, trusting that what we do you will honor and use for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2020
What seeds have you planted?
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
We find ourselves, once again, hearing about rioting in the streets. It seems like today the world is already going to pieces. All of this is taking place in the midst of a pandemic to boot. One would think that this is the time not to riot and loot, not to resort to violence and actions that serve only to harm and further divide society, but to come together in solidarity with one another for the sake of our communities, our country, our world. It is easy to give in to hopelessness and despair in the face of such negativity.
Yet, Luther seems to be saying that as hopeless as things may seem, we don’t quit. Even if we think all is lost and the world might end tomorrow, we keep on keeping on. He talks about planting an apple tree that would eventually yield apples. While the world might end, he plants it in faith that it will do what it was created to, bear fruit.
So it is with our words and actions. When the world may seem to be crumbling around us, we cannot give up, but rather we are called to speak and act in faith, planting the seeds of justice, peace, mercy and love that, by God’s grace, they may bear fruit in the end. While we may not see the results, we trust that God uses what we offer for good.
Gracious God, as we look at the troubled world around us, keep us from giving in to hopelessness and despair. Help us to realize how and where the seeds of all goodness can be planted us, and then strengthen and encourage us to do so for the sake of your justice, peace, mercy, and love in and for the world. Amen.
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Monday, August 24, 2020
What have been some of your greatest trials?
“This is the most dangerous trial of all, when there is no trial and everything goes well; for then a man is tempted to forget God, to become too bold and to misuse times of prosperity.”
When recalling times of significant trial, those are times that we often call upon and rely upon God most ardently. Think about how many people flocked to their places of worship after 9/11. Great gatherings of people came together to mourn and to pray. Certainly, there have been other times in history, when such similar incidents have taken place, including the events of a pandemic, extreme violence, and unrest in our streets. It is often when we feel as if we are out of control that we finally turn to God.
Most of the time, when “everything goes well,” as Luther says, we seem to be more tempted to trust in our own abilities and sensibilities, not really thinking about God’s involvement or empowerment in what is going on in and around us. That, says Luther, “is the most dangerous trial of all.” When we take for granted all that we are and all that we have, it is easy for us to forget by Whom everything is given to us in the first place and can lead us into misuse of the times of prosperity, of abundant blessings. Such attitudes and behavior may even lead to selfishness. It is often by encountering trials that we are reminded that it is not from us that all blessings flow, but from the hand of God, and we are prompted to recall that we are blessed to be blessings to one another.
Ever Present God, so often we lose sight of who and whose we are, taking everything into our own hands and reaping the personal credit. Help us to remember that in all things, it is you who provides for us, watches over us, and grants us gifts to share. Amen.
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Saturday, August 22, 2020
What risks have you taken in life?
Bound by the Word
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”
Martin Luther made this statement in defense of his writings at the Diet of Worms, April 19, 1521.Emperor Charles V presented the final draft of the Edict of Worms on May 25 declaring Luther an outlaw, banning his literature, and requiring his arrest. It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter and permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence. It was fortunate that one of his early supporters, Elector of Saxony Frederick III, had him abducted and taken to a place of safety in Wartburg Castle. Luther took great risk to stand up for what he knew by his conscience and his examination of the Scriptures.
We have many serious issues that are making the headlines in recent months – racism, political arguments related to COVID-19, immigration, just to name a few. We have a choice before us. We can sit idly by keeping our mouths shut or we can search our conscience, guided by God’s Word, by Jesus’ teaching and commandments and allow them to guide our words and actions. Will we have the boldness, the confidence to take the risk of speaking out in advocacy for those who are victims of injustice and oppression, for those who are in great need? What is God calling us to say and do?
God of Justice, help us to lay aside apathy or fear as we search our hearts and minds, as we try to discern what it is we are called to say and do during these troubled times. Grant us the boldness, confidence, and strength to speak and act of the sake of your mercy, love and justice in and for the world. Amen.
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Friday, August 21, 2020
What brings you peace?
Grace and Peace
“Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever.”
How easy it is, when we have done or said something wrong, to let it bother us. In Psalm 32, the psalmist speaks of the turmoil we go through when we don’t confess our sin: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” Hanging on to the guilt of our sin can make us physically sick, can torment us. The effects can hang on for a very long time, affecting ourselves and others. Think about the unconfessed sin of racism?
The Psalmist continues, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity;I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” We know this forgiveness through Jesus Christ who has overcome sin forever. We have no fear, then, in confessing our sins, in asking for forgiveness so that we might receive grace and find peace, for ourselves and for the world. For in our forgiveness, we are freed; freed from sin, but also freed for love and service.
Gracious God, help us to open our hearts and minds in honest confession to you, knowing that you are loving and merciful. Grant us forgiveness for the ways we have fallen short, for things done and left undone, and stir our hearts for love and service. Amen.
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Thursday, August 20, 2020
What Bible passage is most dear to you? Why?
The Word of God
“Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing.”
What a gift we have in God’s Word. We sometimes take for granted that we can open a Bible and find what it is that we need for the day. We are abundantly blessed by all the beliefs, ideas, and teaching we receive in and through God’s Word. Luther lists so many of the riches we receive through scripture. We could probably add many more – healing, hope, comfort, assurance, just to name a few. Whatever the circumstances in which we find ourselves, in whatever we are facing, God’s Word is there to speak to us.
Often, when we go looking for a particular answer or with some other purpose in mind as we engage the Bible, we may find what we were seeking, but often are surprised by being given, in addition, something we weren’t even looking for, an unexpected message or blessing. We can read passages that we’ve read many times before and discover something totally new. What grace!
Gracious God, we give you thanks for your Word that blesses us beyond measure. Help us to not take it for granted but embrace that we might receive all the good gifts it offers to us and for us. Amen.
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Wednesday, August 19, 2020
What is one of the gifts God gave you to share?
“God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
We worship God and praise God, and God is likely pleased by that. Sometimes, we do good things thinking that God is watching. That’s true. God is watching. Yet God is not in need of what we do. God would do just fine without them, since God is the creator of all things and completely self-sufficient, if you will.
We have plenty of neighbors, however, that need our good works. There are many people who could use some help, who could be shown some kindness, who need advocates. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors – all of our neighbors – as he loves us. In doing good works for the sake of the neighbor, we are answering that call, and that is pleasing in his sight, in God’s sight. So, while God doesn’t need our good works, in our doing them, we honor God.
Holy God, we give you thanks for all the gift that you give us, abundant gifts to share. Help us to use all that we receive to speak and act for the good and love of our neighbors, beings that you have created, in order that we may honor you and bring your glory. Amen.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2020
What is God calling you to?
“The reason of the divine will is not to be inquired into, but simply to be adored, and the glory given unto God.”
I’m not sure about you, but what I want to say to Luther is, “That’s all well, good, and noble to be able to make such a statement, but it is not always easy to do.” How many times do we question God’s will? Think about the times we know that God has been calling us, has been nudging us to do something and we respond, “What? Me? What are you thinking, God?” Or, we look at someone or some situation and wonder how God allows certain things to happen. Well, God gave us the gift of free will, of making choices, good or bad. Again, we might ask, “What were you thinking God?” Probably one of the things we should wonder most about is God’s will in showing us mercy and grace. For all the times that we as humans, as humanity, have messed up, one might wonder about God’s reasoning again. As humans, there is much that we just don’t understand about God’s will.
Ah, that’s it! That was, perhaps, what Luther was trying to get folks to understand. Quit trying to figure out God’s ways, God’s will according to our own human means or standards. God is God and we are not. So, we are simply to adore God’s will and give glory to God for the grace, mercy, and love that surpass all of our human understanding. Just keep saying, “Thanks be to God.”
Almighty One, you have given us the gift of human reason, but sometimes we get carried away in using it in trying to inquire into the reason of your divine will. May we be reminded always that you are God and we are not. Help us to place all of our trust in you, giving you all the glory for what we have and who we are. Amen.
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Monday, August 17, 2020
For what do you need God’s grace and mercy most today?
God’s Grace and Mercy
“Since God has put my salvation out of the way of my will and has taken it under His own and has promised to save me, not according to my works or manner of life, but according to His own grace and mercy, I rest fully assured and persuaded that He is faithful, and will not lie, and moreover great and powerful, so that no devils no adversities can destroy Him or pluck me out of His hand.”
Luther’s statement about God’s grace and mercy is a strong assurance. When we might recall all the ways that we have fallen short, have messed up by what we said or did along the way, it is a wonderful gift to know that God still holds us near and dear. Certainly, we try to do the best that we can, but it should not be to earn a better place in God’s eyes, but out of gratefulness that God shows such grace and mercy in the first place.
It is also a wonderful reminder that Luther gives us that no devils, no adversities can destroy God. When we look at some of the troubling things going on in our world, it can be easy for our hope to wane, or even for us to fall into despair. Yet, all we need remember is that God is greater than all that, greater than we can even imagine, and that God is still with us, watching over us, taking care of us. In that we can take comfort and find courage and strength for the days ahead.
Gracious God, we give you thanks that when we fall short, when we fall down, you are there to pick us up, granting us grace and mercy. Amen.
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Sunday, August 16, 2020
Recall your most recent conversation with someone and what was said.
What We Say
“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say”.
Oh, how many times we utter words in the quick of the moment, grasping to take them back just as they leave our mouths. After we’ve done that a few times, we may learn to take that extra time to take a breath and think before we say something we might regret. Or, we may make an effort to be better informed before we speak. We are indeed responsible for what we say – for good or for ill.
Perhaps the harder thing to do is to see our responsibility for what we don’t say. There are many times and occasions where we should speak out – when we see someone being ridiculed or mistreated, when we witness injustice, when care is not shown for the most vulnerable – but we don’t. Why? There may be a whole host of reasons: we don’t want to “cause trouble; we don’t want to risk embarrassment; we lack confidence in what we are thinking or feeling; we just don’t want to get involved. By not speaking, however, the things named are allowed to continue and we are responsible. One wonders how the world might be changed if more folks had the boldness to speak when called upon to do so.
Gracious God, may your Holy Spirit help us to hold our tongues when necessary, to speak when the occasion warrants it, and grant us the boldness and the words when we need them. Amen.
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Saturday, August 15, 2020
Open your hands and take a deep breath, thanking God for your being.
God’s Word Does the Work
“In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no one by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philipp and Amsdorf, the Word … did everything.”
Sometimes, the best thing that we can do is to be authentic and patient in our sharing of God’s Word. As a pastor, there are often occasions when I wonder if anything that I said in my preaching or teaching made any bit of difference. There are times when people have let me know. Some have been grateful because they were able to relate to something I shared. Some have been critical because the message may have stirred something in them that made them uncomfortable or angry. Most of the time, I’m left with no clue.
One has to learn that it’s not always about the reception of God’s Word that is shown toward us in our time but the faithfulness we show in sharing it. We can put the Word forth in what we say and what we do, trusting God to do the rest. We may or may not know the results, but that is where faith comes in; faith that God will honor and use what we offer sincerely in God’s name.
Faithful God, we so often don’t feel like we have the right words or that we are doing the right thing when it comes to your Word. Help us to remember that you are a God ofgrace and will take what we offer in your name and use it to your glory. Amen.
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Thursday, August 13, 2020
Take a moment, with a Bible in your hands, close your eyes, open the Bible, and place your finger on a page. Then, open your eyes and read from where your finger rests.
“From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God's Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.”
The little exercise that I noted above of opening your Bible to a random verse can be fun, even enlightening. Sometimes the passage may be so random, that it might not make sense for us at the time, but often when you read that particular verse or the few verses following, it may speak to some aspect of your day or life. Other times, it may not make sense to you at first, but perhaps if you share it in conversation with someone else or a group of others, new light might be shed. As I noted in an earlier devotion, God may use our mutual conversation around the Word to reveal something to us that we might have misunderstood, or missed completely in our private reading.
Relying on God’s Word, Luther found direction for his life. There were times that he surely studied the Bible on his own, particularly when he was hidden away in Wartburg Castle, but I believe that he loved nothing more than to open the Word to teach others, learning in the process with them, as well as preaching God’s Word in the context of the people in the day. He wanted them to be exhorted, corrected, inspired and blessed by the Word.
One of his greatest accomplishments was to translate the Bible into the vernacular, the language of the people, German. Before he did so, folks needed to rely upon the priest, bishop, or pope to tell them what the scriptures said as they were not educated in Latin, the accepted translation of the time. One might wonder what messages were shared. By presenting the Bible to the people in their own language, Luther made it possible for folks to discover for themselves the treasure of God’s Word.
We are so very blessed to have multiple biblical translations that can speak to us in ways that might help us to better understand what is written. It’s still not always crystal clear, but if we take the time to read it again, to let the words sink in, maybe sharing them with others, the scriptures will live and breathe in and through us, the Living Word that sustains us and guides our ways.
Almighty One, you still come to us, particularly through your Word. May we never tire of reading it. Help us to open our hearts and minds to what it is that you are trying to say to us, that we might be guided along right pathways. Amen.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Think about the different work you have engaged.
“Every occupation has its own honor before God. Ordinary work is a divine vocation or calling. In our daily work no matter how important or mundane we serve God by serving the neighbor and we also participate in God's on-going providence for the human race.”
During recent months, we have often admired the doctors and nurses and other emergency workers who are on the front lines tending to and treating people who have a COVID infection. It is well and good that we applaud them for their work and dedication. We often forget, however, the other people in the building who do not have such visible nor glamorous jobs, but who also play important roles in ensuring that hospitals and clinics are safe – those who clean floors and toilets, who sanitize a space only to go back and sanitize it again. Such work may seem “ordinary” compared to that of a physician or medical technician, but it still is essential work that helps protect the staff, patients, and visitors. Restocking shelves at a grocery store may not seem all that prestigious, but where would we be without folks doing that? There are so many people whose work we tend to demean or overlook, and yet, they are ever so vital for life as we know it. They serve God by serving for the sake of those “the neighbor” and are honored before God.
All of our daily work, whether at home or at a place of employment, carries its own honor in God’s eyes. By keeping our homes safe and clean we provide for our families. We may choose to bake or cook something to share with a friend. While it may seem like no big deal, we are serving God by serving “the neighbor.” It’s not always about the esteem that comes with a vocation or occupation that matters, but the difference it makes in or for the lives around us that counts. Even in the small things, we can, as Luther puts it, “participate in God’s on-going providence for the human race.” By doing whatever it is that we do, we are partners with God in caring for others, for providing for the human race.
Holy God, you have graced us abundantly with talents, skills, abilities, and knowledge. Let us not take any of that for granted or see it as unimportant. Help us to use all that we are and have been given for the sake of our neighbors to your glory. Amen.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Where and how do you find rest?
“We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace.”
I must first apologize for not providing devotions for a few days. On Friday, a POD storage unit was delivered to our house with the remaining contents of my husband’s sister’s and mother’s homes following their deaths last year. We have spent a few days trying to empty the POD and sort items while we had help available in order that the POD can be picked up on Saturday and our garage and ground floor can cleared of that which has been unloaded. Then, yesterday during the nasty thunderstorm, we lost power around 4:20pm and it wasn’t restored until about 3:00 this morning. And so, with somewhat weary bones, I ask for your forgiveness and grace.
It is pretty true that when we are relying only on ourselves, our ideas, our works, our merit, we can become very wearied. There are times that it can seem like we are laboring and laboring for certain things, for situations to change, for particular ideals, but do not attain them. That can lead to frustration, resentment, even anger very often targeted at ourselves because of something we see lacking in our efforts, worsening the weariness we already feel. In such times, we need to realize that God still loves us; loves us even in spite of ourselves and what we might be feeling. We can find rest in the word of grace, in God’s mercy and forgiveness that extends to forgiving ourselves, granting ourselves rest in that grace.
As we have endured some very trying times, have been witness to situations and events that are wearying, it may have been difficult to find true rest. Let us remember to look to God for that mercy and grace.
Gracious God, the business and work of earthly life can become frustrating and wearying. Help us to turn to you, placing ourselves and our work in your hands, that we might gladly receive and cling to your word of grace. Amen.
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Thursday, August 6, 2020
Recall the goodness of God in your life.
“Faith is a free surrender and a joyous wager on the unseen, unknown, untested goodness of God.”
In dark and uncertain times, it can be so very difficult to imagine any goodness. It can often feel like there will be no end to the struggles, no resolution or reconciliation possible. We might wonder how we will ever get through it. How will we be sustained? Much of our trepidation is likely caused by our inclination to rely on, hang onto that which is within ourselves alone, rather than giving ourselves, our concerns, our fears, our need for help over to God.
Luther talks about faith being a free surrender. That can be easier said than done. We are encouraged from an early age to do things on our own. Personal industry and self-reliance are often signs of being “a success.” It is no wonder, then, why it is so difficult to freely surrender everything to God. Often, we open our hands to God, giving over everything, but that release is fleeting. Before long, we are pulling back to ourselves all of our concerns, our worries, our struggles.
So while faith is a free surrender, it is also that “joyous wager” on the goodness of God; the one who knows us intimately and loves us anyway because God created us. Even when we can’t let go completely, God understands and is still there to see us through the darkness, eventually through a time when we will struggle no more in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
Ever Present God, it can be so difficult to give all that we have and are into your hands. Help us to trust in your goodness and your presence with us, that we might find comfort and peace. Amen.
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Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Think about the many things you have been taught. How did you learn them?
“Teaching is more important than urging.”
I’m not certain in what context nor to what issue Luther is making this statement, but several things came to mind when I read it. In school, there were good teachers and not so good teachers. I learned the most from those who didn’t just prompt or urge me to do lessons for the sake of doing lessons, but from those who showed me how what they were teaching made a difference in what I did every day.
I’m wondering if that’s where we sometimes fall short as the church. We urge people to “come to church,” sometimes even badgering them to do so. I’ve seen that often with family members who long to have child or sibling or dear friend “see the light” and get to church. I experienced that with my late husband. He’d promise to go with me on Sunday, but when Sunday came, there was some excuse. I’d press him, but only to the point of anger, with the result that I went to church alone and resentful. I finally realized, in my own study and devotion, that I wasn’t going to get through to him only by my urging. The Gospel needed to make a difference in his life, something he had yet to learn. I certainly hadn’t been helping to teach that through my badgering.
I think that is very often the case. We want people to become a part of the church, to love the church, to love Jesus, but we don’t do a good job in our teaching them why. While we might spend time in creating good Christian Education programs or offering various means of studying the Bible or learning church history, or what we might see as meaningful worship, that is teaching only on a very limited and sometimes sterile basis.
What really makes a difference, what really makes the teaching have an impact along with the “book lessons” is how we help people understand that the Gospel, the love of Christ, the grace of God changes lives. We teach that through the stories we tell about our own faith journeys, through mutual conversation, by the way we live our lives, by the ministries we engage for the sake of others.
When I let go of the anger about my late husband not going to church, the Holy Spirit was able to reveal God’s love for him through me, through showing him what my faith meant to me in my daily life, by letting him know that my prayer partner and I were praying for him and others who were dear to us. When he became deathly ill and spent nearly two weeks in a trauma and life support center, more than a week on a ventilator, we prayed fervently. During his recovery, he talked about how he had felt surrounded in pray and believed that was the reason for his recovery. You know what? He began going to church, and being a video nut of sorts, started recording the services for the homebound of the congregation. The response from those folks helped him realize the love that believers have for one another through Christ. God continued to work in and through him to the end. On Easter morning, just a few weeks before his death, we had a small group of people gather to lay hands on him in prayer for healing from his chronic pain issues. At the end, in tears, he confessed that he didn’t realize how much people loved him, how much God loved him. Now that’s a lesson that can’t be taught by urging, only by being lived out.
As we “go out” into the world each day, what are we teaching about Jesus? How are we teaching it?
Gracious God, help us to teach others about you, your mercy and grace, your love in and through Christ, by our personal witness in what we say and through the way we live for the sake of spreading the Gospel in and for the world. Amen.
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Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Reflect upon past accomplishments.
“In a word, the Holy Scripture is the highest and best of books, abounding in comfort under all afflictions and trials. It teaches us to see, to feel, to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity, far otherwise than mere human reason can; and while evil oppresses us, it teaches how these virtues throw light upon the darkness, and how, after this poor, miserable existence of ours on earth, there is another and an eternal life.”
It's amazing, sometimes, when opening the pages of scripture, how pertinent what we read can be for the day – what we are feeling, what is happening in our circle of family and friends, things that are taking place in the world around us. Luther reminds us of the ability of God’s Word to bring comfort, to teach, and to guide us. What a wonderful gift that is, particularly now when we are still enduring a pandemic and have so many other issues piled upon it.
Things today can seem overwhelming. Maybe the reason that it seems so is because we turn inward for help. We rely on our own thoughts, ideas, and skills without first consulting with God. We can do that through prayer, but we can also find God speaking to us through scripture, especially when we engage in study and discussion about the Word with one another. Often, God uses others to prompt a question or offer an insight that helps us to see what God is trying to tell us, what we are supposed to learn or understand, or how God is calling and leading us. It is also God’s Word that brings us hope for the future, both on this earth and in the life beyond our earthly walk.
Most Holy God, your Word is ever living, teaching and comforting, calling and leading according to your grace and purpose. Help us to dwell richly in the scriptures that we might find whatever it is that we need for the day and the matters at hand. Amen.
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Monday, August 3, 2020
Reflect upon past accomplishments.
Faith, Hope and Revelation
“By faith we began, by hope we continue, and by revelation we shall obtain the whole.”
Have you ever started a project not knowing exactly what the end point or finished piece/product might look like? Perhaps it was a work of art, a wood working project, or strategic plan of some sort. It might start with some small prompt that if you were committed to the process, the end result would hold some kind of purpose or beauty. Sometimes starting something is the hardest part, but we begin in faith. As things unfold with our project, it may not look like what we had in mind at first, but we continue on in the hope that what we are working on still hold promise. Finally, at some point the project is completed and we see the whole of our work, even when it might be different from what we might have expected in the beginning.
Perhaps that is the way we live out our lives. We begin in faith – the faith of our parents or other people who care about us, who bring us to the font for baptism, who teach us from the scriptures, who mentor us and provide role models for Christian faith. As we grow physically and emotionally, we grow spiritually, as well, with the seeds of faith planted by others growing in us. That faith is what brings us hope to go on, even when the road is rough and challenges abound. We know by faith – ours and those who continue to walk with us – that there is some purpose for our time and efforts, some reason to keep on keeping on until the end, whether that end is some kind of ministry, a call or vocation, the raising of a family, the retirement from a meaningful career. We might have many revelations along the way – about ourselves, others, the world, and creation. They might serve as glimpses of a final revelation in the last day, when perhaps, by the grace of God, we shall see and obtain the whole that follows from our faith and hope.
Faithful God, even when things seem bleak, we can have faith that you are with us, that you continue to love us and care for us through those around us. We give you thanks for that gift of faith that enables us to live our lives in hope as you reveal your kingdom to us during our earthly journey. Amen.
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Sunday, August, 2, 2020
Contemplate the wonder of creation.
The Gospel of Creation
“Now if I believe in God's Son and remember that He became man, all creatures will appear a hundred times more beautiful to me than before. Then I will properly appreciate the sun, the moon, the stars, trees, apples, as I reflect that he is Lord over all things. ...God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
How important it is, when we say that we believe in Christ, we also realize that Christ abides in us and also in our brothers and sisters. Other human beings should appear ever more beautiful than on any given day when we treat Christ’s abiding presence in humanity with nary a care or a nod. Perhaps, if we could bring Christ to mind more often in our dealings with and regard for others, the world might become a more just and peaceful place.
During the time of the pandemic, Greg and I have taken local road trips, usually on Friday afternoon or evening as that is our “normal” day off – not to get out of our cars and visit or converse or do anything spectacular, but just to see the countryside. We travel paths that we normally wouldn’t or haven’t in a while observing the change in growth of farm crops, spotting hawks in trees, sometimes watching storms rolling in. It is a time to spend more quietly with one another, without attention to work, but it also gives us the opportunity to reflect on the beauty of the world God has made, the Gospel of creation. Often, we don’t take that time, because we “don’t have the time,” unless we are specifically on vacation. Those couple of hours every week have become very special, a benefit or teaching from the pandemic that I hope continues.
Creator God, there is such beauty in everything that you have made, the things of nature, to be sure, but also our brothers and sisters whom you created in great diversity and beauty. Help us not to take the Gospel of Creation for granted, but appreciate its wonder, particularly the wonder of humanity. Amen.
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Saturday, August 1, 2020
What is the Good News today?
“A gospel that doesn't deal with the issues of the day is not the gospel at all.”
How often we like to ignore the things of the world when we think about the gospel, the Good News of Jesus, and yet, as Luther reminds us, they are, or at least should be, inextricably linked. We call the scriptures the Living Word because they are not static, not left to become stale, tied only to the context in which they were written. The Living Word speaks to us new every time we read it as our own selves and the context in which we live changes, including “the issues of the day.”
So often, people have commented that addressing what is happening in the world, the societal issues on the front page, through the biblical study and discussion, or through preaching brings politics into church. I believe that what is often misunderstood, is that allowing the Gospel to inform us and transform us for the sake of God’s work in the world, God’s mission for the world, is exactly the purpose of the Gospel.
Jesus, himself, could be very political when it came to the care and treatment of people, particularly those on the margins who were victims of ridicule, prejudice, oppression and injustice. That’s why what he did to heal them and advocate for them was Good News. Luther spoke out against some of those very same issues, especially the exploitation of the poor by the church itself. Halting their being taken advantage was Good News.
The Gospels have some very stern messages about the “political” or “societal” issues of the day, as do so many of the epistles of Paul. Perhaps the reason that we are so “shy” about letting such scripture address the ills of current society, is that once we are informed, we might be transformed, and that isn’t always a welcome event, because once we are transformed within ourselves, there is a responsibility to speak and act out of that transformation. If, however, we choose to become ostriches who stick our heads in the sand and ignore the strong word and Jesus’ call to be witnesses to the Gospel, even in, or maybe especially in the face of the challenges of community, country, and world events, then the Gospel remains just stale words written a long time ago.
Good and Gracious God, you sent your son for the sake of the world – to teach, to heal, to die and to rise again. Often, his ministry involved strong messages and calls to change the familiar customs and traditions for the sake of your will, your love, your justice, your intention for the world. Help us to be open to the Living Word, the Gospel of Jesus that it might transform us for proclaiming that Good News through our words and actions, not just in and for the comfortable church, but for the sake of the whole of creation. Amen.
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Friday, July 31, 2020
In whom/what do you place your trust and confidence?
“Not only the adoration of images is idolatry, but also trust in one's own righteousness, works and merits, and putting confidence in riches and power. As the latter is the commonest, so it also is the most noxious.”
During the time that Luther took refuge in Wartburg Castle, one of his early followers, Andreas von Karlstadt, along with Thomas Müntzer started an iconoclastic movement in Wittenberg. They had a strict interpretation of the commandment forbidding the creation of any graven image and went about the city destroying churches’ stained glass windows, altars with carvings, pictures, crucifixes, and any other religious statues claiming that they were idolatrous symbols. The havoc that Karlstadt and Müntzer created drew Luther out of hiding. He wanted to come and care for the people who were cowering in fear of the iconoclasts. He also wanted to provide care and instruction for the people that they would understand properly how to deal with images. To do this, he preached what are called the Invocavit sermons during the week after the first Sunday in Lent (which historically has been called Invocavit or Quadragesima Sunday). In these sermons, he taught people about how change should occur in the church: not by violence or force but by the work of the Word and the conviction of the Gospel.
I’m not certain that today’s quote is in reference to that time, but it certainly would fit. It would have been appropriate for Luther to be addressing Karlstadt who had become arrogant regarding his theology and provoked violence in the community. Luther could have rebuked him for his self-righteousness in the destruction of the religious images and his works while his very own works and power had become idols themselves, and noxious they were indeed. Luther talked about how we approach images or ideals. If they become objects of worship as important as or in place of God, then they are idols and are harmful. If, however, things such as a crucifix or Bible stories communicated through pictures or windows that help to fortify our faith as you use them to assist your devotion to God, then meditate on them giving thanks and glory to God.
We have plenty of idolatry going on today. We devote great effort, time, and admiration to houses and other buildings, belongings, sports figures, celebrities, money, just to name a few. And then, there are those things that are less recognizable that Luther mentions – trust in our own righteousness, works, merits, accomplishments. Finally, there is our bent for putting confidence in riches and power, both our own and that of others, even when such power may be wielded in mistreatment and injustice toward particular people or groups of people. Sometimes, we don’t even realize that our support of certain systems or institutions feed the power imbalances that exist around us that are both common and noxious in nature. We often, without thought or intention, simply allow the things of the world to usurp the power of God in our lives.
Perhaps, the way that we need to address such idolatry, is by following what Luther suggested about bringing change to the church, and I would add to society today - not by violence or force, but by the work of the Word and the conviction of the Gospel. If we can hold those two things as our center, if we can take them to heart, allowing God’s power to reside in us and through us, think about how the world might change for the better.
God, we often have so many other gods before us tempting us to put our trust and confidence in them rather than in you, first and foremost. Help us to look to you as our one and only true God, the source of power to work for your good, your justice, your peace in the world around us. Amen.
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Thursday, July 30, 2020
Who comes to mind when you encounter the word “neighbor?”
Love of Neighbor
“There can be no be no better instruction... than that every man who is to deal with his neighbor to follow these commandments. 'Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye also unto them,' and 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.' If these were always followed, then everything would instruct and arrange itself; then no law books nor courts nor judicial actions would be required. All things would quietly and simply be set to rights, for everyone's heart and conscience would guide them.”
We have certainly been made more acutely aware of the needs of our neighbor during the last few months: as we’ve seen those who were on the margins before the pandemic struggle even more with the issues of homelessness, hunger and health care; as the witness of the injustices and oppression of people of color has come to the forefront, exposing deep-seated systemic racism and white privilege; as essential workers have served at great risk, often for extensive hours/days, while not having appropriate equipment and protection; as name-calling, mudslinging, and divisive rhetoric has become a standard in our communication with others. Where is the love of neighbor?
We might begin by asking, “Who do we consider our ‘neighbors’?” Are they only those people with whom we agree? Those who look and act like us? Those who believe in the same way we do? Those of only certain ethnicities, races, creeds, gender orientations? Remember the parable that Jesus told in answer to that question? It was the story of the Samaritan – someone hated by Jews (and vice versa) – who showed care for the man, likely a Jew, lying beaten in the ditch. Our neighbors are not just those who live right next door or down the street, people whom we like, but rather all people who share this planet.
What would it be like if we exercised love for the neighbor, treating others as we would want to be treated, not just in being kind or friendly to one another, but in truly doing for them what we would want done for us? It would mean that regardless of the color of one’s skin, one’s social status, one’s gender or gender orientation, all people would experience the same justice, the same freedom, the same pay for the same job done.
It would mean an end to racism and white privilege, to injustice and oppression, to our benefit on the backs of those on the margins. Or as Luther put it, “…then everything would instruct and arrange itself; then no law books nor courts nor judicial actions would be required. All things would quietly and simply be set to rights, for everyone's heart and conscience would guide them.”
To bring all that about, however, takes risk: the risk of change; the risk of rejection; the risk of injury, and in some cases one’s life. Today the funeral for civil rights leader andcongressman John Lewis was held, someone who put his life at risk in the civil rights movement. More than one of the speakers at the service recalled Mr. Lewis’ quote: "Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” We need to be willing to speak out, make some noise and get into good trouble, necessary trouble, for the sake of Jesus’ call for us to love our neighbors.
God of Love and Justice, open our eyes to see all people as our neighbors, as people that you created and that you love. Then, let us “get into good trouble” as agents of change with love of neighbor as our aim so that others might be treated as we would like to be treated ourselves. Amen.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2020
As you prepare for today’s devotion, take a minute or two to simply silent yourself to the distractions of the world around you.
“No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.”
In conversations regarding prayer, it is often wondered why we bother to pray if there is a plan laid out. If things are meant to be a certain way, then why waste words in order to change things. Yet, I don’t believe that is how things work. We aren’t puppets on strings that God dances across a stage. We are given the ability to make choices, for good or for ill, and we live with the consequences of those choices, pleasant or unpleasant.
Perhaps, then, we should think of prayernot so much as calling upon God to deliver according to our wants, to change things according to our will or our ways, but more of a conversation between us and God. We can confidently make our hearts known to God. And when we don’t have the words, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Then, we await God’s answer, which may or may not take the form of what we wanted or expected. Sometimes, God’s answer comes not in the way of changing the situation, but by changing something in us. Maybe that’s why Luther noted that “God sometimes delays. It may take time for us to be ready to receive the answer. Often it involves opening our eyes to something different or new, a response that teaches us about God’s will for us and we are all the better for it, even if, in some cases, it may not be easy or pleasant. And, as Luther said, when we pray honestly and earnestly, we might expect to receive more than expected.
God Who Listens, we know that you hear our prayers. Help us to be steadfast in our relationship and conversations with you. Open our ears, our hearts, our eyes, and our hands to receive what you have to grant us. Amen.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Take some time to simply breathe.
Grace, Not Anger
“Lord, grant that anger or other bitterness does not reign over us, but that your grace, genuine kindness, loyalty, and every kind of friendliness, generosity, and gentleness may reign in us. Amen”
I’m sure that Luther became angry, especially when he saw the church exploiting the peasants in various ways, for example, by selling letters of indulgence. He was not happy with the pope and hierarchy of the church. His anger is likely what prompted him to speak out as he did – to write and preach what he did, but it was more of what we would refer to as righteous anger. Anger for the sake of justice and change is one thing, but Luther warns us about letting such anger, particularly when it becomes resentment or bitterness, “reign over us.” While there are times when we can’t help but be angry, perhaps rightfully so, we can’t let such feelings control us in the long term. There are even studies that show how hanging on to anger and bitterness can be the source of physical ailments.
During our current circumstances, there are certainly many things that we can and should be angry about – people, especially young people, being exploited through human trafficking; the injustices related to racism; lack of health care for those on the margins – just to name a few. It’s understandable that such issues get our dander up, but we must use that anger to bring positive change. That is where grace comes in.
Meeting anger with anger, using violence only serves to escalate situations or keep people from seeing/understanding what is at the heart of the issue. Rather than venting anger in a negative manner, or allowing it to turn into bitterness, we can let that emotion be what motivates us to sit down with one another to listen and to understand each other better. Perhaps if folks would call on God’s grace to bring to the table attitudes of kindness, friendliness, generosity, then such positive change could be achieved.
God of Grace, you show is grace in all that we do. Help us to find ways of extending that grace to others as we face the challenges around us. Amen.
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Monday, July 27, 2020
Imagine letting go of something heavy as you open your hands.
Body and Soul
“Heavy thoughts bring on physical maladies; when the soul is oppressed so is the body.
We have surely dealt with heavy thoughts over these last five months. Take a moment to recall the heaviness of hearing that we would have to stay isolated for two to three weeks. People were panicked as they crowded store aisles in preparation with the result that shelves were emptied. Here we are, months down the road. Though some isolation still exists, many restrictions have been lifted. Some of the panic has abated and groceries are more abundant and easier to obtain. Yet, there is a heaviness that remains, partially from the recent increase in cases of the last few weeks that make us wonder what is next and whether we will ever beat this, but also from everything else that has transpired during this time – unrest in the streets, political divisiveness, along with the everyday disappointments and frustrations such as non-COVID illness and the loss of family members. Just think about how people who are fighting all these things on the frontlines might have heavy thoughts, heavy hearts, and how that is affecting their physical well-being.
My heaviness these last few days was having my laptop’s hard drive fail. Yes, I lost everything. Fortunately, I had a majority of files (but not everything) backed up on an external passport drive. My soul was initially oppressed, but I realized that it wasn’t the end of the world, and that if I continued to dwell on the misfortune, I would only make myself feel worse both emotionally and physically. I needed to realize that I am fortunate to have what I still have, not just a repaired laptop and some back-up, but all the other things that have made life more comfortable in recent months. More importantly, I have family and friends in whom I can confide, folks with whom I can laugh and cry, people who bring joy and balm for my soul. All of that, of course, comes to me by the grace of God, who is the great healer, the great provider, the one who watches over us, body and soul, every minute of the day.
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”Whatever we face, we know that we can lay our burdens down at the feet of Jesus and find rest for our souls. Such rest brings a time for the renewal and healing of not just our souls, but our bodies, as well. Take some time to give over to God whatever is weighing you down, knowing that God cares for you, loves you, and wants the best for you.
Almighty God, when we are heavy in heart, when our spirits are oppressed, help us to remember that we can cast our burdens on you. Let us also reach out to those around us in the giving and receiving of joy and consolation, for the people in our lives are all gifts of your grace. Amen.
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Saturday, July 25, 2020
Pause and sense God’s presence around you.
“For God is wholly present in all creation, in every corner, he is behind you and before you. Do you think he is sleeping on a pillow in heaven? He is watching over you and protecting you.”
Sometimes, in the face of challenges, tribulation, even what we might name evil in the world, it does not mean that God is not present. It might be difficult for us, as we see people dying or experiencing long-lasting effects of COVID-19, or people of color being oppressed or even killed at disturbing rates, or young people being victims of human trafficking, to believe that God is present.
God IS present, not only through that ethereal presence of the cosmos, but also in and through us, God’s agents of co-creation and change in and for the sake of the world that God loves. God does not sleep, but is behind and before us in everything that we do. God is watching over us and protecting us whether we are waking or sleeping. In all that we do, God is there. And so, it behooves us to be and do that which God is calling us to be and do, to step out in faith and assurance that God’s got our back.
Ever Present God, we often struggle to see you in our midst, especially during difficult times. Help us to trust, to have faith, to be assured that in all that we face, you are there. Be with us as your agents of justice and peace for the sake of the world. Amen
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Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Where do you see Jesus?
Faith and Love
“We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor.”
Luther understood that we were saved not by our own human works or merit, but only by God’s grace in faith through Jesus Christ. Faith is not something we can muster up, but rather is a gift that sprouts in us and brings us into relationship with God, with Christ. It is by this conduit of faith that we are empowered to do as Christ commands.
One of the things that Jesus commanded more than once was to love our neighbors. We do that by first seeing Christ in our neighbor. It can be difficult to do sometimes, because we may not like what our neighbor does or says, yet God, even when God doesn’t like what our neighbor does (just as when God doesn’t like some of the things we do) continues to love that one. It is then that we draw upon our faith and the grace God granted us to help us find that path to love. It is by faith that we are able to do works of love for all of our neighbors, for they are as Christ to us.
God of Love, it can be so difficult to love in the midst of such challenging times. Open our eyes to see others as you see them, your beloved creation. Let us see Christ in them. Help us through faith in you to reach out in love that positive change and healing might come to this world. Amen.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Take a moment to lay before God any burdens.
“This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.”
Grace – God’s free and unconditional love and mercy for us – is what allows us to do and be the created beings as God intended. From the fall in the garden, from that which we call original sin, it is only by God’s grace that we are saved. With all of our foibles and shortcomings, in all the ways that we have turned from God, God does not forsake us. God calls us to turn around, to turn back to God. God forgives us and keeps us in watchful care. With grace, we are free, then, to not just sit back in the darkness of all of our sin, but to come into the light of grace, to live in the assurance of God’s love for us no matter what.
It is in that freedom, that we can act. Grace isn’t, as Luther reminds us, something that is asleep in our soul. Grace should be the thing that drives us to share that same grace with those around us: in our listening without judging to those around us who are victims of injustice; to lead us in actions for the sake of those who are marginalized; to drive us in our advocacy; to draw us closer to God and to one another; to change our heart, minds and actions according to God’s will for us and the world. The world will be witness to God’s grace in what we say and do.
God of Grace, we give you thanks that you continue to love us and show us mercy in the presence of such brokenness in ourselves and in the world. Help us to act out of your grace for us that we might extend your grace, your love, your mercy to those around us. Amen.
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Sunday, July 19, 2020
What are you grasping tightly – things, thoughts, ideas?
In God’s Hands
“Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach."
It reminds me of the children’s song “I Am the Church.” One of the verses is: “The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place. The church is the people.” How true that has become in this time of a pandemic as it is not advisable to reenter our sanctuaries of wood and stone for the sake of the health of the people – the embodied church.
If we consider the early church, believers were on the move. They didn’t have large buildings where they expected people to show up at the door. Rather, they gathered in homes, or in the public spaces where people could see how they believed, lived, and taught. In Luther’s day, the newly invented printing press became instrumental in sharing his messages to others. In these days, the “public square” is experienced through technology. We need to be aware that people are still able to see how we believe, live and teach. That doesn’t take a building. In fact, unless people show up at the doors of a sanctuary, they wouldn’t witness such things any other way than by how we witness in public, whether in person “in the marketplace” or via the media public square.
While we are not meeting in person in the confines of four walls, we are still the church that has its witness. How are we making that evident? What are people seeing in us? What messages are they receiving? How can we still let people know what we believe in what we say, live and teach? How can we remain connected as a believing body? Many creative and gifted people have given us the means if only we would use them.
Almighty God, you have given us so many ways and means to share the Gospel, even when we can meet people in person – from writing cards and letters and sending them via snail mail, to making phone calls or having video gatherings. Help us to remember that in whatever we say or do, people will see our witness. May it be one that builds up rather than tears down. Amen.
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Saturday, July 18, 2020
What are you grasping tightly – things, thoughts, ideas?
In God’s Hands
“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess.
Think about the things in life that we have held onto with all of our might, for fear of losing them, only to have that happen in the end. Think about all of the things, the ways of life, the past practices that we have taken from us in the past months because of the pandemic. Think about all the things that changed, taking us out of our comfort zone. We have been challenged to let go of things to which we have been accustomed, ways that have defined our lives, even our white privilege in the face of the well-being of not just ourselves, but our brothers and sisters of the community, the country, the globe.
Yes, it has been difficult, frustrating, confusing, disappointing in so many ways. That is why, as Luther indicated, we need to put things into God’s hands, rely on God’s Holy Spirit to comfort us, to inspire us, to lead us, and to empower us to deal with the challenges of this time. In that way, that which is important will be sifted out. All the things that were important by our selfish standards may vanish, but the people, things, and ideas that are of priority by God’s intentions will remain. And then, we can be more truly settled in living out God’s purpose in and for our lives.
Lord God, help us to pray with open hands to release to you all that we may be gripping too tightly into your hands. Lead us and guide us by your Holy Spirit to also receive into our open hands all that you intend for us. Amen.
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Friday, July 17, 2020
On who/what would you stake your life?
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it one thousand times. This confidence in God's grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith.”
How difficult it is to have such confidence in someone or something that we would stake our very lives it. We might utter those words from time to time, “I’d bet my life on this/that.” But, when it came right down to the wire, would we really? Are there truly ideals or beliefs that we hold so dear, so firm that we could put our lives on the line for them? I’m not so certain that I can be so sure, at least for myself.
I think that is what very often gets us into trouble. We profess faith in God, we talk about living by God’s grace and God’s grace alone. Yet, how often do we tire of waiting on God for answers to prayers – answers according to our will – and take it upon ourselves, by our own efforts and desires to bring something about only to have it fail or disappoint? How often do we misplace our confidence in ourselves and the ways of the world, ignoring what God is calling us to be and do, only to end up unhappy or discouraged?
Luther reminds us that when we place our trust, our confidence in God’s grace, we find what we need to bring joy into our relationships with God and with others. If we let the Holy Spirit lead us and guide us, our words and actions for the sake of God’s intent for us and all creation will not be misspent.
Faithful God, even when our faith wavers, when we trust in ourselves more that we trust in you, we know that you do not forsake us. You remain ever present with us. Help us always to turn to you first in all matters with confidence in your grace and in the Spirit’s work in us and through us. Amen.
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Thursday, July 16, 2020
Where do you see Jesus?
Christ in Our Neighbor
"There are some of us who think to ourselves, 'If I had only been there! How quick I would have been to help the Baby. I would have washed His linen. How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!' Why don't we do it now? We have Christ in our neighbor.
I know that many places have Christmas in July celebrations or sales, so I thought that this was appropriate. We focus so heavily on Jesus in the presence of a baby at Christmas time. It is then that we celebrate The Incarnation, God taking on flesh and becoming one of us. It seems, however, that our attention to that incarnation wanes as the season passes and we get further on through the year.
Yet, Jesus talks about abiding in us, dwelling with/in us. If that is so, then he is right there before us all the time in the people who surround us – down the hall, across the street, in the market – wherever we go. If we would’ve cared for the Baby Jesus in love, meet him in the presence of lowly animals, even willing to change his dirty diapers, why is it so hard not to care for so many of our neighbors in the same way, especially those who are marginalized, those who are oppressed? Christ is still incarnate, living and walking with us and among us.
Heavenly Father, we give thanks that you sent your son to take on flesh, to become human, to be one of us. Help us to recognize his presence in our midst, in our brothers and sisters with whom we share this planet, that we might serve them as we would serve Jesus himself as he walked the earth. Amen.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Ponder all the things that you have learned in your life and how your learned them.
What Do You Know? What Do You Do?
"It's not what I don't know that bothers me - it's what I do know and don't do!"
What I don’t know can still bother us, but I think that Luther makes a good point. It should bother us more, perhaps, that we can know something – what’s appropriate, what’s just, what’s good, what’s necessary – and not do it.
It has been interesting in conversations with colleagues with regards to the issues topping the list in our world today – racism, COVID-19, criminal justice, white privilege, just to name a few – as we try to determine what to say or do that will be helpful, that would make a difference. There are all kinds of resources that we can watch or listen to or read that will give us information about the issues or share the stories about those are most gravely impacted. But that’s just the start. It is indeed necessary to learn, to become more knowledgeable, but to what end? What will we do with that knowledge? Knowing carries responsibility. How will it affect our actions? Will we even take action? What will we do that will make a difference?
All Encompassing God, there is so much that we don’tunderstand in this world and things that we simply don’t know. Give us the yearning for learning. Help us to wonder and question, to seek knowledge. Then, when we are graced with that knowledge, help us to use what we learn by taking action. Lead us and guide us by your Holy Spirit. Amen.