Trauma

Eastertide
April 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ –Luke 24:13-18

The experience of trauma imprints a permanent memory, which we sometimes erase from our consciousness often to have it reappear when least expected known as post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Soldiers are all too well acquainted with it but those of us on the news periphery know it also. Where were you when Kennedy was shot or for the younger set on 9/11?

I was sitting at my desk at the State Capitol Sequoyah Office Building some 20 blocks from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office building on April 19, 1995 where the now dubbed Oklahoma City Bombing occurred. I honestly did not feel the shake of the building in my office but as if a conductor brought down a baton coordinating the playing of a first note, all the staff outside my office jumped up from their desks and cried out, “What was that?” None of our lives were ever the same again. Radios and TVs were immediately turned on and the horrid scene of a building destroyed appeared. A call went out for blood donors particularly for those of us with O- type. I ran to my car and drove to the closest donor center only to find a line two blocks long. The radio announced another one opening close by and the line was long there too but I joined it. It is beyond my imagination how the people of Syria and surrounding nations deal with such events daily with few resources left to help, not even enough time to bury their dead.

I also have trouble imaging rows of people hanging on crosses just outside my city executed for failure to follow the Roman rules. Some were no doubt what we might classify as criminals today. Others were just in the government’s way. Rome provided peace through violence; something we continue to practice today. Crucifixion was disconcerting on any day, disaster when the one on the cross was not only loved, but was also deemed the source of salvation for all.

The road to Emmaus represents the path we all choose to take once an immediate trauma concludes. How it impacts are lives and how open we are to seeking good after evil determines our futures and the futures of all we are called to love.

Prayer: Lord, as we travel toward Pentecost walk with us even when we do not recognize you. Kindle in our hearts the fire to purge evil from ruling us and fill us with your love as our source of strength. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Imperishable Love

Eastertide
April 27, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23

Through [Jesus] you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. –1 Peter 1:21-23

I saw a news report recently regarding the storage and care of ancient crop seeds so that their contributions to our society will not be lost. Apparently, scientists are working to take from them the natural goodness of the taste and find a way to meld those properties with the stamina and disease and insect resistance of our modern vegetables and fruits. I recently bought some slicing tomatoes that tasted much like the tomatoes of my childhood grown on our farm under the tender care of my mother. Trust me there is a big difference.

Just living in our world requires us to adapt our ways of being to survive and thrive. It can get out of hand when the push to success becomes our only purpose. I believe that God gave us brains to use and God rejoices with us when we use them wisely for the betterment of the world and all that is in it. From creating music to ending wars, we are blessed with much potential. The gift of the spirit is like the melding of those ancient seeds with our progress making our outcomes align with God’s purposes.

Prayer: Lord plant the Spirit’s seed in every aspect of our lives so that we may taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8) Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

O Love that Will Not Let Me Go

Eastertide
April 26, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. –1 Peter 1:17-20

If God is an impartial judge what are God’s expectations for us? Are our ways in sync with God’s? Do we ascribe high priorities to the same things God does? The Hebrew Bible tells us that the Israelites routinely fell into bad habits of placing priorities on things that did not matter while letting slip the things that did. Idol worship was offensive to God where God’s people were putting their trust in carved images. We think we are way past that sort of nonsense, but are we really? Where do we place our trust? Certainly, accumulation of wealth seems a source of salvation in our society. Power is another. Neither are guaranteed even in our own time much less for eternity.

God apparently thought we needed help in sorting out our priorities and sent Jesus to live among us, one human being modeling being human for the rest of us. He simplified priorities by having only two: loving God and loving each other with no strings attached, no tests for us to administer to determine who deserves either God’s love or ours. The job of judging was reserved for God only.

Loving God and loving each other is an impossible task for humans unless we are plugged into our relationship with God. We might tiptoe around the edges of truly loving another but all others, I doubt it. The potential for loving all others is in every human as we are each made in the image of God who is love. God can and will enable our ability to love like Jesus, when we open ourselves to the fullness of God’s love.  Let it be so.

Prayer:
O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.* Amen

*First verse of O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go by George Matheson (1882) see at http://hymnary.org/text/o_love_that_wilt_not_let_me_go

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

How Do We Love God?

Eastertide
April 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

What shall I return to the Lord
   for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
   in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord
   is the death of his faithful ones. –Psalm 116:12-15

We are called, commanded to love the Lord. How do we love God? The Psalmist guides us in loving God. Thanksgiving is always a good place to start. A toast is offered in God’s name to recognize the gift of God’s abiding love. I am a terrible card sender. I have a drawer full of cards I have purchased for people special to me that I have yet to send to anyone. But the lesson of sharing thanksgiving is not one to be ignored.

Keeping our commitments to God is another way of expressing our love for the Lord. What vows have we made to God? Worshiping and following God is always a choice. That may come as a surprise to some whose concept of God stems from others trying to cram faith down their throats choking them from knowing a loving Sovereign.  When we choose to accept Christ as our Savior we commit to a life-changing way of being. Some of us have taken the additional step of committing our lives to full-time Christian service as a means of loving God. Many exchange wedding vows before God to solidify the sacredness of the institution of marriage. Parents dedicate their lives to taking on one of the most important jobs anyone can have raising new generations of God’s children.

I recently attended the memorial service for one who indeed was a good and faithful servant. I thought of my own mother as I listened to the service. My mother died at the age of 98. She had served as a Deaconess in the Methodist Church during the depression in the mountains of West Virginia working with people in abject poverty before she met and married my father and raised three children. Even then her church work continued, teaching Sunday school, serving as secretary of the board, working with the quilters. She, unlike her youngest daughter, was an excellent card-sender. She spent the last year of her life unable to walk in a nursing home but her ministry continued as she prayed for everything and everyone.

The Psalmist says loving God is through thanksgiving, promise keeping, and loving others. It is a simple formula but tried and true.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for saving our souls, let your love poor through us as we keep our commitments to you loving others all along the way. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Discerning Christ among Us

Eastertide
April 24, 2017

Scripture Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. –Acts 2:36-38

Hindsight often abbreviates memory. Acts was probably written in the 80’s CE following the fall of the temple around 70 CE. Some 20 to 30 years earlier Paul wrote extensively about his work mediating the issues of integrating the idea of Jesus as Messiah into the mainstream of Judaism while taking on the task of spreading that same news to the gentile world. By the time of the writing of Acts, Christianity was a separate religion with strong reliance on Judaism as its parent faith. Paul seemed to remain a good practicing Jew throughout his life. The writer of Acts, presumed to be Luke as identified, was Christian. With one sentence, one verse, Luke sums up several years of history with, as he states, certainty. Peter is the speaker in our scripture today. He was most likely martyred about the same time as Paul in the early 60’s CE. In this presentation, Peter appears to have transitioned to the new faith by the Pentecost immediately following the resurrection.

As we struggle with being church today, we should remember that since its beginning, leaders and followers met barriers or cultural norms that had to be addressed to fulfill the calling to be the Body of Christ in the world. These are normal in all aspects of life and our most important task is keeping our purpose of being the Body of Christ foremost so that dealing with issues remain means to the end rather than the end itself. I fear we get so caught up in what divides us, we, at times, lose the bigger picture.

Prayer: Lord, help us as the church universal identify the things on which we can agree and work diligently toward their fulfillment. Where we disagree, guide our discernment to find common ground. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Doubt to Faith

Eastertide
April 23, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-31

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
–John 20:24-31

Thomas was the one disciple who voluntarily committed to traveling with Jesus to Bethany to deal with Lazarus’ health issues. The disciples were cognizant of the fact that such a trip could result in Jesus’ death. Thomas essentially said let us go and die with him. Thomas’ commitment was not questionable.

I wonder why Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus made his first visit after his resurrection. Did Thomas just need some alone time? Perhaps he was somehow estranged from the others because he had supported Jesus’ decision to travel to Bethany. Maybe he had been sent to buy groceries. Nor do we know why he insisted on concrete proof of the disciples’ claim of seeing Jesus alive.

How do we think we would have responded in a similar situation? Is Christ alive in our lives
today? What does that mean? How does it impact our way of being? Tradition tells us that Thomas went forth as an apostle to the people of India, establishing the Christian religion there very early in its development. He did go into all the world and he did make disciples.

Prayer: God of Love thank you for taking us as we are and molding us in discipleship. Amen

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

A New Thing

Eastertide
April 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ –John:19-23

For fear of the Jews, the disciples huddled behind closed doors not knowing what else to do absent their leader. I must say it is hard for me to image being afraid of the people with whom I have worshiped all my life. I think of Muslims dealing with groups such as ISIS. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer walking toward the gallows. I think how divided Christians are today and wonder could we be headed down this same path.

Even amid very real fear, Jesus calls and empowers us to continue his ministry. Sent is a key word here. We are not called to an enclosed locked-down hiding place. We are called to go forth into the world loving God and loving the way Jesus loved as our primary mission. Yes, it is important and necessary that we share our ministry in a loving community of faith that nurtures and trains us for ministry. Such a place is not an end unto itself but the means to the end of initiating and building the Kingdom of God in our world today.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is key to the success of our mission. We may have differing tasks. There are many ways to show love. Some provide food, some feed the hungry. Some who have recovered from alcohol or drug addiction mentor those trying to free themselves from addiction’s slavery. Others provide a caring, safe environment for the receipt of treatment. Some advocate for restorative justice. Others provide preschools to break the pipeline to prison.

I cannot image the Holy Spirit giving divisive guidance to those who have chosen to follow Christ. We need to find the things on which we agreed and divvy up the work according to our skills and resources. When we are out of sync with each other, we are most likely out of sync with the Spirit. In such situations, rather than trying to win battles against each other, we must turn to God, ask for forgiveness, and seek the Spirit’s guidance in doing a new thing.

“I will do a new thing in you;
I will do a new thing in you;
Whatever you ask for, whatever you pray for,
nothing shall be denied.”
saith the Lord; saith the Lord!* (See Isaiah 43:19)

Prayer: Lord forgive us when we get so caught up in being right that we become wrong in our love. Do a new thing in us. Amen.

*I will do a New Thing in You by Audrey Byrd see at http://www.hymnary.org/person/Byrd_Audrey

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Christ Revealed

Eastertide
April 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. –1 Peter 1:6-9

William Shakespeare in the Tempest included a line “What’s past is prologue.” The past talked about in the play led to murder. Jesus understood the certainty of his own crucifixion just as he understood that critical event forever reshaped the past and thus changed the prologue. Life is difficult but with faith fed by hope and love, we now know the inevitable link between negative pasts predicting negative futures can and is severed by the extraordinary love of God through Jesus Christ.

When is Jesus Christ revealed? The phrase from our scripture today could be read to mean sometime in the future. I believe it means that future is unfolding now. The woman who stood in the church, designed to serve inner-city homeless, reporting she had been sober for two days revealed Christ at work. The child who donates his stuffed toy as a gift for children in harm’s way is Christ revealed. The water well drilled in the Congo to assure safe, accessible water for a community is Christ revealed. The provision of steel toed boots to enable homeless, unemployed persons to work is Christ revealed. Food delivered to the elderly and disabled home-bound is Christ revealed. The child being tutored whose parents cannot read English is Christ revealed.

The salvation of our souls is achieved when we are made whole through Christ revealed today, tomorrow, and through eternity.

Prayer: Lord help us to see you in all that we do and say. Guide us in helping others know the wondrous nature of your gift of grace. Make us whole, make us one. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

New Birth in Christ

Eastertide
April 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. –1 Peter 1:3-5

I wear a fitness bracelet designed to make me aware of how much exercise I get each day and how much sleep I get with options of also recording how much food I eat and how much water I drink. It is helpful, particularly for one who does not come by exercise naturally. Last night I went to bed about 11:00 pm. This morning my bracelet tells me I went to sleep at 12:13 am. I have no clue how it knows these things, but the minute my head met my pillow my brain started racing through several things that were bothering me most over which I had little or no control except how they affected me. The bracelet was probably right; I lost over an hour of sleep stewing. It made me wonder how one could develop a spiritual fitness measurement tool.

As with physical fitness so also in spiritual fitness keeping our bodies well nurtured and awash in the cleansing power of the spirit is essential. Practicing routinely the spiritual disciplines of study, prayer, service, and worship among others prepares us well for what life throws at us. Nothing surpasses the love of God in the gift of God’s son Lord Jesus Christ who is able and willing to give us newness of life whenever we seek it.

Prayer:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen. (Psalm 139:23-24)

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Bound by Joy

Eastertide
April 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 16

 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
   my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
   or let your faithful one see the Pit.

 You show me the path of life.
   In your presence there is fullness of joy;
   in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
–Psalm 16:5-11

Many times, when I set out to write these devotions, I read the scripture for the day and think, “That about says it all. What more can I add?” Today is such a day. Of course, thinking that doesn’t stop me from trying to say more.

First, the stories of God found in the Bible including in its poetry, tell of one who wants to be chosen. God never forces God’s self on anyone even knowing that having a relationship with God is the best thing that could happen to anyone.

Second, the boundaries God provides for our protection are bountiful in opportunity. God created each of us with skills and talents but allows us to pursue our hearts desires within a wide spectrum of good options. Why are we always looking over the fence to see what we are missing and fail to see what is abundantly near at hand?

Finally, God prioritizes life with joy. Where do we find delight in life within the boundaries of God’s love? Those are the areas for our concentration. God is not a God of drudgery. God is Lord of the Dance. Any dancer will tell us that a lot of hard work goes into his or her performance but nothing replaces the joy of the dance that results.

Prayer: Lord, guide me to the well of joy planted deep in my heart. Help me to hone it and make it a source of joy for others. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.