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Devotion for Holy Monday

March 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Luke 22:54-65

Do we identify with Peter in this story?  I know I do.

And there always seems to be someone standing around to call us on it, too.  “What a Christian you are!”

Peter may well have stood up to the likes of the Spanish Inquisition that night but folded in the firelight of the wee hours under the questioning of a serving girl.  And isn’t that how it goes?  You don’t want to be seen as a religious fanatic.

How do you pray after an experience like that?  How do you see yourself?

Here’s a start, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  It’s a way to return and a way to deny what you just made of yourself.

And the shame we feel?  Jesus knows it.  He was shamed, mocked, and scorned, for being who he truly ways, a true prophet.

One of the things noted by comparative religion scholars is that the Bible as a whole, and the Gospels in particular, are very clear about the shortcomings of the “heroes” whether it’s Abraham, Moses, and David or Peter, James and John, and Paul.

Jesus brings His strength into the midst of our weakness.  Thanks be to God!

 

 

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Devotion for Thursday in Lent 5

March 17, 2016 Leave a comment

Luke 20

Some folks are surprised that we know as little as we do about these groups, the Pharisees, zealots, Essenes, and such.  For most of them, their writings have not survived, (or we haven’t found them yet).  And the truth is, what we know about them comes from writers who we know were clearly in opposition against them.  The Sadducees often get lumped in with the rest of the list of Jesus’ opponents but they were a different group of folks.

Their name comes from the first Biblical word study I ever did, Saddiq meaning “righteous.”  They seem to have strong connections to the Judean aristocracy and links to the families of the high priests in Israel at the time but they are not synonymous.  They did seem to be the kind of folks that gained influence by saddling alongside the rulers of the day in Jerusalem, whether with the Hasmoneans in the centuries before Jesus or Herrods in the time of Jesus.

We can safely say that they did not believe in the resurrection of the body, like we currently do, (see the Apostles’ Creed) but this may be something of a philosophical difference between them and other Jewish groups at the time and not really a defining characteristic.  Regardless, it’s this issue that they take to Jesus.  But notice how they take it to Jesus, with this absurd story about this woman who’s married seven brothers.

They had used this argument to the point of absurdity, to say that the resurrection couldn’t be what people believed it was because it would be a mess of relationships created on this side of eternity and continued on the other side.

Jesus seems to give them one of the straightest answers He gives anyone.  There is a resurrection, your hero Moses taught it.  God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the living, not the dead.  “And they dared not ask Him any more of their [absurd] questions.

People have been doing this for centuries.  Is God all powerful?  Well then, can He create a rock that is so big He can’t lift it?  That’s an absurd argument.  It becomes logically false in its absurdity.  It’s always okay to have questions, even questions that reason or even revelation do not resolve for us.  But we should be wary of the source of these questions.  If they strike at the heart of faith, we are back in the garden with the serpent whispering to us, “Did God really say…?”   God has really spoken.  Not everything but enough to cover the big questions.  One of the biggest, “Is there anything for us after death?”

“Yes,” says Jesus.  “And you’re not going to want to miss it.”

 

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Devotion for Weds in Lent 5

March 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Luke 19

I just preached on the Zacchaeus story recently.  I never had and it was good to see Jesus at work in the life of such a now-former scoundrel.

I guess one of the things that has really settled in my mind while reading Luke this Lenten season is how much of a real challenge Jesus is.  There’s more here than we hear in any given sermon, on any given Sunday.  Jesus has room in the kingdom for Zacchaeus.

To put myself in that story, I find it difficult to see myself as Zacchaeus but much easier to see myself as one of those criticizing him, if I’m being honest.

Where do you see yourself in this story?

 

 

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Devotion for Tuesday in Lent 5

March 15, 2016 Leave a comment

Luke 18

Here’s the catch.  We don’t get any credit from God for doing what we do.  Being kind, paying taxes, praying for others.  We don’t.

And it seems like the folks who live a hard life, you know the ones, they get all the breaks from God.  Sins forgiven, you know the rest.

What’s to keep a person going.

Think of this poor guy who goes to the temple and prays, “Lord, you know I’ve always tried to live the best, most honorable life I could.”  And he’s the bad guy?

“Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.”  It’s not the first phrase that immediately jumps to my lips when I pray.  But it helps us to see that it’s not about us.  It’s about the free gift of Jesus.

Maybe meditating on those words, helps to slow the mind, and dull the pride, and see more clearly what Jesus has done.  That’s what it’s all about.

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Devotion for Monday in Lent 5

March 14, 2016 Leave a comment

Luke 17

Do you reckon these lepers that approach Jesus knew He had previously touched another leper and even healed him?  (Mk 1:40)  If so, it’s no  wonder they rush at Him begging Him to heal them.

And remember also, healing lepers is one of the signs of the kingdom of God, that Jesus is the bringer of the kingdom.  (Lk 7:22)

Do we recognize the kingdom of God come?  Do we see it one another gathered at the communion rail or while singing a hymn, hearing the Gospel preached?  Do we have eyes to see it?

Full disclosure:  In case you’ve never picked up on this in my preaching or teaching, I believe it is very difficult for many people to see the kingdom of God.  It is not found in the blind tradition of the liturgy, although it is in what has been passed on to us.  It is not found merely in volunteering, although it is hidden under the burdens we bear for one another.  It is not found in the ecstasy of the charismatics, although the Spirit of God brings it via the Word.  It’s not found in the architecture of buildings, although it resides and abides where the Word is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered rightly.  For years, (even after I was ordained!)  I never saw it.  I have only just begun to see glimpses of it.  And it has has transformed what I see and what I think is valuable in the church at in our homes.

Wherever there is faith in the midst of doubt, wherever there is trust in the midst of weakness, wherever there is a cry to God for help, there is a glimpse of the kingdom of God.  Jesus brings it.  We respond to it in thankfulness.

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Devotion for Friday in Lent 4

March 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Luke 16

The parable of the dishonest manager is not your typical parable.  Jesus seems to be advocating situational ethics!  So what’s really going on here?

Remember Jesus was first speaking to the people of first century Palestine.  To the people who heard this story had in mind God and Israel when they heard about this landowner and his property manager.  Israel had been God’s steward through the bloodline of Abraham.  But God is still moving ahead with His plan, as He always intended.  Israel needs to be faithful to the God’s intent.  If they are not faithful to God’s intent, they cannot presume to be God’s beloved property manager forever.  But Jesus may have meant to turn that view upside down making Himself the property manager and Israel the landowner.  I take this view because it helps to explain Jesus commending the otherwise unethical actions of the property manager.  Let me try to explain.

The steward is knocking off the bills of these debtors the amounts of interest typically charged by money lenders of the day.  But remember, lending at interested is forbidden to Jews, and so it looks like this landowner has been making shady deals.  This steward seems to have to have found a way to make friends and put his unethical boss in a position where he could not complain without admitting to doing something he shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.  This manager was about to get fired but he was shrewd and made friends.

It’s not crystal clear and Jesus doesn’t stop to explain this one privately to His disciples but that’s the best take I’ve been able to work out.  We should be like the shrewd manager, yes.  But we should also not be like the unscrupulous landowner, either.

There will be a reckoning, a final accounting.  Jesus offers up a primary and secondary example of judgment with the story about Lazarus and the Rich Man.  You don’t want to be like the Rich Man.

Do we recognize that God has given us what we have.  All of it?  And are we doing what we should be doing with what God has given us?  What about the poor like this Lazarus?  How to help them should be a challenge to us.  It is to me and the more I listen to Jesus the more my attitude changes.

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Devotion for Thursday in Lent 4

March 10, 2016 Leave a comment

Luke 15

Lost sheep, lost coin, lost son

Again, seeing them all in a row and not stretched over two Sundays, do you see the intensity of the seeking shepherd, diligent woman, waiting father?

I doubt there was anything special about the coin that was lost except that it was a coin.  The same with the sheep.  They were simply lost.  The son, well, he’s family, even if he would prefer his father to be dead (that’s the only way one gets inheritance).  So we could say there was nothing that made him especially worthy of being saved.

No, these three parables show the nature of God who seeks to save.  Jesus tells these “parables” (literally para=alongside, bole=throw).  We always take about parables being stories with a central element that explain an aspect of the kingdom of God.  But pastor and author Eugene Peterson, explains them differently.  He says, Jesus is is speaking from an angle, from a slant, to say the kinds of things that need saying, but can’t be said straight on.  As a people, I don’t think, we don’t much care for parables. We like straight talk and people that “tell it like it is”, right?  Teachers that show up throwing verbal curve balls are unsettling.

Of course the other aspect of all three of these stories is the sheer delight in each of the three people when they find what they seek.  Make no mistake.  These are not parables about how we should seek.  Jesus is trying to tell us what great joy there is when a lost one is found.  Each of us was a lost sheep, lost coin, a lost son.  We have been found, to the great joy of Him who found us.  Our task is to delight in the searching, welcoming love of our God and let it transform us.

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