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Showing posts from March, 2024

Easter 2024 - "He Appeared Also To Me"

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Well, it's Easter, how about that? We should do the Presbyterian Easter Cheer---He is Risen! (He is Risen, Indeed!) Presbyterians cheering---that's something that only happens on special occasions, am I right? You should take a picture.  First, I want to acknowledge the story we tell today because I'm not preaching from that story today, but I will discuss resurrection a lot.   The story so far...  There's a reason we tell this story over and over. We need to hear it, be reminded of the stories that define our faith tradition, and constantly read them with fresh eyes.  Resurrection---it's an impossible thing.  This aspect of the Christian faith really hangs up some people. Many things hang people up, but this one is pretty big because it's the central thing that those of us who call ourselves Christians claim is foundational.   The idea that someone could be dead for three days and then rise again is kind of impossible.  Or is it?  Think about it: a universal rh

Holy Saturday

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Today's lectionary text comes to us from Lamentations chapter 3:1-20, which reads:   3:1 I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God's wrath; 3:2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; 3:3 against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. 3:4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; 3:5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; 3:6 he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. 3:7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; 3:8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; 3:9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. 3:19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! 3:20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me... It's Holy Saturday.  This is the day Christians have spent imagining, wondering... and waiting throughout the ages.   We imagine and w

God's Friday

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Today is Good Friday, the day that Christians worldwide commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus. It's also known as Great Friday, Holy Friday, and even, in some contexts, Black Friday.  It's believed that the name "Good Friday" is a derivation from the Middle English term "God's Friday," just as the word "goodbye" is a derivation from the phrase "God be with you."  On this day, as I read through the Gospel narratives of Jesus' Passion, I am always struck by the way Pontius Pilate reacts to Jesus being brought to him by certain members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council.   He vacillates back and forth between the loathing that he feels for having to placate the Jewish religious leaders and his desire to just keep the peace during Passover.  Pilate's position was delicate. Tiberius Caesar cared only that the goods and money the Roman Empire was plundering from Judea kept flowing back to Rome.   Anything prohibiti

Maundy Thursday

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  "When they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take this is my body." Then he took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.  He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."  - Mark 14:22-24 Today is Maundy Thursday. We call it "Maundy" Thursday because the ancient church mothers and fathers connected it to Jesus' "mandate" to his disciples on this day of Holy Week: "Love one another as I have loved you."   This is also the day we remember Jesus celebrating Passover with his closest friends--what Christians call "The Last Supper."   Jesus loved a good party.   If you read through the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, you will find that in every other chapter, he's sitting down to dinner with one group of people or another.   As he gathered with the twelve disciples on T

Betrayal

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Today is Holy Wednesday, also known in the historic Church as Spy Wednesday, Good Wednesday, or Great Wednesday.  For centuries this has been the day that Christians commemorate Judas' conspiring with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus and turn him over to them to be arrested.   In John's Gospel, it seems that Judas' betrayal is connected to his being a dishonest, shifty person, who kept the money for the group but skimmed off of it for his own gain.  This claim is not corroborated in any of the other Gospel accounts.  In fact, in Luke's Gospel, the narrator declares that "Satan entered Judas," who agreed with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for money.   Interestingly, the first-century Christian text The Gospel of Judas paints him as a hero of sorts--the only disciple who was willing to take on the impossible task of initiating the Passion of Jesus by what appeared to be a betrayal.  The first-century Christians who adhered to The Gospel of Judas believed that when

Render Unto

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According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus on Tuesday of Holy Week, religious and political leaders came together to try and trick Jesus with a slippery question.  They asked Jesus "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?"   If Jesus had answered "No," they would have reported him to the authorities for sedition.  If Jesus had answered "Yes," he would have been discredited in the eyes of the common people, who flocked to hear him speak.   Instead, Jesus asked them to bring him a Roman coin that was stamped with Caesar's image.  He took the coin, and then asked, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They replied, "The emperor's."   Then Jesus said, "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar and to God the things that are God's."   This response forces the crowd to ask two follow-up questions.   The first question would have been,  "What belongs to God?"  And the answer for Jesus and many of the peopl

Extravagant

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A version of this Devo was published in 2016, but it feels right to edit it up a bit and share it once again.  As we enter Holy Week, I want to highlight a passage of Scripture that is part of the story of Jesus' week of Passion, a story marked by extravagant sacrifice.   12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 12:5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 12:7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. - John 12:3-5- This story from the Gospel of John is found in all four Gospel accounts, with slight variations.  In each story, Jesus is at a dinner party, and a woman (named only in John's account) enters the room, pours expensive perfume on J

Palm Sunday 2024 - "Save Us Now!"

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Today is Palm Sunday---the beginning of Holy Week and the day we celebrate Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.   We celebrate unusually: We unleash a bunch of kids waving palms into the sanctuary while we belt out celebratory songs at the top of our lungs. All the while, we try to keep from having some overexuberant, palm-waving kid poke our eyes out... or at the very least give us a nice lashing on the cheek.   Can you imagine if someone walked into a church for the very first time on Palm Sunday? What do you think they would make of all of this? I imagine that they would have a few questions, don't you?  The first would be, "What in the world is this????"   And then the second one would be:  "Is this some sort of cult? Am I going to be forced to wear robes, sell my house, and live in a commune of some kind if I start hanging out with these people? I mean, they seem normal enough outside of the crazy palm waving and the singing---Ouch! That kid almost put my

The Tree Of The Year

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For the third year, a Polish tree has taken the No. 1 spot in the European Tree of the Year contest. The 200-year-old common beech pictured below stands at the center of the botanical garden at the University of Wroclaw in Wrocław, Poland. It’s aptly named “The Heart of the Garden.” There are so many things that I want to say about this.  I'll begin with the first question I asked when I read about this:  "You're telling me that there is a "European Tree of the Year Contest?"   Yes, that is exactly right.  Each year, all European countries submit entries of individual native trees to be considered for the contest.  And for the third year in a row, Poland's entries have won.  This year's finalists included a massive Weeping Beech from France and an olive tree from Italy estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old.   You should also know that this isn't just a beauty contest because the organizers of this annual event are also very interested in t

The State of Christianity vs. Jesus

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I've been more than grieved about the state of the Christian Church in the US for quite some time, but it seems that lately, my grief has turned into what can only described as righteous anger.   Fr. Richard Rohr wrote about righteous anger this way:  Anger is good and very necessary to protect appropriate boundaries of self and others. So, with this in mind, and from a place of righteous anger, I've got a message for Christians worth sharing.   And the message is simply this:  Suppose Jesus showed up today, preaching the messages he preached (the ones found in the Gospels of the New Testament). If that happened, the majority of Christianity would denounce him as a radical and summarily dismiss him.  To put it another way, in the words of songwriter Todd Agnew:  Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet This message is true for Christians drawn into a form of Christianity that has lost the plot regarding following

God Chose You

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Sometimes, I get a feeling when I sense God's presence in my life, which is pretty often if I am paying attention and my awareness is not being clouded by worry or busyness.   It's a feeling that somehow I am seen and known, and I also have another feeling that is more difficult to articulate: the feeling of being chosen.  I don't mean "chosen" in the sense that I am somehow more special than anyone else, but that I have been claimed by God in some way that is beyond me, and that chosenness is simply a by-product of a love I can't understand.  Each of us has that claim upon us, whether we choose to believe it or not.   Many of us struggle to understand what it means that God chooses us and is for us, not against us.   Sadly, some of us struggle with this our whole lives.  We never fully realize how much we are loved by a God whose very essence is love and who, through love, chooses us repeatedly.   There's this beautiful line from Kristin White's book

Reading The Bible Critically

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One of my seminary professors told us about a time when he guest-preached at a small, rural church as a favor for a friend.   When he read the Scripture for his sermon, he used his Greek New Testament, which he translated directly from the original Greek.  After the service, he was approached by several of the agitated church elders.   "What version of the Bible were you reading from?" they angrily demanded.  "We only use the King James Version of the Bible in our church!"  He patiently showed them his New Testament and explained that he translated it from the original language on the fly, but they were not mollified.   One of them said, "If you ever preach here again, make sure you use the right interpretation."   Of course, this begs the question, "What is the right  interpretation of the Bible?" I don't have the space in a Daily Devo to address that question entirely, but suffice it to say that whichever interpretation is closest to the an

Signs and Wonders - Week Four: "The Verse After THE Verse"

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The Season of Lent  The Scriptures help us paint a picture of Lent filled with signs and wonders for those willing to see them.  They help tell the story of how far God is willing to go to rescue those whom God loves.   This is the Fourth Sunday of Lent  We will read a passage that includes the most famous verse in the New Testament and why the next verse should be more famous.  Roadside Christian Signs—the good, the bad and the ugly Images of Roadside Signs with Christian-y Declarations But there’s one reference that gets more play… and that's John 3:16.  We find it being waved in sports stadiums, plastered on buildings, even athletes put the verse on their body.   The question that we will be asking today is:  If all you had was John 3:16—would that be enough to tell the whole story? In the passage we're reading today, Jesus tells a religious leader that to fully experience the kingdom of God, he needs to be "born again."   Being “born again” - how that can be probl

Beauty Can Save The World

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Did you know that a little bit of paint, some fantastic creativity, and community investment can transform roads and make them safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers?   Well, the Asphalt Art Initiative has done just that in cities across the U.S.  The Asphalt Art Initiative was created in 2020 by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Within its first year,  it helped cover “nearly 86,500 square feet of streets with artwork in 16 [U.S.] cities,” according to a news release by the City of East Providence, Rhode Island. It’s since expanded its grant program, and has now supported a total of 64 art projects in U.S. and European cities. So, what is the Asphalt Art Initiative?  It's best to simply show some examples:  How does a mural on the pavement affect traffic safety?  That's an excellent question, and it has a data-driven answer.   The Asphalt Art Initiative recently published a study it commissioned to determine the difference in crashes and accidents before the murals were put in p

Being An Evangelist For The Right Reasons

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I've been thinking a lot lately about the state of the Church in the U.S., which is what you do when you're a pastor. I've read many books and articles about the decline of the Church in the U.S., which probably isn't good for my mental health.  Honestly, it keeps me up at night sometimes to think about it.  The news could definitely be better.  I recently attended a governing body meeting that I serve on as a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister. There was much discussion about the future of the Church and declining attendance, membership, and engagement.  The vast majority of the church leaders gathered there that day lead churches with less than 100 members and less than 50 people in worship each Sunday. I discovered that one pastor in a discussion group with me had maybe two members left in her church.  A few years ago, a study revealed that over 4,000 churches close their doors yearly. That number is about to go up.   Even the so-called mega-churches are feeling the