Archive for April, 2009

Monday, April 6th

April 6, 2009

Greetings,

I didn’t write a devotion for today.  I’m realizing that this will be a very mixed week for me and for a lot of other people.  Easter Sunday will be my last Sunday in the pulpit of the congregation that has consumed my thoughts, heart and life for the past 15 years.  Given that many of you have been reading the daily devotions for a long time, and you have heard much about my personal life in them, I feel free to tell you that the grief I am feeling has become an ever heavier weight.

I’ve known for some time that my ministry at Covenant would one day end.  But I never imagined what that ending would be like.  There are moments when I’m able to see the good that has been done here, the hand of God blessing us and helping us through, faith that has grown and people who have been well served – but those moments are too often drowned out by my awareness of mistakes I’ve made, time I’ve wasted, leadership needs I wasn’t able to provide, opportunities that were squandered and relationships that were wounded or broken.  Leaving is like a little death, there is so much that can’t be undone or redone and there are now no more second chances.

Covenant Lutheran Church will do fine.  I think my leaving now will prove to be the best exercise of leadership I could do at this stage of the congregation’s life.  My prayer is that the congregation rallies together, the machinery of the larger Church comes alongside them as they discern their future, and that the office of Senior Pastor is filled with just the right person to help Covenant move forward in mission.

I share all of this with you, my electronic congregation of friends, so that you will understand why I won’t be writing devotions for awhile.  I sat at a blank keyboard for a long time this morning, full of the emptiness one feels when they have nothing at all to offer or say.  Writing devotions has been a part of the rhythm of my life, which means the rhythm of my ministry at Covenant, since 1997.  I need some time to adjust to the new rhythms that lie ahead.

I fully intend to resume writing once I get a sense of how my new position will feel.  It represents a new way of doing ministry for me, and that is going to mean a new way of hearing the Bible speak.  I need to live into those changes for a bit without the daily expectation of writing devotions.  Just give me some time and we’ll be back on track.

For now the best thing you can do in our devotions partnership is to pray.  My prayer is that the Spirit of healing and encouragement comes to touch us – all of us – in a powerful  and life-giving way as we move through the memories and meanings of Holy Week.

 

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Friday, April 3rd

April 3, 2009

“He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”  He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;  yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Mark 4:26-32

 

Oh, if it were only so simple…

 

When Jesus tells his stories of seeds growing in the earth, he draws from universal images that cross every culture.  Wherever people gather, seeds and dirt come together to produce that which keeps life moving.  It is ever a mystery.

 

But dirt does far more than that.  It not only feeds us, it also defines us.  Far beyond the practical fruits of cultivation, there are other roots that reach deeply into the earth as well.

 

I grew up in the land of rich loam soil.  For thousands of years, the rhythms of life included tall prairie grasses growing, sometimes burning and always dying.  Throw in an appearance as the bottom of one of the largest pre-historic freshwater lakes in the world, and a deep rich topsoil is born.  It was dirt that smelled good.  It was dirt that tasted good.  It was dirt that not only fed us, it defined us as people rooted to the land.

 

People rooted to the land.

 

I remember well the images of American prisoners of war walking down steps from the bellies of the airplanes that brought them home from years of captivity.  I remember seeing them fall to their knees and kiss the ground – an eternal symbol of thanksgiving, belonging and home.  They never kissed the airplane or the hangar, always the ground.

 

The newspapers tell us that an impasse has been reached in the peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  Among the key issues is the ownership of portions of Jerusalem.  Ever since David first defeated the Jebusites, that has been among the holiest, and bloodiest, piece of dirt in the world.  Surely it is more than an address….

 

Humanity has always been rooted to the land.  Even those who wandered, did so only insofar as the land continued to make their wandering possible.  Only today, in our quest to master and subdue the earth, rather than simply to live in partnership with it, are we beginning to lose our attachment to place, our sense of connectedness to the land which sustains us.

 

Many people have told me they get a lot of peace and satisfaction out of digging in the dirt.  Most of those do so only because they can, rather than because they have to.  For while much grows easily once planted, the tending of what has been sown is the real art.

 

We are extensions of the dirt beneath our feet, filled with the breath of God yet destined one day to return to the soil out of which we spring.  Between now and then, between birth and death, let us tend well the dirt which God has given us.  Let us live thankfully and well upon this dirt.  For in it we will one day take our rest.  And out of it shall rise those who follow us – for their sake, let us use well the time we have been given to tend the soil of our lives.

 

Let us pray: Lord, your Word reminds us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We are creatures of the earth, tied to its bounties and rhythms.  We pray for those who make their living from the land and those who long for a land in which to find their place.  We continue to pray for those who seek peace and wholeness among the peoples of Israel and her neighbors.  Help us tend well the garden you have given us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, April 2nd

April 2, 2009

“Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”  John 2:7-10

 

Max Lucado in “When God Whispers Your Name” offers a theory about why Jesus decided to attend the wedding at Cana.  After exhaustive research, drawing upon his many years of experience as a pastor and biblical theologian, Lucado says he believes there was one main reason for Jesus to show up at the wedding – fun.  Jesus figured he was going to have a good time.

 

Evidently he did.  So much so that he did his part to keep the party going.  He outdid everyone who has ever brought a bottle of wine to the host of a dinner party.  Wine, a symbol of conviviality and fellowship.  That which makes a wonderful meal even better.  But that was a later discovery.  It couldn’t have begun with that in mind.

 

At some point in time, someone ate a grape.  It was juicy, tasty and tasted like more.  But once picked, grapes don’t last long. 

 

Someone else liked the juice better than the meat of the grape.  They discovered that if you squished a bunch of them, you could gather enough juice for a nice drink.  But grape juice, apart from refrigeration, doesn’t last very long.

 

Someone else figured out that you could take some grape juice, add some yeast (or whatever it is you add to the juice), let it alone for awhile and, voila, you have fermented grape juice.  It tastes good.  It lasts a long time.  And it has the added punch of a little added punch.

 

Jesus made much of wine.

 

Jesus stood before a group of befuddled servants who were filling jugs with water.  He stepped away, leaving a wonderful vintage behind him.  Jesus reclined at the table in Matthew’s house, wine glass close at hand, friends all around, visitors wandering in and out.  Jesus took the cup of wine, the cup of redemption, and told his disciples it was the cup of the new covenant, in his blood, given and shed for them for the forgiveness of sins.

 

I began this week thinking about some of the basic gifts of creation – air, water, bread and wine.  Each day, I’ve discovered that each of these holds the mysteries of life.  They are all so simple, yet each holds a surprise.  They are gifts, but they are also tools.  All require the intricate inter-workings of creation.

 

We talk easily and often about God being around us all the time.  Do we see God in the air?  Do we feel God in the water?  Do we taste God in bread and wine?  Yes, to all of this, but only with the senses and taste buds of faith.

 

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you sustain our lives with the basic gifts of creation.  Today, as we eat and drink, we pray that we may do so with thankful hearts.  May we enjoy the party of life, a mere appetizer to the life to come.  As Jesus gathered for the fun of a wedding, may we today experience the joy of fellowship.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 1st

April 1, 2009

“Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”  Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”  Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  John 6:26-33

 

A little flour, a little water (both required).  A little salt, a little yeast (both optional).  Mix.  Bake.  Bread.

 

We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Martin Luther, in his explanation of this part of the Lord’s Prayer, said that daily bread is more than the food on our plate.  He said it included such gifts as home and family, daily work, favorable weather, good government…all that is needful for a good life.  He was on to something there.

 

If you were fortunate enough to grow up within sight of amber waves of grain, you know something about the process of seed, water and sunlight becoming the fluffy stuff in the plastic bags.  Many many hands play a role in the process.  Many different prayers are said along the way.  People working together, doing their part, getting fed along the way.

 

We need our daily bread.  Much of our lives has to do with the creation, acquisition, distribution and management of daily bread.  We’re always looking for ways to do it better, faster, more efficiently.

 

The crowds followed Jesus because he gave them bread.  People will do just about anything when they are hungry.  But hunger is hardly our problem.

 

Our problem isn’t hunger – it is recognizing the difference between the bread which satisfies and the junk food which coats our arterial walls.  It is recognizing the signs of health and pseudo spiritual-obesity.

 

I believe Jesus healed blind people as a sign that Jesus is interested in helping people see.  Really see.  To see beyond the apparent to the real.  To see the connections between the signs which point to the presence of God.

 

Our daily bread is such a sign.  God gives us a little flour and water.  We make “Cookie Crisp.”  Life is complicated but we make it far more complicated than it needs to be.

 

The crowds followed Jesus because he gave them bread.  Had they eyes to see beyond a fast food meal, they would have seen that in giving them bread, he was giving them himself.  Daily bread that endures to eternal life.

 

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, give us this day our daily bread.  And give us eyes to see all the ways which you feed us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.