Archive for July, 2009

Friday, July 31st Matthew 25:31-36

July 31, 2009

(This will be the last devotion until August 17th as Pastor Kerry travels to South Dakota.)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Matthew 25:31-36

I once exchanged emails with a member of my congregation, then the leader of our social ministries committee. We shared our favorite Bible verses. I, of course, picked one that encourages self acceptance, always a struggle for me, 1 Corinthians 15:8-10. And he picked these verses from Matthew about meeting Jesus as we connect with the lost, hurting and broken at their point of need.

Isn’t this close to the twin hearts of our faith? That God comes to us so that we might come to others? That God’s will is done on earth in reconciling with us so that we might reconcile with others? That God’s will is expressed in simple acts of kindness and courageous moves toward justice?

I think it is. And I think we far too often forget it.

We meet Jesus in the brokenness of our lives and that of others. Hunger, thirst, illness, bondage – these moments of our lives don’t recognize ethnicity or culture or color or creed. I’ve seen it in my life over and over again. When the bridge collapsed this week in Minneapolis it took everyone on it down – and when the rescuers came, they weren’t picky in who they chose to pluck from the waters.

Show me any hospital in the world and I’ll take you to the ICU waiting room. There it doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive or what your house looks like – when you join with others in the common pain of illness and healing, you find community.

All week long I have been thinking about my visit to Woyatan Lutheran Mission in Rapid City, South Dakota. As I shared on Monday, I’ll be preaching there on Saturday night at 5:30 and Sunday at 10:00 am. I’ve been thinking about ministry among Native Americans, about our shared history, about what the good news of God’s love means among us.

Yesterday I spoke of the common humanity we share, life together under and with the God who gives us and all creatures life. Today I want to remind us that the pain of life also unites us.

Reservation life is painful. Excruciatingly so. The Pine Ridge Reservation, roughly the size of Connecticut, about 120 miles south of Rapid City, is home to 40,000 people. The land is barren, bleak and largely worthless. Water is scarce and often polluted from agricultural runoff from the north. 97% of the people live below the federal poverty level. Unemployment is 85%, there is very little industry or means of making a living. There is one under-staffed and under-funded hospital in Pine Ridge. Only a small percentage of people own a car, most walk and hitch hike.

Housing is horrible, always overcrowded, many structures still with dirt floors. The school drop out rate is 70%. The mortality rate among infants is 300% higher than elsewhere in the country. Among adults, the Lakota have the lowest life expectancy of any group in America.

More than half the adult population battles addiction and disease, especially alcoholism, diabetes and heart disease. 80% of the families are touched daily by the ravages of alcoholism. Although the sale or possession of alcohol has been banned by the Oglala Lakota Nation since the early 1970’s there is a steady source of alcohol just across the border in Nebraska called “Whiteclay.” Whiteclay has approximately 14 residents and four liquor stores which sell over 4.1 million cans of beer each year resulting in a $3million annual trade.  Unlike other Nebraska communities, Whiteclay exists only to sell liquor and make money. It has no schools, no churches, no civic organizations, no parks, no benches, no public bathrooms, no fire service and no law enforcement.  Tribal officials have repeatedly pleaded with the State of Nebraska to close these liquor stores or enforce the State laws regulating liquor stores but have been consistently refused.

Did you know this? Do you care? Or do we hide behind caricatures and stereotypes and the same old justifications that have fueled the dehumanization the dominate culture has always shown?

What can be done? At the very least, the federal government can begin keeping its promises under the obligations of treaties which remain valid. The graft and corruption which has always been a part of bringing resources to the reservations needs to be stopped. And the Church needs to be present with a voice of love, acts of justice, and the encouragement of hope.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, come to us in the broken places of our lives to bring healing. Come to us as we offer our prayers for the health and well-being of those who lack the basic necessities of life. Come to us as we meet others in the common bonds of our pain. May your good, loving and just will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Thursday, July 30th. Psalm 139:13-18

July 30, 2009

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them–they are more than the sand; I come to the end–I am still with you.” Psalm 139:13-18

What happens when we read these verses as “people” rather than just as a “person”? How would that change our experience of the world and our actions within it?

As a person, you would think these words to be water on dry ground. Self acceptance is a very difficult thing for us in our dominate culture. We who have bought the farm of modernity have also bought into all of its marketing messages. We have lost a sense of our “self-ness” and unconsciously accept the culture’s assessment that we are what we do, or we are what we have, or we are what we look like. We’re left feeling too fat or too short or too tall or too poor or not rich enough or our hair isn’t right or our clothes aren’t in fashion. It gets exhausting trying to keep up with the Jones’!

Then comes the word, comes the Word, that tells us that we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The Word which tells us that the God who creates us also loves us and accepts us as we are. JUST as we are. Loves us enough to take the bullet of the cross for us. We are fearfully made and fearfully loved and when that message sinks deep into us we finally catch a glimpse of the goodness of God that is in each of us.

It is good news – this news of our uniqueness, splendor and beauty. And it is bad news – because it reminds us how often and how easily we exchange the glory God has given us for junk food and junk lifestyles and junk attitudes/actions. This becomes our walk, the journey of being loved and learning to live like it.

Now what happens when we read these verses as “people”? When we join the rest of creation – plants, animals, fish, birds, reptiles, insects, and human beings of every color, culture and creed – and hear the word, the Word, that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made”! Something changes, doesn’t it?

Suddenly, just as the journey of self acceptance fills our hearts with gratitude, as difficult as that journey is for us, to see the entire cosmos with such eyes does the same thing. To see every person in every other car on the way home from work today as a precious child of God. To see every tree, every blade of grass, as God’s handiwork, opens the world to us.

To see all of humanity as a brother or sister, to see all of the created world as a relative – isn’t this part of the worldview of a Christian? It is certainly part of the creed and the worldview of the Oglala Sioux – that we are the People and the world around us our relatives. This changes everything!

It reminds us that we aren’t alone. It reminds us that the world around us and its people are meant to be enjoyed, to share, to enrich one another, not to abuse, use, manipulate or destroy one another. It reminds us of God’s concern, care and provision for our lives.

Regardless of our distinctions and our differences, our “createdness” links us to others. How we understand and live in that is our spirituality which takes so many different shapes.

We are also linked by our common pain. More on that tomorrow.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, our Creater, Redeemer and Sanctifier – is it true? Is it true that you not only give us life but also sustain our lives and promise at the end to bring us home to you? Is it all true? If it isn’t, then we are hopeless and despair is our only path. But if it is, then lead us each day to realize this wonderful news anew, to let it fill us and sustain us and drive us in the love and justice we show to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, July 29th Mark 8:22-26

July 29, 2009

“They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” Mark 8:22-26

You just have to love this healing story. Jesus heals a blind man but it takes two tries. Like going to the eye doctor and listening to her as she flips her little flippy things in front of your eyes, “Better here?…or here?”

“I can see people, but they look like trees walking.”

That moment in this unnamed man’s healing is not far from the experience when Columbus and his bedraggled sailors first sailed to the shores of what, to them, was the new world. They came upon a land that was lush and green and populated with people the likes of which they had never seen. Both the invaders and the invaded, the visitors and the visited, saw the others through distorted lenses, like trees walking.

To the Europeans, the people they found were simple savages without any signs of what they believed to be civilization or culture – they were hardly dressed, used simple tools, were extraordinarily gullible in prizing trivial gifts like beads. And, because they spoke no English, the unconsciously arrogant Europeans thought of them as ignorant, unschooled and barbaric.

To the Native Americans, Columbus and his men appeared as gods. The impressive sailing ships, the strange dress, the sharp swords and other tools – all of this suggested that these indeed were a powerful people unlike any the natives had known. The hospitality they showed the Europeans appeared as deference. The game was on.

Both sides saw the other as “trees walking.” Both sides made crucial errors in understanding because they couldn’t see the whole picture. The Europeans did not find India despite bequeathing their hosts with the name “Indian” which would later serve to lump hundreds of culturally and linguistically different people into the single category of “red” man. The natives were not visited by gods but by mortals who carried not only passions and ambitions that would prove deadly to them but also germs which would be just as bad.

They couldn’t see each other.

If I have learned anything in my life, I have learned that people do not share the same world. People might share the same ground, might live in the same town, even live in the same house, but their experience of the world remains radically different. All of the wondrous diversity of God’s creation brings us to a place where we finally acknowledge that this diversity truly exists. Rather than denying it away, or forcing our experience on to others, is it possible instead that we respond with humility, that we ask questions, that we listen for answers that we might not understand, but still find meaning in the exchange?

Jesus had to touch the man one more time. And then, once healed, Jesus told the man not to go into the village. Why? It doesn’t make any sense to us! Why wouldn’t he go into the village? The normal answer is that, in Mark’s theology, Jesus wasn’t ready to expose his identity as Messiah quite yet, that would have to wait for a cross and an empty tomb. But what if there is a different answer?

What if Jesus realized that life would be dangerous for a man who could truly and finally see? Who could see the truth about God’s love for all people which will never find a home in a world that wants to divide people into insiders and outsiders, the accepted and the rejected, the civilized and the barbaric?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we know we are blind and we know that we see. We know that our ability to see life comes and goes, we have blind spots and we have moments of clarity. As we look at other people in our world, in our lives, open us to accepting them as they are, to finding ways of sharing life peacefully, to discovering our common humanity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 28th Psalm 139:1-10

July 28, 2009

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” Psalm 139:1-10

I have some relatives who are fond of making mission trips to southeast Asia. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I’m all for the gift they are receiving in expanding their sense of the world and the renewed appreciation that experience brings. I’m all for reaching out and establishing relationships that cross boundaries of space, language and culture. But on the other hand, there is something a little stinky to me about the idea of “bringing God to the godless.”

Throughout history, stories abound about the Christian missionaries who traveled with the troops as people “discovered” new lands and new peoples. We now realize as we revisit those stories that “bringing God to the godless” was hardly the point of the journey. Bringing gold back home to Spain, bringing glory to the empire, bringing miners to the hills, bringing settlers to the land – these were the drivers. If anything, the Church was there to grease the wheels, to offer justification for very ungodly practices, and to make sure that the Church got a piece of the action as well.

The college I attended had a dormitory named after Bishop Henry Whipple, the first Episcopalian bishop in Minnesota. His experience as a pastor and missionary was indicative of what happens so often when we seek to carry the faith to new places. He traveled with a certain unconscious arrogance – he had news to carry that the Sioux and other people needed to hear. But as he came to know those he was sent to serve he began to understand that God was already there. Though not naming “Jesus”, the Sioux clearly had a deep spirituality that recognized God’s presence in everything, that saw life and all that life encompasses as a gift from God, and that led to a communal life with codes of honor and exemplary mutual caring.

But he also saw the exploitation, the corruption, the graft and the heartlessness of the men tasked with overseeing the “treaties” which the Native Americans had been forced to accept. Bishop Whipple spoke up on their behalf, reaching all the way to President Lincoln in 1862 with a plea for more honest and capable men to serve. And yet even there, what the bishop was after was a more honest and humane means of upholding the status quo – of removing the Native Americans from their home to make way for the white settlers – rather than interceding to stop the territorial expansion.

Later, that same bishop was among those who went to what is now South Dakota with the final (and successful if you want to think of it that way) attempt to remove all the Native Americans from the Black Hills, their holy land, and herd them into reservations on the most useless and desolate land in the state. His intercessions for fair and just treatment were ignored. And the Church, rather than being the source of health, healing and harmony that God intends, became yet another extension of white arrogance, greed and oppression.

Failing to see God “already there”, the Church imposed a “god” without ears, without hands, and without a heart.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, help us see beyond the veil of our prejudices and fears. Help us see you present in places, among people, where we often are unprepared to look. Help us learn the lessons of our past, that we might more faithfully represent you in the world as people of love, justice and service. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, July 27th. Psalm 14

July 27, 2009

“Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous. You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge. O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.” Psalm 14

What does it mean to be a missionary? Through the years the answer to that question has changed and it continues to change. HOW you answer that question gives insight into how you might go about the work. If you believe you are “bringing Jesus to the heathens” then you will operate in a certain manner. If you believe you are “spreading God’s love and message through actions as well as words” you might operate differently.

My experience has taught me there is another way to look at the work of a missionary. I remember back when I was a kid and I attended a worship service led by a missionary home from Africa on a break. I don’t remember the details but I remember the wonder I felt at his guts to go there, and how different life was for me there in my little town.

More and more, I wonder if the ministry of a missionary isn’t ultimately directed more toward the “sending” community than to the “sent to” community. I want to think about that this week in our devotions.

How is it that we “bring” God, or “discover” God or “experience” God when we find ourselves in the company of those different than us? When we find ourselves talking about “God” in the midst of people who have a far different conception, or no conception at all, of the God we trust – what happens to our faith and our presentation of the faith?

Next Sunday, I’ll be speaking at Woyatan Lutheran Mission in Rapid City, South Dakota. This will be my 4th year to share worship with them and experience a traditional Lutheran service of Holy Communion with aspects of Native American spirituality. If you’re in the neighborhood, I would love to meet you and they would love to have you join us at worship!

As I look forward to again being with the people of Woyatan I find myself looking back at the story of the intersection of our stories. I grew up with a great deal of fear toward Native Americans, fear which was grounded strictly in misinformation and ignorance. Although we had a Native American boarding school in my hometown which we visited every year while I was in grade school, and while I played basketball against their teams, we didn’t mix or blend. I knew next to nothing about their history, their spirituality, or the lives the kids there had lived on the various reservations from which they came.

And so it was that my racism just came naturally. It was just assumed. It was subtle in that it was assumed. And it was acidic as it led to name-calling, stereotyping and more irrational fears. Meanwhile, God was looking “down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, every day finds us coming up against boundaries that have mysteriously been drawn between people – sometimes officially but far more often through the hidden messages of fear and ignorance. Help us to see the lines of your love which connect us to all whom you have created. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, July 24th 2 Kings 4:42-44

July 24, 2009

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. 2 Kings 4:42-44

It happens all the time but I never really noticed it until I was in a training class on the 11th floor of the Lutheran Center in Chicago for my orientation to the position I currently hold in our synod. I was one of the first in the room so I took my customary seat in the back row. I watched the other people filing in – and that is when I noticed it.

The scramble to get seats within power cord reach of their laptops.

Being the back row has its benefits. I’m tall so I sit there without worries that I’m blocking someone else’s view. But I also, without even thinking about it, ended up close to the wall outlet for my power cord. The latecomers scrambled for “power seats” and those in the middle were just out of luck. Evidently that training room was built without regard for the computer age. Notebook paper is power free.

At some point the illustration hit me. How is it that we can be so cognizant of the need to plug in to the wall to power our laptops but so forgetful when it comes to plugging into the power of God to power our lives?

What shall we call this? This tendency of ours to live life on our own steam, to be driven by our own needs, desires and dreams with nary a thought as to what God might be thinking? How much pride, ego, anxiety and failure is driven by that kind of spiritual amnesia that leads us to forget who we are and Whose we are? Maybe we could call it “selective consciousness”?

Elisha’s short story demonstrates a very different orientation. He draws on God’s power over and over again. In just the first four chapters of 2 Kings – when the river got in the way, Elisha parted it. When the well water was bitter, Elisha purified it. When the Shunammite woman’s son died, Elisha revived him. When there was famine in the land, Elisha fed the people stew and bread. Again and again, without a thought or a doubt, Elisha called on the power of God and God delivered.

Here’s the invitation – plug in to the power of God and amazing things can happen!

36,000 kids are still in New Orleans. They are covering the city every day with over 200 servant projects. They will be part of a city-wide health clinic tomorrow. They are experiencing something together they never imagined – the power of God’s love focused intently through them to make a lasting difference in a hurting city – and every night they gather in the Superdome to celebrate.

I hope they make a deeper connection. I hope they see that the power isn’t in their numbers. I hope they see that the power isn’t in the planning or the logistics. I hope they see that the Power lies in God and that they won’t be leaving it behind when their buses head back home. The power of love. The power of hospitality. The power of sharing time, talents and treasure.

The power of making a difference because we are plugged in to the power of God who makes US different.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you so much for the promise that you will never leave us or abandon us. Thank you for never giving up on us, even when we stray off on our own. Thank you for the power of your love flowing through us whenever we give ourselves away. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, July 23rd 2 Kings 4:8-10

July 23, 2009

One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband, “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.” 2 Kings 4:8-10

A wealthy woman made room at her home and at her table for a stranger traveling through town. A simple gesture of hospitality and care. A simple sharing of “what we have” for “what they need.” Yes, at the end of the story, the woman would receive a blessing…but first she would be a blessing. Welcome to the faith!

This is what we spend a lifetime of Sunday School classes trying to teach children. And this week, we’re sending 36,000 of our teenagers to New Orleans to put those lessons to work. The following is an excerpt from a story in yesterday’s New Orleans “Times-Picayune”:

“The Lutheran assembly is designed to be more than conventional youth Bible-study and worship, although, like any church youth meeting, it will include that,” said [chief planner] Heide Hagstrom. “More to the point, the triennial event is the church’s best effort at introducing teens to the concept of social justice, and to their obligations as Christians to the poor in their own communities…Basically, we’re going to help them learn how to live their baptismal vows.”

On each of the three days a third of the group, clad in distinctive orange T-shirts, will fan out across the metropolitan area to volunteer in hundreds of schools, churches and non-profits that organizers laboriously lined up months ago.

“We tell them to pay attention to what you hear. Then take this back to your own home towns. Find out what’s going on in your backyard … That’s the ultimate goal, ” Hagstrom said.

The others will remain at the convention center, working their way through workshops on justice issues, Scripture study, leadership and other topics.

Each day will end with speakers and worship at the Superdome.

Hagstrom said Lutheran leaders expected to come to New Orleans in 2009, but Katrina forced a deep re-thinking and re-opened the question.

On reconnaissance visits in the spring of 2006, Hagstrom, Weigel and other planners said they were concerned whether the wounded city’s convention industry could handle the logistics. But they were listening for something else as well.

“Every time we go to a city, we approach it not as a consumer … but ask ourselves, what has God planned for us in this place? We’re supposed to be God’s people, ” Hagstrom said. “There are people in need and that’s what we’re called to respond to.”

As it happened, Weigel said, the convention industry was begging them to come. She recalled the day one hotel executive came to a meeting with his foot in a cast.

“I asked him what happened. He said he was up on his roof, fixing it, and he fell off.

“How could you not come after hearing something like that?”

So it was that a sense that New Orleans is a special case suffused meeting plans.

Tuesday morning at the convention center — just yards from where thousands suffered four days in the heat in 2005 — the Rev. Sean Ewbank of Mandeville’s Hosanna Lutheran told a crowd of early arrivals during morning worship, “Make no mistake, you are on holy ground.”

Still, choosing New Orleans was not a slam dunk, several Lutheran leaders said. The city’s cultivated reputation for adult sensuality, not to mention its well-documented return of street crime, meant the decision was not without its opponents, several said.

Some people objected. Hagstrom remembered what she told them:

“We told them this is a culturally significant city for the United States. That there is a gift that New Orleans can give to the rest of us.

“Your understanding of death and resurrection is incredible. Joy and Pain. It’s the theology of the cross. You live it.”

Let us pray: A simple meal, a guest in an extra bedroom, a glass of cold water, a listening ear, a visit to a prisoner, new clothes to replace rags, in the simplest of ways we can extend to others the love which we constantly receive from you, O Lord. May we never forget that this is your will, daily bread and lives of justice for all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, July 22nd 2 Kings 2:23-25

July 22, 2009

He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria. 2 Kings 2:23-25

Now here is a Bible passage that one doesn’t see often in a devotion. I doubt a single children’s sermon has ever been preached on this text. Even in the old days of “Sunday School by flannel graph”, there weren’t many teachers prepared with two little cut-out she-bears and the 42 naughty kids they mauled. But, just like you sometimes discover when you read a list of ingredients, believe it or not, it’s in there.

Evidently Elisha sported a hairline of a rapidly receding manner when a gang of hooligans caught the blood scent of someone they could pick on so they attacked him with those “words that are never supposed to harm us.” The text doesn’t say whether or not the words harmed Elisha but it leaves nothing to the imagination about whether or not the guardian angel she-bears harmed the little bullies.

It is a fun little story. We need not make much of it. We don’t need to look for deep symbolical references or otherwise seek to make sense of a horrible story. Perhaps parents through the ages might have pulled it out as evidence that it isn’t wise for kids to tease bald men.

But I doubt that would stop them. Especially when they gather in the safety of numbers.

Please understand, any picture of the teenaged years that sounds idyllic is also quite a fantasy. The growing up years can be incredibly cruel. Kids pick on other kids. Incessantly. Intolerably. Cafeterias can be a gauntlet of well defined social classes, misfits and miscreants. Bullies and the bullied huddle in their respective corners, some planning their next attack while others cower and long for the end of the day.

A story appeared in the news this past year of a young kid who went home from school one day and ended his own life. He couldn’t take the abuse any longer. At least his tragic story made the news.

As children of God we are followers of the Prince of Peace. He told us that to love him is to love other people. This, more than denominational name tags, liturgical aerobics or membership on a church roster is what it means to live a Christian life. We can never teach or learn this lesson too often for the sin which lies within us is ever ready to pounce on the weak, the vulnerable, the different, the other.

We dropped off our son at the bus this morning for his trip to the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. I looked at a group of kids, most of whom I’ve known since they were babies, some of whom I baptized. I know their wonder but I also know their capacity to inflict and absorb pain on and from one another. So I pray for their safety and I pray that they simply be kind, gracious and hospitable to one another. The stakes are much higher than they realize.

Let us pray: Forgive us, Lord Jesus, for the unkind words and deeds that we have inflicted needlessly on others. Forgive us for laughing at that which isn’t funny. Help us see you reflected in the lives of every human being you have made – black, white, brown, gay, straight, tall, short, boy, athletic, shy, rich, poor, girl, Christian, Muslim, Jew and every other stitch of diversity you have woven into the rich fabric of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 21st 2 Kings 2:1-3

July 21, 2009

Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” 2 Kings 2:1-3

This chapter opens with Elijah and his protégé, Elisha, on their last road trip together. Elijah realizes the end is near, Elisha doesn’t want to see it happen. Elijah wants to leave Elisha behind, but Elisha – like a sticky little kid brother – won’t stay behind.

They meet several groups of people on the way – the prophets of Bethel, the prophets of Jericho, and fifty prophets at the Jordan river. Elijah works his final wonder, the parting of the river, and then disappears in a chariot of fire. Elisha, now left alone, picks up Elijah’s cloak, his mantle, and begins his chapter as primary prophet of God.

It is a key moment in the story and, like some of the best such stories, it comes to us embedded in a road trip. A trip marked by adventure, meeting new people, struggling against the unplanned things that go wrong, culminating in a major change.

As I mentioned yesterday, parents all over the country will be sending their teenagers on a road trip to New Orleans this week. Some by airplane, some by car, most by charted bus and fancy church vans, the traveling to and from the gathering is part of the journey. The constant conversation (at least among those wise enough to turn their incessant cell phone texting, i-pod listening devices off) will be of memory and anticipation.

Few such journeys will be uneventful. Something will go wrong, careful planning will crumble, at least for a few minutes along the way. There will be a measure of suffering if it is to be any kind of road trip at all. If those traveling pay attention, if they have eyes to see and ears to hear, they will come to know each other better and will craft memories that will last a lifetime.

For this time will not last forever. Even among those kids coming from small towns where they have shared their lives from their first breath, this time together will not last. Like Elijah and Elisha, the time will come to hand life over to the next crew standing in the on deck circle. For this is the journey of life, the way things go. Beginnings and endings with grand adventures marking the trip.

And above it all, just a quick fiery chariot ride away, stands the One who holds every step of the journey in his hand.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for those with whom we share our journey through life. Thank you for the Elijah’s who went before us, and the Elisha’s who follow behind us. Thank you for those with whom we share the adventure of today. Bless our kids as they travel to New Orleans. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, July 20th 1 Kings 1:2-4

July 20, 2009

“Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay injured; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Get up, go to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went. 2 Kings 1:2-4

I have two things on my mind as we open this new week of devotions. First, the readings for next Sunday open with a passage from the 4th chapter of 1 Kings. I want to put that reading in a wider context. And second, later this week, a magnificent horde of 36,000 t-shirted Lutheran teenagers will be descending on New Orleans for the National Youth Gathering. What ties these two together? The questions of relationship and response.

Who are we? To whom do we belong? Where does our trust lie? What difference does it make?

2 Kings opens with the, quite literal, fall of Ahaziah. The king of Israel (the northern kingdom) hurt himself in a fall. So he sent his messengers to ask the prophets of Baal-zebub whether or not he would recover. The problem? He is turning, especially in a time of need, to the wrong god. The real God, the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, doesn’t appreciate the slight. The real God, as Ahaziah must have known, is a “jealous” God, a position codified in the first commandment, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”

Is this jealousy of God a character defect? No it isn’t. God creates us. God loves us. God wants only what is best for us. So God knows that, when we turn to the gods who are not gods, we do so only to our own peril and the continued brokenness of life. God knows that, to get the world right, we need to be right. This is the open question and the mystery of the journey of faith.

If you would read through the entire Old Testament, especially the prophets, you would easily see that the two issues that continued to divide God from God’s people had to do with idolatry (chasing after false gods) and injustice (the failure of God’s people to show hospitality to the stranger or care for the widow, the orphan and the powerless.) Those two broken relationships, the relationship with God and the relationship with the neighbor, are what the prophets of God seek to restore. Both relationships are rooted in the question of loyalty in that a right relationship of God will lead to right relationships with our neighbors, for that is the will of God for us, for all times.

Jesus would capture these two relationships in his twin call to the Great Commission (to bring people into a right relationship with God) and the Great Commandment (to love our neighbor which issues forth in justice.)

But Ahaziah cared nothing for any of that. He just wanted his pain to go away. He didn’t draw a connection between his life situation and the God who had given him life.

Back now to our teenagers heading to New Orleans. They too know well the pain and the insecurities of life. The questions of who they are, who they belong to, who they can turn to in trouble or pain, who is trustworthy in their lives, are all wide open questions. So now the church that loves them has prepared an experience for them that will be marked by worship (relationship with God) and service in the community (relationship with their neighbors.) We pray not only for their trip, their safe travels and safe return, but also that the Spirit guide them in making the right connections.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we realize that we are still prone to chasing after the gods who are not gods. We are tempted by the quick fix, by whatever works, so we are fickle in our faith. Draw us to yourself that we might know your care and concern, that your will might be done in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.