Archive for October, 2009

Friday, October 29th 1 Samuel 1:19-20

October 30, 2009

The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the LORD, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the LORD establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.” She left him there for the LORD. 1 Samuel 1:21-28

I’m going to assume that some of those who have been following the devotions this week haven’t heard this story before. If so, today’s verses are a real shock. And for those of you who knew this story well, read it again. It will be a shock to you as well.

Hannah keeps her baby at home with her until he is ready to eat something other than her. And then she brings him back to Shiloh, back to Eli, the priest who had thought she was drunk, and she leaves the baby with him.

Hannah and Elkahah go home. Childless.

Hannah didn’t merely take Samuel to Eli. She also brought a three year old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine. There is quite a difference between her offering and a hastily scribbled check written just before the plate is passed down the aisle. But the intention is the same. It is an offering of gratitude.

Gratitude!

Gratitude at losing the precious child she had literally prayed years to have? Gratitude to a God who could be so incredibly heartless as to take that little baby out of her arms, leaving him in the care of an old man and his two profligate sons??

Yes! Gratitude! For Hannah had prayed that God would give her a son. And Hannah had promised that, if blessed with a son, she would dedicate that child to the service of the Lord as a nazarite.

And maybe this is the ultimate cultural divide between the world of this story and the world you live in at your computer today. This story was written in the days when prayers and promises meant something. A day when God’s servants were open to being surprised by God’s actions and even welcoming the opportunity to give. This story is ultimately not about Hannah and her feelings and her self fulfillment but about Samuel and about God and his purposes.

For Samuel was to grow up to do marvelous things. He would play a key role in the life is Israel. He would serve God, and serve God well, all the days of his life. What godly mother could ask for more?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you give us so much and we hardly notice. In the twistedness of our sin, we make all of our lives to be about us. We would take credit for the rain that falls on dry land if we could. So you give us this story of Hannah, a story of your purposes and her response. We pray that you will continue to work through us, limited and broken we might be, that good for others might result. Give us peace in the knowledge that life is not about us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Advertisements

Thursday, October 29th 1 Samuel 1:19-20

October 29, 2009

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the LORD.” 1 Samuel 1:19-20

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I don’t know where I first heard that line. Is it something you just find out or does someone sit you down at some time and explain it to you? I don’t know. But I also don’t remember not knowing that line.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Elkanah and Hannah have a child together.

It is interesting (another reminder of the cultural divide) to see how little attention is paid in this story to the conception and birth of Samuel. After all the time spent on the sadness Hannah felt because of her failure to have a child, Samuel’s entrance into the world is captured in nine words: “In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son.”

Not a word about birth announcements, doctor visits, borrowing maternity clothes, baby shower planning, Lamaze classes, packing the hospital goody bag or redecorating a room in the house with a mural of Noah’s Ark (which, by the way, always makes me wonder….”Do they REALLY want to surround their child with THAT story about God? Do they KNOW that story?”) None of that. None of the modern “must haves” if you’re going to have a baby.

Hannah conceived and bore a son.

And she named him Samuel, which means something along the lines of, “I have asked him of the Lord.” His name was a reminder that God heard her prayers and God provided her with a son.

Now we’re back to “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We just read about Hannah (and, I guess, Elkanah) experiencing one of the most holy moments of human life, the birth of a child. When we cut through all of the modern excesses, the birth of a child brings us back to who we really are and all the wonder and mysteries of life. Suddenly, after so much pain and waiting and changing and hoping and worrying, there appears the top of a little head in a scene that seems absolutely impossible and surprisingly normal, both at the same time, and then even more suddenly a body and a person and a baby and part of both of you and yet something or someone altogether and wonderfully new and different and amazing.

You pick him up. He shivers against you. You clean him up and wrap him up and you lay him against his mother. And although it is his first time and her first time, they figure out how to do dinner together without even going to class. And at some point you realize what you had been hoping for all along but its reality kept shifting in and out of focus – you will be bringing this child home. It is the end of a pregnancy and the beginning of life.

All these years later and it still works that way. God heard some very different kinds of prayers that night from Hannah and Elkanah.

Let us pray: Thank you Lord, for answered prayers. Thank you for the good news of a child on the way for couples who have long wondered if it would ever happen. Thank you for all of the various ways, including adoption, that new babies end up in the arms of parents who can and will take good care of them. Thank you for the mystery of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 28th 1 Samuel 1:12-18

October 28, 2009

As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. 1 Samuel 1:12-18

Again this morning we run into another cultural divide. While we think of personal prayer to be a “quiet” activity, preferring to pray silently when we are praying alone, “in those days” prayer was a loud vocal exercise. You still see this today at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem as people rock back and forth, singing and shouting their prayers.

But Hannah was praying silently.

It drove Eli nuts. As “priest emeritus” at his duty station that morning, Eli was appalled to see Hannah…praying silently. It irked him that her lips were moving but no sound was coming out. “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”

Then we hear Hannah explaining herself to Eli. He hears her explanation, then tells her, ““Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” We would like to think that his heart had softened toward her, that the strongest accent of his statement was on the assurance that God would grant her petition. But maybe it was really about “go” – as in, “Go on now, you might be hurting but your prayer style is still getting on my nerves.”

There are two other connections in this story to our reality today. One is that hurting people still turn to God. We ought never forget this but too often we do. When a new person suddenly shows up in worship on a Sunday morning, or stops by the church during the week and asks to pray in the sanctuary, you can bet your bottom dollar that something is going on in their life. Something is hurting or something has them upset. Something is driving them to reconnect with God. When I was a parish pastor, there was nothing on my schedule during the week or no “church members” so important that I wouldn’t make the time to greet those silent ones passing through the midst of the community.

The other connection for me is the many times that church people “dismiss” the strange people that pass through. Whether it was the homeless people who would occasionally show up for worship in the downtown church and make some kind of a scene, or the obvious “they’re not from here” types that would show up in the suburbs, far too often they would get the “Eli” treatment. Far from a warm welcome or gracious hospitality, such people would be left feeling like the new 6th grader in school with no one to sit with at lunch.

Eli came around to Hannah. We do well to do the same with those who come into our midst, seeking God, but running into us on the way.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, people turn to you when they are hurting and often run into your people on the way. We pray that you might always keep our eyes open to the ones in our midst who are seeking you. Give us listening ears, time to care, and an attitude of gracious hospitality. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 27th 1 Samuel 1:9-11

October 27, 2009

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the LORD. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O LORD of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” 1 Samuel 1:9-11

So the story goes of the rich man who found himself tossed about his expensive yacht in the middle of a horrible storm at sea. Fearing for his life, he cried out to God. He promised that, if God saw fit to rescue him, he would give half of all his wealth, half of everything he had, to the poor.

The hours went by. The storm didn’t stop. Suddenly the man heard a call from a Coast Guard rescue ship. They brought him on board. Gave him dry clothes and something warm to drink.

By the time he got to shore, the rich man explains to God that what he really meant was that he would give half of everything he had on him in his wallet to the poor.

Crying out to God in pain. Bargaining with God. It’s what we do when life takes us to the point of no return. It is what Hannah did.

She prayed for a son. In a long line stretching back to Sarah, she prayed that God would bless her with the birth of a child.

But there is a strange twist in her prayer. She promised that she would give the son back once she had him.

Once again we run into the cultural divide. Traveling to a religious festival, a pilgrimage to a holy site, we understand that. But to make the vow of a “nazarite” is strange territory. To promise that the child would not drink alcohol, we understand that. But then to promise that she wouldn’t cut the child’s hair…that doesn’t make much sense.

So it is. Culture changes. Religion changes. Over time, what is holy to one group of people becomes meaningless to another. But so much of human nature endures – the pain of childlessness, the cries too deep for words which we send out to God in our distress, the idea that God hears our prayers best when we pray from a holy place, all of this endures.

Our task then is to discern what endures and what passes away with time. The task of interpretation includes such discernment. Why? To preserve the religiosity of long hair? No, but to make the good news of God’s love and provision real in the lives of hurting people like Hannah.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you hear all of our prayers, even those we pray in desperation and pain. Thank you for planting deep into our hearts the desire to bring our cares and concerns before you. Thank you for hearing the prayers of the distressed, for those broken like Hannah. For us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 26th 1 Samuel 1:1-8

October 26, 2009

There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the LORD. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:1-8

I woke up this morning thinking about this story. I have no idea why. In so many ways, it is a very brutal story. But it is also breath-taking. This week we will revisit the birth of Samuel.

Immediately we are confronted by the vast cultural divide that separates us from the characters in scripture – polygamy (having multiple wives) was a cultural norm in the days of Elkanah and his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Today it remains a normal practice in some places in the Moslem world where men who can afford it are permitted to have up to four wives. Most of us would ask, “Is this marriage or is it indentured servitude?”

Although polygamy is illegal in the United States it is still practiced in some cultish corners. Texas made the news this year with a raid on a complex of a religious community where girls as young as 12 were “married off” to much older men at the command of the community’s leader – making the call from the prison cell where he is serving his sentence for abusing children. Most of us would ask, “Is this practice the real reason for the establishment of this community in the first place? Is it anything other than ‘socially accepted’ child abuse?”

So it is that we enter this story. We might not understand polygamy but we immediately make a connection to the characters. Hannah is the wife who has not been able to have a baby. For years now her pain, her deep sense of loss, has been particularly difficult, not only to see other women with their own children, but to have to live in it up close and personal with Peninnah and her brood.

Elkanah is the husband who is hurting because his wife, Hannah, is hurting. He wants her pain to go away.

And Peninnah is the resentful wife who knows that, while she lives with the support of the father of her children, she doesn’t live in his heart. So she lashes out in the manner that resentment does, constantly provoking, teasing and hurting Hannah.

This scene is like biblical reality TV. The Bible meets Jerry Springer.

Meanwhile, and this is very mixed news, God is intimately involved in the whole scene. For God is up to something big in this family’s life. God hasn’t forgotten them.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, through every age people seek you. In very different places, very different cultures, people seek your will, people seek your favor. Often it seems that you are hiding, that you are up to something that we cannot see. As we enter this strange world of Elkanah, Hannah and Peninnah, we pray that you guide us in seeing what is helpful to us in their story. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, October 23rd Mark 10:13-16

October 23, 2009

“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16

We always hear how wonderful children are – and yes, they are. Now listen to the perspective of a harried parent having a bad day.

Children can be pesky little critters too. Babies do a lot of things – cry a lot, go to the bathroom a lot, develop lots of strange rashes, get fevers in an instant when you’ve made plans that can’t be changed. They get addicted to these plastic things they suck on and then lose in the night when you have to comb their cribs for endless hours to find their lost “whatever you call them’s” so you both can go back to sleep. They have so much equipment you have to call Ryder for a simple weekend at Grandma’s and they outgrow their clothes before you’re home from the store.

Toddlers can’t figure out how to hit their mouth with their peas or tie their shoes but they can ALWAYS figure out how to bug you when you’re on the phone, find you in the bathroom, or grab something they aren’t supposed to have from a neighbor’s coffee table.

Grade school kids hit their siblings, yell terrible oaths that they aren’t even supposed to know yet, dig in your drawers for costumes, leave their toys all over the house (which you step on late at night with bare feet). They play with stuff you don’t want them to play with and ignore the stuff you killed yourself trying to find in the store last Christmas.

Junior high kids develop interests that always seem to 1) cost money, 2) require spending time with kids that make you nervous, 3) be interests you don’t believe they are ready for, 4) require whining, pouting and emotional outbursts and 5) cost money.

Senior high kids are SO mature. Enough said.

And college kids seem to regress to the junior high stage. You might want to reread their interest list from two paragraphs ago.

And, to top it all off, every else’s kids are always much more irritating than your own!

It’s no wonder the disciples weren’t interested in Jesus putting children center stage. But Jesus did – because he saw their hearts. He saw human beings hungry for love. Maybe that’s the part of us that will always remain young.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, no one loves us as much as you. You will always be there for us, you will always put up with our childishness and self-centeredness, because you will always see that, deep down inside, we just want to be loved. We want what you alone can give us. And you always meet that need. Thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, October 21st John 4:5-15

October 22, 2009

“So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:5-15

I don’t believe human nature has changed much over the years. That’s why Bible characters spring to life when you enter their stories. My heart has always gone out to the woman at the well.

An anonymous woman, heading to the well to get water at noon so that she doesn’t have to face the whispers of the town gossips who draw water at the normal early morning hour. A faceless woman who has been mistreated by men and now lives with someone because of their mutual fear of making a commitment that might lead only to more heartache.

She has been a victim but she is not willing to be victimized. She’s a proud, intelligent woman, able to exchange quick witted barbs with the strange Jew she meets by the well.

I don’t know this woman but I love her. I love who she is, what she represents, her fortitude, her dignity, her pain. I love her for standing up to Jesus. And I love her for being open to the good news that he is going to bring her way. I love her for her thirst for the best that life has to give – a thirst that has not been quenched, yet has also not died despite the discouragements she has faced along the way.

I love this woman, and I love our Lord who gives his time, his heart and his powerful love to her. Later in the story, the disciples just don’t understand why Jesus would be talking to a foreign woman out in public. No, they don’t understand. They don’t have to. She does. She returns to town after a life changing encounter with a man who was simply there for her, expecting nothing in return. She couldn’t help but share that news.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we all carry the wounds of life. Jesus brought healing to the wounds carried by a faceless woman at a well. May he bring that healing salve of time, attention, affirmation and love into our lives this day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 21st Luke 19:1-5

October 21, 2009

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:1-5

Whenever I read the story of Zacchaeus, the first thing that pops into my head is the children’s song about the “wee little man.” The next image is the Danny DeVito character from the television series, “Taxi.” Then, I might think about Boss Hogg from another, less memorable television series. In other words, the images are always comic – a bizarre little guy climbing a tree so that he could see Jesus above the heads of the crowd.

Those aren’t fair images.

Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector (a pretty good job if you didn’t mind being thought of as the scum of the earth), he was a CHIEF tax collector. His position demanded skill, savvy and carefully woven political connections. He was rich. He was successful. He had a lot to lose if he would ever be seen acting the fool in public.

But none of that mattered when Jesus came to town. Why? Maybe there was something else going on in Zacchaeus’s life that the writer doesn’t tell us about, because they are realities that the writer can’t know.

Maybe Zacchaeus had fought to get to the top, only to discover that life at the top wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Maybe, despite outward riches, Zacchaeus felt inwardly bankrupt. Plagued by guilt and shame, knowing that his friends only cared about what he could do for them, Zacchaeus just might have been a desperately unhappy person. Desperate enough to play the fool, run through the crowd and climb a tree.

Jesus saw him on the edge of the crowd. He always sees the ones on the edges. And Jesus invites himself over. Zacchaeus would never be the same man again.

Those on the edge are not only the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged – they are also the fabulously successful plagued by a desperate emptiness. Know someone like that?

Let us pray: Dearest Lord Jesus, no one escapes your all-seeing eyes. From the sparrows to the hairs on our heads to Zacchaeus in a tree, you see us all. And you are always ready to join us in our lives, to invite yourself over, to recreate us in your image. Thank you for seeing us, and being there with us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 20th Mark 10:46-52

October 20, 2009

“They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” Mark 10:46-52

I remember one blind student when I was in the seminary. I don’t know who was more amazing, the woman or her dog. They went everywhere together – and they were always on time for class. The dog would sit quietly throughout the class session and then bring her boss to the next appointment. I’m remembering this woman today for two reasons.

First, I never knew her name. I had a number of classes with her but I never engaged in a single conversation with her. I stayed in my own little world and never attempted to enter hers. I was the crowd, she was Bartimaeus. I marveled at her ability to cope with life, to thrive despite of her blindness, but I didn’t relate with her. I left her on the outside of my life.

Second, remembering her teaches me something about Bartimaeus. That woman got along quite well with her blind perspective on life. She could do almost anything she wanted to. When Jesus restored his sight, Bartimaeus became a different person, he gained a new perspective on life.

When our attention turns to those on the edges of the crowd, to those folks we recognize but have never allowed ourselves to reach out and engage them, we are tempted to see them as victims. We are tempted to feel sorry for them. But that we need not do. Far better to see them as our teachers, as our colleagues, as people who can help us gain a new and deeper perspective on what it means to be a human being.

Jesus heard the cries of one who wanted some help. Do we?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, there is more than one kind of blindness. There is the inability to see and there is the refusal to see. Open our eyes so that we might see those who live on the edges of life, on the edges of the crowd. You responded to the cries of a blind man, encourage us to respond likewise to those people whom we might help. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 19th Luke 15:3b-7

October 19, 2009

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:3b-7

We’ve all seen politicians work a crowd. Those who contribute the most money to the campaign get “private audiences” with the one running for office. The party faithful get to attend the receptions. As for the rest of the folks, those lucky enough to get a place to stand by the ropes get a glimpse of the “star”, and maybe get to shake hands or have their baby kissed.

Jesus wasn’t much of a politician. I can’t imagine him working a crowd, seeking favor for himself. It seems to me that Jesus’ attention wouldn’t focus on the center of the crowd; he would be much more likely to be scanning the edges of the crowd. Always looking for those who were excluded. The cast-offs, the throw-aways, the outsiders. Always ready to leave the ninety-nine in search of the one.

That’s OK with me. That’s the way it should be.

As a pastor, most of my attention goes to the ninety-nine. Most of my time is spent with those “inside” the church. In any given week, most of my conversations, most of my planning, most of my writing, is directed toward those who are already part of a Christian congregation, or at least have already been baptized into the Christian faith. Once in awhile, I get to experience the joy of working with someone completely new to the faith. But that is a rare experience indeed.

Not so with you. Those of you reading these devotions each morning – in your homes, in your offices – know far more people than I do who are outside the church. You know people who don’t belong to a Christian congregation, who have little or no faith in God. You are the ones – not me – that God can use to reach the unchurched.

My only advice to you is to watch the edges of the crowd. Listen to the stories that you hear from people who feel on the edge of life, those who feel like they don’t have it all together, those confronting struggles that feel too big for them to handle. Listen with compassionate ears for the heart-broken. Look for people who are on the edge either because of their pain or their joy.

When you discover yourself in the vicinity of such a person, and when they discover that you are genuinely compassionate and caring toward them, they will see Jesus in you. And perhaps then they will be open to your words and actions which bear witness to your faith. They might even let you carry them home, bringing joy to the angels.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, soften our hearts to those around us this week. Help us to be attentive to the needs of people, open to hearing their stories, ready to share the compassionate love which you pour into our hearts. You have carried us, like the lost sheep – use us to carry others to your throne of grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.