Archive for September, 2013

Matthew 5:43-44

September 24, 2013

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:43-44


Two Sundays ago I was driving home from church.  I was on the 610 Loop, right next to the Galleria, when I came up behind a car with a bumper sticker that said, “I would rather waterboard 1000 terrorists than lose one American life.”  It wasn’t what I expected to see.  I was intrigued.  So I pulled up alongside to get a look at the person behind the wheel who would rather waterboard 1000 terrorists than lose one American life.


It was a little old man.  Peeking up through the steering wheel.  And I wondered about him for a bit.  He didn’t look dangerous at all.  I realized he would probably never be in a position to actually waterboard 1000 terrorists.  But with every mile he drove, he was telling others that he would if he could. 


I can understand the anger behind the message.  This past Sunday began with the news of the bombing of the crowd at All Saints Church in Pakistan.  That should make anyone angry, anyone with a heart, anyone who has ever loved anyone.  Yet I still found myself wondering what good could come out of his messaging.  What good would come from 1000 more families angry at the treatment of their own loved ones by those who use torture and violence to solve problems.


And, of course, I thought about the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.  Our reptilian responses to the cruelty and violence of life might always leap to vengeance and violence.  Fight or flight is humanity on cruise control.  But Jesus knows us.  He knows we have other options.  He knows there is a better way.


The Big Book of AA says something along the lines of “we learned to pause when agitated.”  That pause enables us to shift emotional gears, to shift into thinking rather than swinging, to act rather than react.


My daughter told me not long ago that she was having fun playing a new game in her mind.  She was consciously and intently reminding herself throughout the day, as she noticed other people, just how much God loved each and every one of them.  She told me that it was fun.  It kept her attitude positive all day.  It gave her joy.


Yes, in the immediate aftermath of hurt, it is hard to go there.  But maybe if we spent more time there as a preventative measure, there would be far less hurt, and far more compassion, in the world today.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, you know us better than we know ourselves.  You know how quick we are to react, to lash out, to resent, to judge.  Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Psalm 23:5

September 23, 2013

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Psalm 23:5


Jewish theologian Zalman Schachter has an interesting way of listening to this text.  He says that, at least once a year, he hosts an imaginary dinner party in his mind, to which he invites everyone with whom he has had a run-in during the past year.  Everyone with whom he is on bad terms.  Everyone who hurt, offended, or disappointed him or his family.


Once gathered around the table, he explains to each of his guests that he has invited them to this feast to thank them for the gifts they have given him, the lessons they have taught him.


  • Some have taught him to be realistic about what he can really expect from other people
  • Others have taught him that hypocrisy is sometimes inevitable when the demands of daily life make it impossible to live up to our highest ideals
  • Still others have taught him to look more deeply into himself.  When stung by their criticism, he has learned how to look into himself and his past, asking himself why he reacts so strongly


My mother always taught me that it takes two to fight.  And Jesus has taught me that the best way to deal with our enemies is to love them, to pray for them, to do unto them what we would have them do unto us, to do what we can to break down the dividing walls.  Only love – holy love, powerful love, redeeming love – can truly swallow up brokenness and spit out harmony.


People in recovery understand that hatred and resentments against others will block the sunlight of the Spirit of their lives.  No good will come of it.  They are taught, in the 10th step, to carefully review their day, looking for their part in whatever happened where they were hurt or hurt others.  Promptly admitting when they are wrong and seeking reconciliation, wherever possible.


So the Good Shepherd invites us to sit down at a table with our enemies – he even prepares the meal.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, work in us to unsettle us, not with resentment but with resolve, to work through brokenness, long held grudges, irrational fears, and all that separates us from those who would be our friends.  Help us clean our side of the street.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Luke 15:1-7

September 16, 2013

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “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 15:1-7


Pastor Junfeng Tan, my partner at Faith Lutheran, said some things in his sermon yesterday morning that I hope I never forget.  I’d like to capture some of that in this week’s devotions.  (This is from memory so the quotes won’t be exact.)


He told the story of Andrew Roy, a Texan missionary to China.  In 1949, during the communist takeover of the country, Roy was put under house arrest and interrogated by the Chinese.  At one point, his captures were trying to convince him of the foolishness of the Christian faith and the wisdom of communism.  They used these verses from Luke 14.


Their argument was that Jesus was foolish to leave the ninety-nine sheep behind and in potential danger while searching for the one lost sheep.  The communist ideology taught the supreme value of the collective over the individual.  Jesus was foolish in risking the collective to potentially rescue just one lost sheep, a sheep he might never find.


Roy countered with the argument:  “By leaving the ninety-nine, he gave those sheep the gift of ultimate security.  For they knew, that just as the shepherd would leave them to search for one lost sheep, so too would the shepherd do anything he could to find them in case they too might one day find themselves lost.”


But if he ignored or forgot about one lost sheep, the rest of the sheep would live in fear that, should they ever got lost, the shepherd would not come and find them.”


Of course the good news in this story is that we all like sheep have gone astray, but the Good Shepherd will never be content to leave us in our lost-ness.  His focus will ever be on finding the lost ones, and our security will ever be in knowing that we live under the watchful gaze of a loving shepherd who knows the number of every hair on our heads.


Let us pray:  Thank you, our Good Shepherd, that you seek and save the lost.  That you have found us, and should we ever stray, that you will lead us home.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Genesis 24:29-33, 50-67

September 6, 2013

Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran out to the man, to the spring. As soon as he had seen the nose-ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man; and there he was, standing by the camels at the spring. He said, “Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside when I have prepared the house and a place for the camels?” So the man came into the house; and Laban unloaded the camels, and gave him straw and fodder for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. Then food was set before him to eat; but he said, “I will not eat until I have told my errand.” He said, “Speak on….”


Then Laban and Bethuel answered, “The thing comes from the Lord; we cannot speak to you anything bad or good. Look, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the Lord. And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments.


Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they rose in the morning, he said, “Send me back to my master.” Her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has made my journey successful; let me go that I may go to my master.” They said, “We will call the girl, and ask her.” And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.


Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.  Genesis 24:29-33, 50-67


Nothing I could say would add anything to this delightful story.  Abraham knows his end is near and wants nothing more than the best for his son and the unfolding of God’s promise.  Abraham’s servant is faithful and crafty.  And Rebekah and Isaac, not knowing any of that, find love at first sight.


What a great story.  Like all love stories, I’ve never heard a bad one.  Love is like that. 


The only thing I can add is this – a gentle reminder that Isaac and Rebekah (like us) have been caught up into the greatest love story ever told – the love of God for us all.


Let us pray:  For life, for love, for living in your promises, our hearts lean into you, God of all creation.  May your will be done in and through us, for the good of the world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Genesis 24:15-28

September 5, 2013

Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, coming out with her water jar on her shoulder. The girl was very fair to look upon, a virgin, whom no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me sip a little water from your jar.” “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.


When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder and a place to spend the night.”


The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin.” Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things.  Genesis 24:15-28


Every time I read this story the same thought crosses my mind – even in ancient times people went to the local watering hole to pick up women.  I guess it makes sense.  For the same reason that people rob banks.  (Because that’s where the money is…)


So Abraham’s servant arrives at the well with the plan we saw yesterday.  . Let the girl to whom I shall say, “Please offer your jar that I may drink”, and who shall say, “Drink, and I will water your camels”—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.  Haven’t we all done that?  Especially under the chemically induced haze of potential romance? 


We’ve thought, “If she looks my way one more time, I’ll go talk to her.”  We’ve plucked petals from flowers, “She loves me, she loves me not.  She loves me, she loves me not…”  We look for an edge.  We expect God to show up in carefully timed coincidences.  We’ve decided, “Maybe this is the one!” when it turns out that we both have second cousins named Marvin.


None of this makes any sense but that’s OK because rationality is not the only aspect of our humanity we access when it comes to romance.  But the servant had a plan and Rebekah fit the bill.  To a tee.  I doubt that the servant really needed to offer a gold nose-ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels in order to take the next step but it probably didn’t hurt.


So here we are, wondering if God can really work through such things – human body chemistry, weird coincidences, time worn dating rituals, second party mate choosing – and the story answers with a resounding YES.


God works, not only in mysterious ways, but also in delightful ways.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, this morning we revisit the dance of courtship, the mysterious ways where our lives intersect with those with whom we desire nothing more than to spend the rest of our lives.  I’m thankful this morning for Kelley and for all couples everywhere.  I pray that your love might be the healing balm and binding glue that brings joy into our lives together.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Genesis 24:10-14

September 4, 2013

Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all kinds of choice gifts from his master; and he set out and went to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water; it was towards evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, ‘O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. Let the girl to whom I shall say, “Please offer your jar that I may drink”, and who shall say, “Drink, and I will water your camels”—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.’  Genesis 24:10-14


This is an interesting part of the story.  Abraham has chosen this particular servant and has sent him on a mission to find a wife for his son.  We have no idea why Abraham chose this particular servant.  We don’t know his name.  But immediately we are drawn to his wisdom, even as we are surprised by his plan.


He takes “ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all kinds of choice gifts from his master…”  This isn’t where match-making begins for us today….at least not that we’re willing to admit it… 


We prefer to think that match-making begins with attraction, chemistry, romance, mutual interests.  We are quick to say that it is all about love.  But if it is, then it is about love as lust, the lowest form of love.  It is about “What am I going to get out of this deal?”  We secretly wonder “What does this person bring to my life that I want for my needs and my hopes and my dreams?”  We hate to think about how selfish all of that is.


So we self-righteously think that the idea of buying a wife “with camels and choice gifts” a bit…inappropriate.  But that isn’t the only surprise in this story.


The servant also prays, ‘O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.”  Here is where we are drawn to the wisdom of the servant.  He prays for God’s help.  But notice his prayer.  He doesn’t pray for Isaac, for Isaac’s life, for Isaac’s happiness, for Isaac’s future.  His goal is finding a wife for Isaac but his prayer is to please Isaac’s father, Abraham.  This is weird to us.


There was a day when young people had a strong sense of family identity and family legacy.  Not just immediate family but extended family.  Questions about marriage began with questions about the consequences of bringing families together via marriage.  So it seems very strange to us that this “find a wife for Isaac mission” seems to have very little to do with Isaac.


This is the irony of our age.  My wife’s theory is that this brave new world of instant communications and electronic media is making us all the more self-absorbed.  We text a friend and get an immediate answer – a very different world than the days when reaching out to a friend meant going home to our phone, calling their house, maybe getting them at home and maybe not.  Or, perish the thought, actually walking to their house to look for them.  No wonder we think life is about me and instant gratification for my wants – or that we bring such attitudes into our marriages.

So we watch this servant on his mission and we recoil at how Isaac is being left out.  Which then leaves us blind to the point of the story – it isn’t about Isaac or Abraham or the servant at all.  It is about God, working out God’s purposes, for all creation.

Which should then catch us short with the realization that that is what our lives are about too.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we aren’t always aware of what you are up to in our lives but we are aware that we matter, that our lives make a difference, that we are connected to other people in so many ways, seen and unseen.  Forgive us our selfishness.  May your Spirit work in us, softening our hardest edges, opening us to new possibilities, that we might live by faith, trusting your goodness, and relying on your guidance.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Genesis 24:1-9

September 3, 2013

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.”


The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land; must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.”


So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.  Genesis 24:1-9


I missed a couple of days of devotions last week because I was away from the computer tending to some family needs.  We finished four weeks of listening to the stories of Abraham and Sarah in worship in August.  Now it is September, a new month, a new week of work…but I can’t leave Abraham alone. 


Today we find that Abraham, who has been old since we first met him, is now nearing his end.  But he still has business to take care of.  His son has not yet married and Abraham is clear that passing on his legacy requires children.  So he begins making arrangements.  Thus opens a fascinating chapter in ancient match-making.


I find the idea of arranged marriage fascinating.  I have only known one person whose parents arranged a marriage for him.  He flew from Houston to spend two weeks with his potential wife and her family.  They didn’t have a moment alone while they were together.  They agreed to the marriage and it happened.  The last I heard, it has turned out quite well.


I have known many American couples who married very quickly.  I’ll never forget the story of Carl and Margie Wetzel.  They met on a Florida beach.  She was on vacation, had just gotten in her car to leave the beach, when Carl came out of the water.  She put the car in reverse and backed up to the sand, getting out of the car and making sure to get Carl’s attention.  She had no idea who he was but she liked what she saw.  He was in the military, preparing to get shipped out.  They spent a few days together. Margie drove home to Indiana to announce to her parents her plans for getting married.  Two weeks later she was back in Florida getting married to Carl.  Thus began 60 years of marriage.


Yesterday, between games at a softball tournament, I spent time with a Jewish couple.  The wife was a bit intrigued about the whole Lutheran thing which ultimately took us to talking about the question of “inter-marriage” and how various faith groups respond to the diversity of modern life.  It is interesting that such questions usually come down to a conversation around “what about the children.”


Marriage matters.  It always has.  Much is at stake.  Much has always been at stake.  So Abraham sends his servant back “to the old country” to find a wife for his son.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of marriage, for the coming together of two people, two families, two histories.  Thank you for the gifts of family, children and grandchildren.  Thank you for the signs of your love that we see as people weave their lives together.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.