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Deuteronomy 26:1-3

March 18, 2019

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” Deuteronomy 26:1-3

Our little congregation on the corner of Bellaire Blvd. and Avenue B is in the middle of raising money. We want to pay off our mortgage. This is debt that the congregation accumulated from doing things that congregations sometimes need to do. We rebuilt our school after Hurricane Ike destroyed it. We made some changes in our sanctuary to do things like offer alternative music, live stream our worship services to anyone who wants to watch from wherever they are. We replaced air conditioning. Resurfaced our parking lot. The normal stuff that congregations do that cost a lot of money.

We also want to participate in the capital campaign with our partners in ministry, the Christian Community Service Center (CCSC). CCSC is a coalition of 40+ congregations that have banded together to build an organization that helps feed and clothe people who have more month than money. They offer assistance with rent and utilities. They help people find jobs. They train people to run their own small businesses. They provide school supplies and Christmas presents. And they too are digging out of losing their central building to yet another hurricane.

And finally, we know that there will be other costs to come in taking care of our physical buildings so we want to get ahead of the game by establishing a fund that we can draw from rather than borrowing money in the future.

We’re just doing what congregations do. And all of these things require money beyond the costs of our day to day work. Where will that money come from? The writer of Deuteronomy would have us be crystal clear on that point – all that we have, all that we are, and all that we need, comes from God. Everything we have is a gift from God. As the people of God, we recognize that by giving back a portion of what we have received. Out of gratitude, not obligation. Out of recognizing what God has already done for us, not paying God off for future services.

Such recognition then becomes how we look at life. When a pipe breaks and floods a classroom, we can pray to God for help. And God shows up in the person of a plumber. That the plumber does her work with excellence is a reflection of her character. That she charges us for her services is a necessity for her to continue providing such services to others. She may or may not see the holiness in her work. But we do. Because we are the people of God and this is how we look at things.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we give to you and your work in the world what you have first given us. Thank you for all that we have and all that we are. And thank you for the good news that you will never quit helping us become all that we can be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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1 Kings 17:8-16

March 15, 2019

This week’s devotions were written by Kathy Patrick, a member of Faith Lutheran Church.

The Widow of Zarephath, Part 3

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath.

When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied, and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”

She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 1 Kings 17:8-16

We’ve studied this story for four days, but we’ve not mentioned one important person:  the son of the Widow of Zarephath. You can learn more about him by reading the rest of 1 Kings 17, but as we have it in this part of the story, we know only that he is still at home with his mother and that he is just as desperately poor as is she. We don’t know how they’ve come to be so poor or why they have nothing left to eat but a bit of meal. Are they starving, perhaps, because of the drought—the one Elijah warned Ahab would be the consequence of his idolatry—the same Elijah who has now asked the boy’s mother to share her last meal on earth with him?

What does the boy see? What does he know about Elijah?

We can speculate, but we know this much:  The boy sees his mother share their last morsel of food with a stranger. He sees her generosity. He sees her share food that was meant to sustain him with a refugee neither of them knows. And he sees, too, that the consequence of her generosity is not death—it is life. There is enough. Her generous act is met with abundance. The text reports that the widow, as well as Elijah and her household (including her son) ate for many days, because the jar of meal was not emptied, and the jug of oil did not run dry. (1 Kings 17:15-16).

Prayer:  Holy Spirit, when we bring the children of our church to be baptized, we promise to place the Scriptures in their hands and teach them the stories of our faith. Children learn from what they see us do. May the children of our church, like the son of the Widow of Zarephath, see us respond generously when you call us to give. Help them—and us—to understand that generosity is the very essence of life, so that as you have given generously to us, we may give generously, too. Amen.

1 Kings 17:8-16

March 14, 2019

This week’s devotions were written by Kathy Patrick, a member of Faith Lutheran Church.

The Widow of Zarephath, Part 2

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath.

When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied, and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”

She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 1 Kings 17:8-16

The widow is starving. She and her son are dying. She has gathered her meagre strength and resources like the sticks she is gathering, in the hope that she and her son can have one last meal—together—before they die.

And into the midst of her suffering and dying comes the voice of a strange God, telling her to feed Elijah. Did she think she was hallucinating as she neared death? We know she must have thought the voice she heard was strange, perhaps even cruel, because she responds to Elijah’s request for food, saying that what he asks is all but impossible. “As the Lord your God lives,” she says, “I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

But Elijah responds to her by saying, “Do not be afraid.”  Why is she afraid? There are probably lots of reasons. She’s dying. She may die before her son, leaving him an orphan. The man who appears before her asking for food is a stranger. She doesn’t know his name, but she knows he’s a refugee from another people, whose God is hostile to her own. She’s a woman. He’s a man. And on and on it goes.

Yet somehow his request for help, his dependence on her, touches her heart. She also hears his promise—in her desperate scarcity—that there will be enough, “For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied, and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth,” and it makes a difference to her.

Rather than fleeing or rejecting him, she opens her hand to help him. Will we open our hands to help, too?

Prayer:  Spirit of love, you speak into the midst of our fear, saying, “Trust me. There is enough. There will be enough.” As we hear your call to us to give generously to your church and to those in need, help us to trust that there is enough for us, not only enough for us, but enough to share abundantly with your church, as you have shared with us. Amen.

1 Kings 17:8-16

March 13, 2019

This week’s devotions were written by Kathy Patrick, a member of Faith Lutheran Church.

The Widow of Zarephath, Part 1

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath.

When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied, and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”

She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 1 Kings 17:8-16

As expected, the wadi has dried up. Elijah is again thirsty and hungry, a refugee with nothing to count on but his trust in God. The word of the Lord comes and tells Elijah, ‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’” And the text reports that Elijah, “set out and went to Zarephath.”

There’s a lot going on in those two sentences. A lot. Elijah is an Israelite; the woman to whom he is sent is a gentile. He is a refugee, she is in her home country. He is a man, she is a widow—the most vulnerable, powerless person in all the ancient near east. He has a name, she is nameless, a literal no one. He has been fed by the ravens, she and her son are dying of starvation. He is called by God and obeys; she has heard the command of God to feed him, but the voice she has heard is not the voice of her God. Instead, as she tells Elijah, she has heard the voice of “your God”—a crazy God who doesn’t seem to understand that she is starving and has only enough for one last meal for herself and her son before she dies.

And yet, she feeds him. She feeds him. In the most extreme circumstances, out of her deprivation, she shares what she has—with a refugee, a stranger. Would we do the same?

Prayer:  Lord, the voices around us tell us too often that we should fear those who differ from us. Yet you tell us they, too, are your beloved children. You call us to love them, as you love them. You call us to be generous to them, as you have been generous to us. As we ponder our capital campaign, and the prospect that we could be generous with our gifts to help the Christian Community Service Center, remind us of the Widow of Zarephath. In her example, may we see the promise that—even when we think we don’t have enough—we still have more than enough to be generous to others. Amen.

1 Kings 17:1-7

March 12, 2019

This week’s devotions were written by Kathy Patrick, a member of Faith Lutheran Church.

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land. 1 Kings 17:1-7

Yesterday, in 1 Kings 16: 31-34 and 1 Kings 17:1, we met the evil King Ahab and met the prophet Elijah. The prophet, whose name means “Yahweh is my God” has raised his voice to confront Ahab over his idolatry—and, well, Ahab does not react well.  In verse 2, we learn that Ahab is out for Elijah’s life, so “The word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.’”

And so, Elijah flees. He becomes a refugee. Putting his life in God’s hands, he leaves his home heading for a distant land where he will live along the wadi, depending upon the ravens to feed him. But what is Elijah thinking? Surely, he was terrified, for the obvious reason that a king wanted to kill him. But other things were probably terrifying, too. God is sending Elijah to live by a wadi. A wadi is a seasonal stream that appears in a rainy season, but is dry in the dry season—a dry season Elijah knows is coming because he’s just prophesied a drought. Elijah knows he will have to depend on ravens—large, scary, black birds—to bring him food. What if they fly away and never return? And most of all, Elijah knows he must hide. But where will he hide? And for how long?

In every sense, as Elijah flees, he knows he will have nothing to save him but the generous, unexpected, and unlikely gifts of God:  water from a dry stream, food provided by ravens. He has God’s promise, yet he knows he will be utterly dependent on God to follow through, because Elijah cannot save himself.

And yet, Elijah trusts, because “Yahweh is my God.”

Prayer:  Lord, in a world that emphasizes self-reliance and that we can never have enough, teach us to trust in your generous providing. We pray for daily bread, even as we live with so much more food than that. As we ponder the example of your servant Elijah, help us to focus on what is enough for us, to be grateful for the gifts you give us, and to be as generous to your church and your people as you have been to us. Amen.

1 Kings 16: 31-34; 1 Kings 17: 1

March 11, 2019

This week’s devotions were written by Kathy Patrick, a member of Faith Lutheran Church.

Ahab Marries Jezebel and Worships Baal

And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him.

He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made a sacred pole. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.

In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho; he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua son of Nun. 1 Kings 16: 31-34

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 1 Kings 17:1

As part of our preparation for our Proclaim Jubilee Campaign, we gathered on Sunday to hear the story of Widow of Zarephath. We asked ourselves what it meant to receive gifts and to give them. We also imagined ourselves as characters in the story:  hoping to learn more about how it feels to ask for help, to receive help, and to be asked for help when we feel we have nothing left to give. Over the course of this week, we will examine this story in more detail.

Today, we’ll talk about Elijah.

Elijah was a prophet called by God to speak to the people of Israel during the reign of Ahab. 1 Kings 16 reports that “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.”  Ahab, among other things, married Jezebel, a gentile follower of the God Baal. He began to follow her religion and, because their King was following Baal, the people of Israel began to do the same. Through their shared influence, the people of Israel began to put their God Yahweh on a par with Baal. Ahab even erected an altar to Baal in the Temple of Baal.

Into the midst of this turning away from God, Elijah appears to remind the people of Israel who—and whose—they are. We don’t know anything much about Elijah except that his name means “Yahweh is my God.” When Elijah first appears, he does something extraordinary:  he confronts an evil, idolatrous King and promises (really, he threatens him) with a drought, saying, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)

His calling, in fact his very name “Yahweh is my God,” gives Elijah his voice. He knows who his God is and so, on behalf of that God, he raises his voice to advocate for the holiness of God and God’s reign. Named as God’s own, Elijah speaks truth to a powerful, evil king and—as we will see tomorrow–he suffers the consequences.

In our Baptism, we are all named and claimed as children of God. What does the example of Elijah teach us about the power of God’s claim on our lives? Will we raise our voice and open our hands to respond to God’s call to serve God and God’s purposes?

Let us Pray: In our Baptism, you called us by name and claimed us as your own. Give us open ears to hear you speaking to us. Remind us that we are your hands and feet here on earth. Grant us good courage to answer your call to live generously in furtherance of your will. Amen.

Matthew 27:3-5

March 8, 2019

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. Matthew 27:3-5

When did he change his mind? What made him follow Jesus in the first place? Did he think he would get a little “success by association”? Did he really think that Jesus would change the world?

Many of us don’t spend much time examining our motives for following Jesus. Many of us seldom, if ever, think more deeply about the deepest held convictions of our lives. We see the world. One way. Period. Why would we need to repent (to change our minds, to see things differently, to turn around and turn away)?

Thirty pieces of silver. The old line “every man has his price” comes to mind. Did he think he was doing the right thing or did he know he was doing the wrong thing but he did it anyway?

All Matthew tells us is that Judas did his dirty work. And then as he saw Jesus condemned, he realized his mistake. He gave the money back. And then, he took his own life. He realized that he was guilty of condemning an innocent man.

But the chief priests and elder? They gave the whole scene nothing but a “So what?” Why would it occur to them to repent?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we worry far too much about proving that we are right rather than considering what it right. In that we betray our faith far more than we realize. We pray for those caught in the web of despair, anguish, anger, and hopelessness, to the point of questioning the value of their own lives. Come to them before it is too late. Help us all know that there is always hope, always another way, always a path of repentance, with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 27:1-2

March 7, 2019

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. Matthew 27:1-2

I took a long break from writing daily devotions at the end of Matthew 26. So today I want to pick up where we left off. I want to spend the remainder of Lent slowly walking through the last two chapters of Matthew. I invite you, as we slowly move, to notice the story. To notice the characters in it. To watch their interactions. To see, perhaps for the first time, how Matthew tells the story.

Today, the day after Ash Wednesday, is the second day of Lent. For the next 40 days (Sundays don’t count) Christians reflect on what it means to follow Jesus to and through his death and resurrection. As we begin that journey, we do so by joining a group of religious leaders plotting how to kill Jesus.

We don’t know what they said. We don’t know who spoke up first or whose voice dominated the discussion. All we know is that their best idea was to tie Jesus up and hand him over to Pilate. To Pilate, the governor. To Pilate, the local Roman ruler.

That is the image that leads us into Lent. A man, bound by ropes, led by a group of religious leaders and handed over to the chief government official. Spend some time today imagining that scene in your head. This is where the end begins.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, lead us through this Lenten season. May it be, for us, a time of renewal, a time for you to open our eyes, and open our lives, to the work of your Spirit in us. Draw us into your story, as we draw you ever deeper into ours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

10th Day of Prayer

March 6, 2019

Welcome to our 10th day of prayer as the people of Faith Lutheran Church. I hope that this has been a good and welcome experience for you. I know that these days of prayer took me to places in my own life that were challenging, comforting, and helpful.

Our final prayer theme for today is “Personal Growth in Stewardship.”

Our reading for today is from Matthew 6, verses 19-21:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Let’s pray together.

Offer a prayer thanking God for those material blessings that God has entrusted to you. Make a mental list of them. (PAUSE)

Acknowledge before God how tempting it is to imagine that you have these things because of your own deserving, and that they are yours to do with as you wish. (PAUSE)

Ask God to give you a generous heart. (PAUSE)
Ask God’s Spirit to stir you to give generously, that your treasure may lead your heart closer to Jesus. (PAUSE)

Amen. May God bless you and keep you in God’s grace.

9th Day of Prayer

March 5, 2019

Welcome to our 9th day of prayer as the people of Faith Lutheran Church. Our prayer theme for today is “Financial Support for Our Campaign.”

Our reading for today is from 2 Corinthians 9, verses 7-8:

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

Let’s pray together.

Offer a prayer thanking God for the material blessings that have been showered upon you and the other members of our congregation. (PAUSE)

Acknowledge before God that everything you have belongs to God, and is given to you as a trust under your care. (PAUSE)

Ask God to fill our congregation with cheerful hearts as we respond to the opportunity before us. (PAUSE)

Ask God to move us to generosity as we dedicate to God’s work the financial blessings that God has entrusted to us. (PAUSE)

Amen. May God bless you and keep you in God’s grace.