Joy in the Morning

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Psalm 130:6

I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

On the third day of Christmas, I awoke as I have for the past three weeks to my puppy ready to go out and greet the morning.  As I opened the door of her crate, she leapt up with joy, so happy to see me and so happy to be alive.  This small, but growing, 11-week old apricot standard poodle reminds me of our hearts and souls.

I have often thought of this Psalm 130 as one who has sat and watched in fear beside a child’s bedside, waiting for the morning, watching the clock until I could call the doctor’s office for help.  But, instead, today, I thought of it with joy not fear.  With joy, my heart rises up to greet the Lord in the morning.

When I was young, I would wake early.  The rule was in our house that I could get up any time I wanted, but I could not wake my mom until six.  I would get up before my two brothers and slip out to the back yard to the swing set.  There I would start my day as I had finished it, swinging and singing.  There was joy in the morning.

During the Christmas season we remember that we have been given a sign:  a babe in the manger.  This is the sign for us, a sign that God loves us and we are God’s children.  Throughout January, let us take this knowledge of being loved and let it grow in us like the leaping of a puppy, like the singing in the morning.  Let us live in the joy of the morning.

As we move forward into the year, let us do so with joy, filled with the love of God, remembering our baptisms.  We wait for the Lord and watch for the morning.  Like a puppy, like a child, my heart jumps with joy in the morning.

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Courage For a Life of Love

Pentecost cookiesThese are flame shaped cookies that helped us celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, 50 days after the resurrection.  We celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the breaking point.”  ~ C.S. Lewis

We all need courage to face the fears in our lives, fear of too little money, too little energy, too little knowledge to make the decisions that face us, fear of embarrassment or ridicule, fear of making a mistake, fear of losing our health, our jobs, and our loved ones.  No one is a stranger to fear.  And, some people in power or want to be in power can capitalize on that fear.  We need courage to live good lives that will please God.

Two thousand years ago, the Romans kept the peace by keeping the population in fear of the authorities.  Even the men who were the closest to Jesus of Nazareth were fearful after Jesus had been arrested, tried and convicted, and executed.  They feared for their lives.  They had been tasked with loving God and their neighbors but how can you do that if you are afraid of anyone you do not know?

And, then, something happened.  Something happened with a large sound like a rushing wind, something that was like light and fire.  Something happened that was powerful.  And, they were no longer hiding in an upper room but out on the streets, teaching, preaching, and healing.  They were once again living into the future.  They had courage to live lives that glorified God and spoke of God’s love and saving actions in Jesus Christ.

That was the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate, who was the bringer of courage.  The Holy Spirit was a life changer.  In a world where we are encouraged to fear the outsider, the immigrant, the possible futures, do we need a courage that the world cannot give?  This is a courage to become more Christlike, a courage to love and serve instead of fear and hate.

This is a courage to live a life of love.  This is a courage the Holy Spirit can give.

We can pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.  Kindle in us the fire of your love.”

 

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Hope for the Future

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Love one another, even as I have loved you.  [John 13:34]

They will know you are Christians by your love.

Sometimes, the best of life seems to be captured in our memories of the past, the Good Old Days.  The best of life a hundred years ago could look a lot like a Norman Rockwell painting.  There would be communities where people knew each other, schools that taught addition and multiplication tables, and beautiful handwriting.  People would be walking to school and church, eating together at dinner time and Sunday lunches without being interrupted by the phone, texts, or TV.  This might be the best of former days.

But there was another side to life a century ago.  There was grinding poverty, discrimination against anyone of color, discrimination against women in education, as well as employment.  Those are not things I want again.  When I think of turning back the clock, I think of regaining the things that I value while keeping air conditioning, cars, the internet, and the hard earned equalities for women and minorities, and air conditioning.  I want the best of the past combined with the best of the present to form a better future.  It is my hope that we can do this.

Thinking of the Church, then and now, those who were once not a people are now a people, formed by water and word and joined by scripture, common experiences, goals, and values. Within this community, it does not matter where your people came from, whether they or you are documented.  It does not matter what kind of food you eat or language you speak in your home.  It doesn’t matter if I like vanilla ice cream and you love chocolate.  It doesn’t matter what political party you belong to or if you are an independent, or even a citizen.  It doesn’t matter if you know and honor the fashion code: “no white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day.”

In God’s house, all are welcome.  Around the Lord’s Table, all may eat and drink the mystery of the faith.

As Christians, we have a new identity in Christ.  That is our hope.  We are no longer slave or free, documented or undocumented, Republican or Democrat, red, yellow, black, brown, or white, straight or gay.  We are one in the Spirit, united in Christ.  They will know we are Christians by our love.

What if every Christian became so known for loving each other that people all around wanted to come, to sit beside us, to be our friend, and wanted to follow Christ with us?  How much more love could we show?

Let’s bring the best of the past and the present into the future in order to love God, love others, and serve the world.  That is the hope for the future.

They will know we are Christians by our love.

 

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We Are the Sheep of God’s Pasture

Thank you to Rev. James Wetzstein for permission to use his wonderful comic. More can be found at www.Agnusday.org

Thank you to Rev. James Wetzstein for permission to use his wonderful comic. More can be found at http://www.Agnusday.org

I don’t really like to think of myself as a sheep because they are somewhat stupid animals and I have prided myself on being a good student during my academic career.  But the truth is that I can also be dumb, either because I have no experience or knowledge of a subject or because I simply have not grasped what something means, perhaps we all can.  We can know facts without knowing what it really means.  And, I’ve been a sheep in other ways.  I’ve been known to follow fashion trends and buy things that I don’t really need but I want because it’s all the rage.  I can be a sheep.  However, being a sheep does not have to be bad if we continue to learn from Jesus and follow the right shepherd.

In today’s world, it is the same as it always has been.  We can choose who to listen to, who to follow.  We can choose on what to spend our time, our money, and our energy.  And, how we choose do this shows our priorities in life.  It shows which shepherd we follow.  Our actions reveal who we are.

Are we kind, generous, respectful, even when we disagree?  Do we help those in need?  Do we really want to know more about Jesus and more than that, to follow what he says is important.

Love God.  Love others. Serve the world.

May we be the kind of sheep who are kind.

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Redirecting

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I am directionally challenged.  I get lost easily and even have trouble in knowing which way to turn when I get off elevators.  I am very grateful for the new technology that gives us mapping programs.  My phone uses these and even talks to me to give me the directions I need to get where I’m going, either by car or by foot.  If I make a wrong turn, it recalculates the route and will redirect me.  However, we can get off the route in ways that are not just traveling on roads but in the purpose of our lives.

John 10:1-18, Acts 9:36-43

Saul on the road to Damascus and Peter at the lakeside both saw the risen Lord and were redirected.  Both were good Jewish men, trying their best to live their lives, but they had gotten a bit lost and off track.  Saul was righteously killing people, in the name of God, of course, binding and killing those who followed ‘The Way.’.  Peter was living in fear and guilt with the horrible knowledge that he denied three times knowing Jesus, whom he loved and admired more than anyone else in the world.

My phone talks to me and tells me when to turn so that I can get where I’m going.  However, thankfully, it has never blinded me when I was going the wrong way.  Nor has it ever fed me breakfast and welcomed me back to the right path.  However, Jesus did both these things in our two passages today helping Saul and Peter to reorient their lives to the right path. He redirected them onto better paths.

Just as the mapping programs have to redirect us when we are going the wrong way, God recalculates and redirects our lives, as well.  But, just as we have to hear and follow the guidance of that mapping program, we also have to hear and follow God’s guidance.  And how do we do that?  How do we realize when we are doing the wrong thing, something that hurts rather than brings life to the community around us?

We continue to pray and meditate on scriptures and measure our lives against the teachings of Jesus to love God, love others, and serve the world.

People who breath murder and curses toward other countries or religions such as Muslims or homosexuals or other political parties are acting like Saul.  The Baptist Church that protests and preaches hate – is following Saul’s example.  Most of us do not do that — I hope none of us do, although there are lots of talk show hosts who broadcast such hatred.  I turn them off.  And, now when I do, I’ll think of the Holy Spirit saying, “Redirecting.”

Peter, on the other hand, is more understandable to many of us.  For, while we would not want to murder another person, we can understand the fear of being killed by angry mobs.  We can understand the regret for things we have done and regret for brave and good things that we have not done.

I saw an amazing historical picture of a brave man.  It was a photo of a crowd of Germans in WWII standing and holding their right hands high in a Nazi salute.  Within that huge crowd, one man stood with his arms crossed on his chest.  “Redirecting.”

Love God.  Love others.  Serve the world.

Examine yourself against these three statements.  Where could you do better?  How could you love God and people better?  How could you make the world a better place?  How can we, individually, and together make this world a better place, this community a better place?

If we have strayed, either in hate or fear or guilt, perhaps as we pray, we can hear the Spirit saying, “Redirecting, redirecting.”

 

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What Comforts You?

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There are times in life when we need comfort, just as the disciples did after the death of Jesus.  His death shook their world.  They seem to be huddling together in the upper room, afraid to be seen, afraid of the Roman guards.  All their hopes and dreams were smashed.  First, they were shocked by the arrest of Jesus.  Then, Peter, a loyal disciple, had denied that he even knew Jesus.  Three times, he denied him.  Then, Jesus was actually crucified and died.  The one in whom they had placed their hope was gone.

They sat together, doors closed and locked, afraid of being arrested, afraid of being tried, and afraid of being executed.  This was a very unsettling and scary time for them.  What could they do now?

You may have had some very unsettling times yourself when you were at a major cross road, where the past and the future seem disconnected.  Perhaps you have experienced a lay-off or a firing, or a divorce, or the death of a loved one.  If you have not had one of those times, you will some day.  It is part of being human.

We can find comfort in food, mashed potatoes, chocolate, or other foods that remind us of happy times and loving people.  And, we can find comfort in the company of kind people, a walk in nature, a good book, or a movie.  However, as I learned in fifteen years of walking the Hospice Road with many people, sometimes there is no personal presence or food, music, book, or movie that is strong enough to bring comfort.

When working as a hospice chaplain, I was frequently around people who are sad, sick, or grieving.  Some are in shock from receiving such a short life expectancy from the doctor.  They need more comfort than I, myself, can give.  I responded to their needs with prayer.  When praying for their comfort, I prayed that the love of God would surround them like a soft blanket and bring comfort for their souls.

What do you do when there is nothing we have that brings comfort?

Pray. The power of the Holy Spirit can give comfort that eliminates fear, brings peace and strength.  The love of God is larger than our deepest fear.

When we get to a major crossroad and don’t know what lies ahead, we can pray.  God is with us.  God will be with us, giving us the courage to go forward.  And, this comforts me.

What about you?

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Why do you wear a cross, if you do?

Wearing a Cross

We have passed through Easter and heard the good news:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!   Death has been defeated!  The cross is empty which has gotten me thinking about crosses.

My mother collected crosses and had several favorites that she wore over and over again, such as the Jerusalem cross with the four smaller crosses that symbolized the wounds in Jesus hands and feet.  I, too, have a collection that includes several she gave me, including the one above.

In a message during Holy Week this year, a local pastor spoke of a survey of people who were wearing crosses.  Someone stopped people on the street and asked each one why they were wearing a cross and what it meant to them.  Not surprisingly, a number of answers were given, including ones that had nothing to do with Jesus, but were reflective of the beauty of the necklace or the love of the person who had given it as a gift.

How might you respond to such a question in a way that would reflect your deepest thoughts and truest feelings?  I might respond that it is a symbol of the one I follow, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.  But I also like the answer that the cross reminds me of the love of the one who gave it to me, the God of all creation.

I wear a cross to remind me of Jesus’ sacrifice and the incredible love of God.  I wear it to remind myself that, as our forebears wrote in the Heidelberg Catechism: My only comfort is that “I belong – body and soul, in life and in death — not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins…”  I wear it to remind myself who I am and to whom I belong.  I wear it to proclaim the love of God who loves all creation.

For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life!  ~ John 3:16

If someone asked you why you wear a cross, presuming you do, what would you answer?

Peace of Christ

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