Devotional for November 30, 2014 – Faith as a Way of Life

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                                                     For the next four weeks we will be turning back to our Narrative Lectionary track for Advent.  This week begins our four week Advent season.  During this season we will be looking at what it means to be, “on the way.”  This season will take us through a journey towards the birth of Christ.  Our way will be full of questions, finding our path, and discerning what it means to be people of God. We will be called into action and challenged about what our way should be.  What does it mean to be on the way for you this season?

Our season begins with an unusual start in the prophet Habbakuk.  Habbakuk is not the feel good prophet that we might think should kick off Advent.  Habbakuk gives us a way of life that is a foundational piece to what it means to be a Christian disciple who is waiting for God to show up. This prophet is speaking from a particularly traumatic time in Israel’s history. The Assyrian army has been destroying cities one after another. Not long after, the Babylonians will attack Jerusalem three times. And in 587 BCE, the temple will be destroyed.  This prophet is sitting in the midst of destruction and hurt.

When we meet the prophet, Habbakuk is looking around, surveying the violence and cries out to God. He is overwhelmed by injustice, violence, oppression and evil deeds.  The prophet asks why. Why must there be this violence in the world? Why does God allow it? I can relate to this cry.  I seem to find myself asking these questions more and more.  I look around and wonder why there must be such violence in the world.  Why is there injustice, oppression, slavery, gun violence, and conquering?

After the prophet cries out, he waits.  Habbakuk, in chapter two, is standing on a watch tower and waiting for God to answer.  When God finally appears and answers, it is not the answer we thought we had been waiting for.  The vision is to be clear. So clear that if you are running by, you can still see it.  The answer is to….wait.  Wait for God to do what God will do.  Evil will not win but we are to wait and live a life full of faith.  It won’t be easy. It never has been.  We can’t just put faith on, we have to live it.  We live it by waiting.  We live it by continuing to trust in God and how God will do God’s work.  Advent is a season of waiting for just such a transformation.  Advent calls us to discern which way we will choose.  Habbakuk reminds us to, as a foundational piece of our belief, wait in faith.  Choose faith as this way of life.  This will begin our journey together.                                                                                                                                                    

Quotes of the week

“Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark. If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be… a prudent insurance policy.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” -Carl Sandburg

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” -Og Mandino
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” -Buddha

“Go where your best prayers take you.” ― Frederick Buechner

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:2-4, 3:17-19 (Message)                                                                                             The problem as God gave Habakkuk to see it:                                                                                         God, how long do I have to cry out for help
before you listen?
How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!”
before you come to the rescue?
Why do you force me to look at evil,
stare trouble in the face day after day?
Anarchy and violence break out,
quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces.
Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung
and stand justice on its head.

And then God answered: “Write this.
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.
This vision-message is a witness
pointing to what’s coming.
It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait!
And it doesn’t lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
It’s on its way. It will come right on time.

 “Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—
full of himself but soul-empty.
But the person in right standing before God
through loyal and steady believing
is fully alive, really alive.

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
I feel like I’m king of the mountain!

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                     

How will you wait this season?

What are you waiting for?

What has challenged your faith in God?  How is faith part of your way of life?

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We Are Wealthy!

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

Jesus manages to “stagger” his disciples in today’s lesson. They are shocked by the idea that rich people may have a problem getting into God’s kingdom. Nothing in their theology up to this point would have led them to think this. From their reaction to what Jesus says, perhaps we can deduce a bit of their assumptions? Here’s a try:

  • If you follow God and God’s law, God will bless you and you will thrive.
  • At least a part of that thriving is to be blessed with riches.
  • Of all the people on earth, the rich must be the most blessed by God.

There are many modern-day, Christian theologians who teach just this. Other Christians may be shocked to learn that Jesus does not teach this. According to Jesus we have to let it all go. And we will. Some saints are able to give everything away and follow Jesus. Some, like myself for example, are trying to simplify and give away more, but all of us will at some point, give away everything. “There are no U-Haul’s behind hearses!”

There are also many theologians who quote Jesus’ answer to one person, but don’t pay much attention to this one. Sure, to one, Jesus said, “You must be born again.” But, to another, he said “sell your possessions and give it all to the poor.” You just don’t hear this very often from TV Evangelists!

But to me the point is that I can’t do it by myself. As a rich, upper-middle-class member of the richest country on the planet, I don’t have a chance. I’m never going to “give” my way into the kingdom of God, and maybe that’s not the point. Christ has done all things for me. Jesus has expressed great love for me and I know I am a child of God because of his teachings. I know I’m going to heaven and don’t have to worry (though sometimes I do, because worrying is one of my primary gifts!) So, the point is, how do I respond to all that God has done for me.

Jesus actually seems to like this young person—like their spunk and initiative. This young man wants to be perfect! So, Jesus tells him he must do the very thing he is not able to do, and invites him into relationship: “come and follow me.” There is no way for us to be perfect (sorry about that you Methodists out there!) But we can trust, we can enter into a relationship with Jesus. We can let go and let God do it.

Quotes for the Week

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.”     Buddha

“Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Andrew Carnegie

 Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.                                                                Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.           Dialogue from Fiddler on the Roof

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” – Woody Allen

“Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money.” – Jackie Mason

“I hog the covers, and my second toe is longer than my big one. My hair has its own zip code…You don’t love someone because they’re perfect…You love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.”              Jodi Picoult

Lesson: Matthew 19:16-26 (The Message)

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.”

18-19 The man asked, “What in particular?”

Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”

20 The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?”

21 “If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”

22 That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.

23-24 As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”

25 The disciples were staggered. “Then who has any chance at all?”

26 Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”

Questions for the Week

What is your relationship to money? Is it healthy?

What is your relationship with Jesus? Is it healthy?

What is your biggest imperfection?

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Devotional for November 16, 2014 – “X” Marks the Spot                               

 Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                         This week we continue on with the list of parables in Matthew. Last week we talked about how the kingdom of God spreads throughout like mustard seed and leaven.  This week the parables take us into the value of the kingdom here on earth.  This line of parables is fascinating because they highlight things that tug at us without even really knowing why.  These stories tend to get under our skin and stick like a really good story does.  I don’t know about you but I kept reading and rereading to try to figure out the connections to each other and to my life.

The Gospel of Matthew is a master at the parable piece.  Parables allow us to experience something rather than just hear it straightforward. We will really get to delve into more of Matthew’s parables during Lent.  They work on us sideways until it finally nags at us and won’t let us go.  Parables transform when we identify what is strange about them.  When we identify what is strange about the parable, it becomes a window into the kingdom of God.

The strange element of the first parable, the parable of the treasure, is the behavior of the seeker.  Why would someone give up everything to have access to a treasure that they couldn’t really have by the laws of the day? It would have been extremely hard for the seeker to buy the land where the treasure has been hidden. Why would you sell all to possess this one area of land? This is the same as with the parable of the pearl.  If you sell everything to own that one pearl, you will have nothing left except for the pearl.  This pearl is valuable but doesn’t give you food, shelter, and other amenities.  But then, once you have the most valuable pearl, what else would you need?  This makes me rethink all of what I think is valuable.  God’s kingdom is a search and then an extremely valuable treasure or item. The kingdom holds the most value and gives abundant joy.  The kingdom is an extravagant response to the search of the treasure.

God’s kingdom is something so valuable that when we prioritize it, we don’t need much of anything else.  Value is placed on priority and stewardship of what we have.  Notice that the one who finds the treasure, is a steward of stuff rather than accumulation on top of the treasure. Each steward values what is most important and sells off the rest. The merchant who finds the perfect pearl doesn’t just acquire the pearl but sells all other possessions. There is nothing to acquire or consume.

We are constant searchers for what is of value and we are given great treasure.  We are called to be stewards of what we have and to prioritize what is valuable.  When we find the valuable new treasures, we will rejoice in where we find God.  This series of parables makes me think about what would be so valuable that I would give up everything else to be around the valuable thing.  During our stewardship campaign, I am doubly reflective on what I value and I how I am a steward on this earth.  What will I do with my gifts?  What will I do with what has been found? What will I continue to seek?  How will I prioritize my values?  And when I find the kingdom of God, what will I do with that treasure?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Quotes of the week

“There is all the difference in the world between treasure and money.” ― Roderick Townley

“There is no greater treasure in this world than somebody who loves you as you are.” ― Eric Micha’el Leventhal

“Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing.” ― Barbara Kingsolver

One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.” – Simone de Beauvoir

“The locked door in my house is just a diversion. The real valuable items are out in the open, where they are hidden from the unimaginative.” ― Jarod KintzA Zebra is the Piano of the Animal Kingdom

 Matthew 13: 44-52 (NRSV)

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                      

What do you value?

What do you dedicate your life to?  Where is God in that dedication?

What is your greatest treasure?

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Those Pesky Weeds!

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

I love this reading. I love the parables of Jesus, and trying to figure out what they mean for us today. I’m greatly helped in that task by Robert Farrar Capon’s book, The Parables of the Kingdom. Let’s start with the weeds. First of all, Capon would remind us that the Kingdom is the very seed that is sown. And as we know from reading scripture, that seed is good. It doesn’t have to grow to be the kingdom, it doesn’t have to produce fruit, it is, of itself the actual kingdom of God. But there is a problem. Weeds. We know all about weeds in Western Oregon! And, the farmers and gardeners among us might wonder just what kind of a grower Jesus might have been. “Let the weeds grow?” Not removing weeds in a timely fashion is a guarantee of many, many more weeds.

But let that go for a minute. What are we to do with evil? How are we to respond? Leave it be. Capon points out that the same word used for letting the weeds go is the same as our word forgive. What are we to do with evil? Let it go (song cue) and forgive it. Looked at in another way, each of us is the field of the kingdom, and God has planted beautiful seeds in each of us . . . and unfortunately there are a few weeds as well. In every single one of us, Mother Theresa included.

And here’s another funny thing about these parables. Might the next story of the mustard seed be an example of a weed that is sown? According to Pastor Courtney the answer is yes. Mustard seeds are insidious. Municipalities in the Middle East will not allow it to be grown in many places. If Jesus appeared in McMinnville this week, he might start this story: “The kingdom of God is like a blackberry seed.” Now you get the picture? The kingdom is impossible to stop, it will find a way, it is everywhere. I once heard that every Himalayan Blackberry in this country came from one seed that got away from Luther Burbank. Now there’s a picture of God’s presence and persistence!

But the best of all of these stories, the perfect picture of God’s presence is the bread baker. I don’t say that simply because I like to make bread. But there is so much to like. First of all, God is pictured as an old woman. And this is not a petite, homemaker fashioning a loaf or two. No, this is a baker! And she is creating around 120 pounds of bread dough. This is a big creation we’re talking about here.

And it doesn’t take much yeast to get it going. And, the yeast has to be present from the very start of anything that might become bread. I don’t know if you’ve ever made bread and forgot to add the yeast. Don’t try it. The yeast has to be added with the water if this thing is going to work. God’s spirit is at work in this world, bubbling up to the surface and trying to lighten things up a bit. And our own doubts and messed up lives may even help the process. Let me quote Capon:                                                    . . .by the imagery of bread making, they may even help the kingdom. Unless the dough is kneaded thoroughly—unless it resists and fights the baker enough to develop gluten and form effective barriers to the yeast’s working—then the gasses produced by the yeast will not be entrapped in cells that can lighten the lump into a loaf. Maybe even our foot-dragging and our backsliding—maybe even the gummy, intractable mass of our sins—is all in a day’s leavening to the Word who is the Yeast who lightens our lumpishness.                                       Parables of the Kingdom, p 122

Quotes for the Week

[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”    M.F.K. Fisher

“Vengeance is having a videotape planted in your soul that cannot be turned off. It plays the painful scene over and over again inside your mind . . . And each time it plays you feel the clap of pain again . . . forgiving turns off the videotape of pained memory. Forgiving sets you free.”   Lewis B. Smedes

“Crabgrass can grow on bowling balls in airless rooms, and there is no known way to kill it that does not involve nuclear weapons.” Dave Barry

“When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.”   Author Unknown

Lesson: Matthew 13:24-34 (NRSV)

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing.

Questions for the Week

What is one weed in your life that you’d just love to yank out?

How do you respond to evil in the world?

Where are you struggling with faith and belief right now?

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Devotional for November 2, 2014 – All the saints before you.   

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                        Jesus calls Matthew.  Matthew was sitting in a tax collector booth.  We don’t know why, but Jesus walks up to the tax booth and says, “Follow me.” As if he was waiting for it the entire time, Matthew hops up and is ready to follow.  In fact, Matthew is so comfy with this new call that he offers Jesus hospitality right away. They go to have dinner in Matthew’s house.

Ok, hold the phone. Matthew is a tax and toll collector.  This is not the right person according to every resource.  Matthew is despised.  He is the one who can steal from people. The lowest of the low.   He took a really lousy job that handles everyone’s stuff. He would have looked through to see what could be taxed, picking out the unclean objects or pointing out the uncleanliness not allowed through. He took a position that rules out any respectability from anyone.  He is the messy one. And here comes Jesus, calling him and then eating with him.

No wonder this causes some questions to arise by those surrounding Jesus.  What is Jesus doing?  Jesus embraces the untouchable. Not only does he embrace Matthew, he invites him into relationship and vocation.  Jesus takes what looked to be the outsider and invited him into a whole new way of life.  In doing this, Jesus models that God’s call is not best kept in purity and typical sainthood but in embracing the other. Jesus is so clear about this that he tells those who question it that he didn’t come for the most respected or the insider. Just the opposite! He came to show that God resides in what is with people. He doesn’t even magically make all the gross go away.  What Jesus does, is embrace and change through relationship.

Today is All Saints Day.  Typically we honor the saints who have gone before us.  We lift up those who have exuded the highest calling. In the Catholic Church there is a whole process of becoming a Saint.  It is filled with miracles, calling, purity, and even sweet smelling death.  We will light candles for those who have marked our lives in incredible ways.  But today, let us also remember the Matthew’s in our midst as saints.  These are the folks in our midst who aren’t the saintliest by any means but they are the ones embraced by God.  They are the ones invited to the table.  They are the ones who answer the call without hesitation and with lots of hospitality.  They are the ones who will surprise us around the table even if we don’t think too highly of them or they have been the outsider in the past.

And when we do recognize just these tax collectors in our midst, we can’t help but feast.  Jesus tells those who question that when we gather around the table, we really don’t’ have a choice but to party.  Fasting doesn’t seem right in these circumstances.  It doesn’t fit.  It doesn’t fit like cloth that isn’t right or new wine in old wineskins. When all are gathered, all the saints, we can have a magnificent feast filled with joy and love.

Quotes of the week

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Saints are those who managed to love more than we did.” ― Sorin CerinWisdom Collection: The Book of Wisdom

 

What if the church should be less concerned with creating saints than creating a world where we do not need saints? A world where people like Mother Teresa and MLK would have nothing to do.” ― Peter RollinsInsurrection: To Believe Is Human To Doubt, Divine

 

Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance.”  -Anne Sexton

Matthew 9:10-17 (NRSV)                                                                                                                                                                                                            And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made.  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                                                                     

Which saints are we missing at the table?

Who are the saints in your life that have joined the party?

When have you felt the hospitality of those saints?

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Reformation Sunday (Wear Red)

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

Today is Reformation Sunday! For Lutherans we’d better hear a trumpet and, by gosh the hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God had better be included in the worship experience! At one time a sub-text of this day was “Thank God we’re not Catholic!” Luckily that emphasis has died away, partly because of a different understanding of what it means to be “catholic”, and partly because the Roman Catholic Church has been through, and continues to experience, it’s own major reformation.

Today we celebrate the ability to read God’s word in our own languages, and look to see where continuing change and reformation needs to take place. While concentrating on our particular proud traditions, we also look forward. One of the hallmarks of the Reformation was embracing the printing press, the radical technology of its day.

Courtney and I have selected this Bible passage for today’s celebration. It is one of the Matthew texts that was not going to be covered later this year. It is a long monologue by Jesus contained in Matthew and Luke, but not in the Gospel of Mark. These teaching materials are sometimes called “Q” because there was another source of Jesus’ teachings that Matthew and Luke had access to, but which Mark did not. These sayings seem to come from a wisdom literature tradition. They have much to say.

I think that I do pretty well following the first part of the reading. I do not judge people. Well, unless they start judging other people, then I really let loose! It is necessary for me to own my own insanity on this issue. My whole life has been in reaction to people who I thought played “holier-than-thou” with their faith life. My teachings about wine and other issues come directly from these experiences.

But the part of the text I want to really hone in on is verse 24 and following. I love Peterson’s translation of this text. Jesus’ words are not mere additions to our lives, they ARE our lives. We need to weave them into the foundations of who we really and truly are. And, we need to actually live them out.

I really struggle with offering a Bible study where we can talk about the words of Jesus. I want to lead experiences where we can live out the words of Jesus. I don’t want to read about how Jesus said we were to “clothe the naked, feed the hungry and house the homeless”, I want to do it.

Luther and the reformers had five areas of concentration that they referred to as the “five solas”. They are: Sola Sciptura (Scripture Alone), Sol Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory).   The more systematic among us will wonder how we can can concentrate on each of those five things all by themselves. It is a mystery. Each of these is a response to what the reformers considered to be the heretical teachings of the Catholic Church of their day. For example, the church taught that salvation came through Christ and the saints, and Mary.   The church taught that we are saved through good works and faith, but the reformers held it was only faith.

I find myself in a struggle with my tradition at some points. It is easy to read the reformers and assume we don’t have to do anything. All righteousness comes from God, so we don’t have to do anything. I feel we do have to at least stop resisting the movement of the Holy Spirit. God will never force us to do the right thing. But if we are building our lives upon God’s Word and Jesus’ words, doesn’t it make sense that we would produce fruit in our lives from that reading? These good things do not begin in us, they are an “alien righteousness” according to Luther. We may not be able to do them ourselves, but we do need to learn how to “Let go, and let God.”

Quotes for the Week

“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”    Jonny Cash

“I would be a liar, a hypocrite, or a fool – and I’m not any of those – to say that I don’t write for the reader. I do. But for the reader who hears, who really will work at it, going behind what I seem to say. So I write for myself, and that reader who will pay the dues.” Maya Angelou

“We’re Lutheran people. Even the Catholics up here are Lutheran. And I don’t like to generalize about Lutherans, but one thing that’s true of every single last one of them without a single exception is that the low point of their year is their summer vacation.” Garrison Keillor

“I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.”   Ibid

“It is a sin to believe evil of others but it is seldom a mistake.”  Ibid

Lesson: Matthew 7:1-5, 24-29 (The Message)

A Simple Guide for Behavior

1-5 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

28-29 When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.

 

Questions for the Week

What is one way you are being hypocritical in your every day life?

How do you build the words of Jesus into the foundation of your life?

Is it easy, or difficult for you to refrain from judging others?

 

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Devotional for October 19, 2014 – You are the man!                 

   Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                                                                      In my first year of ministry, I heard the story that had become quite the legend in the circles of Oregon Idaho United Methodist clergy. I heard it because the senior pastor that I was working with had been appointed to the church right after the legend happened.  A prominent preacher in our conference was preaching on the story we are about to read together, David and Bathsheba. Many had overheard the preacher and his wife having some heated conversation just before service. As he is preaching and starts to bring up King David and the parable, his wife stood up, pointed her finger and yelled out, “YOU are the man!!!”  She turned around and walked out the door. The preacher’s wife had found out just before service that her husband had been having an affair with the church’s secretary.  Soon after, this preacher was pulled out of the church.   

You are the man!  The prophet Nathan is sent by God to David to say just these words to the king.  He draws David in like a masterful storyteller.  Nathan tells a parable of rich vs. poor, in vs. out, owner vs. thief, fair vs. unfair and what could be the right way to live.  Nathan artfully points out that this isn’t just any sheep in the flock, this is like the owner’s daughter.  This particular sheep is his only daughter. In the audience, we are meant to see the parallels to Bathsheba as that sheep and Uriah (the slain husband) as the poor farmer.  The tension mounts until the King is livid with anger at the injustice of someone stealing something precious from one who has so little.  Only then can Nathan call out David’s wrongful decisions and actions.  You are the man!  If you haven’t read the full story before this, you really should.

David is quick to see the similarities. He has stolen another’s wife.  He has claimed her as his own.  He has even made sure the husband will not be around.  He is caught in this moment of confession and seeing what is before him.  God, in God’s covenant, is quick to forgive but not to forget.  David will receive punishment for this scenario besides the blatant calling out of injustice.  At the same time, God does not leave King David.  God remains by David’s side.  God will continue to call David to do God’s work.

I wanted to tell the story of the preacher as well as King David because this is not an outdated story.  We might not be so blatant in our sins against the other but we do sin against one another.  Murder and adultery seem a bit extreme (even though King David needed to be shown this sin).  We all break relationship with God and other.  We all have moments where we have hurt one another.  We all have the need to be shown where injustice resides.  If we are silent against injustice, we are still sinning against the other.  When we hurt one another, we must be willing to take a hard look at ourselves and repent of what we have done.  We need one another to do this sometimes.  We need the Nathan’s to name where we have hurt.  God will not leave us even in our times of repentance.  God promises to stay close and forgive. As part of who we are in community, we need to turn back to what is good in community, where we can create peace, where we can stand up for the poor and marginalized (not to steal from them), and where we can live in a more balanced way.    

Quotes of the Week      “Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.” ― Ted Chiang

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere.” ― Thomas Merton

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” ― Aldous Huxley

 

“Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.” ― Barbara Kingsolver 

 

“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” ― Frederick Buechner

 

“I have learned that sometimes ‘sorry’ is not enough. Sometimes you actually have to change.”

 – Claire London                                                                                                                           

 

2 Samuel 12:1-9 (NRSV)

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”  Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

Questions for the Week                                         

Has there been a time when you had to admit that you were wrong?  How did that feel?

What does repentance mean for you? Is this part of your spiritual discipline?

Where might we have to repent to one another today?

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