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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Time to Choose

The “Working Preacher” commentary on this text is so right on the money. It talks about how famous Joshua 24:15 is, “As for me and my house . . . “ you probably can recite the rest. There are a number of reasons such verses drive me to distraction. I really do not like Bible bookstores. I’m glad they carry Bibles and everything, but the Jesus crap drives me crazy. Jesus doilies, Jesus dashboard characters, Jesus mouse pads . . . “Give us this day our daily bread” plates, platters, aprons and dishcloths. Most of the books are all about me, “Jesus and ME”, “How I made a million dollars following Jesus”, “How Jesus Can Help You Keep Your Man”. And then there is the music. There is nothing in the world that gains in quality because the modifier “Christian” has been attached to it.

This famous quote from Joshua is just such a verse. It is taken out of context and looses a great deal of it’s meaning by doing so. This is not a personal, pietistic, decision based platitude. This is a line drawn in the sand of the community, charging each person to make a choice. The consequences are dire. To step forward is to place yourself and your family in harms way. And it is not a personal decision. It is a drama set before the people, and Joshua is “calling the question” so to speak and asking to the people to make an important choice. It’s time for a vote. Where do you stand? And the people respond well. They have been triumphant in battle, and have won over large tracts of land—the land that God promised to give to their ancestors.

This story also has Joshua giving a history of the people. It is, of course, abbreviated. I keep thinking of the chart that Pastor Courtney shared in worship a few weeks ago. “OK, here is where we get Joseph, by following the blue line . . . ignore the pink line of his other wives.” In this version, as in all biblical histories, we start with Abraham, then to Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses (that’s quite a jump there) and now, to Joshua. Remember, Moses wasn’t allowed to come into the Promised Land because he hit a rock with a stick when God told him only to talk to it. When you look at the totality of human sin, that doesn’t seem like much, but there it is. Joshua has to remind them of the mighty acts of God in delivering the people of faith from the hands of the Egyptians. None of these people were alive when God brought the people out, so they have to be reminded. And lest they think it was their might that saved them, they are reminded that God has been powerfully acting on their behalf all along.

There are parts of this story that I struggle with, especially the idea wiping out entire peoples so that the Israelites can own the land. The slaughter of whole peoples, villages and countries sanctioned and aided by God. How as Christians do we hold that along side of Jesus who said, “Love your enemies”? These are the parts of scripture I wrestle with on a regular basis. But the choosing part, that I can relate to. It seems to me we are being asked to choose which God we will serve. Again three weeks ago Pastor Courtney talked about our idolatry of wanting to keep things orderly, safe and familiar. God is not having it, that is not the kind of God we worship! We are encouraged every day to worship the gods of safety and security. As a country we are strongly influenced to worship the idea of fulfillment through spending and security through violence and strength. Ironically, we are encouraged to do all this through fear. I don’t know why, but when people are given a regular dose of fear they will try with all their might to purchase their way out of it.

It is necessary, from time to time, for people of faith to recommit themselves to God and God’s ways. They are unpredictable, they are difficult, they will take away our sense of security and permanence, but they are so worth it. It is in following God that we find a life worth living, a life of purpose and meaning. We will never find that if we are worshiping the god of security. Joshua presided over the people of Israel at just such a time. He led by example and asked the people to choose what they would do. We are encouraging our leaders and staff to join us in a process of evaluating our lives and priorities using a book called “Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most”. Robin and I have found it a life changing, (and extremely difficult) experience. We are at a very important moment in the life of the church, and need to be reminded again what it means to worship and serve the living God of Abraham and Sarah. It’s a wild ride.

Quotes for the Week

“I Choose to be generous.                                                                                                   I know that my choices matter for myself, for others and for future generations.   Help me to live consciously and creatively, celebrating signs of your new creation . . .    Guide me to use my time, talents and resources to pursue what matters most.   Teach me to be free, to live without worry, fear or greed in the freedom of your abundance.”                                                                 Part of the prayer of dedication from “Free” by Mark and Lisa Scandrette

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Roy Disney

“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”     Noam Chomsky

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world arms is not spending money alone.” President Eisenhower (Republican)

“When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.”                         Mae West

Lesson: Joshua 24:1-15 (NRSV)

1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6 When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea.  “7 When they cried out to the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9 Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. 11 When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. “12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.

14 “Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Questions for the Week

What are your personal values?

Are you making decisions in your life that reflect those values?

How might we as a church more fully live out the values of Jesus?

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Devotional for October 5, 2014 –   Promise to Be Fed      

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background   Last week, we left the Israelites as rescued from the Egyptians by walking on dry land through the waters.  This week, we meet up with the crew as they begin their second month of wandering through the desert.  They have already experienced running from their oppressors and thirst (ch. 15) and now they are hungry. Very hungry in their bellies and in yearning for God.  Hungry enough to want to die instead of continue on. They start to complain with vigor.  While I sometimes want to give the Israelites a hard time about their whining, they actually do have quite a bit of reason to complain.  This is scary stuff!  I complain for much less and have heard many complaints for similar things.  Where are they going?  Where is the better life that they were promised?

It gets to the point that the people start remembering where they had been with fondness. At least in Egypt, they knew what they were going to face.  The wilderness is so full of the unknown.  Their complaints grow stronger.  Often I forget that complaining is a way to stay in relationship with one another.  They could have chosen to not be in dialogue with God. They could have just taken off back to Egypt. Instead, they lift their voices to God since God has provided before….shouldn’t God provide again?

God doesn’t disappoint.  God gives them meat!  Meat was usually eaten just at festivals and special occasions (no matter what they said about fleshpots in Egypt).  God provides them with delicious meat and in abundance.  Then God provides manna…this yummy substance that only lasts today…whatever “it” is.  On top of the feeding of the body, God then provides space for the soul in a time of Sabbath each week. God covenants that God’s people will be provided for, physically and spiritually.  Now, not everyone gets this the first time around.  There has to be some testing of the boundaries.  These people are truly human and God STILL provides! Despite the testing and the complaining, God still promises restoration.   God makes sure that they rest and feed their souls. They are to worship God on the Sabbath and be full of intention. They are to not collect anything else for their bodies. Too often we forget this piece of what God provides. God provides Sabbath.

As a fellow human to the Israelites, I forget that God provides to me abundantly in both physical needs and spiritual needs, if I listen to where God is providing these resources. When I complain, God still listens to those complaints and provides anyway.  I am reminded of this most presently in the way my garden still miraculously provides food and safe sanctuary for me.  I am fed beyond my most basic needs. When I forget Sabbath, I am neglecting what is as essential to me as food.  There are even times when I don’t recognize the rest before me but it is still good for my body and soul.

Quotes of the Week                                                                                                                                          

“I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”
― M.F.K. Fisher

“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”  ― Walter Brueggemann

“Some keep the Sabbath going to church, I keep it staying at home, with a bobolink for a chorister, and an orchard for a dome. ” ― Emily Dickinson

“Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.” ― Wendell Berry
The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” -Calvin Trillin

Exodus 16:13-31 (NRSV)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.  And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them.  Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it.  Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.”  On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day. The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

Questions for the Week

What are you hungry for?

What do you do when your soul is hungry? How do you take Sabbath?

When was the last time you took Sabbath to feed your soul as well as your body?

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Rescue at Sea

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

Theme Background

Change is sometimes painful. We tend to change our ways when the pain we are experiencing causes us to reflect on our lives and consider new ways. This story is filled with people who forget. Pharaoh forgets all the pain that has been inflicted on him and the people of Egypt because of their harsh treatment of God’s people. When he looks back, all he can see is the slave labor he allowed to walk away into the wilderness. The people of Israel forget all that God has done for them, all the miraculous signs, and are filled with fear. They are also filled with longing for “the good old days” when they were slaves and forced to work without pay or dignity. In other words this story is filled with human beings who find change difficult.

But God does not change. God is faithful (if a bit miffed at the people’s unbelief!) God has set a trap for the war machine of the mighty empire. In a way you could view this whole episode as a practice in passive resistance. The people have been oppressed and God has delivered them. They are again terrorized by the power of Egypt, and God shows them a way out. Notice that might does not make right in this story. God has lined up with the poor, the oppressed, the homeless, the wanderers.

Resisting the powers of this world is scary stuff. It is much easier just to go along and get along. The wilderness is a scary place. It is filled with nothing. There is nothing to eat, nothing to drink. It is hot during the day and cold a night. It is a place of evil and suffering. It is also where so many spiritual leaders have gone to find direction and purpose. Jesus starts his public ministry after spending 40 days in the wilderness. Most of the prophets of the Old Testament also spend time there. Dan Erlander says that the people of Israel are heading off into the wilderness school where God will teach them important life lessons.

And then there is the whining! God has done all this amazingly powerful work for the people and they want to go back to slavery, to what is known. They are filled with fear and think they are going into the wilderness to die. God orders the people to do a few things. #1 is to keep their mouths shut–stop complaining and whining! #2 Get moving! God is going to perform another dramatic saving action for the people. Of course that is not going to stop their whining.

We like to think of ourselves (especially in the western US) as rugged individualists. As we age, we make sure that we have adequate savings and long term care insurance because we don’t want to be a burden on our children. The truth is that as a society we are totally dependent on other people. There are not a whole lot of items I can make for myself. If you doubt that, try making a $15 toaster from scratch. Everything, every breath we take, every ounce of water we drink, is a gift from God. The people of Israel are going to experience this first hand. They won’t know where the next meal is coming from, or where they are going to find water.

Perhaps we need to experience wilderness occasionally, need to experience hunger, or a place without comforts to remind us of all we have. I’m beginning to see that our identity as consumers is a major problem with our spiritual growth. We can’t spend our way closer to God, but our resources could bring God closer to those who are suffering. It’s scary at first, to let go, but God is waiting to show us dramatic changes in our lives. Luckily, God is VERY patient!

Quotes for the Week

“To be vital, faith must be accompanied by self sacrifice and unselfish, constructive action.”

“First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work.”                       Alcoholics Anonymous

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”    Thomas Merton

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”    Ibid

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”              Edward Abbey

1st Lesson Exodus 14:10-14 & 21-29 (The Message)

0-12 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them—Egyptians! Coming at them!

They were totally afraid. They cried out in terror to God. They told Moses, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.’”

13 Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do the work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.

14 God will fight the battle for you.
And you? You keep your mouths shut!”

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and God, with a terrific east wind all night long, made the sea go back. He made the sea dry ground. The seawaters split.

22-25 The Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground with the waters a wall to the right and to the left. The Egyptians came after them in full pursuit, every horse and chariot and driver of Pharaoh racing into the middle of the sea. It was now the morning watch. God looked down from the Pillar of Fire and Cloud on the Egyptian army and threw them into a panic. He clogged the wheels of their chariots; they were stuck in the mud.

The Egyptians said, “Run from Israel! God is fighting on their side and against Egypt!”

26 God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea and the waters will come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots, over their horsemen.”

27-28 Moses stretched his hand out over the sea: As the day broke and the Egyptians were running, the sea returned to its place as before. God dumped the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. The waters returned, drowning the chariots and riders of Pharaoh’s army that had chased after Israel into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29-31 But the Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to the right and to the left. God delivered Israel that day from the oppression of the Egyptians.

Questions for the Week

Have you ever spent time in a wilderness? What were your experiences there?

How do you stand up to oppression, suffering and abuse?

Have you ever felt as though you were trapped in your life with no way out? What was that like?

 

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Devotional for September 21, 2014 –   Joseph in prison   

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background                                                                                                                          Between last week and this week, a few generations have passed in Genesis.  Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah and established a great nation as promised by God.    Abraham and Sarah have Isaac, Isaac has Jacob and Esau and one of Jacob’s kids by Rachel is Joseph.  Joseph has some brothers.  They don’t respond well to their little brothers dreams and do the most drastic thing. They sell him off.  This could be a dream of older siblings but rarely do I actually see it happen.  Leave it to the bible to give us the juiciest storyline possible.

Joseph is taken to Egypt.  Not where an Israelite really wants to be but here he is.  Joseph is ends up in a good location but things turn south again due to his good heart and great looks.  He catches the eye of his master’s wife and things get ugly fast.  Although Joseph tries to do the right thing, he ends up in prison.  Things are not looking up.

Things happen in our lives.  Really really awful things happen in our lives.  We don’t always end up in prison but it can certainly seem as though we are being punished for something.  Even though we are doing our best we somehow still lose that job, can’t pay the bills, struggle with our living situation, can’t quite get it all together. Basically, even with our big hearts, we sometimes feel as though we just…can’t…win.  And this sucks.  It seems as though perhaps we have done something wrong.  Even those of us, where this definitely isn’t our view of God, turn this direction.  What did we do to deserve this?

What I love about this story that we are about to read is that God is a character as well.  God is not far off and God is not doing anything to anyone. God shows up anyway.  The author of Genesis tells us that God goes with Joseph.  An active character in Joseph’s journey.  Joseph isn’t alone.  We now know that God is with him.  God promises this to Joseph.  Even in prison God actively surrounds Joseph with God’s presence.  God reaches out kindness.  God makes sure that Joseph and the jailer get along.  God is the one surrounding Joseph, not punishing.  While prison is what humans have done to Joseph, God shows up around Joseph.

A few months ago, I went through a hard time and while I felt as though nothing was going right, people kept showing up in just the right moments.  Someone who was going through this stuff with me kept asking, “Where is God now?”  And I couldn’t help but reply, “In the people that have surrounded us.” God promises to be with us in prison, whatever that prison may be.  God will use Joseph to save family, to save God’s people, and to work towards a better kingdom of God.  God will use us as well to create the kingdom of God on earth and to restore all of creation back to God’s loving embrace.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Quotes of the Week                                                                                                                                          

“God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take Her eyes off of us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval.”  ― Gregory BoyleTattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is, that things are what they are and will be what they will be.” – Oscar Wilde

“It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.”  ― Howard Zinn

“Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.” ― Dorothy Day

“In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” ― Nelson Mandela

Genesis 39:1-23 (Message)                                                                                                                             After Joseph had been taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelites, Potiphar an Egyptian, one of Pharaoh’s officials and the manager of his household, bought him from them.  As it turned out, God was with Joseph and things went very well with him. He ended up living in the home of his Egyptian master. His master recognized that God was with him, saw that God was working for good in everything he did. He became very fond of Joseph and made him his personal aide. He put him in charge of all his personal affairs, turning everything over to him. From that moment on, God blessed the home of the Egyptian—all because of Joseph. The blessing of God spread over everything he owned, at home and in the fields, and all Potiphar had to concern himself with was eating three meals a day.

Joseph was a strikingly handsome man. As time went on, his master’s wife became infatuated with Joseph and one day said, “Sleep with me.”He wouldn’t do it. He said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master doesn’t give a second thought to anything that goes on here—he’s put me in charge of everything he owns. He treats me as an equal. The only thing he hasn’t turned over to me is you. You’re his wife, after all! How could I violate his trust and sin against God?”  She pestered him day after day after day, but he stood his ground. He refused to go to bed with her.

On one of these days he came to the house to do his work and none of the household servants happened to be there. She grabbed him by his cloak, saying, “Sleep with me!” He left his coat in her hand and ran out of the house. When she realized that he had left his coat in her hand and run outside, she called to her house servants: “Look—this Hebrew shows up and before you know it he’s trying to seduce us. He tried to make love to me but I yelled as loud as I could. With all my yelling and screaming, he left his coat beside me here and ran outside.”  She kept his coat right there until his master came home. She told him the same story. She said, “The Hebrew slave, the one you brought to us, came after me and tried to use me for his plaything. When I yelled and screamed, he left his coat with me and ran outside.”

When his master heard his wife’s story, telling him, “These are the things your slave did to me,” he was furious. Joseph’s master took him and threw him into the jail where the king’s prisoners were locked up. But there in jail God was still with Joseph: He reached out in kindness to him; he put him on good terms with the head jailer.

The head jailer put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners—he ended up managing the whole operation. The head jailer gave Joseph free rein, never even checked on him, because God was with him; whatever he did God made sure it worked out for the best.

Questions for the Week

What is your prison?

Are there times when you feel as though you are caught in injustice? What happened?

Where is God with you? Where have you seen God in prison with you?

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“All Who Wander Are Not Lost” JRR Tolkein

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

Theme Background

According to author, Thomas Cahill, in his book, The Gift of the Jews today’s story is the beginning of western civilization. Without it there would be: no travel, no adventure, no advertising! How? Up until this point in human history there was no “new and improved.” Everything was established by the position of the stars and planets, and life was thought to be a repeating cycle. This is why an astrologist can tell you your future. It has all happened before. All you have to do is check where you are in the cycle and you’ll know what is about to happen. Also, up until this point, no one had ever moved from their home without being forced to do so. You moved because of war, or famine, or natural disasters. Sarai and Abram receive a promise from God that they will be blessed if they move. They move because of the promise of a new future. No one has ever done this before.

And Abraham is not the only one to be blessed in this process. Through Sarai and Abraham “all of the families of the earth will be blessed.” At the Co-operative ministries we feel that this blessing comes to all families—those who are single, those who have two mothers, those with two fathers, those headed by a single parent, those with extended families that help hold everything together. And what is God’s plan for blessing? How is God going to bless everyone on earth? Turns out the answer is laughter. Maybe we should all just tell a bunch of jokes this Sunday and have a time of holy laughter? Some churches have people laugh out loud until they can feel the Holy Spirit moving inside of them.

God gives Sarai and Abraham the promise “to your offspring I will give this land.” It is a faithful promise. The only problem is that it’s not going to come to fruition for several hundred years. Abram and Sarai will live as resident aliens the rest of their lives. Their offspring will be forced to live in exile in Egypt because of a drought. They will live several hundred years in Egypt, many of those as slaves. They will be delivered from Egypt, and then spend 40 more years in the wilderness. And then God will give them the land. It’s a true promise, and it will come true, but not in Sarai and Abram’s lifetimes. Not even close.

After this reading today we have what I like to call, “The series of lies.” Abram is worried about how he’ll be welcomed, and worried because Sarai is so beautiful that people will kill him to get to her. So he tells people, one after another, that Sarai is his sister. Well it turns out he’s not lying exactly.   She is his half sister! Yes, we turn to the Bible to find all of our family values!

In verse 10 they go to Egypt to reside there as aliens, because there was a severe famine in the land. Doesn’t that sound familiar? After just finishing the story of Ruth where Naomi has been forced to go to a foreign land because of a drought in Israel, this story has a resonance to it. People move around. Sometimes they go because of the promise of a better life. This is the narrative we use to talk about our ancestors coming to live in this country. They were living in another land, and they heard about a better life in America, so they picked up everything they owned and they came. In many cases they didn’t own much.

Some of the people moving to our country now come to survive. There is violence and terror in their land and they cannot survive there. Some come because of economic violence—they can’t afford to feed their children or make a living so they move. There is a long history of people moving from one place to another. Some for promises of a better life, some to survive. I can’t imagine you can pass laws to stop them. People will take incredible steps when they are threatened or facing hardships.   Today’s reading calls us to remember that our spiritual narrative is one of a resident alien. He wondered the countries of the Middle East. Scripture calls us to welcome the alien in our land, because “A wandering Aramean was our ancestor.”

Quotes for the Week

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”             Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

“Our lives improve only when we take chances — and the first and most difficult task we can take is to be honest with ourselves.”      Walter Anderson

“And so by the fifteenth century, on October 8, the Europeans were looking for a new place to try to get to, and they came up with a new concept: the West.”              Dave Barry

“A man walks into a clock repair shop and the repairman is German and says: So? Vat sims to be ze problem? It’s my grandfather clock. It doesn’t go ‘tick-tock-tick-tock’ anymore. Now it just goes ‘tick-tick-tick.’ Hmmm! I sink I can fix zis. Let me look inside. Ve haf vays of making you tock!”      Prairie Home Companion 2011

A mother took her little boy to church. While in church the little boy said, “Mommy, I have to pee.” The mother said to the little boy, “It’s not appropriate to say the word ‘pee’ in church. So, from now on whenever you have to ‘pee’ just tell me that you have to ‘whisper.'”
The following Sunday, the little boy went to church with his father and during the service said to his father, “Daddy, I have to whisper.” The father looked at him and said, “Okay, whisper in my ear.” Ibid

Lesson Genesis 12:1-9 (NRSV)

The Call of Abram  1 NOW the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. “7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.”

Questions for the Week

What is one change in your life that you are struggling with?

Is there a promise you are still hoping will be fulfilled?

Is there a time in your life you were a wonderer? What was it like?

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