Month: February 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Psalm 63:1-8

Daniel 3:19-30

Revelation 2:8-11

Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him! They ignored the king’s orders and laid their bodies on the line rather than serve or worship any god but their own.

[Daniel 3:28 The Message]

Part of my struggle with this Lenten effort I’ve undertaken is that the selection of some of these readings just don’t make sense. Very seldom can you read a passage without reading what precedes the content or what follows. To read mere and meaningless words on a page in a vacuum without any background would be an exercise in futility. They are definitely not quick reads that can be analyzed and reflected upon without any additional effort, especially the Old Testament readings.

The introduction to the Daily Lectionary in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, from which these selections are taken, says, “The foundational premise of this set of daily readings is their relationship to the Sunday lectionary. The readings are chosen so that the days leading up to Sunday (Thursday through Saturday) prepare for the Sunday readings.” [p. 1121]

Artwork by Lois Cordelia

Artwork by Lois Cordelia

Well, Sunday’s readings – since I’ve simultaneously been working on my sermon for this coming Sunday – do not include Daniel, nor any reading that resembles anything close to it. The slight connection I’ve been able to make is in the passage from 1 Corinthians, which reads: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10:13b]

Also, applying these stories to our present-day situation becomes at times challenging, to say the least.

Yet, in spite of the occasional frustration, I love the challenge. I become anxious when I have to set aside the effort for lack of time or because I have to attend to other more pressing matters. Yesterday morning, for example, I had to prepare for a presentation to an ecumenical gathering in Cleveland and I felt an obligation to reread and rehearse my remarks for that speech instead of dealing with the commitment to reflect on the daily readings.

The restlessness was overbearing because all day my mind was on what I had yet to do. Obsessive compulsiveness is not in my nature, but I understand how some people can become that way.

I share all this in hopes it will serve as encouragement to you. Daily devotional reading is not a walk in the park. It can, however, be a valuable tool in helping one develop a sense of commitment and hopefully, deepen one’s faith.

Photo by Brian Moore via Getty Images

Photo by Brian Moore via Getty Images

All that being said, there are many ways to interpret the story of the three men in the fiery furnace. There are those who claim that a war on Christianity is currently being waged in America. That issue is too complex to be debated here without getting into legal wrangling over constitutional rights. But the ones who support that argument can easily make parallels between their position and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s refusal to bow down to a golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, of Loyola Marymount University, points out in his commentary on the book of Daniel, that it is, “a notoriously dangerous book that has fueled religious speculation as well as contributing to social unrest and even revolution.” [New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII, p. 19]

My earliest recollection of this book was from a Wednesday afternoon Bible class I attended as a child. I heard and saw Bible stories demonstrated on a felt board with cutout characters moving about the canvas. It was like a blockbuster serial. I couldn’t wait for the following week’s episode.

Obviously, the innocence of youth has given way to the realities of adulthood. But though I now read the story in search of its much deeper meaning, it still holds that same timeless fascination. Oh that God’s word would take hold of us all with the same inescapable grip!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42

2 Chronicles 20:1-22

Luke 13:22-31

When the worst happens—whether war or flood or disease or famine—and we take our place before this Temple (we know you are personally present in this place!) and pray out our pain and trouble, we know that you will listen and give victory.

[2 Chronicles 20:9]

I just came through two challenging evening meetings on Monday and Tuesday. The first night was with the Finance and Budget Committee of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, and the next night was with the Synod’s Executive Council. The main topic at both meetings was the financial condition of the synod.

synod budgetFor the umpteenth year in a row, it seems, we have experienced an income shortfall, and had to find where we could cut to balance our budget.

This is not a subject I enjoy discussing, especially in a forum so public as this. But the reality is that it is also not something that can be concealed. When the money isn’t there, something has to give. I personally don’t like making a pledge to support partners such as our seminaries and social ministry organizations then coming back and saying that we have to reduce our commitment.

Trusting in God’s abundance fails to convince accountants. As one told me across the table, “We have to be realistic.”

Touché!

So do we lower the expectations for the coming year’s budget and let our congregations off the hook, or do we raise the bar and challenge them to give more so that we can support our ministry partners? That is the question we will wrestle with at the next council meeting in March.

The synod’s financial hurdle may not rise to the level of Jehoshaphat’s military crisis in the reading from Chronicles. Though ours is not a life and death matter, we are nevertheless facing a future that begs courage.

I noted a couple of things in Jehoshaphat’s prayer. He ends with his admission of vulnerability and utter dependence on God: we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

The story ends with assurance from the prophet Jahaziel that the battle belongs to the Lord, a song of thanksgiving from the people, resulting in a victory over the enemy.

How will things end for us? I don’t know. But I do know that I will not operate out of anxiety or fear. We will not shirk from the challenges ahead. We will continue to do what God calls us to do and carry out the ministry that has been entrusted to us.

As the old saying goes, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42

Numbers 14:10b-24

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Thank God! Pray to him by name!

    Tell everyone you meet what he has done!

Sing him songs, belt out hymns,

    translate his wonders into music!

Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs,

    you who seek God. Live a happy life!

Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works;

    be alert for signs of his presence.

Remember the world of wonders he has made,

    his miracles, and the verdicts he’s rendered—

        O seed of Abraham, his servant,

        O child of Jacob, his chosen.

[Psalm 105:1-6 The Message]

Remember!

brain-memory-puzzle-120209The gift of memory is perhaps God’s greatest present to us. We have a treasure stored in our mind that we can access at any time to recall facts, figures, events, people, places, joys, sorrows, and anything else that has happened in our lives. Because of memory, we can keep alive in our hearts those loved ones who have died, recalling the legacy they left us and cherishing the times we shared together.

Memory, however, is selective.

As the song “The Way We Were,” tells us:

Memories, are so beautiful, and yet,

what’s too painful to remember,

we simply choose to forget.

I take slight issue with that verse in the song. I think it is human nature to dwell on the negative. For far too long we remember a person who offended us, or something that went wrong, or the hurts we’ve suffered along our life’s journey. If we’re not careful, we can let them overshadow the good that has happened in our lives, pulling us into a depression from which we may never be able to escape.

Psalm 105 is classified as a historical psalm. It retells the story of how God formed Israel from wandering nomads into a nation that became the chosen people of God, tracing their spiritual history from Abraham to Moses.

The psalmist is selective in that the focus is solely on God’s promises and how they were fulfilled. Psalm 105 never mentions the faithlessness of the people of Israel their failure to keep up their end of the covenant relationship they had with God. (It saves all those shortcomings for the following Psalm 106.)

When I began this Lenten discipline I wanted to concentrate on the Old Testament texts as often as possible, with perhaps an occasional foray into the Psalms. But the challenge has come in reading over and over again how Israel sinned against God, getting themselves into crises, crying out to God to deliver them from their distress. I confess that I needed a break from that pattern of behavior. I experience that enough in the daily work of my office. Likewise, I don’t want to continue to hammer you each day with the same.

That is why Psalm 105 is such a pleasant distraction today. There is such a thing as healthy selectivity when it comes to memory. There are things that have happened in our lives that have formed and shaped us into the persons we are today.

Remember!

Remember your baptism, when you were made a special child of God in the waters of the font.

Remember!

Remember those people in your life who have nurtured you in the faith. Perhaps your parents or another relative, a Sunday school teacher, a pastor, a friend.

Remember!

Remember those nourishing moments that have had a lasting impact on your journey of faith – worship, communion, studying God’s word, moments in which you have seen signs of God’s presence.

Then share those events with others. Tell everyone you meet what God has done. Tell your story so that others may see how God in Christ is at work in you.

And that is what Lent is all about.  God’s love is made know to others through us.  As we have received the boundlessness of God’s mercy, we are called to be a reflection of that love.  And in so doing, we are the messengers of God’s deeds, and we tell of those deeds with shouts of joy!

 

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