Month: February 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Psalm 17

Job 1:1-22

Luke 21:34—22:6

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

    naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.

God gives, God takes.

    God’s name be ever blessed.

Not once through all this did Job sin; not once did he blame God.

[Job 1:21-22 The Message]

Why do bad things happen to good people?

It’s a question that we’ve all asked ourselves at least once in our lifetime and for which we will never come up with a plausible answer.

While we’re at it, let’s list a couple of variations of the same question.

Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world?

If God is love, why is there so much hatred?

Over the course of history myriads of novelists, playwrights, essayists and poets have struggled to answer these questions.

Pain C.S. LewisA couple of my favorites include C. S. Lewis, who wrote The Problem of Pain, from which I gleaned one of my all-time favorite quotes: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

KushnerThe other is Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, written as a response to the death of his 14-year-old son from a degenerative disease.

To try to explain the book of Job – our focus reading for today – in a brief meditation such as this is an exercise in futility. Yet to avoid wrestling with the question of sin, evil, and suffering is to avoid the reality of life.

You and I live rather confidently most of the time.  We can hold down jobs, complete our chores or school work satisfactorily, and care for people in our intimate families with some degree of kindliness.  Occasionally, however, things fall apart.  

Sometimes they fall apart physically.  Our health fails; a job loss keeps money from going into the bank account, or an appliance breaks or pipes in the house burst and the cost to fix it is far more than we have in savings.

Sometimes, things fall apart emotionally and spiritually.  A spouse or a parent dies and no words can be said to comfort the grief.

Sometimes, things fall apart in relationships. Divorce happens. Things are said and done in anger which need to be set right, but we are reluctant to take the first step toward reconciliation.  We are left feeling alone, betrayed, excluded, humiliated.

It is human nature to take the credit when things are going well, but to blame God when things go poorly. “Why me, Lord?” are the first words out of our mouths.

Even Job, as iconic as legend has made him out to be, was driven to the brink and lashed out against God, earning Job a stiff rebuke in return.

Life does not come wrapped up in a neat little package wrapped in a pretty pink ribbon. Life can be messy.

20150428_111259 - Copy

Pastor Jeff Goggins

But the good news is that God is with us through the mess. He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us [Romans 8:32], knows what it is like to go through the agonies of life. We are not alone in our suffering.

About two weeks ago, a young pastor in our synod lost his wife to cancer. Pastor Jeff Goggins of St. John Lutheran Church in Canal Fulton, took to the blogosphere and allowed us all to walk alongside him through the journey of his wife’s last days on earth. He calls his blog, “Finding God in All Things.” You can read his reflections by clicking HERE. I encourage you to take the time. I promise you it will be time well spent. Your faith will be bolstered by the witness of this pastor and his three daughters. Nothing that I have written can compare to this marvelous testament of faith.

God gives, God takes.

    God’s name be ever blessed.

 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Psalm 17

Zechariah 3:1-10

2 Peter 2:4-21

Joshua, standing before the angel, was dressed in dirty clothes. The angel spoke to his attendants, “Get him out of those filthy clothes,” and then said to Joshua, “Look, I’ve stripped you of your sin and dressed you up in clean clothes.”

[Zechariah 3:3-4 The Message]

20150215_155155Perhaps one of my least favorite hymns is one sung during the Christmas season. “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

in the bleak midwinter, long ago

I dislike its mournful melody, the text, everything about it. I am reminded of this Christmas tune as I look outside in mid-February and see the piles of snow. Today I hear snow plows rumbling and snow blowers blaring at five o’clock in the morning. Yes, Lent came early this year and it is little consolation to recall what a relatively mild winter we’ve had so far. I am anxious for Spring to come.

Perhaps the emphasis on penitence and self-discipline during the season of Lent adds to the somber mood. But just as the knowledge that Spring is coming puts us in a hopeful mood, so likewise the knowledge that Easter is coming should put us in that mood as well.

Today’s reading from Zechariah is intended to bring us a message of hope. While they were in exile, the children of Israel recalled how good they had it when they were the chosen people of God. They knew they had sinned and were deserving of God’s judgment. Joshua, the priest, stands as a symbol of Israel’s guilt. But note what God does. Joshua receives an extreme makeover – clean clothes, a new turban for his head (v.5), and all his sin is stripped away!

But wait! There’s more! God not only strips Joshua of sin, but the entire land as well. The final verses of our reading paint an idyllic picture of peace and well-being: ‘At that time, everyone will get along with one another, with friendly visits across the fence, friendly visits on one another’s porches.’” [v. 10]

We, too, are promised the same joy as a result of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like the weather, this bleak midwinter of our sinfulness will not last forever.

Lent holds the possibility for real change. Consider the ways we’ve fallen short. How can we, through our Lenten practices, deepen our faith and renew our hope?

Daily Prayer for All SeasonsBack in December, I was introduced to a neat little book titled Daily Prayer for All Seasons. It is, as the name implies, a prayer book published by the Episcopal Church and organized around the liturgy of the hours, or daily office, and the seasons of the church calendar. The following paragraph from the introduction to the season of Lent is worth sharing because it helps one shape what this season should develop within us:

During Lent we as individual Christians and as a church – the Body of Christ – consider our spiritual health. How are we living the gospel in our lives, our homes, our churches, our schools, our places of work? What areas of growth or signs of renewal should we celebrate with gratitude and joy? In what ways have we fallen short, grown stagnant or coldhearted, or failed to love God by embracing new life when we encounter it? These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves during the weeks of Lent.

Let us go forward in hope.

*********

Perhaps a word of clarification is necessary here for those who may be wondering what is up with this flurry of daily blogposts during Lent. I’m still trying to figure out where I can post this explanation so that it will be a permanent fixture on the page.

Simply put, this is my Lenten discipline. For several years in my former parish, we did a collaborative community devotional where individuals contributed a reflection for each day of Lent (plus the six Sundays in Lent). We compiled these reflections into a booklet for the congregation to use as a devotional during the Lenten period. This is not unique. Many churches engage in this practice.

Last year, during my first Lent as bishop, I missed not having a devotional and reading other folks’ reflections on these passages from Scripture. So I thought about taking on the task on my own. And here it is. But I am not writing in advance, so there may be some gaps when I am not able to get to my computer and post in timely fashion. I will skip those days rather than try to race madly to catch up. (I’ve missed one already – day 2 – in case no one noticed)  

The readings are taken from the Daily Lectionary as found in the “Additional Resources” section of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. We are in Year C.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Psalm 17

1 Chronicles 21:1-17

1 John 2:1-6

Then David prayed, “I have sinned badly in what I have just done, substituting statistics for trust; forgive my sin—I’ve been really stupid.”

[1 Chronicles 21:8 The Message]

analyticsNumbers, statistics, analytics. We live in a records-driven society.

The politician is motivated by the most recent poll numbers. The investor never strays far from the stock market quotes. Social media gauges the popularity of a web site, a blog, or a tweet, by the number of “hits” it receives.

Those who are into baseball know how much a player’s productivity is measured by his batting or earned run average. The same holds true for all other sports. Fantasy leagues, based on statistics, have taken hostage even the most casual fan.

Today’s reading from 1 Chronicles delivers a warning: Numbers don’t tell the whole story. The story offers strong advice as to where we should place our trust.  

1 Chronicles chapter 21 relates a fascinatingly perplexing account of a census of Israel taken by King David. This act, so the story tells us at the very beginning, was instituted by David at the urging of the Devil.  Now Satan entered the scene and seduced David into taking a census of Israel [21:1].”

Sadly, not even the church can escape the snare of numbers. We continually assess the progress of our mission by the average weekly worship attendance and the amount of our offering. “Butts and bucks,” are the yardsticks that determine the vitality of a congregation.

Today’s culture, however, seeks fulfillment mostly outside the church. The church no longer occupies the position of influence it once had in our American society.

Thus, if we plan our future strictly on statistics, we are headed for a gloomy future. We can drown in despondency if we simply look at figures. The Devil is in the details, as the old saying goes. As people of faith, we are called to live a life of trust in God’s promise of abundance.

Becoming a Blessed ChurchSeveral years ago, the Reverend Graham Standish, a Presbyterian Pastor, wrote a book titled, Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power.

Standish makes a clear difference between the words purpose and plan, especially in the matter of God’s purpose for us.  Too many of us, as individuals and as churches, are better at making plans than figuring out our purpose.  Standish maintains that God created us for a purpose, and it is when we lose that sense of connection with our sense of purpose that we drift and suffer.  We can come up with all kinds of programs and make all the plans in the world, but if they don’t take into account God’s purpose for us, we spend much of our time wandering aimlessly in a wilderness of frustration.

There may be no better time that this season of Lent to become more attentive to God’s word; to discern what it is that God is calling us to be and become.

To God, after all, we are more than a mere statistic.

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